Middle of the Road – Hollow City, I Am Not a Serial Killer and Lexicon

I have a tendency to go on at length about the books I discuss here on IROB and that tendency generally means I don’t discuss anything that doesn’t inspire verbosity. Sometimes that bugs me and I’ve decided to start posting what are for me brief reviews of books that were somewhat odd or strange but, for whatever reason, didn’t spark in-depth discussion but were still on some level worth discussing. I’ll try this on and see how it feels.

So here are some books that I want to discuss without blowing a 2K word count per review. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Horror, photography, Young Adult | on January 22nd, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Person by Sam Pink

Book: Person

Author:  Sam Pink

Type of Book:  Fiction, alt lit

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because I thought it was going to suck a’plenty and was pleasantly proven wrong.

Availability:  Published by Lazy Fascist Press in 2010, you can get a copy here:

(WHOOT! As of Tuesday evening, it appears as if the Kindle version of this book is free. Check it out!)

Comments: Back when I bought a copy of Shoplifting from American Apparel, I also bought a copy of Person by Sam Pink.  Since my first exposure to alt lit resulted in what can only be called a complete nervous book-down, I was understandably reluctant to read Pink.  Lin’s SfAA filled me with such disgust that had I read anything similar immediately afterward and then discussed it I would have needed a new anus.

But a few years have passed, and the fire of my hatred has dimmed.  Also, Person is a slim volume and tempted me after I had finished The Goldfinch, which, as much as I love Donna Tartt, was a brick, and a very tiresome brick at around page 550.  I needed something easy and something quick and there Person was, in my nightstand cupboard, nestled in with far longer and more outrageous fare.  So I decided to just hold my nose and jump into Person and see what happened.

Person and SfAA are very similar books.  Both feature disaffected, grubby young protagonists.  Both books mine the same disenchanted hipster veins.  The very structures of the books down to the sentence formations are similar. So how come I really like Person?

It’s difficult to explain, and because I recently got my winter clothes out (Jesus, I began this discussion back in mid-November – ugh!), I think I have a decent enough explanation.  You know how it is that one red sweater can make you look like a porcelain-skinned angel and another red sweater can make you look like a chapped potato?  They’re both red, just different reds.  But you know, that analogy is a bad one because the red that makes me look like someone’s ruddy Irish nanna isn’t innately a shitty color and the one that makes me look like I’ve never once had a sunburn isn’t innately a heavenly color.  By any sane standard, SfAA is a terrible book.  I guess what I am saying here is that for the most part I hate most alt lit (and increasingly the writers behind the genre), but you can’t judge a book by its color just because some colors look better than others.  And if it seems like I am being completely incoherent so that pompous tenured professors working in the Corn Belt can insult me because every extemporaneous book discussion needs to be indistinguishable from a doctoral thesis, that isn’t what’s happening.  Nope.  Not at all.

Still, I think I can make a case for why it is that Person is such a better book.  Or at least a book worth reading. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: alt lit, fiction | on January 21st, 2015 | 8 Comments »

Mary Thompson Dalton Sawyer, March 13, 1946 – January 10, 2015

My mother died on Saturday.   I have a lot I want to say about her but I am going to save it for her birthday. I’m sort of unfocused at the moment and need some time to be able to order my memories because I want my eulogy for her to be worthy of her.  She’d been ill for a long time, and in terrible pain.  Her death was a relief and a mercy.  Her funeral is Saturday, and I suspect I’ll be back posting regularly some time in February.  Maybe sooner.

-2

This is my favorite picture of my mother and me.  She was maybe 26 when this was taken.  We’re out at my grandparents’ home in a tiny Texas town called Lawn.  My mother’s pictures are characterized by her wry smile and it’s definitely in evidence in this photo.  Though her sickness affected her for many years, this is how I always remember her, at an age much younger than I am now.  Skin clear of prednisone damage, hair full and thick, back unbowed.  And that strange smile that told us all she knew things she would never tell, and they were funny, strange, interesting things, too.  Finding out about my mother, especially her own work with strange and incendiary books, has been a revelation.  I’ll be sharing some of those stories here soon.

Godspeed, Mama.

Published in: Uncategorized | on January 12th, 2015 | 16 Comments »

Considering Suicide by Andy Nowicki

Book:  Considering Suicide

Author:  Andy Nowicki

Type of Book:  Non-fiction, unexpected polemic

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because, surprisingly, I finished reading it and didn’t want to burn it when I was finished.

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2009, you can get a copy here:

Or you can get a copy directly from Nine Banded Books.

Comments:  As a woman with decidedly liberal leanings, I often find it difficult to read extreme right wing political and religious ideas and not want to debate or refute them.  But lately I’ve been trying to take the perspective of enjoying that which is unusual in some manner without accepting or rejecting it in terms of my own philosophy and morality, which I should have been doing all along, really.  Being open to that which I consider bizarre or strange or completely mad is more or less the purpose of this site, polemics included.

It’s just that too often those who write polemics present them as proven theses rather than admitting that they are, in fact, just presenting their very personal beliefs as an attack against a rival ideology.  Diana West’s ridiculous The Death of the Grown-Up comes to mind.  A polemic against what West believes to be cultural childishness caused by us evil liberals, West’s book savagely attacked modern customs.  However, instead of lashing out against a culture West found deficient, she attempted to provide proof that bolstered her intense opinions and completely destroyed her premise because each piece of “evidence” she used to show the degeneracy of modern America was open to lots of interpretation.  That which West felt genuinely showed American culture to be childish proved nothing more than her own entrenched opinions.  What could have been a coherent savaging of modernity became an “old man yells at cloud” moment wherein West felt that by using sources that showed that Cary Grant wore camel hair coats and tourists wear fanny packs and some guy felt Look Who’s Talking Now proved John Travolta is immature and Bill Gates wears ball caps and Jack Nicholson was edgy around 40 years ago and similarly irrelevant and strange citations that she had made a prima facie case that America lacks the gravitas of black and white films from the 1950s.  Her attack was lost in an ocean of trivial “facts,” her momentum destroyed as the reader was forced to decide if ball caps are really a sign of the fall of Western Civilization, and she came across less as a seasoned polemicist than a cranky racist who holds a grudge against anyone who was not raised in the Diana West household.

A polemic is not a proven thesis – it’s just one side of a very passionate argument.  Those who believe as the polemicist does will find truth in the attack, and those on the other side will not, but the polemicist’s case is seldom helped by source citations because an honest polemicist knows that his or her attack exists in the realm of opinion, not fact.  Just as there was no way to prove that liking Maya Angelou meant one was childish (and trying to do so made it clear that West really resents anyone but white folk like her having any cultural influence), there was no way for Nowicki to prove that a return to Judeo-Christian (mostly Catholic) mores and 1950s standards of behavior will prevent cultural suicide.  I appreciate that he didn’t try, that he kept this book in the realm of the polemic.  While I really disagree with the premise, I still can appreciate this book for what it is – Nowicki’s intense reaction to a society in which he finds little merit.

Nowicki also has an advantage over failed polemicists like West in that he manages to create a personal experience for the reader and is quite accomplished at wielding a mild sort of black humor.  The first half of the book, entitled “Diary of a Suicide,” was quite engaging and I rather wish this book had not included the second part because the second half abandons humor and the personalized experience fades as Nowicki merges into the strident opinions that make a good polemic.  In a sense, this book really wouldn’t be a polemic if Nowicki had not included the second half, and my liberal leanings definitely influence my dislike of the second half, but even so I think most people will find the first part of the book a very good read.  So I think I will concentrate on the first half of the book.

An unnamed diarist is recording his attempts to shuffle through a world that alienates him.  He considers suicide not as an abstract representing a world killing itself but as a genuine consideration of a man who does not want to live in a world in which he finds no value, a world that is actively destroying everyone.  The diarist is itchy, in a way that reads very true to me, because this sort of despair caroms from noble disenchantment to self-disgust to fantasies of base vengeance.

The diarist, as I mentioned already is itchy.  Twitchy, even.  There is nowhere he feels comfortable and there is no way for him to feel like he is doing the right thing because he never feels right anywhere he goes and all the people around him just make everything worse.

