Women’s Obsession with Death: Millennial and Victorian time-traveling sisters

order-of-the-good-deathA reading list on this topic is at the bottom of the post!

If you haven’t noticed an uptick in the true crime obsession of late, you must be a prepper who lives in the wilderness of Wyoming (which doesn’t exist, stay woke) and doesn’t have internet or electricity or neighbors. And in that case, you might be a serial killer yourself. The explosion of true crime and horror podcasts has been serious. So has the increase of murderous television, mystery thriller novels, the popularity of witchcraft, and support for the death positive movement. But why? Who? What? How?

The who is easy…women. It’s always been women, honestly, but millennial women are viciously gobbling up all things violent crime and creepy lore. While I could point to something like the insane popularity of authors such as Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins, it really took shape with the phenomenon of Serial. From there we got the massive hit My Favorite Murder, a true crime podcast hosted by a comedian and a YouTuber turned Food Channel personality. Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark captured a moment. The shear volume of fan art, tattoos, and merch being generated…the memes!! Women tuning in felt like they were sitting down to a never ending glass of wine with their favorite girl friends, dishing about murder. The pod soon took off and became so much more than what it seemed. Karen and Georgia started using it as a way to preach about the benefits of therapy, self-care, and mental health awareness. They talk about women taking care of other women, and they face all of our worst nightmares with us. We cheer together when they tell the heroic tales of women breaking free from murderous men, or surviving against all odds. We cry with them when we lose another Sweet Baby Angel.

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The Shameful Book Club: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirely Jackson

Note: I read/listened to The Haunting of Hill House months ago because I couldn’t stay away, and because this one is ready on time and my June/August/Sept aren’t even close, I’m going to just post out of order. I think it’s safe to say that I have failed my own book challenge for the year.

 

Oh my god. Oh, my god. This woman is just…damn. I love her so much. This is not the first time I have read her for my Shameful Book Club. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle in 2015 and it blew me away. Before TSBC, I had only read The Lottery. Welcome to high school. I also knew I should be ashamed of myself for this, because Jackson is everything I love in a writer: demented, tortured, eerie, subtle, full of magic, lover of murder…you get the picture. I knew I had to pick The Haunting of Hill House for this October’s creepy AF read. Perfect for Halloween!

Show of hands, how many of you were just as obsessed with the 1999 adaptation The Haunting as I was? If you came to my 12th birthday slumber party, your hand better be up! I hadn’t seen it in a while, so I ordered it and the ’63 adaptation from my library and refreshed my memory. Listen, some things should be left in the past. That ’99 version was probably one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen as an adult, and it’s so different from the book. Not in a good way. The ’63 version, however, was wonderful! I thought it was very true to the book, both in plot and spirit, and it stars one of my favs, Russ Tamblyn (Riff from West Side Story). It was so much fun that I later bought a copy.

 

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The Shameful Book Club: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman for June

And the crunch begins for me to finish this book challenge! I’m months behind in all aspects. Ugh. But I’m finally at June, so here we go! As a very witchy person who absolutely loves the film adaptation of this book, it was really quick surprising to me that it took me so long to pick it up! When I worked at a small public library in the next county over, I saw a beautiful hard copy of Practical Magic in the pile for the book sale. I had to have it for so many reasons, but honestly the book jacket is everything…

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I just started reading Hoffman this past year. I started with her newest release, Faithful, and then jumped right to Practical Magic. Very rarely in my life do I feel that I encounter the right thing at the right time. As you read through my Shameful Book Club posts you will see a trend of me saying, “Oh, if only I read this when I was 15/13/18/24!” But no, I believe that picking up Hoffman at 29/30 is the best thing I could have done. She writes with such an amazing subtly, and her work drips with feminine power/pain/strength. Just what 29-year-old me needs! I love it!

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The Shameful Book Club: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer for May

IMG_4801So… behind…on posts! For once I’m actually not all that behind on reading the books, but life changes (new job YAY engagement YAY) have really slowed down my posting. But anyway…here’s May’s selection!

