Lousy Smarch Weather

Central Texas is not supposed to be this cold.  Seriously, I used to dream of moving to Maine and White Christmases and other ice-glazed fantasies, but I am rethinking that dream.

The Every Cradle is a Grave discussion will have to wait because I simply cannot get it together.  I am emotionally unable to pull out what it is I want to say.  My mother had a very bad death, one that did not have to happen in a society wherein we understand that it is unacceptable to ask an elderly woman with no higher brain function left due to a hemorrhage, a woman who was terminally ill and close to death before the hemorrhage happened, to starve to death in an irreversible coma because suicide is bad.  I’m a failed suicide.  There is a successful suicide in my family that haunts some of us, and haunted my mother especially in the months before her death.  So yeah, this is an issue carrying a lot of recent and distant emotional baggage for me.

We are having an ashes ceremony for my mother in two weeks and I hope having a ceremonial end to the medically-sanctioned torture that my family endured earlier this year will make it easier for me to complete that discussion.  Not in terms of writing – I’ve written a novel about this book.  My problem is that I want to say everything at once and I need to get some emotional clarity.  Look for it later this month, hopefully.

But before then I have other books I can discuss and will.  Actually, I have a shocking number of books to discuss.  2014 was really a lost year in many regards.

I’ve been falling down some true crime holes lately (insomnia was killing me last week and insomnia always means finding weird crap online as I restlessly surf on my phone praying for some REM) and I stumbled across this woman’s blog.  Her writing style amuses me and she discusses less-famous murder cases.  The case that landed me on her site, the intensely strange story of Albert Brust (a Nazi-loving, untermensch and middle-aged virgin who became a torture killer and incorporated a dead body into a bathroom remodel), is the weakest entry on the site, but if you like my verbose style and appreciate sarcasm set to eleven, you’ll like her blog.

So I plan to plow through some discussions as I wait for my brain to open up for Sarah Perry’s opus.  Let me know what you’ve been reading or any interesting blogs you’ve come across.  (Oh, yeah, I plan to update my favorite sites and writers sidebars soon.  I don’t think I’ve messed with it in four years and it is painfully out of date.)

Published in: Uncategorized | on March 2nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Middle of the Road: I Like Being Killed and Vampires in the Lemon Grove

I really enjoyed my first attempt at writing brief discussions (well, for me they were brief) of books that had some odd element but were not good or bad enough to trigger my verbose need to discuss them in depth. I’m not sure why – maybe it was the thrill of completing an entry in a single sitting – but I’m going to keep doing it until I inevitably lose interest and go back to writing five thousand word entries for everything I read.

This particular entry is surprising because I adore short story collections. It’s really hard to disappoint me with short stories, mainly because even if there are one or two clunkers in the collection, there are bound to be a couple of stories that soar, and you can focus on those stories rather than focus on what didn’t really work. It’s strange that I found two separate short story collections completely lacking in merit, and, worse, these two collections came from authors whose other works appear in my long list of favorite books.

And this isn’t really a Middle of the Road entry because I am panning both books. I like both of the authors so much I don’t want to devote an entry to both books and give excruciating detail to prove my case as to why these are not so great. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Short Story Collections | on February 18th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Stuff is happening, as well as things

So sorry for the silence on my end.  I’ve been writing quite a bit, so much in fact that I have written myself into a corner.  Every Cradle Is a Grave came into my life as I was experiencing death and the rage and depression death brings with it.  I have written over 20,000 words about the book and, though I am well-known for my wordiness, that is a wholly inappropriate number of words to use to discuss a book.  I am self-indulgent but luckily I still have a bit of self-awareness and now I am spending time editing so that I can present my frame of mind regarding the book without substituting my frame of mind for the book.  I will have the discussion up early next week.

I will also have another “middle of the road” discussion up either tomorrow or Thursday.

I’ve been immersed in some interesting media and topics this week, one of which turned into a rabbit-hole.  I follow the “Unresolved Mysteries” subreddit and a German user posted about a murder I had never heard of and as a result I have been scouring the Internet, reading crappy translations of old German news articles, finding every detail I can about it.  In 1998, thirteen year old Tristan Bruebach was murdered in such a sexually specific and audacious manner that I cannot believe I had not heard of this murder before and I also cannot believe this was the sole time the murderer performed such a killing. But against all logic, it seems like that is the case.  Seriously, three decades of reading and studying and I have never heard of a murder like this, and there are so many strange details about Tristan, his activities before his murder, and the way he was killed that even seasoned professional criminologists are baffled by the case.

I’ve also been listening to the Michigan band His Name Is Alive almost non-stop.  I don’t know how to describe this sort of music and the band has continually evolved since the late 80s so it’s hard to pigeon-hole the effort.  The only constant member of the band is Warren Defever, with different musicians and singers coming and going.

A friend of mine in college gave me a mixed tape with “Baby Fish Mouth” on it but it was the early 90s, no iTunes and precious little Internet outside of university labs, and tracking down small, indie bands was harder then. I finally got a copy of the album, Mouth by Mouth, and every song was worthwhile, which seldom ever seems to happen. The singer on this track, Karin Oliver, performed with HNIA for several years but evidently is now an account manager at a marketing firm.


“How Ghosts Affect Relationships” is from the album Livonia, released in 1990. It wasn’t until this album got uploaded to YouTube that I could access it. I don’t know if it’s rare or if it’s just that I wasn’t thorough. This is the best song on the album, I think, and it’s a little musical knife in my heart.


“How Dark Is Your Dark Side” is not the best song on Xmmer, a 2007 album, but I listen to it over and over because I love the singer, Andrea Morici. There is something sweetly hypnotic about her voice on this track. I think she may be the best vocalist to work with Defever.

So that’s where I am. Buried in hyperemotional reactions to a book about antinatalism, searching for information about a savagely murdered child, and listening to experimental rock. See you soon with a short entry about two short story collections that disappointed me sincerely.

Published in: Uncategorized | on February 17th, 2015 | No Comments »

Checking in!

I am at work on a discussion that is proving exhausting, but is strangely therapeutic given recent events in my life. I hope to have the discussion finished by the beginning of next week. At the risk of spoiling my upcoming review, Every Cradle Is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide by Sarah Perry is a book you need to get and read.  This book is a paradigm changer, and an important book for those of us who live in Western countries where it is difficult to discuss death intelligently, let alone suicide, let alone why suicide can ultimately be an act of great self-awareness.

I also received the latest Biblio-Curiosa edition, the excellent weird book/author ‘zine by Chris Mikul.  This issue focuses on children’s books and I can’t wait to read it.  Interestingly, I am also currently reading Mikul’s book on weird folk, The Eccentropedia: The Most Unusual People Who Have Ever Lived. The Eccentropedia caused me to start researching Eloise Bosquet, Baroness Wagner, a somewhat foul woman who brought a ton of drama and murder to the Galapagos Island chain, which then led to watching The Galapagos Affair on Netflix.

Adding to delays is that my book shift this year is taking longer than usual. At the beginning of each new calendar year, I make small changes to the ways my books are shelved, mainly because toward the end of the year Mr Oddbooks and I accumulate hundreds of new books, through gifts and Christmas shopping. These shifts entail emptying all shelves in order to clean them and then cleaning each book. I don’t know how many books we have because often books can get shelved before I document them, but I think we’re clocking in around 4,000 minimum. Given how easily distracted I have been, it’s taking me far longer to complete this task than anticipated.

I’ve also noticed that Pseudo Occult Media posted a few new entries in 2013. It looked like the site had been abandoned since 2010 so I hadn’t checked on it in a while, so these new entries were a pleasant surprise. I’ve referenced the site here before because even if one dismisses the notion that the Monarch Project has infested every tier of entertainment worldwide, the research that goes into the entries is something to behold. If you like people going on at length, which seems likely if you are reading here, Pseudo Occult Media will be right up your alley.  If nothing else, the author of the site shows how little originality there is in visual media. Once you read this site you’ll become annoyed at how often you see checkerboards, butterflies, Alice in Wonderland themes, faces half-occluded by hair or in mirrors, and broken mirrors in music videos, model spreads, movies and television.

Hopefully I will see you all early next week. Feel free to use the comments here to let me know what you’re reading/watching/listening to/avoiding.

Published in: Uncategorized | on February 4th, 2015 | 14 Comments »

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 | 5 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 | 18 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 »