The Dead Travel Fast by Eric Nuzum

In his “Ridiculously Unnecessary Author’s Note,” Eric Nuzum makes sure the reader understands that although the events are real, some scenes are composite scenes; however, these composites do not change the basic facts. He also changes the names of real people and alters a few facts about these people so they won’t be embarrassed. Nuzum does make it perfectly clear that:

This is not a James Frey thing, I do not claim to have spent time in jail, saved drowning kittens, prevented a revolution, or whatever.

It is what it is.

The Dead Travel Fast simply is one of the most refreshing and hilarious books on vampires and vampire lore that I’ve read in some time. What began as a desire to write a history of the vampire soon turns into a quest to experience the vampire in all its cultural forms. Nuzum examines the vampire movement from top to bottom, juxtaposing fact with humor to look at why we are so fascinated by the vampire.

Nuzum informs the reader of the making of the novel Dracula and intersperses history with one of the most entertaining travelogues I’ve read in years. If you read nothing else, you must read the chapter entitled “I Don’t Believe in God: The Crucifix is to Keep Away Vampires” where the author travels to the land of the vampire and along the way deals with dog attacks, floods, possible amputation, and running out of hand sanitizer. Nuzum goes to Transylvania on a Dracula-themed tour with some unpredictable results.

It’s not all fun and games; Nuzum knows when to get serious as he chronicles vampire-themed murders across the globe. As the outsider looking in, he assesses the Goths who feel empowered by the vampire lifestyle they seek to emulate. Nuzum attends Goth clubs, Buffy the Vampire marathons, and haunted houses in his quest for what it means to be a vampire.

Check out the undead and the company they keep.

My rating:

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Writers Workshop of Horror edited by Michael Knost

Writers workshop of horror So you want to be a horror writer . . .

Then you must first understand the genre and learn techniques from masters of the craft. The Writers Workshop of Horror places the expertise of some of horror’s finest authors at your fingertips, and Michael Knost has organized an informative collection of essays and interviews about the craft of writing tales of dread.

The Writers Workshop begins with Elizabeth Massie’s excellent piece on “Creating Effective Beginnings” and follows the process of crafting a short story or novel through Brian Yount’s “Ten Submission Flaws That Drive Editors Nuts.”

The essays aren’t dull, because each of the authors imbues his or her own special stamp on subjects ranging from voice to editing. Jeff Strand’s essay on “Adding Humor to Your Horror” was crafted with Strand’s wit, and I found myself enjoying his writing so much, I forgot he was teaching.

I was doubly delighted with both an essay and an interview with Ramsey Campbell. Mr. Campbell writes about rediscovering “awe and supernatural dread” with his essay “The Height of Fear.” Using such masters as Edgar Allan Poe, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, M.R. James, and other great authors, Campbell teaches the student of horror how to utilize prose to evoke sublime terror for the reader.

Michael Knost also interviews Mr. Campbell, giving him the opportunity to expound on the craft of writing horror. If Ramsey Campbell’s dark tales aren’t your speed, check out Gary Frank’s interview with F. Paul Wilson, who gives some nice tips about writing a series.

Tim Deal interviews Tom Piccirilli, who talks about the business of writing, and if you’re a Tom Piccirilli fan, you don’t want to miss Mr. Piccirilli’s essay on “Exploring Personal Themes.”

Lucy A. Snyder conducts an illuminating interview with Clive Barker where Mr. Barker discusses everything from collaborating on screenplays to his personal writing process.

The Writers Workshop was fun for me to read as a fan, because each author’s love of writing shined with his or her essay. While the Writers Workshop is about writing horror, the techniques and advice these ladies and gentlemen impart to the reader are applicable to all genres.

Good writing is good writing, and if you want to know how it’s done, listen to the masters.

