Video – My top 11 favourite spooky books

Books mentioned:

1. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
The most original haunted house story out there. It’s deeply psychological and genuinely scary.

2. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
The classic story of the mad scientist and his creature.

3. Dracula – Bram Stoker
The classic story of the evil count and the people who band together to bring him down.

4. Drawing Blood – Poppy Z. Brite
Trevor McGee returns to his childhood house in Missing Mile where his father killed his family and himself. There he meets Zachary Bosch, a hacker on the run. They fall in love, even as the house and their past threaten to destroy them.

5. The Bloody Chamber and other Stories – Angela Carter
Dark, twisted retellings of fairytales and legends like Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard and Beauty and the Beast. There are no innocent maidens here.

6. Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories – edited by Michael Sims
Vampire stories from a period in which vampires were actually scary. Stories with their roots in Eastern European peasant superstition, romanticised accounts which emphasise the erotic, plus an omitted chapter from the most famous vampire book in history.

7. The Complete Tales and Poems – Edgar Allan Poe
Collection of stories and poems from one of the most beloved darkly inclined writers.

8. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
“A deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the dramatic struggle that ensues when an unexpected visitor interrupts their unusual way of life.”

9. The Vampire Chronicles – Anne Rice
The mesmerising, richly detailed stories of the most seductive of vampires: from Louis, Lestat and Claudia to the mother of them all.

10. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black
In Tana’s world vampires are part of everyday life, though they are generally quarantined in deceptively glamourous ‘Coldtowns’. Tana survives a massacre by non-quarantined vampires, along with her infected ex-boyfriend and a mysterious captive. Determined to do the right thing, Tana takes them to the nearest Coldtown.

11. We Are Wormwood – Autumn Christian
“Ever since she was a child, Lily has been pursued by a demonic girl with wormwood eyes. As Lily struggles with her schizophrenic mother’s decline into insanity, the death of her somnambulist childhood love, and her own painful, disturbed adolescence, she must face the strange girl that haunts her. Yet something is chasing her that is much more dangerous. A darkly surreal, drug-coated romance, We are Wormwood tells an inhuman love story, and the transformation that results from affection among monsters.”

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Book Review – How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

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I had been meaning to read this book for ages. It came highly recommended from feminist friends and I had a copy I got for free lying on my shelf for maybe two years. The fact that the copy in question is a Dutch translation was not very motivating. But a couple of weeks ago it felt like its time had come. It’s funny how that goes with books sometimes. They can be on your shelf for say, two years, and many times your eyes skip over them as you scan your overstuffed shelves looking for the next book to read. Then out of the blue, when you’ve long forgotten the initial interest you had in them, they can call out to you and you know YES, this is The One. That gut feeling of how this book was what I needed at the moment proved right.

This book starts off with a rather clunky prologue detailing the author’s worst birthday and how clueless she was about how to become a woman. The best part of the prologue is the end when Moran discusses feminism and its enduring necessity. I loved her straightforward definition:

What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be.

After this Moran goes through all the big milestones of “becoming a woman” in more or less chronological order, with a lot of personal stories to accompany them. A lot of this was easy to relate to. I can’t tell you how often I read something and mentally gasped and said to myself I thought it was only me!

I loved the writing style, even translated. It’s lively, creative and intelligent. It’s hilarious at the points when you agree with the author, obnoxious when you don’t. The writing style is also uncompromising and confrontational. Moran has a tendency to assume that all women are the same in certain areas. I get that this tendency is necessary to keep a book like this consistent, but it did bother me at times. For example in the chapter about weddings. She takes it for granted that all women dream about their ideal weddings and look forward to it like it will be the greatest day in their lives. This was completely alien to me.

This book has an extraordinary honesty. In it Moran discusses so much that we would rather sweep under the rug. It gets uncomfortably graphic about certain female experiences. I didn’t mind this much; it was strangely reassuring. The part where she described the birth of her first child read like a horror novel though. If you already know that you don’t want children, this will only make you more steadfast. If, on the other hand, you do want children… Good luck getting through it!

Overall, I loved this book. It was very relatable and eye-opening. Reassuring, as I’ve mentioned before. Also inspiring to improve my non-fiction writing. I would love to read it again, in the original language, someday.

Modern females, if there’s only one feminist book you read in your life, you should consider How to Be a Woman. If the confrontational tone, graphic descriptions and swearing don’t put you off, I’m sure you’ll love it.

Quotes:

You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.

It’s difficult to see the glass ceiling because it’s made of glass. Virtually invisible. What we need is for more birds to fly above it and shit all over it, so we can see it properly.

At its best fashion is a game. But for women it’s a compulsory game, like net ball, and you can’t get out of it by faking your period. I know I have tried. And so for a woman every outfit is a hopeful spell, cast to influence the outcome of the day. An act of trying to predict your fate, like looking at your horoscope. No wonder there are so many fashion magazines. No wonder the fashion industry is worth an estimated 900 billion dollars a year. No wonder every woman’s first thought is, for nearly every event in her life, be it work, snow or birth. The semi-despairing cry of “but what will I wear?” Because when a woman says I have nothing to wear, what she really means is there is nothing here for who I am supposed to be today.

Book Review – Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson

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It started out so well. The perfectly suspenseful opening scene immediately hooked me.
And then, the mysterious female explained what she was. Spoiler alert: she was not a werewolf. This is not a book about werewolves, despite what the cover and summary and reviews suggest. From then on, the novel got increasingly frustrating.

The main character is insufferable and unbelievable. He’s supposed to be smart, yet it takes him almost the entire novel to figure out what the reader already figured out in the first quarter. For a moment, I thought that this was one of those novels that lead the reader into thinking they knew for certain what was going on, only to crush those expectations and blow their mind with new information. It was not. It was exactly as I had suspected all along. How uninteresting.

I also couldn’t deal with the ‘scientific’ explanations of the characters’ supernatural powers. As if that wasn’t tedious enough, those scientific explanations are revealed to be a part of a totalising theory about two races continually at war. All great mythical stories are linked back to this theory. Not to mention things like the Inquisition, which this theory justifies. Sigh. I’ll just attribute this to the time in which the novel was written.

It was not all bad though. Many descriptions were great. Without being too long-winded, they painted vivid pictures in your mind. The descriptions of the violence were perfectly gruesome. Only sometimes descriptive phrases were overused. After a certain point, every time I read “sleek white bitch” or “linkage of probability” I wanted to fling the book against the wall. Or out of the window. Or into a volcano.

Going back to the positive, the pacing was well done. The story consistently keeps building. Important information is withheld until the right moment. The tantalising question of ‘But, what’s in the box?!’ kept me reading until the end.

That’s all I got. Why people consider this one of the best werewolf novels is beyond me.

book review – the life-changing magic of tidying up by marie kondō

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i have seen so many people raving about marie kondō’s the life-changing magic of tidying up, i had to read it myself. the summaries they gave sounded promising. i bought the e-book last night & i read the whole of it today. it’s a nice short read. at first it really put me off though. in the beginning kondō came across very elitist & she made it sound like no one had learned to tidy properly, they were all going wrong about it, except her, & she was here to show you The Way. i almost put it down, but i trudged on & it became better.

this tiny book is full of interesting ideas. i love kondō’s approach to possessions, although i can see why some people would write this off as insane. she is very adamant about being grateful for what you own & treating them with respect, even the things you get rid of. as someone who has a really hard time getting rid of things, this really spoke to me. i believe her that being grateful for what those things have done for you & realising that they have served their purpose will make this a lot easier.

another thing i loved was how she wrote that the only criteria for getting rid of or keeping things is essentially personal. for this you need to ask yourself whether a thing gives you joy or not. she is not going to tell you exactly how to go about it or give you exact guidelines, but wants you to hone & trust you own intuition & decision-making skills. she wants you to find out for yourself what you’re comfortable with. the goal is to only have what you truly love & this differs from person to person.

i also like how she stressed that ‘solutions’ for storage are no solutions at all. she writes that the first step is getting rid of the excess, then you’ll find that storage is no longer a problem. however, she also provides some small, useful tips. the tidbits from her own life & her clients’ experiences were interesting & amusing too.

one criticism i have is that it could get rather repetitive. then again, how much different things can one really say about tidying? another thing that bothered me was how selective the categories she discussed were. these were: clothing, books, miscellaneous items & things with sentimental value. the first two are concrete, but the last two are very vague. she leaves a lot of things out (although you could theoretically take ‘miscellaneous’ as broadly as you like), which takes away from the credibility of her statement that that konmari method will totally make & keep your whole house tidy forever. she also completely ignores creative people & their material needs. of course, with that second point you could argue that practically no artist is interested in these sort of books, so these books are not written for them. it’s probably a criticism very personal to me.

this is not a book for everyone, but if this book piqued your interest & you are interested in both living  & improving your life, & you are open to unconventional ideas, you will probably love it. if you’re not already interested in these things, or you’re only looking for a quick fix, or thinking about objects as living things with feelings sounds too ‘woo-woo’ for you, don’t bother.

book review – the art of asking by amanda palmer

this week amanda palmer’s the art of asking was released in paperback. like when it first came out last year, she asked her fans to spread the word about it. i was already meaning to do a review on it, so here it is.

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i have been following amanda palmer & her work for years & years now. from the dresden dolls, to her solo album, evelyn evelyn, the grand theft orchestra, ukelele madness, ted talk… she has done so many wonderful things. i don’t love everything that she’s done, but this book is definitely one of the many things that i do.

the art of asking is basically about amanda’s experiences with asking & what she has learned from those experiences. it could be categorised as a self-help book, but it is so much more. it is also a meditation on human relationships, vulnerability, trust & art & all its facets. then it is partially a memoir of one of the greatest artists of our time.

in the art of asking amanda questions a lot of notions that most of us in the western world probably grew up with. like how we are supposed to be independent & never need help & distrust everyone else. how we think artists are supposed to earn money. fundamentally, how we are supposed to be embarrassed by asking for help. she shows that there is another way. she shows a glimpse of a better, more open & loving world.

the whole book filled me with such inspiration. it made me want to be better to other people, allow myself to be vulnerable, create more art. it changed my views on certain things, for the better. i would recommend everyone to read this.

some of the passages that i highlighted while reading the book:

Everybody struggles with asking.
From what I’ve seen, it isn’t so much the act of asking that paralyzes us–it’s what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak. The fear of being seen as a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one.
It points, fundamentally, to our separation from one another.
American culture in particular has instilled in us the bizarre notion that to ask for help amounts to an admission of failure. But some of the most powerful, successful, admired people in the world seem, to me, to have something in common: they ask constantly, creatively, compassionately, and gracefully.”

“Those who can ask without shame are viewing themselves in collaboration with-rather than in competition with–the world.
Asking for help with shame says:
You have the power over me.
Asking with condescension says:
I have the power over you.
But asking for help with gratitude says:
We have the power to help each other.”

“Seeing each other is hard.
But I think when we truly see each other, we want to help each other.
I think human beings are fundamentally generous, but our instinct to be generous gets broken down.”

“I think the real risk is the choice to disconnect. To be afraid of one another.
We make countless choices every day whether to ask or to turn away from one another. Wondering whether it’s too much to ask the neighbor to feed the cat. The decision to turn away from a partner, to turn off the light instead of asking what’s wrong.
Asking for help requires authenticity, and vulnerability.
Those who ask without fear learn to say two things, with or without words, to those they are facing:
I deserve to ask
and
You are welcome to say no.
Because the ask that is conditional cannot be a gift.”

i think i need to go re-read this…

if you want to read it too, you can buy the paperback at amazon, barnes & noble, books-a-million, indiebound or porter square books. you can find a bunch of links for the hardcover, audiobook & ebook here.