Sunday Salon, 8/18/19

Sunday Salon

Reading and Such

I focused on working on the VOTS archive this week and that’s pretty much all I had the overhead for. So, not much reading was done. I’m behind on all my readalongs. I’m looking forward to participating in Bout of Books starting tomorrow.

During my bi-weekly trip to the library, I ended up reading “There’s a Hole in the City” by Richard Bowes (from Ghosts: Recent Hauntings, ed. Paula Guran, but also found at Nightmare magazine) while looking for Glen Hirshberg fiction. It’s a rather good ghost story, told in the wake of 9/11.

For Deal Me In, I picked my last wild card, 2. I went to my list of bookmarked stories and picked “Two Years Dead” by Kathryn Kania from Fireside Magazine. Yes, another ghost story. This one very sweet. Opening line: “When I opened up my OKCupid profile, I was already two years dead.”

DealMeIn
Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

There is definitely a trend occurring with my reading. Along with my classic readalongs I’m also reading lots of mysteries and ghost stories. I’m far away from the end of summer, but September is coming. And R.I.P. is coming…

TV of the Week

I said I was swearing off cinematic universes, but I guess I made an exception for a literary universe. I’m a sometimes Stephen King fan. Some of his work, I’ve liked; some, not as much. Castle Rock was pretty okay as far as  horror TV goes. I had recently tried to watch the first season of Channel Zero, but I didn’t really didn’t care for it. It seemed to go all over the place without doing a good enough job of world-building. I’ve usually liked American Horror Story, but each season seems to go on about five episodes too long at which point it goes off the rails. Castle Rock, of course, has a world in place and was restrained, for what it could be.

Other Stuff

I finished over half of what I had left of the VOTS archive. I would have gotten further, but we opened Fall League registration as well. So, more reformatting this week along with Bout of Books festivities.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

Two Nonfiction Mini Reviews

Unmentionable Cover via Goodreads

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era?

Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there’s arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn’t question.) (via Goodreads)

So, there’s this movie called Kate & Leopold. It came out in 2001, starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. In it, Jackman’s gentlemanly, but smart Leopold falls through a time hole linking 1876 and 2001 and falls in love with Ryan’s successful, but lonely ad exec Kate. All in all, it’s one of those generally smart, funny rom coms that populated the 90s, but died out in the 2000s. It has a great supporting cast (Liev Schreiber, Breckin Meyer, Bradley Whitford) and a soundtrack song by Sting. I would utterly adore this movie (did I mention Hugh Jackman in a rom com?)…except for the ending. Spoiler for an 18 year old movie: Kate goes back to 1876 with Leopold to stay. She obviously hadn’t read Therese Oneill’s Unmentionable.

I love reading newspapers from the late Victorian era and I’ve been interested in the manners/health books of the era, but haven’t had the time to get into them. Oneill has done that work for me. Unmentionable goes into all the distinctly un-romantic aspects of being a woman (and really a white, upper-class woman) in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. The snarky tone is mostly funny, especially paired with illustrations and advertisement from the period. My one nag is that I wish dates were used a little more.

Original Publishing info: Little, Brown and Company, 2016
My Copy: OverDrive Read, Tempe Public Library
Genre: history, pop culture

Cover via Goodreads

The Spectacle of Illusion: Deception, Magic, and the Paranormal by Matthew Tompkins

In The Spectacle of Illusion, professional magician-turned experimental psychologist Dr. Matthew L. Tompkins investigates the arts of deception as practiced and popularized by mesmerists, magicians and psychics since the early 18th century. Organized thematically within a broadly chronological trajectory, this compelling book explores how illusions perpetuated by magicians and fraudulent mystics can not only deceive our senses but also teach us about the inner workings of our minds. Indeed, modern scientists are increasingly turning to magic tricks to develop new techniques to examine human perception, memory and belief. Beginning by discussing mesmerism and spiritualism, the book moves on to consider how professional magicians such as John Nevil Maskelyne and Harry Houdini engaged with these movements – particularly how they set out to challenge and debunk paranormal claims. It also relates the interactions between magicians, mystics and scientists over the past 200 years, and reveals how the researchers who attempted to investigate magical and paranormal phenomena were themselves deceived, and what this can teach us about deception. (via Goodreads)

The Spectacle of Illusion was published to coincide with Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic, an exhibit at the Wellcome Collection in London. (The exhibit is open until Sept. 15th, so if you’re in London and interested, you’re lucky and should go.) The book delves into how from the 18th century through the present we have approached the paranormal (a relatively recent term) from the point of view of science. The problem, though, is that science hasn’t always been good at dealing with human deception. Enter those masters of deception: the magicians. Of special note are the debunkers, like Maskelyne and Houdini, and the modern discipline of experimental psychology which investigates how our brain experiences non-normal experiences like magic tricks and “paranormal” events.

