Penny Dreadfuls

penny dreadfuls

I picked up Penny Dreadfuls from Pioneer Book around Halloween time. I picked it up for a few reasons. It was on the Halloween display, and I kind of love that holiday. It was also a pretty attractive book. Bright red, with razors all over the front. (I have a pretty messed up version of “attractive” around October.) It contained the original story of Sweeney Todd, which I’ve always wanted to read. And it was edited by a man whose last name was Dziemanowicz, which is important because I have seen way too many Homestar Runner cartoons, and HR’s email address is DJmankiewicz@homestarrunner.com.

So anyways, I clearly had to get it. And then it took me forever to get through it because the very first thing they’ve got in there is the original 1818 version of Frankenstein. Tactical blunder. I mean, it’s pretty good—and Ethan was reading the later version at the same time, so it was fun to see what Shelley’s editors made her change—but man, that is not a short story. It is a long story. It is a novel.

This collection claimed to be a whole bunch of terrifying, gory short stories. What it actually is, is a whole bunch of over-the-top, gory-to-the-point-of-just-being-depressing, badly written first attempts from well-known authors who probably wish nobody remembered these particular stories. All of this sandwiched in between two classic novels. One of which was Frankenstein (which I don’t really care for, but I understand why it’s a classic), and the other of which was Sweeney Todd (which I absolutely loved, but I understand why people haven’t read it in forever. Plot holes, everywhere. No character development at all. Still a great ride.)

Don’t waste your time on this book. Read Frankenstein if you want, and read Sweeney Todd if you haven’t, but please for the love of every author who’s ever published something terrible just to make their next paycheck, don’t immortalize all this garbage in between. ♦

Boo.

Have you ever heard of Amish friendship bread?

It’s not really a bread. It’s more of a cake. Actually, I can’t call it a cake—I’ve only ever seen the end result once in my life. In my experience with Amish friendship bread, it’s just a bag of goo. A bag of goo that requires as much maintenance as a sorority girl.

Someone drops off this token of friendship (bag of goo), with a page of instructions. Full page. And the instructions are things like, “Day 1: squish bag.” Got it. “Day 2: throw bag in the air.” Okay. “Day 3: add flour.” I think I’m on day 3. I’ll add some flour. And maybe squish it, because I don’t know whether I missed a day or not. It’s not that hard, but by the time you’ve been through about a week, you feel like Day 17 is going to ask you to sacrifice your firstborn. You have to keep track of the bag of goo, how many days you’ve had the bag of goo, whether or not you’ve missed a day of tending the bag of goo… it’s like a baby. An ugly, slimy baby.

And here’s where they get you: Day 5 (or thereabouts) is “Divide starter in half and share with a friend!” They put that early on, before you’ve given up. So before you realize what horrible thing you’ve done, you give someone a bag that represents your friendship and then you both destroy it and never speak of it again. I hope your relationship wasn’t really riding on this bread. Cake. Whatever.

Now that I’ve ranted for an entire page about Amish friendship bread, let’s talk about something far less irritating and considerably less gooey: The Boo.

youvebeenbooed

We got this sign on our doorstep with a bag of cookies almost a week ago. (The sign looked a little different, but I’m lazy and this is what Google gave me. You get the idea.) The gist is that we got a sign, some treats, and a set of instructions telling us to make two copies and doorbell-ditch treats to two other people within two days. Keep it going!

This is the chain letter of snacks. Which is good and bad. Good: snacks. Bad: chain letter. Fortunately, this chain letter doesn’t include any threats about your grandmother dying or losing the love of your life if you don’t forward it.

It’s actually a great idea. It gives you an opportunity to do something (sneakily) good for your neighbors, it gives you a chance to really spread around some Halloween spirit before the actual holiday. It means everybody gets snacks—which everybody loves!

But it still has some hidden strings to it. I mean, am I a bad neighbor if I ignore this? If I eat the cookies without fulfilling the requirements, is that stealing? I don’t know the actual rules for this sort of thing. And if I drop this off to someone who hates chain letters, will they be happy or irritated? It’s flattery followed up with guilt! Who do I send this to? I’m not mad—I just legitimately don’t know what to do with it at this point.

statler-and-waldorf

Alternative sign idea.

So here I am, feeling like some watered-down delinquent every time I see this (nicely laminated) sign staring at me, because I didn’t even put it on my door to let people know I’ve already been “booed.” (Because part of me really wants someone to give me some more cookies.) And since it’s already been over two days, is my contract up? Has the obligation hit an expiration date? Am I off the hook? Or am I going to Neighborhood Holiday Hell? (And what kinds of punishments happen there, I wonder?)

Here’s the thing: if you really like these, let me know. I have one. I’ll give it to you. I’ll even give you some snacks. I just want to know that you’ll enjoy it. And if you’re the person who gave this to us, please, please doorbell-ditch the recipe for those cookies. I sold my suburban cultural soul for those things. And they were 100% worth it. Best cookies I’ve ever eaten in my life. I may die at the hands of my mother for saying it, but it’s true. Those were amazing cookies. ♦

Something Wicked This Way Comes

something-wicked-this-way-comes

Ray Bradbury is a freaking genius.

