Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: April 26-30, 2021

For the Love of Cod

A Father and Son’s Search for Norwegian Happiness

Book Cover
Eric Dregni, author, translator
University of Minnesota Press
Hardcover $22.95 (200pp)
978-1-5179-0893-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In For the Love of Cod, Eric Dregni goes on a quest to discover why Norway—with its long, dark winters, reserved citizens, and no native word for “happy”—often tops the “Happiest Country in the World” charts.

Eager to introduce his Norwegian-born teenage son, Eilif, to his heritage, Dregni, an American of Norwegian descent, decided that the best way to learn about Norway was to go there together, hear from its citizens whether or not they were happy, and unearth the country’s dark side, if there was one to be found.

What they learned astounded them. Some of it made the US look backward: Norwegians get generous vacation time—even farmers take off and head south in the winter as substitutes care for their flocks and crops. New parents get a year’s parental leave at full pay. Norwegian parents believe in “free upbringing:” they disapprove of scolding, and their kids roam freely. Women feel safe walking alone at night. And while Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world, generous social services mean that Norwegians experience the highest quality of life. No one fears going bankrupt over medical services or student loan debt; hospital treatment and education are free. Take a deep breath. Imagine what living without those stresses would feel like.

But Dregni learned that it isn’t just less stress that makes Norway’s citizens happy. He expresses delight that Norwegians always began their answers to his questions with “we” rather than “I.” Instead of basing their happiness on how well they are doing compared to others, he says, Norwegians are happy when everyone is doing well. Take another breath. Imagine that.

Honest, funny, and down to earth, For the Love of Cod is an eye-opening look at how Norway discovered the key to real happiness.

KRISTINE MORRIS (April 23, 2021)

White Magic

Book Cover
Elissa Washuta
Tin House Books
Hardcover $25.95 (432pp)
978-1-951142-39-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A collection of essays tackling addiction, sexual violence, mental illness, and the colonization of witchcraft, White Magic is a delight and a challenge.

Elissa Washuta is a refreshing narrator, her prose poetic and sparse. Describing her former draw to alcohol and current sobriety, she states, “Something was lodged in there, clawing. Today, I feel it holding my lungs in its fists, and I can’t sob hard enough to cry it out.” Dark humor is employed with a deft hand, as in a recounting of a hospital emergency: “They say you’re supposed to sense doom when anaphylaxis hits, but I always sense doom.”

Washuta describes her draw to the occult as both an extension of her Native heritage, and as a desire to bring some semblance of order to the chaos around and within her—“I google spells to take the PTSD out of me.” Her criticisms of modern, Insta-worthy iterations of witchcraft are blistering and truthful, though she also acknowledges the difficulty and nuance of ethical sourcing and consumption of spiritualism.

Though not for the faint of heart, Washuta’s frank confrontations with, and acknowledgments of, unhealed wounds are validating. A kinship forms in the shared brokenness, inviting a comparison of where the cracks may line up. “I haven’t memorized the entries in the catalog of demons. I don’t even know the name of the one inside me,” Washuta says of her understanding of the occult, and of herself. Such open admissions of confusion and searching cultivate an intimacy throughout the text, evoking the sense of peeling open a letter from an estranged friend; Washuta’s voice haunts by admitting to being haunted.

A poignant work by a rising essayist, White Magic speaks to the ongoing work of recovery that is anything but magic.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (February 27, 2021)

The Night Walk

Book Cover
Marie Dorléans
Floris Books
Hardcover $17.95 (32pp)
978-1-78250-639-3
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The night air smells like irises and honeysuckle when two children’s parents wake them for an undefined adventure. They dress in the blue predawn and walk through the village as their eyes adjust. Here and there, there are signs of life: the lit windows of a passing train; the mooing of cows. Though their colors are few, the book’s illustrations are lively and lovely, making the world feel awake even before light breaks over the hills in this story about chasing natural wonders.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (February 27, 2021)

Chemistry for Breakfast

The Amazing Science of Everyday Life

Book Cover
Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim
Greystone Books
Hardcover $26.95 (240pp)
978-1-77164-748-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim’s Chemistry for Breakfast is a delightful, mentally stimulating popular science book.

This chemist’s-eye view of daily life brings out curiosity that is both intelligent and childlike. Nguyen-Kim’s love for chemistry is contagious. This book shows that chemistry is not just relevant to life; it’s really, really interesting. Its is an insider’s look into scientists’ minds, social interactions, and laboratories that will change the way that readers view their lives, surroundings, and bodies.

The book explores science-y concepts like melatonin, polymers, neurotransmitters, and more using experiments and examples with commonplace elements like coffee, body odor, and drinking water—what’s more everyday than water? Each chapter centers on a particular exploratory journey, venturing from real-life scenarios down to the cellular level with deft transitions between life and science. The book delves into popular topics like whether sitting really is the new smoking, and gives advice that you didn’t know that you needed, like to follow the example of noble gasses when responding to sexual harassment (hint: they rise above everything). The in-depth explanations are made easy for anyone to understand without being the least bit belittling. Nguyen-Kim never compromises her respect for people or science.

The writing is impeccable and personable. Nguyen-Kim’s storytelling—which includes dialogue, scenes, and even her friends as characters—is a seamless complement to the book’s more explanatory work. Sarah Pybus’s elegant translation from German maintains the beauty and accuracy of the text, which features illustrations by claire Lenkova that explain chemicals and processes in a clever, humorous, hand-drawn style. They augment both the voice and informative nature of the book.

Chemistry for Breakfast is an engaging, accessible, and downright fun science book.

MELISSA WUSKE (February 27, 2021)

The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club

Book Cover
Doug Henderson
University of Iowa Press
Softcover $16.00 (252pp)
978-1-60938-756-3
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

An all-LGBTQ+ Dungeons and Dragons group finds the drama of their latest campaign bleeding into the real world in the novel The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club.

Every Thursday night, magic and mayhem play out in the back room of Readmore Comix and Games. There, listless, twenty-five-year-old Ben escapes into a fantasy world where druids and bards battle an evil cult. Because he lives at home, where he nurses his broken heart and dodges his mother’s pestering about his future plans: Readmore is the only place where Ben feels in control. But then his character is killed off, and a handsome newcomer, Albert, joins his D&D group.

Albert works at the local record store; he is coworkers-with-benefits with Ben’s former crush, Jeff. After being rejected by Jeff in a humiliating fashion, Ben thinks he’s given up on his love life, which now exists only in the stuffy back room of Readmore. But real life threats, including from homophobia and a rival vampire role playing club, push him to reclaim his confidence and come into magic that’s all his own.

The D&D campaign is narrated throughout the text; it’s a nail-biting story-within-a-story, though it sometimes overwhelms the story’s real life predicaments. Some characters play to stereotypes, including Ben, a gamer who lives in his family’s basement, surrounded by dirty clothes and dirtier dishes; and the book’s sexual innuendos and descriptions are sometimes gratuitous. But spots of humor, and one fierce, sarcastic character, Valerie, help to retain a whimsical atmosphere in this story about finding your people and never letting go.

Doug Henderson’s novel is sure to delight proud nerds with its story of a young man searching to belong against a backdrop of mischief and magic.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (April 23, 2021)

Barbara Hodge

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