Books + Comics

In Dreams Begin Realities

Books and comics about legends, myths, and meaning.

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
1962, Delacorte

The ancient Greeks were pretty twisted, and by twisted I mean wonderful, and by wonderful I mean cruel and violent and imaginative and romantic and capable of anything! As a kid, I kind of abhorred Greek mythology because I thought the gods were so mean and petty. Like, why the fuck does Zeus punish Prometheus for stealing fire from Mount Olympus to give to the poor, shivering, cold-ass humans? And whhhhyyyyy does he punish him by chaining him to the top of the Caucasus Mountains and sending an eagle down to eat his liver, which then regenerates anew overnight, only to be eaten again the next day? Why did he give Pandora a sealed box that he warned her must never be opened? OF COURSE GIRL IS GONNA PEEK INSIDE THAT BOX. I always felt like there was something so manipulative and unfair about the way these gods meted out punishment and justice. They were moody and sulky and they would hold a grudge for forever and then suddenly—without warning or reason—they would be totally over it. When I was in grad school, I spent an afternoon in the children’s section of the library reading this book, and I suddenly got it: these were just stories, stories that are meant to entertain and horrify and delight and disturb and console, but sometimes they did none of those things and sometimes they did all of them. Lovers who are torn apart are immortalized as constellations in the sky. Hercules goes mad several times because Zeus’s wife, Hera, hates him for being Zeus’s son from another mother, so she makes him go around the world completing ridiculously difficult jobs (which is where the phrase “Herculean task” comes from). Logic and reason and justice play a role, but never in the ways I expect. The gods and mortals who connive their way into getting what they want sometimes suffer no repercussions, and other times are severely punished. There’s so much chaos, but in a way, it’s comforting. (It probably helps that this is a children’s book with really sweet, cheerful illustrations, and most of the more heinous details are expertly edited out.) In short: read this book if you want a really delightful and fun introduction to Greek mythology, and then dig up the stuff that was deleted and scream WHHHAAATTT?! with me. —Jenny

Confessions
Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
Originally published in 398 AD; published many times since by many houses and in many languages

Do you know what it’s like to try and try and try to do the best you can, but still feel like you’re incapable of doing anything right? Saint Augustine did. This book is a heart-aching and deeply absorbing account of how one can want to be righteous, but still have so much trouble shaking their own perceived badness. For him, that meant trying to be chaste in a world of SEXXXY TEMPTATIONZ when he really didn’t want to be, and how he finally got over his ~lust~. As a proud, card-carrying slutmonster, I don’t identify with that specific struggle, but I still relate heavily to this book. It explains in detail how hard it can be to exist as a moral person in the world, a struggle I think all of us experience at some point or another. If you can overlook Augustine’s prudishness, this text is pretty much essential. And since it’s in the public domain, you can read the whole thing for free online. —Amy Rose

Passing
Nella Larsen
1929, Penguin Classics

This short, beautiful, tragic novel is one of those rare books that I think should be mandatory reading in high school. The main character, Irene, is a black woman living a stable life who gets thrown for a loop when she reconnects with Clare, an old friend who is mixed race and “passes” as white. Irene is both obsessed with and resentful of Clare, and theirs is one of the most fascinatingly tumultuous female relationships in fiction (seriously, you don’t know the meaning of the word frenemy until you read this book). It blows my mind how much Larsen is able to pack into such a slim volume, which deftly explores the fluidity of identity politics, the complexities of race, and the dynamics of friendship. —Anna

The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls
2005, Scribner

The Glass Castle is the greatest thing I read this year. I devoured it, laughing and weeping, in a matter of hours. It’s a memoir of the author’s dysfunctional family, particularly her loving but wildly eccentric parents. It mainly focuses on Walls’s relationship with her father, Rex, an alcoholic adventurer who carts his family from place to place whenever he comes up with a new harebrained scheme for success, or needs to escape the consequences of his last one. He teaches his children how to shoot pistols and fight with knives, assigns them various planets as Christmas presents, and promises them—as he sets up house in abandoned basements and derelict forest cabins—that he will one day build a glass castle in which they can all live happily ever after. It’s hilarious and sweet and subtle and chillingly sad, and Walls shows that adversity can be embraced as well as overcome. —Esme

