Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Paperbacks From Hell

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror FictionPaperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across this book on display at a local Barnes & Noble & immediately swooped it up. I had just spent the afternoon at a nearby used bookstore taking pictures of weird & retro sci-fi covers–how could I not check this collection out?!

Author Grady Hendrix was merely another curious browser in dusty old book stores, trying to find the weirdest, most lurid forgotten paperbacks until his innocuous habit became a full-blown obsession with cataloging the explosion of horror novels from the 70s & 80s. His timeline kicks off with the publication of Rosemary’s Baby & ends with Clive Barker & the brief explosion of teen horror luminaries like R.L. Stine & Christopher Pike.

Hendrix is having way too much fun with this book, exploring the social anxieties of the decades & making a bunch of silly running jokes about how skeleton doctors are the worst doctors with equal enthusiasm. And if you are curious about his focus & are game to play along, you’ll have fun while reminiscing about some of those same mass market covers you probably saw in the supermarket while tagging along on your parents’ errands. In all seriousness, some of the books/authors that Hendrix outlines will tease you just enough that you’ll find yourself making a reading list against your better judgement. He’s convinced this reader to give V.C. Andrews a chance & to cause me to look at William Johnston’s Westerns with a skeptical glance. (I see you, weirdo, with your supposedly milquetoast jacket descriptions.)

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Books, Thoughts

2016’s Year in Books

The end of the year is almost upon us, meaning its time for the socials to start showing just how much time we’ve poured into them with recaps & best-of lists.  It’s a fun way to show off your interests though, so I was happy to get my Goodreads recap in my email yesterday.  I was reminded of just how much time I’d wasted with the Arcadia series & the end of Fight Club 2.  But then I saw the covers for A Wrinkle in Time & The Little Prince, which took me back to my summer trip to Charleston & my neighbor eagerly lending me Paper Girls.  So without further nostalgia, I present my year in books!


The Corn Mother

As interpreted by me for the Daily Post’s topic Grain

Igraine–it originally appeared like an awkward, unwieldy name to this reader & it took me quite some time to puzzle out how to actually pronounce it.  The extra nouns clashing against my young untrained eyes.  A name that stands out from Arthurian legend that seemed to have so many other lovely female names to reveal, like Guinevere or Morgan or Nimüe or, my very favorite, Lynette.  And yet, despite the matronly air to her name, Igraine is a character who does not quietly allow herself to be relegated to ‘mother of the King.’  She gives birth to two equally important children of legend by two different men–a wrinkle that future texts struggled with as they wished to emphasize Arthur’s gallant practice of Christianity & noble birth.

Igraine–the grain–the rebellious spring daughter of the fields that invites order (‘sew on the grain, cut with the grain of meat, pet the fur with the grain’) or inspires challenge (‘go against the grain’).  I, ever the uncertain girl, usually ends up on the other side of that dynamic, on the cross-tendency side, mainly because I don’t pay attention, too wrapped up in my own perspective to see properly.  And so, the dress comes out with an odd stretch, the roast looks like it’s already been chewed and the cat is hissing at me in the corner.  The worst sin growing up was being “a space cadet” & “having no common sense.”  I sinned frequently & eventually stopped asking for forgiveness.

And so, I still find my thoughts caught up on that name–Igraine–the name meant to invoke a Goddess and the strange history that leads from something wilder and difficult to a bright shining moment of dreams nearly true and exuberant hope.  Does her name remind me to look past the façade of accomplishment?  Or do I trouble myself with doubts that the story of my life as I’ve told it to myself has overlooked something?

Books, Thoughts

Goodreads Book Recap, 2015 edition

So, if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll get that I like books. And one of the reasons that I enjoy using Goodreads is that it’ll automatically tabulate stats for you, which is fun for me to see. I’m someone who’s so buried in the feelings & experiences of my reading that I rarely take a look back at the more technical stuff. So as my last book post for this year, I thought I’d include my 2015 stats here. I received a book journal as a Christmas gift this year & plan on using it in 2016, just to have a sort of more messy, human counterpart to my Goodreads activity. Good reading to you in 2016!


Off the Shelf: Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women

Learned Pigs and Fireproof WomenLearned Pigs and Fireproof Women by Ricky Jay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A small bit of personal trivia to kick this mini-review off: I’ve actually had this book sitting on my shelf for a few years. Early in our relationship, my now-husband & I were both totally obsessed with the TV show Deadwood. Within a few months, we both ended up giving the other books by Ricky Jay, who was in the first season. (I gave him Jay’s Journal of Anomalies; he gave me this book. We’re darling, aren’t we?) It wasn’t until we recently watched the documentary Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay that I finally decided to read the book instead of just skimming through its varied histories & lingering over the color plates.

Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women is a cultural survey of performers that earned a living on vaudevillian or quasi-spiritual circuits. But, far from being a dry collection of bios, Jay outlines these histories as “sketchily explained secrets” (to borrow his own description of a similar compendium) with wit & a distinct, charming style. Each section focuses on a certain kind of talent (sword-swallowing, fire-walking, reading minds) and reveals just enough to cast any doubt on supernatural prowess while still allowing a reader to appreciate how an effect could be constructed. After recounting these wonders, Jay also ends up stating the fates of these performers. Doing so is practical & correct since our author is diligently preserving these histories. But closing each story with the performers’ deaths grounds the fantastical stories in a moving way. A trick ends & a life finishes with a satisfying sense of closure.

There is something old-world about this book as well. I don’t use that adjective simply because of the European backgrounds of some of these personalities. The thorough histories stand in contrast to our constant American interest in the new, the novel, & the youthful. Learned Pigs is not too unlike Montaigne’s equally comprehensive essays. The Acknowledgements in the back of the book lists many citations & collections for curious readers to use in their own research. As for me, Learned Pigs has at least convinced me to pick up Augustine’s City of God, because I need to read that quote from the last chapter myself in order to believe it. And to maybe not let books like Mr. Jay’s sit on my shelf unread for so long.

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