There was a period of time when my boyfriend and I were not terribly happy with our lives, so we fell deep into a codependent relationship with all the wonderful programming TLC had to offer. One of these was, of course, Sister Wives. Man, were we obsessed with Sister Wives. This turned into an obsession with the FLDS church, which I find fascinating. I want to say, before I get too deep into this post, that personally I am not religious, but I respect religion immensely. It does profound good for people that I have witnessed with my own eyes. I love it when people are strong in their faith, and I find inspirational and powerful things to appreciate in many religions. But also, some things are harmful.

Some harmless faiths fuel harmful tendencies in people. Most faiths have promoted and still promote to an extent bigotry against many groups of people, like the LGBTQIA community, people of color (Mormons have a deep history of racism), and women. Most faiths have a shocking history of violence (certainly all the big ones do). Some faiths are cults. I’m looking at you, Scientology. I’m also very hesitant when it comes to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Fundamentalism, in anything, is dangerous. I know a lot of amazing Mormons (the faith was founded in my neck of the woods, after all), and none of them subscribe to harmful, abusive practices that some of the FLDS sects of their religion do. Child brides, blood atonement, incest, racism…it can get pretty bad, and Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven shows just how bad it can be. Before I get caught up in the general summary of this book, my intention is to talk about the cycle of hate and the harm that brings. That will come near the end of the post.

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The Shameful Book Club: 1984 by George Orwell for March

 

1984-book-coverI don’t know what I expected from this book, and honestly I’m not sure how I feel now that I’ve read it. I think this has been made clear by my delay in writing up this post. The dystopians I’m used to usually involve teens and slick latex jumpsuits. And many of them have some empowerment and optimism attached to their plots, even when the price is high. When 1984 sales spiked after the election, I was excited to read it for my Shameful Book Club March read, which is science fiction. I should have known, however, that I was going to get something more complex and less glossy. Fair warning, this post is not graceful. My brain is all over the place on this book, and I’m definitely not educated enough on the book or the era it was written in to speak on it in any new or insightful ways, but these are my thoughts all the same.

Quick summary for those who don’t know: Winston is part of the Ingsoc (English Socialism) Party, an outer party member who lives in what was once London, now called Airstrip One, in the super state of Oceania. He works in the Ministry of Truth and his primary job is forging documents of all kind to ensure that everything on record consistently praises the Party and Big Brother (the ruler of the party who might not even be a real person). This is the Ingsoc idea of “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past,” which is totally true, and ALSO used as a banger Rage Against the Machine lyric. Man, I miss those guys right now. Winston knows he’s engaging in revisionist history, but he lacks the courage to do anything about it, at least when we first meet him he does. At this point in society’s downward spiral, if you step out of line at all or commit even the smallest act of “thought crime” (individual thought or free will), you will be swept up by the Thought Police and disappeared. You’re constantly being watched and brainwashed by the telescreens that have a dominating presence in every room in every building, pumping out propaganda and recording your every move. Sounds familiar, right?

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The Shameful Book Club: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

220px-Outlander-1991_1st_Edition_coverWhat a surprise! I’m behind on my posting. February was romance, because I am a walking cliche. I decided on Outlander because I really enjoyed the show, and everyone keeps gifting me copies of the book. And rightly so, the book seems to have everything I love in it: time travel, Scotland, historical fiction, hot Scots, some light witchcraft, castles, sexy-times, everything! And yet, I was really disappointed. I don’t want to enrage my many friends who love this series, but I honestly don’t see what everyone else sees in it. If you would like to enlighten me, I encourage you to do so in the comments.

At first, I was pretty excited. I loved the setting, the magick, the time travel, and the characters. The show is such a good time, and my mom and I really had fun watching season one together with some red wine! I thought perhaps the book would offer the same thrills, but I can safely say that this is one of those times where the adaptation is better than the book. At least for me. But it didn’t start all bad! The beginning of the book was very strong. Claire was incredibly interesting, and I really liked her agency and attitude. It was intriguing to follow a woman who had just been through a war — who had served as a nurse and saw all kinds of horror — as she tried to reacclimate herself to life as a woman in “polite” society. What would she do now? Where was her place? And I was especially interested in her relationship with Frank, having spent most of their married life apart and under extreme stress due to the war. I want that book…the book where Claire and Frank put their marriage back together. Instead, Outlander is like the exact opposite. It’s a woman leaving her very excellent husband for some man-child.