It is amazing how difficult it can be simply to find a physical location where one can sit comfortably and write about suicide!  You spend more time getting in and out of the car, driving from spot to spot, from the library to the bookstore to the mall.  Yes, the mall!  Everywhere you run into obstacles.  Mostly in the form of other people disrupting your concentration with their chattering idiocy.  It would be much easier if one were able simply to stay in one’s house, away from everyone else, away from it all.  Yet somehow this simply will not do.  If I just sit around my house to write, I feel somehow like I’m in prison.  What a strange circumstance – even a misanthrope feels he must be out and about, “with” people in a sense, rather than holed up, alone.  I can neither fathom it or explain it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: non-fiction | on November 25th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

Halloween Week – The Servant Girl Annihilator

Finally, something truly creepy and scary for Halloween week.

At some point during 2000, I read a book called A Twist at the End: A Novel of O. Henry and the Texas Servant Girl Murders of 1885 by Steven Saylor.  I’m not entirely sure how I came to have this book because I’m not really one for historical fiction, but once I learned that the book was indeed based on real events, I became obsessed with the Servant Girl Annihilator case.  As most friends I had at the time can tell you, I pretty much sent a copy of this book to anyone who showed even the slightest interest in it.  I went on a “ghost tour” that took me on a walk late at night to visit the locations of some of the murders.  It was on this tour that I learned about the “Moonlight Towers,” one of which stood at the end of the street where Mr. Oddbooks and I lived at the time, a nearly useless anachronism that seemed pointless to me until I learned their origin.

Much of what I am going to share here is data I have rattling around in my brain, but I will include a list of links at the end of this article for those who may want to read more about this interesting case than just what I remember.

The moniker “Servant Girl Annihilator” is actually both a flippant and misleading moniker for the person or persons behind the murders that occurred in Austin, Texas in 1884-1885.  The name comes from a line William Sydney Porter, aka “O. Henry” put in a letter to a friend, describing the events in Austin in the summer of 1885.  In a bitchy little comment worthy of Oscar Wilde, Porter snarked that Austin was terribly boring but the attacks from the “Servant Girl Annihilators” made things interesting at night.  This moniker is misleading because men, boyfriends/common law husbands living with some of the female victims were also attacked, and because the last two women killed were not servants, but “respectable” married women.

But most of the victims were indeed women and most of them were black servants.  Here is a list of the victims, as well as what was done to them.  Most readers of this site are hardy people, but if you are new here, the content that follows may be a bit upsetting.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Halloween Week, Nothing to do with odd books | on October 31st, 2014 | No Comments »

Halloween Week – Slave Cemeteries

I was born in Dallas and have lived in Texas all my life.  When I was a little girl, I can remember seeing “colored” entrances, restrooms and drinking fountains in older downtown buildings.  Jim Crow was dead, in legalities at least, so no black person was forced into using these lesser amenities, but they had not been removed yet.  In some places in older parts of Dallas, such reminders of the nastier parts of racial history in the USA weren’t remodeled or removed until the 1980s.

I tell you all of this because while I was and still am aware that race relations in the USA are difficult, it was still…  shocking when I began cemetery investigation and saw that segregation was enforced even in death.  The slave and “colored” sections of “white” cemeteries were seldom maintained well, which is not particularly surprising.  But I discovered that large chunks of history were lost in those slave and black sections of cemeteries, making even some of the simplest genealogy or historical research maddening, if not completely impossible.

And there’s no way around this expression of sentimentality – often slave and Jim Crow cemeteries are sad places indeed.

The first slave cemetery I found was in Round Rock Cemetery in Round Rock, Texas.  I was there looking for the graves for some Old West villains and lawmen, and was startled when I saw it.

Slave Cemetery
Note that you can’t actually see any headstones beyond that sign.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Funerary Customs, Halloween Week | on October 30th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Halloween Week – My Favorite Cemetery

One day Mr. Oddbooks came home and told me about a cemetery near Jarrell, Texas that was evidently very interesting.  It was located in a ghost town called Corn Hill.  Old Corn Hill Cemetery boasts the graves of people of historical importance in Texas, so I wanted to check it out.  Cemetery, ghost town, historical importance – what’s not to like?  The problem was that the directions were so bad that I really think that had we closed our eyes and tried to get there by our sense of smell, we wouldn’t have ended up as lost as we became.

