Book Review: Tono Monogatari

This is a very unusual book for me. It’s the re-telling of ancient Japanese folk tales using sequential art, and it’s published in the traditional Japanese manner so it’s read “back to front” and “right to left,” compared to other texts. (It took me about 25 pages to get used to this, by the way.)

The stories are illustrated by Shigeru Mizuki, who is apparently a Big F’in Deal in the world of Manga. (I don’t phrase it this way to dismiss him or the claim, but only to highlight the large gap in my knowledge.) The artwork is outstanding, and describing it as “stunning” seems like faint praise. Mizuki also helps bring extra life to the stories by including a few auto-biographical panels that are in reaction to the events being described, which is very charming.

gordon meyer with book

The stories of the Tono Monogatari are essentially the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, of Japan, and in fact, are similarly cataloged and varied. They were documented in 1853 by Kunio Yanagita, a cultural bureaucrat during the period when Japan was opening up to the rest of the world, and its rich and varied regional lore was being rapidly lost or willfully destroyed.

In reading these tales, I felt an immediate affinity for Yanagita, not just for the subject matter, but also for his sparse and first-person writing style. (Apparently known as bungo.)

Of the 119 tales in the book, the ones I enjoyed the most featured fairy-like beings, ghosts, shape-shifting foxes, tricksters, and giants. (The giants are described as humongous creatures who stand more than six feet tall. Who could imagine such a thing‽)

I learned a lot from this book and I greatly enjoyed it. If you’re a fan of lore, incredible ink art, and cultural surprises, I think you’ll like it too. I bought my copy at Quimby’s Books in Chicago, but of course, you can also find it in the Amazon.

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: The Elements of Eloquence

It’s intimidating to write about this book for two reasons:

Firstly, after reading a book subtitled “Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase,” you might have a high expectation for my recap. If the book was so damned good, why isn’t Gordon’s writing any better?

Secondly, when I reached the end of this book, I was surprised at how many of my beloved Redi-Tags that I had used to mark passages that I want to revisit. As you can see in the photo, there was much about this book that intrigued me.

gordon meyer holding a copy of the book with page flags

So, what follows are just a few of the tidbits. But briefly, If you are a person who loves words, and you want to have a better understanding of how the English language can be honed, polished, and wielded, I think you’ll enjoy this book too.

  • The inescapable conclusion for me is that despite having spent much of my career was a writer, almost all the discussion about rhetoric, and some finer points about grammar, were new to me. Was this a part of my college English curriculum that I’ve forgotten, or is this nuts-and-bolts approach to language relegated to senior humanities courses?
  • Perhaps the answer to the above is found in this quote: “Stern people dislike rhetoric, and unfortunately, it’s usually stern people who are in charge: solemn fools who believe that truth is more important than beauty.” I was trained by stern sociologists, so I suppose that might explain the gaps in this part of my knowledge.
  • I’m an admirer of alliteration, but when it’s used too much it’s called paroemion. I wish I had known this word earlier so I could have used it in defending my work from some rather rhadamanthine reviewers.
  • Similarly, I could have also used Hyperbaton, which is the practice of putting words in an odd order. It would have helped to know then when I was trying to explain why a phrase just didn’t sing for me, particularly.
  • Am I making this book sound stuffy? The author, Mark Forsyth, uses humor and contemporary references to illustrate his points. I especially enjoyed his examples from songs by the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. (I also learned a lot about the works of Shakespeare, revealing another apparent gap in my education.)
  • Speaking of Shakespeare, for the first time in my life, I understand the mechanics of verse and pentameter. Suffice to say that chapter twenty-one was a delightful and useful surprise.
  • Not only did the Romans make willy-nilly changes to the Greek pantheon, they also freely renamed (and redefined) rhetoric, making it hard to study. The bastards!
  • I really appreciated how the author, Mark Forsyth, delightfully crafted each chapter to support the technique he’s discussing. This book would be great to read twice, so you could better appreciate its subtle and studied self-application. (However, I won’t read it again, the allure of unread books is too great to resist, and I’m running out of time to read everything I’d like to.)
  • Despite having grown up in Utah, I was unaware of the “Mormon Sex in Chains” case of 1977. (aka The Manacled Mormon) Also, thanks to trying to find info about this after a reference in the book, I discovered that Mormon p0rn is a thing.

I bought my copy of this book at the charming Unabridged Bookstore in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. But, of course, you can also find it in the Amazon.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: A Walking Tour of the Shambles

This slim, pocket-sized volume by Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe is sixteenth in the Little Walks for Sightseers series, published by American Fantasy Press of Woodstock, Illinois. I have the third printing, which features a cover by the legendary Gahan Wilson.

