Currently Reading: The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke
I hope you are all having a happy October! So far, I have celebrated by baking an apple crisp and visiting Edward's Apple Orchard with Nate, my dad, and my stepmom. What a great weekend. I hope yours was just as fun. I have a funny tradition that I started long ago and have kept up every year. Whenever a holiday or time of year rolls around, I tend to gravitate toward books that reflect it. By doing so, I feel I achieve a deeper appreciation and connection to the season and the world around me. My book is not an escape; it provides a deeper level of experiencing the season. And since it is finally October, it is time to read my autumn/Halloween books!
I absolutely love my October books. Autumn and October cause me to reflect on the world around me, on life, on death. My passion for meandering through cemeteries is increased tremendously as the days become crisp and the world prepares to "give up the ghost" and sleep for another season. While I enjoy searching out new books every year, I often use this month to reread my favorites, for reading these particular books at any other time of year just seems wrong. Many of the books are historical fiction, especially related to historic witch hunts. (My interest in the Salem Witch Trials is dwarfed only by my love of Irish history and genealogy). Others have creepy or mysterious aspects that lend themselves perfectly to a cemetery autumn read. (Note: I love to read in cemeteries. It's a wonderful way to enjoy nature, it's peaceful, and it's quiet. Call me crazy but there is something wonderful about cemeteries.) None of the books on this list are horror or thriller books, for I have never acquired any sort of fascination for those types of books or movies. Halloween (or Samhain, as the Celts called it) is not about murder or gore- it's about saying goodbye to the light season, remembering our ancestors, and anticipating the new year. So tonight, in honor of this wonderful month and the season which accompanies it, I give you my top "Celebrating Halloween, October, and Autumn" Book List in the hopes you will perhaps become inspired to pick one up yourself.
1) Salem Possessed by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum
A wonderful historical analysis of the events that led to the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. Boyer and Nissenbaum are two of the field's most eminent historians and they really know their research. Their argument is compelling and gives the witch hunts an entirely new perspective. I have read many books on the Salem Witch Trials and theirs is by far one of the best analyses of those terrifying nine months. A great read for the curious scholar who is looking for some shivers down the spine.
2) Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
I read this as an audiobook last autumn, which was a fantastic experience. Widow of the South is based on true events during the Civil War and beyond. The book is about a Southern woman named Carrie McGavock whose plantation home becomes a hospital for dead and dying Confederate soldiers after a battle rages near her hometown. Appalled by later efforts to disinter and dispose of the soldier's remains several years later, Carrie, who is suffering from terrible grief for her own losses, decides to have the soldiers' bodies brought to her plantation and creates a cemetery for them, which she tends until her death. While the battle scenes and soldiers' experiences are interesting, the most meaningful and haunting part for me were the book's heavy- and often heartbreaking- discourses on life and death from a Southern woman's perspective.
3) The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
One of my absolute favorite October books. Part fantasy, part Salem Witch Trial history, with splashes of genealogy thrown in, Deliverance Dane is about a PhD history student who starts researching one of her descendants after finding her "Physick Book." As she delves deeper into her family history, the main character discovers some surprising details about her ancestors and herself. The end is a bit over the top if you're not expecting it; however, I still relish reading it every year. My favorite memory with this book is from last year, finishing the final chapters as I sat on my mother's porch during a late October afternoon, the leaves outside quietly celebrating with me.
4) The Raging Quiet by Sheryl Jordan
Please read this book. I cannot stress enough how much I love this book and I am fairly confident that if you love books at all, you will at least enjoy this one. Historical fiction centered in medieval England, The Raging Quiet is about a woman and a man who were different- and then punished for it. (Don't worry, it has a good ending). Marnie is a farm laborer's daughter who marries the landlord in order to save her family's position. Raven is a man whom the local people believe is possessed with demons. Marnie discovers the truth and befriends him, which causes the local people to turn on her as well. I love this book because it causes the reader to understand and face fear- and not the type of fear that is often advertised through horror movies, but the real fear of what people can be capable of when ignorance prevails over reason. If you read anything from this list this month, please read this one.
5) The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A wonderful classic for the season and one that I read for the first time last year. While not my favorite of Hawthorne's (I prefer The Scarlet Letter but most especially Young Goodman Brown), this was nevertheless a creepy book that brings up many questions and musings about our ancestors. How much of their influence remains within us and to what extent? Can we ever break away from our families' reputations and legacies? I haven't read any scholarly discourse on this book, but I believe this book reflected Hawthorne's own haunting thoughts on the legacy and taint of his ancestors, especially since his great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, was one of the leading magistrates during the 1692 Salem Witch Trials (which is why Nathanial Hathorne changed his name). For a genealogy nerd like me, it definitely provokes contemplation, even long after reading it.
6) The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Another fantastic classic, especially for Halloween. The plotline is quite familiar even to those who have never read it, so I won't recount it here. It's a quick read, and often amusing, but the end is truly scary, awakening our deepest fears about darkness and the unknown. What did happen to Ichabod Crane?
7) Brides of Eden: A True Story Imagined by Linda Crew
This book does not seem at first glance to fit into my Halloween/October book list, but believe me, the creepy/chills down your spine factor is there from the start. Brides of Eden, based on a real event in the late 1800s, is about a man who came to a small town proclaiming to be the returning Savior. While it sounds almost amusing, this man ended up convincing almost the entire female population of a small Oregon town that he was both the Holy Spirit and Jesus, come to deliver them from the end of the world. Reading about the cult he ultimately created from the imagined perspective of one of the women inside of it is intense and horrifying. The sinister aspects of this story are numerous and the book will continue to haunt, long after you read it. Perfect for this time of year.
And my October books for 2011? Well, I cheated and started early, because I was just too excited. (I also decorated my house on September 15th. I go all the way.) :) This year, I am reading The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke, which is about an Irish woman who in 1895 was burned and killed by her husband, father, and other male relatives because they believed she was a fairy changeling. This is an absolutely true story; Angela Bourke does a phenomenal job presenting her research and making the broader connections between this event and other aspects of life, religion, and the political climate during this period of Irish history. Horrifying but addicting, this book had me from the first chapter... I am loving it. After that, I hope to try two new books: Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt and The Witch's Daugher by Paula Brackston.The first is a historical fiction account of a family living through a terrible witch hunt in England in 1612 (who is seeing a trend in my book choices here?), while the second seems to be a novel about a woman who is a witch and has been granted immortality but must reap the consequences for this gift. Both very intriguing; I am quite excited to dive in to both! Plans always change though, so The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane might be picked up as well. We will see! Let me know what your favorite spooky books are! Have a great week!