A Classic and long-time TBR Lister

And then the snow and bitter cold trapped us all inside.

I loved the bright moon after the storm, the new snow lit up like the day, but I didn’t love scraping off the inside of my windshield as my car reluctantly warmed itself the next morning.  And the sweet little fishtail as I turned out of work across an icy patch of snow, too cold for the road salt to do anything about it.  Intractable in the cold.

So I made a mistake googling (we’ve all done it) and I read a book that I believed counted as a book by a journalist, one of BookRiot’s categories.  After I was fully committed, subsequent googling revealed that the book’s author was not, in fact, a journalist.

This mistake revealed one of the few pitfalls of book list tackling. There was a hot second in there that I was like, damn, I read this book for nothing.  For a few moments I actually thought that maybe I had wasted my time reading because I couldn’t tick off a category on a list!

All my mindfulness training (and years of an ex who complained that if I wasn’t going to marry him I was a total waste of time) rebelled here and said how dare you think that reading a book you have meant to read for like a billion years that’s on a billion other book lists is a waste of time because it does not fit one particular list.  One particular outcome in a world of infinite outcomes.

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In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

In my defense, this is a serialized true story, so it would be a logical inference that the writer could possibly be a journalist, but the late Truman Capote was a novelist, actor, short story writer, and playwright.

There are a number of things worth noting in this classic work.  One, it wasn’t just about a murder, but about America  in the late 50’s, early 60’s, a portrait of Kansas and the Midwest.  The murdered family was in many ways the All American family, especially Mr. Clutter and his youngest daughter Nancy.  Pillars of the community, wealthy by their own hard work, churchgoing, example setters, humble.  Nancy was involved with everything and loved by everyone.  Mr. Clutter was fair and hard working, sympathetic to his ill wife, supportive of his oldest daughter’s marriages.  They embodied the values of the time.

And it wasn’t just the family that provided this portrait. The murderers, both in their own family histories and in the descriptions of their cross country travels together, what it was like to be in the state prison and in the justice system at that time, all painted a vivid picture of America at that point in history.  Even the psychological reports of the men reminded me of the still strongly Freudian interpretations of the times.  Twelve year old boys were allowed to drive the family car to take girls to dances, the death penalty was on in Kansas, young troubled boys could still be sent away to reform schools and abused there at young ages (kids can get out of home placements still, but at least in NY its a very long process for only the ones who truly cannot manage in the outside world, and then they are heavily regulated).

Also noteworthy was the work that went into this.  The care and detail researched and put together a narrative that was not only a mystery but also a psychological portrait. It’s fascinating to trace the factors that lead up to behaviors that step so far out of the norm.  The men had different reasons, different vulnerabilities that led them to commit the crimes they did.  One was abused from a broken family, one was from an intact family but struggled with impulse control before a car accident, which compounded the impulsivity and judgment with a traumatic brain injury.  But the book isn’t just about them.  It is about them and their context, the country at the time.

I only had this on audio and I spent hours lost in the narration of this story, at first a mystery, and then a link to the murderers, how they were caught and then their eventual execution. It’s listed among classics, quintessential reads, books some struggled to finish.

I’ve been finding myself reading two from each of the BookRiot categories this year. I’m back to seeking out books by real journalists.  I am looking at fiction rather than true crime at this point, especially because there’s already a true crime category.  I must be googling correctly now because I’ve come up with Steig Larsson and Laura Lippman.  I have not read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet.  Back when it came out I was reading books another different boyfriend wanted me to read (I spent too much of my youth with stupid boyfriends) and then it was a classics binge and I’m not always so great at reading the latest thing anyway.  And then The New Yorker slammed it kind of hard, which further complicates my motivation for an almost seven hundred page novel that only sounded somewhat appealing to begin with.  But it’s taunted me on and off as something I really should read if I want to consider myself fancy.

And we all want to consider ourselves fancy.

Laura Lippman is more appealing, honestly.

In noveling news, I finished another draft of my novel, reworking the ending a little better.  Which now there’s like one other part that needs revising again, but it’s small, and I will be sending it out for a critique in the next few weeks.  This is energizing news for me.   I don’t know where to direct my fiction writing now.  I have to do my prompt for this month’s short story, because I’m going into my third year of that.  I have a few ideas of stories for Wattpad but they need a little more research and, you know, to actually get written.    I might write up an idea I have had for a few years now in a short and toss it up there to get started.  See how I do.

