On YouTube this week I shared my Ten Books I will be reading this Winter and Spring, along with various reading habits I’ve picked up over the years. I’m trying to make a habit of a corresponding blog post for these video offerings, for those who would prefer to read rather than watch. See below for all of the things I mentioned in the video!
I thought I might check in today and share with you the books I plan on reading over the next few months. If you caught my post over on Instagram, you may have noticed a stack of ten or so books that I shared, in the last week or so. Most of the titles included in that post are the ones I will be mentioning today, although I did make a few swaps for a book or two that I would prefer to read sooner rather than later.
A few people asked me if I was really reading all ten of them at once and the answer is yes! Sort of! Maybe. I didn’t begin each book on the same day, and I am not reading from all of them every day, but I am at least a chapter into each book on this list and some of them I have already finished.
This juggling several books at once is a habit I picked up while I was spending weekends caring for my grandmother before she died. When she was sleeping–which was most of the time–there wasn’t much that I could do for her, so I ended up bringing various projects and books with me to pass the time. Of course, more often than not, I found myself scrolling on my phone, which, while not only being pretty unproductive, I can also find looking at too much social media to be awfully detrimental. So I promised myself that after I spent half an hour reading a chapter from various books, usually a combination of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and graphic novels, then I would allow myself a quick few minutes looking at my phone.
I found this very helpful with not only curtailing my screen time and making the day go a bit faster, I was also making headway with my TBR stacks and even getting into those books which had been sitting on my shelves and gathering dust for the longest time! And it’s a habit that I practice to this very day; when I set aside a portion of time for reading, unless it’s some sort of really riveting mystery or horror novel that I am compelled to read straight through, I typically do read a few chapters from a stack of 4-5 books. I find that keeps your mind constantly engaged and thinking and making connections, and as a writer, it’s the discovering and digging into those connections (which usually adds additional titles to your stack) which I find so fascinating and really, just an eternal source of inspiration.
It’s difficult to say what these strange slice-of-life snippets are about, the characters are often fearful of something nameless, or if their dread and paranoia does appear to focus on something concrete, whatever that is, it probably won’t make any sense. I would suggest these ominous visions are best experienced in the lull of liminal hours for people keen on terse tales of unease and unidentifiable weirdness.
Strangers is an exploration of the world and our relationship with nature through a series of essays linking the environmental, the political, the folkloric and the historical. It felt like a deeply necessary, urgent read for all human people anywhere along their their journey, who wish to experience life and living in a profoundly intimate and compassionate way. There is one particular essay about a cockroach that I highly recommend. And that is a sentence I never could have foreseen myself typing out.
HABIT NO.2 This second habit that relates to my reading is that I always keep a notebook and a pen nearby when I’m engrossed in a book. Whether it’s to jot down an unfamiliar word or turn of phrase, to capture a phrase or sentiment that particularly ensnared my heart or set my imagination alight, or make notes on this, that or the other interesting tidbit or topic for further research, I have found my booknotes absolutely essential to deepening my experience of and engagement a story while I’m reading it. Equally as important, I revisit the thoughts and words I’ve recorded there for inspiration in my own writing when I am working on various projects.
I was reminded of having rented from Blockbuster (!!) and watched Perfect Blue many many years ago when I recently spied it on someone’s goodreads list and realized that the film I had seen was either originally based on a book, or that there was a book adaptation of the film. Intrigued, I found a copy online and probably paid too much for it, because it is not easily available. For those unfamiliar, the basic premise is that there is a cute Japanese pop idol, Mima who is working to transform her image to something a little more mature and risque, and this does not sit well with an obsessed fan who desperately wants her to remain “pure” and thinks he has a plan to save her soul. After finishing the book I immediately had to rewatch the movie because aside from the very basic plot I just gave you, they are handled so differently. The movie (directed by Satoshi Kon, who also did the fantastically bizarre Paprika) was a surreal psychological thriller in which there are actually several characters who are experiencing unraveling mental states or are losing/have lost their grip on reality. It’s not just got an eerie vibe, it’s downright sinister feeling in certain scenes. The book itself is much more straight-forward in terms of being a stalker/slasher story. If you like twisty and thinky and strange, go for the movie. If you like twisted and gruesome served straight up, then go for the book.
