I don’t know about you all but I am having the worst time concentrating on my reading right now.
I pick up a book, read the same sentence twenty times, scroll through my phone, sigh moodily, stare out the window. Lose my place, forget what I’ve read. Repeat.
I have managed to finish a few titles from my stacks but I may not have much to say about most, if not all of them. Or let’s just say that I might not have anything smart to say about them.
But what else is new, right? Heh.
The Gunslinger by Stephen King I knew going into this one that it was not going to be my cup of tea and I mostly wasn’t wrong, but I will admit that after a certain point I was drawn in despite myself.
Roland Deschain, last of the gunslingers, is following the enigmatic, malevolent Man In Black across a brutal desert. There are some bloody and terrible skirmishes and a small companion is met along the way. If I don’t seem all that jazzed in my description, I guess that’s because I never really got drawn into the story, or felt much of anything for the characters moving along in it.
The world in which this pursuit takes place seems very different from our own, and yet there seem to be some strange similarities…and I think that’s what I found most compelling. I want to learn more about the stage upon which this story plays out.
Everyone who seems to love this series of books goes on and on about the world-building, so I feel like there must be…something there? I’m hopeful that I will find out, as I have made it my mandate to read all of Stephen King’s books, so I’d be reading the next in the series whether I wanted to or not.
Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen GLAAD Award-winning journalist, Samantha Allen, embarks on a road trip across America–her motto, “something gay every day”–to chronicle the unique experience of being queer in conservative communities. A memoir that is part travelogue and part recent history of queer America, Allen makes pit stops at drag shows, political rallies, and hubs of queer life across the heartland, and she introduces us to scores of extraordinary LGBT people working for change.
If I have a critique, it’s that she does spend some time attacking liberal coastal enclaves, those places that we might typically consider queer oases–San Francisco, New York City, etc.– as being too big, too expensive, too crowded, etc…and listen, I get it. I don’t really love those places either, for the same reasons. But something about hearing it over and over in the context of this book rubbed me the wrong way. But that is a very tiny complaint. I listened to Real Queer America on audiobook, as read by the author, and hearing in her thoughts and observations in Allen’s own warm, endearing voice added another wonderful dimension to what was already a profoundly insightful, informative, and moving series of essays.
Light Magic For Dark Times by Lisa Marie Basile It has been a very long time since I have read a book like this. I read books about witchcraft and witches quite frequently. Spellwork and ritual is often a focus of the fiction I consume. But a practical guide of spellcraft and magical rituals for the purpose of performing, myself? I haven’t had anything like this in my possession, since…gosh. Maybe since I was sixteen years old, and at the risk of sounding dismissive (sorry!) I don’t a recollection of those books or authors presenting me with anything particularly smart or compelling. As a teenager… would I have even recognized it if they did? I don’t mean to make generalizations, but teenagers now seem loads smarter than they did back when I was that age. Or maybe I was just a dumb teenager.
At any rate, I think it’s unfair to review a book by talking about what it’s not. I don’t feel comfortable making comparisons like that, but I did want to give some background as to the last time I held in my hands a spellbook. Lisa Marie Basile’s Light Magic For Dark Times surprised me on every level. It’s relatable and sincere and compassionate, and as a terribly self-conscious person, I love that Lisa Marie’s book never makes me feel cheesy for reading it. It elevates beautiful sentiments in practical ways, it tackles ugliness in a welcoming, accepting manner, and it feels like sage, loving, advice from the depths of a wise, vibrant heart.
I am particularly appreciative that she delves into practices for confronting feelings of grief, rituals for trauma, meditations for getting one’s self comfortable with the idea of death; none of these things are fun to think about but they are so important to contemplate, to meet with, and to work through. There are also spells of celebration and creation, of self-love and of shadow work. This is such a beautiful little book of magical exercises for times of darkness and of light, and even the strange, liminal, grey areas in between. I am grateful that this book exists as a resource and I am certain that I will find myself reaching for it over and over again, as I experience these shades and shadows, these light and dark times, in my own life.
*Bonus! In a marvelous instance of synchronicity, Lisa Marie Basile is the guest on this month’s episode of Pam Grossman’s The Witch Wave podcast. I just started listening to the episode last night, so I thought I’d come back here and add the link. I think if you are currently reading Light Magic For Dark Times, listening in on Pam and Lisa Marie’s chat would add a wonderful extra dimension to the material.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Hoo boy. How embarrassing to admit that until I was 43 years old, I had never read Oscar Wilde’s classic work The Picture of Dorian Gray! I received my copy of the book from a friend who has taught the book in the past, and so I was extremely privileged to find his notes and observations bookmarked over the course of the story. Of course, this makes it very difficult not to parrot his sentiments at you now, and so I will refrain from doing so, save to note this: “…his novel is one of pleasurable language, a triumph of aesthetics over literary realism.” AND HOW. I am pretty sure that Wilde wrote this story solely so that he could spend two chapters alone waxing ecstatic about embroidery and gemstones.
