I’ve been doing so many end-of-2017 and beginning-of-2018 posts that I forgot to do my monthly reading wrap-up post! These are mostly for me so I can look at the month as a whole and see what kinds of things I was reading, how much I read, and which ones I loved.
The holidays took up a lot of my spare time this month, which was great because I love the holidays. I also reread more books than usual this month because the holidays always get me in the mood for old favorites.
Glass Slipper Scandal by Tansy Rayner Roberts (4/5 stars)
The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu (5/5 stars)
Romeo And/Or Juliet by Ryan North (5/5 stars)
Cobalt Squadron by Elizabeth Wein (4/5 Stars)
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by EK Johnston (4/5 stars)
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (4/5 stars)
Letters From Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien (5/5 stars)
My True Love Gave To Me ed. by Stephanie Perkins (4/5 stars)
Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham by JRR Tolkien (5/5 stars)
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil by JRR Tolkien (4/5 stars)
Bartholomew’s Passage by Arnold Ytreeide
Wonder Woman: The Truth by Greg Rucka (4/5 stars)
The Generalship of Alexander the Great by JFC Fuller (3/5 stars)
The Book of Hard Words by David Bramwell (4/5 stars)
Come Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp (5/5 stars)
I really like history, and I really like ancient history, but Alexander the Great is probably my favorite historical subject. I have a bad habit of finding books about Alexander whenever I wander into a physical or virtual bookstore; I enjoy reading them even though they’re all hypothetically telling the same story and relaying the same facts. Alexander historians have a LOT OF OPINIONS and they disagree most of the time, which keeps it interesting if I ever get tired of the Siege of Tyre and the invasion of Persia (spoiler: I don’t).
If you are interested in reading a book about Alexander, or you have read some but want more, or you have read a LOT and want to tell me how wrong I am, look no further! Listed below are my favorite books on Alexander the Great, whether they’re novels, biographies, or picture books.
If you have Alexander the Great recommendations for me, please share them in the comments!
The Age of Alexander by Plutarch: If you don’t know anything about Alexander the Great, this would be my first nonfiction recommendation. Plutarch was a Roman historian who wrote a few centuries after Alexander, but he was working off of the primary sources (biographies written during or soon after Alexander’s lifetime). That being said, he is an anecdotal writer, so he embellishes where he feels he needs to, and slathers his Roman bias all over everything. Still, it’s a great place to start and pretty entertaining to read. Plutarch knows how to tell a good story. Later biographers tend to use Plutarch and Arrian the most.
The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian: Arrian is probably the best, most comprehensive source in existence for Alexander. Like Plutarch, Arrian was a Roman writer using the primary sources to write his own Alexander biography, but Arrian does his best to accurately record Alexander’s military exploits. Arrian has less fun storytelling than Plutarch, but more accuracy (in relative terms) and lots of specifics military details.
Everyone knows that Alexander the Great didn’t have pupils.
The History of Alexander by Quintus Curtius Rufus: If you really want to cover all the main secondary sources, you should tackle Rufus as well. He has really strong opinions about Alexander, like the others he slathers his Roman bias all over everything, but he’s a lot closer to the source material than we are. Rufus gets only a half-hearted recommendation from me because he includes a lot of embellished speeches, he is obsessed with Darius (king of Persia) and he kind of hates Alexander.
Note: Other main sources include Diodorus and Justin, but I haven’t read those guys yet.
Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire (Great Courses) by Kenneth Harl: I listened to these lectures but there are DVDs available as well. This is a fantastic and comprehensive run-down of Alexander, his historical context, and his legacy. My only complaint is that Harl has a huge crush on Alexander, and tends to rationalize or justify some of Alex’s less awesome choices. If you like audiobooks, this would be my #1 rec.
Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green: This is the best biography; I want to eat it up. This and the Harl lectures are the best of the more modern biographies I’ve come across so far. Peter Green doesn’t hate Alexander, and he doesn’t love him, but he respects Alexander is a megolomaniac genius and admires his skill in manipulating everything and everyone around him. I subscribe to this view also, in part because of this book.
