Category Archives: Male Author

Book ~ Beowulf

Cover for Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, featuring the head and shoulders of a figure (including the face) covered entirely in chain mail.
Cover of Beowulf, translated by Maria Dahvana Headley. The bright blue cover features a dragon intertwined with a red Gothic font B with a gold crown atop,

The first time I read Beowulf was in college, in a history class rather than a literature class. It was a prose translation, probably the ubiquitous one by E. Talbot Donaldson. I came away not very impressed. That mass market paperback hasn’t survived my occasional library culls, even though the notes from the class have (due more to the art on the back of the notebook). The class, History of the Middle Ages, emphasized what the social value might have been for its original audience: an ideal leader is one who is brave, generous, and, most importantly, tied to his community.

I gave Beowulf a second chance when Seamus Heaney’s translation was published. I was already familiar with Heaney as a poet, and it seemed to me that there was probably some literary value to the poem that I hadn’t seen previously. I love Heaney’s translation and it’s become a work I reread every-so-often. When I sat down to Beowulf a couple weeks ago, I got curious about Marie Dahvana Headley’s 2020 translation and queued it up in audio book form.

In Headley’s introduction, she states that she wished to provide a more female forward translation of Beowulf. It’s true, the original author fails to give any details to the women and gives only negative attributes to Grendel’s mother. Headley also wanted to liven up and modernized the language of the poem. What would Beowulf sound like if it were being told today by the dude at the end of the bar, three drinks in?

I’m not sure Headley is entirely successful in either of these two goals. I’m going address the language first, because I realized that is why I reread Beowulf. It’s not for the story (even though I like competent heroes) or the literary value* or even to chew on the interplay of Judaism/Christianity within the narrative. I reread Beowulf, Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, for the language. For me, his translation does feel like an old seaman telling a (tall) tale to a bar full of serious fisherman who want a story of honor and derring-do because their profession is full of mundane danger. That said, I think Headley’s hip-hoppy “Bro” tone could have worked if it were consistent and avoided references that are already past date (yes, like “hashtag blessed” (Also, I looked at excerpts from the printed version, why isn’t it written as “#blessed”? I call the publishers cowards here.)). As it is, I feel like Vin Diesel is the only person who could read this aloud and even out the grandeur and the gutter.

On the second point, I’m going to recuse myself: I only listened to Headley’s translation to just after Beowulf’s battle with Grendel’s mother. (The language was that jarring to.) While Headley does make efforts to point out that many of the women in Beowulf, queens even, aren’t given the names and lineages similar to male characters, there doesn’t seem to be much done to make Grendel’s mother less of a monster. And that’s fine with me. I’m assuming that translations, including Headley’s, have been generally faithful and there just isn’t much to work with. Grendel and his mother are spawns of Cain. Though they anger and hunger and grieve, they are still the monsters of this piece and Beowulf, the hero.


*Co-current to my delve into Beowulf, I’ve been reading Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing lectures, which cover the nature of English literature. He touches on Beowulf:

The pretence that our glorious literature derives its lineage from “Beowulf” is in vulgar phrase ‘a put up job’; a falsehood grafted upon our text-books by Teutonic and Teutonising professors who can bring less evidence for it than will cover a threepenny-piece.

Book ~ Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

Nightmare Alley cover

Published: 1946
Audio book read by Adam Sims
Library check-out.

Considering its carnie characters and a plot involving fraudulent mediumship, I’m surprised that I hadn’t crossed paths with this novel sooner. It wasn’t until I heard that Guillermo del Torro was releasing a movie version (a remake, in fact) that I put Nightmare Alley on my TBR pile.

I didn’t care for this book, honestly. I wanted to like it more than I did. Most of this is because I really don’t enjoy the noir genre in print. Noir movies have the benefit of being stylistically interesting: the sparseness of character and setting is translated visually. In print, I feel like I’m left with a handful of miserable characters being miserable to each other. And Nightmare Alley is pretty much that.

I did enjoy the details of Stanton Carlisle’s cons. I haven’t read much on the techniques used in mentalism acts in the 30s and 40s, probably because many of the texts haven’t entered the public domain.

I don’t listen to many audio books, but Adam Sims’ reading was one of the best I’ve heard. I first checked out the movie tie-in version and didn’t care for the audio at all. Adam Sims pretty much kept this book from being a DNF.