Gordon Meyer with book

I was drawn to this book because the title led me to ass/u/me it was about The Shambles in York, England. (A magical, haunted place that I hope to visit again someday.) Imagine my surprise, tho, to discover that this book is actually about a neighborhood here in Chicago — one that I’ve never heard of, despite it being just a stone’s throw away from my own walking tour. Amazing!

As I read, I learned that I had indeed visited Chicago’s Shambles many times. Decorum, and the Fifth Amendment, prevent me from saying too much, but I can confirm that this book is even more parafactual than my Bizarre Fact Files.

There’s a lot to admire about this book; the writing is clever, smart, punny, and in several ways it reminded me of the dearly departed Douglas Adams.

As noted in my last book review, we are born with the ability to enjoy and relish our imaginations. It’s time for you to recapture that ability as an adult, and this guidebook will certainly help. And, no, I won’t give you directions to Molly Graw’s restaurant, but the grapefruit with Ginger sounds lovely; provided Ginger is working that day. Get your copy of this book at the Amazon.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Urban Faery Magick

This book is subtitled “Connecting to the Fae in the Modern World.” And let’s get one thing out of the way now—to get any enjoyment from this charming book by Tara Sanchez you have to be inclined to agree with her statement:

“The skill of imagination is one we have in abundance as children. Yet as adults, our social conditioning relieves us of one of the most valuable magical skills we will ever possess: the ability to imagine.”

I enjoyed this book, and I love the attempt at imagining how the fae might be part of the urban world. The books also covers how to spot signs of their likely presence, how to invite interaction with them, and how to tell when it’s safe (or not) to do so. It even includes chants, lures, and recipes for fairy treats to aid in your quest.

gordon meyer with book

I also learned a lot about different types and alignments of fairies, and that genius loci (house spirit) is not a fae at all. I especially enjoyed the discussion of the Will-o’-the-wisp, given my visitations.

One of Sanchez’s observations that I found particularly interesting is how, in current times, spirituality (broadly speaking) is primarily driven by what it can do for the practitioner. An attitude of “what can you do for me” will not get you very far in the fairy world, she cautions.

Throughout the book are brief recaps of legend and lore that I hadn’t encountered before. (For example, hiding an old shoe in the wall of a building under construction to ward away goblins, demons, and elves.) There are also numerous contemporary references to locations that have ties to fairy occupation—such as the Fairy Bridge on the Isle of Man where, tradition holds, you must greet the fae while crossing.

And speaking of contemporary, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the entries in the bibliography are recent publications. Who knew that so many books about fairies have been published in the last couple of decades? (I was expecting them to all be of Brothers Grimm vintage.)

In a discussion of the intersection of fairy study and Eastern philosophy, there’s a tangent about the ages of mankind. We are currently living in the age of Iron, which, as Sanchez observes, is a rather alarming description of the worst part of our world:

… during this age, humans live an existing of toil and misery. Children dishonor their parents, family feuds cause deep rifts, and bad people use lies to be thought good.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and learned quite a bit. Sanchez’s writing style is warm and easy, and if you’re willing to go along the journey, she’ll help you see your city in a new light. (Check out her website.) This book was published in 2021 by noted woo-woo publisher Llewellyn and I got my copy at Quimby’s Books in Chicago, but of course, it’s also found at the Amazon.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Hunter S. Thompson - The Last Interview

This book is part of “The Last Interview and Other Conversations.” The book series that collates interviews with iconic and influential public figures. (It’s worth checking out the impressive list of other titles.)

gordon meyer with hunter book

The interviews have a transcript-like feel to them (although they probably aren’t) which makes for a quick and interesting read. They’re arranged chronologically, which adds another layer of insight as H.S.T. grows in influence and psychosis. (I mean that respectfully, how could someone not be mentally affected by his lifestyle and rise to fame‽)

I should disclose that H.S.T. a favorite author, and I’ve read almost every book he’s published. (Two weeks ago I’d have said that I’ve read all of his books, but I learned in one of these interviews that I somehow missed Hey Rube.)

The interviewers range from editors and publishers of regard, to a student journalist who is clearly underprepared. (Sadly, it’s also the last interview before his death.) Also included are two wonderful interviews with the great Chicagoan Studs Terkel, both of which were lost to history until the Terkel Archive was restored. (A project I am now doubly happy to have contributed to.)

