Recommended reading: White Is for Witching


At this time of year, when the leaves are changing colors and there is a little nip in the air, it’s only natural that we start craving ghost stories. With that in mind, here is a recommendation for you: White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi.

Miranda Silver is the ultimate goth girl, pale with jet black hair, waif-thin due to an eating disorder that compels her to eat chalk–she could have stepped from the pages of an Edward Gorey book. She has a rather creepy relationship with her twin brother, Eliot. Her mother was recently violently killed, leading to Miranda having a mental breakdown, and her father is lost in his own dream world of grief. Despite all this, Miranda is accepted to Cambridge, where she meets and eventually becomes lovers with a refreshingly normal girl named Ore. Oh yes, Miranda also lives in a malevolent, conscious house that harbors the spirits of her female ancestors and greedily wants her as well. She probably should have known better than to bring Ore home.

This is quite a strange book, very slippery, difficult to nail down what the story is exactly. The writing slips almost without delineation between different narrators and different times. The effect is hallucinatory, dreamlike. Like a funhouse in a carnival, the haunted house here is full of illusions, shifting its interior space in order to confuse and ensnare its occupants–it is conscious; it is acting; it is not just a figment of a mentally disturbed mind.

I have seen this book compared to one of my favorite ghost stories, The Haunting of Hill House, and I have no doubt that Jackson inspired Oyeyemi. Hill House too was ambiguous; it also wondered whether houses could be alive, whether they could want someone and act accordingly. I think Jackson’s novel is the cleaner story, but Oyeyemi here plays with Jackson’s ideas with interesting results.

Recommended Reading: Descent by Tim Johnston


This week, I’m recommending a book I stayed up until the wee hours last night finishing: Descent by Tim Johnston. On a family vacation in Colorado, an eighteen-year-old girl goes for a run on a deserted mountain road, accompanied by her younger brother on a mountain bike, when the worst thing happens: the boy is left injured, and the girl has disappeared, plummeting her family into a nightmare. This book was so much more than the escapist thriller I was expecting. It never goes in the expected direction. Johnston’s writing style is spare but evocative, and he does a remarkable job of breathing life into the wild mountain setting and all the characters, large and small, allowing the reader to fully inhabit this book’s world. While the subject matter is undeniably rough, the story itself has a quality of myth, addressing themes of fate and chance and what it means to be a hero. This book enthralled me, and I’m sure it will stay with me for a long time.

Recommended Reading: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives


In the introduction to the short story collection Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives that she edited, Sarah Weinman laments that “an entire generation of female crime writers…have faded from view.” Many of these writers, popular and lauded in their day, have been forgotten over time. Weinman has selected stories by fourteen of them, ranging in publication date from the early 1940s through the mid-1970s, to represent these forgotten grand dames of noir, who no doubt inspired today’s popular writers like Gillian Flynn and Tana French.

The collection, neither too short nor too long, is something of an awakening. Some of the authors, such as Patricia Highsmith and Shirley Jackson, will already be familiar to many readers, but here are many more terrific authors of dark suspense fiction just waiting to be discovered. Each story is excellent, well-crafted, and compelling, with an appropriately noirish mood, and each story stands apart, examining and exposing the underside of mid-century domestic coziness. I savored these stories like a box of fine chocolates.

Fortunately for us, this is the digital age, and a perusal of Amazon reveals that many of the contributors’ longer works have been revived in electronic form for the Kindle–at reasonable prices, too. I foresee many hours of happy reading time ahead, inspired by the authors included in this terrific collection.

Experiments in book discovery… (part 1 of many, I hope)

Yesterday, I wrote about self-published books and quality, and I lamented that it is very difficult for the ordinary reader to find the quality reads in the gigantic pool of self-published books. Most self-published authors, especially authors who haven’t established an audience, generally don’t have access to the various means of book discovery that traditionally published authors do. They usually aren’t in bookstores or libraries where readers may browse; they aren’t reviewed by major book review outlets; they don’t have well-known awards.

