Long ago, I won the second book in Ben H. Winter’s Last Policeman trilogy. I had not read the first one, don’t usually get involved in series, and don’t have much taste for apocalypse literature. But I’d heard from readers I trust that The Last Policeman was pretty good. And it was! Hank Palace, the titular last policeman, quickly became one of my favorite characters ever. Eventually, I was pretty bummed that there are only three books and no much chance of sequels, because, well, apocalypse. I promised myself that I’d visit more of Winters’ works. Fast forward to 2020 and Cathy @ 746 Books mentioning Bedbugs.
The strength of Winters’ writing is his relatable characters. While I am not a mother or as upwardly mobile as Susan, our protagonist, I could relate to her anxieties. She’s trying to be an artist while her husband works, often feels guilty for getting her way, and is occasionally overwhelmed by the emotional labor of being a wife. Both of Susan and I are more neurotic than we’d like to admit. For me, Susan is a character fairly grounded in reality.
So, when the world around her starts to skew, I was with her, wondering what the heck was going on. Alas, Winters doesn’t quite stick the landing here. Things get weird, and then sort of mundane, but also maybe still weird. Are there bedbugs? Or just badbugs? I have other questions that I will avoid asking for the sake of spoilers. Still, this was a creepy, unsettling tale. I’m glad Phoenix rates as #45 of Orkin’s Top Bedbug Cities.
Take the first 5 (or 10 (or even more!) if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course, if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
Read the synopses of the books.
Decide: keep it or should it go?
I’m modifying this a little since my to-read shelf is a mess of books that are mostly in storage. Instead, I’m going to look at my wishlist—all those books I add on a whim during my travels around the book blogging community—and weed out the ones that don’t quite sound as good now. The “keepers” I’m going to look for at online libraries or add to my Amazon wishlist.
I’m kind of on the fence about this one. For some reason, I thought it was nonfiction. But it’s by the guy who wrote A Man Called Ove, which I haven’t read, but is liked by pretty much everyone I know. I think I’ll KEEP Beartown for now.
Welcome to the 14th issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!
There is a gap in my Black Cat reckoning. I did read issue 13, but I never blogged about it. The stories were not good and, after a year of working on the project, I needed a break. But I’ve missed it too! So, I’m jumping back in with No. 14. This issue features five stories with five authors new to the magazine.
“Silas F. Quigley – To Arrive” by Lewis Hopkins Rogers
Silas F. Quigley, from Oxford, Ohio, arrives at a hotel in New York City to find a letter already waiting for him. The problem is, until midway through his trip he hadn’t even decided which hotel to stay in! Was this letter and the offer of work inside meant for some other Silas F. Quigley? Things get even stranger when Silas decides to take the work offered: writing short stories for a magazine. How hard could it be? This was a decent little mystery of a story, though I found the ultimate resolution to be a bit ornate. It was my favorite of the issue.
Google turns up a Lewis Hopkins Rogers who was a “statesman” and one the author of a patent for an apparatus for the production of gaseous ozonides. Not sure if either penned this tale.
“The Polar Magnet” by Philip Verrill Mighels
Mesmerism weighed heavy in the minds of 1896 readers. In this story, we learn the secret behind an incredibly life-like sculpture. Don’t worry, we’re a few decades away from something like Dorothy L Sayer’s “The Man with the Copper Fingers” showing up in an entertainment magazine.
Philip Verrill Mighels was a prominent in the establishment of the “Sagebrush” school of American literature, encompassing writers of the west and southwest. “The Polar Magnet” is from fairly early in his career.
“Fitzhugh” by W. Macpherson Wiltbank
Lots of clowning in this story, both textual and meta-textual. When Fitzhugh is assigned to be a clown during a community circus, he decides to make sure he’s the best clown there. Or at least someone is the best clown there.
I didn’t find any biographical information on W. Macpherson Wiltbank, but he’ll appear again in later issues of The Black Cat.
“The Passion Snake” by Ella Higginson
The story is written from the POV of a female snake. She falls in love with a human and he’s in love with her, so she thinks, until a human woman he loves shows up and says, “Eeek! A snake!” Allegory, sure, but not my thing,
Ella Higginson was a fairly well-known author of the Pacific Northwest in her time. She was also the campaign manager for Frances C. Axtell, the first female state legislator in Washington.