I miss having a Snow Read.  Just a little.  An epic novel to get caught up in. But I’m doing a lot of reading for BookRiot and this two on a theme thing is fun.  I missed reading, but I still need to be writing.   I’ve already finished seven books this year and it’s only three weeks in.  Like my boss says when I am seeing too many clients, that may not be sustainable if I want to write.  I’d consider quitting my job but I’d go batty at home alone all day.

Comments/likes/shares!

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BookRiot’s Read Harder Challenge: A True Crime Book

So, as I said in my last post…I have a hard time resisting a book list.  We had our summer reading challenges in high school and while that booklet of doorstop sized titles could be daunting, I liked going through it to see what I was going to read.  It is also how I chose Pride and Prejudice for the first time.

As the summer goes on it is more difficult to resist the pull of ticking things off my BookRiot list.  The last four months of the year go by fast and I like to have things done ahead of time.

BookRiot’s true crime category was more a question of choice than of desire.  True crime fits right into what I do every day:  trying to make sense of something outside the norm.  Trying to appreciate it from another angle rather than coming from a place of judgment. Which is a luxury of mine: the chance to be objective.  I don’t expect the people who these crimes affect to be objective, but I try to expect myself to be.

It also was a question of choice because my library has a ton of true crime available on audio, it seems. I have not compared this count to other forms of nonfiction available, so maybe it’s just that they get more borrows on nonfiction audio, but I was astounded at the choices I had.  If they tend to have more audio of true crime than other nonfiction works, why would that be?  Does the level of drama lend itself better to audio?

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The Spider and the Fly:  A Writer, a Murderer and a Story of Obsession, Claudia Rowe

I chose this one because I felt a reluctant ability to relate to the blurb from the library website.  A young woman looking to make sense of a terrible thing, set in Poughkeepsie, New York.   I knew I would be able to relate some to the setting, as I worked in the state hospital for a year in Poughkeepsie to complete my doctoral hours.  In fact, one of the people in this book also worked for the hospital and with the mentally ill there.   So I had been there:  the country setting just a reach away from the city.    I knew where she was talking about when she talked about what it was like down Rte 9.  I was there more than ten years after she was, so I didn’t know as much about how the downtown had been abandoned to favor the growth around the arterial, but I had stomped where she had stomped.  I drove through downtown to get to the hospital daily.

What struck me when I started to read this was all the trauma on all sides.

The writer’s trauma isn’t revealed until later on but was apparent to me pretty quickly, as one only becomes obsessed with something like a serial murderer when they are looking for their own answers.  There were some skeletons urging her on from her closet too, urging her into trying to make ends of a random and senseless crime. She could relate to all the pieces: the killer, the victims, the setting, the period of time.

I think what makes it even more compelling is that the killer’s trauma is much more subtle.  I have worked with people with the propensity or even history of killing and abusing others and usually the reasons are straightforward: abuse, severe neglect, trauma, psychosis.  This killer, Kendall Francois, appeared to have none of these, his family presenting as completely normal on the outside, even a black family blending into the white section of town.  Other siblings who for all intents and purposes seem to be functioning and contributing members of society.  The inside of his home is a decrepit mess due to hoarding, so there is some illness there, and I have my own theories of what Kendall’s diagnosis could have truly been based on the author’s spin on things, so there is a shade of dysfunction, but there are plenty of harmless people in the world who struggle with hoarding.  Who do not hoard rotting murder victims above their families.

When dysfunction is difficult to see, the press for answers can be more consuming, more challenging.  Pieces need to be put together as they emerge from the mist, subtle in and of themselves.  The pieces of his trauma line up with hers, in that they both come from families that look good on the outside but have their secrets on the inside.  Her trauma matches up with the lives of his victims as well, women who turned tricks due to their own damage that wasn’t addressed.  Of course I would want to read all this wreckage. I make my living sifting through wreckage!

But the author does grow and change from the experience, and that’s what we all want to see when there is wreckage.  Healing. So there is meaning in it in that it helped her figure out some things for herself and move on with the usual adult milestones.