It’s impossible to read decades-old H.S.T. without the lens of the Trump klan disaster, and it makes me feel both happy (for him) and sad (for us) that he’s not around today. Undoubtedly, a 2021 perspective influenced some of the choices I made when highlighting passages, including:

  • “The people being left out and put behind won’t be obvious for years. And Christ only know what’ll happen when it’s 1985. There will be a million Hell’s Angels. They won’t be wearing colors, but they’ll be people who are looking for vengeance because they’ve been left behind.”
  • “I think having a favorite baseball team is like having a favorite oil company.”
  • “(The Hell’s Angels) came out of WWII, and not just the Angels themselves but this whole alienated and violent subculture of people wandering around looking for either an opportunity or, if not an opportunity, then vengeance for not getting an opportunity. Because they get to be thirty, and suddenly, they wake up one morning and they realize there are no more chances, it’s all gone.”
  • “By the time you get to be an expert you’re just an artifact.”
  • “I think the next big-time national politician who comes along and runs on a realistic platform to really shake the system will cause a lot of trouble. He might not win, but he will have a veto power over whoever does win.”

I bought my copy at Daunt Books on Fulham Road, which is sadly now closed, but you can also get it from the Amazon, of course. Thanks for one last ride, Hunter.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Announcing: Murderous Neighbors - Bizarre Fact File #5

My latest publication...

Murderous Neighbors collage

Ten shocking true stories of neighborhood murders in a compact, handmade booklet. Explore the dark side of Wicker Park and Bucktown (Chicago) history with this latest addition to the Bizarre Fact File series.

$2 postpaid. Order online at Bizarre Fact Files or from the amazing Quimby's Books in Chicago!

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: Charles Fort

If you’re unfamiliar with Charles Fort, then this book by Jim Steinmeyer might not be for you. However, if like me, Fort is one of the “patron saints” in your pantheon, this is a must-read.

gordon with Fort book

I was introduced to Fort through the writings of Robert Anton Wilson. Furthermore, the primary reason I subscribe to Readly is to have regular access to the UK magazine Fortean Times. Fort’s work, and the worldview that has evolved in the 100 or so years after his death, is not for every taste. This posthumous description by his publisher sums it up nicely:

Most would read Fort’s books with repugnance and fear. Others would cast them aside with a smile and call them childish fairy talk. A few would shudder with delight, recognizing the poetry, the truth, insight and the marvelous intelligence of Fort’s conception.

I’m a shudder-er.

The book, subtitled “The Man Who Invented the Supernatural,” does a wonderful job of putting Fort’s work in a cultural and social context. This was perhaps my biggest lesson from the work — I honestly had little sense of when, where, and how Fort lived.

Steinmeyer includes some excellent quotes from Fort, both from his published works and private correspondence. These, and other observations that stood out, include:

  • Fort had invented a new kind of ghost story, in which it is the cold, hard data that haunts.
  • “I cannot say that truth is stranger than fiction because I have never had acquaintance with either.”
  • “I can’t think why anybody should go to Indiana. Thought everybody cam away from Indiana.”
  • “I believe nothing of my own that I have written. I cannot accept that the products of minds are subject-matter for beliefs.”
  • In Darwinism, there is no place for the influence of the future upon the present.
  • Fort was a regular correspondent with John Reid of Lovelock, Nevada. Reid was involved with the discovery of red-haired giants, the remains of which were witnessed by a member of my family. Six degrees of separation, sort of.
  • One thing that both science and religion agree on is the suppression of witchcrafts.
  • Fort coined the word “teleportation.”
  • Fort is the infant terrible of science, bringing the family skeletons to the desert table when distinguished guest are present.
  • If you’re on-trend with zettelkasten, you’ll be envious of the tens of thousands of notes and filing system that Fort utilized.
  • I was tickled to learn that Fort would hide pennies and other “treasures” for people to find in the future. A practice that I heartily endorse.
  • Steinmeyer’s end notes are as interesting and illuminating as the main text, and I was tickled to find my friend William Pack acknowledged for help with research.

Although it was published a few years ago, the book is still in print and available in hardback, paperback, or bytes at Amazon.

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

This is a fun middle schoolers book that focuses on a haunted house and how its mysteries are resolved by a group a seventh grade kids. The intended audience is young, but Lindsay Currie does an admirable job of creating a spooky haunting and mysterious circumstances that even adults can enjoy. (Additionally, as you can learn in this review, you really should be reading children’s books once in a while anyway.)

gordon meyer with book

Although I enjoyed the book and I recommend it, I was frustrated at times with the protagonist. She’s an unlikeable precocious girl who moves from a shit hole city in Florida to the wonderful Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park, and she is adamant that the move is a downgrade. I also stumbled over the timeline of the story when, more than halfway through the book, it is mentioned that only one week has elapsed. This didn’t jive (for me) with how long it takes to settle into a new home, get started with a new school, and exchange letters with an out-of-state friend. And in the end, when she very predictably decides that Chicago maybe doesn’t suck, it’s not clear how soon this realization came, which made it unsatisfying.

