Hardback Heaven: ‘The Little Book of Astrology’ (2017) and ‘Monsters: A Bestiary of the Bizarre’ (2010)

Today’s post is going to focus on two more recently published books, both of which on subjects I genuinely love: astrology and mythology.

It’s pretty much guaranteed when you have covers like that on subjects like that, I’m going to buy those books. Farewell, money.

First up:

The Little Book of Astrology – Marion Williamson (Summersdale Publishers, UK, 2017)

I’ve always had an interest in astrology and it has definitely reached ‘hobby’ levels in my day to day life at this point. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that astrology, tarot, and palmistry are some of my favourite past-time skills to develop! Most people know the basics of astrology (its presence in magazines and newspapers tend to be what most people are subjected to – though that form has to be my absolute least favourite kind…) through their Sun signs – i.e. your primary sign, designated to you by the date you were born (I’m a Sagittarius…if you were wondering…) – so most of us have a passing understanding that we are either a Libra or a Virgo or a Taurus, one of the twelve signs. Astrology itself tends to delve a bit more deeper than that, and before you know it you’re looking at birth charts, figuring out someone’s Neptune sign and what Scorpio means in the Fourth House, when their Sun sign is Capricorn. Uh-huh.

For some people, especially those of us who find astrology fun and fascinating and don’t immediately eye-roll when they hear it mentioned (look, I get it…), it can be a bit daunting delving into the world of birth charts especially, not to mention confusing as heck to make one from scratch (I shudder to imagine what that’s like and hats off to people who don’t rely on automatically generated ones, you’re on another level!). Thankfully, little books like this one are a huge help!

Visually, it’s got that gorgeous hand-written typeface titling the pages, with a modern calligraphy touch to it which is so popular in typesetting these days, and it really makes for an eye-catching read. Using golds and deep blues, the book definitely maintains a ‘starry’ imagery throughout, but it’s not just its simple beauty that makes this book a must but the simplistic way the information is shown too; accompanied by numerous invaluable and reputed site recommendations for the modern astrologer to get a birth chart and start analysing it straight away.

The book starts with a little history of astrology, explaining its role in ancient cultures and also the various different types of astrology that can be studied (this book is of the Western type). It then goes into the elements of the astrological signs, which any practising astrologer knows is one of the quickest and most helpful methods for remembering what all twelve signs represent (the elements being earth, air, fire, and water). There is plenty of traditional information in here too, such as which sign rules which part of the anatomy, before going straight into the Sun signs themselves.

The Sun signs are very briefly discussed – you can get much more exhaustive books which dedicate pages to defining the typical personality traits of each sign – which, if you’re new to astrology, this book’s method is certainly a bite-size way to learn, but those of us who want to know a little more of the in-depth details might need to invest in something a little heavier. That said, for those of you who are familiar with all the signs, these short descriptions are quite refreshing, helping to remember the details of those signs which you may be less familiar with, without having to skip through page upon page of super detailed prose… These descriptions are illustrated with a small picture of the constellation they represent (a very nice detail), and then the opposing page has a short list of their: best character trait; their element; ruling planet; general characteristics; and ruled body part. This allows for a quick scan through the book, an excellent way of getting to the details quickly and precisely.

So what’s this about birth charts? Well, some astrology books stop at Sun signs – what most people just refer to as a star sign anyway. But there’s much more to astrology. This book does a good job of simplifying the more complex details of the chart, such as our additional influencing signs. No one is simply ONE sign. A Sagittarius like myself will have a Moon sign that could be any one of the twelve signs – and that will have an affect on the individual. The Moon sign, ascendant, and midheaven signs alongside the Sun sign are used as the primary four signs which make up a person, alongside other signs ruled by the planets. To simplify, a Taurus who is emotionally more like a Scorpio will be very different to a Taurus who is emotionally a Leo, or so astrology says, and these details are found in the chart. This tends to explain why there is so much variety between individuals when you compare a Virgo against another Virgo, for instance; charts are different depending on day and even hour. It’s okay if you’re eye-rolling – astrology isn’t for everyone, but this book certainly goes a long way to appealing to most everyone and to doing a better job than me in explaining what the heck the birth chart is (I could go into more detail but this is my book blog…).

