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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Orwig

Snubs, Slights, and Effronteries, Troll Tales, Short Stories, and a Collection of Poetry

I recently finished Samuel Johnson’s Insults: A Compendium of His Finest Snubs, Slights, and Effronteries edited by Jack Lynch, and Norwegian Troll Tales Retold by Joanne Asala.

Johnson’s Insults was oddly entertaining, for I did not realize how many phrases and words were created to express such displeasure with a person or thing. A good share of the words are no longer in use. And the ones that are have evolved to take on different meanings (some even during Johnson’s own lifetime). There was only a handful that I could recognize and share the same etymology of in modern usage. I did not know that Samuel Johnson is one of the most quoted people in the English language after Shakespeare until I Googled him. After reading this sampling of some of the choice phrases, I can see why. A creative mind and a fast wit contribute to memorable moments in those it is unleashed upon in force. Whether for good or ill...

The Norwegian Troll Tales by Joanne Asala was delightfully silly in some stories. Questionable morals in many. And very entertaining over all with many different examples of trolls to be found in the deep forests and wind-whipped fjords. The illustrations alone are worth pursuing. While some stories were timeless (Billy Goat Gruff, anyone?) I was simply fascinated by a few in particular, like “Buttercup,” for the morals were not what I had been expecting. Talking foxes made an appearance in a few too! Without giving too much away in case you find yourself a copy to spend the coming chilly autumn days with, it is a fun read.

In the time it took me to write this article and post it, I also read Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.

So good! As I was reading, I realized I read these short stories before, back in my first semester of college short story writing class. The enjoyment I got out of these gems then matches the delight I have now after just finishing. Some of the most memorable stories are the ones featuring that kind of nostalgia that is both sweet and bitter. Some would say it is joy made brighter by the impact of sorrow; for as I reached the last few pages of the last story I immediately set the book down. I knew what was to follow, dreaded it, but anticipated that the stark pain was going to be wrapped up into intricate prose, never on the nose, but expertly weaved in.

Lahiri’s work, as always, is stunningly and poignantly beautiful. The snap-shots she creates are filled with flawed characters and striking details. I know picking up a copy of one of her works that I’m always in for a literary treat. The actions the characters do never seem to be out of touch with their time or place. Although they are only alive for a set limit of pages, you feel how well-rounded they are. Even as you beg for more after that last page, you’ve also had just enough to be satisfied with leaving them there, content that they are continuing on in their ways beyond the page.

I also happened to not be able to put down Classic Poetry: An Illustrated Collection selected by Michael Rosen and pictures by Paul Howard.

In fact, I gobbled up all the words in one day! I loved the layout of the collection for the poems were centered down the middle while on the left hand (sometimes right) side short bios of the poets gave a hint of their lives and style of poetry you were about to read. There were a mix of female and male poets from the early days of Shakespeare through about 1965 on all manner of topics; nature, time, solitude, love, admiration, triumph, and sorrow. Some I knew from classes or other books. But many I had not read before, so I thought the selections carefully done and varied. If you’re looking for a good collection for children to get the feel of poetry, this would be a fine start.

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