Halloween 2017: Susy Smith’s Supernatural World

Book:  Susy Smith’s Supernatural World

Author: Susy Smith

Type of Book: Non-fiction, paranormal, supernatural, metaphysics

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Most supernatural topics verge into the odd for me, but the real reason I am discussing this book is because of a talking cat.

Availability:  This is an old little pocket paperback.  Published in 1971 by McFadden-Bartell Corporation, you will likely find it difficult to find a copy but sometimes Amazon comes through.  Be aware that often times you will find her first name misspelled as “Suzy.”

Comments: When Mr OTC and I moved to Austin back in 1996, the old Half Price Books on Guadalupe had a quarter sale on old paperbacks and I scored this ridiculous gem.  And it is ridiculous.  Susy Smith, should she still be alive, which I cannot imagine she is – she was in her late fifties when this book was published – was not herself ridiculous.  She was indeed deeply interested in the paranormal, as were many in the 1960s and 1970s, and wrote compelling books, some of which are so nakedly and earnestly open about herself and her life that they almost break my heart.  You can more or less psychoanalyze her through the stories she tells about her own psychic and paranormal experiences, and I don’t want to go into it in depth here because I don’t want the pathos of Smith’s often sad life to steal the focus from the story I am about to discuss, but I think I wanted to show that Smith is (or maybe was, I should really look it up and see if she is still alive) a good writer with more gravitas than the story I plan to discuss would suggest.

There are over a dozen stories of interesting and unlikely paranormal experiences and events in this book.  Ghosts who tell the living who killed them.  Precognitive dreams about decapitations that later happen.  Psychics who find the body in the woods when all those careful police and search parties fail.  Nothing you’ve not heard before if you’ve spent more than ten minutes in the metaphysical section at a used book store.  The reason to seek out this book and own it is because it has one of the sweetest paranormal stories ever told, the story of Whitey the Cat.

Once upon a time, there was a magazine called FATE that covered stories about reincarnation and poltergeists and weird things that fell from the sky and Susy Smith wrote articles for them.  One of those articles was about her search in 1965 for a talking cat.  Smith, an honest writer, says that she cannot really say if she has laid the matter to rest as to whether or not a talking cat lived and spoke in Lake Hamilton, Florida.  However she did say:

…I interviewed several persons who attest that they have indeed heard a soft voice issue from a tomcat named Whitey, and that this voice spoke clear and sensible English.

Mr OTC and I speak to each other using voices we’ve assigned to the cats.  The best voice belonged to the late Cicero Cat.  He sounded a lot like Bill Clinton.  The voice we use for our elderly cat Gertie sounds a lot like my late mother.  So it would seem like we would be the sorts of people who would delight in the idea of talking cats, but really since we basically use the cat voices to annoy each other, we decide what the cats say and realize that a genuine talking cat would be a complete nightmare.  I don’t even want to know what they would talk about if they could talk.  I suspect that when they weren’t talking about the state of the boxes they crap in and complaining about Grendel eating their food, it would be hours and hours of them shouting, “HEY, HEY, HEY!” at each other and at us.  Because they’re cats.  It’s all poop and food and attention for them.  We would not be discussing literature, or even talking cats.  I reckon having a talking cat would suck.

But let’s see what Susy has to say about it.

Before we begin in earnest, it needs to be said that the Whitey tale was verified by a certain Bennett William Palmer, a retired minister, and therefore more trustworthy than the average Floridian who hears cats talking to them.  He vouched for Mr and Mrs James Deem (seriously, those were their names) so Susy flew to Florida, picked up the Good Reverend and drove on over to the Deem house.  Sadly, Whitey did not speak while Susy was in his house, and his owners seemed skittish as well, but after the humans in the house realized that Susy Smith was not going to mock them for claiming their enormous white cat could talk, they began to open up to her.

Mr Deem found Whitey when he was a tiny kitten.  Mrs Deem heard a pitiful meowing coming from near the house, and sent Mr Deem out into the rain to find Whitey, miserable and sick.  Mr and Mrs Deem spent 48 hours nursing the wee kitten until they restored him to health.  Whitey found his niche in the Deem household, a nice counter-balance to the Deems’ other cat, aptly named Blackie.  Then, when Whitey was six months old, he began to talk.

…he jumped on the bed one morning and said, “I’m hungry.”  Mrs. Deem was not asleep, but she knew she must have been dreaming.  “I thought I was hearing things,” she told me.  “A cat can’t talk.”  She turned over and looked at her pet.  Whitey spoke again.  “Mama, I’m hungry,” he said.

