{Book} Columbine

Columbine

Columbine by Dave Cullen

EXPANDED WITH A NEW EPILOGUE “The tragedies keep coming. As we reel from the latest horror . . . ” So begins a new epilogue, illustrating how Columbine became the template for nearly two decades of “spectacle murders.” It is a false script, seized upon by a generation of new killers. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this plague grows more urgent every year. What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we “know” is wrong. It wasn’t about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world’s leading forensic psychologists, and the killers’ own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Read This Book?
Columbine was probably the most recommended book I saw during this year’s Nonfiction November. I was in the market for true crime, though not necessarily this flavor of crime. Regardless, I saw the opportunity to check it out from the library and took it.

What Did I Think?
The Columbine High School shootings happened at a time when I had stopped watching TV for the most part (I had no cable and OTA in Lincoln, NE was sketchy) and I hadn’t become a regular consumer of online news—there was relatively little of anything to be had online in 1999. I knew the shootings had happened and that they were at the time the most fatal such incident, but honestly after it had left the immediate news cycle, I never followed up. I knew what happened right?

Well, honestly, even in the moment I was skeptical of some of the media’s conclusions. Music and video games weren’t the cause. The rest seemed plausible enough, though, didn’t it? Two outcasts had had enough and plotted their revenge.  But that wasn’t what happened. That was a narrative the media latched on to based on not-very-good early information. It was easy and it made sense in the moment. Law enforcement didn’t do much to counter that narrative. They had their own problems. Alas, the story is more complex and nuanced, as reality often is.

I am rather awed by the amount of compassion that Dave Cullen has in his writing for everyone, including the shooters and their families. There are many things that are still unknown and will never be known, but Cullen doesn’t luridly speculate. It would be easy to do so.

I’ve been thinking about why anyone should read a book like Columbine. Perhaps, yes, knowing the minds of these killers might be valuable, even to the general populous. The stories of the victims’ families and the triumphs of the injured are by turns tragic and inspiring. More broadly though, I hope that Columbine serves as a reminder that, as uncomfortable as it might be, nothing is ever as simple as one might think. That is a valuable thing to keep in mind.

Original Publishing info: Grand Central Publishing, 2009
My Copy: Overdrive, Tempe Public Library
Genre: nonfiction, true crime

{Book Quote} The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn

On a whim, slowly I reread The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, a chapter a day as a part of my morning routine. Every time I read it, something new pops out at me. This time it was this quote by the talking skull:

“You can strike your own time, and start the count anywhere. When you understand that—then any time will be the right time for you.”

As someone who is overly fond of New Year’s Day, the first of the month, Mondays, and blank pages, I would do well to learn this myself.

(The quote isn’t in the movie, but can I post about the talking skull without including a clip? No. Here he is voiced by René Auberjonois.)

{Book} Death by Suggestion

This book was provided to me by the editor for review consideration.

Death by Suggestion: An Anthology of 19th and Early 20th-Century Tales of Hypnotically Induced Murder, Suicide, and Accidental Death

Death by Suggestion: An Anthology of 19th and Early 20th-Century Tales of Hypnotically Induced Murder, Suicide, and Accidental Death, edited by Donald K Hartman

DEATH BY SUGGESTION gathers together twenty-two short stories from the 19th and early 20th century where hypnotism is used to cause death-either intentionally or by accident. Revenge is a motive for many of the stories, but this anthology also contains tales where characters die because they have a suicide wish, or they need to kill an abusive or unwanted spouse, or they just really enjoy inflicting pain on others. The book also includes an introduction which provides a brief history of hypnotism as well as a listing of real life cases where the use of hypnotism led to (or allegedly led to) death. (via Goodreads)

Why Was I Interested In This Book?
The late 19th and early 20th century was awash in periodicals. A wealth of literature is tucked away, nearly forgotten, in these magazines. It always surprises me how modernly “genre” some of these stories are, especially since they aren’t from the pulp magazine that appear by the 1920s. It’s fun to see what gems can be mined, especially on a particular theme.

In the case of Death by Suggestion, Donald Hartman has pulled together over twenty tales of hypnosis and mesmerism from the Victorian and Edwardian eras  in which death also plays a part. Hypnosis was quite the fad topic at the time and Trillby, the novel that spawned the character of Svengali, was a bestseller.

What Did I Think?
This was an entertaining collection. Appropriately, I read it during October and enjoyed all the perilous situations. There are murders; there are suicides; there are accidents. As is often the case for me, though, (maybe it’s my aging brain) I wish I wouldn’t have read it straight through. The stories tend to start feeling the same when I read too many in a row. It’s not the fault of the stories.

The anthology has some recognizable names (Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Conan Doyle) and some rather unknowns, as you might expect. In all cases the quality of the writing is pretty good, which is not always the case when delving into old magazines. I do wish the stories had been placed in chronological order, but that’s probably my over-want for order kicking in. I’ll probably eventually reread this anthology, but reorder the stories.