Reading Notes, 12/27/21

Finished Reading

Cover David Copperfield's History of Magic

David Copperfield’s History of Magic by David Copperfield, Richard Wiseman, David Britland & Homer Liwag (photographer)

Magician David Copperfield has been putting together a private museum of magic history for years now. This big, beautiful coffee table book highlights certain pieces in his collections in order to tell a short history of stage magic, from Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin’s mystery clocks through Copperfield’s own Death Saw illusion. Each chapter is only a half dozen pages long; these are biographical sketches, not anything too in-depth. If you’re newly interested in magic, this is a great primer, but don’t expect any techniques to be outlined. (Or, if you’re interested in magic history, but don’t want the secrets spoiled, worry not: this book is mostly spoiler free.) The true value for someone who already knows some of the history is in the photography. Seeing some of these items, like one of Adelaide Herrmann’s dresses, in full color is really great. It’s easy to think of history in black and white or sepia tones. Or, with magic, in the garish colors of posters. The true colors of things make them ever more real.

Wrapped deck of cards in front of some holiday decorations.

In related news, I won a pack of cards related to the book. I will be using them as my Deal Me In deck for 2022.

Currently Reading

Me: “I’m going to finish the two books I have in progress and start new ones on Jan. 1st.”
Also Me: *starts reading several more books*

Danse Macabre Around the Sundial Tonight

A couple reviews of books I finished a last weekend during Readathon:

Danse Macabre by Stephen King

Back in the late 70s, after Stephen King had become the go-to horror guy, he was approached to write a book about the phenomena of horror: why some people like it, why some writers write it, and why horror works. King decided, judiciously, to focus the field and write about horror between 1950 and 1980, both written and on film.

I first read this book back in college. At the time, I hadn’t read or watched much horror at all. Much of what King discusses was not really in my realm of knowledge (though weirdly, reading about horror media has always been almost as fun for me as consuming it). This book was, in fact what turned me on to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Anne Rivers Siddon’s The House Next Door, both of which I happily found in UNL’s library. It was definitely interesting to revisit Danse Macabre now that I’ve read and watched more of the titles mentioned.

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

Speaking of Shirley Jackson . . . A second reread for me this month. This isn’t decreasing my “# of owned and unread books”.

I have in the past confused this book with We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Not hard to do, I feel. Both involve a very insular group of people living in big old house. The difference: Merricat (from Castle) knows the world isn’t ending because she’s not lucky enough for all the people she hates to be so quickly wiped out.

This book is wild. As I mentioned the first time I read it (in 2006), I’m pretty sure there’s a satirical element, but, other than pointing out the lunacy that can come from classism, I’m not sure I’m neurotypical enough to puzzle it all out. It is a very funny book with moments of WTF and a dollop of terror when Julia tries to break for town.

Writing & Reading Notes, 10/21/21

Writing Notes

Yeah, I’m going to do NaNoWriMo. I plan on revisiting a project I’ve been tinkering with for *years*, but this time from a different angle. Between now and Nov. 1, I have a couple short stories I’ll play ping-pong with. Currently, I have one short story out in the world; it has racked up one rejection thus far.

Finished Reading

The Ones Who Are Waving by Glen Hirshberg

I’m happy any October when I realize that one of my favorite horror authors has an anthology out with some material I haven’t read yet. I was just about to pull out The Two Sams again. Even better? A sequel “Mr. Dark’s Carnival,” one of the standouts of that previous anthology. Hirshberg also introduces his own take on the supernatural detective with a trio of “Normal and Nadine Adventures.”

Deal Me In

Speaking of supernatural mysteries, I finally picked the ace of spades which was “Judge Dee and the Limits of the Law” by Lavie Tidhar. Judge Dee is the final word in matters of vampire law, which aren’t always straightforward. There are two other Judge Dee stories online and I might get to them this weekend.

Currently Reading


I’ll probably do Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon this weekend, so I’ll have a more in-depth “currently reading” post on Saturday.