The Bone series
Jeff Smith
2005-2009, Scholastic

In high school, I stayed up for two nights in a row, skipped school, and devoured the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was like, WHAT COULD BE BETTER? Maybe this is blasphemy coming from someone who is not very well versed in the fantasy genre, but two years later, my friend lent me the entire Bone series, and I fell behind in all my classes for a week, read the whole muthafucking thing, and was like, THIS IS TOTALLY BETTER. It had all the same good stuff as LOTR (sweeping, super-engrossing plot; amazingly intricate character development; weird and memorable details), but without any of the bad stuff (long-ass stretches of boring description, completely unnecessary lyrical interludes). The main characters are three really cute cousins: the everyman Fone Bone, the greedy swindler Phoney Bone, and the happy-go-lucky Smiley Bone. They are run out of the town of Boneville and quickly become entangled in a heroic adventure to save the world! It’s kind of the standard fantasy plot, but deftly executed and joyful. If I had to estimate, I would say there are about 1000% more funnies in Bone than in the average fantasy book, and the illustrations are ace. The reissued single-volume color editions from Scholastic are especially wonderful to look at and make it all the more necessary to skip out on life for a week. —Jenny

The Mists of Avalon
Marion Zimmer Bradley
1982, Ballantine

My absolute favorite version of the King Arthur story isn’t about King Arthur or the Knights of the Round Table at all. The Mists of Avalon approaches the legend from the point of view of the women who are usually marginalized in these tales, including Guinevere, the Lady of the Lake; and, most important, Morgan Le Fay (called Morgaine here). We’ve come to know her as King Arthur’s evil and antagonistic half-sister, but in this book she’s a priestess of a dying religion who’s just trying to save her people and the magic of Avalon from the changes and hardships that men and Christianity have visited upon the land. —Rachael

Mythologies
Roland Barthes
1957, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Myths don’t always have to center on, like, centaurs and babes who have snakes instead of hair. Just ask Roland Barthes, the mack daddy of modern cultural criticism. In this mind-exploding essay collection, he explores the way we come to mythologize the phenomena of our everyday lives, like toys and dish detergent and stripteases and plastic. We, as people, assign special cultural meanings and associations to plenty of decidedly regular things, and this book beautifully and thoughtfully deconstructs how that goes down. It taught me that I wasn’t bizarre or alone in finding great, romanticized meaning in steak and Marlon Brando’s face. If you’re like me, you’re going to flip your wig over this perfect book. You might even find yourself mythologizing Mythologies itself, which I did instantly upon reading it. Barthes forever. —Amy Rose

Wraeththu
Storm Constantine
1993, Orb

After my first viewing of Wings of Desire, I developed a bit of an obsession with fallen angels and stories that raise philosophical questions about what makes us human. A friend told me about Storm Constantine’s trilogy about the Grigori (a race of fallen angels), but the only book by her I was able to find at my local store was a massive volume called Wraeththu, which is an omnibus edition of another trilogy. I like the challenge that a giant book presents, and the first few sentences sounded like the set-up to an epic story: “My name is Pellaz. I have no age. I have died and lived again. This is my testament.” It turned out to be a futuristic myth that takes place in the wake of an unnamed apocalypse that brings about the downfall of humanity and the rise of a Wraeththu—a mutation of human beings that sounded pretty incredible to me. Not only do they possess magical abilities, but they’re all hermaphrodites—totally androgynous in appearance and gorgeously described by Constantine, whose writing reminds of Mary Shelley’s and Lord Byron’s. I’ve reread this book several times just to bask in its world again. —Stephanie

Let Us Compare Mythologies
Leonard Cohen
1956, Ecco

When you read this collection of poems, Leonard Cohen’s first published work, cover to cover, the poems’ rhapsody intensifies, as does their impending sense of doom. Words thunder, echo, vibrate; one verse from a poem called “Ballad” has stayed with me to this day: “The flowers they were roses / and such sweet fragrance gave / that all my friends were lovers / and we danced upon her grave.” You can see how these early poems eventually fueled Cohen’s songwriting; they float effortlessly between immense grief and anger to total lightness, like a nursery rhyme. This line from “Story” says it all: “It is important to understand one’s part in a legend.” —Minna

