October Reading Wrap-Up

Challenges / Events

I pretty much exclusively read R.I.P. books during September and October and ended the “challenge” with six books, eleven short stories (or so), and posts about a handful of movies. Probably my best R.I.P. yet! Had a good readathon too. I read 525 pages, making 1530 for the month!

Finished in October

ReadMyOwnDamnBooksbutton

  • A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay – eLibrary
  • A Vampire Quintet by Eugie Foster – #MyOwnDamnBook
  • Wild Nights! by Joyce Carol Oates – #MyOwnDamn Book
  • The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian
  • Revenge by Yōko Ogawa – Library
  • The Escapist by Michael Chabon, Glen David Gold, Bill Sienkiewicz (Artist), Howard Chaykin (Artist), Gene Colan (Artist), Steve Lieber (Artist), Eric Wight (Goodreads Author) (Artist), Kevin McCarthy – Library

Not as good a month for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks as I thought. Lots of library books. I also read thirteen short stories.

Additions to my Library

Just one addition:

  1. Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans by Melissa Daggett, 10/14/16, NetGalley, ARC

Mini #RIPXI Reviews ~ Revenge & The Accidental Alchemist

MiniReviews

Revenge

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
Translated by Stephen Snyder
Picador, 1998, 2013 (translation), trade paperback

Revenge has been on my Want To Read list for ages, but I was only recently reminded of it by a post at Outlandish Lit. A readathon and a trip to the library converged and here I am. I finally read Revenge! And I’m kind of sad that I didn’t read it before.

Revenge is a surprisingly thin book. Eleven tales are told in only 162 pages. The eleven stories, though, are really one interconnected puzzle of narrative. It was, perhaps, the perfect 24-hour readathon book. The chapters were short; I could put it down every-so-often to do some social media things, but the stories were compelling enough that I didn’t want to stay away for long. While it isn’t full-out supernatural there is definitely a delicious Japanese horror sensibility to Revenge.

The Accidental Alchemist (An Accidental Alchemist Mystery)

The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian
Midnight Ink, 2015, Kindle ebook

This cozy-ish mystery begins so promisingly with an animated gargoyle named Dorian Robert-Houdin. His “father” was historical magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Obviously, this caught my interest. The mystery set-up is also promising: a murder and theft—and Zoe Faust has only lived in her fixer-upper for a day! Unfortunately, solving the mystery ends up somewhat overly complex with a lot of repetitive scenes. In the end, the confluence of events really wasn’t very satisfying.

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#RIPXI ~ Pits, Pendulums, and Extraordinary Tales

season-of-the-witch-button-2016Season of the Witch

“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Pit and the Pendulum” was another of the Troll Communications adaptations stocked in my grade-school library. The Haunted Closet has a great bunch of scans from it.

While “Masque of the Red Death” has some clear allegorical content, “The Pit and the Pendulum” is a pretty straight-forward tale. Our first-person narrator is a heretic (of some sort) and sentenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition. Except, since an auto da fé has recently taken place, his punishment is actually to be tortured until he dies or until the next scheduled “sacrifice” by fire. Our narrator is put in a very dark room with a pit in the center. When he fails to fall in, he’s tied down with a gradually lowering razor sharp pendulum. When he manages to escape, the walls of his cell become glowing hot and begin to move inward, forcing him toward the pit. Each torture is more phantasmagorical than the last, each requiring more complex machines and architecture. Our narrator is then rescued at the last moment by a General Lasalle, placing this Spanish Inquisition in the early 1800s.

Really, “The Pit and the Pendulum” is more like the “torture porn” movies of the the early 2000s. Now, I have nothing against those kind of movies, I even enjoy them on a certain level. Indeed, I enjoy “The Pit and the Pendulum” as well. There is a certain satisfaction to characters attempting to use ingenuity to extricate themselves from hopeless situations.

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Extraordinary Tales (2013)
Directed by Raul Garcia
Narrations by Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Julian Sands, Guillermo del Toro, Roger Corman, Stephen Hughes, and Cornelia Funke.

Extraordinary Tales is an animated anthology of five Poe stories, each animated in a different style with different narrators. The wrap-around involves the spirit of Poe still on earth as a raven as Death tries to woo him.

Some of the adaptations are more successful than others.

The first tale is “The Fall of the House of Usher” narrated by Christopher Lee. This was one of Lee’s last pieces of work and I can’t think of too many people more up to the task. The angular animated caricatures and rich, dark colors are pretty wonderful.

My personal favorite is the mostly black and white animation of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” visually inspired by the art of Alberto Breccia. The slick animation is a great contrast to the hiss-and-pop recording of Bela Lugosi as our narrator.