The Nature of Alexander by Mary Renault: This is Mary Renault’s nonfiction treatment of Alexander the Great; see below for her fiction treatment. Like Harl, Renault has a huge crush on Alexander and she will stop at nothing to justify any torture, genocide, or palace burnings that her dear Alex gets up to. Like, relax. Sometimes people do bad things but they can’t be boiled down to that one bad thing.
Alexander the Great by Paul Cartledge: This book is repetitive and boring at times, but Cartledge does a great job of analyzing the sources and rejecting the less plausible versions of Alexander episodes. This book isn’t as readable or engaging as some (see Freeman, below), but it is one of the more accurate biographies, and Cartledge has a dry humor that comes out in places.
Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman: If you’re new to Alexander the Great, this is a nice contemporary overview of his life. It’s very readable, but Freeman is notvery discriminating with his sources. He’s here for the sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Stealing Fire by Jo Graham: This book is set after Alexander’s death, but has a lot of flashbacks to various points in his career. It’s told from the perspective of one of Alexander’s officers, who made his way up through the ranks from being a groom. who The plot revolves around the theft of Alexander’s body by one of his generals, and that same general taking over Egypt. You know, the fun stuff. This is a great historical fiction book with some fantasy elements. My main complaint is that Alexander isn’t physically present for most of the events depicted, but his presence is felt throughout by the other characters and in the flashbacks.
Fire From Heaven and The Persian Boy by Mary Renault: These books have a couple of big problems: Mary Renault has a huge crush on Alexander, and the female characters are generally thrown into the whore or witch categories. However, Renault tries to give an accurate, engaging view of what happened and illustrate what kind of man Alexander was personally. He comes across very positively in these books which is problematic in some cases, but as a work of fiction, it is well-crafted. I haven’t read the third book in the trilogy, The Funeral Games, because it’s post-Alexander and I’m not about that.
Alexander the Great by Demi: If I was going to make a picture book version of Alexander, this is what it would look like. Yes, it’s very idealized. Yes, it mostly draws on Plutarch anecdotes which may or may not be have actually happened. But the storytelling is coherent, and as a broad character study, you get the gist of Alexander’s personality and goals. The art is gorgeous, and the use of gold is absolutely perfect. I want to stare at every page for hours. There’s an epic quality to the illustrations that, yes, romanticized, but go big or go home, unless you’re satirizing the guy. He’s Great, after all.
A Choice of Destinies by Melissa Scott: This is my favorite Alexander novel I have read so far, but it’s an alternate history. This book explores what might have happened if Alexander hadn’t gone to India, had an heir that’s old enough to have a chance once Alexander dies, and various other differences. I don’t recommend reading it if you don’t know much about Alex, because you will be very very confused and probably be convinced that he fought Romans. The book doesn’t make clear if Alex still dies of a fever in Babylon, but it does emphasize that his Empire is stabilized in his lifetime and survives for a long time. It has science fiction undertones, but what I love most about this book is how believable the alternate events are, and how well Scott characterizes everyone believably considering the historical sources. I also love the emphasis on Alexander’s engineers: those guys were smart and crucial to Alexander’s campaigns.
It’s been a while since I’ve continued my series on Dionysus, son of Zeus and god of agriculture, madness, and a few other things. You can catch up on the other Dionysus posts here. Previously, we went through Dionysus’ birth and childhood, and looked at his worshippers and some of the stories of his infectious madness ruining kings and pirates. Dionysus has a tendency to inspire passionate frenzy in his followers and frenzied outrage from his opposition.
One of the mythical figures most associated with Dionysus is his wife, Ariadne.
Ariadne is probably most famous for her role in the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. Ariadne falls in love with a boy (Theseus, prince of Athens) and betrays her family (the royal line of Crete) to help said boy defeat her monstrous half-brother (the Minotaur) and escape the Labyrinth. After everything she goes through, Ariadne is abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. Understandably, Ariadne does not take the break-up well and curses Theseus, sending the Furies after him.
