Ignite the flame that will help you guide your way through the darkness and return with a story to tell.

20th Century

Not Your Romantic Vampire

The Strain Trilogy

 I love vampires and in the past few years I have indulged in the guilty pleasure of reading the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris: yes the ones about True Blood and Sookie Stackhouse. Before them I loved reading the Vampires Chronicles by Anne Rice until I got to Memnoch the Devil, which lost it for me, though I will say that I very much enjoyed Pandora, which is not quite part of the Vampire Chronicles. In the very beginning I read Dracula by Bram Stoker. The book took two efforts to get into it since the language is older and the way the book is presented, a compilation of diary entries and newspaper articles, is something for a 20th and 21st century mind to get used to. Once I found my rhythm, the 500 plus pages melted away as the pages seemed to be turned by the characters themselves.

It seems that in the beginning vampires were cruel and vicious as you can read about in “Carmila” and the “Vampyre,” then somewhere around Interview with a Vampire they became nicer drawing from us sympathy and even admiration. BUt throughout all earlier vampire stories there was a romance atmosphere, same as with most early gothic fiction, which I would say could be called gothic romance for multiple reasons. Then Twilight and True Blood happened and vampires became the hottest undead on the block, like rock stars even. I have some friends who say no they are monsters as we should either run away or destroy them. I understand what they are saying and I agree, but I also believe that vampires and romance go hand in undead hand.

But I do love a good scare from something different and imaginative so enter The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro. 

Like so many of the book I read I found this book in mass-market form at a library book sale back in 2010. The cover caught my eye and the description said that I should read this before the other books I bought that day. Two days late I finished the book and was quickly trying to find the second book, The Fall.

Yesterday I finished the third book of the trilogy, The Night Eternal, and though the first book is by far the best, the whole trilogy is terrifying. This is horror in vampires, and these are not your traditional vampires. They are more like zombies controlled like drones through their original maker, their master.

Since Guillermo del Toro is one of the co-authors all signs point to this being a movie one day, but I think it would make a better TV series then a movie. As I was reading the first book it felt like reading a script for a series, which worked well for the story. Throughout the trilogy, but mostly in the first book, are these side scenes where we see the simultaneous impact of these horrible creatures. We see that they are merciless and are nothing to be desired.

Over all I found these books to be creative, fun and entertaining. I am a huge fan of del Toro’s films and now I am a fan of his books. There are several book trailers that are fun to watch which you can see here and here.

Before I end I need to give an ‘I’m Sorry’ to Chuck Hogan whom I had never heard of before I read these books. He is the author of The Town, which was made into a great film with Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner. Sometimes writers slip by and we do not hear about them.

Happy Reading,
ORB


Abraham Stoker

A while ago I read a great book titled The Sherlockian, which is a story about the missing journal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In that story there are two sections, one in the present day and one in the past, which follows Doyle and his good friend Bram Stoker. I mention this because just recently a friend of mine sent me a link to an article regarding the missing journal of Bram Stoker.

It turns out that Stoker and Doyle have a lot in common. In real life they were distantly related cousins, they both wrote stories about vampires, and are both overshadowed by a single character of their creation. I ask you to name, off of the top of your head and fingers, another book or piece of work by either of these two authors that has noting to do with Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula.

What they also have in common is they both have had missing journals suddenly appeared recently in the last few years. The disappearance of Doyle’s journals is much more interesting, partly due to the fact that he has written some of the most famous mysteries. As you can read in this article, Stoker’s missing journal was hidden in plain sight, on the bookshelf of one of his descendants. Not as interesting, and a little humorous.

I tell you this because there will be a book, which is to be titled The Lost Journal, to be published early 2012 to commemorate the 100 anniversary of the creator of Dracula’s death.

Happy Reading,

ORB


Halloween

Halloween is my favorite holiday and not because of ghost stories and horror films, though I am partial to a good thriller or a good cult classic. Halloween is probably the oldest tradition that humans still practice even though the names and exact tradition of this celebration have changed. This is a unique time of year where everything changes. The weather grows colder causing the leaves to change and increasing the value of the harvest. I know that the harvesting and preserving of crops is not as clearly as important to the modern world, but once upon a time with out the harvest there was no surviving the coming winter. Once there were people that gave sacrifice to guarantee that the spring returned. Many people once feared that when the weather grew cold, the spring and summer would never return.