As I said in the beginning, there were many contenders for this one, and if I was not noveling, I may have read more than one for this. Helter Skelter, In Cold Blood, The Devil in the White City.  All classics whereas this one is not as canonical.  Clearly the rest will sit on the TBR for now, and when I get to them, I am not sure they will resonate with me as much as this one.  I was once a young woman too looking for answers and dealing with extreme illness in Poughkeepsie, and in an even weirder parallel, the author and I both had boyfriends at the time who we did not end up with.  And that was a good thing.  So many connections on so many levels.  I’m not old now, but I am certainly no longer the woman I was when I was finishing my doctorate, and neither is she when she finishes with her journey with Kendall.

Comments/likes/Shares?  I’ll be reading harder (in addition to the copious other projects) as we slide into the cooler season…

Sometimes I’m that mom who doesn’t want you to notice what I’m reading

The world has finally turned its face toward Spring.  It seemed as though it was never coming, and now it is here in a rush, the warmth and the green and the long hours of glorious sunlight all at once.  I don’t need the clip on light for my computer again until Fall, even when I am up at dawn to write.

So I’m happy and I missed it more than I even knew.

I am wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to Mothers, in all permutations, around the world today.

Last year for Mother’s Day I posted on books about mothers.  This year I talk about being a mom while reading unusual Mom-terial.  So it’s about Moms.  Sort of.  It’s a tiny bit about me as a mom.

A few weeks ago I took my son on a Mom guilt assuaging trip to the indoor water park.  I thought bringing along a book was a flash of maternal optimism.  I didn’t think I’d really get enough time to polish off a decent part of a book.

What I learned that day was that it’s glorious to have a child who is old enough and has the inclination to play on his own after my obligatory slide runs and trips around the lazy river.  I soaked up every moment of mom reading glory, at least an hour away from every other obligation and my cell phone locked away in a rented locker.

If I had known I would get that reading time I may have chosen a different book, just in case any other parents in the throes of boredom/relaxation looked over to see what I was reading.  I forget in my avid kindle reading that paper books involve covers.  They don’t have the privacy of an electronic device.  I wrapped my book in my towel when I wasn’t reading not because I didn’t want someone to take it, I didn’t want someone to think I was weird.  I mean, it’s a Hannibal Lecter mask on a bust.  Not the shoe, martini glass or handbag that would slip me into true anonymity.

A Book of Social Science:

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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach us About Success, Kevin Dutton

Although my degree is in Psychology, I wasn’t super excited about this category.  Social science books are interchangeable in my mind with self help books.  Books on how to optimize your brain function and stop being codependent or free you from whatever vices you believe yourself to have. Books that break down the nuts and bolts and provide entire chapters on motivation to even change in the first place.  Nah.  Too basic. Too close to work.

My formally educated father in law bought this book for a plane ride and gave it to me when he arrived in my home on the other side of the country from his home.  He’s an engineer, and although I liked this book, I wondered how relateable this book is to those who are educated but not as much as I am in Psychology.  It is clearly written for those who have learned about research methods and how to be a decent consumer of research, at the very least.  I thought this was a definite plus.  I didn’t have to skip over anything too basic.   It was good at firming up my thoughts on psychopathy, especially as it was framed in terms of its adaptive qualities, which, like any quality, has to exist in an optimal range to be beneficial.  And the best creative nonfiction takes a spin on something,  or a juxtaposition, and this talks about the good aspects of something usually acknowledged as all negative.

It talks about how their emotional recognition functions when identifying their own as well as the emotions of others, the difference between if it is state or trait, if they can shut off these qualities at times when they are no longer beneficial in the situation.  It talks about how it psychopathy even stayed in the gene pool due to its benefits as well as how our cultural icons can be seen in terms of this emotional constellation.  It talks about research in a very poetic and interesting way, posing hypotheses and clearly how well the results fit them.  I would encourage anyone with an interest to pick up the book even without formal schooling on research methods.  I might think I am all fancy with my edumacashin and I might be wrong.

