Halloween Reading — Ghost Stories


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This semester, I’m teaching a fairytale-themed seminar class, and my students requested we read ghost stories for Halloween. Though I’m no ghost story expert, I’m still happy to oblige! One of the class’s course goals is to introduce students to different cultures, so I’ve made it a point to include tales from around the world in every week’s reading. I’ve also made it a point to have only free readings; students pay too much for textbooks already! But I ran into a surprising difficulty — almost everything I could find summarized a ghost story rather than told a story. I try to stick to original source material in this class versus summaries or retellings, but I wasn’t completely successful this time around.

With these things in mind, here are the ghost-related readings I’ve chosen for my students.

The Medieval Origins of Halloween by Michael Livingston. But wait, this isn’t a ghost story! Nope. I wanted my students to learn a little about the origins of Halloween. It’s a quick, interesting read, and you get to find out how Samhain is pronounced. Okay, not the most important information from it, but I’ve been mispronouncing it!

 

No discussion of international ghost stories would be complete without the Japanese yurei. The image of the footless ghost haunts pop culture, but that image has an interesting history, which is discussed in Japanese Folklore: Maruyama Ōkyo and the Ghost of Oyuki. Electric Lit also published an interesting piece on yurei — Yūrei: the Ghosts of Japan by Zack Davisson.

 

 

 

 

If you hear a banshee scream, then you know a death is soon to follow. Banshees hail from Irish folklore, and I found this great chapter from True Irish Ghost Stories, which contains lots of micro-stories about banshees, among other Irish death-warnings. I’m only requiring my students to read the section on banshees, but the entire chapter is interesting.

Mural by Juana Alicia

The last ghost story my students will be reading is La Llorona, a Hispanic tale, also known as The Weeping Woman. It’s one of my favorite ghost stories. The image comes from a mural by Juana Alicia in San Francisco.

 

 

While these are the stories I’m having my students read, I plan on reading The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury, which I’ve never read before. It’s on sale for the kindle for only $1.99 right now, if you want to grab it. I forgot to mention that I’m offering extra credit if my students dress up for Halloween and can connect their outfit to a culture outside of their own. Fun, right? I’m dressing up too, as a character from one of the fairy tales I’ve had them read. I’ll post pictures of the class after!

What are you reading for Halloween?

Book Review of Faithful by Alice Hoffman


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Title and Author: Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Publication Date: November 1st, 2016

Genre: Contemporary Fiction. New Adult?

How I got it: Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review:

Shelby Richmond lives a typical teenage life, until one night she and her best friend Helene get into a car wreck. Shelby, the driver, survives. Helene is comatose the rest of her life.

Shelby falls into a deep depression, especially after a counselor at a psychiatric hospital rapes her multiple times. (If you can’t stand to read about rape, you want to pass on this novel. While it’s only a small part, a page or two, it is a traumatic read.) Despite the support of her mother, Shelby can’t rise out of her depression. The person who finally gets Shelby to return to a semblance of living is Ben Mink, the local teen pot dealer. Eventually, Ben and Shelby move to New York City together, where Shelby starts rescuing dogs. She also starts working at a local pet store. More than anything, animals help her to begin finding a purpose to life once more, though she still doubts herself and struggles with depression.

Throughout it all, she receives mysterious, anonymous postcards that encourage her to keep living, to keep trying, to find a reason to be happy.

I recently read an article about bibliotherapy, a type of therapy where counselors give clients books to help them work through their own problems. Disappointingly, to me, the therapists assign self-help books to their clients, not fiction. If I was a bibliotherapist, I would give my clients fiction. (I’ve since found several articles about bibliotherapists that do prescribe fiction, such as this one from The New Yorker. This article from Book Riot is also interesting.) Faithful would be a great book to give people who suffer from depression, or to their families. Maybe especially to their families. It’s so hard to understand where someone who’s depressed is coming from. Shelby’s constant self doubt — “Why would anyone be nice to me? I don’t deserve it.” “I don’t deserve him.” “I’m worthless. Why would they promote me?” — can be hard to understand for anyone on the outside. As someone with close family members who are clinically depressed, reading Faithful helped me to better understand their point of view.

One of the main points I think this novel makes is that you don’t owe the people who help you out of depression — or, for family members, the person you help doesn’t owe you anything. Your goal as a loved one is to help them be productive and find self-worth, not to make them stay with you, or be kind to you, or to be the person you wish they would be. I think that’s a difficult reality to face for people helping a clinically depressed loved one who finally finds a way out of that depression. You feel like you’ve given up a part of yourself in helping that person, and when they move on from you, or become someone different than you imagined, that can be really tough. That’s one reason I love Shelby’s mom. She loves Shelby unconditionally. No judgement. No disappointment.

