I got my anniversary present the other day: three of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Graphic editions and one regular, but still awesome looking, Classics Deluxe edition. I wanted to tell my husband that he should have technically gotten me nine books (one for each year of marriage), BUT I just said thank you instead. ;) LOL
The truly sad thing is that I only got to ogle them for a brief moment before packing them in a box. *Le sigh*
From vocabulary expansion to temporary escapism, there seem to be endless benefits to reading books. Our new favorite benefit? Living longer.
According to The Guardian, a new study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine observed the reading patterns of 3,635 people aged 50+ and found that avid book readers live almost two years longer than non-book readers. The study notes that reading books, rather than newspapers and magazines, “[engages] the reader’s mind more – providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the lifespan.”
Just another reason why reading books is literally the greatest thing ever.
When people ask what inspired me to write an alternate history of an America founded by Vikings and their gods, I usually start by making a joke about how American culture already reflects Viking values without my help.
I discovered the thrill of Viking literature in graduate school, when I abandoned my master’s thesis in gender and politics in favor of the violence and glory of Anglo-Saxon literature. It was 2005, America was at war, and besides being caught up in reactionary emotions along with the rest of the country, the war was personal for me: that year my father was deployed with the 3/25 Marines to Iraq. Not only was I surrounded by a national discourse on imperialism and righteousness, heroism and honor, but every day I was terrified that my dad would die. And nobody around me seemed to notice or really “remember the troops.” It was all just talk.
But in thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon poetry, war was part of everyday life. The same themes that surrounded me were present in the poems: brotherhood and sacrifice, the strength of family, the virtues of leadership, and of course the never-ending battle between good and evil. I couldn’t stop seeing parallels between our modern national discourse and “The Battle of Maldon” or Beowulf. Instead of being appalled that so little had changed, I was comforted. It gave me hope. Because the number one priority of those Anglo-Saxon heroes was to be remembered. To be noticed. To have their names live on in glory.
My fascination—and, to be honest, my scared, emo heart—led me to look deeper into the ideology and history of the literature, and that was when I found the Vikings. Though many of the stories we have of Viking mythology were written down after Anglo-Saxon poetry, they feel older, as if like the narrator of Beowulf, we’re peering through a window into a long-forgotten past where warriors and kings and gods fight over honor, glory, family, destiny, and even faith.
It turned out that most Vikings were farmers, and what mattered to them was family, land, and loyalty. I don’t want to paint them in rose colors: they were warlike and imperialistic - just like us - and certainly without indoor plumbing they did not lead particularly envious lives. But the reasons they sailed their ships to neighboring lands to steal and attack were the same reasons we do it today; the same reasons men came to the New World in the first place; the same reasons we pillaged the American West and conquered the people already living there—for money, food, honor, and revenge.
The moment I realized the strength of the connection between Viking culture and American values and history was the moment I realized my heroes and villains, my stories and destinies had always been waiting for me. The United States of Asgard was born.
Here are some of my favorite books about Anglo-Saxon poetry and the Vikings.
History and analysis
A Beowulf Handbook, edited by Robert E. Bjork and John D. Niles
Beowulf’s Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition by Helen Damico
The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H. R. Ellis Davidson
Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown
The Vikings: A History by Robert Ferguson
Woman as Hero in Old English Literature by Jane Chance
Poetry and mythology:
The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, translated by Kevin Crossley- Holland
Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson
The Saga of the Volsungs, translated by Jesse L. Byock
The Sagas of the Icelanders (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
A very happy birthday to the inimitably witty Dorothy Parker, who was born on this day in 1893. The iconic writer would go on to be a theater critic for Vanity Fair, and it was during her time there that she and her associates founded the Algonquin Round Table, a famed New York literary circle that met daily
from 1919 to 1929
for repartee-infused lunches at the historic Algonquin Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.