The book gives information on where to find an online birth chart generator (the ones mentioned are very good – speaking from my own experience, here!) and then helps you discover, after you’ve read your chart, what your ascendant, or rising sign, even means; for instance what a Pisces Rising/Ascendant does to your personality as an Aquarius. These sections are brief but very helpful – a good place to start, and then, if necessary, makes a good jumping off point to other books or sites which go into a Pisces Rising in more detail.

Moon signs are next, explaining your emotional side, which, if you’re reading this and getting interested already, the Moon sign can have a big influence on why you might not be the loudest Leo in the room or why you’re a very sunny Pisces. This adds a fun dimension to astrology for the more casual and also helps the more practised of us remember what those twelve individual reads might mean when studying ours or a friend’s chart (I find myself doing that a lot lately and, man, it’s a huge help in remembering all. those. details.). Again, the details are brief but well-written, and easy to translate to ourselves or others – not much waffle, just the juicy bits.  (In case you were wondering, Capricorn Moon here~!)

Astrology also has mythological-based interpretations of the planets themselves, so each planet’s element and defining characteristics are explained. Fans of mythology will always find astrology easier to remember if you know the personalities of Mars or Mercury, for instance, and if you don’t – this book makes it very simple.

After that, we start going into the more detailed chart readings: Mercury signs, Venus signs, Mars signs, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto signs; with each section explaining the planet as defined by astrology, what it rules (such as Mercury signs being all about how you communicate, Venus about how you love and what you love, etc.), and then simplifies each reading down by element: so if you have a Mercury sign which is Fire then the book categorises the personality traits of a Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius all together, by element, rather than a paragraph for each one, i.e. how an Aries Mercury is different to Leo Mercury. Now, this is very helpful if you are spending a lot of time on the charts, and don’t want to trawl through page after page finding the right details, and also good if you already have an inkling of how an Aries type talks differently to a Leo, but it might be a little vague if you want a book which sets it all out. This book works as a brief guide to the more in-depth details of a reading, but doesn’t quite give you the exact details you might want if you really don’t know what an Aquarius Mercury is like. Nowadays, we have plenty of websites which actually tell you what it means to be a Libra, say, with a Scorpio Neptune reading, and can be brief and to the point, or very, VERY detailed and long-winded. It’s really down to your own preference in researching. This book, however, keeps things concise, which I quite liked, but I did have to resort to my other books and the internet to fill the gap.

True node, Chiron, and some other little details of the charts, are missing from this book so don’t go for this if you want an exhaustive guide, either. There are plenty of other books and websites out there that will help translate those for you. Thankfully, though, this book does also explain how best to read a chart, explains some of the symbols you will come across,  and, yes, it does the good ol’ which-signs-make-the-best-friends-or-lovers-for-you categories too (which can be great at making people nervous!). The Houses are also mentioned, but they are just defined: if you need to know what Sagittarius in the Third House means, you’ll need to look elsewhere – but that’s going deep, DEEP into a chart anyway – this book is called ‘The Little Book of…’ for a reason.

Overall, for me, astrology is almost like ancient psychology and will always be a fun and favourite past-time of mine. It helps us think about ourselves in a different, less critical light, often making us think: ‘Well, if this says I am a good painter and good at talking to people, maybe I should be more confident in those areas in my life.’ That’s what it all boils down to. Yes, it can be vague, but it can be very detailed if you want it to be, and doing birth charts for friends can be a fun experience in a friendship, and can also make some people very happy and even give them a little confidence in themselves. That’s what astrology means to me, just as tarot and palmistry do: it’s something that tells you, hey, if this means something to you then maybe it’s something you should focus on more. The positivity behind it can be very comforting.

That said, though there are so, so many books on the market about astrology, this one is quite refreshing despite that. The design of the book compliments the content, working well at setting tone but still giving it a modern and clear look. The minimalism to it makes it easy to scan through, and it only takes seconds to find the right location, even without an index. The history of astrology at the start and the alternative resources at the back are also valuable additions, particularly for a modern astrologer whose phone is probably going to be their go-to resource on the go.