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Books That Have Hit Me Lately

I’ve been plowing through books this year. My goal on Goodreads for 2017 is 35, but last year I read 53 and so far this year I’m already at 28, “20 books ahead of schedule”. This is partly because I’m newly addicted to audiobooks and checking them out like crazy from my library via the amazing Overdrive app (if you don’t know what this is, let me know and I’ll indoctrinate you). I listen to audiobooks on 2x speed. It’s also partly because I hate everything going on right now and don’t want to deal, so I’m diving into other worlds to cope. The thing is, though, these other worlds are connecting to mine and to where I am in my life right now in very interesting ways. I’m not sure what the stronger connection is here between me, current affairs, and these books, but I thought I would list them out and chat a bit about them and why they’re impacting me so much. Update: after writing this whole thing out, I now see that connection and it’s women. It’s always women!!!!!!!!

carrie_king_1The first was Carrie by Stephen King. I got it on audiobook kind of on a lark one day and was hooked! I kept thinking that I wished I had read the book when it came out or before I had seen the movies. The structure was so interesting, written like a historical account, and it was very very creepy! While I think most people read this book for the scares (of which there aren’t many), what is strongest is the coming of age story. Carrie White suffers greatly throughout the book as she does battle with her mother, with her school, and with her cruel peers. She is a woman who fits none of the molds or expectations from any part of her life, and she breaks. I loved how this book speaks to the rage of women and the power behind that. I’m actually surprised that I haven’t seen it frequented on feminist book lists. What I saw in this book was a retelling of an old story: young women who try to come into their own and break away from their expectations are to be feared and destroyed because they carry dark and harmful magic within them. I love the idea that when women hit puberty (something that happens right away at the top of the book to Carrie), a deep power is unleashed inside of them. This is 100% true! But not perhaps in the way those afraid of it would like to imagine (to be clear, both men and women fear this power…which…come on ladies). If we could levitate beds, cause rocks to fall from the sky, or throw knives with our minds, wow what a party! But what we actually do is create life. And that is terrifying to those who can’t, so much so that they have shamed many aspects of it and made us hate ourselves. The story of Carrie White is the story of every woman. I was going to say that it doesn’t always end the same way, but I think a lot of women burn and destroy their own little “towns” to an extent when they’re finding themselves, I know I did. Thinking about women today, the state of feminism and womanism, politics, ugh, this all feels relevant. What does Carrie do in 2017 United States of America? What do we do?

9780143122357_p0_v1_s260x420Next was The Haunting of Hill House by Shirely Jackson. Interestingly, I saw a lot of this book in Carrie, which makes sense because King absolutely loved Hill House and Jackson. I read this as part of my Shameful Book Club, and it really blew me away. There is a deep thing happening in this book. To me it feels like corruption, the fight for autonomy, and a heavy dash of feminism all simmering together in a perfect stew of Jackson. Her writing never fails to enthrall me. In Hill House, two women have a very interesting relationship to each other, the men in the house, and the house itself. The main character, Eleanor, become intoxicated by the house and in the end it appears to conquer her (trying not to be spoilery here). Before coming to the house, Eleanor’s entire life was devoted to nursing her sick mother. After her mother died, Eleanor was determined to find her place in the world and have that place be exclusively hers — something we all take for granted. Like Carrie, she has an awakening and a new understanding of who she is, how she relates to the world, and what she wants out of it. But unfortunately, also like Carrie, she is denied this. A lot of how I felt about this book and Eleanor was the same as how I felt when I read The Yellow Wallpaper. Claustrophobia, gaslighting, frustration, helplessness, isolation, frantic empowerment. I guess I could call it, tongue in my cheek, weird women shit. I made a connection between various interests of mine during the listening of this book. They were (in no particular order) women’s empowerment, feminism, and spiritualism. It is a very interesting topic, if any of you would like to dive into it. During the rise of spiritualism, women (who were considered to have a deeper and stronger connection to the spirit world) saw an increase in power and autonomy. This also began right around the American and British Suffrage movements, and the two have been linked. Eleanor has an incredibly strong spiritual and psychic connection with the house, which just made all of these things click for me. I would love to read a full feminist breakdown of this book, so if any of you know of one PLEASE send it along!