Being a fan of Julian Sands, I wanted to like “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” more than I did. The narration was fine. The animation style is evocative of EC horror comics, but the color palate seemed off to me. Plus, there’s not too much story to “M. Valdemar.” It is a curious choice for adaptation.

I didn’t care for the animation style of “The Pit and the Pendulum” at all. While shooting for realism, the presumably computer generated characters felt unsubstantial and somewhat fell into uncanny valley.  The being said, Guillermo del Toro was a great selection for narrator.

I’m sort of torn by “The Masque of the Red Death.” The animation is like vivid water color paintings brought to life, but it actually lacked narration. Other than a couple words spoken by Prince Prospero (voiced by Roger Corman), the story is told in images and music only. “Masque” is an incredibly visual story and is well-“told” in this format, but I did miss the beauty of Poe’s language.

Through out this anthology is music written by Sergio de la Puente. It’s a soundtrack worthy of any Halloween or writing playlist.

#RIPIX – A Perilous Trio of Short Stories

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I’ve been really enjoying the October Reading Club‘s esoteric picks:

“The Chromatic Ghosts of Thomas” by Ellis Parker Butler (1907) – Thomas is a cat. But how many stories have asked, if a cat has nine lives, does a cat have nine…ghosts?

Our cat Thomas was very sensitive. I never knew such a sensitive cat as Thomas was. The slightest harsh word seemed to hurt his feelings and put him into a fit of the dumps.

“A Ghost of the Sierras” by Bret Harte (1878) – A Western ghost story, written during the era.

…he continued for some moments to dwell on the terrible possibility of a state of affairs in which a gentleman could no longer settle a dispute with an enemy without being subjected to succeeding spiritual embarrassment.

But not forgetting contemporary stories away from the Club:

“Cruel Sistah” by Nisi Shawl (2005) – Remember the “The Ensouled Violin”? Nisi Shawl’s “Cruel Sistah” is a great take on that tradition.

His thing now was gimbris, elegant North African ancestors of the cigar-box banjos he’d built two years ago when he was just beginning, just a kid. … The basic structure looked good, but it was kind of plain. It needed some sort of decoration. An inlay, ivory or mother of pearl or something.

Witchy Peril ~ “Masque” and Other Short Stories

season-of-the-witch-button-2016Season of the Witch

The first read-along for Season of the Witch is my favorite Edgar Allan Poe story: “The Masque of the Red Death.”

I went to a small Lutheran school for grades K-6. It had a library that was about the size of my apartment’s front room and kitchen. In this library’s small collection were illustrated Edgar Allan Poe books published by Troll Communications. I clearly remember “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” but there was apparently a version of “A Cask of Amontillado” too.  Sure, they were abridgments, but the color illustrations were glorious. I checked them out often and they cemented my love of Poe at an early age.*

Illustration by John Lawn
The Red Death, illustrated by John Lawn

I always forget how short “The Masque of the Red Death” is. In less than 2500 words, Poe conjures a world dying a bloody death, a selfish prince, *and* gives us a lot of architectural details. The only place that the illustrated version of “Red Death” falls down is in its depiction of  Prince Prospero’s abbey. I was going to call it a hall, and I had thought of it in the past as a series of drawing rooms, but, in the text, it is an abbey. Nothing matches what my mind’s eye has built from Poe’s plans.

A subtlety I  noticed this time around, probably because I’ve been thinking about Romanticism since rereading Frankenstein, inside the abbey is a Romantic ideal of beauty. In fact, it’s literally Beauty with a capital B. At the end of the story we’re left with Death and Decay with capital Ds.

* Don’t worry. My mom was the school librarian and most people agree that I turned out alright.

Other Small Perils

I joined the October Reading Club on Facebook. The community features a short story every day throughout October. I haven’t read every story, but I’ve gotten a few in.

“The Red Room” by H.G. Wells (1896) – A fairly standard stay-the-night-in-a-haunted-room tale. That doesn’t mean it lacks tension.

It was after midnight that the candle in the alcove suddenly went out,
and the black shadow sprang back to its place there. I did not see the
candle go out; I simply turned and saw that the darkness was there, as one
might start and see the unexpected presence of a stranger.

“Man of Science” by Jerome K. Jerome (1892) – Men of science and their skeletons, both ones in and out of closets. This is a tale told to other skeptics by a man named Jephson. At the end of the tale:

Brown was the first to break the silence that followed. He asked me if I had any brandy on board. He said he felt he should like just a nip of brandy before going to bed. That is one of the chief charms of Jephson’s stories: they always make you feel you want a little brandy.

