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In the heart of the new millennium, worlds beyond our imagination have opened up, blurring the line between life and art.
Every now and then, something smart comes along and jars what seemed like an ironclad inverse relationship between a book’s popularity and its intellectual merit. What the French economist finds is fascinating: Private wealth greatly exceeded national income back then, effectively ensuring that inherited wealth was much more important than labor during the Industrial Age. At a time when money is increasingly important to political candidates, there’s a chance that economic inequality might morph into political inequality.
About a year ago, the novelist Neil Gaiman delivered a lecture at the Barbican, in London, on behalf of the Reading Agency, a not-for-profit organization that promotes literacy and reading for pleasure among children and adults. Embracing the challenges and possibilities of cyberspace, genetics, the universe, and beyond, the world of science fiction has become a porthole into the realities of tomorrow.
He was the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction for twenty years, during which time he won fifteen Hugo Awards. Deepening consciousness of income inequality and crony capitalism has engendered the perception that the markets are rigged and that government is an elaborate cover for special interests.
Piketty conveys his points with the least amount of mathematics necessary, although a robust technical appendix online allows the motivated reader to trace his statistical sleuthing. Piketty revived the method of using income tax returns to track income inequality in his native France — a technique that was extended to multiple countries over the past decade.
The trend toward greater inequality was disrupted by the Great Depression and two world wars that massively depleted global wealth.
Piketty marvelously parses the causes of this troubling trend, identifying the privatization and tax-cut crazes of the 1970s and 1980s as a motivating factor as well as the rise of super-salaried workers like CEOs and financiers.
In the lecture, which was reprinted in the Guardian, Gaiman came out in favor of what might be called the “just so long as they’re reading” camp.
Income inequality is resurgent, and it now approaches the levels last seen in the Gilded Age or Belle Epoque of Mr.
McIntyre, David Moles, Derryl Murphy, Steven Popkes, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alastair Reynolds, Robert Reed, Chris Roberson, Mary Rosenblum, William Sanders, Bruce Sterling, Michael Swanwick, Harry Turtledove, Peter Watts, Liz Williams, and Gene Wolfe.
Supplementing the stories are the editor's insightful summation of the year's events and a lengthy list of honorable mentions, making this book both a valuable resource and the single best place in the universe to find stories that stir the imagination and the heart.