After verifying that Whitey had indeed said he was hungry, she did what any sane person would do.  She got up and fed the cat.

Whitey also showed his skills to Mr Deem.

Two or three days later James Deem was lying down when Whitey jumped up beside him.  Stroking the animal, Mr. Deem said, “Whitey, you’re a bad cat.”

“I am not a bad cat,” replied Whitey, then added, “I want to go out.”

After consulting his wife and determining that the cat was indeed talking, one presumes that Mr Deem let Whitey out.  Luckily, Whitey was not a loquacious cat.

Once he started speaking he was rather fluent for over a year, I was told.  While the more striking incidents occurred very infrequently, over a period of many months he is reported to have said some human word or sentence every day.

As irritating as having a talking cat must be in reality, Whitey’s story sounds rather charming.  He liked grocery shopping day.

When Mrs. Deem went to the grocery, she told me, she often returned with some chocolate.  Whitey is particularly fond of chocolate and he would say, “What did you bring me?”  She would counter with, “Do you love me, Whitey?” And he’d reply, “I love you, Mama, what did you bring me?”

Cute and obsessed with food, tinged with complete self-absorption.  And don’t feed your cats chocolate.  The vets say it’s poisonous but I’m beginning to think that perhaps chocolate triggers the capacity for cats to speak.  But still, don’t let them eat it.

Whitey’s speech at times involved topics other than food.

Once Ruth says she heard the cat say, “Come!  Come!”  She went out and saw him sitting, looking steadily at something under the house.  He said, “He’s a big one!”  She stooped to see what he was looking at, and a big black snake crawled out.  Mrs. Deem screamed, and then, she swears, the cat said, “Mama’s a coward.”

Television seemed to be an upsetting and baffling experience for Whitey.

Whitey likes to watch television and the set often is left on just for his benefit.  Once he saw a man shot on TV and asked, “Is he hurt?” Mrs. Deem said, “No, he isn’t hurt.”  Whitey then said, “Mama, don’t tell a lie.” He also is reported to have said of a dog he saw on television, “He’s not real.”  Ruth says she thinks she once heard him say, “Thanks,” but she is not positive of this.

Our late cat Adolph used to watch Spanish language television all the time.  I swear he knew how to operate the old television and remote system and would watch telenovellas at night when we were asleep.

Whitey also was a little tattletale.  Once the Deems left their house and cats in the care of a neighbor, taking a week’s vacation.  When they came back home, the house sitter came over for a visit and Whitey followed Mrs Deem into the bedroom and informed her that her guest, sipping coffee in the kitchen, had hit him.  She asked him what he hit him with and Whitey said he had smacked him with a newspaper.  Mrs Deem ferreted information out of her visitor.  Evidently Blackie and Whitey had gotten into a fight and the house sitter rolled up a newspaper and swatted wildly to get them to stop.

…he did a double take, wondering how she knew about it.  Then he remarked to me, “There is only one way she could have known.  That darn cat told her.”

Can you imagine what your cats could tell people about you?  “He farted twice during dinner.”  “She ate a pint of ice cream in the bathtub.”  “My mama said your pants make your butt look big.”

He may have been a little snitch but I tend to think Whitey was a good judge of character.  A traveling preacher heard about Whitey and showed up to see the cat.  Mrs Deem, far nicer than I am, let the preacher inside.

After some conversation, they were startled to hear Whitey say to the preacher, “Why don’t you go home?”  And then they were horrified when he added, “He’s a stinker.”  Mrs. Deem quickly said, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”  But Whitey stoutly denied it.  “I am not.”

Whitey had a very melodramatic flair, remembering back to his sorry beginnings as a lost kitten in the rain.  He frequently lamented about being hungry and feeling unloved.

If one subjects Whitey’s supposed conversation to psychological scrutiny it seems at times almost embarrassingly human – and Freudian.  Here is a cat that apparently was abandoned to die when it was a kitten.  Today, even though rescued and loved by the Deems, it still is reported to complain that “No one loves me.”  It most frequently uses human words of love and rejection: “Hungry,” “Mad,” “I want to go home,” “He’s bad” (often said about Blackie), “Love,” “I love Mama, ” and “Why no one love me?”

I don’t even want to tell you how sad it makes me to realize that perhaps these animals we love so much remember too clearly their hard times before they were rescued.  I guess people who buy cossetted expensive cats from reputable breeders never have to wonder about the bad times their animals faced but those of us who find abandoned and injured cats, hungry and miserable, would be so stricken to know that our cats remember starkly and sadly all the times they felt forsaken.  Poor Whitey.

