Mixtapes

Literary Mixtape | The Library at Mount Char

As an alternative for a review, synopsis, or anything of the like, I decided to create a soundtrack for the book. Please note that quite a bit of this is intended to be playful and irreverent. I’m rarely serious and this post is no exception.

The Library at Mount Chair by Scott Hawkins is an…unusual book. It doesn’t defy explanation, exactly, but it’s pretty close. I feel like anything I say about the novel would be a disservice. Here’s a quick synopsis, just know that the book is much better than I make it sound.

Carolyn is a librarian. Not the kind you’re thinking of. She and her siblings were adopted by Father when they were quite young. Now Father is missing, and it’s up to her and her fellow librarians to find him. But there’s no need to worry, Carolyn is a planner. She has plotted for just such a contingency, if only she could remember what it was like to be an actual human.

I know I haven’t really told you anything, and I’m not going to. If you enjoy an odd novel, give it a go. I absolutely adored it.

01. One is the Loneliest Number // Three Dog Night.

“Carolyn rose and stood alone in the dark, both in that moment and ever after.”

02. Stranger // Devil Makes Three

“The moon was still up, still full. Americans called this time of year “October” or, sometimes, “Autumn,” but the librarians reckoned time by the heavens. Tonight was the seventh moon, which is the moon of black lament. Under its light the shadows of bare branches flashed across her scars.”

03. I Think I’m Paranoid // Garbage

“That’s the risk in working to be a dangerous person,” she said. “There’s always the chance you’ll run into someone who’s better at it than you.”

04. All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands// Sufjan Stevens

“No real thing can be so perfect as memory, and she will need a perfect thing if she is to survive. She will warm herself on the memory of you when there is nothing else, and be sustained.”

05. Holocene // Bon Iver

“As the days and weeks and seasons wore on he found himself repeating this nothing, not wanting to. Gradually he came to understand that this particular nothing was all that he could really say now. He chanted it to himself in cell blocks and dingy apartments, recited it like a litany, ripped himself to rags against the sharp and ugly poetry of it. It echoed down the grimy hallways and squandered moments of his life, the answer to every question, the lyric of all songs.”

06. Black Hole Sun // Soundgarden

‘”How long before he’s the sun?

“I’m not sure. At least a couple of hours. I’ll come back and fix the orbits later. Can’t have these wee little marbles bumping into one another, can we?”

Steve, who was a plumber, spoke through dry lips. “No, I guess not. When does he turn bright and yellow?” Her face fell a little. “Well…he doesn’t.”

“What do you mean? He’s going to stay like that? All black, like?”

“Yeah, It’s a plane-of-anguish thing.”‘

07. Salute Your Solution // The Reconteurs

“Before I move closer towards my vision of the Buddha, I would respectfully plead that you adopt a stance of compassion towards the small things of this world.”

08. Seashore // The Regrettes

“Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78. Most of the librarians, Carolyn included, had come to think of this road as the Path of Tacos, so-called in honor of a Mexican joint they snuck out to sometimes. The guacamole, she remembered, is really good.  Her stomach rumbled. Oak leaves, reddish-orange and delightfully crunchy, crackled underfoot as she walked. Her breath puffed white in the predawn air. The obsidian knife she had used to murder Detective Miner lay nestled in the small of her back, sharp and secret.

She was smiling.”

09. Raise Hell // Dorothy

“For all intents and purposes, the power of the Library is infinite. Tonight we’re going to settle who inherits control of reality.”

10. The Sky is a Neighborhood // Foo Fighters

“It’s the notion that the universe is structured in such a way that no matter how many mysteries you solve, there is always a deeper mystery behind it.”

Anyone read The Library at Mount Char? Anyone love it as much as I did?

Miscellanea

My Year in Nonfiction | Nonfiction November

It’s Nonfiction November! I am so excited to be participating for the first time. Life is typically too hectic for me to feel like I can meaningfully join in, but this November looks to be quieter than usual. It’s an entire month dedicated to the celebration of nonfiction. I’ll be discussing a new topic each week, based on the prompts provided by the hosts. Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is hosting week one.

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors.

”I do not so much seek anything as allow the world to come to me, allow the days to unfold as they will, the dramas of weather and wild creatures. I am most at peace not when I am thinking but when I am observing. There is so much to see, a pleasing diversity of landscapes, all of them always changing in new weather, new light, and all of them still and forever strange to a boy from the northern plains. I produce nothing but words; I consume nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. By being virtually useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.”

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

For nearly a decade, I was a botany librarian. In 2017, I took a new position as a more general science librarian, but for years, I read mostly nonfiction dealing with the natural sciences. This included botanical exploration, climate change, drought, birds, trees, etc. You might think now that it’s no longer required as part of my job, I would’ve branched out, but…nope. The wilderness keeps calling. So aside from I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and Black Flags, Blue Water, I’ve read exclusively nonfiction about the natural world. I am nothing if not a creature of habit.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

This depends on the context. In my personal life, I’ve recommended Fire Season and John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire quite a bit. Professionally, I really push Terry Tempest Williams’ The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks.

“This is what we can promise the future: a legacy of care. That we will be good stewards and not take too much or give back too little, that we will recognize wild nature for what it is, in all its magnificent and complex history – an unfathomable wealth that should be consciously saved, not ruthlessly spent. Privilege is what we inherit by our status as Homo sapiens living on this planet. This is the privilege of imagination. What we choose to do with our privilege as a species is up to each of us.”

