Not Enough Life for Too Many Book Series

It seems that lately every time I pick up a book I get mired in a book series—this has happened inadvertently with the last two books I’ve stumbled upon. I finished Camille Läckberg’s The Stonecutter last week, a very satisfying mystery, but when I later went to look up background information on Läckberg, I found out that The Stonecutter is a book midway through her Fjällbacka series. I put the first two series books on hold at the Brooklyn Public Library, but I know it’s wishful thinking believing that I’ll get to these novels before their due dates. On my bedroom floor is the new Jo Nesbø book from the Harry Hole series to review, the first of the George R.R. Martin series, and A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, a book I just picked up that I discovered is the first part of a series.

I’m not surprised by detective series; this is part of a long-standing tradition started by the originators of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. And even Arthur Conan Doyle got sick of his Sherlock Holmes character and tried to kill him off, but his readers wouldn’t let him. I am weary of seeing this trend in other things that I’m reading, though. A Great and Terrible Beauty is a young-adult coven novel that I’m about one hundred pages into, and I just found out that it’s a series book from the friend who gave it to me. Instead of joyously ripping through the book as I had at the start, I find myself going through the pages more slowly and evaluating the characters. Do I like them enough? Am I willing to commit myself to these people for nine hundred-plus pages?

Writers seem to be going more toward series for monetary reasons and to guarantee book contracts. I went to see British writer Glen Duncan read from his book Talulla Rising about a female werewolf, of which there are far too few stories, in my opinion. While sitting there listening, I discovered that Talulla Rising is second in a werewolf trilogy, and I’m leery of picking up the second book without having read the first, afraid I’ll have missed important parts of the story. When Duncan was asked whether he intended for his first werewolf book The Last Werewolf to be part of a series, he said, “I just wrote the book in the hope that somebody would pick it up. I told my agent at the time to pitch it as a trilogy, because well, if somebody was going to be dumb enough to buy one…” He meant this jokingly, but I really think the book industry is pushing this following the popularity of the Harry Potter series and others, hoping that lightning will strike two or five or eighteen more times.

Once Duncan’s trilogy pitch was accepted, he said, “I had not mapped out books two and three really in any way…after I finished the first book. That was sort of hastily scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet when the publisher got around to asking what this trilogy was going to be. I had the sense that it could be a trilogy, but it wasn’t until I actually made a deal, a three-book contract, that I kind of sat down in a sense of shock and thought, Oh right, now I have to write two more of these.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to you, Talulla Rising. I can handle a comic book series where the reading time is far shorter, and a movie that is part of a series is usually only a two- or three-hour time commitment. I can do a few TV series, but I have to be choosy with those. I don’t like to follow more than two or three series at a time. A book, though, is a much larger time commitment—just one can take twenty or more hours to read. I can usually get through a book a week, and if I were to follow through on all of the series books that I’ve picked up this year, the rest of the year’s reading would be planned out for me with no room for surprise. And I don’t want a fabulous character like Erica Falck or Patrik Hedstrӧm to take up residence in my head and then become like an annoying neighbor who won’t leave.

Boston/Salem Haunted Tours

I was in witch country this last weekend, celebrating Kristi’s birthday. First we were in Boston for a couple of days and then we went on to Marblehead where we stayed in the top story of a house built in 1710 while making day trips to Salem.

While in Boston we took a haunted tour, which I really enjoyed. I’ve been on two before–one in New Orleans that I think will always be my favorite and one in Philadelphia that was just so-so. It really does seem to depend on your tour guide whether the experience will be worthy or not.

The Boston haunted tour featured ghosts in the subway tunnels near the stop at Boston Common, ghosts (many) in the Common where they used to hang people, and a ghost that was seen in the Boston Atheneum by Nathaniel Hawthorne for two weeks running. There were also sordid details about the Boston Strangler and the true-life backstory of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” which is rooted in a live burial that took place in Boston. All in all, a solid tour.

Then we went to Salem, which I was already hating on from the minute we stepped in it, with haunted houses and exhibits resembling those you’d see in a shopping mall. I love the graveyards and the architecture of Salem, but the mall culture laid on top of all that history in order to appeal to the tourists–that was depressing.

Our last night in Salem we lined up for an evening ghost tour and our guide introduced himself as Silvus, his stripper name I guess. He gave some background on Salem complete with sound effects that were quite annoying and encouraged the audience to act as paparazzi. From there, we went on to the Salem Atheneum, and guess what? Silvus told the same Nathaniel Hawthorne ghost story but littered it with terrible pop culture references to tuna fish sandwiches and Tupperware. Our tour guide was more suited for bad stand-up comedy than ghost stories.

After that the tour was spoiled for me, and I didn’t believe anything Silvus said. Near the cemetery, where the most horrific witch execution occurred (a man named Giles Corey was pressed to death by boulders piled on his chest), Silvus began telling us about the man’s ghost. Supposedly he appears before something awful occurs, and then Silvus launched into a story that involved the ghost in September of 2001. I cringed, thinking this would eventually tie back to 9/11. Thankfully, it didn’t go there.

A little fact checking in our rooms at Marblehead proved that the atheneum haunting written about by Nathaniel Hawthorne did indeed occur at the Boston Atheneum. Once home in New York, I picked up Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables from the bookshelf and began reading. The novel begins with a witch execution and a curse while the townspeople spout hypocritical Puritan values, which I can still see going on in our country today. This was the Salem I had been expecting.

Gothic: Dark Glamour

When I was in high school I was part of the black-clad brigade and that trend has carried forward into my adult life. I wouldn’t say I was full-fledged goth; I just danced on the edge of it, occasionally winging my eyeliner. I love goth, though, and truly admire the kids I see parading down the streets with six-inch platform Gene Simmons’ KISS boots, lank dyed black hair with matching eyeliner, and shiny pleather, making that scritch-scratch noise when a person walks down the sidewalk in that armor. Goth is a wonderful facade to hide a world of insecurities behind–it says we’re all going to die, so what’s the point?

I went to the Museum at FIT to see the exhibit Gothic: Dark Glamour, which is supposedly the first exhibit dedicated to gothic fashion.
I knew the origins of gothic literature but not where gothic fashion sprang from. The exhibit begins with a few Victorian mourning dresses on incredibly small mannequins. The women then apparently weren’t any more than five feet tall with small sloping shoulders and tiny bird bones tightly corseted together. Huge veils and hats topped the outfits like exotic plummage with a swisthing bustle in back, which I imagine made a similar sound to that of pleather. There was a cult of mourning among young widows where the women weren’t allowed to wear anything but black for a year and then gradually could expand their wardrobes to include violets and grays. This cult of mourning was only available to the well-to-do widows–as my friend Susan says, “Goth is expensive”–but I like it that these young ladies were able to find a solidarity in death. And I don’t think it was trivial that they expressed this idea through fashion.

My favorite pieces of the exhibit are two dresses from Rodarte. A sister duo are behind Rodarte, which has grown incredibly popular in the last two years. There was a great article about the team in The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago, and the sisters seem like such innocent, unassuming creatures compared to fashion divas like Karl Lagerfeld and Donatella Versace. They remind me of the siblings from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, communicating in a secret, psychic language that only they can understand.