My Thoughts on “The Dark Archive” by Megan Rosenbloom

A few months ago I picked up The Dark Archive by Megan Rosenbloom. I’m a big fan of morbid medical histories, and when I saw its lovely cover I knew I had to borrow it from my local library. Like any good nonfiction book, it taught me things and got me thinking.

This book is a deep dive into the curious study of books bound in human skin or “anthropodermic bibliopegy.” It’s a fascinating book that goes into the methodology of distinguishing real human skin books from other animal leather books, the history of how these books came about, and the eccentric characters who made and collected them.

 What really resonates with me as a librarian and history nerd are the discussions around the ethics of preserving or destroying such controversial material. I fall into the camp of thinking all history is worth preserving. Destroying what we find distasteful is the same as trying to destroy the past. We can’t reckon with things that we no longer have evidence for. This is especially important to me a black woman living in these United States.

Human skin books bring up uncomfortable questions for the medical profession. Most collectors were physicians in the 19th century who also provided the material leather from the corpses they managed to (ahem) acquire. In most of these cases, they were deceased patients or cadavers dug up by the local resurrectionist through unsavory means. These bodies are often unnamed, forever unknown. Their DNA was processed and scraped out of what remained of them. But still they remain, these nameless people immortalized against their will, their skin viewed as simple material to increase the value of their own collection. Their value remains in the illicit nature of these acquisitions, not the life they lived or who they were.

I like books that make me think. Medical history and its adjacent studies tend to do it for me. They make me question how things are.

If you want a good history lesson on this morbid medical topic, I say you should definitely give this one a read.

The May Book Review: From Couple’s Chicken to Supernatural Support Groups

To Have and To Hoax (Martha Waters)

As I admitted before in this post, I’ve completely fallen head over heels for the romance genre (or, more importantly, I’m much less ashamed to admit to being so). I started the month of May with finishing Martha Water’s To Have and To Hoax.

 It’s a book I had on my radar for a few months while looking into other romance books to read. I already had a few in my basket, so I put this on my TBR. This month, I finally picked it up.

The premise immediately fascinated me. Lady Violet Grey and Lord Audley James, the two leads of this story were the perfect couple when they married. But then a bad argument occurred, and we meet the couple again 5 years later who live in a frosty cohabitation under the same roof. The ice is broken when after Lord James falls off his horse and Violet rushes to his side, he tells her she really shouldn’t have been concerned. To give him a taste of his own medicine, she fakes an illness and shenanigans ensue.

The story ended up being a novel length game of chicken between the two. The lies and scenarios get more outrageous, and I loved every minute of it. It was a light, laugh out loud read with a lot of heart. It was just the thing I needed.

Evvie Drake Starts Over (Linda Holmes)

This book and I have been dancing around each other for a few years. When I was a bookseller a few years ago, it was one of the book club picks. I know that I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it didn’t seem like my cup of tea. But it ended up being May’s pick for my local book group so it feels like destiny.

 Evvie Drake Starts Over is about the titular Evvie Drake who, a year after her husband’s sudden death, is still trying to navigate her life as a widow in a town where everyone knows her. She takes in Dean Tenney, a former baseball player suffering the case of the yips (or the sudden inability to pitch after so long doing so) as a tenant in an apartment she has in her huge home. The two grow closer as the story goes on as they both find ways of healing and starting over (hence the title).

I was half-right in my initial assessment. I would’ve never picked this book up on my own and I probably wouldn’t have finished it if it wasn’t for the book group. The start of it was slow, bordering on meandering for me. That isn’t to say it isn’t a good book. It’s a very cozy read with characters that are quirky and flawed. The dialogue especially made these characters seem real and made me chuckle a few times.

This book is so unlike the books I count among my faves but I appreciate it for what it is. It’s a very cozy blanket of a book.

Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free (Sarah Weinman)

I try to read one nonfiction book every month (maybe even more when I really get in the mood). Scoundrel was last month’s.