Susy verified with neighbors that the cat had been heard speaking, and she respected how reluctant the Deems were initially to talk about it, since publicity-seeking can point to a certain lack of veracity.  The neighbors seemed sane and the sorts of people unlikely to perpetrate a hoax.  Plus there was the minister verifying their story.  The Deems seemed like stand-up folks. They mostly just wanted to be left alone with their black cat and their white cat.  They even moved when a story in the local news caused people to come and literally stalk their cats.  It was 1965.  Exploiting pets for base humor and fleeting fame had not yet become common and democratized.

Susy explores the potential reasons behind a talking cat – hoax, delusion, reincarnation, poltergeist, ventriloquist.  She also brings up another excellent story of a talking animal: Gef, the talking mongoose on the Isle of Man.  Gef was investigated far more than the story of Whitey and of course it was a fraud.  It also had more sinister overtones than Whitey’s tale, but there’s still something very endearing about a weird bushy rat thing that talked.

Yeah, I know.  None of this is scary. But Halloween doesn’t always have to be creepy or horrible – sometimes it’s just inexplicable.  For every gory murder or horrible monster there’s an emo talking cat who wants a treat on grocery day. Whitey is the cutely paranormal and while I’m glad my cats cannot speak English I also like the idea of Whitey so much that I held onto this brittle, worn-out paperback I bought for a quarter over two decades ago.  And yes, I call Mr OTC “a stinker” using my dead mother’s voice channeled through an elderly cat.  You may find this unseemly but if anyone understood using pets to irritate people, it was my mom.

I hope that Whitey’s afterlife is free of newspapers, black snakes, and creepy traveling carny preachers, and that he gets all the chocolate he wants.

Halloween 2017: The Merry Cemetery of Sapanta

Book: The Merry Cemetery of Sapanta

Credits: Photographs by Peter Kayafas, epitaph translations by Adrian G. Sahlean, introductory essay by Sanda Golopentia

Type of Book: Non-fiction, photography, Romanian cemetery

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because this book documents one of the most unique cemeteries in Europe and because if I enter the city name as it is spelled with correct diacritical marks, WordPress will automatically put every letter with a diacritical mark in the name in bold and italics throughout the entire entry for those reading on mobile devices.

Availability: Published by Eakins Press Foundation in 2008, you can get a copy here:

Comments: This is a delightful little book.  I bought it on a whim at the now closed Domy bookstore in Austin, but the photographs and general nature of the cemetery affected me deeply. I feel strongly that if I am to be buried after death, I want a marker like those in the Merry Cemetery to mark my resting place.  I rather hope I am cremated, or maybe Mr OTC could work up the nerve to haul my carcass out and do a sky burial, but if one is to be covered in dirt for eternity, this is a nice way to do it.

Merry Cemetery is in Sapanta, Romania.  Sapanta is in northern Romania, in a part of the country called Maramures.  According to Golopentia’s essay, around 3500 people live in Sapanta, and the cemetery is now a large tourist destination.  The cemetery’s colorful and at times jovial approach to death can be attributed to Ion Stan Patras (spelled differently throughout the internet but this is how the author’s essay in this book spells and orders his name), who began carving crosses as grave markers in 1935.  Patras was an artist who initially carved lovely gates for his townsfolk, and began to carve the crosses for the cemetery.  He wanted to take a livelier approach to death, incorporating bright colors into his designs.  The plots are separated with concrete dividers that are not that common in the USA but interestingly can be found in some cemeteries near where I live in Texas, where Eastern European immigrants settled.  These crosses for the cemetery plots almost visually seem like doors to me, an interesting correlation given Patras’ early career as a gate-carver.

Patras’ desire to create long-lasting and memorable crosses led him to begin to carve portraits of the dead into the wooden crosses.  Golopentia’s essay speculates that pre-World War Two rural Romanians often could not afford the glass coverings or porcelain transfers that would create long-lasting photos on headstones, so Patras took it upon himself to carve or paint long-lasting portraits of the deceased.  Patras’s colorful and lovely carved crosses became sought after by those who liked the bright and personalized approach to death that Patras created.  Before long, the colorful crosses with portraits had phrases meaningful to the deceased painted on them.  Sometimes those portraits depict how the person died and can be unnerving at first.  There can be no patronizing “this is the death he or she would have wanted” when you can see the child being hit by a car or the soldier being shot to death.  You can’t tell yourself the dead lived a wonderful life when the epitaph they influenced is telling you their life was too short and that they hope their killer burns in hell.

Those epitaphs eventually developed into one of the most striking features of the Merry Cemetery.  Painted in first person from the perspective of the dead, poems and short essays are painted on the crosses speaking directly to family members or those who pass by the cross.  The cemetery speaks directly to the living, forcing family and tourists alike to acknowledge the dead as they speak to us from their final resting place.