“Professor Whirlwind” by Allan Quinan
“Professor Whirlwind” is set up to be funny. The titular character is a strange looking man whose two prized possessions are a locket of a with the picture of a lovely young woman and the portrait of a living, feather-less chicken. We’re given an adventure set up: he and the young woman were in a balloon trip gone wrong. There are trills! But then the story ends abruptly, seemly only in utter tragedy.
Boo, Mr. Quinan, boo.
Lots of advertisements in this issue, which makes me wonder if someone had just (gasp) not been scanning them! Along side ads for Prudential Insurance and Funk & Wagnalls Dictionaries was this piece for The Black Cat‘s short story contest.
Runtime: 1h 57m
Directors: Ashim Ahluwalia, Can Evrenol, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Katrin Gebbe, Calvin Reeder, Agnieszka Smoczynska, Peter Strickland, Yannis Veslemes
Writers: Robert Bolesto, Elif Domanic, Can Evrenol, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Katrin Gebbe, Calvin Reeder, Peter Strickland, Yannis Veslemes, Silvia Wolkan
Stars: Marlene Hauser, Luzia Oppermann, Karin Pauer
A feature-length anthology film. They are known as myths, lore, and folktales. Created to give logic to mankind’s darkest fears, these stories laid the foundation for what we now know as the horror genre.
Initial: That is a really clumsily written summary… This seems ambitious, but I’m definitely up for more global horror. I wonder if they’ll do some kind of wrap-around.
Production Notes: Produced by Legion M, which is a “fan run” production company that often crowdsources funding for films. A Field Guide to Evil was green-lit after an equity crowdfunding campaign.
What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead) Yes, quite ambitious. No, no wrap-around narrative. Instead, the stories are only connected by the opening of a book and the flipping of its pages. Btw, the opening/ending titles are some of the best I’ve ever seen. The book is in the same style.
The stories are weighted toward Europe with stories from Austria, Poland, Greece, Germany, and Hungary. The other three stories were from the US, Turkey, and India. Most of the stories were light on dialog; I assume to appeal more broadly to the US audience which is unwilling to read too many subtitles. There was also often a dearth of narrative. Obviously, when you’re fitting eight stories into a two hour movie, some exposition gets dropped. Horror is a genre that can bear a lot of ambiguity and I only really wished for more story in one case: “A Nocturnal Breath” (dir. by Katrin Gebbe from Germany) felt like it could use the tiniest bit more explanation. (Though also, I wonder if my German grandmother had been familiar with this folklore and it was part of her hatred of rats and mice.)
“Haunted by Al Karisi, the Childbirth Djinn” (dir. by Can Evrenol, Turkey) was my second djinn in a week and both involved children and parenthood.
The first two segments “Haunted by Al Karisi” and “The Sinful Women of Höllfall” (dir. by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Austria) have only female casts.
The US segment “Beware the Melonheads” (dir. by Calvin Lee Reeder) included the only actor I recognized: Michael J. Anderson from Twin Peaks and Carnival. (Of course, I’m quite face blind, so, take that how you will…)
My favorite in terms of style was “Cobbler’s Lot” (dir. by Peter Strickland, Hungary). Like Errementari, it is very Grimm’s Tales. It was shot as a silent film with dialog placards. The cinematographer is Márk Györi and I might have to find some of his other movies.
A sailor called Ishmael narrates the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod, for revenge on Moby Dick, a white whale which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab’s ship and severed his leg at the knee. (via Goodreads)
And I’ve come to realize that Moby-Dick is going to be a book I reread often throughout the rest of my life.
Michael Chabon has a theory about fandom that I will clumsily paraphrase from Maps and Legends: fandom is created in the cracks of fiction. His example is Sherlock Holmes. Those Doyle stories have become an enduring institution, continually adapted and rebooted, because there are so many inconsistencies and alluded to stories within the cannon. Fans want to know, what they can’t know they’ll interpret and fill-in.
