Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction by Malcolm Gaskill

Slang: A Very Short Introduction Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction by Malcolm Gaskill is the fourth book in the series that I’ve read and the 228th published in the series overall. The series is massive, so I feel like there’s a never-ending stream of interesting books flowing my way. Witchcraft is a particular favorite, and I liked it even more than my most recent read, Slang. The older illustrations that were selected are especially entertaining because they show the way that witches were imagined in the 16th and 17th centuries. Oddly one illustration, Hendy Fuseli’s The Nightmare, is captioned as having a “wild-eyed horse,” but the horse is clearly a ghost. At least to me, but I’m not seeing a second interpretation possible there. Along with illustrations and paintings are photographs, too, including one of a witches’ bottle from 2004 and a really funny one of a medium from 1930 ‘channeling’ a spirit into what looks to be a trash bag with a face drawn on it by a child.

The ‘witch-bottle’ that’s discussed is particularly interesting to me because it was buried upside-down and included nails, pins, hair, fingernail clippings, urine, and a pierced leather heart. The author continues “whether it was intended as protection against witchcraft or the means to reverse a spell, we’ll never know” (34). Why would they never know? Maybe ask a modern witch, you know, one that’s alive. I don’t mean to alarm any muggles out there, but witch bottles are still super common. That it was buried upside down may or may not have been intentional. Pins and nails are common protection items that would be universal to tons of witch bottles in existence today, not just historically, specifically ones to protect a home or person. Further, the nails, hair, and urine obviously belong to a person; it’s likely to belong to one person, and equally likely to belong to the person who created the bottle. Finally, the leather heart is pierced by presumably a pin or nail (why Gaskill doesn’t specify I don’t know, and I wish he had) seems to indicate heartbreak or pain. I posit that the witch bottle discovered was made to protect the creator from the pain of heartbreak, or to break the influence of heartbreak on that person. I suppose it could be to inflict heartbreak on someone else, or give them a heart attack, but they would need to DNA test the bottle. Whose DNA is on it, and is it all the same person? Because that’s actually really important. I don’t know a non-awkward way to explain this so I’ll just say it: I know all this stuff because I’m a witch. A practicing modern witch who picks up rusty nails when she sees them to make, you guessed it, witch bottles.

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Slang: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathon Green

Slang: A Very Short IntroductionSlang: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathon Green was the third book I’ve read from the AVS series. It was my ‘purse book’ for the better part of three months, which I read piece meal in waiting rooms and the like. This book, like the whole VSI series, is very academic in style, and is written for academics. Having left grad school around a year and a half ago, it took me a few chapters to warm up, but then it was fine. However, it definitely will not make for good reading if you aren’t used to that style.

The book traces slang throughout time, complete with ye olde illustrations, but at points it feels a little dry (considering the subject matter). Some parts are extremely interesting, however, and I enjoyed reading it on the whole. The author is basically forced to deal with Urban Dictionary, but refuses to acknowledge its validity (at least in part, since it is ‘peer reviewed’ with the up/down voting). Even though the author won’t say it’s valid, he also won’t leave it out of the book, so it felt awkward. Near the end he makes points about regional and family slang that are very interesting, and it got me thinking about slang that’s used inside my family unit. It’s something that I’d never really thought about before. The chapters and sections are not broken up in a way that it can be used easily in a college classroom (in my opinion, anyway, and that way my original reason for picking it up), but it’s a good read nonetheless.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I once heard an anecdote about a famous film critic who said that he wasn’t going to watch “The African Queen” until he was on his deathbed, because he wanted to save the best for last. Maybe that’s why I, a fan of classic literature and American literature both, have waited so long to read Fahrenheit 451. Of course, like so many people, my plans were foiled by a child, namely my step-son who wanted help with his 8th grade summer reading, and who could say no to that? Looking around the site you can see that I adore Ray Bradbury, so much so that I would venture to say that, were I ever able to get a PhD., I might just specialize in his works. I think he’s an overlooked genius, but at least, I thought, at least students read Fahrenheit 451. Then I read the novel … and it’s not very good. Also, everything after this point is spoilers, just FYI.

Compared to Bradbury’s corpus, Fahrenheit 451 should have been a footnote; flat characters, been-done plot (it’s basically Anthem), not-helpful observations about how technology is rotting minds. It’s almost the opposite of some of his works, specifically The Martian Chronicles collection, wherein machines are personified sympathetically. In Fahrenheit 451 it’s just “technology bad, people complacent” and the characters … I need to organize my thoughts because I cannot just ramble about my disappointment. All I’m saying is that, if that anecdote is true, I really hope that critic liked “The African Queen” because, for me, not liking Fahrenheit 451 was quite the bummer.

The novel opens with Guy Montag being thrilled with his work as a fireman, you know, the book burning kind. Then there’s a lonely walk down a moodily lit street. Enter: a dame. Clarisse McClellan is teenager and unusual, asking Montag all manner of questions as they find themselves walking side by side. This feels like a “meet cute,” where our two polar opposites meet, don’t agree, yet are drawn to each other. Montag is thirty and Clarisse is seventeen, to which my step-son said “eew!” but whatever, I’m much younger than my S.O. and it couldn’t bother me less. So I guess their age difference is supposed to establish them as platonic? Yet he looks for her every day, misses her, she leaves him little quirky manic pixie dream girl presents like acorns, and Montag thinks about her face, “really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing, in fact.” Clarisse asks him why he doesn’t read the books he burns and she asks if he’s happy before running off into the moonlight, she is the character that introduces these huge concepts to Montag … but then she’s unceremoniously killed off. For no reason.

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The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Princess Bride by William Goldman is one of those novels that I never though that I would read. To start with: I hated the movie. Just as unpopular a move as hating The Never Ending Story movie (which I do), but I could never get into the bland love story and murder of cute, giant rats. Fezzik and Inigo, of course, were always cool. I ended up picking the novel up to read this summer simply because the teacher who had my classroom before me used their Title 1 funds to buy a whole grip of them. Next year in Literature in the Media I am planning a unit on “classic movies (based on novels, read a book, darn it)” and I wanted to try a novel that the kids might actually, you know, like. They loved Harry Potter, but they also refused to read the book (not a huge loss as the movie is surprisingly close, though the book is subtly better). I know I want to teach Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I needed some more novels. Time to expand my horizons! Enter William Goldman.

The most notable difference between the novel and the movie is that, in the novel, the frame narrative is much more depressing. It starts with the adult Goldman failing to have an affair because he’s so obsessed with getting a copy of The Princess Bride, a real novel in the novel’s meta premise, for his son. Goldman’s wife is frigid, his son is fat, he hates them for sucking, true, but his hating them also makes it a little hard for us to like him. He is supremely likable when he reminisces about his father, an immigrant, reading the book to him as a sick child, and editing it mercilessly. (That’s where Fred Savage and Colombo come in movie-wise.) Amazingly this frame narrative is completely fictional, which is a relief, because it’s a downer.

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