The Merry Cemetery shows a very different approach to death – remembering the dead is a colorful, mostly visually pleasant experience there, and the dead get to speak to us outside of the usual Christian sentiments and iconography that are used on headstones all over the Western world. It is that unusual approach to death that makes this cemetery so sought after to photograph.  Romania has influenced much that is dark and frightening in horror culture, from Dracula and vampires in general to the utterly grim and heartbreaking effects of communist totalitarianism on the weakest citizens.  We don’t expect to find a cemetery like the Merry Cemetery in Romania – hell, we don’t expect to find such a place in much of Europe, where somber cemeteries with solemn statuary and orderly tombs express the very Protestant notion that there can be no happiness or humor in death, or that a sad sentiment cannot be expressed with vibrant folk art.  And interestingly, we tend not to associate anger with cemeteries, all those European angels wielding swords aside, but some of the epitaphs on the crosses in the Merry Cemetery are harsh and angry.

There a beauty in this sort of naked honesty in death.  Gorgeous colors, intricate carvings, accurate portraits, personalized requiems that aren’t holy or full of saccharine sentiment.  This is the sort of death that defies the living applying the platitudes that serve us and not them.

I have a few favorite crosses/headstones in the Merry Cemetery, and I encourage you to seek out other photographs and translations of the Merry Cemetery crosses (assuming you aren’t Romanian).  This book is lovely and has some excellent representations of the crosses in Merry Cemetery, but it’s by no means comprehensive.

In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World by Rachel Doležal, Part Six

Book: In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World

Authors: Rachel Doležal and Storms Reback

Comments: Here we are, at the end of my look into Rachel Doležal’s failed attempt to persuade America that transBlack is a thing that exists and should be respected.  If you feel like you’re missing out and want to read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five before reading this entry, knock yourself out.  I’ll wait.

Reading and reacting to this book has been like watching a clown car catch on fire.  My overall perspective has been that Rachel is fairly clueless in how she comes across and painted such a negative picture of herself in this book that I can’t imagine why her co-author didn’t at some point intervene and explain to her how terrible she sounded.  But you know, that wasn’t his duty.  He was just there to finesse the book a bit, I bet. Rachel’s intelligent and a fairly talented artist but that doesn’t always translate into the type of writing skill needed for a memoir.  This book was meant to explain Rachel to us, to enable us to see her sympathetically and understand her perspective.  Instead, his book is a sobering look at a woman who absolutely refuses to get it, to own what she did, her transBlack ruse and staging hate crimes, her disingenuousness and her nastiness, her victim mentality and how dangerous she was.  And that’s a neat segueway into what this final entry is about: Rachel was a force of danger and Rachel will never be able to understand why she’s a pariah because this book is chock-full of examples wherein she proves her complete inability to see herself as she is.

In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World by Rachel Doležal, Part Four

Book: In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World

Authors: Rachel Doležal and Storms Reback

Comments: Now begins Part Four of my look at Rachel Doležal’s very ill-advised book.  If you find her as interesting as I do, be sure to check out Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

As I went over my notes after reading Rachel Doležal’s book, I had no intention of writing a multi-part article series discussing her book.  But I found myself marveling at the way her mind works and I just couldn’t stop digging. Most of the time, when a person pens a memoir, that person has developed a certain amount of self-awareness and can analyze their actions and their motives as they make sense of their life.  There are shallow celebrity memoirs that are just cash grabs and are meant to support the reality show trainwreck of the moment or take advantage of some celebrity scandal.  I don’t think anyone is reading the memoirs from all the women in the Real Housewives franchise with an eye to understanding what makes them tick or to see if they understand the Faustian bargain they’ve engaged in, trading away their privacy and dignity for reality show compensation.  You’re reading those books because your layover in O’Hare is four hours and you have time to kill.

Not so with this sort of memoir, or at least I’d hoped this would be different.  Rachel Doležal was and is still involved in a serious look at how race is constructed and perceived in the United States.  She engaged in what most of us believe is a long-scale hoax and in so doing outraged blacks, people of mixed race, and to a lesser extent transexuals and surely the reaction caused her to experience moments of deep contemplation wherein she came to grips with who she is, who she thinks she is, and who she wants to be.  Moreover, Rachel Doležal is a well-educated woman.  She has a Master’s degree, is well-read within her specific interests, and one presumes she is intelligent enough to know when she is bullshitting herself.  One presumes wrong.

