kestrell: (Default)
Kes: I am currently reading this book, and it may turn out to be my favorite nonfiction book of 2011. It's available through Bookshare.org.

Two Brains Running:
A review of
_Thinking, Fast and Slow_
by Daniel Kahneman

review by JIM HOLT
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/books/review
/thinking-fast-and-slow-by-daniel-kahneman-book-review.html

block quote start
Such sweeping conclusions, even if they are not endorsed by the author, make me frown. And frowning -- as one learns on Page 152 of this book -- activates the skeptic within us: what Kahneman calls 'System 2. Just putting on a frown, experiments show, works to reduce overconfidence; it causes us to be more analytical, more vigilant in our thinking; to question stories that we would otherwise unreflectively accept as true because they are facile and coherent.
And that is why I frowningly gave this extraordinarily interesting book the most skeptical reading I could.

System 2, in Kahneman's scheme, is our slow, deliberate, analytical and consciously effortful mode of reasoning about the world. System 1, by contrast, is our fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious mode. It is System 1 that detects hostility in a voice and effortlessly completes the phrase 'bread and. . . . ' It is System 2 that swings into action when we have to fill out a tax form or park a car in a narrow space. (As Kahneman and others have found, there is an easy way to tell how engaged a person's System 2 is during a task: just look into his or her eyes and note how dilated the pupils are.)
[Kes: another experiment in which I would love to participate.]

More generally, System 1 uses association and metaphor to produce a quick and dirty draft of reality, which System 2 draws on to arrive at explicit beliefs and reasoned choices. System 1 proposes, System 2 disposes. So System 2 would seem to be the boss, right? In principle, yes. But System 2, in addition to being more deliberate and rational, is also lazy. And it tires easily. (The vogue term for this is 'ego depletion.') Too often, instead of slowing things
down and analyzing them, System 2 is content to accept the easy but unreliable story about the world that System 1 feeds to it. Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is,' Kahneman writes, 'the automatic System 1 is the hero of this book. System 2 is especially quiescent, it seems, when your mood is a happy one.

At this point, the skeptical reader might wonder how seriously to take all this talk of System 1 and System 2. Are they actually a pair of little agents in our head, each with its distinctive personality? Not really, says Kahneman. Rather, they are 'useful fictions' -- useful because they help explain the quirks of the human mind.
block quote end

The NY Times book section has another, very brief, article on audiobooks which may be of interest:
THE MECHANIC MUSE. The Mind's Ear.
by James Parker
Published: November 25, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/books/review/the-minds-ear.html?ref=technology
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I don't know what it is about today, but I've been cold all day, so I finally gave in and pulled out the incredible oversized-and-still-growing sweater which Eitan knitted for me years ago. And when Isay oversized, I mean, it hangs to my knees--I swear when I throw it in the dryer it gets bigger.

And if I had the least bit of productivity left, it's gone bye-bye now that The NY Times has published its list of the top 100 books for 2011, a list which I always enjoy reading as I alternately mock and scribble down titles.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/books/review/100-notable-books-of-2011.html?_r=3&ref=books
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_The Book That Eats People_ (2009)
Written by John Perry, illustrated by Mark Fearing
http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/book-eats-people

This is a grrreat read-aloud book, and it manages to be more than a little creepy. Ignore the suggested reading level of age three to third grade, although I still recommend sticking to the idea of having someone else risk his fingers by holding it and reading it aloud to you (hey, I need those brailling fingers!).

This book is not cute. It is carnivorous and cunning and capable of chameleon-like camouflage, so be very very careful.

This book also has a Jekyll and Hyde personality, such as when it describes itself as follows:

block quote start
WARNING! THIS IS NOT A BEDTIME STORY

Legend has it there exists a book that eats people.

This is that book!

Many readers have been unable to escape its perilous pages.
But this isn't that book.

(Yes it is!)

This is simply a story about that book.
Really. I mean, how could a book eat people?
So if you're just dying to know the history of this literary monster, all you have to do is turn the page...

