Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories edited by Leslie Shepard

It's that time of the year again when I looooove to read spooky stories.  Even though most of these stories will be posted after Halloween, I read them during the month of October.  Anyway, I think cold wintry months are the perfect time to read scary stories. 

The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories does not have a large selection but they were well chosen.  These stories are mostly of the traditional: vampires symbolize evil that attempts to seduce humans to damnation.  Each story is developed along the lines of a predator, the vampire, stalking their prey in order to maintain their own earthly existence while dooming others to the same fate.

The vampire myth provokes a lot of questions.  In the Bible Satan is described as a "raging lion seeking whom he may devour." (1 Peter 5:8)  His own eternal destruction is pending and he rages against it by attempting to turn as many people away from God before that time comes.  The epitome of railing against hopelessness and striving to destroy.

The legends of vampirism, however they originated, came to become metaphors of this spiritual battle.  That's one of the reasons why I enjoy them.  The other is because a well written spooky story is just plain exciting.

Authors include Sheridan Le Fanu.  His Carmella is here.  Carmella is probably one of the best written vampire stories ever.  It is not long but very creepy.  It is told in first person narration by a young, lonely girl who develops a friendship with another girl.  Le Fanu uses the writing strategy called first person narrator, audience omniscience.  This is where the narrator is unreliable but the reader can see what's going on.  You want to dive in the book and save the person from what you can see is about to destroy them.  

This is true for the narrator in Carmella.  She informs the reader of facts that allow them to form conclusions even though she seems unable to form those same conclusions.  I don't want to give the story away.  Just know it is a tale of high suspense.

Good Lady Ducayne is different from the others because it takes place in the 19th century in New England.  Mary Elizabeth Braddon writes using colloquial dialect, giving the story an "Americana" feel. It's hard to believe it is a vampire story.  In fact the word "vampire" is never used.  A woman, Lady Ducayne, lives in a house alone, does absolutely nothing for herself, yet manages to get men to marry her and women of the village to do all her cooking and cleaning.  Every last person who helps her gets sick and dies.  It takes way too many incidents of this type to happen before finally no one in the village will help her. 

Other stories are F. Marion Crawford's For the Blood is the Life.  It takes place in Italy and involves a poor gypsy girl who is murdered but comes back as a vampire.  She waits for a young man who passes by on a certain road each day.  He has just lost all his money and friends and must now work hard all day and return to his lonely house each night.  The young man knows this woman is evil but the temptation is too strong.  I think in this case the temptation is that he has been utterly rejected by everyone else and a person will accept evil love if wholesome love is not available.

A couple of the stories are very Victorian, in that they are more melodramatic than scary, but E.F. Benson's The Room in the Tower is one of my favorites.  The first person narrator, a man, has a recurring dream throughout his life that finally comes to terrifying fruition.

The only one I didn't really care for was Guy de Maupassant's story, The Horla.  The Horla was more in line with the science fiction approach to the supernatural.  Which is to say, they write stories explaining how what we take to be supernatural has a natural explanation: like, say, aliens.  (That was sarcasm, by the way.) The Horla is a superpowerful being that is higher up on the food chain than humans.  Therefore it is not immoral for them to prey on us.  Well, according to Maupassant.  If one believes humans are made in the image of God and therefore precious to him, it's called murder.

The final story is a narration about a supposedly authenticated vampire occurrence.  This I found not too interesting either.  While I enjoy the metaphor of good vs evil, I'm not going to lose sleep over the possibility that vampires exist.  

This is the first of several "spooky" books I am going to review.  I hope I entice you to read some of them.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell

This is the first book I've read by Malcolm Gladwell but I have a couple more in cue.  I hope they are all as interesting as this one.

Malcolm Gladwell is a writer for The New Yorker and is known for seeing common themes from a unique angle.  What the Dog Saw is a collection of essays about a variety of subjects.  Many of them informative about things I never really wondered about before but found interesting all the same.

Part one is about different people who became successful commercially by being the first to think of marketing something no one else considered.  The first essay is about Ron Popeil's development of a commercially available rotisserie machine.   The second is about the Heublein Company developing a variety of mustards when there was originally just the yellow option. Other essays include the lady who made bleaching hair acceptable to the common housewife and fascinating discoveries about birth control, pregnancy and breast cancer rates.  That last one was especially interesting.  Apparently the less periods you have, such as when you're pregnant, the lower risk you have for developing breast cancer.  The last is probably the most interesting.  It is about the "dog whisperer".  A man, Cesar Millan, who is called in to train spoiled, mean dogs.  I learned a lot about my own dog's behavior.  My husband, Josh, now uses the "nip" on my dog Odie, to correct his behavior.

The second part is about law breakers:  Enron, helping the homeless by providing them homes because it's cheaper than putting them in jail, how ineffective mammograms are and just when exactly is something plagiarism and is it always bad?  The most interesting of these essays for me was The Art of Failure, why some people choke and blow it, even when they are experts at their field.  The last chapter is also interesting because Gladwell shows how major mess ups like the Challenger Explosion cannot be traced to any one cause but a number of unrelated incidents that make it impossible to circumvent such accidents.

The last part is about intelligence and how people use it.  One interesting chapter was about so called "experts" who supposedly can predict finding criminals.  How do people hire the right person, how accurate is criminal profiling and "What Pit Bulls Can Teach Us About Crime."  Being a dog person, I especially liked that last one.

In all of these essays, Gladwell provides thought-provoking observations that cause the reader to rethink a variety of attitudes that he or she takes for granted as well as provide information for the origins of other things that I personally had never pondered but enjoyed learning about.

I look forward to reading my other Gladwell books.  He also has some interesting speeches on youtube.

Malcolm Gladwell's speech at Googles Zeitgeist

Monday, October 20, 2014

Log Cabin Deep in the Heart of Texas Honeymoon chapter One

After getting married June 28th Josh and I left Longview for Central Texas.  We drove down to about twenty miles south of Austin, off the beaten tracks onto a ranch where we spent a couple of days in a log cabin.  It was built in 1840.  The owner had found it abandoned on some property out in west Texas and brought it back.  He and his wife renovated it.  He added a iron wrought roof, put electricity and air conditioning in it but hid everything so the look is primitive but with all the comforts of our modern time.

His wife filled the house with period furniture and antiques.  All the lights were original oil lamps that were adapted for electricity.

I must admit that the nights were very dark and a little spooky.  We would sit out in a swing in the lawn and see wild hogs running around the house.  Luckily the cabin was surrounded by an old wooden fence.

It was peaceful sitting on the swing at night listening to the night sounds.

Strictly speaking, our log cabin was a bread and breakfast.  We arrived to see the table and refrigerator stocked with all sorts of treats like muffins, cereal, cookies and milk.  The refrigerator is hidden beneath the curtain dress around the sink, in the upper right hand corner of the above photo.

This is the staircase to the second floor.  The above photo shows the door to the stairwell.  Below you can see the stairs which are little more than a ladder nailed to the wall.

The first night we stayed in the upstairs bedroom but it was too inconvenient having to go up and down through the night (something I am prone to do, plus it was scary- was the ax murderer waiting below?)

The following photos are of the bedroom on the second floor.

Downstairs kitchen and living room.

The animals were used to people.  Once we brought oats for the donkeys but they became too aggressive.  It's not fun being chased down the road by donkeys, even if they were little.

In walking distance from the cabin was a river.

All in all.  The couple of days we stayed there were very peaceful.  Much needed after all the hectic preparations for a wedding.  The rest of our honeymoon was spent in Europe.  I'll show those photos in the future.