Interview with Gemma L. Brook

While unable to meet in person with fellow-author-friends, I have been making acquaintance with a few new online-writing-friends, including the generous Gemma L. Brook. As she was kind enough to interview me earlier, I decided I should interview her in turn. And here we are:

VT: Hi Gemma! Thanks for agreeing to this interview. When I read your fishing tale “The One That Got Away” in Running Wild Anthology of Stories – Volume 3, I had to consult the internet for the name of the Scottish beast I believe your story’s fisherman almost caught. (I believe it starts with a k…)

Gemma: If I’m thinking what you’re thinking, that’s an excellent guess! You might very well be right.

VT: I’m not very “good” at folklore, but I understand that you’re quite interested in mythic tales, fairy tales and legends, and that you studied mythical literature at college and are writing a novel inspired by a story from Irish mythology. What do you think it is about fairy tales that appeals to so many people?

Gemma: That’s a very good question, and I’m sure scholars have studied this, but I’m not sure I have a good answer.

Fairy tales and folk tales have a lot of universal qualities. I think one appealing aspect of them is that evil is most often punished, and goodness most often prevails. The kind, the clever, and the unfavored – like the youngest son, the ash-smeared girl – often win the day. And as someone said (I believe it was Neil Gaiman), “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” That’s something I think we all need to hear in one way or another.

I also feel that fairy tales reveal wonders that are hidden in the world around us – magic and beauty and marvels right beside the turnips and the braying donkeys.

VT:  Which fairy tale or legend would you recommend to someone who perhaps hasn’t had a lot of exposure to the world of fairy tale? Which is your favourite?

Gemma: That’s another hard question. I’m sure my answer to the first part is heavily influenced by my answer to the second. For youngsters, I might recommend “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” It’s short, and the repetition (trip-trap, trip-trap, over the bridge) is fun. And the youngest goat is rescued by being clever, and by his older brothers. It was one of my favorites my mom told me before I could read.

Another was “The Bremen Town Musicians,” where a bunch of aging animals who’ve been rejected by their owners band together as friends and win the day – and they make a home together. A fairy tale I love even more is “The Wild Swans,” where a young girl is the heroine; she saves her seven brothers from a curse by her steadfast love and determination.

VT: What is your favourite film version of a fairy, folk tale, myth or legend?

Gemma: Perhaps the 1974 “Little Mermaid” narrated by Richard Chamberlain. I think it was very true to the original by Hans Christian Anderson – I believe Richard Chamberlain simply narrated the story. It was very soulful and bittersweet, with beautiful animation and music. I only saw it once, and it’s stayed with me all these years.  Or possibly the 1976 “Beauty and the Beast” with George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere. I loved seeing a live-action fairy tale treated with gravitas, portrayed by adults, and that Beauty actually saved her two sisters from their own greed at least once.

VT: Do you find that there are any themes that repeat themselves in your work?

Gemma: Do mountains and forests count as themes? They’re often central in my stories.

Perhaps something close to a repeating theme, which occurs subconsciously, is the unlooked-at or unexpected perspective. For instance, I was intrigued to find out that while grown women were forbidden from attending the ancient Olympic Games, virgin girls were allowed to observe the athletes in all their naked glory. And when I found out that girls actually had their own Games in Olympia, I was fascinated, and knew I wanted to tell a story about that.

VT: What do you feel is your greatest strength as a writer?

Gemma: Well, it might be writing about those unexpected perspectives. Or perhaps description is – but it’s also a weakness of mine. When I read a novel, I love to immerse in a setting and be able to picture it completely in my mind, so I aim for that in my writing. And I try to portray the atmosphere with multiple senses and make it vivid.  But my writing can easily become over-detailed, especially in rough drafts.

VT: What is it that keeps you writing?

Gemma: I think what keeps me going is having a story in my head that longs to be told – and the urge to have the story reveal itself on the page the way I see it in my mind. But when what I see in my mind doesn’t match what’s on the page, that can be daunting. So I need to continually polish my skills, and grow some of them outright.

VT: Would you share a little about the novel you are writing?