“The Terrible Old Man”  by H.P. Lovecraft (1920) – One of Lovecraft’s shorter, more straight forward stories. And also a reread for me!

It was the design of Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva to call on the Terrible Old Man. This old man dwells all alone in a very ancient house on Water Street near the sea, and is reputed to be both exceedingly rich and exceedingly feeble; which forms a situation very attractive to men of the profession of Messrs. Ricci, Czanek, and Silva, for that profession was nothing less dignified than robbery.

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Review ~ A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Cover via Goodreads

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface–and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil. (via Goodreads)

While I’d been hearing a lot about this book (it won the Stoker Award last year after all), it was the last part of the above summary, the “vexing questions about memory and reality,” that really got me interested in A Head Full of Ghosts. We place a great deal of importance on memory, but our brains are actually really terrible at remembering. And that’s before any questions about the subjective nature of perception. This is a ripe field for horror!

Unfortunately, there was an aspect of this book that was really distracting to me: what year did these events take place in? When I’m given a framing narrative that refers to events 15 years ago, I assume that the framing narrative is taking place in the year that the book was published; in this case, 2015.  Which means to me, unless I’m disabused of the notion, that the flashback narrative (and in this case the remembered narrative) happened in 2000-2001. But it obviously does not. There are too many smart phones, thin laptops, and a pope who didn’t become pope until 2013. Which means that the flashback narrative happened in 2015-ish and the framing narrative is set in 2029-2030. But that doesn’t quite make sense either. Considering that blogs are already being considered “retro” in light of platforms like Medium, I don’t think Karen’s blog is really going to be a thing in 2030.

Maybe it’s just me being OCD. For a while I thought that, yes, maybe Merry is simply misremembering things. Someone who grew up in a world where cell phones are common might default to “remembering” someone texting on their phone when (in 2001, in a family that is having money problems) that’s probably unlikely. But when hard facts show up and are included in the TV show recaps, I know it’s not just Merry’s memory.

*** SPOILER ***

Then again we only get recaps of the show from Karen, who is actually Merry. I suppose we could assume that every narrative Merry is involved in is unreliable, but I don’t think that’s Tremblay’s intent. Actually, I am kind of disappointed that the book doesn’t offer a second point of view which is what the blog seems to do until Merry reveals that she’s the blogger.
*** END SPOILER***

 

A Head Full of Ghosts does nod to a few feminist issues. When fourteen-year-old  Marjorie knows fun facts about demons and exorcisms, the adult men around her can’t believe that a girl would know such things. This attitude brought to mind for me both the Fox sisters and the Cottingley fairies. In both cases, young girls were seen as too naive and ignorant to pull off a fraud. Similarly, to me the most chilling moment in the whole book happens during the (rather tame) exorcism. Marjorie begs to be let up and let go, but of course, she isn’t because at this point the men in power believe she doesn’t know her own mind. But there’s a difference between not knowing your own mind and someone else deciding they know it for you.

Publishing info, my copy: ePub, HarperCollins, 2015
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: horror

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September Reading Wrap-Up

Challenges

ReadMyOwnDamnBooksbutton

Well, September happened. I had good intentions to read more of my own books, but I got wrapped up in a couple of library books. R.I.P. is going well. I’m only through one novel (of hopefully four), but I’ve been reading quite a few “seasonal” short stories.

Finished in September

Long works:

  1. Descent into the Depth of the Earth by Paul Kidd – #readMyOwnDamnBooks reread
  2. The Séance by Iain Lawrence – library book
  3. (I’ll probably finish From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury by Saturday.)

I didn’t finish my other library book, American Ghost, although I read about two-thirds of it.

Shorter works:

  1. “Keeping His Promise” by Algernon Blackwwod
  2. “The Invisible Assistant” by John Gaspard
  3. “Smee” by A. M. Burrage
  4. “The Daemon Lover” by Shirley Jackson
  5. “Flop Sweat” by Harlan Ellison
  6. “The Green-Eyed Boy” by Peter S. Beagle
  7. “Two Hearts” by Peter S. Beagle

Additions to my Library

  1. The Faerie Key by  Denise D. Young, 9/8/2016, Amazon
  2. The Invisible Assistant by John Gaspard, 9/8/2016, Amazon
  3. The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay Faye, 9/8/2016, ARC
  4. Heaven’s Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal by Jack Kelly, 9/8/2016, I won it from Doing Dewey!
  5. A subscription to Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, 9/26/16, Amazon

Notes

My plan for October is to read R.I.P. books that I already own. But, you know how plans are.