I read. A lot. Last year I read 65 books, the year before it was 60, and this year I’m hoping to make it 75. I’m working on #27 now, so my odds are good. I thought I’d start doing book reviews some Tuesdays.
This is the first book I was asked to review for Moon Books, a Pagan publishing company. I’m grateful to Nimue Brown for getting me into this in the first place. Writing these reviews is not a paid gig, but I’m a sucker for free books. Luckily this also means I’ll tell you what I really thought of the book.
I volunteered for this particular book because it sounded unusual. It was, but unfortunately not in a good way. I very much wanted to enjoy it and mostly did not. My complaints are far more focused on the structure and editing of the book. This review debunks the specifics of the book better than I can. I’m just not as well versed in the history of anthropology and archaeology as the aforementioned reviewer appears to be.
The whole book started on a weird note; Studebaker opens by throwing into doubt the very connections she plans to explore. I immediately began to question why she was writing the book in the first place if it was so unlikely that there was any connection between Mother Goose and the Goddess at all. This did not bode well.
My central complaint about this book is that she has a major case of confirmation bias. Studebaker so desperately wants to believe her theories that she’s made an entire book out of it. Despite saying in nearly every chapter that the evidence for what she’s talking about is sketchy at best, she continues to write and insist upon connections that she herself disproves. The book has an air of being a serious scholarly book, but is written up like a conspiracy theory. You know, the “the CIA is hiding everything and also there’s a microphone implanted in your toilet” kind of thing.
Like other reviewers, I was puzzled as to why she didn’t provide illustrations. A hefty section of the book is dedicated to describing images that she could have just included. The reason provided for why illustrations were omitted – “Since this book is published in ebook as well as hard-copy format, it includes no illustrations” (xii) – was downright absurd. I feel like ebooks have been able to handle illustrations for at least five years. If they had been included, I think the book would’ve been more credible for it. As it was, the lack of illustrations only served to confirm my suspicion that her research was sloppily done.
The thing is, once I did google images of Mother Goose, I began to maybe kinda sorta see what she was talking about. But what’s the number one rule of writing? Show don’t tell. That’s what I wish Studebaker had done. I might have been more willing to buy her arguments. As it is, she spent too much time describing her evidence instead of just including it, and too little time bolstering her argument.
Two highlights for me were learning the history of the world “spell”, and her chapter on turning fairytales into rituals. The former was a mere digression, but a worthwhile one. The latter was creative but didn’t match the academic tone of the rest of the book. I think if the whole book had been written in a less academic style it would’ve been more believable. Being a recovering academic, I can spot improper use of academic prose in a heartbeat.
I saw this book as a work of theory that was flimsy at best. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the author bills the book as a work of proof based on factual evidence. By doing so, I think she weakened the strength of her points. Studebaker clearly started this book believing she was right and despite presenting evidence that had been discredited, didn’t really support her theories, or outright contradicted her, she ended the book still believing she was right. A serious academic tome, this is not.
A new year and a tough winter meant that I stopped working on this little project. As you may have heard, the east coast of the U.S. got slammed with record breaking amounts of snow this year. It’s finally starting to melt and with the retreat of the coldest weather, my inspiration returns. I’m happy to announce a revitalization of this blog, at least for a little while. I’m juggling many other things (attending birth as apprentice to a local midwife, finishing up my midwifery classes, applying to jobs, working on another creative project, and planning my wedding), so it’s possible this reboot won’t last long. But one can hope right?
I’ve been powering through a number of books this year and am currently working on one about Mother Goose being a hidden symbol of the Goddess. Review to be posted here soon, as well as on my Goodreads account.
Week 43 (V): lifting the veil, remembering the dead
The veil between worlds is thinnest during Samhain. I spent this Samhain remembering some of my loved ones who have died. I lost a friend to cancer when I was quite young, and a great-grandmother to just plain old age when I was in middle school. I’m fortunate enough to still have both parents living, and to have never lost a sibling or a partner. I want to recognize those who have and offer blessings. May your losses become easier to bear with every passing day.
It seemed appropriate to share some of my favorite poems about death. Before you get to anticipating bad goth poetry by moody teenagers, fear not! The three poems that follow were all written by poets over the age of 20.
The Ghost’s Leavetaking (by Sylvia Plath)
Enter the chilly no-man’s land of precisely
Five o’clock in the morning, the no-color void
Where the waking head rubbishes out the draggled lot
Of sulfurous dreamscapes and obscure lunar conundrums
Which seemed, when dreamed, to mean so profoundly much,
Gets ready to face the ready-made creation
Of chairs and bureaus and sleep-twisted sheets.
This is the kingdom of the fading apparition,
The oracular ghost who dwindles on pin-legs
To a knot of laundry, with a classic bunch of sheets
Upraised, as a hand, emblematic of farewell.
At this joint between two worlds and two entirely
Incompatible modes of time, the raw material
Of our meat-and-potato thoughts assumes the nimbus
Of ambrosial revelation. And so departs.
But as chair and bureau are the hieroglyphs
Of some godly utterance wakened heads ignore:
So these posed sheets, before they thin to nothing,
Speak in sign language of a lost otherworld,
A world we lose by merely waking up into sanity.
Trailing its telltale tatters only at the outermost
Fringe of mundane vision, but this ghost goes
Hand aloft, goodbye, goodbye, not down
Into the rocky gizzard of the earth,
But toward the region where our thick atmosphere
Diminishes, and God knows what is there.
A point of exclamation marks that sky
In ringing orange like a stellar carrot.
Its round period, displaced and green,
Suspends beside it the first point, the starting
Point of Eden, next the new moon’s curve.
Go, ghost of our mother and father, ghost of us,
And ghost of our dreams’ children, in those sheets
Which signify our origin and end,
To the cloud-cuckoo land of color wheels
And pristine alphabets and cows that moo
And moo as they jump over moons as new
As that crisp cusp towards which you voyage now.
Hail and farewell. Hello, goodbye. O keeper
Of the profane grail, the dreaming skull.
There’s a clip of her reading this poem on Youtube. I find her voice delightfully haunting, perfect to listen to on stormy autumn evenings.
Because I Could Not Stop for Death (by Emily Dickinson)
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –
Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep (by Mary Elizabeth Frye)
Do not stand at my grave and weep..
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awake in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry..
I am not there. I did not die.