Scary Books for October

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The month of Halloween is a perfect time to indulge in some literary chills and thrills. The best scary stories do more than just shock and disgust; they inspire fear through the atmosphere they create, the what-ifs they pose, or the twisted psychological dynamics at play. With these criteria in mind, I've compiled a short list of scary books on my radar. The first three are ones I've read and highly recommend, and the others I've added to my ever-expanding reading list. 

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

This murder mystery is set during Medieval times in an Italian monastery, where two visiting monks are investigating a strange series of gruesome deaths. As part of their search, they sneak into the labyrinthine secret passageways of an old library and must crack a series of textual puzzles to solve the crime. The book is heavy on theology and philosophy, which is at times dense (I resorted to Wikipedia), but if you're willing to take on the challenge, you'll find yourself immersed in the world of the monastery and the investigations that unfold. 

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Truth is sometimes stranger, and scarier, than fiction. Ronson proves this point in his journalistic investigation into the world of psychopaths. As he profiles psychopaths and the researchers who study them, the true stories he tells are terrifying (and occasionally, hilarious). I reviewed this book here

In the Woods by Tana French

A duo of Irish detectives, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, investigate the death of a young girl found in the woods near an archaeological site. As details emerge, Ryan notices striking parallels between this case and a traumatic incident from his childhood. You may find the end emotionally distressing, but not because of the crime itself. This is the first book in the Dublin Squad series, so if you like it, there's more where it came from.

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this book is actually a work of creative nonfiction about the crimes, trial, and eventual execution of murderer Gary Gilmore. The 1,000-page magnum opus explores many of the people closest to Gilmore, including his ex-girlfriend and "true love" Nicole Baker. Gilmore is famous for refusing to appeal his death sentence and vocalizing his desire to be executed. Check out Joan Didion's review here

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

This tome is a cult favorite, and I'm so excited to read it that I already went out and bought a copy. Some readers say this is one of the most unsettling books they've ever read. The plot is apparently difficult to summarize, but I've gleaned that it's about a house that's bigger on the inside than it appears to be from the outside. It's considered both a work of horror and a love story. It is also an "ergodic" work, meaning that the reader has to work to construct meaning by putting together various fragments and storylines. 

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

The novel begins when the Detroit police discover a gruesome body hidden in a tunnel. As lead detective Gabriella Versado becomes entrenched in the case, she fails to notice that her daughter, high school student Layla, has engaged in a risky online flirtation with a pedophile. The glowing NPR review of this book is what makes me want to read it. 

Voices in the Night by Steven Millhauser

Millhauser is a Pulitzer and Story Prize winner, and in this collection of short stories, he weaves together myths and fairy tales with small town characters caught in unsettling situations. For instance, the premise of one story, based on the myth of Narcissus, is that a man becomes obsessed with a special mirror polish that reveals a superior reflection of himself when applied to any mirror. 

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Again, I try to avoid books that derive their horror from shock and disgust. Reviews assure me that Geek Love doesn't just do that, but out of all the books on the list, it sounds like possibly the most shocking and disgusting of them all. It's about a family-run traveling carnival that is struggling to make a living when the parents devise a terrible idea: they will turn their family into a freak show by altering their children's genes. What ensues is sibling rivalry and the creation of a particularly disturbing cult. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

The Blackwood sisters and their uncle are the sole survivors of a mysterious poisoning that left the rest of their family dead. The village suspects Constance, the older sister who cooked for the family on the night they died. The novel begins:

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

A film adaptation of this novel is coming to theaters next year, so now's the time to read it!

Please share your scary book recommendations! Recommendations for scary movies, podcasts, etc. are also very welcome.

Book Review: Missing, Presumed

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and the time is nigh for page-turners that will keep us from going into premature hibernation. Missing, Presumed by Sadie Steiner is one I recommend for those of you who like a dose of literary character development with your fictional tales of mystery, murder, and mayhem. 

At the start of the novel, Detective Manon Bradshaw of the Cambridgeshire police is lamenting her latest disastrous date when she receives an alert about a missing female. Edith Hind, a beautiful postgraduate student and the beloved daughter of the Royal Family's surgeon, has disappeared from her home, leaving behind her phone, keys, shoes, and coat. A broken wineglass and a trail of blood suggest that Edith was taken against her will, and that the crucial window of time to save her is closing. As the police interview Edith's family, boyfriend, and closest cohorts, secrets emerge about her complicated love life, which the tabloids quickly proliferate with little respect for anyone's privacy. When the body of a young man is found in a nearby river, connections to Edith's disappearance seem tentative but impossible to ignore.

The dogged single female detective, or dogged single female protagonist who becomes deeply invested in solving a crime, has become a popular character type in fictional mysteries (see TV series like Prime SuspectThe Fall, or Marcella). Manon occupies this role somewhat unwillingly. While she presents herself as brazenly independent, she at times feels painfully lonely; she is cynical but persistent in her attempts to find companionship. As Manon navigates two unpredictable worlds, one of crime and the other of online dating, she exposes the gulf between how we present ourselves and how we actually feel. This split between interior and exterior distresses Edith's best friend, who faces the scrutiny of the public eye into her personal affairs. It is also the reality of Miriam, Edith's mother, as her experience of grief and hopelessness isolates her from her husband and friends. When certain characters fail to reveal their interior motivations, we feel Manon's frustration.

We are not how we appear. Mysteries play upon this truth to a somewhat extreme degree. All of us are selective in how we present ourselves to others; our lives are messier than the facades we construct. In Missing, Presumed, and especially for the novel's female characters, this public/private division is both a burden and, at times, a necessity that should be honored. In a genre in which the ultimate goal is to know everything, the interior lives of others will always be, to some extent, unknowable. 