It took us a couple of weekends to find Old Corn Hill Cemetery, but during the hunt we found a couple of very interesting mini-cemeteries, a derelict house where we totally trespassed and took pictures (I later learned that house is the James Shaver home, called the Old Stage Stop and Hotel), and all sorts of interesting fauna, mostly longhorn cattle.  But we also found the Holy Trinity Catholic Cemetery, which has become the cemetery to beat for me in terms of symbology, statuary and emotional attachment.

Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Jarrell, Texas, is an imposing building, very gothic without any accompanying morbidity, which seems strange to say given that the cemetery is essentially in the church’s backyard.  Corn Hill, Texas was established in 1848 and began to die a slow death in 1910 when railroad lines bypassed Corn Hill in favor of neighboring Jarrell.  The Holy Trinity Catholic Church was built in 1914, and, as I’ve mentioned before, in such a young state as Texas a hundred year old church has serious history behind it.  Corn Hill itself was not founded by Germans and Slavs, but their influence is felt heavily in this area.  People who aren’t familiar with Central Texas and the Hill Country are often surprised to know that huge swaths of this area are to this day very German and Slavic, especially Czech Moravian.  For decades many Moravian families spoke a Moravian Czech dialect, as well as English, being bi-lingual in the way that we tend to associate with Mexican and Central American settlers to this area.  Sadly, this dialect with pidgin elements is dying off though you still see lots of signs and bumper stickers boasting the phrase, “Jak se mas?” which translates as “How are you doing?”  In short, Czech for “Howdy!”

Holy Trinity Catholic Church is heavily Czech and the cemetery reflects it.  I loved this cemetery not just because it was exotic to my austere Southern Baptist upbringing, but also because it was, quite literally, an education investigating the stones.  Eventually my friend Barbora K., a resident in Slovakia, had to help me translate much of what is written on the stones.  This cemetery was the gateway to me learning about the German, Moravian and Bohemian influences in Central Texas.  It also taught me a lot about how cemeteries are arranged in Eastern Europe.  Others feel strongly about this cemetery as well – I get at least one message a month from someone who finds my photos and wants to share their experiences with the church or ask if they can use some of my pictures.

And I know this isn’t particularly spooky or Halloween-y, but cemeteries in the bright Texas sun simply cannot be creepy unless you’re out in the middle of nowhere near dusk.  But there is still a somber, gloomy mood to this cemetery, especially when you get to the “babyland” section. The cemetery is a strange mix of dereliction and utter devotion because while many graves and statues have not held up in the Texas heat, every grave has been tended to by church members, even the ones where the stone is missing and all that is left are little metal markers so weathered the names were unreadable. The cemetery is grim yet comforting.

Angry Angel
I am not a particularly good photographer but this angry angel is one of my favorite pictures I’ve taken. You can see the church spires peeking behind the trees.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Halloween Week, Nothing to do with odd books | on October 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Halloween Week – Baby Head Cemetery

In the summer of 2012, Mr. Oddbooks and I drove out to Baby Head, Texas.  A real place.  I swear.
Baby Head Cemetery

It’s a ghost town now, more or less incorporated into Llano, Texas, and Llano was a weird place in its own right.  We drove around forever trying to find the remaining Baby Head post office and never found it.  But we did find plenty of Apostolic churches, Cowboy Congregations, exotic animals being raised so weekend warriors can obliterate them with assault weapons on canned hunts, and several hidden little cemeteries that I really want to go back and investigate, as long as I can remember to wear steel-toed boots to repel all the grass burrs and fire ants.

Back to Baby Head.  The town got its name because “oral tradition” says that some time between 1850-1875, a local Indian tribe kidnapped a white child, killed it, and left it on a mountain that came to be called Babyhead Mountain.  (The town’s name and the cemetery’s name are Baby Head, while the mountain is Babyhead.  Don’t ask me why.  But even that isn’t carved in stone as you will find the town, the cemetery and the mountain all referred to as “Babyhead” or “Baby Head” with no real explanation for the variations.)
Historical marker

It’s hard to know if there is any truth to this legend.  The tribe of the Indians who supposedly killed the baby is unknown, though if hard-pressed I would say it had to be Comanches, a pretty harsh tribe to be sure.  The name of the baby is also officially unknown, but it is assumed to have been a little girl.  I personally suspect the baby’s designated gender is because the oldest grave in the Baby Head Cemetery belongs to a little girl who died on New Year’s Day in 1884, though one local historian insisted her late husband knew people who searched for the child.  The woman’s husband said the little girl was murdered in 1873, and that her name was Mary Elizabeth Buster.  I have never been able to run to ground a Mary Elizabeth or a Mary Elizabeth Buster from Baby Head in 1873, but I also have a notoriously short attention span.  This article by Dale Fry best illustrates all the stories about this Texas legend.

I had read several accounts of how creepy Baby Head Cemetery is.  It wasn’t creepy.  It was interesting, and sort of macabre in a very sunny way, but mostly it was painful.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Halloween Week, Nothing to do with odd books | on October 28th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Halloween Week – Dead Man’s Hole

Up US 281 in Marble Falls, TX, there is a site called Dead Man’s Hole. Dead Man’s Hole is a natural limestone cave many ghost hunters insist is very haunted.

It’s hard to rattle me and I self-identify as a skeptic.  But even as I maintain that I am a skeptic, I have had strange experiences that I cannot fully explain.  Some of those experiences involve what I call wrong places.  A wrong place, simply enough, is a place wherein you feel something is not right.  It’s a place where you feel uneasy and you don’t know why. If you probe your feelings long enough, you may find an answer that explains your uneasiness. The human mind perceives more than we process on a conscious level and sometimes our subconscious filters just enough to give us valid information that we may attribute to unseen sources, like the paranormal.  I tend to think that was at play during my visit at Dead Man’s Hole, but, regardless the reason, Dead Man’s Hole is a wrong place.  It is a place where so much human misery played out that even without any sort of paranormal interpretation many may feel uneasy here.  The last time I was there I became so unnerved I likely will never return. I hope that despite the fact I was there during the brightness of the summer that the creepy nature of the place will show up in the pics.

The historical marker
According to the Historical Marker on the site, an entomologist called Ferdinand Lueders discovered the hole, presumably in the course of searching out insects, but it was not until the Civil War that the cave gained it’s ghostly and ghastly reputation. The cave is quite deep, probably around 155 feet down, and is now capped to prevent accidents and, one suspects, potential vandalism. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Creepy Places, Halloween Week | on October 27th, 2014 | No Comments »

Halloween Week!

I Read Odd Books is going to change next year. Hopefully, if Mr. Oddbooks has the time to dink around with the site, I Read Odd Books will become Odd Things Considered. I’ve been in a state of extreme torpor over the last 18 months and it’s been hard to shake, but I am shaking it as of late and find myself wanting to write about more than just the odd and strange books I read. I’d like to speak of music, film, and strange travels and experiences and not have it feel contrived as I cram it all into a site devoted, ostensibly, to books.

I also will incorporate the small amount of content from Houdini’s Revenge into this site. I intend to discuss strange ideas here, as well, but mostly I want to make sure all my analysis about the Boston Bombing stays online because I don’t know what I’d do without all the pointless abuse those entries have earned me.

There was a time when I used to explore all the weirdness around me, and I want to get back into doing that. Driving to ghost towns, retracing the steps of serial killers, visiting places of strange historical significance. I would really like to start doing all of that again, and I hope creating Odd Things Considered will spur me on.

In that spirit, during the days running up to Halloween I want to share some of the creepy and interesting things I’ve documented over the last few years.  Some of it I may have spoken of here before, and, if I have, I beg your forbearance. Readers who followed me here from other venues may also remember some of this content. But while I don’t like repeating myself too often, it would also be nice for me to have all of it here, in one place, as this is the only real blog I maintain these days.

So with all of that out of the way, I hope my experiment auditioning the concept of Odd Things Considered plays out well this week, and I also hope I manage to share some content that interests my readers. Stay tuned, first Halloween 2014 entry is coming up.

Published in: Creepy Places, Halloween Week | on October 27th, 2014 | 2 Comments »