A Goodreads reviewer referred to this book as “specialist” and it occurs to me that I might have read so much on the above subjects that I don’t know what that means anymore. I think Thomkins provides a good introduction to these subjects without going too deep. This book didn’t break new ground in my knowledge base, but I highly enjoyed it.  The strength of The Spectacle of Illusion is the hundreds of pictures and illustrations found throughout. It’s a beautiful book, more on the coffee table book end of the spectrum than dry academic text.

Original Publishing info: Distributed Art Publishers (DAP), 2019
My Copy: Hardback purchased from Amazon
Genre: history, psychology, magic

The Black Cat, No. 10, July 1896

Welcome to the July 1896 issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

This issue of The Black Cat features five writers new to magazine—unless there are some pseudonyms among the bunch. We’d have to go back to issue 6, in March, to find the previous issue of “newbie” writers.

Stories

“On the Last Trail” by H. W. Phillips & Rupert Hughes

The local marshal of Rapid City, a frontier town, forbids the possession of guns within town limits (due to the high death rate). This does not go over well—many of the town’s citizens become paranoid about being unarmed when someone *with* a gun comes to town. Bolande is that man. He’s friends with the Marshal, but that doesn’t make any difference. When Bolande refuses to give up his weapon, the Marshal calls him out. They duel, each shooting and mortally wounding the other. But before they die they agree that they’re still friends.

The story ends with “They were Americans… Of such were the builders of the West.” And I really can’t decide if this story is satirical or not.

While H. W. Phillips is noted in a 1908 issue of The New England Magazine as a writer magazine readers are familiar with, I couldn’t find any other credits. Rupert Hughes was a novelist and early filmmaker.

“A Message from Where?” by L. Francis Bishop

A locked trunk in the attic, a gravestone with his name on it, and lovers kept apart by the Civil War. This story was my favorite of the month due to its gloomy Southern Gothic nature. Mostly, it’s just a tale of a young boy discovering the truth of his history, of learning that the people around him all had lives before he was born.

“The Man with the Box” by George W. Tripp

“The Man with the Box” is science fiction-ish story. The box in question, when calibrated and pointed at someone, will make the target believe he is drinking a chosen beverage rather than a mundane one. For example, if the target were to choose Guinness ale from the dial on the box and then point and fire the box at himself, he’d taste Guinness when drinking a glass of water. But there is also a weird “snake” setting on the box… Shenanigans ensue. I also found this story interesting for its use of kodak and kodakist (in lower case form), presumably to denote the fad of photography and those annoyingly obsessed with it.

The only George W. Tripp I was able to locate with Google died as a high priest in the Church of Latter-day Saints. Same guy? Seems odd, but possible.

“What the Moon Saw” by Isabelle Meredith

This is the second sort-of creepy story in this month’s edition. Ned French has bet a large amount of money that Albert Turn will not at midnight pound a nail into the coffin of a recently buried man. The narrator of this story comes upon them as Turner is about to be lowered into the opened grave (dug up by servants), nails in hand. Not surprisingly, things don’t go well.

“In Miss Polly’s Pew” by Ellen Frizzell Wycoff

Jack Harrold returns after many years to the small town that was his childhood home. Many things have changed, and many things haven’t. He finds the initials he carved into a tree when he was a teenager: “J. H. + M. R.” It takes him a while(!) but he finally remembers who M. R. is—a.k.a. Polly—and how much he loved her(!). As luck would have it, Polly still lives in town and is single. And Jack’s still single too!

Ellen Frizzell Wycoff has a few other short story credits and may even show up again in the Black Cat.