The long subtitle tells you all you really need to know about this book but let me affix some names. In the 1960s, National Review founder, William F. Buckley Jr. begins a decades long correspondence with New Jersey death row inmate, Edgar Smith, who was convicted for the 1957 murder of Victoria Zielinski. During Smith’s time on death row, he worked to get himself a college education and expressed himself so eloquently in his letters that Buckley believed he couldn’t be responsible for the murder. After bringing him into contact with a Knopf book editor which brought on a passionate affair through letters.

This was a very bingeable history. The weaving of the correspondence in the narrative to make a cohesive story of this relationship makes it very engaging. Highly recommended if you’re into true crime!

We Are All Completely Fine (Daryl Gregory)

This is a quirky little horror novel.

A therapist brings together a group of people who endured supernatural trauma. Among their ranks is a retired monster hunter, a celebrity by way of being partially eaten by cannibals, and a maybe mass arsonist. Beneath the horror trimmings, this is a story about finding connection through similar experience. You can never predict what happens when volatile elements come together in one setting, but I loved the end result of this.

I don’t want to say too much more about this because it is a truly a book worth experiencing blind. And it’s a quick read too. No more than 200 pages.

So Currently…In a book club

I joined a book club. I attended my first meeting back in April.

As the cloud of the pandemic (very) slowly disperses, I found myself wanting to connect with people again. These last two years made my general reluctance to interact with people develop into a halting hesitation fraught with perils. I wanted to take steps to combat this fear. To connect with people with mutual cause and interest.

I did try a few online book clubs but I could never commit to them. It was so easy to just not open up the video conference app. I needed to get out and go to a place. To make it an obligation that I put time, energy, and mileage into so I looked at a few book groups at my local library and picked one.

I chose the group based on the book title they were going to discuss. The first ended up being the Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey. It’s a very thought-provoking book that I may talk about in more detail in another post. I was excited to talk about it.

But this was my first ever book group. Outside of school, I never sat down with a group of people to discuss my general thoughts on books so I was very nervous for the first meeting. I’m a bit embarrassed by the number of mini-pep talks I had to give myself before I made my way out the door to the library.

And…it was really fun! No one was more shocked than I was. I love hearing people talk with passion about an experience we all shared. I even shared a thought or two of my own which felt really empowering. I knew I would go again.

This book club is introducing me to titles that I would never pick up on my own. Here are some selections if you’re at all curious. I may talk about each of these at some length in future posts.

Monday Musings: My Problem with Romance Novels

I’m a hypocrite. Or, maybe I’m just growing up.

Talk to me ten years ago and I would tell you that out of all genres of literature, romance was my least favorite. High school me liked the dark, pretentious, and overall tragic elements of media–the more twisted the better. Romance was fluff and cute. High school me couldn’t stand that unless someone dies at the end. Or if it was an anime. Clannad was one of my favorite shows but if you know anything about Clannad, you know it gets pretty tragic, pretty quickly.

Talk to me five years ago and I’ll freely admit that I have soft spot for Victorian novels with sweeping romances (Wuthering Heights comes to mind) and Young Adult literature where a central theme is finding out who you are and the blossoming of first loves. But in the same breath, I would tell you that adult romances just weren’t for me. Have you seen those ridiculous book covers? You know, the ones with well-oiled bare-chested men embracing swooning damsels whose collars were suggestively askewed. How could you take those books seriously? I’ve never read one but I know what you’re about (I say as I eye the bookshelf and point accusingly). I don’t mind if romance is an element of literature, I says, it just can’t be the main thing.

These observations were so…wrong. Yes, wrong! I was wrong! These last two or three years especially have had me looking for comfort in my media. I like a good challenging novel, a thoughtful artistic movie, but lately, I’ve been craving media kinder on my nerves. Something that I could enjoy without thinking about themes or the implication of a narrative in a larger cultural conversation. Something that would just make me feel good.

