Susan Hill’s Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home

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{In which I am pleased to introduce a new monthy (ish) feature wherein my sister writes about a book we have read for our “sister book club”. Full disclosure: I just got this book from the library today. Don’t laugh! I’ll be better prepared next month. In this month’s discussion we are featuring Susan Hill’s Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home. We hope you will join along!}

In less than a month, I will be moving to a new place, and so will be packing up about 20 boxes of books. As I do, I know I will come across several titles that I think, “Why haven’t I read that yet?” or “Why am I still hanging on to this?” And then I’ll toss the books into their respective boxes and dutifully lug them to my new home, unpack them, and completely forget about them for another year or so.

I’m not the only one guilty of this–talented and successful author Susan Hill (whom you may know as the author of The Woman in Black, which was then made into the movie starring Harry Potter) went on a hunt through her house one day, attempting to locate one book, and came across several others, long forgotten, instead. Then and there, she promised herself to only read what books she already had, for one year. No shopping, no libraries, nothing new. Just pillaging from the previously-purchased piles. And thusly was born the premise for Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am a voracious acquirer of books. Fortunately for my wallet, I work at the Library, so I check out most of the books. Yet for every one book I check out and read, there are two more that I check out and don’t read–my eyes are bigger than my stomach (or perhaps, my brain) so back to the library those unread books go. However, from time to time, I still do purchase, or am gifted, a book. And I KNOW Eldest buys far more books than she has the opportunity to read. Ergo, we can relate to Susan Hill’s situation. Excitedly, I texted Eldest, and before long, we had hatched a plan (bringing Middle into it, of course) to read it together and discuss it. You know, like a long-distance book discussion group on Skype. With wine, of course.

book pile

I cannot place too fine a point on this: I love books. I love reading. There may, in fact, be little else in the world I love to do more than read. Unless it’s wandering around in Half-Priced Books, my library (or any library, really), or Barnes and Noble. Or talking about books. Or meeting a favorite author. Do you see a theme emerging? So to read a book about books and reading…and then to talk about it with my sisters? WITH WINE, OF COURSE. Holy cow.

And what a book this is! Susan Hill is a damned fine writer, particularly if you are a reader who enjoys descriptive writing. Consider the line from page 11:

“Now on a golden day in late September, I took two books out to a deckchair in the garden, The first apples were thumping down. The last swallows were dipping and soaring, dipping and soaring over the pond. A dragonfly hovered, its electric-blue back catching the sunlight.”

It’s not all fun and games and a bucolic English idyll, no fears on that count…

“Outside my window, the trees are bare. It is early dark but a silver paring of moon is bright in the sky, with a thousand frosty stars. The air smells of cold. A fox barks from the field.
Dickens for winter.
Throw another log on the fire.”

A memoir of books and reading books. A book about books. (I think this is where I insert a sentence with the word “meta” in it, but let’s just skip that part, okay? Oh, wait…) Some of the books that Hill reads, she has actually read before, and so she plunges headfirst into her recollections of them, and so it is that we are immersed in the literary world of London in the 1960s, and what a world it is. With a vague sense of giddy voyeurism, I found myself immersed in a London library, nodding somberly to E.M. Forester and C. Day Lewis as Hill runs into them in the stacks.

Towards the end of the book, my attention started to lag, perhaps due to my anxiety that the book was overdue. (Hehehe, the irony, had I purchased this book!) And it seemed like this was a book that was less about the year Hill spent reading and more about the role books and authors have played in her life. You come away asking yourself questions like: What are the 40 books YOU could not live without? If you had to write up your life story, framed by books that you read at various times in your life, what would the books be, and how do they relate to your life at that time?

Ultimately, I found this to be a thoughtful, descriptive meditation on the reading life–a memoir of a life in books.

Elsewhere: A Macabre Cookbook Collection

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Grim Gastronomy, Creepy Cuisine: A Macabre Cookbook Collection

At Haute Macabre this week, I talk about some very important things: my cookbook collection. Let no one say that I don’t have my priorities straight!