Welcome to Bookish Types

Hello and welcome to my updated internet corner! I've been dreaming up this new blog for quite some time, and it's exciting and liberating to take the plunge and share it with you! Bookish Types is a blog mostly about books, one of my chief obsessions in life. The impetus to create it is basically summed up in the words of the author J. G. Ballard: "Be faithful to your obsessions." Also relevant: the popular wisdom treat yo'self, which I seem to tell myself every time I enter a bookstore. 

Reading and journaling have always gone hand in hand for me. I find that I think more deeply about what I'm reading when I take the time to write about it. Thus, my motivation to share my reflections on what I'm reading is somewhat self-indulgent. But a blog is something shared with others, and just as I find value in creating this space, I hope that others find value in reading it. Books have their most profound impact when we are willing to be vulnerable as readers -- to experience our deepest emotions and see ourselves more honestly. The private experience of reading invites such vulnerability; a public space, like a blog, often does not. I hope to use books as a means of talking about life, especially life's vulnerable moments. And eventually, I hope to use books as a means of connecting to others, and to explore the unique ways in which books shape our lives.

I will be keeping two ongoing lists on this blog: my current reading list, and an archive of the books I've written about. Please bear with me as I continue to make lingering fixes to the new website. Finally, I understand that some of you who subscribed to this blog in its previous form won't be as interested in its reincarnation. That's okay. You can subscribe or unsubscribe here. Happy reading!

Changes

Oh, hello. As you may have noticed, it's been a while since my last post! During this time, I’ve been hard at work on Operation Find My Path In Life, which has involved acknowledging that a) I've failed to fulfil my childhood dream of becoming an egyptologist à la Rachel Weisz in The Mummy, and b) my childhood backup plan, becoming a teacher, turned out to be my true calling. I have also realized that, as an introvert in an overwhelmingly extroverted field, I am in need of a quiet, creative outlet after work. So here I am, back in my internet corner. 

That said, I'm making some big changes to this space. In many ways, I've outgrown this blog in its current form, which I started in my late adolescence with no clear purpose in mind. The blog I once wrote wasn't the sort of blog I wanted to keep writing, but whenever I tried to change directions, I kept getting held back by a sense of obligation to the past. After a long break from this space, now feels like the right time to take the plunge and turn this blog into something new. 

If you look through my recent posts (which are, admittedly, not that recent), you'll notice a shift in focus towards a topic I love to write about: books. For a long time now, I've wanted to create a space to record and share my thoughts about what I'm reading. I've decided to turn this blog into just that: a blog (mostly) about books and my personal reflections on them. I'm hesitant to call it a "book blog," because that phrase makes me think of a blog purely dedicated to book reviews, which isn't exactly my intention. But more on the details soon. Next week, you will see that this space has a new name and design, and I will tell you more about what to expect! 

I realize that not everyone who once read here will be interested in my new blog, and that's okay. In fact, part of me is wondering right now, is anyone even still here to read this message? But if you make your way back to this space and stick around for the changes, I really look forward to reconnecting with you. Here's to the conclusion of one chapter... and the start of a new one!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin to stay tuned for the changes, or feel free to unfollow if you're not interested!

The True Cost of Fast Fashion

Last year, I began a minimalist wardrobe project, with the goal of buying fewer items of clothing over the months and years to come. In the process, I found myself evaluating my clothes more meticulously, shopping for styles and fabrics with longevity and versatility. But there was one factor I didn't really consider: where do my clothes come from? 

Thanks to a reader's recommendation, I recently watched The True Cost, a documentary about "fast fashion" and its drastic ethical and environmental implications. Clothing production has increased by 400% in the last decade, largely due to the growth of fast-fashion sellers like H&M, Zara, Topshop and other retail giants offering an ever-changing selection of cheap, trendy clothes. The film takes us to sweatshops in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the site of the Rana Plaza collapse that killed over 1,000 garment-industry workers. One female worker, who began her job with a monthly salary of $10, reveals that after she attempted to organize a union to advocate for safe and equitable working conditions, she and other employees were locked up in the factory and beaten. In a particularly emotional scene, she states, "I believe these clothes are produced by our blood."

The documentary also examines the frightening toll of fast fashion on the planet. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil. The toxic chemicals used to produce fabrics have caused a surge of health issues and birth defects. Donating our clothing, which often eases our consciences, is not a viable solution; the film reports that the majority of donated clothing ends up in landfills or is shipped out to developing countries, destroying their local garment businesses. 

One of the main reasons I took a huge step back from blogging and social media is that my blog was promoting a form of consumerism that I had come to question. The affiliate program I joined, from which I have since unaffiliated myself, is a huge advertising engine for fast fashion, perpetuating "haul culture" and incentivizing members to "create a sense of urgency" (their words, not mine) in marketing items to readers. I enjoy fashion. However, it's a little perverse that people are being paid handsomely to say "I bought this shirt!" while the people who made the shirt aren't paid enough to live with dignity. When I decided to live with less stuff, I realized that social media was constantly bombarding me with messages to buy more.

No love of clothing should override one's regard for human welfare or the environment. The True Cost offers few solutions to the issues it exposes, and from a little research, I understand that the solutions are far more complicated than simply replacing one kind of consumerism with another. We need to consume less, and policies need to change. We can't ignore the argument that sweatshops lift people out of extreme poverty, even if we question its soundness. But we are all consumers, and it's undeniable that the small decisions of many people -- shopping 10% less, demanding transparency, finding ethical and sustainable alternatives to fast-fashion fabrics and practices -- can make a positive difference. 

As I research more into these issues, I also hope to reconcile my love of fashion with my responsibility to reduce my own consumption. I highly recommend the documentary; its message is easy to ignore but, for me, impossible to forget.