Gemma: The spark behind it was reading the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows – I wanted to write not a retelling, but a response. My story is about a girl who, like Deirdre and Helen of Troy, is fated to be so beautiful men will fight to possess her and bloodshed and battle will result. When she learns this as a teen, she’s horrified, and vows that she’ll do everything in her power to prevent that, to protect her people, and never to be a helpless pawn. To become strong enough to keep that vow, she has to learn and train to become a warrior.

VT: Do you have any particular treat or beverage that accompanies you to your writing desk? 

Gemma: Wow, you sound like you know me! In cold weather, it’s tea (Earl Grey, Hot, with a nod to Star Trek). In hot weather it’s iced coffee, or home-made seltzer. And oh yes, chocolate, year-round. A bit of dark chocolate helps keep me inspired.

VT: What are the two books you’ve read (or listened to) in the past year, that you would most recommend?

Gemma: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – it was powerful and eye-opening and timely, so much so it moved me to review it on my blog, something new for me.

Another I whole-heartedly recommend is the Great Library series by Rachel Caine – it’s about what happens when all knowledge is controlled by one great library and it’s a crime to own a book; the main character is a book-smuggler. It has intrigue and adventure, and it’s full of great diverse characters. I finished the last book in the past year, and it brought the series to a gripping, satisfying conclusion.

VT: If you could only give one sentence-full’s advice to someone just starting out on their writing journey, what would it be?

Gemma: Tell the stories inside you that long to be told, write them down as truly as you can, and finish them – you can refine and polish them once they’re done.

VT: What is the best thing about where you live?

Gemma: I love the lush woods, the rolling hills, and the history that pokes through the landscape in the form of old stone buildings and ruins that always pique my imagination.

VT: What have you found most helpful during this time of widespread disruption and uncertainty?

Gemma: Sometimes writing has helped – submerging myself in another world, where I can control things. But writing has been very difficult sometimes – I know a lot of other writers have been struggling with that, too. Activities that get me out of myself help – going for a walk, getting out into nature, and learning something new. I’ve been visiting Atlas Obscura and the Penn Museum’s Daily Digital Digs nearly every day.

VT: Thanks again for letting me interview you, and thanks for your thoughtful answers.

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey – Western Wednesday Book Review – June

Wow.

Well, they do say this is one of the most popular western novels of all time.

It’s likely not a huge favourite of devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but…

I found this book a challenge that eventually paid off. I downloaded an e-book version from Amazon several months ago, intended to review it earlier, but had to set it aside in exasperation. This month, I took it up again, set it down again, read a couple of other books, and finally said to myself, “Self, you’re going to either read Riders of the Purple Sage now or never,” and here we are.

Much like The Virginian, the initial trouble was stylistic. Being from 1912, it’s writing style – with it’s lengthy, descriptive sentences, and it’s occasional “tell instead of show” of character’s emotions required adjustment from this modern reader. I found it fairly annoying to have one of the show-downs recounted in flash back by a character who was written speaking in dialect. Unlike The Virginian, this story does not have much humour at all, which did not help it’s cause with me. The truth is that it took me well over half the length of this 250+ page book before I started feeling really excited about reading more of it.

But when it finally gets going… and once you decide to stop questioning the likelihood of some of it’s events and geography…yeesh, there are some genuinely exciting bits.

This is the tale of a woman who defies the expectations of her religious leaders, arousing the jealousy of the man who expects to marry her (who would incidentally come to control the richest, best watered land in her community when they married) when she favours an unbeliever who works for her. It is about her finding two champions – her hired guy, and a mysterious gunfighter who arrives as the book begins. (Yep, mysterious gunfighters are popular in this genre, and maybe in part because of the success of this novel.)

It is a tale of two romances. Romance takes up a lot of ink here, and it’s a bit… silly. (And it’s told old-fashionedly, okay. It’s not going to get graphic. There is one exposed breast, that’s it. Calm down.)

The characterizations are… a bit besides the point.

There are rustlers, child-nappers, and fast horses. Plot twists, some predictable, but a couple of which I genuinely did not see coming. Such a great horse chase toward the end!