TL;DR The cookbooks listed in this article are: Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s CookbookDamn Fine Cherry Pie: And Other Recipes from TV’s Twin PeaksDeath Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the WorldThe Decadent Cookbook: Recipes of Obsession and ExcessDeath & Co. Classic Modern CocktailsChas Addams Half-Baked CookbookThe Dark Shadows CookbookSon of the Martini Cookbook

Currently, Part Two (February 2017)

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Currently I am having a rough go of it. I find myself shuffling from one end of the house to the other, without thought or purpose or even memory of doing so. I cannot focus or concentrate, so work is all but impossible, and yet I haven’t taken any time off, either. I find it difficult to justify time off when I already work from home, you know? So I’ve just been sitting at my desk, dazed, thoughts both a million miles away and no where, and desperately hoping that the phone does not ring.  Inevitably it does.  And so, a week has passed since we lost our Mawga.

“A readjustment of reality, ” is how a friend summed up some of what I am feeling.  I spent so many years worrying and fretting over my grandmother, paying her bills, keeping up with her house, handling all the what-ifs and emergencies as they arose, paying her a visit after work every day…now that I no longer have these things to do (these things that sometimes I was honestly quite bitter and resentful of) I am feeling unmoored, adrift, purposeless. Instead of having to sneak my knitting or reading into spare pockets of time, stolen and emptied from other portions of my life, I now am at leisure to do these things as I please. But for the moment (and I do know it is a momentary, passing thing) …I just …can’t.

But I do feel the compelling, compulsive need, as I do every month, do vaguely document the things I have been doing–and so to keep to a routine and regain a sense of normalcy, here is some photographic evidence that there was life and liveliness over the past month. And I suppose, even though it doesn’t feel like it now, there will be again.

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A fantastic box of Vegan Treats morbid chocolates from my beau. This has become our Valentine’s Day tradition. Somehow we manage to make these delectable morsels last a month or more; I think three years in, we have managed to become pros at it.

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Also honor of Valentines madness and treating myself, I took a break from the No-Buy to grab the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack from Mondo and this gorgeous antique print of The Young Widow by Henry Hutt.

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A few weekends ago we sat in the afternoon sun and planted all kinds of seeds–marigolds, morning glories, carrots, radishes, squash. It will be a miracle if any of them make it. I also planted a few little succulents in the hollowed dome of this cranial planter, an osteological-inspired marvel sculpted by the phenomenal Kermit Tesoro.

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Last Saturday I got my got my bangs cut. My hair has been all one-length for the past twenty years, so this is a weird adjustment. And I probably won’t keep it this way forever (sweaty humid bangs on my forehead in July? Ugh) but for now, I think I really dig it. It’s got a sort of Stevie Nicks or Ann & Nancy Wilson vibe. And it’s certainly an improvement on this, a photo which was taken a day or so before the big chop.

books

Currently reading Something In The Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker. I was so excited to read about the author of my very favorite novel, but I am finding that while it is not dry reading, exactly, it is certainly dense and packed with information and taking me a rather long time to muddle through. Much more than just a biography, it immerses the reader in the culture and the history of the Victorian era, encountering various celebrities and characters along the way. It’s enjoyable, it really is…but there’s just so much of it. I broke up the monotony of it with Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, which is something I’d been meaning to read for awhile as I loved all of her other books, but for whatever reason, I’d never gotten to it. After reading a few chapters I was sorely lamenting watching Chan Wook Parks film adaptation of it, The Handmaiden, just last year. It was exactly the same story (but you know, London, instead of Korea) and I knew what to expect! I was disappointed that I already knew the twists and turns before they could surprise me. Ahhh, but not so. I read on and after a while I was glad of having seen the film first. And I ended up adoring the book as much as the film. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Make them both priorities on your to-watch/to-read lists.

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One word movie reviews!

Absentia–maybe (on amazon prime)
Trouble Every Day–perhaps (on amazon prime)
Blair Witch–skip
The Love Witch–Yes
The Editor–YES
The Village–ugh
VHS–probably (on netflix)
The OA–absolutely (on netflix)

Currently {February 2017}

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Currently I am mourning the loss of my grandmother, who was one of, if not the most, influential women in my life.  Friends and readers of Unquiet Things know that she has been unwell for a while now–ever since my grandfather passed a year and a half ago, and probably since my mother died, a year before that. It’s no shock to anyone I suppose; the only surprising thing about it is that she stuck around as long as she did.

My grandmother’s death marks the passing of the last adult figure in my life, which is pretty weird, I can tell you that.  Or at least, I know that to be true on an intellectual level, but to be honest, I’ve been feeling her absence long before her passing. For so long she was lucid and “with it” and even if she’d only met you once in her life and even if it was 50 years ago, she would remember you. But on New Years Day, two months after she turned 95, a cerebral episode left her increasingly confused and disoriented and she rapidly got to a point where she didn’t know where she was, or who we were anymore. We had worked so hard to keep her at home, and she didn’t believe it was her home anymore. It was a heartbreaking decline.

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I love this hazy, old photo of her. I never really thought of my grandmother as having legs…for as long as I could remember she had knee problems and then for the last 15-20 or so years she had been using a walker, very slowly and painfully, or just most of the time, confined to the house and in her chair.  Seeing her pretty legs stretched out in the sun like this makes me absurdly happy.

I owe my love of cooking to her. She never formally taught me anything, but always let me hover nearby and watch, or give me a turn to stir the gravy, or roll out some dough, or a spoon to lick. She never made me feel like I was a nuisance, or in the way, and she genuinely seemed to be pleased with my company. In later years, when standing became too difficult, she would direct the proceedings from a kitchen chair, while I carried out the steps for new recipes that she wanted to try. She had a grand appreciation for a good meal and a tremendous appetite for all kinds of junk food, too. Last May, when she recovered from an infection that left her bed bound, the first thing she said when she was feeling herself again, was that she was hungry for fried chicken!

Like my grandmother, I too loathe phone calls and talking on the phone. Whenever she telephoned me, I knew it had to be an emergency, because she just wouldn’t call, otherwise.  Unlike me, however, she sincerely liked meeting new people. She immediately wanted to know their whole life stories, everything about them, and as I mentioned, even if she only met them once, she’d still be asking about them years later.

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I’m convinced that if not for our grandparents, my sisters and I would not have turned out nearly as well as we did. Not that we’re all that great or anything, but I think we had the potential to go the exact opposite direction. No matter what state my mother was in, drunk or crazy or in rehab, or maybe literally across the state line, they took care of us; they ensured that we always had clothes to wear, food to eat (we thought that everyone’s dinner table was provided for by a grandmother who drove around with meat loaf and tuna casserole in the trunk of their car), and received a sound education.

I think I owe everything I am to my grandmother…even the weird, problematic bits, because my grandmother also had a melancholic streak, as did my mother, and I don’t believe that depression develops in a vacuum.  I remember her telling me once that in high school she used to write poetry sometimes, and how I was not the least bit surprised to hear that.

She loved true crime novels and watching dramatic court cases. She enthusiastically perused celebrity gossip magazines and oddly enough, thoroughly enjoyed South Park. She thought even the idea of sushi was repulsive and would always make a face if I had told her that’s what I dined on recently. She told us she was partially psychic, because she always knew before someone was to give her bad news–and it always broke my heart to have to give her bad news.

She thought her granddaughters were smart, and beautiful, and perfect.
We thought the same of her.

We’re going to miss you so much, Mawga.

How To Wear: A Winter Getaway

Bamboo Garden, Hakone Museum, 1954 - Toshi Yoshida

Bamboo Garden, Hakone Museum, 1954 – Toshi Yoshida

I have always found February to be the cruelest month, in terms of winter madness (although it rivals November, I think, in terms of emotional upheaval). While I was living up north there was always a certain point during the month of February where I would be curled up on the couch, shivering and gazing out the window and thinking, resignedly, how it has always been winter and there was never a time before winter and I was born in the snow and I’d die in the snow and that’s all there was to it.

Looking out my window now, there is a wilting hibiscus under a blazing sun and two feral cats making noisy love on a tree stump in my direct line of sight. I am a little grossed out, but my fingertips aren’t numb and my coffee hasn’t frosted over, and you know, life’s not perfect. But I am not cold, and I am not going to slip and fall on a patch of ice just outside my front door when I go to check my mail this afternoon. It is February in Florida and I have escaped that dread, formerly freezing existence.

My lifelong habit of escaping into daydream is no doubt what kept utter delirium at bay during those long, frozen years. Imagining breathless travels to far-off places that boast vibrant sunsets, lush flower gardens, and beautiful architecture, I’d slip into a trance-like state while envisioning sipping espresso in a Parisian cafe, or silently hiking through ancient forests, or just stopping to give a ragged alley cat behind-the-ear skritches while sneaking around Venetian canals, attempting to avoid running into a murdering dwarf in a red raincoat (my daydreams get kind of fucked up sometimes.)

Regardless of whether you’re merely escaping the cold weather, or literally running for your life during your mid-winter holiday, you can’t visit to these imaginary destinations without a valise full of clothes for travel! With shapes inspired by majestic cathedrals and celestial temples, colors reflecting the seasonal flora or the afternoon sun on the ocean, and textures reminiscent of cascading waterfalls and mythical priestesses’ mysterious veils, below you will find a variety of wardrobe selections for fanciful February frolics whilst pretend-journeying abroad.  As always, click on the individual images for details on where to find each item.

Travels to the Wind Forest

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A Hideaway On Mystery Beach

Mysterious Beach Hideaway

Cologne Cathedral, Germany

 

Germany

The Oracle of Delphi

Greece

Mayan Temples

Mayan Temples

England In Midsummer

Midsummer England

Paris At Dusk

Paris, France

The Everglades

Everglades

Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge

Abandoned Amusement Park In Berlin

Spree park

Venice

Venice

Valentines Gifts From The Imp Of The Perverse

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I know I sound pretentious when I say this sort of thing, but I’m not going to apologize. Most Valentines Day stuff is just really dumb. How many cloying cherry cordials can you possibly choke down? How many generic versions of trendy diamond jewelry can your gullible significant other be convinced to buy? (Can I just tell you how much I loathed those diamond circle necklaces from 2007 or so?) How many goddamn teddy bears can one adult person hide in their closet?! Ugh, no thanks.

Personally, the surest path to my heart is to appeal to my love of the absurd and the imp of the perverse perched perpetually on my shoulder. If, you, like me, get off on a sense of sublime silliness, here is a small list of things of can purchase for yourself, or, if you’re feeling generous, I suppose you could gift to a similarly-inclined loved one on this ridiculous holiday. But you should probably just make them buy their own gifts.

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Fascinus Pin and Lupercalia Zine from Wormwood & Rue / Heretical Sexts

Learn about the ancient Roman holiday of Lupercalia and get your own winged-peeny Fascinus pin to keep away the evil eye! At Wormwood & Rue, $16

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They Call Me Naughty Lola

They Call Me Naughty Lola is an an irresistible collection of the most brilliant and often absurd personal ads from the world’s funniest – and most erudite – lonely-hearts column. I firmly believe that no coffee table should be without this little book of surreal haikus of the heart (especially if dark, dry, self-effacing, British humor is your thing.) $12.99 on amazon.

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Lupercalia at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Every year I look forward to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Lupercalia collection, and their outrageously bizarre Shunga scents, in particular. I can’t wait to field questions of “what’s that gorgeous fragrance you’re wearing” with answers along the lines of, “…oh this? It’s called “Lovers Embrace Under a Cock Kimono’,” or “…oh, you like it? This is ‘Kitten with Shamisen Daydreams of a Phallus Palanquin’.” These limited edition scents are $24

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Chakrubs

I am intensely tickled (sorry…had to go there) by the idea of healing crystal dildos. I’m also a little terrified of them. What if it breaks? What if it breaks INSIDE ME? Yeesh. I get freaked out thinking about it. But they are really rather beautiful and I love the idea of placing a few of them strategically around the house as display items. Mostly so that I can tell people that they are holding a dildo, should they ask me about it. If you can’t tell, I long to make people intensely uncomfortable. (I think it’s the flip-side of being a people pleaser, to be perfectly honest.) These quartz pleasure wands will run you $114 and up at Chakrubs.

an intractable aversion

an intractable aversion from ghoulnextdoor on 8tracks Radio.

Nightsongs for hermits.