Even as Rachel lauds blackness as something that makes her life fuller, causing her to feel more alive and more connected to the world, she devalues blackness with stereotypes and commercial interpretations of black beauty and worth.  As she derides “white saviors” she has no awareness that she is herself engaging in such antics.  I will later tackle the topic of “Rachel Will Never Get It” but much of what I discuss here today can also be subfiled under that heading. She just doesn’t see herself and her actions with any sort of clarity nor can she realize when she is stepping onto ground that is not hers to occupy.

In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World by Rachel Doležal, Part Three

Book: In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World

Authors: Rachel Doležal and Storms Reback

Comments: This begins Part Three of my look at the memoir of controversial “transBlack” activist Rachel Doležal.  Be sure to read Part One and Part Two if you’ve missed them.  Part One dealt with the terrible childhood that caused Rachel Doležal to focus on and identity so closely with blackness as a means of escapism and as a means of finding a reference for the overwork and misery she felt.  Part Two discusses how I believe, as do others, especially journalists and various police departments, that Rachel Doležal staged many of the hate crimes she claims were committed against her. Part Three is going to focus on how Rachel engaged in some amazing mental gymnastics (thank you Alex for reminding me of that phrase) and weasel words to justify herself to a public largely appalled with her actions. I will also explore how deeply unpleasant and almost unbelievably nasty Rachel really is.

My Dead Pets Are Interesting by Lenore Zion

Book Title:  My Dead Pets Are Interesting

Author: Lenore Zion

Type of Book: Non-fiction, memoir, humor

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because my dead pets are also interesting, and because this is probably my most self-indulgent discussion to date.

Availability: Published by The Nervous Breakdown Books in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Comments: When I finished reading Stupid Children by Lenore Zion, I knew I’d need to read everything she’d ever written.  She writes neurosis so well that it was alarming how well she pulled it off.  Now after reading My Dead Pets Are Interesting, it’s clear Zion is writing from a place of experience.  I’m pretty calm and well-adjusted these days, or at least I look that way.  A lot of the time I play up my quirks as I write, but it’s undeniable that as a younger woman I was a complete basket case and that even now I’m a bit more nervous and loopy than the average woman.  I sit on the OCD spectrum (contamination and cleanliness and I’m certain Mr. OTC will die in a car crash if I don’t give him a goodnight kiss every night before bed), am depressive and have a sleep issues that would kill you if you had them.  I’m not exaggerating.  On the upside, pictures I’ve posted online about my soul-crushing inability to sleep have been used in articles about insomnia, so I’ve got that going for me.  That’s how I know I’m better now – I can see the upside from time to time. Plus when you get older the shit that tired you when you were a kid no longer has the power because you’ve endured it long enough and now know it’s just one of many potential personality types and that neurotics are far thicker on the ground than anyone realizes when they are in their twenties.

Zion herself is a neurotic, and engages in a lot of the same behaviors I engaged in when I was younger, behaviors that seem pathological and inexplicable to the balanced person, but make utter sense to those of us who have the albatross of obsessive anxiety hanging from our necks like… well, like an albatross.  I get what she has to say and find the humor in how she relates her mild hysteria to her readers.  For those of us who are fellow travelers in neurosis, there is a truth and compassion in Zion’s writing that reminds us that we are both not alone in our affliction and that, in retrospect, almost everything is funny if you look at it the right way. 

Oiling the Slippery Slope

Mr. OTC and I were felled by a particularly tenacious flu virus and I’m not even close to being back on my game, but there’s something bothering me so much that I feel like I need to discuss it now, in an abbreviated form.  I will throw down hard on this topic in detail and with tons of links when my mind is clear and my home is recovered from a couple of weeks of neglect.

Are you, dear readers, aware that this month Amazon removed from sale over 150 books written on the topic of Holocaust revisionism and denial?  If you are aware of it, does it bother you?

News sources state a handful of books were eliminated for sale, but the number is far higher.  When I write my examination of what free speech in a genuinely free society means, I will list them all.  Interestingly, simply being published by Castle Hill is enough for removal because Amazon removed books Castle Hill publishes that have nothing to do with Holocaust revisionism.  Funny, that.

There is a perniciously stupid meme in modern America wherein we state that the only freedom of speech we can expect not to be violated or limited is that which is explicitly granted by the government.  The reasoning is Americans can only expect to exercise freedom of speech and press as granted by the government, therefore any cultural or corporate attempts to silence free speech and the press are acceptable in a free society, that this is a form of censorship that is somehow allowable since it is outside the purview of the government.  The American left has used this meme, this absolutely false belief, to bolster their attempts to deny work to people whom they consider bad, to contact employers, schools, families and churches of people whom they consider bad, to deny access to ideas they find bad, and now they’ve managed to deny access to an entire school of thought because where Amazon goes so do all the other booksellers.