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Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 10, July 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

Review ~ Conjure Times

Conjure Times cover

Conjure Times: The History of Black Magicians in America by James Haskins & Kathleen Benson

Throughout American history, black magicians have achieved great skill in both the magician’s tricks of the trade as well as the psychology of entertaining an audience. However, because of slavery and, later, racial segregation and discrimination, few have been able to make their living as magicians. Those who have succeeded are rare indeed, and although some have left a mark on history, many exist only as names on old playbills or in newspaper advertisements. Jim Haskins delivers an illuminating portrait of these unheralded pioneers — a tribute to African-Americans who paved the way for and will inspire future generations. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’ve been reading about magic history for some time now, but I realized I knew very little about African-American magicians aside from Adalaide Herrmann’s mention of the black assistants in their show. The assistant was known as Boomsky, though several magicians played that part. Indeed, the last of the Boomskies, M. H. Everett went on to have a fairly good career after Herrmann’s death.

What did I learn?
African-American magicians have different career lineages. While some, like Everett, were assistants for white magicians, most learned magic from other black magicians—most of whom are relatively unknown to history. They didn’t learn from the likes of Kellar or Dai Vernon, but rather Alanzo Moore or Clarence Hunter. While it seems that white magicians weren’t opposed to helping and mentoring black students, they just really weren’t available due to different performance circles.

An early stage opportunity for black magicians was as part of minstrel shows. These eventually gained a little more legitimacy as vaudeville shows, but the stages and audiences were still segregated. Black magicians didn’t perform for white audiences because they prevented from doing so. Well, unless they wanted to take the persona of a “Hindoo” illusionist. Many did and made a decent living at it. Eventually, desegregation led to more and more performing opportunities.

There was also a barrier due to types of gaffed products available. For example, the thumb tip is  a versatile tool for many magic tricks, but not if it isn’t available in the proper skin tone.

What more did I want?
Conjure Times is aimed at young readers, so none of the biographies are particularly in-depth. There’s a list of sources that I’m definitely going to check out. Also, it was published in 2001 and deserves a new edition. Not included in the modern section, for example, is Kendrick McDonald, who was the first African-American to serve as the president of the Society of American Magicians.

You didn’t think I wasn’t going to include a video did you?

Overall
Informative and a good starting point.

Publishing info: Walker & Company, 2001
My Copy: Hardback, Tempe Public Library
Genre: history

The Black Cat, No. 9, June 1896

Welcome to the No. 9 issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

Thankfully, this month’s issue annoyed me a lot less than the last. I guess that’s what happens when I don’t have to deal with a racial invective in the very title of a story.

Stories

“The House Across the Way” by Leo Gale

I was worried that I might not get another good creepy tale in The Black Cat until the autumnal/winter months. My worries were unfounded. There were two in this issue! The first was “The House Across the Way.” Mr. Jones is a bit nosy. He noticed the rather smart family who lived in the building across the street and when he noticed their absence, he was quick to inquire about their apartment. After he moves in, he befriends Mr. Flemming, the second floor’s only other resident. Since the other rooms on the floor aren’t locked, they make light use of them. During one lazy evening, Jones notices that the width of two apartments is shorter than the hallway is long. Is there a secret room? And the better question, why is there a secret room?

“Mrs. Sloan’s Curiosity” by Mabell Shippie Clarke

Mrs. Sloan’s daughter is engaged to Mr. G. F. S. Simms. He is, by all accounts, a nice guy and a good match. But there is one thing: he won’t tell anyone what G. F. S. stands for. We do find out, but I feel like this is maybe a joke that made more sense in 1896.

Mabell Shippie Clark had quite a literary career including a series featuring a character named Ethel Morton.

“The Seaweed Room” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

Prof. Linwood was a collector of seaweed. Until he got married. But now his wife is dead and the seaweed room is kept locked. No one knows why, so surely it would be okay if a late-staying guest spends the night there, right? “The Seaweed Room” is the second creepy story of the issue and it does not disappoint. It’s my favorite story of the issue due to its atmosphere and its brevity.

This is Clarice Irene Clinghan’s third story for The Black Cat, each better than the last.

“The Second Edition” by Geik Turner

Last month, Geik Turner’s story highlighted how one lonely man can bring a railroad to his knees. This month a lonely night shift newspaper editor is coerced into printing a detraction at gun point. Mr. Turner definitely seems to have something to say about the state of the world.

“The Luck of Killing Day” by McPherson Fraser

The issue concludes with a Western. In order to impress the only unmarried woman at Ft. Niobrara, two lieutenants crash a Native American celebration. As one does. I guess.