But, I’d also unreservedly recommend this anthology for Deal Me In, if one might start thinking about the 2020 edition of that challenge already. The story choice and stories themselves are far better than the Hitchcock anthologies I’ve been reading this year…

Original Publishing info: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018
My Copy: Kindle edition provided by the editor
Genre: mystery/crime

Happy Halloween from The Black Cat, Vol. 2

I promised a second set of stories from The Black Cat for Halloween, but I’ve almost run out of holiday season. 😉 Here’s a link to the first five stories.

Mr. Williamson, a mysterious jeweler, has gone missing and after a period of time, his massive safe is being removed from his former place of business. Between the time of Williamson’s arrival in town and his disappearance, a series of burglaries and robberies have taken place, including Williamson himself being mugged. But after Williamson disappeared, the robberies stopped. What happened? And is the answer to be found in his safe?

Link to “The Williamson Safe Mystery” by F. S. Hesseltine

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?

Link to “The House Across the Way” by Leo Gale

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?

Link to “The Seaweed Room” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

A man and woman on the run settle in a deserted Boom Town. Their crimes are never enumerated, but they have a good-sized box of money. Their plan is to lay low in this town for a year and then head to South America. Everything is fine for a while. The couple obviously love each other and enjoy the freedom of having a whole town at their disposal. But when they are forced to move into the old hotel, the woman starts hearing a small voice asking, “Mama?”

Link to “The Reapers” by Batterman Lindsay

An old salt, Tom, tells Sam of a treasure on Mustery Island. After braving a squall to reach the island, Sam encounters a dog that leads him to a dilapidated mansion. There he finds a invalid woman with dimentia. She believes she’s a refugee from the French Revolution and goes on about some devil-weed on the island, protecting the treasure. It all seems too fantastical to Sam…until he meets the devil-weed…

{Book + Short Stories} What Went Back to the Library Today

Took a couple of #RIPXIV / #somethingWickedFall books back to the library today:

Cover via Goodreads

The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill

Two chilling ghost stories from the author of The Woman in Black, both set in crumbling English houses that are haunted by the spirits of thwarted children.

In The Small Hand, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow is returning from a client visit when he takes a wrong turn and stumbles across a derelict Edwardian house with a lush, overgrown garden. Approaching the door, he is startled to feel the unmistakable sensation of a small cold hand creeping into his own, almost as though a child had taken hold of it. Plagued by nightmares, he returns with the intention of figuring out its mysteries, only to be troubled by further, increasingly sinister visits. In Dolly, orphan Edward Cayley is sent to spend the summer with his forbidding Aunt Kestrel at Iyot House, her decaying home in the damp, lonely fens. With him is his spoiled, spiteful cousin, Leonora. And when Leonora’s birthday wish for a beautiful doll is denied, she unleashes a furious rage which will haunt Edward for years afterward. (via Goodreads)

Read both The Small Hand and Dolly. I enjoyed them well enough, but really don’t have too much to say about them. Neither was as good as the other Susan Hill book I’ve read, The Woman in Black, but that *is* considered a ghost story classic. I probably liked Dolly better because The Small Hand felt a little padded out. Still, some nice reading for autumn nights.

Cover via Goodreads

Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub

From the incomparable master of horror and suspense comes an electrifying collection of contemporary literary horror, with stories from twenty-five writers representing today’s most talented voices in the genre.

Horror writing is usually associated with formulaic gore, but New Wave horror writers have more in common with the wildly inventive, evocative spookiness of Edgar Allan Poe than with the sometimes-predictable hallmarks of their peers. Showcasing this cutting-edge talent, Poe’s Children now brings the best of the genre’s stories to a wider audience. (via Goodreads)

I find it funny that a this anthology of “new” fiction is over 10 years old at this point… It’s my habit when I go to the library to pluck a couple books from shelves, give some a 10-page test, and maybe read a short story from a random anthology. A few weeks back I picked up Poe’s Children and started reading “Notes on the Writing of a Horror Story” by Thomas Ligotti, since I hadn’t read any Ligotti before. Unfortunately, it was a too long to finish at the library. So, I took it home. I meant to read a few more of the stories, but I only fit in one more. “Notes on the Writing of a Horror Story” was clever with an excellently twisted ending. The other story I read was “The Bees” by Dan Chaon. The setting was great but I thought the ending was a little flat.

Happy Halloween from The Black Cat, Vol. 1


For the past year, I’ve been reading through issues of The Black Cat, a magazine that began publication in October of 1895. It might sound a little sadistic, but I wanted to read popular literature from the turn of the 19th century, but not just “the good stuff” that has survived to be anthologized. Some of the stories I’ve read in the past year were not very good. Some were very…problematic. And some were quite good. Not all the stories were speculative, but many were and almost every month included a “spooky” story. I figured October would be a good time to share some of my favorites. Below are links to five stories and I’ll post another five later in the month.