(Don't do it!)
block quote end

Seriously, I dare you to read this book in the dark under the covers with only a flashlight to protect you. Also, this is the kind of book which will ensure any kid you babysit will remember you forever--perhaps not fondly, but for*ever(.
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The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (2011)

As much as I consider myself to be an Umberto Eco fangirl, and as much as I adore his literary games, I am uncomfortable to admit that I did not enjoy this book.

I say "uncomfortable" because it is an uncomfortable book. Simone Simonini, the protagonist--and the only fictional character out of the many characters in this book--is a misanthrope, a forger, and an anti-Semite. Indeed, Simonini's obsessive desire is to compose a document which will persuade the world that there really is a Jewish conspiracy. Eco's source for the fictional document is the nonfictional The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Eco intentionally set out to make Simonini as dislikeable as possible.

In interviews such as the live one which took place recently at the Harvard Bookstore event and online interviews such as that on
GoodReads
http://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/622.Umberto_Eco
Eco mentions that he wished his protagonist to be as dislikeable as Shakespeare's Macbeth or Richard III.

The problem is that, while Macbeth and Richard III are morally repugnant, they are not entirely unlikeable, as is Eco's Simonini. Richard and Macbeth both have tremendous intelligence, linguistic wit, and immense daring. These characteristics are actually what make them most dangerous, for they are likeable, even charming, when they choose to be. This is one of the reasons wy, generations after their dramatic inceptions, we choose to view or read about these characters again and again: they encompass what is both best and worst in human nature.

Simonini, on the other hand, is only and merely dislikeable. Hatred is his motivation, and it inspires him with only a clockwork single-mindedness, but no passion, no wit, no poetry. Richard III and Iago have a Luciferian grandness to them which makes me wonder if Milton's Luciver could have existed without them as his, so to speak, literary fathers. Simonini is merely squalid--a dreary rat living amongst the sewers and shadows of the City of Lights.

And so the reader is invited to join in the literary game, but what enjoyment is there in playing with such a charmless, humorless shadow, someone who is so colorless that he can only truly demonstrate a personality by taking on a disguise as someone else?

The world is full of such grey shadows and, while I may feel sorry for them, I do not choose to keep company with them. The book is, like all of Eco's works, intellectually brilliant and complex, but ultimately, it was for me a joyless game.
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I am about to immerse myself in Umberto Eco's new novel, _The Prague Cemetery_.

You may not hear from me for a while.
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Book signing & celebration with Dr. Bill Henderson

Thursday November 10, 2011
7-11 PM
Florian Hall
55 Hallet Street, Dorchester

The evening will feature a short book talk from Bill after which he will be available to sign books. The Blind Advantage will be available for purchase at the event. There will also be entertainment, hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar, a silent auction and raffle items.

Donation: $20 per person in advance or at the door
Please make checks payable to the Henderson Inclusion School.

Please contact the school for additional information 617-635-8725. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Dr. William Henderson Inclusion Elementary School in Dorchester

More about the book:
The Blind Advantage How Going Blind Made Me a Stronger Principal and How Including Children with Disabilities Made Our School Better for Everyone
by Bill Henderson
This book can also be purchased through
The Harvard Education Publishing Group Web site
http://www.hepg.org/hep/book/145/TheBlindAdvantage
which also offers an audio book, MP3 download
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-246-5
Price: $24.95
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There's a free fiction sampler up here
http://underwordsblog.com/2011/10/01/free-fiction-sampler-october-2011/
with sample excerpts from many new releases, and the PDF downloads are even accessible, at least, the ones I have tried so far have been. Now I'm off to sample the new Cherie Priest _Hellbent_, which includes a blind vampire.
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Jesse the K sent me this review from the NY Times (warning: it has many spoilers, so don't read the rest of the review until after you read the book), and it perfectly describes how I've been wandering about trying to find a book which will be as satisfying as _Reamde_. I tried A. S. Byatt's _Ragnorok_, but that was a mistake: reading Byatt right after Stephenson feels like trying to share a space with a neat freak who keeps looking at your dinner and asking are you really going to eat that?