When you use methods of intimidation to eliminate ideas you find distasteful, you are engaging in censorship.  When you pressure booksellers to stop selling books you find distasteful, you are engaging in censorship.  Such methods do not violate the Constitution to be sure but they definitely are censorship and censorship is a threat to the principles of democracy that are the very foundation upon which we have built American culture.

The usual gadflies insist that Amazon and other booksellers have the right to limit books they sell.  They’re correct.  Amazon has that right.  But should they use that right, and when they do should they be answerable for what they decide?  What does it mean when the largest book seller in the USA can effectively throttle access to large swathes of thought?  Books advocating Holocaust denial were removed at the behest of Yad Vashem, and Amazon contacted authors and publishers with the following statement:

We’re contacting you regarding the following book: Book Title Redacted. During our review process, we found that this content is in violation of our content guidelines. As a result, we cannot offer this book for sale.

Will it surprise anyone that Amazon did not elaborate on what content guidelines were violated?  Shouldn’t the largest seller of books in the United States be willing to explain why it is that after 20 years of selling these books they suddenly did not meet content guidelines?  Or are you sanguine with this move because Nazis are bad and Holocaust denial is bad and therefore it’s fine that Amazon and Yad Vashem have decided unilaterally what data you can be trusted to read?

Do you really feel okay having forces who have no idea why you want to read a book telling you that the ideas the book espouses are too dangerous for you to see, therefore they have taken the paternalistic step of ensuring that you don’t become a rabid anti-Semite because you chose to read Arthur Butz?

The people who seem the happiest about this wretched development are those who should oppose it the most. People who are terrified of fascism applaud this measure because to them it is a nail in the coffin to ideologies that feed from antisemitic, fascist beliefs.  But censorship is one of the first steps down the slippery slope into authoritarianism and fascists love themselves a book burning.

Because Amazon and other book sellers have decided you are too unreliable to process information, you now have no easy way of countering Holocaust denial because you will not know the meat of the argument and you will not know the references and sources used to reach those conclusions.  You have been denied your power of response.

That is what happens in a free society that does not tolerate censorship: we trust our citizens enough to process information for themselves, knowing that presentation of ideas and response to those ideas are the cornerstone of open discourse and that democracy cannot exist without it.  Amazon and Yad Vashem think you are a child who cannot judge information for yourself.  They think you are such a weak thinker that having access to Holocaust revisionist texts means you will become a vicious anti-Semite.  They think that you are too stupid to read an idea and form a response, so they took care of it for you.

That’s how it boils down: a corporation on behalf of a concentrated single interest group has engaged in the ultimate paternalism.  They have patted you on the head and told you that you cannot decide for yourself what you think.

Antisemitism is foul.  I have no use for it.  And I have never read a Holocaust denial that I could not easily refute, though I admit I have not read many.  It is undeniable that racism and antisemitism have caused grave problems and that both are offensive.  I personally find racism and antisemitism offensive.  I find a lot of things offensive.

But that’s the cost of doing business in a free society.  You will be offended.  Identity politics may have convinced you that you are not expected to endure feeling offended but what they don’t tell you that the cost of never being offended involves censorship and that you have no assurance that your single-interest approach to democracy will not be the next ideology determined too dangerous for the American people to read.  Being completely silenced is the ultimate offense.  Be offended by that prospect. This isn’t about Holocaust denial, antisemitism or fascism – it’s about who decides what is acceptable and unacceptable for you to think, to read, to say and to believe.  The genius of the Constitution is that it prevents any one person from being the decider for all, and an open society finds single interest deciders anathema.

You’re either a whinging child, begging for the government or large corporations to control the dissemination of ideas and man’s independent thought because you cannot tolerate people making decisions about what they read, or you’re an adult who is willing to permit all ideas access to the democratic marketplace, however offensive they may be, remaining engaged in the cultural arguments that promote democracy.

Antisemitism flourishes in a censored society.  Democracy cannot exist in a censored society, regardless of who is the censor.  Censorship, even if it is not initiated by the government, oils the slippery slope into fascist authoritarianism, fear of which fueled this very bad decision on Amazon’s part.

I do not need Yad Vashem or Jeff Bezos to make decisions about what I read and how I interpret it, nor do I need them to guide me through the moral decisions I make regarding controversial topics.  Neither do you.

