Bizarre Book Club: The Oldest Weird Fiction

Hello pickle and sausage sandwiches!

I read the oldest weird fiction that I could get my little paws on; Gilgamesh, The Cannibal Hymn of Egypt, Flatland by Edwin Abbot, The Yellow King by Robert W Chambers and Hell Screen by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.

Enjoy!

Bizarre Book Club: New Weird Fiction And Bizarro And Weird In Modern Times

Good evening!

I read a bunch of all new weird fiction and bizarro books and pondered what it meant to write weird fiction in the increasingly strange times we live. Next week I’ll be discussing the oldest weird fiction.

Books mentioned:

Year’s Best Weird Fiction Vol. 4 (various)

More Bizarro Than Bizarro (various)

Who Cares, Nothing Matters (Julia Platz-Halter)

Starr Creek (Nathan Carson)

Lovecraftian Micro Fiction/Challenge From Beyond (various)

Welcome To Night Vale: It Devours (Joseph Fink/Jeffrey Cranor)

VIDEOS! Bizarrocon And Portland Vlogs, New Eraserhead Press Book Reading And Author Panel

Hello! I have returned! Well, I’ve been back since the very end of November but shhh.

I did lots of things including Bizarrocon (bizarro fiction convention in case you didn’t know), the Peculiarium, the Lovecraft Bar, Voodoo and Pips donuts, Powell’s Books (the biggest used and new book shop IN THE WORLD) and the creepy clown room at the Funhouse Lounge.

I also met some really great creative people, listened to fantastic stories and was overwhelmed by the response to my own reading, from the book I can officially announce is out next year: Fortune Box, with Eraserhead Press. I took part in a panel and learned from the others, and it’s all below! Enjoy.

Bizarrocon 2017:

Portland:

Fortune Box reading:

The Weird In A Post Weird World, Author Panel:

Massive Gothic Nonfiction Book Pile For Halloween

Hello all! Merry day once more!

All year I’ve been on and off reading a big pile of gothic nonfiction books. A couple you might recognise but the majority will be new.

The video is prerecorded and my hair actually looks like this now: 

Such is the magic of the digital era.

Books mentioned:

Caitlin Doughty: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Colin Dickey: Ghostland

Charlotte Gordon: Romantic Outlaws (Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft)

Malcolm Gaskill: Witchfinders

Stacey Schiff: The Witches

Phyllis Grosskurth: Byron

Ossian Brown: Haunted Air

Michael Lesy: Wisconsin Death Trip

Bizarre Book Club: Caitlin Doughty From Ask A Mortician

I read this book in a single day, which should tell you something. No, the book wasn’t two pages long.

I chanced upon a YouTube channel called Ask A Mortician and found her not only informative on all things death related, but also funny and charming. Caitlin Doughty seemed like someone I’d want to hang around with.

This in turn led me to her book Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (And Other Lessons From The Crematory). I expected and enjoyed the anecdotes of working with corpses and the awkwardness of experiencing another culture’s grieving rituals for the first time (the segment on the Chinese family is fascinating).

The horror from outsiders, too, wasn’t a surprise, such as a hospital security guard’s distaste at her picking up ex-babies, that “it didn’t matter how many times I smiled at her, expressed my new-on-the-job status with bumbling Hugh Grant– esque apologies. This woman had decided that I was dirty and deviant. Handmaiden to the underworld.”

I also anticipated moments that made me laugh out loud, such as when “the family had placed a Häagen-Dazs coffee-and-almond ice-cream bar between her hands like a Viking warrior’s weapon. Those are my favourite. So I yelled, involuntarily, “Those are my favourite!””

What I didn’t expect were the many literary quotes and philosophical thoughts. Not that I didn’t think mortuary workers were capable of them, but I didn’t expect to be thinking about them so much afterwards. Caitlin believes the West’s relationship with death has gone astray, that “death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives, but in fact it is the very source of our creativity. As Kafka said , “The meaning of life is that it ends.” Death is the engine that keeps us running, giving us the motivation to achieve, learn, love, and create.”