My rating:

‘Tis by Frank McCourt

     After Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, one of the bleakest books I’ve ever read, I wasn’t sure what to expect from ’Tis. Frank McCourt was born in New York City, but moved back to Ireland with histis family as a small child. The fact that young Frank, at the age of 19, was able to escape extreme poverty in Ireland and move back to New York City is an accomplishment by itself. Within several days of arriving, he receives the first of many warnings about the evils of drink and is urged to become acquainted with the New York Public Library – by a bartender. After a period of time working as a janitor at the Biltmore Hotel, the Korean War begins, and within weeks McCourt receives his Army draft notice. After basic training in New Jersey, McCourt is sent to a dog training unit in Germany and avoids combat. Within several weeks, he is selected for Company Clerk training. After his military obligation ends, McCourt returns to New York City and labor in the warehouses on the New York City waterfront.

     McCourt’s descriptions of Army life are hilarious, but throughout the first half of the book there are several somber themes that surface again and again. McCourt is extremely naïve about women, wants to break free of the stifling variety of Catholicism that he grew up with in Ireland, and early on after arriving in New York realizes that education is his only way out of a life of manual labor. McCourt also learns very quickly that in the United States, extreme racial divisions have replaced the class divisions of Ireland.

     This reviewer thought it remarkable that from the time of his arrival in New York City onward, McCourt repeatedly encounters individuals (sometimes rank strangers) who recommend works of literature and encourage his initial ambivalence about pursuing education. I guess you could call them literary angels.

     McCourt eventually overcomes his ambivalence about education and starts a college degree at New York University – without a high school diploma. After graduation, McCourt lands his first teaching position at a Vocational High School on Staten Island. Over the next decade or so there’s an interesting contrast in the book between Frank, pursuing a career in education, and younger brother Malachy McCourt, who has purchased a bar, is still deeply immersed in Irish culture, and has a drinking problem. McCourt earns a Masters degree from Brooklyn College and better jobs follow, but throughout the book he effectively describes the pull of Irish immigrant culture – where he doesn’t really fit anymore – versus his ambition to live a “normal” middle-class American life.

    McCourt has a great eye for detail, society, and the randomness of life, and describes a journey out of poverty that is hard for most readers to imagine.

My rating: 

The Vampire: A Casebook edited by Alan Dundes

Before I begin this review, let me say that all fans of either Bill – whose name is pronounced while simultaneously trilling like an idiot and shivering – or Edward Cullen – whose name is pronounced while sighing dreamily and simultaneously shivering – may stop reading here.  This review is for serious Wild Things. Adolescents who require their vampires spoon-fed to them with sugar, spice, and all things nice need not apply.

Well? All right. Now that the children are gone, the Dragon brings you goodies from she personal collection (hehe).

Alan Dundes (1934-2005) was an internationally known folklorist, who at one time was the professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of California, Berkeley. With The Vampire, he brought together a scholarly collection of eleven essays on vampires that will enlighten you and chill your blood. This informative book begins with an essay on the etymology of vampire by Katharina M. Wilson. The following essays depict the Slavic folklore that sent the vampire cult spreading throughout Eastern Europe and into the West. Vampire tales from Romania, Serbia, and Greece are graphically detailed with legends about this dread revenant.

For example: Did you know that vampires can turn into butterflies, not bats? A stake doesn’t kill a vampire; the Hawthorne stake pins the vampire to their grave so they can wander no more. Within these pages you will find the difference between living vampires and dead vampires, the strigoi and the moroii, in addition to acquiring fascinating insight into death customs of Eastern Europe that prevailed into the early twentieth century.

Untainted by popular cultural misinformation, this slim book is a fascinating journey into the vampire. In the final essay, Dundes, who confesses a definite Freudian bias, attempts to interpret the vampire legend with “The Vampire as Bloodthirsty Revenant: A Psychoanalytic Post Mortem.”

In bringing this magnificent nightmare to life, Dundes has given us a penetrating examination of the vampire, and if we look hard enough, insight into our own fears of death and dying.