Track list:
The Rains by Age Decay | Nocturne by Mark Lanegan Band | Weary Eyes by By Opium Dream Estate | There Must Be More Than This by Gemma Ray | I Don’t Want to Know by Marissa Nadler | Tired As Fuck by The Staves | Missoula by Tasseomancy | Sylvan by Esben and the Witch | Go Ye Light by Wovenhand | Let Me Get There by Hope Sandoval And The Warm Inventions

Moon Duo’s Occult Architecture Vol. 1

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Released appropriately on February 3, in the heart of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, Moon Duo’s fourth album Occult Architecture Vol. 1 offers a cosmic glimpse into the hidden pattern embedded in everything, and is, I am told,  “an intricately woven hymn to the invisible structures found in the cycle of seasons and the journey of day into night, dark into light.” Hm!

Written and recorded in their hometown of Portland, Oregon, the two-part epic reflects the hidden energies of rainclouds and sunshine and the deep creep of Northwest forests along with their effect on the psyche, and was inspired by the occult and esoteric literature of Mary Anne Atwood, Aleister Crowley, Colin Wilson, and Manly P. Hall.

According to guitarist Ripley Johnson, “the concept of the dark/light, two-part album came as we were recording and mixing the songs, beginning in the dead of winter and continuing into the rebirth and blossoming of the spring. There’s something really powerful about the changing of the seasons in the Northwest, the physical and psychic impact it has on you, especially after we spent so many years in the seasonal void of California. I became interested in gnostic and hermetic literature around that time, especially the relationship between music and occult qualities and that fed into the whole vibe.”

Okay, that’s all terribly fascinating, poetic, even, but what does all of that mean? Moon Duo’s last album didn’t immediately grab me, but I’m willing to give things another go, and admit if I have been hasty to judge, and to be honest, I often find that what I don’t care for one day will become my absolute very favorite thing the very next week.

And I am here to tell you that the psychedelic krautrock space jams found on Occult Architecture Vol. 1 are indeed my current Favorite Things. A hazy, hypnotic ride, buzzing with repetitive grooves, long, droning synth-laden refrains, and drowsy vocals, this is the background music I imagine playing if William Hope Hodgson’s reclusive narrator in The House On The Borderland were to describe his time spent astral-traveling to all those freaky, terrifying places that he mentions in his manuscript, but through, you know, the filter of rose-tinted glasses, and with an “…ahahaha, so THAT happened” kind of attitude.

Like, if he were traversing the vast desolation of space and time, not alone and afraid, but instead accompanied by his rad cousin (the one who shares all of his acid and shrooms) and just exploring the cosmos and visiting dying stars and dead planets in his dope ass El Camino, high as balls.

Which is not to say it’s all woozy sonic delirium and a miasma of languorous psychedelia. To my (admittedly untrained ear) I hear fuzzy, feisty post-punk garage band and 80s new wave influences, and the pulsating, throbbing beat of something one might even be compelled to dance to –if you’re at some far-flung space rave, I guess, at the outer edge of the galaxy. The cold, machine-like yet passionate beat of the album’s second to last track, “The Will of the Devil” even has a goth pop/cold wave vibe to it, that I especially dig.

On the whole, this is an unexpectedly catchy album (I am literally tapping my feet to it even at this moment, while at the same time bemoaning all of the drugs I never did, because man, hallucinogenics and space travel sounds like good times) and if this is Moon Duo’s dark side, I cannot wait to see what they deliver when they step into the light with Occult Architecture Vol. 2

Find Moon Duo on the web: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter
Release date: February 3, 2017 | Label: Sacred Bones Records

Love Trumps Hate Valentines Day Auctions

16585721_167731560387738_2006875038728323072_nOver at @munichartstudio’s instagram today are two auctions in collaboration with @thecreepingmuseum!  Both auctions are in the spirit of LOVE TRUMPS HATE for Valentines Day– with proceeds to benefit The International Rescue Committee (helping refugees and others in desperate need) and The Creeping Museum (to help fund the next nonprofit release).

The auctions will run from today until until Sunday evening, 2/12 (6pm Pacific/9pm Eastern). Be sure to bid and support these excellent artists and some very worthy causes.

This first auction is for a mystical seer, magically rendered in graphite and colored pencil (above) , and auction number two is an occult art bundle which includes the following:

• 9×7 Framed drawing of “Escapees from Pandora’s Box”
• 3×3.5 Framed drawing of “The Witch’s Eye”
• 6×6 Unframed print of “Do Not Summon Up That Which You Cannot Put Down” by artist EC Steiner
• One copy of The Occult Activity Book Volume 2 (super rare!!)

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