Friday Reads: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Sticks and stones may break my bones…

Do you remember reading The Lottery by Shirley Jackson in English classes in school? It’s the story of a town who comes together to throw rocks at randomly selected individual until they die in order sustain the well-being of their community. It is one of the “most famous short stories in American literature”. When it was written (and published in the New Yorker) a backlash ensued causing Jackson to respond:

“I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to show the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in the life lives.”

When I sat down to write today’s Friday Reads, I’d originally planned on telling you about another of Jackson’s works – We Have Always Lived in a Castle – but as I was preparing I listened to an old episode of my latest podcast obsession, This Podcast is Haunted, and decided to take this in a different direction.

Episode 18: Boy We Did Nazi That Coming (2017) was one I didn’t listen to as I originally binged the series. As a little girl I studied the life of Anne Frank – a little girl stuck in a horrific circumstance but still surrounded by those who loved her and always hopeful – and loved her. Because of this, sometimes hearing about World War II is too much for my gentle heart because it feels too close. I finally was ready today.

For those who aren’t familiar, TPIH is a podcast hosted by two women from Michigan. Cait & Jenn are bffs and you feel like you’re sitting in Cait’s barn with them as they banter about ghosts, their own lives, and the general mess America is in today. Episode 18 is about Nazi Germany in World War 2. A repeating theme of the episode was how MOST PEOPLE (except people like the Hyena of Auswitch, Irma Grese – shiver) aren’t naturally evil. It takes timing and circumstance to be manipulated so greatly that you are willing to do harm those around you. It is not in any way whatsoever ever a natural, human trait to want to put people into gas chambers and kill them.

It’s not easy to determine where Nazism began. We hear about the horrific things that happened and we say we would be on the side of the liberation. We would defend our neighbors. We would save lives.

“Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones.”

It’s happening again. Groups of people are being separated from their families as they try to seek asylum in the land of the free. Children are held in cages, not given food or medication. Our government is planning to ban most asylum seekers at the southern border.

“Well, now.” Mr. Summer said soberly. “Guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can get back to work.”

Who is standing up for these families? Who is defending liberty? Who is saving lives? Are we truly so busy with our daily lives that we can’t stop to defend those who need defending? We know this isn’t right?

Right?

Have we become so immune to racism, sexism, and classism that we are going to sit on the sidelines and allow this to continue happening?

“Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. ‘It isn’t fair,’ she said as a stone hit her on the side of the head. ”

I hope not.

What about when you don’t have time to read?

You know what I love when I don’t have some time to read? Listen to audiobooks & podcasts! I listen to audiobooks & podcasts when I’m driving, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, walking to work, and whenever I can. I get so excited when I can check out a new podcast!

Audible – Audible is awesome if you want to purchase an audiobook and keep it forever and ever. We often download Audible books for long car trips with our little girl who is now 5. It’s great to be able to listen to an entire book for a 4 hour trip there then 4 hours back. Some people don’t love Audible because it’s owned by Amazon and we all know the best place to buy books is your local bookseller, but Audible can be a great resource for when that doesn’t work for you. (ALSO! Because you are awesome and read my musings, Audible wants to hook you up with a free audiobook! Use this link to check it out!). I love listening to historical fiction as audiobooks (and real books, too!). My favorite to date is the Other Boleyn Girl, which I’ve listened to at least twice!

Libby – Speaking of getting books locally… Libby is hooked up to your LIBRARY CARD! How amazing is that? You can borrow books the same way you do by walking in to the library, but you do it using your phone! Audiobooks and a selection of “print” books are available (including children’s books!). #winteriscoming and soon I’ll just want to be snuggled up at home in my favorite blanket. When I finally get through my to-read-pile, I’m turning to Libby.

And finally, here are my most favorite podcasts!

Fictional

HistoryChicks

Lore

Myths & Legends

Strange & Unusual Podcast

WitchWave

And of course… HistoryCast!

And, because she’s the best ever, I’m including a photo of Poe listening to the Strange & Unusual Podcast with me while I fold laundry.

Little Free Libraries of Salem

Little Free Libraries! What a perfectly amazing concept – you read a book. You think it’s ok, but you know you will never read it again. You want to donate to the library, but they’re all stacked up (Get it? All stacked up!?) so you bring it home again.

Now what?

Well, what about a Little Free Library! These stations are set up all around our amazing city of Salem. Locations are listed below. You can place a book in for someone else to enjoy AND if you’d like, you can choose a book left by someone else to enjoy yourself! WIN/WIN.

Here are the current locations for Little Libraries in Salem!

  • Carrollton Street
  • House of the Seven Gables
  • Lappin Park
  • Lemon Street (on the Bridge Street bike path)
  • Mary Jane Lee Park
  • Oakland Street (North Salem)
  • The Ropes Mansion Garden
  • Salem Willows (corner of Columbus & Bay View) *has been taken down (temporarily?)
  • Furlong Park on Franklin Street
  • Patton Park (corner of School and Buffum Streets)

Definitely check out these little libraries and make a point to tell others.