Though I am not very far into this book by essayist, social critic, and culture buff Sady Doyle, I can tell you two things. A history and examination of the patriarchal and misogynistic fear of “monstrous” women, covering everything from literature and cinema to mythology, religion, history and current events through the lens of a brilliant –and funny!– writer is right up my alley and two, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has created an incredible collection of scents inspired by this book and the monstrous feminine archetypes which perpetually recur in storytelling. They are all really incredibly interesting fragrances and they are still available for purchase.
HABIT NO.3 So, I was at one time what you might consider an absolute and utter monster, and I used to dog-ear my books to mark my page! But no more! I have become a major bookmark enthusiast and I have an entire box on my shelf devoted to them. As I’ve mentioned in previous videos, I am a passionate art collector, and when any of my favorite artists releases a version of their work in a bookmark format, I will always grab one. Aside from that, I recycle the postcards and notecards and greeting cards sent from friends and use them to mark my place in a book as well. I’ve got quite a surplus at this point and whenever I gift a book I always slip one of these tiny pieces of art in the pages to accompany it. Oh! And if you have an instax camera, those snaps make great little gifts.
An idea that’s become a way of life for me (though it’s been a long journey in becoming so) is that there are potential portals to magic that permeate every instant of our lives if we slow down, take notice of them, and actively choose to think of them as such. Our everyday routines are more than just rote habit, they can truly be sacred rituals, full of pleasure and meaning. In Making Magic, Briana Saussy speaks directly to this belief and writes of how magic is found at the very roots of our experience. Magic doesn’t have to be this arcane, abstract thing– belongs to everyone, and it is a part of everyone’s actual lineage. Filled with exercises, hands-on work, and guided journaling, it helps us to remember and reimagine how to engage with the extraordinary in your everyday life.
I originally learned of this author on an episode of the Faculty of Horror podcast in which hosts Andrea Subasatti and Alex West were the 2007 Steven King adaptation movie, The Mist. Which I don’t know about you, but that’s a bleak masterpiece and it’s probably one of my top ten favorite films of all time. I’ve not read any of Mark Fisher’s works, nor had I heard of him before this podcast, but I believe he was an academic, a theorist and philosopher, who often wrote on dark and difficult subjects, and I am sad to learn is no longer with us, as he passed in 2017. The Weird and the Eerie offers discussion of the literary styles that one might describe as ‘weird’ or ‘eerie’ and which can be found in forms of fantastic fiction. I am not very far along into it and I have a suspicion that this is going to be one of those difficult reads that is even more of a struggle to discuss (especially if you are someone, like me, who is lacking in an academic background), but for purposes of clarification and because I found it interesting, here’s something I read in an article about Fisher’s differentiation of these two terms:
“…..the weird should be understood as that ‘which does not belong’, most commonly finding expression in ‘the conjoining of two or more things which do not belong together’ (10–11). The eerie, on the other hand, indicates a different type of affect – one that is not so much about the terrifying intrusion of something that does not belong, but more often with a frightening absence where one would expect a presence.” (Source)
If you have read this wondrously knowledgeable scholar, historian, and second-generation witch’s previous offerings,Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, and Cat Call: Reclaiming the Feral Feminine, then no doubt you were over the moon to learn of her most recent title, Witch Hunt. A hybrid travel guide and memoir which at points dips into the realms of historical fiction, Witch Hunt reflects research gleaned from travels to seven countries, forty-five cities, towns, and villages. Through her intrepid adventures across Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom Sollee explores the fraught and fascinating history of these haunting figures from the past and uncovers how the archetype of the witch has been rehabilitated as a symbol of power.