I think most folks know the plot and the themes involved, so I won’t give a synopsis, but I am left with a few questions. Dorian Gray is referenced by someone (I can’t recall which character) as being “bad as bad.” And yet we don’t seem privy to much in the way of his horrid exploits. I suppose if we fill in the blanks we’ll come up with what is personally most abhorrent to us, a “bad as bad” scenario that Wilde left up to the minds of the readers to concoct. I am also dreadfully curious as to what Gray is holding over Allen Campbell’s head; what did Gray’s corrupt influence incite Campbell to have done, or take part in, could be used as blackmail in that later scene? Details, man! Again, I suppose there is some elegance in the mystery of these things, but prefer them spelled out for me.
I suppose this is less a “review”, and more a “reaction” to the book, but there you go–my thoughts, such as they are. I thoroughly enjoyed both the story and the prose, but this is one that I think I will be turning over in my mind for many years to come, marveling at its myriad charms like the “broken rainbow of the milky opal” amongst Dorian Gray’s dazzling collection. But at this point if you were to ask me what this tale was all about, I could probably only shrug and reply, “eh, vanity problems, I guess? “
As an afterthought, it struck me that Dorian Gray could have used “A Red Rose Ritual For Aging Acceptance” from LisaMarie Basile’s Light Magic For Dark Times, mentioned above.
I was going to write a paragraph about how I haven’t read a book since February but Sarah Elizabeth beat me to it. Awkward, like showing up at a party in the same outfit. (And like pretending I go to parties — ha!)
Reading is such a balm, such a big big big part of my life, but I find that when I am completely stressed I just cannot make sense out of words. I’ll catch myself rereading the same paragraph and not comprehending any of it. I can barely compose the caption to an Instagram post. And with [waves hand at world] I’m not even really perusing Reddit or Facebook for fear of coming across something that will immediately make my guts lurch and every pore on my body sweat.
Instead I’ve been relearning Finnish. I took two years of it in university (with how complex Finnish is, this basically allows you to order an ice cream) and even studied in Kuopio for a summer, but it’s not exactly a language that lends itself to a lot of practicing opportunity. Which is to say I’ve forgotten almost everything. So I dug out my old workbook, downloaded an app called WordDive (Duolingo rather infamously does not offer Finnish, though apparently they might by the end of 2020!), and went to town. I’ve been practicing around 1-4 hours a day for a week and so much is coming back.
I have also been watching a lot of TV. I love you, TV. TV has gotten me through leaving abusive relationships, through loneliness, through just about everything (now including pandemics!). Sometimes I start telling an anecdote about a friend and realize I’m actually talking about a TV character I’ve watched for years. So this month I’m doing a social-distancing mental-health-in-the-trash edition of Stacked. Can we call it Streamed?
One thing I learned about my husband during social distancing is that thrillers somehow… don’t relax him??? For me, there is nothing better than parking myself in front of ten hours of Forensic Files or Criminal Minds (hello to my bff Dr. Spencer Reid). Here are a few TV series that are making life somewhat more bearable.
Black Spot (Netflix) — Oh man. This was so cool. It’s a French-Belgian show set in a small town on a forest’s edge, where the murder rate is six times the national average. The French title of this is Zone Blanche, which literally means “white zone” but is also what we call a dead zone, meaning an area where there is no cell reception. (Dead Zone is a Stephen King title so I guess that didn’t fly over here.)
Chalet (Netflix) — Agatha Christie vibes. Old friends gather at a remote chalet in the French Alps and start getting picked off one by one after the only bridge connecting them to the outside world crumbles.
Perfume (Netflix) — I actually watched this a few months ago but loved it so much I have to include it it. Set in the modern day, it follows a group of former boarding school students who reunite after the murder of one of their old schoolmates. As kids, they had all shared an obsession with the Süskind book Parfum (relatable) and performed experiments trying to capture the scent of human skin. Of course, their schoolmate’s murder is suspiciously similar to one from their youth…
The Break (Netflix) — Where’s it set? In a small town! What’s it got? Murder! How much of it? Two seasons! The narrative set-up is similar to Chalet, where the investigator recounts the entire first season from what appears to be a police-ordered psychiatrist’s office. Has he murdered someone too?
Bordertown (Netflix) — They really got creative with the English title of this Finnish series SET IN A SMALL TOWN on the Finnish side of the Finland/Russia border. It’s a weird spin on the murder-of-the-week structure, with each murder taking two or three episodes to resolve.
Featured image: for UP Magazine, 2013. Photography: Frederico Martins