But rather than go through the history of Halloween, which can be easily googled, I want to talk what stories put me in the Halloween and autumn spirit.

First, are the stories of Ray Bradbury. Perhaps my favorite author, Bradbury writes with great imagination but in a way that is cleverly entertaining. His stories are scary yet still fun and not as challenging to read at Lovecraft. My favorite collection of short stories is The October Country (1955). All of the 19 stories are worth reading and of them my favorites are “The Lake,” “The Emissary,” “The Scythe,” and “The Man Upstairs.” One of these stories is about the grim reaper, another about a zombie, and one is about a vampire, but I’ll let you find out which one is which.

Continuing with Bradbury is a book that is, in its typical Bradbury way, a story made up of short stories. The books is called From the Dust Returned. I first read it last October and it was unlike any other book I have ever read. The stories are beautiful. Even though they are connected, they can stand alone, which can be challenging at times. I shall give you this hint. It can be tricky to get into, but I promise that it is worth it. I found myself rereading the first chapter/story in order to ground myself in the weird Bradbury world.

Moving away from Bradbury another author I love to read this time of year is Ambrose Bierce. He is a little old school, but still a great read. Bierce lived an interesting life. He was a soldier for the Union in the Civil War who made maps for the officers. After the war he became a great writer and wrote many fantastic haunted stories including “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” and “The Death of Halpin Frayser.” Owl Creek Bridge is a story that, like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, I can read many times over and still feel like it is new. For more about Bierce enjoy this strange website.

For a much more modern author, I love the work of Neil Gaiman, who has written many great short stories in several collections. My favorite is M is for Magic. Of these 10 stories by two favorites are “Troll Bridge,” and “October in the Chair,” which is a tribute to the work of Ray Bradbury. Gaiman has also written a few young adults books that are great for this time of year. The Graveyard Book is an obvious choice, but I also like Coraline, which yes, was made into a film a few years ago. The film is a lot of fun, but the book is much better and has a great scene that was left out of the film.

Each year for October I feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of great ghost and horror stories there are to read. It is the same with novels as there are always too many to read and not enough time in the day and night to read them. Short stories are worse since books contain many short stories and when you read someone like Bradbury or Lovecraft you learn that they have written dozens and dozens and hundreds of short tales and novellas.

For me, Halloween is a great time to put down the novel and indulge in all the short stories I can find time for. This year, my focus is on H.P. Lovecraft. I have read some of his work before and loved what I have read. Even though he is a terrible author when it comes to dialogue, his monstrous descriptions make him the king of horror.

Tell me about what short stories and authors you like to read during this time of year.

Happy Reading,

ORB


Pittsburgh

Yes, there are cathedrals in Pittsburgh. There are many and they are beautiful. If you ever have the chance on visiting this once frontier town take that chance and visit. The city is beautifully situated along the banks of two rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, and it is here that they both join to form the Ohio River. While visiting two weekends ago I saw that fall was moving in quickly and the air changed to that wonder fall freshness. What really caught my eye was the Cathedral of Learning.

This could be the most wondrous structure I have ever seen both inside and out. I never knew it existed until I drove into Pittsburgh and saw it off to my right from the highway. There is stood, very tall, between the trees off of highway 376. Upon closer review I saw that the structure, though clearly inspired by gothic architecture, is not that old. This second tallest education building in the world broke ground in 1926 and finished eleven years later in 1937 after delays due to the Great Depression. To help fund this project through tough years, school children were asked to to contribute a dime to “buy a brick.” It worked, and now thanks to Chancellor John Bowman and the children of Pittsburgh this magnificent structure stands as a center for learning.

Inside the building is even more beautiful as vaulted ceilings push the height of the ground floor to showcase a grand enlightenment. Through this area can be seen corridors through archways, tunnels through the towering pillars and a place that invites imagination. While here I wanted to do nothing else but marvel at this wonder. I could only imagine what my imagination would feel if I could bring a book like Frankenstein or The Castle of Otranto to read under this atmosphere.