Did we miss one? Has a new one been added? Let me know! BookWitchSalem@gmail.com.

The Audrey Look

Recently I read my four and a half year old (that half is SO important!) “Just Being Audrey” by Margaret Carrillo and Illustrated by Julia Denos.

We were so late to bedtime because I made time to go to yoga for the first time since October (thank you for the Fleetwood Mac class, Rebel Yell!). L was a bit wacky, but held up pretty well for a four year old who is an hour behind bed time.

My babygirl listening to Matilda while coloring and snuggling with Poe. ❤

Early in the book she noted a house – an illustration of the house Audrey lived in while in hiding in Holland during World War II – and told me it was The Witch House here in Salem. She pondered the page for a bit and decided the illustrator must not have had a black marker, hence making it brown. Later, after much thought, she decided it wasn’t the Witch House at all because it was missing a gable.

Being her mama, I was thrilled my baby recognized an important historic building in our community and using her deductive reasoning to reason out why it wasn’t the same structure.

Aside from this book she’s never heard of World War II or Holland, so her reasoning makes perfect sense.

Later in the book Audrey moves to New York City to continue her acting career. L speaks up saying some day she might also move there, but makes note that she wants to be a veterinarian – not an actress. We talked about how people in NYC have pets and she could be a successful vet there for sure.

The book ends with pages about Audrey’s incredible work with UNICEF – an organization that saved her life during her own difficult childhood. At this point L asked me to stop reading to inquire about other books about Audrey. She wants to know about Audrey’s children and her love of cooking. About her unique style that so many replicate today.

I let her know we can find out more at the library, but was adamant we buy the books so she can have them as her own.

This made me so happy. I’m certainly not someone who feels great about consumerism and it’s impact to our economy and daily lives, but the fact that my baby hears about an incredible woman who travels the world to save the lives of children and wants to know every thing she can about this woman’s life makes me so happy – so proud.

Musings: The Darkened Room

I LOVE ghost stories. I especially love Victorian ghost stories. I also love a good feminist manifesto. No surprise to anyone, then, that I was drawn to Alex Owen’s in “The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England”.  Its premise is that during a time of great oppression, women were able to find a sense of self and belonging in a masculine dominated society. Women of England were able to create jobs in support of themselves through Spiritualism, though women can be bound “into a paradigm of weakness, instability, inferiority, and social powerlessness” (p. 242).

First, a bit of history: In 1848 New York’s Fox sisters began communicating with the dead through various knocking sounds. The sisters – Kate and Margaret – were just 12 and 15 when they began “rapping” with spirits. After the American Civil War, people sought ways to cope with the deaths of their loved ones who never returned, and being able to communicate with them – though dead – gave families a great sense of relief. The sisters became successful in their mediumship, and the concept of women communicating with spirits spread around the country and across the ocean to England.

At the time, women lived their lives were as caretakers of the home. They managed the household and were expected to live extremely restricted lives revolving around their husbands and children. They were not expected to have much of a voice of their own, never mind the voice of a spirit. Once Spiritualism took hold, this all changed.

As Owen explains it, Spiritualism was a feminist movement allowing women an opportunity to channel (channel? get it! what? i’m funny!) their own energies to release themselves from the mold of a quiet, docile, housewife, to being famous. They traveled! People listened when they spoke! They made their own money!

Spiritualism spread. Women from all over the US and England became mediums; people from all over attended their seances. It was quite a time for ghost relations!

To learn more about Spiritualism in America, friends and I recently participated on a walking tour with Melissa at NowAge. Melissa brought us to a number of sights around Salem that were involved with Spiritualism: from a stop at the former home of Spiritualist disbeliever – Nathaniel Hawthorne, to a Spiritualist Church that still welcomes worshipers, and a Swedenborian Church, we learned a ton and visited some amazing places.

Going on this tour with Melissa was more than simply picking up some tidbits for Salem history nerdom, though. We met Melissa through a Tarot Tour she hosts (which is AMAZING) and love the energy she brings to our historic city. She’s a kick-ass history nerd and is part of the amazing New Age community here in Salem – modern witches who, among other things, read tarot, carry crystals, burn candles of various colors and shapes, and help others through Reiki. Melissa is part of a group of women who are all about embracing womanhood and using it to help make the world a better place. I can’t think of any better to wander around Salem with as we learn and consider the stories of women who were doing the same during the 1800s.

As I consider Owen’s take on Spiritualism – that women played a central role as mediums, healers, and believers in the late Victorian Era allowing them independence and to question gender roles of the time – I can’t help but think about the women in Salem who are working to bring back the spells of old – natural healing, teas and herbs, crystals and sage – and making them modern. Even though times have changed, women are still working to find “a sense of self and belonging in a masculine dominated society”. And I love it. 

I had a chance to sit down with Melissa at the Creative Salem office to chat about Spiritualism and why the history is still relevant today.  LINK COMING SOON!

Capture

They love you to death (FunDead Publications)

Last Sunday, I attended a book launch at The Witch House, and was thrilled to meet so many aspiring poets and the amazing women who created and run FunDead Publications – Salem’s own publication company. FunDead was established in 2015 and released their first publication (Shadows in Salem, by FunDead founder Amber Newbury) in 2016. They hope “to keep the age old art of story-telling alive and well in The Witch City.”

And, sure enough, they are.

At the former home of Jonathan Corwin, magistrate during the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692, FunDead welcomed a standing-room only audience for a book reading and signing. Their newest publication, Entombed in Verse, collects poems about Salem into an easy to peruse anthology. From the Salem Witch Trials, to ghosts who don’t know they’ve died, to appreciating the summer breeze at the Salem Willows, Entombed in Verse takes a look at various myths and legends surrounding The Witch City.

I loved the irony of listening to poems about Salem’s dark history at Magistrate Corwin’s house while I sat on the floor of his living space. All sorts of people – some wearing all black, some suits, some t-shirts and jeans, some (GASP!) shoulders showing. All sitting there listening to poems about the horribleness of Salem in 1692. And, to add salt to the proverbial fire, it was SUNDAY! No plotting-with-the-devil accusations today Mr. Corwin, not today.

After several of the poets (traveling to our little city from as far away as Florida!) read their poems to us, I ran about the room with my pink pen asking as many as I could find to sign my book. A few were surprised by my ask, saying they’d never signed anyone’s book before (and one dude was reluctant to use my pink pen! He finally relented and I got my signature…). It’s pretty amazing to be the first person ever to ask a poet to sign your copy of their book, and I hope to have that experience again.

FunDead has found a niche here in Salem – they are finding ways to reconcile Salem’s dark past with its witchy tourism and rich literary cultures.  I’m very much looking forward to their next release, “One Night in Salem“-  another anthology, this time taking the reader through time to experience the history of Halloween in Salem. I’m interested to know how FunDead pieces together tales of Halloween that are about more than pumpkins, witches, and candy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musing: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Confession: I didn’t know much about The Picture of Dorian Gray until just recently. I know it’s a classic. And one most people can recite the premise of at the drop of a nickel. Some classics just haven’t hit my To Be Read Pile yet.

P.S. There are lots of spoilers ahead… So stop reading now if you plan to read this book and wish to be surprised. 

I decided to read this novel based on my adoration of Penny Dreadful (I’ll explain in another post soon, but I LOVED this show – except the last episode). It’s one of only a handful of shows I will absolutely watch again. The others being Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Daria, and the Ghost Whisperer. What? I’m into campy: Embrace your weird.

I picked this book up at Wicked Good Books here in Salem, and hoped to gain a better understanding of Dorian. I wanted to know:

  1. How the paintings came to exist in his mansion.
  2. More about his trans friend, Angelique (was she part of Wilde’s novel?? How scandalous for the time!).

Upon beginning the novel, I immediately realized it lacked the supernatural element of Penny Dreadful. I admit, Dorian was a bored rich dude whose friend painted a portrait of him that was so well done he decided to SELL HIS SOUL TO THE DEVIL to remain beautiful forever. It isn’t until a third of the way through the book that this becomes obvious, though. We hear about Dorian and his escapades, prompted by his hedonist friend, Henry.  Some of Dorian’s travels are explained in detail (AKA: A trip to an opium den) while others are left to interpretation. While reading this, I was frustrated – COME ON, Oscar! Tell me something Dorian is doing! Why won’t his friends talk to him anymore? Why do people leave the club when he shows up? How can I judge him for wanting to look like a painting forever if I don’t know the deeds he’s aspiring to since it became possible? Why does Henry remain his friend if it doesn’t further his own efforts?

As for my questions?

The first is easy: Dorian’s artist friend found him so beautiful he had to paint him. Easy peasy, right? BUT WAIT! There’s more!

Regarding question 2, Angelique is never mentioned in the book. BUT there is a curious part of the novel in which the painter, Basil, admits to Dorian that he is in love with him and is worried his fondness for Dorian has caused trouble. Dorian, of course, being the person he is who is going around doing goodness knows what, seizes this opportunity to kill his friend. Dorian feels so powerful (having given up his soul and all) that his frustration with his friend asking questions about why their friends don’t want to chill anymore empowers him to murder his friend. PAUSEWAITWHATHOLDUP. That’s right. No Angelique, but Dorian stabs his friend soon after a love confession. Woah.

I love the liberty Penny Dreadful took with Dorian’s character. I love that they saw this opportunity to introduce a new character to the story who could further Dorian’s tales, but at the same time demonstrate that he did, in fact, have love in his heart. Widle’s character is so wildly (like my pun 😉 ) unlikeable, that I didn’t feel any sadness for him when he finally decided he’d had enough and killed his portrait, ummm … I mean himself. I literally rolled my eyes and thanked the gods that he finally realized the time had come to stop being so ridiculous and selfish.

Truth be told, I enjoyed this novel even though it wasn’t what I’d anticipated. I appreciated the Victorian history, and the perspective of men of the time who felt it was their duty to have money and leisure. I do wish I’d better understood it’s premise, though, and hadn’t expected a Frankenstein-style revelation, but that’s on me.