And do you know what I turned to?

I turned to romance novels.

I turned to media about two people who fall in love and, by golly, may even get a happy ending.

Rereading Lore Olympus has done more to improve my serotonin levels than anything else these last two weeks. In between violent deaths in the Jenna Moreci Savior Series, I was rooting for those crazy kids to fall in love. I picked up Beverly Jenkin’s Rebel and saw how intricate and sexy a historical romance could be. Right now I’m reading Red, White and Royal Blue and wondering how Alex and Henry will make their romance work being two very high-profile and highly visible bachelors in the realm of US politics and the British monarchy. It’s the food I need. It’s giving!

My assumption about romance books was wrong. Assuming that all romance novels were just two people making out for a book’s entirety was spectacularly narrow-minded. I’m ashamed to admit that. Even though I grew more open to other genres once I started working at my library, I never thought to read a romance until about a year ago. I still ran on the thought that romances just weren’t for me after not bothering to read them.

Are there any genres you eventually came around to after being a naysayer for years? Let’s discuss!

My Thoughts on “Laziness Does Not Exist” by Dr. Devon Price

What I’m doing is probably antithetical to the book’s thesis statement of not trying to wring every ounce of productivity/work out of every experience to feed the social media machine, but I wanted to share my thoughts. And by practicing self-compassion, I needn’t worry over this point.

Laziness Does Not Exist shifted my perspective on laziness. When I first read the title, I was skeptical. Shelved firmly in the personal development section of my library’s Dewey Decimal system (158.1 if you’re at all curious), my initial observation on first reading the title was that this would be another screed on how to kick unproductive habits in the teeth. That laziness was a lie with a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps emphasis.

I see some value in these books–talks, podcasts, what have you–but I’m also burnt out on the hustle lifestyle that this media tends to advocate for.

But the book does the exact opposite.

Though I tell myself that my constant need to strive is a symptom of America’s unique capitalism, I still find myself criticizing my perceived lack of productivity. Sometimes after work, I veg out and watch Youtube all the while thinking I could be reading or writing or making better use of my time. I’ve bought in. I thought laziness was bad.

Price makes the argument that laziness is necessary. It’s our body’s way of regulating our mental exhaustion and clueing us into impending burnout. Ignoring these signals only hurts you in the long run and could also bleed into your physical health. Rather than combat it to be more productive, they argue that laziness should be embraced. We shouldn’t feel guilty if we take a whole day to sleep in our beds or do nothing but watch movies.

Admittingly, the book can be repetitive and could benefit from being more concise in its points. I often found the author made the same point over and over again in different portions of the same chapter. The first few especially were a bit difficult to get through but Price sprinkles in enough anecdotes to make it engaging.

I’m very happy I picked up this book.

Mexican Gothic (A Book Review)

True to its name, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia at its heart is a gothic story.

Like most gothic stories, it centers on an old house and a family with secrets in all its dark, secret passage. The story starts when the protagonist, Noemi Taboada, gets a letter from her cousin Catalina who recently married into the Doyle family and moved to their residence in The High Place. But something is wrong and Noemi goes there in an attempt to figure out what it is—a perfect gothic set up filled with mysterious potential.

I’m not sure what I expected when stepping into the book. I boarded the hype train with this one and thought I would settle into an unsettling tale in an unfamiliar setting. I also grew up on Gothic novels so I had some trope expectations that I was ready to check off. Beyond that, I had no clear expectations.

What I noticed first about the story was the dreamy way it was written. Noemi has a strong voice in the narrative, but the prose lingers on its descriptions. It starts a bit slow as it establishes the setting, making High Place as much a character in the book as the people who occupy it.  It also loves the big words that litter the narrative that the reader can trip over if they’re not used to it. (My favorite is “mandibular prognathism.)