Williamson is clearly an experienced astrologer and the way she has simplified the text and the categories, without dumbing-down or becoming far too vague or light for the new and seasoned alike, has allowed her to make an absolutely fantastic astrology guide and one I certainly urge you to check out! It’s a great starting point for those of you who want to know just that little bit more beyond: ‘Hey, I’m a Taurus…’

 

Monsters: A Bestiary of the Bizarre – Christopher Dell (Thames and Hudson, UK, 2010)

Eye-catching, much? Another lifelong love of mine: myths, legends, and monsters. Even today, I love cryptozoology, so the cover? Yeah, it got my interest pretty much straight away.

Unlike the last book, Monsters is more of an art history book, exploring myths and legends’ more monstrous faces alongside their depiction across cultures and art forms. Largely a book depicting numerous sculptures and paintings of more hideous or terrifying subjects, this book has a light-heartedness to it, making it similarly concise as the last subject, but far more illustratively shown.

Full pages are dedicated to images of monsters in art. Sometimes these are scans of famous murals of angels battling demons, Japanese inks, or ancient artefacts photographed in high definition. In most cases, the chapters are split by a common theme: the first being, ‘Gods and Monsters,’ where the more animal-formed Egyptian gods and goddesses are compared to the more humanoid Greek and Roman depictions of deities; likewise, we see how some gods seem monstrous in some forms, yet take more gentler, delicate forms when ruling over some other aspect. Following these small chapters of prose, come more images, illustrating some examples of these gods with monstrous faces. In this first chapter, there is another section of prose mid-way through, taking up a page to discuss one particular side subject, and you see this in all the chapters: for this one, it’s the gods of chaos and how they in particular are represented. Picture credits are thankfully given at the end of each chapter, so if one piece in particular catches your eye, you are given artist credits and date details at the end for you to further explore it. Thank goodness! I have read so many monster books which use amazing historical pieces to illustrate yet somehow avoid crediting, leading to some very obscure Googling to rediscover it.

Other chapters are devoted to devils and demons, giving a more religious aspect to the depiction of monsters in history (I particularly liked the detail that artists seem to have more fun and creative freedom drawing demonic entities than they do the more angelic figures in the Bible). There’s a section dedicated to alchemy and its use of creatures in the field’s illustrations, as well as chapters dedicated to monsters of the deep (krakens and mermaids, for example) and dragons, of course, make an appearance (the book highlighting how almost every culture has stories and art of them, but with dragons themselves having widely varying personalities). Folklore also has a place here, alongside heroes who fought monsters, saints which banished them, and even cryptids themselves, which is a more modern take on the classical monster mythos. Ghost fans, do not fear, there is a little section dedicated to spooks and sprites too!

For an exhaustive list, yes, just like the last book, this is intentionally light. It’s a small, eye-catching art-book with very brief stories or details about larger myths or ancient beliefs. This isn’t a book of myths or legends either, just quick details really, nothing too in-depth, aside from the sections dedicated to particular subjects, but even those are relatively light anyway.

This isn’t a bad thing, and it’s a nice addition to any shelf. It would definitely make an excellent gift for any monster fans out there, and artists and writes will feel a little inspiration whilst reading. It might also point you in the direction of other works to check out later; for instance, I ended up getting the Kindle edition of Lafcadio Hearn’s Japanese myth translations thanks to its being mentioned in this book.

I also want to say that I love the cover design for this book too, as it features a textured covering, giving the appearance of scales:

monsterclose

Absolutely gorgeous! Overall, just like the last book, a lot of care and time has clearly gone into the presentation of this book, and effectively so.


 

And there you have it!

Two recent hardcover books I bought, on the same day, which cover two of my favourite subjects! They’ve proven a great addition to my collection and I’ve read through both a few times each already (the astrology one has already been used for four chart readings!).

Perfect little guides which would make great additions to your own collections or as gifts for your own monster-minded star-gazing friends!

NEXT UP: Remembering The Blair Witch Project books…

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