And I can see that in Moby-Dick. The people who read this weird novel over and over again (and I’m one of them) want to know more of what’s going on. We want to know more about the character’s intentions, but also Melville’s.
This time around, I really enjoyed some of my fellow reader’s thoughts as well has keeping a Twitter thread of things that stood out to me:
"While you take in hand to school others, … what name a whale-fish is to be called in our tongue, leaving out, through ignorance, the letter H, which almost alone maketh up the signification of the word, you deliver that which is not true." Hackluyt.#mobyDickReadalong 🐳
I also read Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick by George Cotkin.
Cotkin provides some interesting tangents, chapter for chapter. Sometimes these tangents were literary criticism, sometimes historical context, sometimes cultural context. Yes, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is covered. As well as the dubious Emoji Dick.
“What next?” Brona asks.
A book hangover! Actually, I attempted another book-at-sea, but it didn’t work out. Instead, I’m enthralled by the nonfiction book Bad Blood. But then, it’s sort of about an Ahab running a biomedical start-up. But I found my copy of Green Shadows, White Whale, Ray Bradbury’s story of writing the screenplay to John Huston’s Moby-Dick. I’ll reread it in a month or two, I think.
“What Tune the Enchantress Plays” by Peter S. Beagle
Card picked: 5♥ Found in:Sleight of Hand, Tachyon Publications, 2011
Ah, there you are. I was beginning to wonder.
No, no. Come in, do—it’s your lair, after all. Tidy, too, for a demon. I’d do something about those bones, myself, and whatever that is, over in the corner, that smelly wet thing. But each to his taste, I say; you probably wouldn’t think too much of my notions of décor, either. God knows, my mother doesn’t.
In the introduction to this story Peter S. Beagle admits that it is the voice of a character that comes easiest to him. As you can see from the beginning few sentences above, this story has a great deal of voice.
Our speaker is Breya, an enchantress of some power. She is from Kalagria where many of the women are witches, sorcerers, or enchantresses. Never the men, though. The men of Kalagria are carriers of magic. Furthermore, if a majkes of Kalagria marries an outsider, their daughters will not have any knack with magic. So, the story that Breya tells this demon before she sings him into oblivion at moonset is an unfortunate one: Breya’s true love was an outsider.
I didn’t remember this story from the first time I read back in 2011-ish. A different author five years later might have used this set up to tell a tale of gender reversal or maybe at least gender role reversal, but that’s not quite Beagle. Lathro, Breya’s love, goes off to become the man he thinks he needs to be. Breya goes after him under the advisement of her mother, who is bent on making Breya into the woman she needs to be.
Peter S. Beagle is best known as the author of The Last Unicorn, but he has a fairly large body of work. “What Tune the Enchantress Plays” is set in the same magical world as his novel The Innkeeper’s Song.
Pick a Card, Any Card
Music plays a role in this story and many of Beagle’s works. Vivaldi Playing Cards evoke some of that beauty and grace.
Two nonfiction and a classic that I never read until just this year…
Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd – I embarked on reading the complete works of Poe this year. I’m still working on it. But I also wanted a good agnostic biography—one that wasn’t too caught up in diagnosing or explaining Poe. Peter Ackroyd’s slim volume fit the bill! My Review
The Spectacle of Illusion by Matthew Tompkins – Quite easily the nicest looking book I’ve purchased in a long while. It’s a really accessible history of the scientific investigation of the paranormal, chock-full of photos and exhibits. My Review
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss (Translator) – Of the four readalongs that Nick hosted, I only completed one of the books, but wow, it really did deliver. I read an unabridged edition and I’m glad I did. My Review
Knives Out (2019) – Rian Johnson is one of my favorite movie-makers. Plus, non-franchise!
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – A lot of superhero movies haven’t been very fun lately. This film reminds me of the 2002 Spider-man. It’s joyous, visually exciting, and includes something that I really appreciate about comics: alternative characters and story lines.
Ocean’s Eight (2018) – It’s not as good at Ocean’s Eleven, but really, what is? But this cast! If I had to list my favorite actresses, I’d just link you to Ocean’s Eight‘s IMBD.