Throughout the first and third level are a series of classrooms that make up the Nationality Classrooms. With approximately 27 classrooms, each one is dedicated to a different countries and nationalities. In these rooms some of the featured countries are Austria, Japan, Israel, Ukraine, Wales, Czechoslovak, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Greece, Scotland and yes, they have a Romanian classroom. And each room is decorated and designed by a person of that nationality representing their country and their history. My favorite room is the Armenian room.

The next gothic build I saw was during nighttime. When I first saw the Heinz Memorial Chapel its top tower looked strange. Though the outside of the build was illuminated by ground lights the tower stood black in the background as if it were afraid of the light. My initial thought was that since it stood on top of the building the ground lights were unable to hit it. When I came back the next day I could see that I was half right.

I saw that the tower is an entirely different shade from the rest of the chapel. This gives it a great effect at night and during the day it looks like it is always in shadow. Anyway, the Heinz Memorial Chapel was build out of the will of Henry John Heinz in honor of his mother, Anna Margaretta. Construction broke ground in 1933 and the chapel was completed in 1938, one year after the Cathedral of Learning. What is fun about this is the fact that these two buildings are right next to each other on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. While I was touring it began to rain and I actually took refuge in both buildings to take a picture of the other. Sadly my pictures were lost.

Finally, Saint Paul Cathedral. Not too far from the first two building is this grand 14th century style gothic cathedral. It was designed by Egan and Prindeville, a company based out of Chicago and was built by a Philadelphia contractor named Thomas Reilly. This build is more than 240 feet and is beautifully designed with great details on it facade. It is the oldest of the three here mentioned, opening its doors in 1906.

Since I was visiting on Saturday I was unable to go inside two of the three of these, only seeing the Cathedral of Learning. The reason is the chapel and the cathedral were both occupied by weddings. It seemed that there were weddings all over Pittsburgh and a gothic church is a prime location. Indeed it is beautiful and there is a magic about this area. With these three structures as well as many more great buildings this is a great place for the imagination of someone whom loves gothic lore.

If you have any stories about these three gothic builds please share them.

Happy Reading,

ORB


The Shining

I confess, I saw the film for ‘The Shining’ a long time ago and many time before I read the book. And guess what, the book is still better. As great as Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd are, their characters are only the shells of what you find in the book. Since both the book and the movie are great I would say that they are two different stories with the main different being in the book the hotel is the main character.

In The Shining King brings to live the essential part of  gothic literature, the setting inside the haunt house. The Overlook Hotel is where the story draws most of its power and like I said before is the stories main character. For the reader the hotel creates many imaginary horrors both from the spiritual world and the physical world. In the physical world the hotel is in the middle of a world that is uninhabitable with out proper preparations, cut off from the rest of the world. Deep in the Rocky Mountains there is no civilization when the winter brings powerful winds and deadly snow. Yes, inside the hotel you are safe, but there is always the threat that something could go horribly wrong and there would be no help on the way. In reading this book you see that this idea is always in the back of your head and in the back of the characters minds since their lives are balance on a delicate string.

With this physical danger comes an spiritual horror creating an environment where you are in danger is you stay in the hotel and in danger if you leave it to take your chance in the wild weather. For a more in-depth overview of the book click here.

When I watched the movie I was always left with many questions that movies cannot answer. Movies are notorious for not explaining the entire story even if they are a great classic by Stanley Kubric. In reading the book I can tell you that all of my questions from the movie were appropriately answered.

Stephen King does a great job in setting the stage for this story. His words are well chosen and the pace of the story is careful in that it walks you through the halls of the hotel and the inside of the mind of each of the family members, father, wife and son. The story is told in the third person in a way that  gives the read a chance to see inside the minds of the characters and see not only their mental progression, but what they do not know or cannot understand. We see how they are all affected by the hotel and what ever lives inside of it and in each of them. This is another place where the movie falls short, because movies rely on dialogue and physical action. The genius of this book happens internally.

We understand why Danny knows what is happening with his parents even if they do not know what is happening inside and between themselves. We also discover what the hotel is and why it wants Jack and Danny. I won’t tell you anymore other than you should pay attention to the clock.