 

My Rating: 

The Woman’s Field Guide to Exceptional Living by Corrie Woods

So you have the blahs, your life is moving nowhere, or worse still you’re in a holding pattern where your daily routines are so meticulously planned there is no room for spontaneity or change. Well, North Carolina author Corrie Woods has produced a refreshing little tome for women that extols them to move beyond ordinary living into extraordinary living, simply by changing ingrained habits and repetitive thinking patterns. Her guidelines for becoming a BOLD (Brilliant, Outrageous, Luminary Diva) woman are simple yet provide a subtle wake up call for women who are either disillusioned or simply bored with their lives.

Generally, I eschew self-help books because I feel like my life is just fine, thank you very much; however, I enjoyed the section on how to step out of the familiar and into new territories. This book is written for any woman, whether you have a PhD or a GED, you will get something out of The Woman’s Field Guide that will give you a little ah-ha moment (as I like to call them). Divided into three sections with succinct chapters, Ms. Woods presents a straightforward outline for living that can be revisited time and again.

My Rating:  

Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary [2nd ed.] by James T. Bretzke

The Reverend James T. Bretzke is the Professor and Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco, and he has presented a very concise and informative volume of Latin phrases utilized in Church liturgy and practice. This slim volume covers many phrases familiar to Roman Catholics and Protestants in addition to some classical Latin aphorisms.

Each entry gives a literal translation of a Latin phrase followed by a very brief explanation of the phrase and its usage within the context of Church theology or canon law. The text is designed to be a quick reference for theological students rather than an exhaustive explanation of Church terminology; however, even a lay person can enjoy reading Bretzke’s brief entries. Whether you are looking for a quick Latin reference or are just curious about the history or meaning of Latin phrases that have surfaced in our religious culture, Consecrated Phrases is a welcome addition to any library.

My Rating: 

Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock

Quacks have always been around, but Charlatan proves they have been especially prolific in the United States. Pride, vanity, and the endless pursuit of youth are human qualities that have helped quackery flourish. Charlatan is the story of the greatest con man of early twentieth-century America, John R. Brinkley, who exploited male vanity to build a multi-million dollar business empire. Pope Brock is the author of Indiana Gothic; he has also written a variety of articles for Esquire and other periodicals in the United States and Great Britain.

Charlatan is about a doctor, but it is also the story of an unregulated era in America—an environment that allowed John R. Brinkley to build his empire on the implantation of goat testicles to “restore” male virility. Brinkley started his life on a farm in the Jackson County, North Carolina community of Beta. After an early career selling patent medicines and other medical scams, he purchased a medical license in Kansas that allowed him to practice in eight states. In the fall of 1917, Brinkley performed his famous operation for the first time. Demand for the operation and financial success allowed him to open a clinic in Milford, Kansas. Radio Station KFKB began marketing Brinkley’s operation and patent medicines to the nation in 1924. Preferring an unregulated broadcasting environment, Brinkley moved his radio station to Mexico in 1931, where it was renamed XER. By 1932 it boasted a million-watt signal and was the most powerful radio station in the world. During the mid-1930s, Brinkley’s annual income was twelve million dollars.

Every force has an opposing force: for Brinkley it was Morris Fishbein, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Fishbein and Brinkley shared many qualities: sharp intelligence, a flair for self-promotion, and relentless energy. In 1930, Fishbein’s influence led Kansas medical authorities to revoke Brinkley’s medical license. Brinkley’s response was to run for Governor of Kansas, nearly winning the race. Throughout the 1930s, Fishbein used his position to pursue Brinkley and to expose other quacks. In 1939, Fishbein and the American Medical Association were able to win a medical malpractice suit against Brinkley in Texas. Former patients started lining up to sue Brinkley, and in 1941 he was charged with federal mail fraud and forced to declare bankruptcy. Brinkley’s health declined and he died on May 26, 1942 in San Antonio, Texas.

Charlatan is a fascinating read, and this reviewer is surprised no one has made a movie of Brinkley’s life. John R. Brinkley was the ultimate quack, and his is a unique American story. Charlatan includes an excellent index and comprehensive footnotes. The bibliography includes two doctoral dissertations on Brinkley.Highly recommended (This review was previously published in North Carolina Libraries).

My Rating: