What the Hell Did I Just Read

whatthehellI have a few friends who like their comedy, horror, fantasy, sci-fi, whatever in nice little boxes so they know exactly what they’re getting before they start reading. I get why they like that, and that’s fine for them, but I love my genres to mix. Just throw them all in the same box, shake them around a bit, and see what Frankenstein hybrid stories you can tell. I like not knowing what I’m in for.

That’s what attracted me to David Wong in the first place–with all the comedy, horror, sci-fi, and serious drama mashed together I never knew what was coming next. But sadly, I’m starting to figure it out. What the Hell Did I Just Read is the third book in the Dave and John series and I loved it, but I wasn’t quite as enthralled. It was still funny and sometimes horrific, but not quite as mind-bending the third time around.

What I did love, though, was that Dave and John are based on real people. Literally, on the author and his best friend growing up. This makes the goofy heroes of the story also incredibly normal and sympathetic, with realistic insecurities and ambitions and drinking problems. That real human drama is still compelling and sometimes very sad and frustrating, especially as the books follow their characters into the long and complicated years of full adulthood.

David Wong is still one of my favorite authors, right up there with my more acceptably “litarary” faves.* I wonder, though, if Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits ruined me for John and Dave. Less utterly confusing, but more tense and mysterious. Who knows? Only time and several sequels will tell.¬†violence

*For context, I was a literature major. This year’s Nobel Prize for literature went to Kazuo Ishiguro, and though I’ve read at least three of his novels, I was secretly hoping Murakami would finally get picked. I know all this because I’m a bona fide lit nerd. But I try not to be a lit snob. ūüėČ

Evil Dead: the Cross Stitch

I finished my Dead By Dawn cross stitch. I still have to iron and frame it and hang it up, but it’s done. I love stitching–crochet, knitting, cross stitch–because it puts me into a focused, mindful state. Cross stitch is new to me, so this project was right at the limit of my skill and really made me focus. That was a lot of fun, but I also had some sweary moments of picking out (and once or twice cutting out) wrong stitches. I’m hoping practice makes me better at counting squares.

Still, I’m planning to dip back into crochet next. I found a nice shawl pattern I want to make and I ordered a hank of fancy wool to make it out of. I can’t wait for it to arrive.

onyx wool

I managed to finish the whole thing without actually rewatching the Evil Dead trilogy. I watched Little Evil and The Babadook and several documentaries instead. The Babadook was great, but the “babadook=unresolved grief” metaphor was a bit obvious. Little Evil is a horror comedy from Netflix and it’s a bit tame but fun and kind of heartwarming. A good cross stitching movie.

 

The Poe Toaster

Edgar_Allan_Poe_daguerreotype_crop
E. A. Poe, public domain via Wikipedia

Edgar Allan Poe is sort of the quintessential goth author. Not only did he write dark, romantic poetry and horror that holds up even today, but he also had a dark and tragic life and mysterious death. Talk about the whole gothic package.  Of course, some of his dark reputation is total slander, and some of his works have not worn well. (He may be the grandfather of sci fi, but his child has grown way beyond him.) But his writing style and his sheer inventiveness have left their mark not just on goths the world over, but on more general literary history as well.

I’ve read (more than) my fair share of Poe, but growing up it never occurred to me to carry him around for “goth points” or anything like that. I partly grew up about 20 minutes outside of Baltimore, a city so into Poe that we named our football team the Ravens. And dressed them in purple and black uniforms, because spooky. Where I grew up, it was weird if you didn’t read Poe for fun at least on Halloween.

Edgar Allan Poe isn’t really from Baltimore, but he died and was buried there so the city claims the hell out of him. He’s kind of got two headstones¬†actually, both in the same churchyard. Poe’s grave was originally unmarked and not well tended, and eventually that sadness was kind of overcorrected–there’s a proper headstone at his grave and also a rather large monument stone at the corner of the churchyard.

poetoaster
Poe Toaster, from Life Magazine. I think. 

The corner memorial¬†was partly paid for by schoolchildren collecting pennies, and people still throw pennies in memory. But the more famous tradition is the Poe Toaster, who used to visit the grave on Poe’s birthday every year, toasting him with cognac and leaving three roses and the cognac’s remains in salute to the author. The original Toaster remains a mystery, and he (or his son–the tradition lasted a good 75 years) quit coming in 2010, but the Maryland Historical Society has recently started a sort of annual Poe Toaster reenactment.

I’ve been to Poe’s grave exactly once, ages ago, when my sister was sick in the hospital across the street. Appropriately sad circumstances for paying Poe a visit. My sister still lives near there and I’m planning to visit in June, so it might be time to once again pay my respects.

EdgarAllanPoeGrave
Public Domain, Andrew Horne via Wikipedia

Frankenstein and Channel Zero

I finally finished Frankenstein. It was no Wuthering Heights, but it was good. A lot of the themes wear well–the inhumanity of humanity, Dr. Frankenstein’s infuriating refusal to see his responsibility for this mess, the ups and downs of pushing science past its limits–those ideas and more are still compelling after all this time. The vagueness of the actual science wears less well, and I just couldn’t get behind the Monster learning French and pondering the nuances of Paradise Lost just by listening really hard. But this is forgivable. You don’t read Shelley or Poe for their scientific prescience.

You can’t really recommend or fail to recommend such a classic, so instead I’ll say this: it’s about as exciting-yet-flawed as Stoker’s Dracula, more focused than Ann Radcliffe’s work (but less focused than Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or The Invisible Man), and not as romantic and full of atmosphere as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. If you’re really into the foundations of goth you’re either already read it or really ought to. I can’t believe it took me so long to get to this.

And now, out of the past and into the TV present. While I was sick I found time to watch Channel Zero¬†season one and I mostly liked it. Since this is a fairly recent show instead of a classic of Western Horror, I won’t spoil it with too many details. If you like creepypasta you’re probably familiar with the Candle Cove storyline, and for the most part the show did a great job with it. That tooth child (you may have seen it in the trailers) and various Candle Cove puppets are suitably creepy and the plot is interesting. I was totally sold for the first 4 episodes or so, and after that there were some hiccups but I still enjoyed it. Definitely worth a look if you like quirky, atmospheric horror.

Assorted Entertainments (Part 2)

As usual, one of my kids brought home germs and gave them right to me. She has terrible timing–I got sick right when our schedule got extra busy for a week or so–and without time to rest it took a while to recover.

So mostly I’ve been finishing some horror novels and spent a precious few hours of rest time binge watching the Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix. It was a fun show, by the way. I liked it for the same reason I loved Shaun of the Dead. They both set ordinary relationship issues against a fun background of blood and guts, and they both pull it off well. It might be hard for a second season to keep the right balance, what with TV shows always having to increase the drama to keep people watching, but I enjoyed this first season.

I also read The Red Queen (sequel to Alice) this week. It was short and very easy reading, but not as compelling as the first book. The first one, while hurtling toward a certain conclusion, had a real sense of growth for Alice. The second one talked a lot about continuing that growth, but action-wise Alice felt very much like a pawn. I know this is meant to mirror the chess game aspect of the original Through the Looking Glass, but it didn’t work for me. In the end, Alice comes into her own power and symbolically becomes a queen in her own right, but the way it was written didn’t really convey that. There were still no real choices for her to make, and it felt like Alice never really escaped being a pawn.

A week or so ago I finished but didn’t mention Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes. I liked it but didn’t love it. The basic plot, about dreams (nightmares maybe) trying to manifest in the waking world, was wonderful. Those parts of the book were grotesque and beautiful. They got lost a bit, though, in the long backstories of every character. I think the backstories were supposed to slowly explain each character’s role in bringing the nightmare to life (or ultimately, not), but they didn’t all fit in the end and some of them seemed unnecessary. The author seemed to have many themes she wanted to explore and they didn’t all fit into one coherent storyline. It’s a shame, because the main thread was perfect.

Now I’m getting around to Frankenstein, the one glaring gap in my classic horror knowledge. I suspect it’ll take longer than the books I’ve breezed through recently. I’ve love to hear what you’ve all been up to lately.

Assorted Entertainments

While the winter storms have come one after the other, piling up snow and icing the roads, I’ve been snuggling up in my memento mori blanket and catching up on all sorts of entertainment.

memento-mori-blanket

Over the last few weeks I’ve watched the new Dirk Gently series twice. I read the books back in the day and I felt this series was true to the spirit of the original while creating a whole new storyline and cast of characters. But don’t let kids watch it unless they have a high tolerance for blood and weirdness.

This week season 4 of Bates Motel came to Netflix, so that’ll keep me company for a week or two while I work on my skully lap blanket. I found some silvery grey yarn in my stash and decided to alternate that with the red. So far I’m excited about the color combination.

silverlining

My music has been tending toward the moody and atmospheric, like Tones on Tail and Dead Can Dance. All of that put a very specific song in my head, only I couldn’t remember what it was called or who did it. Took me an hour of googling to figure out it was Scott Walker’s Farmer in the City. This time I made sure to find out what album it was on (Tilt) and download it so I wouldn’t forget again. If you like avant garde music or somber chanting stuff, which I do on occasion, you’ll like the album.

I’ve also been in a reading mood. I just finished a nice dark fantasy novel inspired by Alice in Wonderland (called, unsurprisingly, Alice). The pacing was a little off for me, taking a long time to wind up and then rushing to a conclusion, but I was into the dystopian world the author created and I’m a sucker for stories that blend grimy cityscapes with magic and fantasy, which this book does well. I always found the dream logic of Alice in Wonderland creepy (especially in the original books and the Disney movie) so this explicitly dark take feels natural to me. There’s a sequel I’ll have to get to one of these soon days, but I’m finishing Broken Monsters first. I’m liking that one so far as well.

So that’s what I’m up when I’m not working. How are you keeping busy lately?

 

Spooky New Year

For me, goth is about what’s on the inside. Seeking out the dark and romantic and weird is a lot more important to me than getting my eyeliner right. This is why I’ve been getting back into horror and gothic novels. I’m all old and stuff, so I get distracted by bills and kids and basic life stuff, and this new year I want to carve out time (with a sharp, bejeweled dagger) to reconnect with the dark and spooky.

madame-kaliBefore Christmas I finally finished Penny Dreadful and just about fainted from awesome. Madame Kali (leader of the nightwalkers) is my new role model. In a world full of young and pretty things, she refuses to fade away with age. Not her. She’s just entering the prime of her evil power and she’s clearly as seductive as ever. I love all the characters, but I want to be her as I get older and older. But more than showing me how to age more spookily, Penny Dreadful reminded me how much I’ve missed delving into horror and romance, so this year I’m trying to get back to it.

Most of my New Year’s resolutions are book-related, and one is to read 12 gothic and/or classic horror novels to feed my geeky, gothy mind and heart. This month I’m finally going to finish one of the original gothic novels, The Mysteries of Udolpho. I’m about 3/4 of the way through it, and I’ll tell you all about it when I’m done.

It’s free for Kindle, by the way. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s read it.¬†udolpho