Overall the book is not as much about horror, violence, or a creepy hotel. It is about what happens to people, what makes people different, what makes them change, what makes them love, and what makes them do violent acts even against those they love. The strongest parts of this book are the characters. In this story we see that a character become the villain, hero, and pragmatists all in one. No one is entirely god and no one is inherently evil. What is the difference, our strengths and weaknesses. These weakness are augmented by the supernatural ways that remind me of Ray Bradbury.

If you have never before read a Stephen King book this is a great place to start, but I warn you be careful or what is found in room 213.

Happy reading,

ORB


Something Wicked This Way Comes

By the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes . . . Open locks, Whoever knocks!

These famous words were spoken by a character known as “second Witch” in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Arguably one of Shakespeare’s most well known plays, it brings to mind gothic ideas. A dark castle with ghosts, murder and treasonous plots hatched in the middle of the night. There are witches who speak portentous words and those words excite a feeling of anticipation of a coming unknown menace. Together they make the perfect title for the superb novel by Ray Bradbury.

This novel is perhaps my favorite story and has been since my father introduced it to me when I was a teenager. At the time I did not know the history behind the title, but every time I read Shakespeare I think of this gothic tale. And yes, I would argue the idea that Shakespeare was a gothic playwright long before the term gothic was used as a genre in literature. Of all Ray Bradbury’s books I have read, none of them have stayed with me the way this wonderful story has. I have read it multiple times and each time I find something new hidden by the master of the macabre in his precious pages. (The sign of a great book.)

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a story about two 13-year-old boys named Jim Nightshade and William Halloway.  They are more like brothers than best friends partially since they were born minutes apart on either side of midnight on October 30th (Will before Halloween, Jim in the first moments of Halloween). Though the two are very alike they come from different families that happen to live next to each other. Jim comes from a broken home and has only his mother to care for him; Will comes from a comfortable home with two parents, but his father (Charles) is much older making him somewhat disconnected from Will.

Together the two boys and the father Charles must protect their hometown from a nightmarish carnival. The carnival arrives with a storm one day in the dead of night as autumn descends on the boys’ quiet town. Suspicious from the beginning, it does not take long for the boys to uncover the driving force behind the dark carnival. Working to overcome their own personal weaknesses the trio tries to stop the carnival’s leader, Mr. Dark who bares a tattoo for each of his victims. (I’ll let you read to find out how they become his victims.)

What makes the story so great is not just the imagination that Bradbury storms up for the plot of the sinister carnival in the quiet American town, but the real emotions generated in the characters. This is part of Bardbury’s genius in that he find fantastic ways of using science fiction, the macabre, and the wickedly unknown to show real human qualities and faults in his characters. His language is uncanny and his ability to build real characters with real life issues in an unreal world is something very special. This is one of my favorite lines from the story:

“You’ll live and get hurt,” she said, in the dark. “But when it’s time, tell me. Say goodbye. Otherwise, I might not let you go. Wouldn’t that be terrible, to just grab ahold?”

And what better names are there for characters than William Halloway and James (Jim) Nightshade?

This book was published in 1962 and was latter adapted into a film that I have mixed feelings for. It is not that it is a bad film, but it is not how I imagined the story in my mind and this is a story that will excite your imagination.

If you have never read anything by Ray Bradbury this is a great book with which to start. Here is a link to his website and a list of other stories by him.

If you have read it please share with me your experience; if you have not read it, please ignore me and read it and enjoy.

Happy Reading,

ORB


John Taylor Arms

Momento Vivere, Notre Dame Cathedral, Evreux

It use to be that I was too embarrassed to admit that I had never before heard of a famous individual and this embarrassment at times hindered my interests since I would be too scared to ask the questions that I needed to ask. That question that would inevitably lead to more questions.

It was only this past July that I learned the name John Taylor Arms and I discovered the name by accident. While touring the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. I saw on a sign one of my favorite words, ‘Gothic.’ It is typical that when ever I see that word it is connected to some subject that will interest me. This situation was no different. I walked into a room at the very back and to the left of the basement level of the gallery. It was a place that was being ignored by most of the patrons who where more focus on the impressionist and expressionists art that hung in the main corridor. At the time the quiet atmosphere was great since it gave me the room all to myself. For more on the exhibit, click here.