Dionysus finds Ariadne’s agony and fury extremely hot. You’d think Ariadne would be super done with guys at this point, but she lets herself be swept off her feet and marries Dionysus. There’s a story of a miracle on Naxos, in which wine gushes from the spring located where Dionysus and Ariadne were married. If anyone was going to have a magical wine-spring at his wedding, it would be Dionysus, who invented it.
AND THEN THEY LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER, RIGHT?
Dionysus ends up in a war with Perseus (of the Golden Fleece fame), because Perseus is one of those kings who just won’t fall in line with the Dionysian cult. Ariadne is accidentally killed during their battle. Whooooooooooooooops.
After Ariadne dies, Dionysus throws her wedding diadem into the night sky and it becomes the constellation Corona Borealis.
Dionysus, in spite of his raucous followers and orgiastic habits, doesn’t have a bunch of mythical lovers, and definitely had fewer than his dad Zeus, for example. Ariadne is the primary spouse or lover he’s got (although he had a couple of kids with a couple other mortal ladies).
You Can’t Keep A Good Girl Down
Dionysus regularly loses the important women of his life, but he does try to get them back. Remember his mom Semele, who burst into flame while pregnant after seeing Zeus’ true form? At some point Dionysus decides that was a Bad Deal and goes on the traditional underworld quest to get her back. He’s a bit luckier than Orpheus and Dionysus doesn’t have to do any of that “Don’t look back” nonsense. However, he does have to bribe* a certain shepherd (named either Hypolipnus or Prosymnos or Polymnus) to help him find an entrance to the underworld. Once Semele has been retrieved, Dionysus guilts Zeus into making her a minor goddess named Thyone.
There are stories that Dionysus rescues Ariadne and makes her a goddess as well, but those are more obscure and came along later. I like them, though, because Ariadne had a rough enough time as it was.
Aside from the occasional rescue, Dionysus has a complicated relationship with the underworld. In his cult, Dionysus dies every year and resurrects in the winter with the grapevine, symbolic of his status as the god of agriculture and wine. The ancient author Hesiod uses the epithet “he who eats flesh raw” to describe Dionysus, which he also uses to describe Cerberus (three-headed dog of the underworld) and Echidna (the mother of monsters). This implies that Dionysus has at least some monster-attributes linking him to the more overt mythological monsters, if not an actual monster himself.
In some versions of his myths, Dionysus is in fact the son of Zeus and Persephone, but complications lead to Zeus moving the baby to Semele’s wound instead because THIS IS MYTHOLOGY AND NOTHING IS NORMAL. The Orphic Hymns (attributed to Orpheus, another dude who went to the underworld to try to save a girl), say that Dionysus hangs out in Persephone’s house during the time of year when he is dead (Orphic Hymn 53). Another Hymn (46) says that Dionysus was raised in Persephone’s house, rather than being raised by nymphs of Nysa.
So, like Persephone, Dionysus has a lot of seasonal connotations for his worshippers and a cycle of power and decline that he goes through every year.
TO BE CONTINUED on a future Myth Monday!
*Not a monetary bribe; Dionysus generally took the form of a really really really attractive younger dude. USE YOUR IMAGINATION OR DON’T, I’M NOT HELPING YOU.
Mythologyby Edith Hamilton: This is my favorite mythology retelling collection so far. Hamilton does a good job of condensing everything but still telling a good story and telling it well, so that it’s entertaining and terrifying, but still getting across all of these random details and encompassing all of the many characters in Greek mythology.
The Age of Fable by Thomas Bulfinch: This does the same job as Edith Hamilton’s book, but his writing style isn’t as poetic or engaging. He includes details and stories that Hamilton doesn’t, though, and he tries to be as comprehensive (I was tempted to say “unbiased,” but no one ever manages that) as possible.