She feels that hiding death away and pretending it doesn’t happen is creating greater fear of the  inevitable end. She advocates for a more natural, eco-friendly approach, and for not allowing funeral homes to dictate to the family how the final proceedings should go. I’ll let her explain it in this Ted Talk:

She also believes (more in America, not so much here) that embalming is often sold to people as the only way and is expensive and often unnecessary:

At first I thought, well, is it really so important to be more involved with a body before a funeral? How much can that really change things? Then I thought hard on her point that we also hide old age, stashing the elderly and infirm in sometimes substandard homes, while other cultures move ageing relatives in with them to deal with the consequences of the years together. I wonder if maybe she’s right. What do all of you think?

Caitlin also began The Order of the Good Death, where “funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists explor(e) ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.” I’d like to go to one of their talks one day. I’ve also pre-ordered her book From Here To Eternity, in which she travelled far and wide gathering information on the death practices of various civilisations.

As an added bonus, here are a few fun videos from her Ask A Mortician series:

Crematory Scandal That Changed The Death Industry

Victorian STANDING Corpse Photography?

The Punished Suicide

The Self Mummified Monks

Medieval Zombies?!

La Pascualita: Mannequin or Corpse Bride?

Lead Based Make Up Tutorial For Spring

Bizarre Book Club: Bizarro, Victorian Sideshows And Junji Ito

Merry afternoon to you, or whatever time you exist in. I continued my experiment with mouth noises by talking about weird and interesting books I’ve read.

Everything mentioned:

Laura Lee Bahr, Angel Meat

Matt Payne, Robot God/Hybrid Brain

Andrew J Lambie, Carnival Of The Flesh

Junji Ito, Snow White

Witch Trials, Hysterical Nuns And Not Haunted Houses: Horror Nonfiction Bizarre Book Club

Good morning my little cups of fiery chai, I’ve been reading some very interesting books lately.

I’m drawn to the myths of ghosts, black magic, the Devil and other spooky things, but what I really love is clearing the fog of legend and finding what’s really underneath. To me the truth behind a haunting is infinitely more interesting than the initial stories, though I respect believers of the paranormal and would never make fun of them. Each to their own.

All three of these books take incidents or places that have been imbued with supernatural meaning and show us the ‘truth.’

1. Witchfinders by Malcolm Gaskill

The story of Matthew Hopkins, the self-titled ‘Witchfinder General,’ is quite close to my heart as I live in Essex and his numerous victims were held in a castle not far from me. Witchfinders painstakingly recounts the journey he took through Essex and Suffolk, whipping the people into a frenzy of blame and fear, and on through the trials and executions themselves.

The concept of witch-hunting in the magical sense seems alien to us now but Malcolm Gaskill does a great job of explaining the world of magic people lived in and how the uncertainty of the Civil War affected them. The thorough research helped me to better understand what might have been going through the minds of each player, even Matthew Hopkins himself.

2. Ghostland by Colin Dickey

This is a fascinating tour through the most mythologised houses, hotels, hospitals and even cities of America. Drawn to the ghosts, he strips back the stories and locates the factual accounts. If it sounds like he’s made them boring, trust me, he hasn’t.

One example is the famous Winchester Mystery House, long believed to have been created by a widow half mad with loss and guilt over the deaths of her husband and the victims of the gun he created, building endlessly to confuse any spirits seeking revenge. But, fantastically, the tale everyone including myself assumed to be fact isn’t, and this is only one of the little surprises in its pages.

This quote sums it up very well: “More than just simple urban legends and campfire tales, ghost stories reveal the contours of our anxieties, the nature of our collective fears and desires, the things we can’t talk about in any other way. The past we’re most afraid to speak aloud of in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.”

3. The Devils Of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

You might recognise the story of Grandier, the French priest whom women loved, men hated and burned as a witch after nuns became hysterical, from the Ken Russell film The Devils (1971). You may also recognise it’s author as the infamous psychonaut and writer of The Doors of Perception.

Where the two previous books are distantly fascinated and relatively dispassionate, Aldous Huxley’s philosophy and personality runs strongly throughout. Normally I wouldn’t like this, but he’s so well read and intelligent that it doesn’t matter.

It gives the story an air of being told by someone who knew the people personally, who smelled the horrible smells of seventeenth century France and had befriended Grandier, in spite and because of his complexities and contradictions.
Mass hysteria is a fascination of mine and anything that can go some way towards explaining it or recreating it in my mind is a definite winner.