As the story picks up, I became entranced. Its dreaminess is what I ends up hooking me into the story. This book has some excellent horror writing in its dream sequences. They’re filled with flesh like walls and other sorts of grotesque imagery that I won’t spoil here. Most of its horror of this grotesque nature. When night falls in High Place, the house seems to breathe and twist with the monsters that lie beneath.

And the monsters all around. I won’t say much on this point other than the characters in this book are really well written. Even as you detest them and they transform in every which way, I appreciated how they added to the horror.  There is some commentary on sexism, racism, and colonialism woven into this book’s themes. There’s discussions of control especially as it relates to the story’s female characters. This story does take place in 1950s Mexico. I’ll let that speak for itself.

If you like gothic or horror, I really think you should give this book a read. It’s admittingly slow for the first 30-50 pages, but if you’re patient you’ll be treated to something really special. This is one of my favorite books from last year and upon reflecting on the story and it’s themes, I feel that way more and more.

So Currently…(6)

Reading….

I’ve been doing this more than anything this year. I’m challenging myself to read more genres and more widely.

To this end, I recently finished Rebel by Beverly Jenkins. It’s the first book in her Women Who Dare series and my first ever adult romance book. And…I kind of loved it. The book is seeped in the intricate world of Reconstruction era New Orleans with all its racial turbulence and hope for the future all the while showing a love story that I wholeheartedly rooted for. I loved Drake LeVeq with his passionate pirate blood and the hellion of a schoolteacher, Valinda Lacy. They have undeniable chemistry and I was also intrigued how their loved fit in with the historical setting.

Another little chapbook I finished recently was Elizabeth Acevedo’s Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths. I loved every book I’ve touched by this author and this one is no exception. The poetry and verse in this explore Latin American myths and history and gives them a modern resonance especially as it touches on topics of racism, sexism, and the wider diaspora.

As of the current moment, I am reading The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar. It was easy immersing myself in the voice of the main character, Nishat as the book starts out with her coming out as a lesbian to her Bangladeshi parents and their not-so-great reaction to it. I can’t wait to see where this book takes me.

Watching….

A lot of Community. A coworker turned me on to it a few months back but I only recently got really into it. It’s a comedy show that messes with its form with every episode and I’m absolutely here for it.

Listening…

I’m rededicating time to my old passion of just sitting and listening to music. I’ve discovered a few artist and albums that I absolutely fell for. I finished the Hadestown Musical soundtrack and loved how it reimagined the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Imagining the underworld as an industrial wasteland was a pretty interesting take.

Julien Baker released an album called Little Oblivions. I love the album as a whole but my favorite singles are “Faith Healer” and “Heatwave.”

Japanese Breakfast also released the single, Be Sweet, that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. I can’t wait for the album!

Writing…

This among other things. I’m trying to get my thoughts together and put some organization into them. Hopefully, the fruits of that labor will show itself.

Happy Friday!

So Currently…(3)

Reading…

I’ve been reading more nowadays than I did in the whole of last month. I definitely needed lighter reads and on a whim, I decided to read Akilah Hughes Obviously. I really admire and respect her as a content creator and her biography was entertaining. I do have to admit that I wish there was more cohesion to how the book was structure. The beginning was great but the further in, I lost a little interest because the ideas seemed so random. I’m still happy I read it though!

Along with that, I recently started the novella The Black God’s Drum by P. Djeli Clark. I loved his book, The Haunting of Tram Car 015, and picked this one up because of the promise of sky pirates and African Orishas set in some steampunk post-bellum New Orleans. I’m only a few pages in but I’m hooked. I mean, how could I not, right?

Writing…

Oh yes, it’s actually happening this week. I always find editing and revision the most daunting part of writing (I know, doesn’t everyone). Right now, I’m reading through the first Grim History arc, Hunger & The Hanging Tree. Expanding and tweaking and retooling some of the plot points. I’m also starting to rearrange events to fit into the revised outline. After the first initial edit, I’ll go back and check for instances of passive voice and maybe get around to actually getting further into the second arc. A good way to procrastinate on editing is working on a point further along in the timeline.