Dionysus: Myth and Cult by Walter F. Otto: Otto likes Dionysus. A lot. So much. It’s a little terrifying. Anyway, this book delves into the cult that worshiped Dionysus, the different rites and versions of Dionysus’ story, and the cultural and religious impact of the Greek god.
Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. My translation is the New International Version.
From my reading this week:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Why I chose it:
Am I glad this year is over! As I watch the old year pass and the new year begin, it’s good to get some perspective and a glimpse of “the old order of things” being replaced by a bright new future.
I tried and failed to narrow this list down to a top ten. The books listed (and vaguely categorized) below are the best books I read this year, but not necessarily published this year. I read 256 books this year so they had to be PRETTY DANG GREAT to make this list.
I tried and failed to pick a grand prize winner. So.
The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff
File under: Found Family; That’s So Wizard; I Had To Many Feelings To Catalog Them Properly;
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
File under: Monster Humans and Human Monsters; Beautiful Prose; Flailing;
Point of Hopes, Point of Dreams, Point of Knives, and Fairs’ Point by Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett
File under: Fantasy/Mystery Series of Joy; I Want Ten More Please and Immediately; They’re All Good Boys Brent!;
The Adventures of Charls, the Veretian Cloth Merchant by C.S. Pacat
File under: An Absolute Delight, Hilarity
Thick As Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner
File under: Books I Have a Book’s Worth of Thoughts On; F-A-V-O-R-I-T-E; Casual Perfection;
So You Want To Be A Robot and Other Stories by Merc Rustad
File under: Hope; Found Family; I Want To Reread Immediately;
A Choice of Destinies by Melissa Scott
File under: Alexander; Good AUs; Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me This Book Existed;
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
File under: I Want To Reread Immediately; Found Family; Laugh or Cry or BOTH on every page;
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
File under: Human Monsters and Hero Robots; Smart Protagonists; I Want Ten More and A Movie Please
The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
File under: Epic Fantasy But The Good Kind; Protags I Would Die For;
The Innkeeper Chronicles books 1-3 by Ilona Andrews
File under: An Absolute Delight; Space Werewolves;
Hypothetically for Kids But I am 27** Years Old and I Do What I Want
Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland
File under: Found Family; All The Dragons That Love Can Buy; Protag I Would Die For;
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
File under: Well-Crafted Books; Maybe The Real Princesses Were The Friends We Made Along The Way; We Will Go Together;
Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
File under: Grace Under Pressure, Hope in Dark Times
The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
File under: CHOCOLATE; DRAGONS; DRAGONS AND CHOCOLATE; CHOCOLATE AND DRAGONS; FAMILY;
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
File under: Why Didn’t We Know This; Do What Must Be Done; Amazing Women;
My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
File under: Making Sense of Nonfiction Via Fiction; Books About Books;
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
File under: Amazing Women; Seriously An Amazing Woman; How Does This Woman Exist;
Best Books With Pictures
Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer
File under: Androids With Feelings; Human Monsters and Hero Robots;
Ms. Marvel: Super Famous, Civil War II, and Damage Per Second by G. Willow Wilson
File under: An Absolute Delight; Heroes; We Will Go Together;
Wonder Woman: The Lies by Greg Rucka
File under: Who Gave DC My Wish List?; Diana Prince, Light of My Life Fire of My Loins;
March: Book One and Two by John Lewis (I haven’t read Book Three yet)
File under: Good Books; Why Didn’t I Know This?;
*”Best” as determined by Science and Reason, and definitely not by my own feelings and personal preferences definitely not
I’ve been trying to put together a Readalong schedule for 2018, but after actual weeks of brainstorming, I’m giving up on it. Readalongs used to be fun work for me to do but just thinking about them makes me kind of depressed, so I’m not making any plans at this point to do them. That being said, I do love reading along with people! If you or someone you know is doing a Readalong, please link me! I might join in.
I will be blogging in 2018 but I’m keeping my plans loose and my goals big. I’ll be posting the usual nonsense of books, mythology, quotes, and reviews.
I wish you all the Happiest and Warmest of New Years!