{DFB99A35-1089-48B2-AF81-F11E54E84060}Img100After Hill House, I randomly picked up Alana Massey’s All The Lives I Want. Some people talk about how they’ve deliberately delayed reading a book because they love it so much and they never want it to end. I have never experienced this until this book. I cry pretty much every time I pick it up. Massey captures something so real for me. On the surface, her essays may seem vapid or materialistic to those not in the female 24-35 range, but for me they touched a very real part of my soul and identity that I think was craving attention. She talks about girls who buy Silvia Plath merch from Etsy, songs she used to dance to as a stripper, and how she thinks of people as either Winonas or Gwyneths. This all sounds ridiculous, but it’s laced with such a deep understanding of how these cultural touch points, icons, etc. have informed women and me and her and us. It is only very barely about these surface topics. I think that because a lot of other people will read it and maybe hate it or maybe feel no connection to it is why my connection feels so much stronger. It’s hard for me to really talk about this book because I haven’t digested it fully yet (maybe I never will), but when I read it, this is what I feel: I feel like I’m being hugged by a massive circle of women who all have different experiences, but those different experiences add up to the same as mine and the same as each others’. I feel like I’m at an adult women’s slumber party and we’re getting down to it — talking about everything that has ever shaped us. For some reason, I haven’t felt very connected to women my age. I put that on myself. While I’ve been reading so much about feminism and the experiences of great women or women from other cultures, I have neglected my own friends and my own experiences. This book is recalibrating me. I plan on buying it for many of my girl friends and sister.

south-and-west-joan-didion-696x1024Then came Goddess Joan Didion. Her new short work South and West was my first ever real experience with her, and it swept me away. It’s basically just her notebook from a certain time, and it compares her time in the south and also in California during the ’70s. The forward, written by Nathaniel Rich, sets the book up as a way to consider the roles of the west and the south. The south has always seemed so bogged down by its past and history, while the west was always a place of optimism and the future. Rich’s argument is that it is actually reversed, and Didion’s blunt observations from the ’70s in combination with our current political and social climate prove that. Well, that was a very interesting idea to consider as I read the book! Didion’s observations about the smalleness of life and the largeness of this country (and the universe, actually) struck a chord with me. She also turned her eye to the everyday racism and sexism that she encountered during her trip. Nothing felt overwhelming or awful, but it was insidious. For example, at a restaurant there was a menu item called “Italian or Wop Salad”. Things haven’t changed much during the enormity of time despite our thinking that it should. I felt a very heavy cynicism after reading it, but that also came with a lightness. It was very weird, and kind of hard to explain! It also felt very intimate, especially the moments when she is just existing around others while their lives continue to move and she just reports to us what that is. For example, she captures a moment in the south when a woman in a yellow bridesmaid’s dress is walking home from a wedding with her baby in her arms and her husband by her side. She referred to her as a girl, which I thought was interesting. That small moment stuck with me for so long. A young woman living what feels, to me during a particularly stressful point in time in my life, a simple life. I thought about what their house looked like, what that child was doing now, what happened to that dress? A small moment that could be repeating over and over again over countless decades in many different cities/states/countries. I also loved a moment when Didion went to get her nails done at a salon while her clothes were in the wash at a laundromat. Her small conversation with the young women working there held a disproportionate amount of weight. Perhaps that’s just because Didion’s writing style creates that, or, like I said, something just struck me.