Book Gawking: Holiday 2016

We had a blah sort of holiday season this year at Chez Oddbooks.  Lots of reasons but mostly some years you are just ready for it all to be over with so you can start a new year and get going again.  We decorated but we didn’t bother giving gifts and instead just gave each other permission to buy whatever we wanted.  And of course, being who we are, we ended up buying a lot of books.

Somehow we bought 119 books.  I’m not even exaggerating.  I scanned them and put them into their own tag over on our Goodreads account.  Have a look if you enjoy browsing through other people’s books as much as I do.

I took a picture of some of my more photogenic choices from our holiday book binge.

All of these were impulse purchases, including The Fuck-Up. No one ever plans to buy a book called The Fuck-Up.

The most interesting purchases I made were not photogenic at all but I want to share them anyway.  All three were used and were just sitting there in the “collectible” section at the big Half-Price Books in Austin, waiting for me.

The first is Instant Lives by Howard Moss.  This is a collection of short, humorous stories about various poets and authors and composers, like Emily Dickinson, Henry James, and Claude Debussy.  I purchased it because the book is illustrated by Edward Gorey.  This is a first edition from 1974 and is going into my “Gorey” collection.

The second is one I think Mr OTC is going to appreciate as much as I do, if not more.  Act Like Nothing’s Wrong: The Montage Art of Winston Smith is a book I owned many years ago but lent out and never got it back.  Mr OTC and I were once SubGenii, and I guess we still are.  Once a SubGenius, always a SubGenius, right?  Winston Smith’s strange and incendiary collages were an important part of the 80s ‘zine culture and still have a cultural punch.  I was so happy to find a clean, collectible copy of this book.  Most copies of this book I’ve come across since losing my original look like someone found them in a dumpster.  This was a righteous score.

The final book is The Secret Books, with poems by Jorge Luis Borges and photographs by Sean Kernan.  It’s a large format, soft cover collection, with gorgeous photographs incorporating Borges’ poems.  I wanted to scan one or two examples but our scanner tests my patience. But never fear!  Scroll through this site and you’ll get a good idea of what the book is about.  This is one of those books that called to me.  I can’t tell you exactly why I needed to own this book but I needed it.  Some books are yours without you even knowing they exist and sometimes you’re lucky enough to find them before someone else buys them.

How was your holiday?  Get or buy any good books?  Any awesome plans for 2017?  Have grave concerns about our next credit card bill?  Share away!

The Night Country by Stewart O’Nan

Book: The Night Country

Author: Stewart O’Nan

Type of Book: Literary fiction, fiction, novel, ghost story

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s a wholly modern ghost story and part of the selection of books that I reread every few years or so. I do my best to read this book at least every other Halloween.

Availability: The edition I own is the 2004 Bloomsbury edition, which isn’t easily obtained, but the novel itself is still in print and you can get a copy here:

Comments: Stewart O’Nan is a pretty mainstream author and I doubt he’ll come up too often on this site in the future, but I couldn’t let another Halloween go by without discussing The Night Country. O’Nan is not a particularly odd writer and his stories can be remarkably prosaic but he is a master of characterization and his characters never fail to appeal to me in a very direct way. Mr OTC keeps me in middle class splendor, but I have some very working class roots (as does Mr OTC, for that matter). O’Nan captures perfectly the life of the man who clocks in and works an hourly wage. He depicts relationships in a tender manner that lacks sentimentality. His novel Last Night at the Lobster was a revelation to me – I discussed it on my old and now defunct site, I Read Everything, and that book alone cements O’Nan as one of my favorite mainstream writers.

But it was a bonus read because The Night Country was already in my to-be-reread-until-I-die rotation. I’m going to force myself to write as concise a discussion as possible because I don’t want to run the risk of spoiling this novel for anyone because I think just about everyone who reads here will like this book, and I hope you all read it after this review. That’s going to be hard because this book causes me to want to go on at length and explore every line. Let’s see how succinct I can be while honoring my desire to rave.

Here’s a quick synopsis: A year prior on Halloween, a car with five teenagers caught the attention of a patrol officer and tried to outrun him. The officer gave chase and the car crashed, killing three of the teenagers inside, gravely injuring one, while one walked away with few injuries. Marco, Danielle and Toe (real name Christopher) died. Marco is narrating this book while Danielle and Toe serve as a sort of third-person Greek chorus, chiming in with opinions and dark humor when they feel the need. Kyle suffered brain damage that rendered him child-like, and his mother is trying to hold on to hope now that she has a son who will be mentally a grade-school boy the rest of his life. Tim, who sustained no harm in the wreck, is groping through as he grimly plans to recreate that terrible night as best he can this Halloween. Brooks, the cop who gave chase in dangerous conditions, has lost everything – the esteem of his fellow officers, his wife left him and he is being forced out of his home because he can no longer afford it. Brooks senses that Tim is not going to let the first anniversary of the accident pass without some dark action but has become so uneven at performing his job that the reader has no idea how (and if) he can help Tim come out the other side of Halloween.