Reamde - By Neal Stephenson - Book Review - NYTimes.com
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/books/review/reamde-by-neal-stephenson-book-review.html?ref=review

Let us say that novelists are like unannounced visitors. While Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow pound manfully on the door, Jonathan Franzen and Zadie Smith knock politely, little preparing you for the emotional ferociousness with which they plan on making themselves at home. Neal Stephenson, on the other hand, shows up smelling vaguely of weed, with a bunch of suitcases. Maybe he can crash for a couple of days? Two weeks later he is still there. And you cannot get rid of him. Not because he is unpleasant but because he is so interesting. Then one morning you wake up and find him gone. You are relieved, a little, but you also miss him. And you wish he’d left behind whatever it was he was smoking, because anything that allows a human being to write six 1,000-page novels in 12 years is worth the health and imprisonment risk.
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I downloaded _Reamde_ either Wednesday or Thursday, and I've been pretty much reading it continuosly since then. While it is another one thousand page tome, I found it to be fast-paced and enjoyable from start to finish.

I think Reamde_ may be Stephenson's most technically mature work so far: not only is it well-plotted and well-paced, but the story keeps going right up until the end (saving a very short but satisfying epilogue chapter), completely avoiding Stephenson's weakness--until now--of having very weak abrupt endings.

I don't really want to say too much about the story, since it has lots of surprises, but I will say that it is a cyberthriller which involves an online game, and all fo he characers are believably non-superhuman. Also, there's a believable disabled character and everybody keeps their scars at the end, as opposed to to the sort of story where everyone seems to have access to magic healing spells.

For the curious, Jaws unexpectedly but happily pronounces the title (which I think is correct) as "reamed," although Jaws pronounces "reamed" as "re-aimed."
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Panel: Book Design and Typography in the Digital Era.
Panelists:
Neil Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld Magazine http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/
and author of the highly informative essay, "This is My Life on Ebooks" http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/clarke_07_11/
Erin Kissane http://incisive.nu/about/
author of _Elements of Content Strategy_, available in both paper and ebook formats http://www.abookapart.com/products/the-elements-of-content-strategy
David G. Shaw, Alicia "Kestrell" Verlager
Edited later: Apologies for getting a panelist name wrong, the panelist was actually Ken Liu
http://kenliu.name/
who read from an article he wrote about the transition from codex to scroll
and the blog David recommended for more on ebooks and accessible Web design was Joe Clark's blog http://www.facebook.com/l/qAQD1rd19/blog.fawny.org/."

This panel is mostly a blur in my memory, although I remember David and others recommending a number of useful resources, such as A List Apart, and the book which Erin just published. David pointed out Cory Doctorow's collaborative publishing effort in his latest collection, with footnotes mentioning the names of readers who pointed out typos and other errata. We also encouraged the audience to be active consumers and producers by making complaints to publishers when the formats they need aren't available and, on the part of writers and editors trying to be part of the decisionmaking process as to in which formats the ebook versions of their books are being issued. This isn't always easy, as often authors and editors aren't kept in the loop of these decisions. An example of this surfaced when I mentioned to Ellen Datlow that I can find ebook versions of some of her anthologies at Baen Books, and she wasn't aware that the anthologies were available through that site.
Baen Books Webscriptions-New Arrivals page (includes link to Best Horror of the Year 3)
http://www.webscription.net/c-66-new-arrivals.aspx
Ellen Datlow page
http://www.webscription.net/s-196-ellen-datlow.aspx

Also, after the panel Alexx and I went to the book room and I sought out the table for the university press which published the newest edition of Samuel R. Delany's nonfiction essay collection, _The Jewel-Hinged Jaw_, with an introduction by Matthew Cheney, and the rep was glad to find out that the publisher could donate the electronic files for books to Bookshare.org, which works with many publishers to make books, including textbooks and literary criticism, accessible to visually impaired students and readers. Small Beer Press and ChiZine Press were there selling both paper books and ebooks, as they have done for a number of years now, and there was also a magazine called Crossed Genres which offered an ebook bundle for $20, which included two novels, two anthologies, and a year's subscription to Crossed Genres http://crossedgenres.com
. The works come in a variety of DRM-free formats, and the co-publishers who were there said I could contact hem if none of those formats turned out to be accessible, and they would send HTML files.

It was a pretty awesome experience to know that I would have ebooks waiting for me whenever I wanted to read them, as opposed to having a pile of books which I would have to scan by hand (not that I didn't indulge in some paper books also, mostly because Alexx found me a book about books).
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Kes: Now if only the NY Times book reviewers would take horror literature seriously...

_Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror_ by Jason Zinoman will be released on July 7, 2011.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594203024/ref=pe_5060_20301920_snp_dp
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This Lifehacker post
http://lifehacker.com/5807774/how-to-create-an-awesome-summer-reading-list
has a number of really good tips for collecting reading recommendations in general, and includes reminders to be realistic about how much time you have and weeding out your to be read pile. I just went through he Readercon guest list earlier today, and that gave me some nice additions to my summer reading list. I also still have many books about or set in New Orleans, and I am also hoping to find some good art books.
kestrell: (Default)
1. _Prime_ by Poppy Z. Brite (2005)
I love this series about Ricky and G-Man, a gay couple who run a restaurant in New Orleans. It's sort of a mystery but mostly it's just a tangy-sweet novel about these two characters, the people they meet, the food they create, and the pressures two people experience in even the most solid relationships.

2. _New Orleans Mourning_ by Julie Smith (1990)
Skip Langdon is a rookie cop in New Orleans. When Rex, the King of Carnival, is killed, Skip is assigned to investigate New Orleans's most rich and powerful families, the very people who made her feel so alien while she was growing up for not being the petite Southern belle they wanted her to be.

3. _Messiah_ by Andrei Codrescu
If _Stranger in a Strange Land_ had been mugged by Angela Carter's _Wise Children_, this novel could have been the result. Felicity is a young black woman who is determined to make it as a PI in New Orleans, but first she needs to be avenged upon the TV evangelist who stole her grandmother's fortune. Then Felicity discovers an online game in which she can have sex with famous historical figures, some religious scholars halfway around the world let loose a gang of trickster figures to run amok through New Orleans, and did I mention its the apocalypse? This novel may be an exploration of language, narrative, memory, and media, or it may be an extended Dada fairy tale, possibly both, but it's lots of fun and I recommend it highly.
kestrell: (Default)
Harvard professor turned blind detective with disability superpowers, and it's set in Boston--I think I just found my beach book for the summer
http://josephnassise.com/eyes-to-see-coming-october-2011
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has been Poppy Z. Brite's Liquor series, about two gay chefs who open a restaurant in N.O. The books are _Liquor_, _Soul Kitchen_, and _D*U*C*K*S_, although I'm hoping to find that there might be more. It's not horror, but for some reason I love these books more than Brite's horror. I saw a bit somewhere online where Brite mentioned loving these characters, and I think maybe that's what comes through. The writing is understated but hits all the notes which makes the characters feel like real people dealing with real life. Also, I *love* G-Man. Reading these books is what made me realize that, even though I am not a foodie and often feel intimidated by the sorts of restaurants whose chefs get reviews in magazines, I needed to go eat at The Green Goddess, because I don't want to be one of those people who have this still life of what New Orleans is as a place and a culture. Plus, they fry their potatos in duck fat and...have you *seen* their menu?
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I've been reading books about New Orleans and, from a book geek point of view, my favorite so far has been _New Orleans, Mon Amour_ by Andrei Codrescu (2006), because he name-drops a lot of other titles set in New Orleans, including _The Mysteries of New Orleans_, a nineteenth century gothic which I had never even heard of (have no fear, a copy is now on its way even as I write this).

It turns out I kind of like this Codrescu guy, so then I read _The Poetry Lesson_ (2010). _The Poetry Lesson_ is a fictionalized memoir about a university professor who is teaching the first class in a college course on poetry, which provides the opportunity to give a passionate defense of why poetry is still relevant, and to name-drop a bit about the poets with whom Codrescu has hung with, not to mention and flirted with their wives (oh, wait, tis is fictionalized memoir, so perhaps Codrescu himself has not actually done those things). I have the feeling this would be annoying if I had to sit through it in real life, but it makes a fun introduction to the poetry of the past four decades or so, about which I am sadly ignorant. Plus I love the idea of being assigned a "ghost companion" (GC), a poet to guide you through your poetry adventures. I wonder who my ghost companion would be?

After that, I was kind of digging the poetry thing, and it is poetry month, so I went ahead and read _The Anthologist_ by Nicholson Baker (2010), which is quieter but another poetry rollercoaster00and wouldn't that be a fantastic surreal project, The Poetry Rollercoaster?--with a perfect final page.

I plan on taking Codrescu's _The Posthuman Dada Guide_ (2009) with me to read in New Orleans, Codrescu's adopted city (Codrescu claims everyone who lives in New Orleans is a surrealist), and next I plan on reading Codrescu's _Messiah_ (1999), which is his version of what happens when the Messiah shows up in modern N.O. Thus, I was amused to read on the Amazon.com blog that James Free has a new book coming out
_The Final Testament of the Holy Bible_
http://www.omnivoracious.com/2011/04/final-testament-holy-bible-james-frey-interview.html
which is being hyped as a radical story about the coming of a modern Messiah, but my reaction was "Again??" because it seems to me this story comes along every few years. Also, I was intrigued not so much by the marketing of the book in two formats, a fifty dollar deluxe edition and a ten dollar digital edition, but by the way in which Free descried the two potential audiences:
block quote start
Frey: ...I think the future of publishing, or one version of it, is in physical books for collectors and serious fans and ebooks for mass distribution.
I believe in that future and want to be a part of it as early as possible.
block quote end
So being willing--not to mention, able--to pay $50 for a book is what makes you "serious", and ebooks are for what, non-serious readers?
kestrell: (Default)
_The School of Night_ by louis Bayard (Henry Holt & Co., 2011)

While my narrative fetish for books about book collectors is not quite as obsessive as my narrative fetish for books about books, I'm still often a sucker for novels which feature book geeks as main characters. Which is, perhaps, where _The School of Night_ goes awry--there's a lot of flashy theorizing from the main characters about Elizabethan writers, but I never felt that these characters really liked books. I also felt that most of the intellectual theorizing occurs at the undergraduate level, which is also the emotional maturity level of the characters. So, the characters are petty, the supposedly intellectual theories are superficial, and the second storyline set in the Elizabethan timeline is pretty dull (though I'm willing to award points to the author for making both Elizabethan politics and alchemy boring).

The two previous Bayard books which I have read, _Mr. Timothy_, which features a grownup Tiny Tim, and _The Black Tower_, which is a sort of Sherlock Holmes meets _The Man in the Iron Mask_, were both solid mysteries, but perhaps contemporary mysteries are not Bayard's strong suit. Also, Bayard indulges in an exhuberance of ellipses in _The School of Night_, at least one and often two or three per page, which began to really annoy me about halfway through the book, even more than the fact that the forty-something academics in this book often speak in twenty-something snark.

Publishers Weekly described this novel as a "superb intellectual thriller," which only goes to show that I really need to listen to my own advice and learn to ignore PW reviews, which seem to be more hyperbolic puff than critical evaluations (the exception is PW's genre reviewers and the Genreville blog, which imo do more active critical reviewing).

I would say that this book might make a decent beach book for someone who likes historical mysteries, and it will be in my go-away pile at the Book Swap and Tea Party I will be hosting on Sat. April 23.
kestrell: (Default)
As those of you who read my book reviews may recall, there are few things I find more irresistible than a book about books, so it's no surprise that I finally got around to reading _Hound_ by Vincent McCaffrey (Small Beer Press, 2009), a book mystery set in Boston. It's not as noirish as the Cliff Janeway series by John Dunning or as darkly fantastic as the various books by Arturo Perez Reverte, but instead is more like a bibliophile mystery for us average bibliophiles who lack either a background in law enforcement or a Satanic sidekick. In other words, it's more about the reasons real people love books.