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Vampire

“Clarimonde” by Théophile Gautier – My original Classics Club pick for September was The Devil’s Elixirs by E. T. A. Hoffmann. At about 30% of the way through, I realized that I had kind of lost track of characters. The story is *very* Gothic with many characters and secret relationships between characters. For the time being, I’ve put The Devil’s Elixirs aside, to be visited more gradually with pen and paper in hand. To keep up RIP momentum and still cross a title off my Classics Club list, I chose a short title that I thought would still work for Gothic September. “Clarimonde” was perfect.

Published in 1835, the vampire tale “La Morte amoureuse” (“The Dead Woman in Love”) or, “Clarimonde” predates Le Fenu’s “Carmilla” by over 35 years. Our titular vampiress tempts a priest, but is, alas, eventually overcome. I found it surprisingly racy for the 19th century, though the parting “moral” of the story is, “Men, beware of women . . .”


“Jerusalem’s Lot” and “One for the Road” by Stephen King – I read “Jerusalem’s Lot” and was confused. Wasn’t this Stephen King’s vampire story? While nosferatu get name-checked, the end of the story seemed to suggest something much more Lovecraftian in nature. And then I realized that King had also written a novel called ‘Salem’s Lot. I had heard of ‘Salem’s Lot but more in the context of the movie adaptation. I thought it was just the clever sales way of giving the project a more evocative title. But, no! Two separate projects, though both in King’s literary universe. Yes, there are vamps in Jerusalem’s Lot. We just don’t see them in their full vamp glory in the short story. For that, we have to go down the road to Tookey’s Bar in “One for the Road” and try to save some out-of-towners from the Lot’s denizens during a blizzard.


Abraham Lincoln: Vamipre Hunter

Year: 2012
Runtime: 1h 45m
Rated: R

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith

Stars: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper

Initial: Oh, why not . . .

What Did I Think:
If you take this movie as a bit of fun, it’s ridiculous, but not really a *bad* movie. The action is a little too CGI, but you don’t really need to exactly follow what’s going on in any of the fight scenes. The plot adds a little to vampire lore and it’s fun to imagine vampires in the burgeoning United States before Dracula.

But if you think about it a little too long, it could be a little problematic. Is this film really saying that the South was full of slave-owning vampires and not slave-owning people? I guess they’re going for allegory and I’m missing it(?) Also, full of factual errors (aside from the vampire thing). This isn’t the movie to watch for history.

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Creepy Fungus

Picture of orange mushroom.
Photo by Joe on Pexels.com

“Come into My Cellar” by Ray Bradbury

I first read this story when I was about ten years-old. It put me off mushrooms for a long while. Not that mushrooms were a common ingredient in my mother’s cooking, but I was well into college before I began to appreciate mushrooms on my pizza and an occasional grilled portabella on my hamburger.

This story begins as many of Bradbury’s do: in the picturesque suburbs. Hugh, the head of the family, is fairly happy with his life, but feels like something is a bit off. His friend and co-worker, Roger feels it moreso. In fact, Roger starts acting weird, abruptly leaving his wife and calling Hugh to warn him about express mail packages. The only express mail package Hugh’s family has received is a mail-order mushroom farm that his son sent away for. Surely, Roger doesn’t that? His own son has the same mushroom farm…

“Gray Matter” by Stephen King

“Gray Matter” is an interesting contrast to Bradbury’s story. It does end up being a much more direct variation on the theme of some sort of fungus taking over a human, but King’s treatment of family is quite different. Richie, also the head of his family, has become something of a ne’er-do-well since his accident. The only contact the community has with him is through his son, whom Richie sends on beer runs. And in this case, some bad beer, not a mail-order scheme, sets off Richie’s transformation.

Don’t worry. This story won’t put me off beer…


In the Earth

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1h 47m
Rated: R

Director: Ben Wheatley

Writer: Ben Wheatley

Stars: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires

Ringworm is a type of fungus. A mycorrhizal mat is formed by a type of fungus connecting the roots of trees. Mix these two concepts together and add a dash of folk horror in the form of a woodland legend and you have In the Earth. Plus, the world outside the forest is being ravaged by a deadly virus and scientists in the forest want to…communicate with the forest? The intentions here are all a little fuzzy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The main characters don’t quite know what’s going on either. On the “scary” end of things, there is some body horror, though I think Martin gets along awfully well for a guy who gets a couple of his toes chopped off. There are also some extended scenes with flashing lights and jumpy images which might be hard for some people to get through.