This isn’t the kind of book I typically read, and I admit, I thought about quitting at the beginning. I like books with speculative elements: science fiction, fantasy, magical realism. The only other Alice Hoffman novel I’ve read had some magical realism elements (The Museum of Extraordinary Things). Faithful verges on a romance (though thankfully steers clear of a Nicholas Spark ending — which I was worried about for a bit), not my typical read. But right when I thought I’d stop reading, she rescues two dogs. And then I was hooked. I fell in love with Shelby. I no longer cared that there was no magic. Apparently, a character that loves animals is enough for me. (Okay, minor nitpick here, but all the dogs she rescues off the street are purebred. Um, street dogs are almost always mutts. Falling into the Lady and the Tramp trap there.)  Then she makes friends with a coworker and her kids, even though she claims to hate children, and I fell even more in love with her.

It’s weird; this novel has no discernible plot (unless you count discovering who is writing her those postcards, but Shelby doesn’t seem to really care to uncover that mystery until the end), yet once I got past the beginning, I didn’t want to stop reading. I also can’t tell if it’s adult or YA. New adult, maybe? The prose reads like YA, yet Shelby’s an adult for most of the novel. I just don’t know! Regardless, I enjoyed it, and I plan to buy it as a Christmas present for a fellow animal lover. Those who enjoy contemporary fiction and young adult will like Faithful, especially if they’re animal lovers!

Rating: 4/5

Reading Railroad: September’s Reading


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Everything I read in September. I didn’t finish much this month!

Novels

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco. To be published in March 2017. Tea discovers she’s a bone witch after raising her brother from the dead, but bone witches are both powerful and feared. Her life won’t be an easy one. While some teens will probably like this, for me, much of it became too obsessed with clothes and training and lost sight of plot. You can read my full review on Goodreads. Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. 2/5

 

Nonfiction

The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson. Published in 2001. Want to know more about hares? Well, this is the book for you. The study begins with a natural history of hares (did you know their young are called leverets? that they build ‘forms,’ or nests, on top of the ground as opposed to burrowing beneath the earth?), then it moves to human interaction with hares, and ends discussing myth and folk beliefs about hares. I originally believed it would mostly be a folklore collection, since I’d previously read one of the author’s works which was entirely folkloric (The People of the Sea: A Journey in Search of the Seal Legend). While that’s not what I found here, it’s even more useful for the current creative project I’m working on. 4/5

Short Story Collections

Uncanny Magazine Issue 12 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas. Published in September 2016. Collects 6 speculative fiction short stories, 4 essays, 3 poems, and 2 interviews. Read (free) fiction about creatures in the form of doppelgangers, fairies, and ghosts, witches, ogres and a brain. The essays pay homage to Star Trek, my favorite TV show (along with Dr. Who), and my favorite piece in the issue is a discussion of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. So interesting! Good issue overall. I’m going to go support the magazine by purchasing a subscription for next year now. You can read my review of the entire collection on Goodreads. 4/5

Individual Short Stories

All of these are free online, so click the links if you want to read them!

“The Second Bakery Attack” by Haruki Murakami. When newlyweds awake in the night starving, an unusual decision is made. Hilarious short story, and my first Murakami! Will have to read more. 4.5/5

“The Quidnunx” by Catherynne M. Valente in Apex Magazine (April 2016, reprint). Novelette. A forest and a meadow fall in love, one builds a village, the other builds forest creatures. The quidnunx is one of these forest creatures who just so happens to like the taste of humans. And, oh, the humans also like the taste of quidnunxes. As always with Valente, absolutely unique world, and prose with an ear toward sound. 4/5

 

 

“La beauté sans vertu” by Genevieve Valentine in Tor.com (April 2016). 19-year-old Maria is a model in an industry where model’s arms are replaced with looser, younger arms. She’s known as the Princess of Roses and Diamonds, and hints of the fairy tale Diamonds and Toads interplay with the hottest fashion show of the season. It’s an interesting read. 3.5/5

 

 

 

“Left Behind” by Cat Rambo in Clarkesworld Magazine (May 2016). A woman programs mind palaces for the elderly in a space ship, so their descendants don’t have to take care of them. A brother and sister bring in their elderly mother who isn’t exactly keen on the idea of living in a mind palace, and the programmer discovers the mother has a wonderful imagination and memory, far more complex than she’s ever experienced before. Interesting concept. 4/5

 

 

“Mine-wife” by Karin Tidbeck in Words without Borders (January 2015). Letters and artifacts are exchanged concerning an archaeological dig where dolls, or mine-wives, are placed at the entrances of mines. A village once disappeared there, and the archaeologists are investigating why. I like how this story is told in artifacts — letters and notes. Not sure I get the ending, but it’s still worth reading. 4/5