There was a time when I thought I was committed to nonfiction writing forever, around the time I was finishing school and entering a golden and brief period of free time in my life that I killed off four years later by having a child.  I would have liked to write something this informed and poetic and relatable.  I would have liked to do the interviews with the researchers, the psychopaths themselves, and gathered my own body of main studies to review.  I would have liked to do this project coming out of school and I would have aspired to it.  It reminded me of where my heart was about ten years ago, going through rounds of dissertation revisions and hoping I could get a job before it was done, sharing a rented house with a stranger.

So I was someone’s mom in my mom swimsuit (and it’s definitely a mom swimsuit, designed to minimize mom body flaws) reading something completely un momlike, following the professional passion that I had long before I even thought seriously about a baby.  No one asked me why I was reading about psychopaths.  I also read it at the playground and the McDonald’s playplace, and nothing.  I must not be notable when my son isn’t announcing farts and swearing in the big plastic tubes of playplace.  I must not be notable in my mom suit in the sunlight that streams through the ceiling of the water park.  When I am a Mom and my kid is behaving okay it doesn’t matter what I am reading.  I am deliciously invisible.

Noveling rolls forward.  Second draft revisions and flashes of panic that the sequence of events doesn’t hang together or make any sense.  Then coping skills, a major one being that someone will look over this for me and help.

Comments/likes/shares!

The Natural Choice for my Nature Read

I just had to yell at someone on the phone to do something I needed to be done via customer service.  The last thing the company wants me to do.  I had to bust it out.  I have some conscience about it because that’s not my standard operating procedure and I ended politely but man.  It’s time to write my post now to cover a much more fun item on the to do list for this day.  This day that is promising that spring is real.

My toenails are even painted.  A sure sign of warmer days to come.

I might have poured me a drink but lets press on, shall we?

I really like it when BookRiot coincides with items I have had on the TBR and already own.  This one came highly lauded from all angles, so it was inevitable, so when my library website said it counted under the nature genre, the decision was MADE.  In a matter of moments, which is impressive, because nature is something I am more likely to read if I wander into the less familiar and less loved territory of the nonfiction.  I had many contenders for this, even among my current collection of kindle and audiobooks.  Like, The Secret Life of Lobsters, which I also want to read.  And a book on reading the clues in water!

For a lot of years grad school seduced me into thinking that nonfiction would be my eventual publishing jam.  And nonfiction is a beautiful thing.  If you can pull off a good juxtaposition between two seemingly disparate things, I will sit back and marvel at your artistry.

And that is exactly what I did.

A Book About Nature:

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H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald

The only thing that isn’t excellent about this novel, other than the fact that this is a true story of MacDonald’s descent into the blackness of depression, is the title.  I understand it’s high praise.  It even manages to cling to four stars on Amazon after over 1400 reviews, which I also consider a feat because when I am looking up prizewinners some of them only bat a solid three and with not nearly so many reviews.  But H is for Hawk sounds…elementary. And while reconciling with one of nature’s beasts can be thought of as elemental, I would hardly consider it elementary.  And the title makes it sound so.

The surprise in this mesmerizing work was her ties to TH White and one of my favorite childhood stories, The Sword in the Stone.  Of course it was the Disney movie that I really loved and continue to love to this day, not necessarily the actual book that White wrote that I did find and read over a summer in high school.  I did love that too, but the realities and non disney-fied elements of medieval England aren’t quite the same.  I prefer my Disney-esque illusions and I know I am not alone in this.  Also, interesting, he wrote another edition in the fifties that left out the fight with Madam Mim, which was one of my favorite bits of the movie, and I consider that kind of editing a travesty.

But she talks about the parallels between her relationship with a hawk she buys after her father’s death for focus and carrying out a passion that had started when she was a child to his book, The Goshawk, and his repressed, unrealized life.  And how his later creative works fit into that.  I got to better know a man I had had some interest in and didn’t know that I would when I picked this book up.  So that was the fun surprise element for me.  I knew it was about her relationship with a wild hawk, I knew she struggled with a complicated grief, but I did not know that I would better know someone who wrote something that I loved as a child.  Bonus.

She weaves her narrative of grief and losing her ground with the history of England as well as her family, with how the two wars shaped the emotional landscape of the country.  Having never lived in a country at a time where people had lived through a war on our soil, I don’t always think about how it shapes a nations’ consciousness.

And it helps generate some empathy with mental illness.  Because grief is so common I feel that people are more understanding with it in general, but anything that helps not paint the suffering black is always something I can support.

It’s a heavy book but it kept me reading and listening.  My noveling slowed between drafts so I was able to download a book to ravage in the course of a week.  And I loved it. I loved being back in a book for a week.

This book is heavy but it is poetic, somehow magical without having any magic in it, and worth your time.

Plus, there’s the magic of Spring and the magic of having drafted another novel, so I know that magic is real.

Comments/likes/shares!!!

A River Runs Through the TBR

My post today is due to a lucky intersection of my love of the new release shelf at the library and being stuck in my novel.

My TBR could be all new fiction releases.  It really could.  And as I am tearing into today’s book while my son plays at the library I am going back and forth with myself over if it could be a social science book or a nature book for BookRiot.

And then I was like, why does it matter?  I can read and review anything I want and it doesn’t have to fit into a challenge.  It’s Oliver Sacks’ last book.  It’s been on my Amazon wish list since I learned of it.  And when it’s shining at me in its library issue apocalypse proof dust jacket from the new releases cube it becomes mine for the next four weeks with no thought.

And this is what reading can be about, too. Expanding horizons but going back to the old loves.  So I am letting myself read a book before the challenge is completed.  The joy of the book I see on the internet in front of me in all its accessible and free glory.  I can’t forget that.  I can’t forget how I used to choose books as a kid:  some my mother told me to read, but then sometimes I went to the library with the only agenda of combing the shelves to find some unknown gem that I needed to entertain me next.  I used to go to the library before a camping trip and pile up four or five of the things and get through them in a week of binge reading punctuated by being outdoors.

River of Consciousness, Oliver Sacks

The last collection of his own essays that he put together, knowing that his death was imminent. I am not counting this even as a posthumous book because this is the year I am reading The Master and Margarita for that.  And it’s his essays, not an anthology.  I am almost embarrassed at how hard I tried to fit this into a category when it was early March when I picked it up and have a ripe 10 months to go to get through a 24 book challenge with a one sitting book and another comic book I have not gotten to on the list.

Oliver Sacks lived one of the academic lives in this world I wish to have a chance to live.  I say academic because he lived through the Second World War in England as a young child and I’ll pass on that.  But in Sacks’ writing he brings back the fascination of the world of science and neurology.  I always looked at an article that would get in the New Yorker of his because I knew it would take me into territory I had not been in before.   He brings back the magic and mystery to science in a world that has imagery now and unbelievable technology.

Even after my fancy psych degree, he adds to my understanding of evolution and the social history of science, as well as explaining the hard to understand neurological concepts behind the functioning of the brain.  He talks about rare case studies, which is how I started reading him in college with An Anthropologist on Mars, but in this book he also considerably talks about the history of discoveries and their context.

It always looks to me like Sacks is playing in his writing, gathering up the existing ideas to challenge our conceptions or help us understand them.  It reminds me of the enjoyment I honestly derived from putting together college papers, learning something new via my research and my own joy of discovery.  The nerdery is real.

There is a fascinating essay in this book on how the changes in the brain can change not only someone’s speed in interacting but their conception of time and how it can be drastically different from what is measured on the clock.  He writes about ideas that were right way before their time but discarded and forgotten about because there was no knowledge base or context with which to understand them.  He writes about how creativity is fundamentally different than virtuosity and how something completely new comes from what has already been done.  He writes about hiccups in neurology that increase our understanding of the typical functions of the brain. He talks about the work of Darwin, the work of Freud pre-psychoanalysis and the times when science was looking at brain function as a collection of centers responsible for a specific task.   He talks about science when it was about classification and description and moving into explanation and theory of why something is the way it is.  And the consciousness of life forms previously thought to have less self awareness than they might in all reality have.

If you like nature, and science, and neurology and social science and the history of scientific discovery, Sacks’ written for an educated public dabbling is absolutely ideal.  I can’t read too much of his neurological accidents because I start to worry that my own brain is too delicate a network of functions that could go awry at any moment of my life leading to any number of weird debilitating conditions.  Conditions that would force me to rely on my own neuroplasticity to overcome more than the fancy medicine of today. While this fear is not entirely without ground I have too many other things to think about while I hope to not have something like that happen to me and take reasonable measures to prevent it, like driving safely and trying to eat more plant based foods than cheeseburgers.  Mmm, cheeseburgers.  And crappy Mom wine.  Sometimes Diet Dr. Pepper.  Anyway.

I am stuck trying to add a villain motivation in my novel.  The one motivation that he does have is not enough and there is a duality that exists and both sides of the duality need explanation.  Can’t just have gratuitous evil with nowhere to go.  I mean, maybe you can, but I don’t want those of my ilk saying, ‘it could have been better if this particular aspect had more use in the context of the story.’  It would be a missed opportunity, right?  Like every time something comes along in your life that you would be really proud of yourself for pulling off but to actually get there is an obstacle course of setbacks, self doubt and general suck.

Comments/Likes/Shares!  Any villains want to share some motives with me?  What about people who also have a deep love for Oliver Sacks and his prolific contributions to the understanding of the fascinating natural world?  Please let me know.

 

The Hundredth Book of 2016

Sooo my goal was to read 55 books in 2016.  I really cared more about beating my known page record (I say known because only the powers that be know how many pages I plowed through in graduate school), but when November ended and I was close to 100 books, of course I kept binge reading to get in as many as I could for 2016.

Also, I would like to make a comment on what I wrote for my December 26 post, which was written before George Michael and Carrie Fisher died.  Other people have pointed out on the interwebs, so I am not taking credit for their surmises, that the deaths of Carrie and George might have to do with their drug use/drug use histories.  I even read that average life expectancy has been decreasing for 20 years now.  So, I guess we can’t blame 2016.  Coke could possibly be involved. On occasion.

And I also posted it was a pretty sweet year for me personally, even aside from the fact I made it to over 100 books read.

So what was the hundredth book? What propelled me into a triple digit record for 2016?

A book that debunks all the stories I have watched on the travel channel.

A book that likes to tell me that ghost stories exist out of my psychological needs to process and make sense of the horrors that American history committed and yet seem to be glossed over: the Salem Witch Trials, the genocide of the natives, slavery.

I love me a ghost story.  They actually have been what I have been writing to get myself to write.  I actually devoured a James VanPraagh book right before that!

And I loved it.

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Ghostland:  An American History in Haunted Places, Colin Dickey

Ghost stories do not have to be true to be meaningful.  In fact, they can bring home a more personal touch and relatability to stories in history that seem so difficult to otherwise connect to and care about.  It is important to remember where we have come from when thinking about how we treat others, especially the marginalized, to keep moving forward.

This book adds all kinds of relatable angles to stories while  dismantling their veracity. Our folklore in ghost and paranormal stories is just that: folklore.  What really happened and what stories were created that concealed what some of these stories and people were really about?

I recommended this book to a highly educated friend who really loves true history stories and admitted to eyeballing it.   I let personal friends in on my reading prowess on Facebook as well because I really am just that fun and she piped up.

I also have to give a shout out to my local library system, which has been awesome at getting new releases on the shelves.  New books might not fly off the shelves here as quickly as they do in other areas, but I still appreciate that I could snatch up a hardcover copy of a new book.  I was given a trip to the library that did not involve creeping out of the children’s room to quickly glance over the new releases before I was discovered and I emerged victorious.  I almost came out with a nonfiction book on bird behavior that I had not even known existed.

But, there it is.  Book one hundred.  I don’t anticipate such numbers in 2017, I shalt bask.  For a few more lines.

…what was a book of yours that beat some kind of record in 2016?

Comments/shares/likes are always appreciated.

Quick and Dirty: Gothic Literature

gothic lit

I have been struggling with when to stop reading for this post.  Every time that I have read enough books to put together a short Gothic primer I have put it off to complete one more book to discuss.  But then, if I include them all, this post won’t be a short Gothic primer, it will be a long Gothic primer, but then is it really a primer?

I have included six books that are classic examples of this genre, most of them faster reads than one might expect.

My son is playing cars with one of his two nephews right now. I love it.

But first, what is Gothic Literature?