Our unnamed narrator rents the Chateau Blanc in hopes of curing his melancholy. The house appealed to him due to the strange picture of the previous owner that hangs in the bedroom and the stuffed pet swan that somewhat floats on the lake. He’s sure there is a mystery to these objects…

Link to “The Secret of the White Castle” by Julia Magruder

Our narrator assures us that he never would have thought to go into the house if the lady he were with hadn’t confidently let herself in. They go upstairs and sit down to dinner. Around the table are a group of strange characters including a man that our narrator thinks is his old friend, Bill, from college. Except Bill has been dead for eight years…

Link to “The Interrupted Banquet” by Rene Bache

Our narrator falls in love with the beautiful Aidu. When he meets her she seems to be in some trouble. She agrees to help (and later to marriage), under the condition that she be allowed her freedom and she not be followed when she leaves the house. Aidu is a strange woman; she is never seen eating and once a week she goes for a walk alone and returns re-invigorated. Of course, we know how this story goes. Our love-struck narrator, follows her one evening…

Link to “Aidu” by Hero Despard

A friend finds Mr. Paul Fancourt in a state. What’s wrong? Fancourt tells of his marriage to the lovely and tempestuous Leila. His wife’s temper drove him away for five years and, when he returned, Leila was a different woman. Possibly, quite literally.

Link to “The Little Brown Mole” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

It’s a “very attractive modern house with a history.” The (presumably) first owners of the house die mysteriously, leaving behind a tale and ghosts.

Link to “To Let” by Alice Turner Curtis

Find out more about the Black Cat Project

The Black Cat, No. 12, September 1896

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

Over the last month or two, I’ve wondered if continuing with the Black Cat Project is worthwhile. Some issues have been…not so great. But then there are issues like this one with two really interesting stories and one that’s pretty fun.

Stories

“The Reapers” by Batterman Lindsay

A man and woman on the run settle in a deserted Boom Town. Their crimes are never enumerated, but they have a good-sized box of money. Their plan is to lay low in this town for a year and then head to South America. Everything is fine for a while. The couple obviously love each other and enjoy the freedom of having a whole town at their disposal. But when they are forced to move into the old hotel, the woman starts hearing a small voice asking, “Mama?”

This is perhaps the most well-written story I’ve read in The Black Cat. I couldn’t find much biographical information on (Annie) Batterman Lindsay, but she does have a novel Derelicts of Destiny that I’m interested in reading

“A Kindergarten Hold-Up” by Mabell Shippie Clarke

Young career criminal Sam Murphy coincidentally meets up with this sister who was put into a foster home after he left home and their mother died. And it turns out he’s not such a bad guy after all.

Was Clarke’s other tale this sentimental?

“The Guardian of Mystery Island” by Dr. Edmond Nolcini

An old salt, Tom, tells Sam (Lenartson, this time) of a treasure on Mustery Island (in Maine, according to Google). It’s guarded by a dorg, in Tom’s words, which Sam assumes to mean “dog,” but said with a really bad accent. After braving a squall to reach the island, Sam does encounter a dog, a fairly friendly one, that leads him to a dilapidated mansion. There he finds a invalid  woman with dimentia. She believes she’s a refugee from the French Revolution and goes on about some devil-weed on the island, protecting the treasure. It all seems too fantastical to Sam…until he meets the devil-weed…

There are a lot of things in this story that I would consider Jamsean or Lovecraftean if this story were written 40 years later. According to Urban Dictionary, which I’m not sure is reliable, there is a thing called a dorg. It “bears similarities to both a plant and a canine animal.” There’s no other information though.

“A Mental Mischance” by Thomas F. Anderson

One day Albert Reeves finds that he can read minds. What does one do with that ability? Crime fighting? Journalism? Stock trading? It’s always good to remember that sometimes thoughts are fancies.

“The Barber of the Alpena” by J. Harwood

J. Harwood provides a harrowing little tale. A barber, with a very strange visage, attends a dissection class and becomes a little obsessed with the potential to flay a client’s face instead of giving them a nice close shave. He confesses this tale to a group of travelers, one of whom meets the Barber of the Alpena again… or does he?

Like many of the horror stories in The Black Cat, this one doesn’t really “pay off” but it gives plenty of chills in the meantime.

“Which Was Like a Woman” by William Albert Lewis

This is another one of those inconstant women stories. Dorothy Moore’s husband is in prison for life. With three kids to support, she takes in a male boarder, which is unseemly. So, Dorothy procures a divorce (or rather the legal status of widow) and marries her boarder Brian Lett. Brian’s a good guy. Her kids like him. Everything is going well. Until her first husband is pardoned. And Dorothy is made to feel bad—how horrible that she should have sought a secure future…

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The ad is for Mellin’s Food, which was a infant formula.

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