I’ve read before that this novel is felt to be unfairly prejudiced against Mormons, but I have to say, while admitting I’m not a member of that community, I didn’t find it to be too bad in it’s anti-Mormonism. Most of the bad guys are leaders in the Mormon church, and it’s implied that many Mormon women were unfairly treated under the strictures of their faith and the practise of polygamy particularly, and it condemns fanatical adherence to religion, but it doesn’t say “all Mormons are bad” anywhere, that I noticed. I do wonder if there was perhaps some particular concern about the interaction or integration of Mormons with mainstream America at the time it was written that it was perhaps capitalizing upon.

I’ve also read that there are different “versions” of this novel – that which was originally published after being “toned down” for publication, and that which Zane Grey actually intended to have published – I don’t know which one I got.

The finale is a bit heavily-handedly-telegraphed, but it satisfyingly, albeit a bit surprisingly comes to a stop right there at the when it’s over it’s over mark. (There was a sequel published in 1915.)

What I would conclude with this is this – yes, you might find Riders of the Purple Sage difficult to read at first – try sticking with it, and you will hopefully be as happily surprised by it’s eventual vigour as I was. It gets exciting, my friends. Really, it does. Exciting enough to make up for the slow start? Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that some more.

It’s Monday What Are You Reading – June

This blog event hosted at https://thebookdate.wordpress.com

Select library services resumed in my region this month, but I’ve still been working on my at-home To-Be-Read (TBR) pile, since they’ve asked we show restraint in requesting library books at this time. Since mid May I have indeed made notes (so many notes!) on Syd Field’s Screenplay book, and I did have a go at The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, but after several attempts decided that it was just not working for me and I’ve since recycled the battered thrift-shop paperback copy that I possessed. (I hope thrift stores everywhere re-open soon.) I don’t like recycling books, and I try to give any book that I own but no longer want another chance to be read, but sometimes books have just had it.

I’m taking a break from audio books but I did listen to the BBC podcast Murmurs, a ten-part series of somewhat-linked speculative fiction stories. I enjoyed some stories/episodes more than others, and am not sure I’d listen to a second season right away, should there be a second season.

From my TBR, I read two of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels in quick succession – Post Captain and HMS Surprise. These are excellently immersive historical novels even if you, like me, don’t really know and don’t really care to know, much about sailing and the Napoleonic wars. One thing I didn’t remember from a previous foray into the series is that there is quite a lot of humour in these stories.

I read a guide on how to write radio dramas, appropriately titled The Way to Write Radio Drama: A Complete Guide to the Basic Skills of Writing Radio Drama by William Ash. This book is from 1985 and written by an American-British writer, who among other things worked for the BBC for a time. This short book was a best seller and even though it makes only very glancing reference to the American radio dramas with which I am most familiar, and although much of it’s specific advice about fees and formatting and which department at the BBC to send your script to is likely no longer relevant, I would recommend it. I believe I was able to purchase this used copy I have through Amazon for only a few dollars, and at a few dollars, it is worthwhile if you are interested in the subject. (And the BBC continues to encourage new radio drama talent, for example with their International Radio Playwriting Competition, now in it’s 26th year.)

I still need to read Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey, and I have James Meek’s To Calais, in Ordinary Time to read as well. My home TBR is considerably diminished, with only four or five more titles available and I expect that by September, at the latest, I will be borrowing from the library once more. My TBR list with them is over 200 titles long.

Captain Fantastic – Movie Club Review – Pick of the Month for June

Captain Fantastic

Released 2016 – Run Time 1 hour 58 minutes

Directed by: Matt Ross

Written by: Matt Ross

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Baso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Cooks, Charlie Shotwell, Frank Langella

3 stars out of 4

Viewing Notes: Excellent home viewing conditions. However, due to an in-house misunderstanding, I was only able to view this film once before it was removed from the PVR, unlike the other movie club picks to date, which I watched at least twice, gathering notes along the way. This one, I’m reviewing by memory, sans notes, the day after viewing. This is a bit unfortunate as Captain Fantastic is the movie club’s new June pick after my first choice proved too difficult for members to source at this time. I am “hosting” this June’s movie club discussion! I hope I’ll be able to keep enough of it in mind to lead discussions intelligently.