Most people know Bradbury through Fahrenheit 451, which is well-known because it’s required reading for a lot of high school classes. For good reason, of course—it’s well written, it makes a very good point, and the point it makes is for literature and against censorship; it’s popular among English teachers.

But let me be honest: Fahrenheit 451 is my least favorite of anything I’ve ever read by Bradbury. It’s not a bad book, by any means. It’s a great book. The problem is that I had already read Bradbury’s portrayals of Halloween before I read it. And if Bradbury is good at writing, he is amazing at Halloween.

I mean, the storyline is good. But when Ray Bradbury tells you it was October, he doesn’t just tell you the month. He tells you what the leaves smell like, what color the dirt on your shoelaces is, and the sound of your mother calling you home for dinner while you race your friend to the front porch. He’s a poet—he just writes it in prose. And when someone that good at writing decides to write horror, it’s amazing and terrifying all at once.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a story about two 13-year-old boys, a middle-aged man, and an evil carnival. That’s basically it; it’s a classic good-versus-evil story. But the real difference is that Bradbury makes the story about humanity, youth, fear, growing old, and breathing just for the joy of filling your lungs. He doesn’t tell you that the good guys win; he tells you why light is stronger than dark.

This is literally the best book I have ever read. If you haven’t read it yet this October, get out there and buy a copy. ♦

The Halloween Tree

The Halloween Tree

If you haven’t read The Halloween Tree, go to your library right now and pick up a copy. This is a children’s classic, a Halloween classic, and an all-around great story.

Ray Bradbury is best known for two things: great science fiction and Fahrenheit 451, which nearly every American has to read at some point in public school. Ironically, I think it’s one of my least favorite Bradbury works; I absolutely love nearly everything else he’s written, but I think his writing style is more suited to poetic, nostalgic works like Dandelion Wine.

And The Halloween Tree, of course. The Halloween Tree is an old favorite of mine about a group of trick-or-treaters who have to save their friend Pipkin – the rip-roaringest, girl-hatingest, frog-catchingest boy who ever lived – from Death Himself. And while the group of costumed boys follow the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud on a chase through time, they have to face Halloween in all its most ancient forms, from ancient Egypt to Greece to the English druids. The story is breathtaking, and the writing makes you ache for the smell of raw, carved pumpkins and the dying grass beneath your feet.

Do yourself a favor this Halloween and pick this one up. And if you’re looking for more Bradbury after that, pick up some of his scary short stories or a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes. You will not be disappointed. ♥

Your Seven-Year-Old is a Racist, But Iggy Azalea is Hilarious

It’s the day after Halloween, and all the world wants to know is: who did my favorite celebrities dress as?

Okay, maybe not, but that’s what the media’s obsessed with, anyway. So one of the current trending stories is Iggy Azalea’s costume. In response to a derogatory tweet by Snoop Dogg, who claimed she looked like a character from the movie White Chicks, she decided to go ahead and use it as her costume. And if I may say so, she did a pretty dang good job. The internet is eating it up – it’s a hilarious response to Snoop’s “bullying” comments.

white chicks

But compare that reaction with posts like this:

3 Ways You Can Promote Inclusiveness This Halloween

Flowchart: Is Your Halloween Costume Racist?

Everyday Feminism: Is Your Halloween Costume Racist?

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think we should be offensive. But I also don’t think we should be hyper-sensitive – and I feel like a lot of these claims of “racism” simply aren’t. I don’t think a Lil’ Wayne hat is just as racist as black-face (as the third article claims). Because you’re not making fun of Black people. You’re making fun of Lil’ Wayne. I also think it would be more offensive to show up trick-or-treating in authentic, ceremonial Native American dress than in a fake Indian costume. Because it’s a costume, and it’s supposed to be fake and silly. If you’re dressing up in something authentic and sacred, wouldn’t that be more of a mockery?

I’m a Mormon. If you showed up on my doorstep dressed in ceremonial temple clothing, I would ask you to change. But if you showed up with a fake beard and your five sisters, dressed as Brigham Young and five of his polygamous wives, I would laugh my head off. It’s a silly holiday.

As a White woman, I know I have no right to decide what is and is not racist when it comes to other cultures. But I feel like the message being sent here is, “Don’t make fun of anyone – except White people. They deserve it. They don’t have a real culture, anyways.” I mean, if my neighbor’s seven-year-old dresses as a geisha, people might get the wrong idea about Japanese people. But when Iggy Azalea dresses as a Black man dressed as a White woman, it’s hilarious. If my Navajo friends come to my doorstep dressed as a “Basic White Girl,” with leggings, Uggs, and a pumpkin-spice latte, everybody’s gonna laugh their heads off. But if I dress like a “Basic Black Girl” or put on an inauthentic, generic “American Indian” costume, people are gonna tell me to go home and change.