Later in the week, I want to write a post actually discussing the specifics of this story rather than tease the title. It’s been two years so…

Watching…

I’m watching shows again. I tend to get into weird periods where I can’t bring myself to engage in TV shows or the like. Not due to lack of interest but due to my fear of commitment. When I watch things, I tend to get consumed by it if I really like it. Or can’t get into it completely because…I’m honestly not sure.

I’m currently watching Derry Girls which is putting out some absurdist comedy vibes that I can completely get behind.

I haven’t watched anime for a good while and now I’ve picked up three shows (two courtesy of Mother’s Basement Summer review list). Namely, Rent a Girlfriend (more character depth than the title will have you believe), The Misfit at Demon King Academy (comedy gold), and Fruits Basket (season 2 is giving me all the feels with its amazing character drama).

I hope you all have a lovely week ahead!

So Currently…(2)

Mourning…

The loss of Civil Rights Leader and Congressman John Lewis. He was such an important figure in the Civil Rights movement participating in the first sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March in Selma. When I saw the notification he died yesterday, I had to pause to take that in. I just wanted to take a few words to honor his memory.

Reading…

I finished Lakewood a few days ago and I’m still parcing out my feelings towards it. It’s definitely a horror book dealing with real issues of medical and financial exploitation of people of color. It was engrossing but was told in a very detached style. The character slips into dreams, nightmares, and conversations without transition. I need a lighter read! I’m not quite sure picking up The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton is it though. I’m strapping in for all the feels.

Feeling…

This’ll be a short post this week folks. I’m writing this at the tail end of a work weekend and I’m knackered (I had to get that British moment out of my system. Anyway…) But I wanted to write something and my black chai tea gave me the boost to sit down and write. Tea is the tactic I usually employ to get me in the mood for some productivity, no matter how fleeting.

I really hope you guys have a good week ahead.

So Currently…

Reading…

I’ve been picking up and setting down several books these last few weeks. I recently finished a cute little comic by Lucy Knisley called Stepping Stones which is semi-autobiographical about the author’s time adjusting to a new family and the New York countryside when she was young. It was a cute little book and I’m always a huge fan of Knisley art and comic style.

I’ve also been jumping back and forth between The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and Lakewood by Megan Giddings. The former is a tome of a nonfiction book about the period of the Great Migration, where black people from the South moved up North to escape the Jim Crow caste system. Lakewood is a bit of a mystery at this point. I want to classify it as some psychological horror involving science experiments and the like but I’m not sure of its direction yet. It’s intriguing though.

Writing…

I’ve very tentatively started trying to edit my Hollow Grove series. I just can’t seem to get myself in the right head space for them (or writing in general to be honest). But I rewrote the intro of the Grim History (which I count as a win :)) and have dedicated more of my daydreaming towards the Festival of Shadows rewrite.

And blog wise! I’m here! I’m writing!

In my life…

Since this whole pandemic thing started, I’ve gotten really into cooking. The bug has always been there if my Youtube history is any indication. Recently, I’ve been studying Korean and Asian cooking and have experimented with a couple of recipes and foods.

I usually fail when I first try things. I tend to absorb a lot of info and then go off the cuff when I make a recipe. The Bibimbap I tried on Friday was a little off. It was mostly the way I prepared the vegetables and the Gochujang sauce I got from Target was actually barbacue sauce which is embarrassing. The sauce tasted good but was way sweeter than I was expecting.

But a couple of wins for the week included some fried potatoes I made for breakfast, a tex mex bowl with all the fixings (this time I added fire roasted corn and green salsa which made a HUGE difference) and a strawberry mug cake.

I’ll be talking about cooking way more in the future because it’s become such a big part of my life and it brings me so much joy thinking about recipes and experimenting with things in the fridge.