For those who don't recognize McCaffrey's name, he owned Avenue Victor Hugo Books, and _Hound_ is filled with references to Boston bookstores of the past and present which the native Boston bibliophile will probably enjoy. Most of these bookstores were gone long before I arrived in Boston, but I'm betting LJ users Gyzki and Nineweaving could wax poetic on the literary recent past represented by the protagonist's memories.

Even without recognizing all the literary landmarks of the Boston which is nostalgically recalled in _Hound_, I found it a satisfying read, especially suited for the cold and rainy day on which I read it, and I look forward to the soon-to-be out followup novel.

Here is a book trailer for the book which the sighties might enjoy
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FLXygesvwY&feature=related

And just because as far as I'm concerned you can never have too much Small Beer Press love, I also encourage folks to check out
_A Life on Paper_ by Georges-Olivier, trans. by Edward Gauvin Châteaureynaud  (Small Beer Press, 2010)
http://smallbeerpress.com/books/2010/05/25/a-life-on-paper-stories/
which was just nominated as a finalist for the 2011 Best Translated Book Awards
http://www.omnivoracious.com/2011/03/best-translated-book-awards-announce-finalists.html
It's a dark and surreal collection of stories and you can read the title story at the SBP Web site; I bought my ebook version at Fictionwise because I can easily convert the Multiformat into txt, but you can also purchase it in paper or ebook formats from
Weightless Books
http://weightlessbooks.com/format/book/a-life-on-paper-stories/
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_Our Lady of Darkness_ by Fritz Leiber (1977)

I found this novella to be a dark treat for the connossieur [sp?]* of such writers as M. R. James, Arthur Machen, and H. P. Lovecraft. I'm rather surprised that I hadn't read it before this, but then, I was disappointed in Leiber's _Conjure Wife_, which is another one of his horror tales that comes highly recommended.

_Our Lady of Darkness_ features a writer of science fiction and horror stories named Franz (the autobiographical touches of the story are more bemusing than intrusive) who lives in 1970s San Francisco and who becomes fascinated by a couple of mysterious books. The first of these is a lost journal of Clark Ashton Smith (another real horror writer and a student/anthologist of Lovecraft), and the second, even more ominous, book is titled _Megapolisomancy: A New Science of Cities_ by Thibaut de Castries. De Castries was the American equivalent of Aleister Crowley, and gathered around himself many of the literary lions of 1920s San Francisco, including Jack London (author of _Heart of Darkness_)and Gertrude Atherton (author of a number of ghost stories, including the very creepy "The Bell in the Fog," which one can find online). De Castries believed that one could manipulate the future through manipulating the physical space of cities, and Franz's and his friends's own observations and experiences with the dangers of modern cities seem to indicate that much of De Castries's prophecies have come true, including the way cities seem to be a touchstone for alienation and insanity: "The ancient Egyptians only buried people in their pyramids. We are living in ours." The ever-present shadows and shifting transformations of the city which Franz describes--along with Franz's own desolate and murky past-- adds a somewhat noir note to this many-layered story which manages to reference everything from M. R. James's "Casting the Runes" to Machen's "The White People" to Thomas De Quincy's "Levana and Our Three Ladies of Sorrow."
Franz's initial curiosity to solve the riddle of De Castries's book soon becomes an obsession, and then a struggle to survive, as his journey through San Francisco's occult past attracts the attention of the citiy's elementals.

Fans of the psychogeographies of such writers as Peter Ackroyd, Michael moorcock, and Iain Sinclair may also be entertained by this creepy little story. While at times the descriptions of 1970s parapsychology strike one as being a bit dated, an amazing amount of it has cycled back around to become our own "New Age" pseudoscience, for what that's worth. While the use of Freudian imagery can be a bit heavy-handed at times (really, one does wonder where would modern horror be without the male fear of female genitalia?), the story implies that ghosts are invoked as much by our own desolate pasts as by any supernatural curse or spectres.

* It strikes me as ironic that words which I know perfectly well how to spell my screen reader often mangles with its speech impediment, while words which I have trouble spelling it pronounces the same no matter how I add or subtract i's and s's.

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