To be truthful, readers don’t want to work that hard to find books. We just want to get on with the reading. So authors, don’t make us work!

I think the key is author collaboration: authors working together to come up with creative ways of making their books more discoverable, and of reassuring readers that these are books worth their time (not to mention their money).

Author Samantha Bryant turned me on to this website: Peer Reviewed. This is along the lines of the collaborative efforts I was thinking of: authors  reviewing one another’s work. Books chosen for review are books that the author can honestly recommend. More well-established authors, who have already built a reputation for quality, can lend that reputation to deserving newer writers.

I would love to see other experiments along these lines. As a reader who is passionate about good writing, I am fascinated by how all this is developing.

Hat/tip Samantha Bryant

Links for readers…

Happy new year! I have decided that 2016 is the year of not giving a fuck. And yes, there is a book for that.

Here’s a fresh roundup of links for your reading pleasure.

Links for book reviewers…

From Lev Grossman, author and book critic for Time magazine, shares his confessions of a book reviewer, including this terrific insight into the job of a book reviewer:

I think of the reviewer’s role now as being more about providing context for a book, tracing its lineage in the tradition and locating it in the literary topography of the present, and all that touchy-feely sort of thing. The critics I love these days do something slightly different from what they used to: they don’t just judge, they open up that weird, intense, private dyad that forms between book and reader and let other people inside. They tell the story, the meta-story, of what happened when they opened the book and began to read the story.

Also worth reading is Grossman’s essay on literary value in the age of the Amazon and Goodreads review.

Book review: Three Themed Anthologies

I have never been a huge fan of short stories. I prefer to seek my teeth into something meatier, a novel. Short story collections by a single author have always felt particularly unsatisfying to me. Invariably, the stories vary in quality but share similar themes, insights, and style, so that they all start to run together and no one story stands out in mind. A short story collection doesn’t seem to impact me the way a novel does.

This year in particular, I have read several anthologies chosen for a specific theme, and I’ve found these collections to be much more satisfying reads. It takes a good editor, and I think when it comes to choosing genre fiction, John Joseph Adams has a track record you can count on. He chooses stories from a wide range of authors, ranging from the can’t-miss classics to very contemporary writing. The stories are a well-balanced mix of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and that blend of genre with realistic fiction that can be called slipstream. Adams presents a comprehensive take on his themes that will give any new reader to the subgenre a terrific grounding as well as add several more authors to your reading list.

th_8d08406c8df1fa0ceb5e75df46389a5a_1259119130_3_1_1_2_book_coverWastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse is a collection of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories, which examine surviving the end of the world from every angle, from the religious to the posthuman to the mundane. It’s worth reading just for the classic and rarely collected story “Speech Sounds” by Octavia Butler. This excellent collection introduced me to Paolo Bacigalupi.

th_8d08406c8df1fa0ceb5e75df46389a5a_1357693050Brave_New_Worlds_2ndEdBrave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories is the strongest of the three anthologies I read, a real retrospective of dystopian literature. There are so many essential stories here by world-class authors: “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson; “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin; “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick; and “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut–just to name a small sampling. A story by a new-to-me author, “Evidence of Love in Case of Abandonment” by Mary Rickert, absolutely terrified me.

th_8d08406c8df1fa0ceb5e75df46389a5a_1334685330Other_Worlds_Than_These_149pxOther Worlds Than These: Stories of Parallel Worlds is a balanced mix of science fiction multiverses and fantasy wonderlands, all about people traveling to alternate realities and what they find there. While there are not as many classics in this collection (barring a terrific old story by Stephen King, “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut”), there were plenty of new discoveries by such contemporary authors as Kelly Link and Jeff VanderMeer. “[a ghost samba]” by Ian McDonald just blew my mind.

A well-edited anthology can be a great introduction to a genre you’ve been wanting to try and a good way to discover new writers.