Biblioasis is reviving an apparent tradition of reading ghost stories at Christmastime through a quintet of booklet-size publications, each containing a spooky story and designed and illustrated by the cartoonist Seth. It’s a lovely little set, with tales by Dickens, Wharton, A. M. Burrage, Marjorie Bowen, and M. R. James, but I haven’t saved them for Christmas (no one tells me what to do). I’ve already torn through the Burrage and Bowen, and while they aren’t bloodcurdling, they’re lots of fun. Burrage’s One Who Saw relates the tale of a man lured by the specter of a desolate woman in an ominous hotel garden. He describes his irresistible attraction to her as being akin to “starting on a voyage, feeling no motion from the ship, and then being suddenly aware of a spreading space of water between the vessel and the quay.” Bowen’s tale, The Crown Derby Plate, involves a dumpy, smelly spirit who won’t relinquish his beloved china collection. It’s not exactly a nail-biter, but Bowen manages an eerie description of wasted wintry marshes—“olive-brown broken reeds were harsh as scars on saffron-tinted bogs”—that bears the uncanniness of a Charles Burchfield landscape. —Nicole Rudick Read More
The Crime of Father Amaro, by Eça de Queirós, imagine a Trollope novel—early 1870s, cathedral town, church politics, Tories v. Whigs—except that everyone’s super Catholic, and sex crazed, and with the added difference that the author can’t ever quite decide whether he’s writing a bawdy comedy or a satirical tragedy, and so ends up writing both. This wavering tone must have been hard to translate, but Margaret Jull Costa’s 2002 translation makes it look easy. The Crime of Father Amaro is the best novel I’ve read this year. —Lorin SteinAlmost a year ago, old friends gave me a big fat Portugese novel I’d never heard of, which promptly burrowed its way under a stack of old New Yorkers and stayed hidden until a month ago. It was a buried treasure. To get an idea of
I love being read to. I could pretend it’s because it takes my mind away when I have a migraine or because it allows one to appreciate the aural poetry of writing—and that would be partially true. But the appeal is more elemental, more regressive. When you’re being read to, you’re being taken care of.
Perhaps by the same token, something scary can be magnified in the hearing. Ghost stories are meant to be told orally, after all, and when you are listening to something recorded, you have the option of doing so in the dark. When October comes, no matter if it’s more Indian summer than crisp fall, I want nothing so much as the occult and creepy. And so I walk through the city or work in the kitchen or stand on line at the bank, with M. R. James playing in my ears. Read More
Up until the early spring of this year, I considered myself an absolute Christmas fiend. Not in the Grinch sense of breaking out the Boris Karloff accent and green grease paint and plotting how I might swipe presents, but rather trying to figure out, as early as possible, how best to immerse myself in a holiday that I loved like no other, in a typically over-the-top fashion. You know that person you read about, who bops his head along to Christmas songs on the oldies station—yes, Brenda Lee, you rock around that tree indeed!—the day after Thanksgiving, who insists on seeing Rudolph “live,” every year, because it’s just more real on TV than Blu-ray? I was that guy. Before I had occasion to become a different guy. And before I decided to spend this holiday season with M. R. James.
Who are the great American writers of today who do not hold teaching positions or B.A.s or M.F.A.s in literature? It is very frustrating to read that so and so teaches at this or that university, or has an M.F.A. from this prestigious school. Who are the writers writing to make the rent, making a living solely off the written word? Who are the writers writing about life outside of academia? And why is it that people outside of first-world countries have no idea or even care about what American writers are writing about today yet hold Hemingway and even Bukowski in such high esteem? —Fernando A. Flores
I can’t say for certain who holds what degree, or who has held what job—one never knows what skeletons lurk in a writer’s closet—but to answer your second question: with a very few exceptions (Nora Roberts?) people don’t make the rent by writing books. Either you teach, or you write for the movies (or someone else turns your books into movies), or you get a staff job at a magazine. That’s one way to live by the word, and lots of excellent writers do it. They often complain that it gets in the way of writing great books. As for the question of why foreigners like Bukowski, I would guess he translates well. Or easily, at least. Besides, they like us butch. —Lorin Stein
I love to read ghost stories and thrillers in the fall. What’s your favorite frightening book?
I’m with you: scary reads are right up there with apples and changing leaves. That said, everyone enjoys something different; I have an uncle who swears by serious horror, whereas I’m more of what Netflix might term the “psychological thriller” persuasion—I like the occult just fine, but zombies, vampires, crazed animals, and most serial killers need not apply.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been giving myself nightmares with a daily dose of M.R. James’s classic ghost stories. You can’t beat Daphne du Maurier for atmospheric spookiness: both Rebecca and Don’t Look Now are terrific reads, period (with adaptations to match). And more recently, I enjoyed Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger a great deal—a haunted-country-house story with a twist.
Lastly, if you can get your hands on Charles MacLean’s The Watcher, do it; the third act is sort of ludicrous, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more genuinely terrified while reading. —Sadie Stein Read More
I absolutely love ghost stories. What luck that Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James showed up in the office! I snatched it up greedily and I’ve been reading one every night. —Sadie Stein
It’s a truism that art and politics rarely come together without shortchanging at least one, but every once in a while there’s a sublime exception to the rule. Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum’s performance at Occupy Wall Street was one. “Sing if you know the words.” I did. —Peter Conroy
Mice couriers, man-tree love, sushi-chef assassins, hydro-powered-car chases, propagandist skywriting, a sinister banjo contest, Internet 5.0, and a mystery drug made from dead trees. Matthew Thurber’s weird and wonderful 1-800-Mice is the Gravity’s Rainbow–Sherlock Holmes–Professor Sutwell–Inspector Clouseau–Silent Spring of comics. If you don’t believe me, behold the rap. —Nicole Rudick
If you have never seen nor heard of the British television series Black Books, I highly recommend checking it out. It ran from 2000–2004 and depicts a mostly inebriated foul-tempered Irishman, Bernard Black, who runs a small bookshop in London with his goofy assistant Manny and their loopy friend Fran. —Lauren Goldenberg
This is one of the more complex and beautiful tributes to Steve Jobs I have read. —Artie Niederhoffer
Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? I’m intrigued by this investigation on the origins of the Bitcoin. —Natalie Jacoby
I have a certain fascination with The Financial Times’s advice column, which I read with anthropological zeal. Agony Uncle Sir David Tang, “founder of ICorrect, globetrotter and the man about too many towns to mention,” pulls no punches on subjects of etiquette. Take last weekend’s question, from a reader who writes that, “I find that the classiest thing to do with shades is to push them up over your forehead. But it does get complicated if you’re using hair product.” Tang’s response is swift and unsparing: “To push your sunglasses over your forehead is pretentiously après ski and distinctly Eurotrash. It is also effeminate for men to do so. Only Sophia Loren could get away with it. So I don’t know what you are talking about when you call the habit ‘the classiest,’ which you seem not to be. And forget about hair product. There is a greater danger for those wearing a toupee or wig, as sunglasses could push it back to expose a large shiny forehead, reminiscent of that shudderingly shocking Telly Savalas.” —S. S.
Reading Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana is not entirely unlike being hit by an 18-wheeler. Two sentences in, there’s already a drug deal gone bad and a gun pointed at a dealer’s unibrow. Crimes never lets up (though bodies start piling up), but the real strength of the book is how Bill insists on giving three dimensions to life at the desperate ass-end of the American Dream—without once veering into romanticization or voyeurism. You sure as hell wouldn’t want to live anywhere near the towns in these stories, but you can’t help admiring the guy who’s been there and come back to tell the tale. —P. C.