You can read Bee’s review here and Jstar’s review here.

This film is rated R in some countries. (In Canada it was given an 14A rating) There is some animal gore, some obscene language, some sexuality, a scene with full frontal male nudity, and discussion of serious mental health issues and suicide. In short, it’s got kids in it, but its not for most young kids.

The trailer I saw for this movie suggested this story was more of a comedy then it proved to be. That was a bit disappointing for me, but it proved to be a quite interesting and engaging family drama regardless.

And it ended up on a relatively positive, although not entirely believable or satisfactory, happy note. Which is good. It’s nice to have nice endings to a story.

Deep in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest, Ben (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his character’s wife have been raising their children – “homeschooling” them following a regimen of serious physical training, including self-defence and hunting with knife and bow, academic instruction which includes many serious literary works, and socio-political instruction which results in the celebration of Noam Chomsky Day. As we learn relatively early on, their oldest child, a self-declared Maoist, has received acceptance letters to numerous prestigious universities, despite being raised in seclusion from mainstream America.

I live not far from ‘The American Redoubt’ where there is a movement to encourage conservative, libertarian, often religious survivalists to gather at a distance together in preparation for the collapse of civil society – this movie serves as a reminder that not all ‘backwoods’ ‘mountain men’ ‘survivalist’ ‘anti-government’ folks are right-wing Christians with machine guns under their pillows. (As an aside, it may also be interesting to see a sympathetic movie made about a right-wing-ish Christian family homeschooling in the backwoods, I suspect it would be seen as a more difficult thing to pull off.)

It didn’t occur to me until the morning after watching this film, but there is not one firearm displayed. Although this is never explained, I concluded that the reason this libertarian American family apparently has no firearms is due to their mother’s mental instability. Or it could just be they decided that with five? Six? Children running around, the extra risk firearms represent was unacceptable to them.  Also left unexplained is why, exactly, the father and mother feel so strongly anti-government. The mother, we learn, has parents who live a clearly prosperous, mainstream lifestyle. Another unexplained item is why, if the mother is Buddhist, as is stated, a religion which I align with vegetarianism, are the children trained to hunt down game?

I had trouble keeping track of how many children there were. It seems, from the IMDB credit list, that there are six children, but one or two felt pretty ‘extra’ and didn’t get much screen time or characterization. I wonder if this film was based on a book? That might explain the ‘extra’ children and some back ground information being left out which might otherwise have been included? The end of the film also had a somewhat credibility-stretching denouement.

But we don’t really need to know why this family is in the situation it is in – we don’t really need it to be fully believable – we can just accept it and move into their story. It’s a well-presented story, and those characters which get characters are largely sympathetic characters, even the oppositional characters.

(Viggo Mortensen being on my list of actors I like to watch perform did not hurt my enjoyment of this movie, either. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film. The child characters, although some are played by young adults, are also convincing.)

The movie also presents us with a few moral questions that I can see the movie club discussing – one easy example is the question if it’s okay to steal food. Harder questions – is it right for children to be kept apart from others, for whatever reason – are funerals about the deceased last wishes or the needs of the survivors? – Ben believes he’s preparing his children for the world, and Ben’s father-in-law believes he’s doing anything but – who is closer to correct? Who has the right to decide how children should be instructed? Why are these parents so enthusiastic about physical conditioning? Etc.

{SPOILERS FOLLOW}

The family’s secluded idyll is disrupted when their mother dies. Her parents, who are Christians, bar Ben from attending the traditional Christian burial they have planned. This is contrary to what Ben and his family believes was the wife/mother’s wishes – and, with the encouragement of his children, Ben sets out to ‘rescue’ his wife’s body. (We never meet or learn anything about Ben’s parents or background, unless I missed something. Eventually we learn that his wife was a lawyer before giving up the practise – because she was sick? Because she just decided she’d rather live a homestead-y life?)

