April in books

I’m trying to do more with the books I read, since I have pretty severe rules about what I’ll let remain on my instagram. I would much rather consider myself to have failed somehow (book covers not interesting enough, titles not new enough, even not being likable enough) than to consider that people only care about maybe five popular commercial (mostly male) horror authors. I would rather it be my fault. And I also just can’t stand having proof that if I post a Stephen King novel, people cannot like it fast enough, and otherwise, just fuck off with that and post some more photos of you posing with a vhs that has a rabid fan following … and a lot of the same rules seem to apply to that world, too. It’s depressing and it makes me tired.

Anyway. Here are the books I read in April, with a blurb about each.

Plain Bad Heroines. Hmm. There were a lot of things I liked about this, and I fully intend to send my wip to Danforth’s agent since apparently she likes that sort of thing … so I want to avoid anything too negative (yes, honesty unless it adversely affects ME, haha). I mean, I live for meta shit and horror movie references, obviously, but I guess I expected more of a conclusion for something I think we’re supposed to consider a commercial horror novel. Maybe there’s meant to be a sequel or something?

I love Sarah Lotz and so since we can’t have the conclusion to The Three series … apparently, ever, I’ll settle for this creepy tale lampooning ‘dark tourism’ vloggers like what’s that dude who did something horrendously tasteless in Japan’s suicide forest?? It’s also a bit self-referential as her own writing at times skates close to ghoulishness – in the best possible way, of course. Her writing is that type of unsentimental which often borders on sadistic and there’s a really mean part of me that vibes with that. But I also love how good she is at creating genuine human beings who are flawed but who often aren’t nearly as lacking humanity as they think they are. I was also really into how the book incorporates Third Man syndrome, something I had never heard of, with how some people push themselves to the limit of human endurance – and beyond, and it often still isn’t enough. The conclusion did feel a little rushed, but it felt a lot like horror movies I really love where a character is drawn to do something incredibly stupid and dangerous and then survives – only to be unable to resume their normal lives.

Be Not Far From Me was possibly my favorite so I feel bad I drove people from my Instagram post by suggesting it’s much better than The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (which is actually the only Stephen King book I don’t find to be at least mildly repellent, but people have figured out by now that I have that whole irrational grudge and it understandably makes them uncomfortable). Plus, maybe it was unfair, as the only real commonalities are getting lost in the woods. There isn’t a supernatural factor, it’s just an inspiring survival story that reminded me (especially in one key scene) of reading Ellen Emerson White’s Long Live the Queen as a kid and thinking both, I could do that, if I had to, and there’s no way in hell I could do that. Unfortunately, that’s often how I feel about really badass female characters … I’m realistic enough to know I would probably just sit on a log and wait for death. But I suppose you could also look at stories like these as a warning against living for another person, and not for yourself.

Witches of America felt really personal. I read Mar’s article comparing the Slenderman stabbing to the Parker-Hulme murders and was so impressed with her voice, so I sought out this book and didn’t get anything near what I expected. Witches of America is an immersive journalist’s examination of her own need for something beyond the pragmatic, and the seen. Weirdly, I mostly gave up exploring witchcraft because I couldn’t get along with the small community here, and am basically lazy. I am not cleansing anything or spending a shit ton of money on supplies. Instead, I rely on sympathetic magic that verges more on compulsion than spirituality, and I have only gotten what I wanted on very few occasions, so what good is it, anyway? But I was compelled after reading about Mar’s journey to at least read a few basics I either never got around to reading, or read several decades ago.

Roses and Rot was a fun, fast read incorporating fae mythology. Fans of Holly Black will probably enjoy it. I immediately queried her agent, as I have some similar genre elements but so far, I have not heard back. It’s getting to the point where I don’t even get the form reply anymore. And yeah, I’ll admit – there have been instances where I don’t see what’s so special about something I read in a couple of days. But I guess that’s why they always include that line about tastes being subjective. I do have the Cathedral of Myth and Bone as well. Maybe I will find that more compelling.

A Hawk In The Woods – unfortunately, sometimes the opposite happens, where you have queried the representative of an author you can clearly see is superior to you. Which doesn’t make being objective any easier. I mean, I really do, all snark aside, try to be fair and behave like an adult, mostly because I’m female, and I want the real complaints I make to be taken seriously, and people tend not to believe anything you say if you’re too clearly vindictive a person. At the same time, though the writing is superior, I have a difficult time with literary horror to where, I’m not even sure I care anymore that what I write is just dumb genre trash. Because to be honest, I enjoy reading that more. And not that it’s easier to read, which is very often the case, but just because I want a digestible plot, and that’s just how it is. That being said, A Hawk In The Woods has a digestible plot and it was mean-spirited in that perfect way where, I knew where the story was going, but I think you’d have to be as pragmatic and self-serving a person as I clearly am to get there before the character does. I think this ended up being my favorite after Be Not Far From Me but I think I should give my copy to a friend rather than hoard it since I probably won’t read it again.

A Long Fatal Love Chase at least gave me some hope that I should heed my editor, who advised me not to do another rewrite on vague rejections. Actually, I hired her because almost everyone said the old version did not grab them in the feels. Ironically, while I love that the book now has a proper, and very genre trope-y ending, which I would not have come up with if not for the rewrite, I continue to get the ‘this didn’t resonate with me emotionally’ pretty regularly. I also enjoyed the headstrong character, and love even more the story of her creation – Alcott, like Jo, apparently travelled to Europe as a companion, but when a man she met preferred the woman she was companioning, she just quit. That is great. That, honestly, sounds like something I might have done at that age. Ditto needing a commercial success. Which I probably would have no chance of if I were smart enough to be literary. Or that’s what I tell myself, anyway.

This leads me to Pine, whose agent makes it clear that I should not bother, ever. Well, mostly because she is uk and they often discourage submissions from authors not also in the uk but also because it is quite clear now that if my writing is too spare, it’s not emotional enough, and if I put some feeling into it, that makes it immediately geeky, in an unendearingly, genre-y way. Yet … I really loved the writing and atmosphere of Pine. Loved it. Wanted to live there. But the plot was weirdly unoriginal. I expected something more or different. But maybe that proves my point: that the only difference between literary and commercial horror is the presentation.

Which brings us to Come Along With Me. I did this as part of my posthumous theme, and was impressed as usual, but what really struck me this time is how the sort of unpresumptuous feminine – the pressure on women not to make a fuss – is often presented in Jackson’s work as this sinister and unrelenting tide. We’re swept along, and dumped out in the rain, in strange places – because we didn’t want to complain. And only if our partners finally die are we ever granted a small measure of freedom. The irony of this collection being put together by her wretched cheating husband does not escape me, of course. And there is some good writing advice here as well, which I remembered to implement in my own wip for about a day and a half before I drifted back into the inertia of bad habits.

So! That’s the month in books. I think from now on, I will only use wordpress for this purpose as I have a place for movie reviews already.

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