How interesting that two of these books are horror fiction and two are personal non-fiction writing. I think that these books are capturing me now because of a perfect storm: I’m learning new things about myself and I’m living during a time that is quite uh, interesting. I think in my last year before 30, I am moving forward on a more introspective journey, and these works have somehow primed that thought process. Has anyone experienced this before where you seem to read several books close together that really click with you?

The Shameful Book Club: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

img_4205January sucks. It’s cold, everyone is bloated from the holidays, there’s serious financial regret going on, and maybe you decided to stop talking to you uncle for the foreseeable future. That’s why I wanted to make January the month for humor. This January was SUPER hard, ahem, and so I was very grateful for this month’s humorous Shameful Book Club read. The Princess Bride, the film, was a staple in my home growing up. It is one of my all-time favorite movies, and most of the people I know have seen it just as many times as I have. A true classic! And I had heard so much about the book, but of course, never read it. Well, I am super glad I finally did.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. The format of it is confusing, and I know people who were so frustrated by it that they actually gave up reading it all together. Why? Well because for a while you can’t really tell if the book is completely fiction or if it’s partly true or entirely true or what have you. If you know me, you know I love this shit. Long-con deception! I frequently tell people that I want my wedding to be so confusing, people walk out unsure if I actually got married or not. So for me, this was two thumbs up. But then there is the constant interrupting, which also bothers a lot of people.

Let me explain, no that would take too long, let me sum up (GET IT I QUOTED THE BOOK): Goldman starts the book talking about his experience with the original Princess Bride manuscript and his father’s interpretation of it. He then goes on to present The Princess Bride in the abridged format that his father used to tell him as a kid, constantly interrupting the story to inject his own interpretations or stories about his father’s readings and his reactions, etc. This make for a very confusing situation for people who don’t know that The Princess Bride is not and never was a real manuscript or book about the history of a far-off European country. That should have been everyone’s first clue: there is no such place as Florin. But hey, there are people who still think the world is flat, so who am I to assume these things. Some of my friends also did not enjoy the tonal shift that occurs sometimes during these interruptions. The style is definitely weird.

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The Shameful Book Club: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

December’s genre is mystery, my personal favorite. I paired it up with December because it’s usually a cold and stressful time with the holidays and the winter and such, so I figured I should be allowed to treat myself to my favorite genre in the midst of unpleasantness. I picked The Murder of Roger Ackroyd because it is arguably Agatha Christie’s best novel, and I, as a massive Christie fan, had not yet read it. I actually haven’t read as much Christie as one would think. I can count on one had the number of novels and novella’s I’ve tackled, so I personally find that rather shameful.

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Me and a real cool dude on Halloween. I am Agatha Christie, holding her book Halowe’en Party, at a Halloween party.

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Annd a close up. The only thing I can explain in this picture is that I deliberately drew age lines on my face so I look old.

I was very excited to finally get to Ackroyd. I’ve seen it appear on tons of lists like “Top 5 Biggest Twist Endings of All Time” and “Novels That Will Make Your Head Spin So Hard It Will Pop Right Off You’ve Been Warned”. And a coworker of mine, who actually hates this kind of old-school Scooby Doo novel, told me she really enjoyed Ackroyd because of it’s unique twist. I was very successful in avoiding spoilers and could not wait to try to guess who committed the crime, which I did at around page 133. I was very proud of myself.

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The Shameful Book Club: Anne of Green Gables

I’m a bit behind on my reading challenge (what a surprise), but November was Young Adult month and I decided to go with Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I have lied so viciously about this book and series. I grew up loving the Megan Follows miniseries, and when they announced a new one in production I got very excited! I bill myself as a huge fan of AoGG, and yet I have never read a single book.

I did actually own the first book in the series for most of my life (much like I Capture the Castle), which makes all of this even worse. When I picked that copy up to dive in, I saw exactly how far I had gotten the first time I tried to read it. I also noticed my wonderful John Hancock on the cover page, which I can tell based on my handwriting evolution that I was in maybe fifth or sixth grade when I got this book. That would have been the best time for me to read it, I think. But nope.

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I gave up on page 5.

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