John Taylor Arms

Upon closer inspection I saw the name John Taylor Arms, and I was happy that I found him, ending my ignorance in private. For those of you who like me had never before heard of this great architect and print maker he is an unique person. Born in Washington D.C. in 1887, he began his academic career by studying law at Princeton, but that did not last and he would transfer to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. After he graduated in 1912 he went on to become the most renown artist working in etchings and aquatints. Because he had an architects trained eye for detail he was able, with constant devotion to the almost painful details, to create images with such superb detail that they seemed to poses more craft and precision than any one person could create.

Though his work is not entirely tied to gothic architecture, he did specialize in strictly representational etchings of medieval cathedrals and gargoyles. His work has been said to be denser than photographs, and it was because of his fine eye for detail that he was able to make etchings of gothic cathedrals so beautiful.It is, after all, these details of gothic structures that give them their power over the eye. Think about it. Next time you see a gothic style building, look closer at it and you will notice the tiny details that add up to its grand presence in an almost out of this world beauty. In his work and in the actual structures you can see the amount of time, talent, skill and care the was poured into the facades, towers, and the entirety of each project. Through his dedication and focus he was able to successfully transfer that marvel onto copper plates and then to paper.

From reading about Arms I learned that he was drawn to gothic architecture not only for its detailed splendor, but for the fact that it survived through the centuries to become living relics. Such survivors deserve respect for the fact that they endured when most perished in time. It is amazing to think that what people can create can long outlive their creators far into the future to the point were they almost seem alien to the modern world. Throughout Arms life and career as an artist the world of modern art change to more abstract art, progressives and independents. Still he dedicated himself to his craft and did not stray and for that we have his work today. Arms died in 1953 in Fairfield, Connecticut. He worked until the day he died and his creations have survived these fifty-eight years for us to see and tell others about.

For a review of the exhibit, click here.

Enjoy,

ORB


Shadow of the Wind

I have a deep love for books and library book sales are a great place to stock up on titles you are looking for and titles you have never before seen. Once upon a time while scanning the volumes at a library book sale I noticed the spine of a book that read “The Shadow on the Wind.” The title was unknown to me as was the author. Though it was not the first book I picked up at that sale it was the one that hooked my eye with more curiosity. I picked it out of the rest and learned it was a novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I have read books my Arturo Perez Reverte, but this was the first I have heard of this author. At the risk of judging a book by its cover, I was taken into its appeal and wanted it. It only cost a dollar and was well worth the risk. The description on the back of the paperback read:

A story about a mysterious book with an even more mysterious author and a boy trapped in middle during post World War II Spain? Sold. What the jacket does not tell you is that the boy, Daniel, discovers the book will wandering through the tall stacks of books in a used bookstore. The owner of the store is the Daniel’s father’s friend who grants him the choice of any book he wishes among his vast collection. Out of the masses he finds this book by Julian Carax. As I read the story I could not help but think about how I found the book and I wondered if there was anyone else who found this book in a used bookstore, on a cart outside a shop, at their local library and felt the magic as they read each page.

What moved me the most was the when Daniel reads the novel for the first time. It reminded me of the first time I fell deeply into a story and would not come out until I had finished it. I realized that there is a personal and lonesome quality about books. We invite the story into our minds and let them swim around touching memories and emotions both painful and pleasurable. We read, mostly, when we are alone and in a quiet place and only after we finish reading do we share our thoughts and passion for the story. It is not often that people read to one another. Reading is not like having a dinner party and enjoying a feast and drinks with friend and family. I never read to anyone and when I am reading and when I am done reading I fill pages of my journal with what I liked or did not like about the book.

The descriptions in this story are rich in imagination, to the point where I want to find the fictional author Carax and read his work.  Zafon has become one of my favorite authors since I finished that first book. Later I shall share with you my thoughts of his first published novel, The Prince of Mist.

To learn more about him you can find his website here and a list of his other books here and here.

If you have read this book or any other book by him, please share your thoughts.

Happy Reading,

ORB