This book is a traditional ghost story, in a way, in that the dead come back to comment on the living, but this is a ghost story full of meta. The ghosts know they are ghosts and at times find the whole thing very tiresome but they have no choice in the matter – when the living invoke their memory, they are summoned and they cannot refuse. The three dead teenagers find themselves being pulled all over town the Halloween the year after their death and sometimes it’s miserable and sad, but sometimes the teens snark on the nature of being a ghost, invoking Dickens’ Marley, moaning and rattling metaphorical chains. But the teenagers know the fallout their deaths have caused Tim and Brooks. They also know how their deaths affect Kyle’s mother because she’s been faced with a death of her own – the black-jean-and-leather-jacket-wearing son she raised, the rebellious boy who listened to death metal, is now a shuffling, clumsy teenager who needs supervision constantly. He can’t even tie shoelaces anymore and must use velcro sneakers. He has a part time job at a supermarket that he maintains because he and Tim work together and Tim supervises him closely. But Kyle also must ride the special education bus, is gaining weight at a rapid clip and it can be said the old version of him died in that car Halloween a year ago. But his mother knows three families lost their child and feels that she must feel grateful because her child lived, even though she knows, really, that he died, too.

Tim especially feels disembodied in his life. Danielle was his girlfriend and because she wanted to sit in his lap that night the two of them moved to the backseat. Had he remained in the front seat, he would have died. Instead Danielle was thrown from the car and Tim doesn’t have a single visible scar remaining of that night. But his psychic scars tell him in no uncertain terms that he and Kyle should have died that night and is on a mission to set right that cosmic oversight. He’s going through the motions and no one but Brooks seems to understand that Tim is not okay, that he is not handling all of this well, that he needs far more from his parents than they realize, but Brooks has issues of his own. His entire life has fallen apart because he blames himself for what happened that night and so do many others.

After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones

Book: After the People Lights Have Gone Off

Author: Stephen Graham Jones

Type of Book: Fiction, horror, weird fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Ultimately this may not be an odd collection but this book creates the feeling that the reader is consuming something wholly new. Too often originality in content and voice in the horror genre are somewhat odd, sad to say.

Availability: Published by The Dark House Press in 2014, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I already know, writing the first sentence of my discussion for After the People Lights Have Gone Off, that I will be using the delete key quite a bit. I find it difficult to put into words why some stories in this collection were the literary equivalent of throwing a lead weight over the side of a ship and why some stories soared, excellent examples of literary horror at its best. Some of Jones’s stories were so perfect that I felt that familiar pull of envy that comes when I read something so wonderful that I wish I had thought of it first. But some of Jones’s stories were impenetrable for me, leaving me wondering if he missed the mark or if I was just too dense to understand what he was trying to convey. Ultimately I decided I just wasn’t the sort of reader to appreciate those stories, that taste was at issue and not talent.

The hell of it is, this has been a pretty dense year for me. Sort of muddy and brackish. I don’t feel as on the ball at the moment as I have in years past. But what made me decide that my divided reactions are righteous was analyzing why I am so divided about the stories in this collection. The answer is that while Jones has a distinct voice, he is also a malleable writer who is moving around within his chosen genre. The stories that have a familiar ring to them are written in a style that makes them seem fresh, but Jones also ventures out into new territory, with strange ideas and storytelling techniques that can be maddening when one is the sort of reader who needs the conclusions to be neater. Jones may luck out and find readers who love every bit of his work, as he twists the horror genre into new shapes, but chances are he’s going to end up with a substantial number of readers who love it when he’s wearing a particular storytelling hat but less so when he puts on another.

One hat that Jones kept on throughout this collection is the “weird” hat. Much of this collection could be considered weird fiction, which may be one of the reasons why some of the stories didn’t work for me. I like weird fiction, as a rule, but this horror subset lends itself well to muffled storytelling, mushy conclusions, entire story lines that can be up for interpretation. I’ve been clear in the past how I feel about such writing. That sort of remote remove in writing irritates me because it is too often a cop-out, a lazy attempt to force the burden of storytelling onto the reader. Jones, when his writing is up for interpretation doesn’t echo the laziness of others who write this way, and this entire collection is refreshingly devoid of irony, but even purposeful, earnest writing that employs this sort of post-modernist equivocation will likely always ring false to me.