Author’s note: This post was written throughout the month of January but before the 20th. Since the inauguration of the recent President, while I have been actively involved in protests, fundraising, and calling my local representatives, I have specifically set aside time for non-political reading. This has been instrumental for the maintenance of my mental health. If you’re feeling this strain as well, I highly recommend reading as self-care.
I started the January books a few weeks early, not wanting to fall behind on anything before it had started (my, how I’ve grown). Hope this is a predictor of future discipline, rather than an outlier.
I read a few extras and then I started the books for February that were determined in December when I wrote the original list. So far I haven’t read any books that I’ve actively disliked. I have been getting a lot of suggestions from Book Riot’s All the Books podcast, which I highly recommend.
Behold, books for thee:
“A Head Full of Ghosts scared the hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.”
’nuff said, right? It’s a fast read, but incredible. If you’re a horror fan, this story is full of callbacks to all the old greats that came before (The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, countless others). There’s a lot of love (and criticism) of horror films, reality television, religion, and patriarchy in these pages. The story itself is excellent– and beautifully written, with surprises that shocked and disturbed me.
The Barrett family has been under all kinds of strain– marital, religious, economic, and psychological. Even Merry, who is only eight, can see that. Her fourteen year old sister, Marjorie, has begun to act strangely. When her stressed mother and newly born-again Catholic father can no longer ignore her behavior as normal adolescent tumult. She may be schizophrenic. When they can no longer afford Marjorie’s psychiatric care, which doesn’t seem to be working, the family turns to alternative methods. They agree to (paid) participation in a reality television show called The Possession.
The story has already been acquired by Focus Features for a movie… cue my mixed feelings. I’m not surprised, but it could be a real flop. Or excellent. Depends on how the material is treated, whether the adapting team honors the book’s criticisms of the genre they’re working in.
I really love where the new generation of horror writers is doing– mixing ancient fears with modern technology. In A Head Full of Ghosts, it’s reality television. In Hex, it is cellphone technology.
Black Spring is a town with a secret. The locals share their town with the spirit of The Black Rock Witch. When she lived, she was Katherine van Wyler, tortured and murdered for practicing witchcraft by the town’s inhabitants in the mid 17th century. Her curse extends beyond appearing in throughout the town and scaring the shit out of everyone with her sewn up eyes and mouth– if a resident of Black Spring ever leaves town, they are driven mad by the curse and take their own lives if they can’t return to town. They’ve adapted to their circumstances, using a locals-only app to track the Witch’s movements and avoid her as much as possible. Wonderful exploration of the themes of insularism, mob mentality, and revenge, greater horrors than ghosts and witches.
I loved this book– it even gave me a bad nap-dream.
Film rights to this book have also been purchased. Sigh.
This book is so popular right now that I had to wait more than two weeks for it to come back to the library. I didn’t mind the wait, it was honestly so worth it. The Underground Railroad is about Cora, a slave who escapes a Georgia plantation on the Underground Railroad– which is a physical railroad in this story. Cora’s mother is the only known escaped slave to have ever eluded Ridgeway, a terrifying slave catcher. Cora is a rape survivor, who is ostracized from her fellow slaves and is handy with a hatchet when she needs to protect herself. Cora incurs her sadistic master’s wrath when she throws herself in front of a child to protect him from the lash, an event which contributes to her decision to leave when Caesar, a slave from Virginia, asks her to run away with him. While they’re fleeing, Cora accidentally kills a young boy who tried to capture them.
Cora and Caesar travel north on The Underground Railroad, meeting conductors and stopping first in South Carolina, a place which initially seems perfect for settling down forever– until they discover the city’s secrets and find out that Ridgeway is on their scent. This book was heartbreaking and achingly beautiful at the same time. Colson Whitehead was a new author for me, but I can’t wait to read more of his work. Slavery has been a prevalent theme in the fiction of 2016. Earlier in the year, I read Ben H. Winters’ Underground Airlines, an alternate/reimagined history in which slavery is still legal– an interesting premise, but Whitehead’s blows it out of the water. There’s also the issue of Ben H. Winters, a white man, writing about slavery. Throughout Airlines, it’s clear that Winters’ book is a thought exercise, lacking any intimate knowledge of the pain of the legacy of slavery. As a white person, I know that I will never really know either. But the pain and heartbreak and exhaustion are woven to perfection in The Underground Railroad. I can’t recommend it enough.
Author’s note: This is now more topical than ever, given the recent unconstitutional executive order barring people from seven countries from entering the U.S. and the declaration that a wall will be built between the U.S. and Mexico.
This was my only non-fiction selection for January, but I’ve wanted to read it for awhile. I’m a fan of Orange is the New Black and I’d followed some of Diane Guerrero’s work concerning immigrant rights, but until her piece came out in The Huffington Post, I didn’t know about her experience. When she was fourteen, she came home from school to find out her parents had been deported back to Colombia. Diane was a citizen, so immigration hadn’t been looking for her, but no one ever sent Child Protective Services to find her, so she fell through the cracks in the system. She survived thanks to her family’s friends who cared for her at various points, but had to struggle with serious mental health issues as a result of this trauma. She had to grapple with the decision to stay in the US and continue to attend the performing arts school she had worked so hard to get into, or go to Colombia and live with her parents.
Because I started early, I had time to read several additional books.
January Bonus Books:
Read this kinda late. I usually pick up the latest hardcover King the week that it drops. I pre-ordered Doctor Sleep because you have to book ahead if you want to get a room at the Overlook.
While I generally prefer King’s novels to his short stories because I’m greedy for a thousand plus pages of whatever story he feels like telling, say thankya, his short stories are incredible. Look no further than everyone’s favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption, based on a King tale from his Different Seasons collection. Or how about The Body, which grew up to become Stand By Me?
These stories are excellent, and many of the recurring themes, like aging, are ones that King writes well, especially framing stories as the wise old person spinning a spooky and true yarn to a young, rapt listener. He honors aging, one of the many great characteristics of the recently completed Bill Hodges trilogy. And death, of course. The original Boogeyman. We fear the dark because it is a kind of death, blindness to that which makes us alive. He writes about denial of death, obituaries that kill living people…and a car that eats folks, because: Stephen King.
Everything King writes turns my dials all the way up to nineteen.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams was no exception.
Beep beep, Stevie.
They were both hilarious and brilliant and beautiful, as she was. These are quick reads, I went through both in a Saturday.
Tune in soon to find out what I’m reading in February. And if you miss me too much to wait, check out my piece from last year on why February is the best time to make your resolutions for the new year.
Trigger warnings for A Head Full of Ghosts: Mental illness, family violence
Trigger warnings for Hex: Graphic violence, violence towards animals
Trigger warnings for The Underground Railroad: Slavery, rape, racism, violence
Trigger warnings for In The Country We Love: Incarceration, deportation, loss of parents, mental illness, self-harm, suicide attempt
Trigger warnings for The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Mental illness, suicide, rape/incest, murder, domestic violence, violence against children
Trigger warnings for Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic: Mental illness, drugs, death