You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.” The opposite argument—that the kind of book a child has his or her nose buried in does make a difference—has been mounted elsewhere, notably by Tim Parks, in an essay that appeared on the blog of the New York Review of Books. The first, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” has sold upwards of twenty million copies worldwide, and more than three hundred of his young fans filled the Celeste Bartos Forum at the library, where Hyperion, Riordan’s publisher, had placed promotional T-shirts and temporary tattoos on every seat, and had ranged stacks of signed volumes for purchase. The atmosphere was one of high excitement and engagement, and if it is true that I have seen adult audiences in that venue similarly riveted by the presence of an author—Karl Ove Knausgaard’s rock-star appearance earlier this year, for example—I have yet to attend a literary event at which the presence of the author, or the mere mention of his most popular characters, has been met by uncontrollable squealing.
For those unfamiliar with the Riordan’s Olympian fictions—which is to say, people without children between the ages of seven and seventeen—their hero, Percy Jackson, thinks he is just a kid with a learning disability and a troublesome tendency to get kicked out of school, until he learns that his difficulties can be explained by the fact that he is a demigod, the offspring of Poseidon and a mortal woman.
In the first book of the series, “The Lightning Thief,” Percy gets shipped off, at the age of twelve, to Camp Half Blood, a refuge on Long Island populated by his demigod peers. There he learns the skills becoming of his lineage—sword fighting looms large—and discovers his own peculiar gifts: even when injured, he is miraculously healed and empowered by water. Medusa is the proprietress of a garden center in New Jersey that sells lifelike statuary: no prizes for guessing how the stock is replenished. The seductive spell of indolence is broken after Percy falls into a disconcerting conversation with a kid in bell-bottoms, who refers to something or other as “groovy.” The bell-bottomed kid has been trapped in the—of course—Lotus Casino since 1977, though he thinks it’s only been a couple of weeks. Percy, as narrator, says, “I said something was ‘sick,’ and he looked at me kind of startled, as if he’d never heard the word used that way before.” That slangy, casual style is a hallmark of the Percy Jackson books, which often read like a faithful transcription of teen uptalk. Unlike the Harry Potter books, which, notoriously, have been embraced by adult readers as well as juvenile ones, the Percy Jackson books seem positively contrived to repel adult readers, so thoroughgoing is their affectation of teen goofiness.
In a PowerPoint presentation, he showed photos of himself as a nerdy kid, said that the first book he read for pleasure was “The Lord of the Rings,” talked about his love of comics, and showed the first rejection letter he’d received, for a story he’d submitted to a magazine as a teen-ager. Riordan’s books prompt an uneasy interrogation of the premise underlying the “so long as they’re reading” side of the debate—at least among those of us who want to share Neil Gaiman’s optimistic view that all reading is good reading, and yet find ourselves by disposition closer to the Tim Parks end of the spectrum, worried that those books on our children’s shelves that offer easy gratification are crowding out the different pleasures that may be offered by less grabby volumes.
Undoubtedly, Riordan has single-handedly sparked an enthusiasm among young readers for Greek mythology, and if kids are dressing up for Halloween as Apollo or Poseidon instead of Iron Man or a generic zombie, so much the better.
My son and his peers know the tales of the Greek gods far better than I do, and if some of that is due to reading books such as Mary Pope Osborne’s wonderfully ungimmicky “Tales from the Odyssey,” or from having “D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths” in the read-aloud rotation from an early age, a good measure of that familiarity has also come via Riordan’s retellings. Riordan has been admirably encouraging of real-world attempts to bring Camp Half Blood to life: summer camps inspired by his books have sprung up in various locations around the country, including one in Prospect Park that offers its demigod denizens many happy hours of sword fighting, shield-making, quest-following, and capturing the flag.
To hear one’s offspring excitedly explain that camp was rained out because Poseidon made it rain, and that Zeus has been throwing thunderbolts, is enough to warm the heart of even the most skeptical defender of the Western literary tradition.


If an indelible association between Ares and the Hells Angels lingers in these young readers’ minds, such may be the price of their mythological literacy. So why is it that I’ve been reluctant to hand over to my young Riordan aficionado the review copy I received of the author’s other recent publication, “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods”? Lavishly illustrated on heavy, glossy paper, this is Riordan’s answer to the D’Aulaires’ celebrated volume.
It is the same size as that familiar book, with its cover even drawing from the same color palette of yellows and blues. Inside, it contains the old stories, as retold in the voice of Percy Jackson himself: “A publisher in New York asked me to write down what I know about the Greek gods, and I was like, ‘Can we do this anonymously?
It is inscribed with obsolescence (Craigslist, iPhones, and the Powerball lottery are invoked) and delivered in the kind of jaded teen argot that proves irresistibly cool to kids from grade school up: “At first, Kronos wasn’t so bad.
He had to work his way up to being a complete slime bucket.” While the D’Aulaires wrote that “Persephone grew up on Olympus and her gay laughter rang through the brilliant halls,” Percy’s introduction to the story of Demeter’s daughter reads, “I have to be honest. I mean, for a girl who almost destroyed the universe, she seems kind of meh.” The former book, which was published fifty-two years ago, remains mostly lucid, even if in places it is stilted and dated. But I suspect it would be a very discerning elementary or middle-school student—or a willfully perverse one—who would chose the old version over the Percy Jackson retelling.
Put the books side by side, and the D’Aulaires look more like the Dull’Aires, as Percy and his demigod pals might put it.
But the metaphor of the gateway should prompt caution, too, since one can go through a gate in two directions. What if the strenuous accessibility of “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods” proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same?



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