The Iron King
Julie Kagawa
2010, Harlequin Teen

Imagine you found out fairies were real. Now imagine you found out that you were a fairy, not the human teenager you thought you were. Oh, and your little brother has just been kidnapped by the evil Iron Fey. This is how The Iron King, the first book in the Iron Fey series, begins. At first Meghan just wants to save her brother, but soon she finds herself trapped between the warring courts of Summer and Winter, with a new threat facing both of them. Born of human technology—metal and engines and microchips—the Iron Fey are slowly poisoning the natural world that the other fairies need to survive. If Meghan and her brother are going to live, she will have to convince old enemies to band together to fight a greater evil. And, of course, in the process she finds herself falling in love with the one person she cannot have. You’ll finish this book dying to know what happens next, so make sure you have the sequels close at hand! —Rachael

Wild Girls
Mary Stewart Atwell
2012, Scribner

In 17-year-old Kate Riordan’s Appalachian hometown of Swan River, there is a local legend about teenage girls who just suddenly go wild—and not like drinking and drugging. They glow and fly and set fire to things with their fingertips. A lot of times they kill people, and sometimes they die with their victims. No one knows what causes their behavior, and Kate worries that this fate will befall her, too—or that she’ll be stuck in Swan River forever, like her mom and her sister. In her last year at the posh Swan River Academy, she’s on the verge of escape, but drama with a local boy named Mason and Kate’s pseudo-best friend Willow brings her dangerously close to fulfilling her worst fears. One of the blurbs on the back compares it to The Virgin Suicides and the novels of Joyce Carol Oates, and while Wild Girls has its own unique flavor, I would definitely put it beside those books on my shelf. —Stephanie

Greek Myths
Retold and Illustrated by Marcia Williams
1994, Walker Books

This may be the perfect children’s book formula: Greek myths + awesome drawings + comic-strip format. I carried this with me into adult life and will probably never tire of flipping through it. Initially, it was a favorite at bedtime, because nothing sparks a kid’s interest in ancient literature like a couple of funny drawings of a blinded Cyclops, but it has continued to serve me faithfully over the years. Not only did Williams capture my eight-year-old imagination by relating these stories in a funny and completely accessible manner, but she laid the foundation for a continued interest in the subject, inspired me to draw comics, and gave me something for reference and clarification once I got to college and Homer started frying my brain. —Esme ♦

37 Comments

  • thefilmrookie January 31st, 2013 7:21 PM

    i have always loved d’aulairies!

    http://www.pink-lantern.tumblr.com

  • jenaimarley January 31st, 2013 7:29 PM

    The Mists of Avalon was the glory after which my 6th grade self declared herself a Feminist.

    Also Leonard Cohen’s poetry is phenomenal. My favorite of his is “Pagans”. I copied it out of my English teacher’s ancient copy of one of his books but I can’t seem to find it anywhere on the internet!

    • Nashipae January 31st, 2013 8:51 PM

      With all Greek heroes/ swarming around my shoulders,/I perverted the Golem formula/
      and fashioned you from grass,/using oaths of cruel children/for my father’s chant.

      O pass by, I challenged you/and gods in their approval/rustled my hair with marble hands,/
      and you approached slowly/with all the pain of a thousand year statue/breaking into life.

      I thought you perished/
      at our first touch/(for in my hand I held a fragment/of a French cathedral/and in the air a man spoke to birds/and everywhere/
      the dangerous smell of old italian flesh).

      But yesterday while children/slew each other in a dozen games,/I heard you wandering through grass/and watched you glare (O Dante)/where I had stood.

      I know how coarse grass/
      mutilates your feet,/
      how the city traffic/echoes all his sonnets/ and how you lean for hours/ at the cemetery gates.

      Dear friend, I have searched all night/
      through each burnt paper,/but I fear I will never find/the formula to let you die.

      • jenaimarley January 31st, 2013 10:47 PM

        Thank you!
        Is it not absolutely perfect?!
        Where did you find it?