It has been a long time since Ben and his children have had to really engage with the mainstream, (although they seem to have some sort of friendly arrangement with the owner of a small general store somewhat close to their land) and there are some humorous situations that arise as they travel to ?Arizona? for the funeral – although I was expecting and hoping for a little more outright fun to be found in the clash between ‘modern capitalist society’ and this family. (I was sort of hoping for a scene where the children kill, butcher and eat some cute animal at a road-side rest stop, to the horror of the other wayfarers.) Ben’s short explanation of cola as “poisoned water” is pretty good.

There is also drama. The family disrupts the funeral. Grandparents and aunts and uncles are pretty appalled.

Learning the conditions under which their daughter’s children have been living – and particularly concerned about the risks of their physical training – referring to it as child abuse – the children’s grandparents threaten to take custody from Ben. One of the children says he wants to stay with the grandparents, and after more drama, there is a rescue/kidnap operation conducted under Ben’s instruction by one of the teenagers, which goes pretty wrong when she falls from the roof.

Ben decides after this that maybe the children really should be under their grandparent’s care – but they hide in the family bus (cutely, the bus is named Steve) and pop out and surprise Ben and declare they really want to stay with him, and they still want to ‘rescue Mom’ and give her her desired last rites. So they do. Now, this is where my credibility alarm really went off, because I don’t know how Ben gets away with driving these kids, including one who now has a spinal injury, half way up the country without the authorities intervening – did grandpa give up on the idea of obtaining custody in a scene that was cut from the movie? But what about the authorities encountered at the hospital? Were they not alerted to weird things going on?

Apparently not.

Apparently it’s all cool again now, although after the joyous cremation and the departure of the oldest child (going to Namibia in search of ‘real-world’ experience, because that’s where his finger fell on a map) the remaining children are now attending mainstream classes and living with Ben in a slightly-“closer-to-civilization” house, where they continue to receive instruction from Ben as well, of course. Which is nice. It’s nice to think this story would resolve itself so positively if it were real life. I’m just not sure I believe it.

I did enjoy this movie, and I look forward to discussing it and the questions it raises with the club.

P.S. – The emphasis on hunting and hunting skills, rather than the growing of food on the homestead (they have greenhouses, but there’s never any real time put into growing or harvesting or foraging) seems a bit… well, male, to me. Granted, a scene of people farming or picking berries would not be as easily dramatic as the scene in which a young man in camouflage paint leaps on top of a deer to cut its throat…

Interview with Ed Burke

Gemma L. Brook

Ed Burke reading Maia’s Call at Write Action gathering, 2019

I’m very pleased to continue my interviews of Running Wild Anthology of Stories 3 colleagues, this time with author and poet Ed Burke. His story, “Maia’s Call,” truly moved me.

Welcome, Ed! Please give us a taste of what your story is about.

Ed: “Maia’s Call” begins with a phone call to the protagonist, Tom from his former lover, Maia, who asks him to come see her because she is dying. Tom travels from San Francisco to Maia’s home in a remote corner of Vermont. There they spend a night sharing the story of their lives over the intervening years and what has brought them to this point.

Gemma: How did you find out about this anthology?

Ed: I was searching for a small independent publisher for my novel, Christine, Released and came across Running Wild Press in Poets &…

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One Bad Apple by Rachel Kovaciny – Anticipated Release date: July 28!

Ms. Kovaciny has provided inspiration for some of my own fictional works, and I’m very happy to help her out with a little promotion – today is the cover release party for her next book in the Once Upon A Western series! Hurray!

I enjoyed reading and reviewed book 2 – Dancing and Doughnuts back in April and expect I’ll make time for reading One Bad Apple in the early autumn.

Now… look at this cover!

And a synopsis of the book, as provided by Ms. Kovaciny…

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs… reimagined.

Fourteen-year-old Levi Dalton is numb. Hands tied behind his back, he’s about to be hauled away for poisoning a beautiful girl and her kind father. The woman pointing her finger at him and accusing him of murder is the very same woman he hoped could teach him to heal illnesses, not cause them. The woman he idolized. The woman he trusted.

Levi knows he should be scared for his own life. But all he can think about is how graves always come in pairs.