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Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 9, June 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

Sunday Salon, 6/16/19

Sunday Salon

Read & Reading

I did indeed finish The History of Soul 2065 and reviewed it on Friday. While at the library last week I also read a slim volume of humorous poems titled Love Poems (for Married People). I might do a short review with it and a few other things this upcoming week, if I’m feeling ambitious. I’m currently a little behind on The Count of Monte Cristo and this week I’m going to finally get to one of my older library books Conjure Times: The History of Black Magicians in America by James Haskins. I also haven’t been reading my Poe, but this week I should finish his only “novel,” The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

Conjure Times: The History of Black Magicians in America The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

For Deal Me In this week I pulled 8: “The Golden Girl” by Ellis Peters from Alfred Hitchcock presents: More Stories Not for the Nervous. All the men onboard the cruise ship, Aurea, are taken by the pregnant but very beautiful blond woman. All the women are envious of how tentative her husband is, not even letting her be touched. The poor woman can hardly move though so weighted down by her condition. When a fire breaks out onboard, one brave purser takes it on himself to help her, but dooms her with his efforts.

DealMeIn
Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

Movie/Series of the Week

This week I’m looking forward to the premier of Penn & Teller: Fool Us. I went to a taping back in March, so it will be interesting to see how it ends up on TV.

What Else is Going On?

Not a super-duper lot going on. For me, summer brings doldrums and it’s hard being motivated to do much of anything. This coming week I’ll be reformatting Eric’s novel PHYSIC.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

Review ~ The History of Soul 2065

This book was provided to me by Mythic Delirium Books via NetGalley for review consideration.

History of Soul 2065 Cover via Goodreads

The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff

Months before World War I breaks out, two young Jewish girls just on the edge of adolescence—one from a bustling Russian city, the other from a German estate—meet in an eerie, magical forest glade. They are immediately drawn to one another and swear an oath to meet again. Though war and an ocean will separate the two for the rest of their lives, the promise that they made to each other continues through the intertwined lives of their descendants.

This epic tale of the supernatural follows their families from the turn of the 20th Century through the terrors of the Holocaust and ultimately to the wonders of a future they never could have imagined. THE HISTORY OF SOUL 2065 encompasses accounts of sorcery, ghosts, time travel, virtual reality, alien contact, and elemental confrontations between good and evil. Understated and epic, cathartic and bittersweet, the twenty connected stories in Nebula Award finalist Barbara Krasnoff’s debut form a mosaic narrative even greater than its finely crafted parts. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I am auto-approved on NetGalley to review books offered by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, so I occasionally make an effort to pick a few of their titles. I read quite a few short stories as a part of Deal Me In, the Black Cat Project, and in the course of my random reading. Therefore, I’ve lately been hesitant to add short story anthologies to my list of obligations. This one, though, piqued my interest.

What Worked
Mixing genres can go horribly wrong.  That these intertwined stories included “accounts of sorcery, ghosts, time travel, virtual reality, (and) alien contact” attracted my attention, but I figured that these stories would be very loosely connected. I figured this would just be, well, a short story anthology; maybe with some wrap-around element at the beginning and end. Otherwise, how could Krasnoff possible glue all those genres together? Pleasingly, the tales were more interconnected than I expected, jumping form family member to family member and generation to generation. And jumping from genre and genre. It works because the characters are always in the forefront; the genre elements never overshadow.

The long-term story of Chana and Sophie, the two girls whom we meet in the opening story, is told in the reflection of their families. Each story is told from a different family member’s as focus: spouses, children, grandchildren, in-laws, and occasionally friends that are like family. The structure is very well done. The concluding story is “The History of Soul 2065.” The number is a joking reference to a chapter number, like Laborers Local 151. The concept is that there are only a certain number of souls in existence and each has been shattered apart. Certain people end up with parts of the same soul. The interconnectedness of this idea is the theme of the entire work.

What Didn’t Work
Krasnoff writes with a very light touch, but sometimes settings feel very generic. Places and times all flow together. Maybe that’s on purpose, but without notes at the beginning of the chapter, I wouldn’t necessarily know if a story was set in the past or the future. I feel like a few telling details would have grounded the stories better.

Overall
The History of Soul 2065 was very enjoyable, though often times sad. No family escapes heartache, but also no family is without hope.

Publishing info: Mythic Delirium Books, 6/11/19
My Copy: Kindle ebook via NetGalley
Genre: speculative fiction