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

To answer the first question, I’m not sure. Because I don’t read much in the way of nonfiction, I am not quite sure what I’ve overlooked. This leads me to the second question. I am hoping to get the lay of the land, so to speak. To find out what other people recommend, how they pair fiction and nonfiction (perhaps I can work backwards and select a new to me nonfiction book based on a novel I enjoyed), and what I’ve been missing.

 

Lists

I Hate the Way I Don’t Hate You

There’s not much more terrifying than that image. The full list is older (image borrowed from there), but worth a gander.

Choosing the worst of the worst is HARD. Because Voldemort is bad, no doubt, but Umbridge may be worse. Sauron is pure evil. Hannibal is not only a cannibal, but a snob! There is so much potential here, I don’t want to get it wrong*.

The Shark (Jaws by Peter Benchley). If you want to talk about pop culture influence on a generation, this is a prime example. I’m sure people were always scared of sharks, but that movie causes a visceral reaction at the mere sight of a fin.

Randall Flagg (The Stand by Stephen King). Because there’s needs to be at least one Stephen King character on a list on villains.

Annie Wilkes (Misery by Stephen King). And in this case, there are two. The axe…

Pennywise (IT by Stephen King). Okay, so there’s three, but I couldn’t NOT include a hideously scary clown/spider/entity.

Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray). On one hands, she really gets shit done. On the other… My goodness, have a heart.

Corrine Dollanganger (Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews). Because she really is quite awful. She was supposed to take care of them!

Cathy Ames (East of Eden by John Steinbeck). She’s just ghastly.

Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte). You cannot use love to excuse all your bad behavior, so Heathcliff makes the list too (being vicious and devious and all).

Mrs. Trunchbull (Matilda by Roald Dahl). Calling her the meanest school principal ever is a bit of an understatement.

And the list would not be complete without an Austen villian, because nothing screams scary like a good cad. So I give you Henry Crawford** (Mansfield Park by Jane Austen).

Which villains terrify you? Are literary characters even capable of scaring you? Find more of the worst villains here.

*I suffer from the idea that if I can’t do something well, I shouldn’t do something at all. It’s terrible and untrue, but no one fails to ignore my sage advice more than me.
**I find the older I get, the less tolerance I have for truly evil villains (like in American Psycho or The Wasp Factory or Blood Meridian), horror movies, and the like. Apparently I scare easily these days. I did just finish watching A Quiet Place though, and I didn’t have to avert my eyes once!

Reviews

In the House in the Dark of the Woods // Laird Hunt

“Once upon a time there was and there wasn’t a woman who went to the woods.”

In this dark fairy tale set in colonial New England, an unnamed puritan woman sets out in the forest to pick some berries for her husband and little boy. She does not return. Perhaps she’s lost. Or perhaps she’s fleeing her tyrannical husband and eerily quiet son. Lost, alone, and injured, she is rescued by a woman – Captain Jane – wrapped in the pelt of a wolf. She takes the Goody to Eliza’s charming stone cottage. But in the house in the dark of the woods, all is not as it seems.

On the surface, this is the story of a woman who is lost, wandering in the woods. She is a wife and mother, she wants to return to her family. Page by page, her journey gets darker the deeper she goes into the woods. She runs into things both fair and foul, beautiful and strange. Hunt’s prose is meandering and lyrical, with searing descriptions.

“Its scratch was like the dry sparking of a flint and a page with fresh marks on it like a blazing porcupine. A tale written down must be like that, I thought. It must be like the block of wood of the body sprouting tiny tongues of fire and who knows where the next one will rise and burn.”

Laird Hunt’s novel is filled with a dream-like terror – beautiful, huge swarms of insects, a water well most foul, a ship made of skin and bones, a watchful master – and filled with witches. Yet it is not terrifying. Is it filled with a building, pervasive dread? Yes. Does it frighten? Yes. This chilling fairy tale is tempered by its lovely, quiet prose and the slow revelation of the nature of these complicated women. In the House in the Dark of the Woods will haunt you, but you might just be grateful. Highly recommended.

*I received review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

Reviews

The Witch of Willow Hall // Hester Fox

(It always starts with a Bishop, does it not?)

Boston, 1811.

What if your temper got the best of you, to disastrous results? What if you didn’t know what happened, only to find a boy beaten and bloody at your feet? What if you were only 8 and told it was best to never speak of the incident again? Lydia Montrose, though scared and confused, does what she is told.

New Oldbury, 1821.

Ten years later, the Montrose family flees Boston thanks to the scandalous accusations leveled at them. Only this time it isn’t Lydia’s fault. Relocating to grand, yet isolated Willow Hall seems to be just what the family needs. While the countryside (and a certain handsome neighbor) is idyllic, the expansive home’s atmospheric is malevolent, especially to Lydia and Emeline. After a terrible tragedy strikes the family, Lydia needs to discover who she truly is, if she has any hope of rescuing herself and her family.

What a perfect autumn read! The Witch at Willow Hall* is Hester Fox’s debut novel and I loved it (not to put too fine a point on it). Featuring a strong female lead, a malicious sister, mysterious apparitions, an eligible bachelor, and secret family histories, there’s plenty to keep the pages turning, without being overwhelming. Equal parts gothic mystery, historical fiction, and ghost story, this is a book best read when the leaves are changing and the wind is howling.

Or whenever it strikes your fancy.

What do you consider a perfect autumn book?

*Review copy provided by Graydon House via Netgalley.

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