The best modern mythology/folktale books for the curious

Why am I passionate about this?

I am fascinated with mythology in all its shapes and forms. It fascinates me how cultures the world over have similar pantheons, for example, without any cultural cross-pollination. What I like to do in my fiction is blend various myths to create something new. And sometimes I create my own myths. It takes a curious, imaginative mind to come up with these myths, and most importantly a child-like sense of wonder, which, sadly, is extinguished by society as one is forced to “grow up”. I don’t ever want to lose that sense of wonder—to observe the world and see beauty and possibilities at every corner—so I preserve and interrogate it in my fiction.

I wrote...

Book cover of Jackal, Jackal: Tales of the Dark and Fantastic

What is my book about?

From Shirley Jackson award-nominated author Tobi Ogundiran, comes a highly anticipated debut collection of stories full of magic and wonder, and breathtaking imagination!

In "The Lady of the Yellow-Painted Library" – featured in Levar Burton Reads – a hapless salesman flees the otherworldly librarian hell-bent on retrieving her lost library book. "The Goatkeeper's Harvest" contains echoes of Lovecraft, where a young mother living on a farm finds that goats have broken into her barn and are devouring all her tubers. As she chases them off with a rake, a woman appears claiming the goats are her children, and that the young woman has killed one of them and must pay the price: a goat for a goat. These and other tales of the dark and fantastic await.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Norse Mythology

Tobi Ogundiran Why did I love this book?

I love Neil Gaiman; he’s a true storyteller, one who doesn’t shy away from the dark.

He takes old, well-known stories of Norse gods and presents them in a refreshing and quite clever manner. At the end of the book, I felt like I knew how Thor and Odin, and other petty gods would react to any given situation.

The icing on the cake is the tongue-in-cheek, witty narrative voice which really brings this book to life. Reading this book feels like having a gifted storyteller narrate the events to you and your friends as you lounge around the fire. Good stuff!

By Neil Gaiman,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Norse Mythology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin though their upheaval in Ragnarok.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin's son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki-son of a giant-blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the…

Book cover of The Bear and the Nightingale

Tobi Ogundiran Why did I love this book?

I was living in Russia when I read this, and was instantly captivated by the lush narrative. It echoed my feelings of being a stranger in a country so far removed from home—I would eventually write a story about Russia in my book to further explore this feeling of alienation through a fantastic lens.

I love this book particularly because it blends several different Russian fairytales to create something new. (Something I do quite a lot in my own book!) This book is the first in a trilogy, the entirety of which is a must read.)

By Katherine Arden,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Bear and the Nightingale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beware the evil in the woods...

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods. . .

Atmospheric and enchanting,…

Book cover of Something Wicked This Way Comes

Tobi Ogundiran Why did I love this book?

I would say I came late to Bradbury’s work, but it’s never too late to discover a brilliant author.

This was my first foray into Bradbury’s oeuvre and I was captivated by his electric prose. You can always tell when an author had fun writing something, and Bradbury’s excitement bled through the page as to be outright infectious. The story itself is a straightforward good vs evil tale: a sinister carnival (and its proprietor Mr. Dark) that comes into the town, bringing death and corruption with it; the townspeople battle against the forces of evil.

Highly atmospheric and chockful of early 20th-century circus nostalgia, it is also replete with tender and philosophical moments. But regardless of the darkness, Bradbury, like Gaiman, allows room for hope. Hope in the face of overwhelming darkness, hope found in simple things; in the community and relationships, be they familial or other. I enjoyed every moment of this book.

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Something Wicked This Way Comes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of Ray Bradbury’s best-known and most popular novels, Something Wicked This Way Comes, now featuring a new introduction and material about its longstanding influence on culture and genre.

For those who still dream and remember, for those yet to experience the hypnotic power of its dark poetry, step inside. The show is about to begin. Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all…

Book cover of The Changeling

Tobi Ogundiran Why did I love this book?

The world of The Changeling is strange and exhilarating. At first we are presented with what seems like a mundane NYC, but then the edges start to bleed as a more fantastical, deliciously disturbing world seeps into and disrupts the ordinary.

At the core of the story is a family and the lengths they go to protect each other. There are so many reasons this book resonated with me, but particularly for this reason—the idea that if only you pay close attention, you will see that a more fantastical world dwells at the edge of our own.

This is an idea I tackle in my own book, where myths and legends, and fairytales come to life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it. Everyone who reads The Changeling will be… changed.

By Victor LaValle,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Changeling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Apollo Kagwa was just a child, his father disappeared, leaving him with recurring nightmares and a box labelled 'Improbabilia'. Now a successful book dealer, Kagwa has a family of his own after meeting and falling in love with Emma, a librarian. The two marry and have a baby: so far so happy-ever-after.

However, as the pair settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Emma's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, until one day she commits an unthinkable act, setting Apollo on a wild and fantastical quest through a suddenly otherworldly New York, in…

Book cover of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Tobi Ogundiran Why did I love this book?

This book is a phantasmagorical trip. This was one of the first, if not the first, African novel to be written in English.

The language, told in a broken English that is nonetheless poetic, (Tutuola’s education was incomplete) adds to the surreal nature of the story. I like it because it is the kind of story I grew up listening to: tales of people venturing into the forest and the wondrous adventures they have therein.

The basic premise goes thus: When war comes to a Nigerian village, a young boy and his brother flee into the forest and begin a surreal journey through the realm of ghosts. Folktales and legends abound in the pages of this book.

By Amos Tutuola,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Amos Tutuola's second novel, was first published in 1954. It tells the tale of a small boy who wanders into the heart of a fantastical African forest, the dwelling place of innumerable wild, grotesque and terrifying beings. He is captured by ghosts, buried alive and wrapped up in spider webs, but after several years he marries and accepts his new existence. With the appearance of the television-handed ghostess, however, comes a possible route of escape.

'Tutuola ... has the immediate intuition of a creative artist working by spell and incantation.' V. S. Pritchett,…

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Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story-lover Middle East expert Curious Iconoclast Optimist

Ethan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…

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