I May Need an Intervention…

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We had some errands to run on Clement Street this noon, so my husband casually suggested that we stop in at Green Apple Books. For a quick browse, I thought — why not? But no, it was actually because he wanted to see if our book was still on the shelf there…

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It was. This was the first time I’d seen it on a bookstore shelf — one usually buys technical books online these days — so it was a treat. I admired it briefly, took a quick photo, and then turned for the stairs. Bookstores are a wee bit dangerous, for me. But just a quick browse; what could it hurt? I hoped to escape Green Apple unscathed, but nooooooo….

Jules Feiffer’s latest, the noir-tinged graphic novel Kill My Mother, has just come out. Green Apple had it. Into the shopping bag. I picked up several more enticing volumes, then put them down again, because the Feiffer was a bit extravagant. Just one, just one, I’ll be fine!

Then I saw The Book of Monelle by French symbolist Marcel Schwob, whom I’d recently been reading about at Weird Fiction Review — they’ve put translations of two of his stories online (here, and here). My fingers twitched. Into the shopping bag. Quick, close my eyes, to the register, pay — go!

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Advice from the Book Spirits

I wanted to do something different and fun for my Halloween post, not just review a book or point you to a good short story. But what?

Then I thought of M.R. James’s short story, The Ash Tree. In the story, after the mysterious death of the Lord of the Manor, a clergyman friend of the victim resorts to the old superstitious practice of “drawing the Sortes“, or bibliomancy.

…it came into my Thoughts, as at such moments of Helplessness we are prone to catch at any the least Glimmer that makes promise of Light, to make trial of that old and by many accounted Superstitious Practice of drawing the Sortes: …

“I made, then, three trials, opening the Book and placing my Finger upon certain words: which gave in the first these words, from Luke xiii. 7, Cut it down; in the second, Isaiah xiii. 20, It shall never be inhabited; and upon the third Experiment; Job xxxix. 30, Her young ones also suck up blood.”

This being an M.R. James story, the sortes were quite prescient — I’ll let you read the story and find out what the bible passages were hinting at. I linked to it above; it’s nicely creepy. Anyway, it occurred to me that some book-scrying silliness might make for a fun post, albeit not terribly spooky. But it’s a nice change from a Ouija Board.

BookPhoto: Nina Zumel

So I’ve picked a few questions to throw Out There, and picked a book to scry from. I didn’t want to use the Bible — I’m still enough of a Catholic girl that it would feel sacrilegious. Given the theme of this blog, and my more recent reading activity, The Weird Compendium would have been the perfect choice, but I only own it as an ebook, and I really wanted to physically flip through the book and point. So I settled on American Gothic Tales, instead.

The procedure: write down the question, close my eyes, open the book at random, and point. Read the sentence at my fingertip.

Here we go:

What’s the outlook for my blog in the coming year? Will I get lots of engaged readers?

A man was speaking on the station Jim had chosen, and his voice swung instantly from the distance into a force so powerful that it shook the apartment.

Now that sounds hopeful. I think the blog will go gangbusters over the next year! The quote is from John Cheever, “The Enormous Radio”.

Will I get Freshly Pressed again?

The Head’s main street dimmed, dimmed, and at last was gone.

Not so hopeful. But at least I got my fifteen minutes of fame once. Quote from Stephen King, “The Reach”

Will the Giants take the World Series?

Viola imposed on her lover but a short probation.

Umm. Yeah. I think that means “yes, but the Tigers will still put up a little bit of a fight.” We’ll find out soon enough. Go Giants! The quote is from Henry James, “On the Romance of Certain Old Clothes”.

UPDATE: And the Giants sweep it! Viola’s probation was short, indeed.

What should I spend more time on this coming year? Writing or dancing?

She turned and tried to hold the baby over in a corner behind the stove.

But he came up. He reached across the stove and tightened his hands on the baby.

I think this means — especially in the context of this story, Raymond Carver’s “Little Things” — that I should split the difference. Which is the answer I wanted, though I hope things turn out better for me than they did for the baby in the story…

You can get advice from the Book Spirits too, and you don’t even need a paper-and-glue volume. Poet Reb Livingstone has set up a Bibliomancy Oracle online — just click and see what her favorite literature has to say to you.

Have fun, and to any readers on the East Coast or in Hawaii: stay safe from the storms and tsunamis. I hope you all enjoy the upcoming All Hallow’s Eve, no matter how you choose (or don’t choose) to celebrate it.

Not Quite Ghost Stories

October. The blogosphere is blooming with reviews of ghost stories, and personal anecdotes of real-life spooky encounters. Why not get in the spirit? (Sorry. That pun was an accident — honest!)

English: Cover of the pulp magazine Ghost Stor...

English: Cover of the pulp magazine Ghost Stories (October 1928, vol. 5, no. 4). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, I gave out the closest I have to a real life ghost story when I first started this blog. But here it is again.

After my father-in-law passed away, my husband brought home one of his Dad’s old tripods, which ended up in the back of my car. This happened to me soon after, while I was on my way to a dance class.

Then I felt what I thought was a tap on my shoulder. By reflex, I turned, though of course there was no one else in the car. I saw nothing but my braid (I have long, heavy hair, which I wear braided when I dance). It was caught in the shoulder harness of my seat belt. It disentangled itself as my head turned, and fell with a thump on my shoulder.

I thought of my father-in-law.

“He’ll come back to visit,” my sister told me, when I’d called her with the news. “Lola [my grandmother] came to visit us after she died. Didn’t she visit you?”

Um, no. I don’t think so. There is a family tradition of visitations from the dead, on both my mother’s and my father’s side, and my sister is supposed to be “the psychic one”, so if Lola would visit anyone, I suppose it would be Isabel. I don’t believe these stories, really, though I am romantic enough to wish that I did. This probably explains my taste in literature.

But, still, at that moment under the Coke sign, I thought of my father-in-law….

I like to imagine that he was taking one last look around his old neighborhoods, before moving to the next place, riding along with his tripod like a witch rides a broomstick. But of course, it’s more likely a mere coincidence, the intersection of my hair, my seat belt, and my nostalgia.

Still, it makes a good story, doesn’t it?

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Mirror, Mirror

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The Queen at her mirror. Illustration by W.C. Drupsteen, 1885

Now the queen was the most beautiful woman in all the land, and very proud of her beauty. She had a mirror, which she stood in front of every morning, and asked:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?

And the mirror always said:

You, my queen, are fairest of all.

And then she knew for certain that no one in the world was more beautiful than she.

— Brothers Grimm, Little Snow White (1812 version)

I’ve gotten to the age where I get Snow White. Or to be precise: I get the evil queen. When I was younger (young enough to be reading fairy tales for serious), the queen was the obligatory, generic villain. Kids don’t worry about motivation: stepparents hate their stepchildren, just because — that’s how it works. Why would the queen be jealous of Snow White? How can she possibly compare herself to Snow? She’s a mom! She’s old!

But I get it now.

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Losing Melanin

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Photo: John Mount

“You don’t dye your hair, do you?”

I don’t know where that question came from. I had been sitting at the kitchen counter, transcribing my parents’ ghost stories over toast and my morning coffee, when my mother popped that on me.

“Yup. For years, now.”

“Really?!?”

She sounded so shocked that I had to replay the question in my mind. She asked me if I dye my hair, right? Not if I strip for a living?

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