Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm
There's no doubt about Philip Pullman's ability to write a compelling tale — the trilogy of novels making up His Dark Materials would be proof enough. Here, he takes stories so old that we don't even truly know where they came from, as gathered by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century, and re-tells them in a way that makes them even more compelling for the modern reader. If you don't think these stories should be "messed with," you're in need of correction; what Pullman presents here is on a par with Anne Sexton's poems based on fairy tales in 1971's Transformations. He doesn't shy away from the violence at the heart of these stories, or the dark world-view from which they're told. It's that world-view, in fact, that is the most timeless thing of all, since we've retained the nasty and brutal bits as our culture has evolved.
Rachel Lee Rubin
NYU Press, $35/hardcover
Now that we've got the guys from The Big Bang Theory dressing up for 'em, the whole world knows about Renaissance Faires, those gatherings of fans of the non-indoor-plumbing, rough-spun past that make such great Sunday getaways. In Well Met: Renaissance Faires & the American Counterculture, Rachel Lee Rubin, a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, looks at the 50-year history of the faires, which started as a haven for unworldly hippy types, then evolved into an entire subculture. She's less concerned with the role-playing aspects (though the Society for Creative Anachronism and other literalists are covered) than with the way the faire became a counter-cultural space that felt safe for those in the mainstream. In other words, how did all those weirdos make a place that's great to visit with your kids? Rubin's book is a trailblazer.