        • Nashipae February 1st, 2013 9:36 AM

          You are right, it’s beautiful and I’m really happy you gave me the chance to reread it :)
          Here in Italy the book was published for the first time some years ago by a beautiful independent publisher, in a translation with parallel text (I don’t know how to say it in english… I mean one page in the original language and one page translated). There are probably easier ways for you to get it, but I link you the page http://www.minimumfax.com/libri/scheda_libro/45. (if you go on the ice cream symbol you can read some poems; if you go on the shopping cart… well you can buy it, of course).
          Good luck!

  • chloegrey January 31st, 2013 7:30 PM

    If y’all are interested in mythology/folktales from a woman’s perspective you should definitely check out Waking the World (I think the subtitle is ‘classic tales of women and the heroic feminine’). It basically just gives retellings of stories that women have told from all over the world, and then offers a modern psychoanalytical reading. Which sounds dull but it’s not! I found it this summer at random and it sort of sparked my interest in feminism and reminded me of how much I like hearing stories from different cultures and times. They all have this sort of ancient strong but creepy and mysterious quality. Anyway some of these just reminded me of that, they all sound really fantastic :)
    oh and D’Aularies is greeeeaaaat! They also have a book of Norse myths if you like that or want to see more fantastic pictures of gnomes.

    http://oboebonobo.tumblr.com/

  • Lucy23 January 31st, 2013 7:31 PM

    THE GLASS CASTLLLLLLEEEE

    http://safeanarchy.blogspot.com

    • Graciexx January 31st, 2013 9:03 PM

      I know right!!!!!!!! It’s AHMAZINGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!

      I was with my mum and visiting some of her old friends when I saw this book on the table. I read it in a 3 hour straight sitting, while they were all talking.

      Oh, and I think that the series ‘the secrets of the immortal Nicholas Flammel’ should definitely be included on this list. It’s by Michael Scott (an irish folktale writer) and it joins just about every creation myth and legend from around the world into one brilliant series.

  • i-like-autumn January 31st, 2013 7:40 PM

    Wild Girls looks super awesome!! I’ll have to check it out of the library. Thanks for the recommendations!!

    Autumn
    http://www.i-like-autumn.tumblr.com

  • StrawberryTwist January 31st, 2013 8:06 PM

    Ohhhhhh I really want to read “The Iron King” now! :D
    Ahhh I’m super excited cause I have been looking for an interesting book to read on the weekends! So thankyou very much!

    http://fashiononfire.org/

  • evagm January 31st, 2013 8:07 PM

    The Glass Castle was such an amazing book! I read it this summer because of a friend and read it in two days. I also grew up with D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, my dad used to read it to me all the time! Also if any of you guys are looking for good mystical/fantasyish books, A Wrinkle in Time is one of my all time favs.
    http://gurrlpowerr.blogspot.com/

  • flapperhatgirl January 31st, 2013 8:14 PM

    Ooh, they all look so good. I love mythology, and I’ll defenatly bring this list along on my next library trip :)
    http://thepseudo-intellectual.blogspot.com/?m=1

  • AnaRuiz January 31st, 2013 8:19 PM

    Hi!! For all of you fellow Rookies that love to read, I started a Goodreads group that works as a book club to read and discuss books that are recommended here! If you have time, please do check it out. :) (We’re currently reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower and tommorow we start The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.)
    http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/81728-rookie-readers

  • Abby January 31st, 2013 8:44 PM

    OMG YOU GUYS I LOVE THE GLASS CASTLE THIS MAKES ME SOOOO HAPPY.

  • rrose selavy January 31st, 2013 8:55 PM

    Neil Gaiman’s Sandman should be on this list!

    • October in the chair January 31st, 2013 10:46 PM

      YES!
      That’s what I was thinking when I saw what this post was about!
      I recently went to uni orientation day, and there was a Sandman quote pasted up on the wall. I nearly died.

    • jenaimarley January 31st, 2013 11:06 PM

      Also his American Gods!

      • October in the chair February 1st, 2013 12:44 AM

        I haven’t read American Gods, but i hear it’s amazing!

        • FlaG February 3rd, 2013 4:33 AM

          You really should! And if you can, do so before HBO finishes filming the TV series. Since I bought it, I’ve read it twice.