There is a post on For Reading Addicts that outlines the basic tenets of Gothic Lit: http://forreadingaddicts.co.uk/reading/so-what-is-gothic-literature-and-why-are-we-still-obsessed-with-it

The author of that post also lists their top five Gothic reads in a different post and some of the chosen books are decidedly more contemporary than I plan on putting into my short quintessential Gothic story list of 6 with an optional 7.

Just as a clarification/refresher, (or if you did not reference back to the post) basic features of Gothic literature include (from the For Reading Addicts post, I did not come up with these myself):

Dark, gloomy and suspenseful

Gloom and horror

Mysterious and unexplained events

Large isolated setting

Ancient prophecy or family curse (more traditional than modern Gothic books)

Omens, portents and visions

Religion

Psychological trauma

Return of historical events/repressed emotions

Psychology and the supernatural…delicious. It is no shock to me that this genre can claim some contemporary works.

Dirty, horrific and mostly quick Gothic books:

1.       The Castle of Otranto. If you only read one novel to taste this genre that was wildly popular in the late 18th and early 19th century, you could start and end with the first one, the Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole.  It is a whirlwind in 125 pages, or three hours of listening and encapsulates all the essential features listed above.  It starts off with a bang and the backstory is sprinkled throughout the events in the plot and in dialogue, rather than being laboriously in the beginning, which I have noted before can make older novels more of a press to really get involved in.  Short, with all the major elements of the genre, immediately engaging and fast paced.  I wish I had known about this book when I started to commit to reading classic novels.

2.       Carmilla.  Before Twilight and even before Dracula, there was Carmilla. Lovely and mysterious and bloodthirsty.  This one is also short in length and laboriousness, but I think most people read it due to its being the first vampire novel, rather than its being particularly exceptional in any other respects.  It is included because it is first!  And I think reading old books is sometimes about reading origins of ideas that have been built upon today.

3.       Jane Eyre or Dracula. I feel like one could read either one of these two to throw in a longer Gothic classic to know the genre.  These do not count as quick reads, so just one will do. As I have said in earlier posts, both start out painfully slowly and need to be endured for that reason, but both end up being gratifying reads, and famous examples of mysterious, dramatic and dark events.

4.       Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Gothic literature at times likes to warn against giving in to our baser desires, like a temptation to be God (Frankenstein) or readily indulging one’s less civilized side, for fear that we will lose our cultivated, civilized one (Jekyll and Hyde).  The genre likes to stretch and make these warnings fantastical but they are lessons nonetheless about the dangers of acting against mores of the time.  Science was emerging and, like today, people wondered about what’s possible when science makes us too arrogant and too powerful.  I wondered while reading Frankenstein who really came up with the popular image of a green man with bolts in his neck and a square head.  I don’t think that Shelley intended him to be green.  And way to go on a teenage girl forging the science fiction genre.

5.       The Turn of the Screw. Yes, this book involves potential madness/supernatural events and a carefully crafted and intentional confusion of events, but this story really exemplified in my mind how inferior women were considered to be to men. The eleven year old boy in the story appears to neither feel the need to explain to his governess why he was not allowed to return to school and moreover felt that he should be allowed to return to a different school as she, an adult woman, had no more that she could possibly teach him as a young man. I often felt confused as to what was happening in this story.  When the governess is insisting that the dead servants are tempting the children into the other realm, do other characters agree or believe her mad? Is she just another silly woman who is being humored in her concerns?

There are other books considered to be quintessential to the genre that I have not included:  The Portrait of Dorian Gray, which I have not read yet.  Also not short. The story is still too fresh from the movie and my husband listening to it over Librivox and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Edwin Drood is Dickens’ last and unfinished novel.  I am just not in the mood to tackle an unfinished novel at this point. And then there is Wuthering Heights, which captures the limited prospects of women along with some ghostiness and some obsessive love and seriously crazy behavior, but I have a hard time endorsing the book because it is so unhealthy and depressing.   Which probably makes it even more appealing to those consideringf reading it. And The Mysteries of Udolpho, referenced in The Turn of the Screw as well as Northanger Abbey.  Mysteries definitely requires some work to get into and hang in there with.

I am also considering compiling a list of lesser known Gothic novels, once they are selected and consumed, or re-consumed, as it were, because I am finding myself re reading books for the purpose of posting about them.

What have I missed?  Leave a comment!!!