Does it not look and sound like it will be a fun read?

You can check out Ms. Kovaciny’s author’s website here:  http://rachelkovaciny.com/

And you might also want to sign-up for her newsletter emails. She sometimes releases short stories just for her newsletter subscribers – not too long ago, we were able to read a short story re-telling of Rapunzel.

Thanks for asking me to the party Rachel, and best of wishes as you move closer and closer to July 28th and book launch day!

What else to listen to?

In April, I posted about old time radio shows. Today, I thought I’d share eight (relatively) recently produced radio series and podcast shows and series that I’ve enjoyed, in case some of you may too.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is an excellent source of freely available, excellently produced English-language modern radio dramas. You could probably download radio shows from the BBC sites for weeks, and spend a couple of lifetimes listening.

The Reith Lectures – The BBC has been presenting an annual lecture series from noteworthy academics, historians, scientists, intellectuals, etc, just, generally, people smarter than me, each year since 1948, and they have made the entire archive available for download – you may wish to pick and choose your lecturers –   https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003drl8

Home Front – Another BBC production, this lengthy (over 500-episode) series was produced over several years in commemoration of the first world war centenary and concluded in 2018. If follows many characters (I had trouble keeping them straight in my head when I listened to the first few weeks) and includes a factual something each episode. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04dv1g4/episodes/downloads

Living with Nature ­ – We should currently stay close to home, but an expert in recording the sounds of wildlife and nature brings four different nature soundscapes to us, visiting the Namib Desert, the Maasai Mara, the Lofoten Islands in Norway and a national forest in India. One of my favourite radio series, sadly only four episodes long. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csxgvb

The U.K. International Radio Drama Festival – While the actual festival is indefinitely delayed this year, this celebration of today’s radio drama (with an emphasis on radio drama that has a connection with live stage performance, as it is hosted by a live theater production company) –  is in it’s sixth year, with 15 languages represented in current submissions – you may listen to all of them on their website and translated scripts are provided where needed. https://radiodramafestival.org.uk/by-year/2020-rdf-online-showcase/

Claybourne – A supernatural mystery-comedy-drama show from New Zealand. Produced in the late 1990s for the NZ public broadcaster as a space filler and cancelled half way through its proposed season – beware it ends without resolution! There are over 90 episodes, of five or six minutes each. It follows an American as he attempts to investigate a death at a secret military-industrial complex, and becomes involved with the local aboriginal community, some of whom believe their traditional legends are coming true – and maybe they are correct. You can download this show for free here: https://claybourne.bandcamp.com/

Welcome to Night Vale – This podcast has developed a very devout following, leading to books and spin-off shows. While I don’t consider myself a super-fan (I haven’t listened to this year’s season at all) this science-fiction comedy horror parody show did keep me entertained for quite awhile, and it includes a different musician’s song within each episode, some songs might become your new favourites. https://www.welcometonightvale.com/

You Must Remember This ­– As someone who thinks she knows a little bit about classic Hollywood, and as someone whose politics probably differ from this series creator’s, I was occasionally frustrated by the editorial choices made when listening to some of this podcast’s stories of Hollywood history and celebrity gossip, but I commend it for being an introduction to classic films, actors and actresses for many. I’ll support anything that might change non-classic-film-viewers into classic film viewers. The website is unfortunately clumsy to sort through. https://www.youmustrememberthispodcast.com/episodes

Home Cooking – I enjoyed very much listening to the Home Cooking podcast last week, which is about making food while self-isolating, but is also about puns and having fun and I hope that they put together another few episodes. https://homecooking.show/

I’ve just downloaded a few newer radio shows to listen to in the next little while. Please let me know if you have any favourite shows or series, particularly recent shows broadcast over the air in the past few decades and available freely for download today. Podcast recommendations welcome too.

Adventures at Home: Virtual Travel

Gemma L. Brook

Several areas are loosening stay-at-home restrictions, but for many of us, staying home is still the safest thing to do. And traveling far away for fun and adventure may seem a long way off. So how about some virtual journeys? This is just a sampling of sites I’ve encountered which caught my eye. Some feature videos, some still photos, some simply ambient sounds.