  • raggedyanarchy January 31st, 2013 9:40 PM

    Oh my goodness, The Glass Castle!!!!! I first read it when I was too little to understand most of it and was kind of horrified by what I did understand (it’s kinda graphic, guys, and there’s some sex and drugs and a little rock n roll and alcoholism and child abuse and racism and puberty and I was like eight ok?). But I decided I liked it, even though it kind of traumatized my little-kid mind. I picked it up a few years later and understood the rest of it and it’s really good and I cried and laughed and all that mumbo-jumbo.
    And I LOVE the Mists of Avalon! I loved Morgaine when I was little (The Magic Tree House series were my first chapter books) and then I learned she was a bad guy in the actual mythology and it made me feel guilty about loving her. But then Mists of Avalon gave me an excuse to love her again.

  • FlaG January 31st, 2013 10:06 PM

    I’m quite surprised that Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels aren’t included in this! It’s got mythology and everything! Y U NO INCLUDE!??!

  • Apple Juice Mufasakins January 31st, 2013 10:41 PM

    I really want to check out all of them, The Glass Castle espespecially. The Iron King sounds somewhat similar to my favorite series. The Trylle Trilogy by Amanda Hocking. Switched, Torn, and Ascend. The twists and turns in this book gave me chills. Not only were the characters realistic, but they were unique and defined.

  • Teez February 1st, 2013 12:09 AM

    all about the barthes. roll on roland

  • Aoife February 1st, 2013 5:16 AM

    BARTHES 4EVA & EVA

  • FlorenceEyre February 1st, 2013 8:33 AM

    I have borrowed a book about Amazons from our city library and there are many myths about this cool girl gangs, including some Greek and Roman ones, but a lot of Asian and South-American ones, too (and many more from all over the world).
    They are so cool!!

  • Flicts Girl February 1st, 2013 10:05 AM

    I loved The Glass Castle!!!!!It’s just crazy and different and awesome!

    L

  • HollinsCollins February 1st, 2013 11:17 AM

    BONEEEE! Love!
    Also lol, I know the Wild Girl author’s brother-in-law. He’s friends with my dad.

  • anyone February 1st, 2013 11:20 AM

    It is always the best day of the month when there are new book reviews on Rookie!
    Thank you again! I am looking forward to read some of these books (I already discovered such AWESOME books through Rookie).

    I just finished “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht. It is very beautiful and was kind of fitting with the mythology vibes on Rookie this month (yes, Rookie dictates my “vibes” every month. Gosh, I am looking forward for the February of Passion)!
    So, everyone, read “The Tiger’s Wife”. It is wonderful!

  • pissykiss February 1st, 2013 11:23 AM

    nice! love

  • Martinapovolo February 1st, 2013 12:26 PM

    how come y’all put a book about saints under myths and legends

  • lydiamerida February 1st, 2013 3:26 PM

    I really like Russian/Slavic and Norse folk tales too. I feel like they are sometimes even better than Greek ones, but are just underappreciated. They definitely have better heroines :)

  • faomosgirl February 1st, 2013 6:49 PM

    D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is completely awesome.

    My mom bought it for me when I was a kid and I read all the stories and spent hours poring over the pictures.

    It is totally gorgeous.

  • NotReallyChristian February 1st, 2013 7:24 PM

    I was just thinking how the Nella Larsen book sounds a little like Tanizaki Junichiro’s Quicksand, and I discover on Amazon that Larsen also wrote a book called Quicksand that also seems to have similar themes, and that they were both writing in the same exact years, on different continents :)
    Tanizaki’s books are FABBO btw; I nominate Quicksand for Passion month. Read it, read it somebody please!

  • loonylizzy February 1st, 2013 9:33 PM

    for all the Francesca Lia Block fans out there, her books Psyche in a Dress and Echo are fantastic, and they both have a lot of mythology incorporated :)

  • bunnyscout February 1st, 2013 10:29 PM

    BONE is great, and I’ve been meaning to read Glass Castles for ages but haven’t gotten around to it for some reason??

    I’d also totally recommend The Legend of Bold Riley if you can get your hands on comics. It’s a comic anthology about an adventuring (brown & queer) princess & each story is told a lot like a fairytale or a myth. The art & writing is really lovely and Riley is such a rad character. Yall should definitely look for it if you can!