I don’t think I’m hyper-sensitive. (I think Iggy’s costume is brilliant, for the record.) I guess I’m just tired of my race being considered the perpetrator of every “hate crime.” I’m tired of being the butt of every joke because nobody dares joke about anyone else. And I’m not pretending “White privilege” doesn’t exist – but so does White pain. We’re people, too. I’m just looking for some consistency: if the media wants to be culturally sensitive, they should be sensitive to all cultures. If they’re going to lighten up and take a joke, they should be willing to do that across the board. ♦

The Hound of the Baskervilles

hound-baskervilles-210x315

I was doing some family history the other day, and I stumbled across a few English ancestors from the 16th and 17th century with the last name of “Baskerville.”

Naturally, this led to about 140 pages of mystery reading.

Last Christmas was our first as a couple. And, as newlyweds and college students, we decided it was probably best not to spend a ridiculous amount of money on gifts. Read: any money. We pretty much decided not to spend anything. Fortunately, at the last minute, we found some extra money in the budget, and I remembered that I had about $40 worth of credit at a used paperback store in Bountiful, and we went on a book spree. Between the paperback shop and a trip to Barnes and Noble, we decided to just take each other shopping, pick out the books we wanted, put them under the tree, and then spend Christmas break reading.

This is how I ended up with the 2-volume, hardbound, complete stories of Sherlock Holmes. Oh, happy day.

So, back to my original story, this is how I immediately set my genealogy hobby aside for a few hundred pages to indulge my reading hobby. I’ve read the book before – but it’s been about 10 years or so, which meant that most of the time, I was just as confused as the first time I’d read it. I kept turning pages thinking, “Well, that’s weird… I thought… maybe not…” Boots were stolen, romances foiled, and servants caught sneaking around in the night to light candles in deserted rooms. It’s a pretty good mystery.

And, of course, there’s a hell-hound. Can’t forget that. A big, black, shiny, rabid, murderous hell-hound.

Interestingly, I noticed that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set The Hound of the Baskervilles in October, nearing the end of the month. I don’t know whether he just wanted a good, autumnal feel to it, or whether it was his Halloween present to his readers, but I think it added a good sense of spook to the whole thing. (A few years ago, Ethan dressed up in furry attire and a mask and ran around the apartment complex on Halloween, growling and acting beastly. Shortly thereafter, his roommates came snooping around dressed as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, asking if anyone had seen the Hound of the Baskervilles.) Whether Sir Arthur meant the book to be a Halloween horror flick or simply a complicated mystery, I highly recommend it, and just in time for Halloween reading, too. ♦

Halloween Flicks for the Faint of Heart

I love Halloween like it was my creepy, undead firstborn child. But I have to admit, as much as I like being creeped out, it doesn’t take much. I don’t watch R-rated movies, and there are quite a few PG-13s I pretty much avoid. I don’t really like blood and guts. Or zombies (don’t hurt me). Or slasher films. Or excessive occult references. Or stupid, teenage protagonists who go out looking for monsters in skimpy underwear.

Read: I like children’s Halloween movies. Basically, if you’re below the age of 5, my house is the happenin’ place to be on Halloween. So, if you’re a wuss, or you’re under the age of 5, or you have kids under the age of 5, here’s my suggestion for you: a list of B-rated Halloween movies that might scare your pants, even if they won’t scare your pants off.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Dr. Jekyll

Nothing like an old-timey movie.

Trollhunter

Trollhunter

Ah, Norwegian horror. “Why for problem make when you no problem have you no want to make?” …What?

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters

Who you gonna call?

Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus

We’ll run amok. Amok, amok, amok, amok!

The Haunting 

The Haunting

Based on a Shirley Jackson book, and alternately spooky and hilariously dated.

The Screaming Skull

The Screaming Skull

An absolute nightmare for 2-year-olds.

Anything at all with Vincent Price

Vincent Price

Seriously. Look at the guy.

Casper the Friendly Ghost

Casper

It’s my party and I’ll die if I want to…

Nightmare Before Christmas/Corpse Bride

Nightmare Before Christmas

Classic Tim Burton/Classic Tim Burton Returns.

Dracula – the old school one

Dracula

“Listen to them! Creatures of the night!”

Psycho

Psycho

Or any Hitchcock film, really.

The Princess and the Frog

Priness and the frog

Shadowman is terrifying.

Anything with this guy’s voice:

Frankenstein

Frankenstein

Another old-timey classic.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth

David Bowie at his finest.

The Princess and the Goblin

Princess and the Goblin

Man, this was the scariest thing when I was 2.

Gravity Falls

Gravity Falls

A whole TV series of mystery, paranormal hilarity featuring Grunkle Stan and a pig named Waddles.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

You can never be safer than when you’re with Donald Sutherland.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters

The only things I really remember about this movie are some dead birds and a sculpture made out of mashed potatoes.

Gremlins

Gremlins

Okay, so it’s set during Christmas. But like Nightmare Before Christmas, nobody really watches this one on Christmas.