For some armchair traveling to unusual and little-known places, try Atlas Obscura.

There are a tremendous number of museums and historical sites generously offering virtual tours.

For history buffs, you can visit:

The Museum of the American Revolution

Valley Forge National Historic Park

The Peabody Museum at Harvard University, among the oldest anthropology museums in the

For more ancient history, you can get a taste of the collections of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

At The Penn Museum, you can…

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It’s Monday What Are You Reading

I’ve come across this blog event and thought I’d give it a try. I don’t see myself participating every week – I don’t read fast enough to make that interesting – but once a month might work.

Yesterday I completed listening to The Coyotes of Carthage, a political drama written by Steven Wright and narrated by Glenn Davis. I enjoyed it quite a lot, it’s my favourite listen so far this month.

Today I’m listening to How to Be Fine: What We Learned From Living by the Rules of 50 Self-help Books written and narrated by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meimzer, which is an addition to their podcast, By The Book. I’ve heard a few episodes of their podcast previously and found them to be fairly funny, although I’m not an enormous fan of the self-help genre myself.

I haven’t actually read much book-wise in the past two weeks or so, I’ve been catching up on magazines – but I hope to continue progress through Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey soon (I need to read this as it’s next month’s western!) and I’d also like to go back and take notes from Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting – which I have already read and highlighted throughout. I see that another participant in It’s Monday What Are You Reading blog community has tackled The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, and this is also in my small pile of books to read. I may go to it later this month.

That’s all I have to say for now, as I prepare to figure out how to link this up with other participants!

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke – Western Wednesday Book Club – May

This book was on the “read-some-day” pile at my home for a couple of years. The some day came.

I’ve seen two cinematic portrayals of this story (the ‘other’ movie version I’ve seen was Man in the Wilderness from 1971) and I read something or other about the historical events and characters at the time 2015’s The Revenant was released, so the basic plot was not new to me. I was lucky enough to see 2015’s film in theaters.

Please be aware that the film diverges from this book in a number of ways, although the essential premise – a grievously wounded and wronged man lives to seek vengeance – remains the same. The author makes clear in the notes at the back of the book – this is a fiction, a new(ish) telling of the legend of Hugh Glass, survivor of grisly (ahem!) wounds, weather, warriors, and, in this story anyway, eventual finder of internal peace.

The full truths of Mr. Glass’s survival and quest for vengeance appear more or less lost to time. What does seem true is that in the early 1800s while on a trapping and trading expedition, he was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead in the wilderness by his companions. He would, however, live to die another day.

I found the first opening pages of this book were a bit disappointing and not too interesting, but we quickly progressed to chapter two and a small company of trappers keeping watch against Arikara warriors as they try to establish a new trapping/trading route in the western American wilds – (much of the action in the book takes place in high plains country rather than in the no question about it mountainous landscape of the 2015 movie.) We are introduced to “our hero” survivor-man, Hugh Glass before the now-famous (and still exciting and gore-y despite it being expected) bear attack. (The initial fight between the trappers and the Arikara that opens the 2015 movie is only briefly mentioned in the book.) We are also introduced to the sour Fitzgerald (boo, hiss) and the uncertain young Bridger, who will become the subjects of Glass’s quest for revenge.

Glass has already survived being captured by the pirate Lafitte and travelling through the (at the time) wild and contested lands of eastern Texas, plus he’s also survived capture by members of the Pawnee nation. What’s a little grizzly bear attack to this guy?

Glass seems to have been an extremely tough, determined survivor and often lucky man, but I didn’t find him a particularly sympathetic man as a character – while he is portrayed as being relatively decent in his interactions with others, it wasn’t until about two-thirds of the book had gone by before I was able to generate even a little sense of warmth from or connection with this character. That does not change that this is a fast-moving yet detailed adventure story, which I was willing and able to read in three sittings. I found it to be a tale that kept me entertained, although I also found it to be lacking heart.

Have you read this book? Or another written version of this story? Have you seen a movie? Feel free to comment with your thoughs!