HABIT NO.4 I don’t think we can talk about cozying up with a book–or at least I can’t anyway–without the very important discussion of what snacks accompany your stories. When I was young I used to pilfer oyster crackers or saltines from the kitchen cupboard and stuff them under my pillow to nibble on when I was rereading Harriet the Spy for the umpteenth time. When I was old enough to buy my own snacks I would pour a combination of various snack sized baggies of cheetos and doritos and funyuns into a bowl and munch on what my sisters called a “Sarah Special,” while I read Stephen King, and sure, mock all you like, but to this very day I maintain it’s a delightful treat!
As an adult who is more concerned with appearances than I was as a teenager, I’m too embarrassed to be seen shopping for things that coat your fingers in orange dust, so instead I make a big batch of popcorn, drizzle it in butter, and sprinkle it with salt, nutritional yeast and nori for a savory, salty, crunch snack that is only slightly less embarrassing and if you saw how much of it I can put away in one sitting you’d see what I mean by this.
Editor Emily X.R. Pan shares in the book’s introduction that Foreshadow is an ode to the short story, and that what makes this medium of story-telling so remarkable, is how the author must sharpen the experience of a story, condense it into something powerful. They must take all of the things that make a good novel and compress it into a neat little package. She further reveals that when we “tell the blank page a story…. it will tell you who you are.” and that “always, there is something of the author preserved like a fossil in amber –you can see it so much more clearly because the story is sliced so thin.” If this sounds like the editors of this collection are excited at the opportunity to celebrate unique young adult short stories and showcase underrepresented voices in the genre, and if that is getting you excited too, I think that excitement pays off in the luminous and fantastical stories they’ve chosen to include. What makes this book even more special is that after each offering the editors take a closer look at the techniques employed in the story, highlighting different aspects of the craft, and in addition to that, there are writing prompts and interviews with the authors about their processes and inspiration.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s “Sonnet – To Science” the poet’s laments the dangers of scientific development and its negative implications for poetry and creativity. Illingsworth, an expert at the forefront of the intersections of science and poetry disagrees with these sentiments, noting that the more we find out about science, the more we realize what a beautiful and incredible world we live in. With this book and its accounts of six groundbreaking scientists who also write poetry, he is attempting to determine whether these disciplines are complementary, whether scientists who embrace poetry were also increasing their understanding of the world, expanding their language and thereby their capacity to communicate their science to others.
For those who are unfamiliar with this individual, Hildegard Von Bingen was a 12th century mystic, scientist, composer, herbalist and inventor of one of the earliest known constructed languages by a woman. Educated from the age of eight at a Benedictine monastery at and later becoming an Abbess, Hildegard experienced prophetic visions since childhood and spent many years writing the visionary works. She is a truly fascinating human in many respects but I’ll be honest here– I am a few pages into this into this “mutant fiction of speculative mysticism” wherein the works of Hildegard von Bingen have been reimagined in a novel format and I have got no clue as to what the heck is going on. So I am going to cheat and read to you the back of the book. I’m also going to link to a very interesting interview with Lemmey if you’re interested in reading more about this author’s “collaboration” with Hildegard von Bingen.
“In this story of survival and miracles, Hildegard encounters love, both queer and divine, and great peril. As the visionary healer travels through the unfamiliar landscape following a great cataclysm, she discovers the mythic quantum energy of viriditas in the natural world around her. Her journey becomes one of return, to the sacred truth of her own being.”
I am going to further cheat by sharing with you what I messaged a friend, shortly after beginning this book:
“I am reading this and getting spectacularly excited and emotional and I don’t know why because I don’t understand any of it! But it’s like my little cells and atoms are all crowding together and jumping over each other in a frenzy, shouting I KNOW THIS I KNOW THIS! I feel them bubbling and boiling in my blood because I bet they DO know something and my brain just hasn’t figured it out yet!”
HABIT NO.5 I suppose this last habit is more of a compulsion, really. When I finish a book, I IMMEDIATELY have to begin a new one. No waiting! I get antsy and irritable and weird if I don’t have my next read lined up and ready to go after the final page of the previous book has turned.
So what are you reading now and over these next few chilly winter months? What are your reading habits–good, bad, weird or otherwise?