But don’t let me dissuade you too much. I’m glad I read it, and I admire its overall pace, tone, and construction. Plus, annoyances aside, it was lots of fun! I got my copy (which was signed!) at Volumes in Wicker Park, but of course, you can find it at Amazon too.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: The Cosmic Serpent

I wish I could remember who told me about this book; I’d like to thank them. The book is hard to describe because a cursory description — an ethnographic narrative about the similarities of cross-culture shamanism and DNA structures — doesn’t really do justice to the insights and feeling of revelation that the book provides. If you’ve studied esoteric works, the connections that this book identifies will bring forth more than a few “ah-ha!” moments. If this is all new to you, it might just pull you down a rabbit hole from which you’ll never escape.

gordon meyer with the cosmic serpent book

The book’s subtitle is “DNA and the Origins of Knowledge,” and the reviews from far more serious readers than I are not just notable, some declare that it could be a Copernican revolution for both social and life sciences. And while there is a psychedelic aspect to it, it’s perfectly approachable to those, like me, with an unexpanded mind.

A sampling of the notes I made while reading:

  • I was particularly tickled with the discussion that modern anesthesia is based on curare, which is a Stone Age formula that Western scientists insist was accidentally discovered by Amazonian natives, yet it is very complex to create and, even today, it remains unknown as to how it actually works. (Remember that next time you’re having surgery!)
  • Another interesting fact that stood out: If one were to stretch out the DNA contained in the nucleus of a single human cell, it would be a two-yard long thread that is only 10 atoms wide! If you were to lay out all the DNA in a human body, it would stretch 125 billion miles. (Presumably even longer for someone built like I am.)
  • Regarding the “cosmic serpent” of the title, it is primarily an old god found at the beginning of all cosmogonies, and this book lays out the ways in which our understanding of DNA overlaps with the serpents’ characteristics and traits. Is it possible the answer to life was given to us in life-creation “myths”?
  • That’s a bold claim, but using only a rationale perspective that insists on dissecting and separating all things into compartments to understand them destroys complementary insights. Or, to put it as Roald Dahl wrote, those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

The author of this book, Jeremy Narby, has done an excellent job in making it both readable and technical enough to provide some real insight — not too bad at all considering he’s an anthropologist. (That’s a joke. Sort of.) The back third of the book contains more than enough footnotes and references to satisfy any nitpicker or researcher. Get your copy at Amazon (no relation to the Shamans).


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

Book Review: The Dutch Shoe Mystery

My earliest memory of “Ellery Queen” is the eponymous Mystery Magazine in my father’s lunchbox. He was a civilian Air Force employee, and he’d spend his breaks reading the short stories (when he wasn’t reading Popular Science or Popular Mechanics). But aside from that, I didn’t really know anything about Ellery Queen, including whether he actually existed.

(He didn’t. Ellery Queen is basically the American Sherlock Holmes, invented by two cousins who collaborated on the many books published under the pseudonym.)

gordon meyer with book

I decided to read this book because it came highly recommended as a classic Queen novel, and as an excellent example of “Fair Play” mysteries (where the reader is provided with all the clews and info necessary to solve the case, if they are smart enough). I was also motivated to read it because the nifty niche store, Mysterious Bookshop, was having a club meeting to discuss it with the son of one of the authors.

I’m a fairly studious and fast reader, but I barely managed to finish the book in time for the meeting. That’s primarily because of the writing — which is very engaging but also filled with archaic and learned references. Queen, it seems, is a bit of a snobby dick. This slowed down my consumption of the prose as I felt compelled to look up unusual words, phrases, and idioms to satisfy my curiosity. I loved every minute of doing so. (I kept my notes in the nifty Craft app, by the way, which is the first time I’ve used it. I was generally satisfied with that choice.)

Did I manage to solve the mystery? Nope. My chief suspect was disqualified (no spoilers!) about 50 pages from the end. Oh, well. Honestly, I wasn’t trying that hard, I was just enjoying the ride. (Which is a legit way to approach the Queen books, I learned at the book club.)

If this sounds appealing, I recommend you give one of his many books a try. I strongly suggest buying from the Mysterious Bookshop as the “American Mystery Classics” series is lovingly constructed — and, as others have noted, some Ellery Queen reprints (and the Audible audiobook) omit entire chapters or important diagrams. (Yes, there are diagrams!) Happy reading!

I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer