Haunting History

It’s difficult to do without feeling guilty, even if you personally had nothing to do with it.  It does seem that “Whites” have to take the initiative to dismantle systemic racism before any kind of fairness can settle on the world.  Toni Morrison is a great example of why that’s so important.  Beloved is perhaps her best-known work.  Although it involves a ghost it’s not so much a ghost story as it is a haunted story.  Black experience has been one of enforced poverty, after the emancipation proclamation—much like the American Indian experience.  Morrison represents this in a non-accusatory way, but she indicates in her story how the pain and mistreatment persists.  Her work is more important now than ever.  White supremacists are controlling the narrative in much of the country although they are the minority.  They need to read this book.

There will be spoilers here, if you’re even later coming to Beloved than I am.  Sethe was a slave.  The novel is set just after manumission, but she escaped before that.  She had four children and when she was sexually assaulted she realized this could happen to her children and she decided to spare them that fate.  Although she was stopped before she could kill all four, her first daughter, Beloved, was her victim.  This story is about what happens when Beloved returns to live with Sethe and her remaining daughter.  It is a haunting story.  No “boos” or jump startles, it sets up a sad atmosphere of a woman falling apart because of guilt.  Guilt for an event that would’ve never happened if she’d been treated like a human being.

Apart from the schoolteacher and his cohort, the whites in the story are kindly to Sethe.  Her “owner” was a slaveholder who gave his “possessions” respect.  She was saved from hanging after the death of Beloved by a local white man who understood what slavery might do to a person’s mind.  Even so, these kind people think of Blacks as servants rather than as people in their own right.  It’s difficult to read books like this.  That’s one of the reasons that it’s important to do so.  There is a lot to analyze here, much to reflect over.  If we put books like this on reading lists instead of banning them, it would help to bring understanding and sympathy rather than hatred and fear.  The future only improves when we admit our past errors and move to heal the scars we continue to inflict.


Annotating Irving

Really concentrating on a short story is sometimes difficult to do.  I don’t have a degree in literature (I took a few courses, but my specialization was religion).  I’ve been on a bit of a Sleepy Hollow kick lately and I wanted to move beyond just the short story by Washington Irving.  Although I’m sure working through the entire Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., the book in which “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was published, would probably be rewarding, it would also be time consuming.  Irving was trying to find his way as a writer and this particular story has been his lasting contribution.  So I turned to local historian Henry John Steiner’s annotated edition.  It has a useful introduction, but still wouldn’t be “book length” without several pages of photos and a large font size.

Sleepy Hollow may lay claim to several signs of historical importance.  It featured in the Revolutionary War.  Washington Irving did eventually settle there.  As a getaway it attracted the wealthy and powerful from New York City because it’s not that far from Manhattan.  Several movie and television renditions have been made of Irving’s story.  This book generally provides local place connections in the annotations.  A visitor to Sleepy Hollow might wonder where this or that event in the story was set.  This book will help with that.  Still, it left me looking for a bit more substantial treatment.  Not necessarily a literary-theory kind.  Let’s face it, academic writers tend to write for other academics. No, a bit more of the folklore, I suppose.

It did allow me to slow down and really concentrate on the story.  Books have an endpoint that really helps in that regard.  This little book (as was the one I recently read on the Old Dutch Church) was published when the Fox series Sleepy Hollow was taking off.  That all-important media tie-in helps to sell books.  Interestingly, the details of a closer reading are revealing.  This isn’t, in origin, a Halloween story.  It’s a tall tale told American style.  Steiner indicates it was based on an older legend—this is something I’d be interested in hearing more about.  Writers are great recyclers.  I suppose a book on the folklore of the lower Hudson Valley might have more of what I’m seeking.  Nevertheless I came away from this edition feeling as if I’d gotten to know the story better.  Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” also appears in his Sketch Book, but perhaps it’s asking too much to have both analyzed together.


Evening Out

It feels like magic.  The morning after staying up late for something special has a transcendent quality to it.  You can almost touch the veil.  Now, for me it’s an admittedly low bar.  I get up around 3:00 a.m. most days, so “late” is when I venture past about 8:00 p.m.  And I don’t mean for a board meeting where you’re trying to solve the problems of the world.  No, I mean staying up for something you anticipate.  Or even if it’s something you experience only by association.  I had to pick somebody up in Easton after an evening event recently.  It wasn’t over until after I’m normally asleep, but I made plans to hole up in Dunkin’ Donuts and perhaps even sip a coffee if I had to, for the drive home.

This was a Tuesday night so most businesses were closed.  After parking the car I found out that Dunkin’ wasn’t keeping evening hours either.  I try always to travel with a book.  The one thing I learned from my brief stint in Boy Scouts was “be prepared.”  With no Dunkin’ the only places open were bars and clubs.  Thankfully it was a warm evening, so I found a free bit of curb on which to sit to read my book.  Easton’s a college town so young people were out and about.  It was good to see other folks enjoying life.  Then a woman stopped and leaned down.  She was looking at the cover of my book.  “Just wondering what you’re reading,” she said.  “I’m always on the look out for something good.”

Reading in public

I can’t recall the last time a stranger struck up a conversation with me.  Especially about literature.  I was reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved (more anon) and she asked what it was about.  (You, dear reader, will need to wait a few more days if you don’t already know.)   I told her as best I could in a sentence or two, but I was in shock that someone I didn’t know was taking a moment out of her busy life to ask me about a book.  Her companion was ready to get going, so she left.  Shortly after that the event ended and I picked up my charge and headed home.  The next morning had that magic feeling.  I slept later than normal although it was a work day and when I went for my morning walk a startled bald eagle took off from the ground and flew less than twenty feet over my head.  Staying up late, talking about books, and a dawn-time walk in the morning.  Even everyday life can be magical, when it’s rare enough.


Old Churches

I doubled its authenticity, but it was revered in a way similar to the Shroud of Turin.  The old guide, a priest if I recall, showed us an actual lantern hung for Paul Revere’s ride.  This was the Old North Church in Boston, of course.  Its history is so storied that children across the country learned about it in school.  A similar feeling comes from reading The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow by Janie Couch Allen and Elinor Griffith.  Subtitled Legends and Lore: The Oldest Church in New York, it is clearly a celebratory work, printed in full color and with pictures on every page.  This church’s claim to fame isn’t as much historical as it’s the result of the imagination of Washington Irving.  It features in his short story “The Legend of Sleep Hollow.”

Built in 1685, it was already an old building by the time Irving had settled in North Tarrytown.  Being early enough, Irving had immense influence on the culture of a young country.  Although born in New York City, and although he lived for many years overseas, he came to represent the voice of the emerging American literary tradition.  America has been home to many writers since then, some successful, many not.  But this book is about the church, not Irving.  Irving does play a big part in its story, although he was never a member.  I kept thinking as I read how influential a single story can become.  And even a small Dutch Reformed Church can benefit from it.  This book gives a high-level overview of the history of the area and some of its colorful characters.  It turns a few times to the Headless Horseman, but it also explains the trials and triumphs of a small church.

Although most towns can’t claim such a storied structure, American churches have had an outsized influence on who we are as a people.  I’ve sat through meetings lamenting the lack of funds for the operating budget as money grows tighter even as the worldview of ancient Palestine effaces.  As an historian of religion I tend to look back.  I don’t believe our future will be entirely electronic or virtual.  If it is, I think I’d rather find myself on a chill, uncomfortable pew in the Old Dutch Church lit by candles on a Christmas Eve, shivering but still alive.  No matter what a person believes—and with the varieties of churches we can’t all be right—we know that it’s part of what makes us human.


Free Research

I’ve lost track of how many times it’s happened, but it has been relatively few.  Someone I don’t know will approach me and ask me to post about something on my blog.  Sometimes they’ll even send me a book to highlight.  Perhaps not the most effective way to build a library, I’ll admit.  And some of the books haven’t been great.  I admire them nonetheless.  It takes great effort to write a book.  And not a small amount of faith, too.  Many books—perhaps most—never get published.  A great many are self-published.  (Those who work in publishing can be a stuck-up lot sometimes.)  Even those professionally published can use a push from time to time.  On this blog I’ve actively resisted the urge to make it about one thing.  Why?  Is life just one thing?

In a recent conversation I laid out for someone new what had been my research agenda as a young professor.  It had a direction still reflected in some of the categories you’ll find on the right column of this blog.  After writing on Asherah, I was going to give similar treatment to the other ancient goddesses attested at Ugarit.  This was perhaps ambitious for an academic waif at Nashotah House, but it was well underway.  My book on Shapshu was making good progress when the market (that dragon to every St. George) led friends to suggest turning biblical, which led to Weathering the Psalms.  A new research agenda—explore the weather terminology (the meteorotheology) of other biblical books—arose.  There were storms, after all, becalmed over lakes.  Horror entered in the jobless period and beyond.

And social justice.  I’m not a thrice-failed minister for nothing!  In fact, a recent freebie was a book on social justice.  I have a colleague as interested in monsters as me.  This particular scholar had decided to focus on the cause of the poor.  Even economists are starting to say the unequal distribution of wealth is hurting us.  While the rich fly to space on personally owned rockets, the rest of us have trouble filling up at the service station, even if we have jobs.  So it is that this blog is eclectic.  A friend told me early on that it would be more popular if I just stuck to one topic.  That’s probably true, but my mind can’t settle down like that.  And when people send me things to talk about, I’m happy to do so, if it fits somewhere in my mind.


Empty Chair

I’m not a Roman Catholic.  Nevertheless, I admire much about the tradition.  Its perceived unchanged continuity with the past is a big draw.  Still, one of the largest issues most religions face as they evolve is that things change.  No religion can stop it.  Edward Jarvis’ brilliant Sede Vacante: The Life and Legacy of Archbishop Thục explores the life and possible theological motivations for one of the most fascinating people in recent church history.  Ngô-dinh-Thục became a Roman Catholic Archbishop in his native Vietnam.  He was the brother of Ngô-dình-Diệm, the first president of South Vietnam, and likely one of the reasons behind the Vietnam War.  In fact, Thục had two other extremely prominent brothers and the four of them formed a junta that ruled the country with authoritarian vigor and utilized all the corruption for which authoritarianism is famed.  They became enormously wealthy, they used torture and extortion to get what they wanted, and Thục supported all of this.

Eventually excommunicated (twice), Thục had to leave Vietnam.  Two of his brothers were arrested and assassinated.  After his self-imposed exile Thục attended Vatican II, the papers of which he signed, but his prominence faded.  Without his holdings in Vietnam he was poor, and in fact lived in poverty.  Then he started consecrating bishops for breakaway Catholic groups, including the strange sect of the Palmarians.  This led to his first excommunication.  Later in life, after restored to the graces of the church, he again started consecrating bishops for the Sedevanctantists.  These were Catholics who believed the Pope was invalid and his chair (sede) was vacant (vacante).  He was excommunicated again and, after moving to the United States, died in poverty.

I keep these posts brief enough that I don’t have space to spell out all the amazing angles from which this life could be viewed (read the book for that).  In our authoritarian-loving times, however, the nature of those who reject “modernization” stood out.  Many Sedevanctantists insist on the restoration of the Latin mass.  They somehow believe the Popes since about Pius X have been liberals(!).  Like Trumpists, they believe it is possible to halt the movement of culture and go back to the way things were in the 1950s when outward conformity was all the rage.  Even Fonzie, after all, was really a nice guy instead of a dangerous biker.  Although there is some theological minutiae here, I recommend this book for anyone who has even the slightest interest in the history of Vietnam, the Roman Catholic Church, or the mindset of those who reject the modern world.


For Sale for Free

It’s one of the signs of spring.  Although it may be more appropriate for winter when we’re holed up inside for much of the time, the library book sale often takes place when it’s a bit more conducive to being outdoors.  When we travel, which isn’t frequently these days, we often spontaneously stop into an advertised library book sale.  Most of the fare is fairly pedestrian, but sometimes you find something you simply didn’t expect.  On one such recent outing, that’s just exactly what happened.  Back when we lived in New Jersey the Friends of the Hunterdon County Library book sale was a much-anticipated event.  It remains, in my experience, one of the largest of such sales.  (Believe it or not, there are websites dedicated to pointing inveterate readers to book sales and that’s how I found this one.)  That’s not the surprising part, however.

One year when I went, one of the library friends was working the pre-entry crowd, proclaiming some of the treasures inside.  One of them, he announced, was a Bible from the nineteenth century.  They were asking more than the usual one or two dollars for that one.  If I recall, it was $100.  No, I didn’t buy it.  I have dozens of Bibles right behind me at this moment and if I had a Franklin to spend I’d load up on books I don’t already own.  Many of the books mentioned on this blog came from just such sales as these.  That big Bible’s not the surprising thing either.  Here it is: on a recent library book sale day, I saw a shelf with Bibles.  They were free.  Library book sales are intended to raise money, but Bibles for free?  Unexpected, no?

America is the land of free Bibles.  They are printed in vast quantities and sold cheaply, without a thought to what this says in a capitalist world.  Some Christian rock groups were famous for throwing free Bibles from the stage—you’ve got to think those in attendance already had one—and any county fair will usually have at least free New Testaments for the taking.  Ironically, most of those who distribute free Good Books are also the staunchest supporters of capitalism, one of the most exploitative economies ever invented.  Attending library book sales entails more than just finding books that you perhaps didn’t know about.  It’s more than being tempted by something for which you’d rather not pay full-price.  It is, perhaps surprisingly, a learning experience in and of itself.


Teaching Tradition

There’s a dilemma.  Many thinking religious conservatives end up arguing against “secular” education and yet wish to make themselves out as rational, and reasonable.  The truth is that underlying their position is the belief that the truth was revealed long ago and nothing has changed since then.  They want educated individuals to agree with this so quite often they establish their own institutions to turn out “experts” who haven’t been challenged in their positions.  This became clear to me yet again when reading Faith of Our Fathers by Stuart Chessman.  Subtitled A Brief History of Catholic Traditionalism in the United States from Triumph to Traditionis Custodes, I was expecting a history.  Instead it is more of a screed, or jeremiad, arguing that the Catholic Church is trying to destroy traditionalism.  What I was looking for, I guess, was a “secular” history.

I’m interested in traditionalism.  I taught, after all, for well over a decade at Nashotah House.  What I learned there I also sensed in this book.  There’s a certain naiveté associated with such theological thinking.  (Political conservatism is much more insidious.)  Small groups tend to think the larger organization has it in for them.  In reality, the larger church (in both these cases) has much more pragmatic things on its collective mind.  The narrow focus of traditionalists, however, interprets everything in the light of—in this case—rejecting the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.  Having the mass in Latin is more important (as is clear here) than coming up with an effective way of dealing with Covid-19.  Traditionalists are proud that they met more frequently during the height of the epidemic.

This kind of thinking is important to understand.  For Roman Catholicism, as a hierarchical organization, the projection of unity is very important.  Anyone involved in the upper levels of any administration knows that money—even for churches, especially for churches—is a major concern.  Reputation influences cash flow, so reputation has to be guarded at all costs.  No organization can appear to be caught up in medievalism in a capitalistic twenty-first century.  I had hoped this little book would contain an actual history of the movement, looking at socio-economic, political, and religious causes and their ramifications.  In other words, why people do things.  Believe me, I understand the draw of traditionalism.  Although it was in English my first Episcopal high mass threw me into a multi-year odyssey to a place (Nashotah House) where I learned what was really going on.  It’s not all about smells and bells.  Not by a long shot. 


Ode to Books

There are fewer things more personal.  Each one has a story and it reveals quite a lot about you.  Really, it’s a brave thing, putting your books out on a shelf for others to see.  Seldom have I read a book more euphoric about a book than Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night.  A deeply literate book collector unashamed, Manguel takes the reader on a pleasurable tour of many aspects of libraries, including his personal one.  Libraries may represent many things because books are so varied.  Many of us who are bibliophiles are used to trying to justify our libraries to those who don’t care to read or to complaining movers threatening to quit.  Or even to those who write books claiming other books are clutter.  Manguel understands.

Those of us with many books but little of anything else can tell you the story behind most individual books we have.  Where we bought them and why.  Why we’ve kept them even if we haven’t read them.  Manguel understands that not all books are reading books.  There are reference books.  There are episodic instructional books.  There are books laid up against retirement or incapacitation.  Books for work, books for play.  Books bought to help you prepare for that event that never took place but might, in some remote future, still happen.  Yes, books take up space, but so do pets, furniture, and children.  There’s a cheerfulness to rooms with books, unrivaled even by elegant spaces.

On a recent dentist visit the television was set to one of those shows where a couple is given their dream home.  I’ve watched those before in other waiting rooms and medical facilities and one thing I’ve never seen is a couple saying, “I want a home to fit my books.” And yet those homes with books occasionally make the news and garner thousands of clicks on the internet.  Those of us who are bibliophiles know we’re a minority.  Some of us actually enjoyed those high school reading assignments that so many of our classmates despised.  Our educational system, undervaluing teachers as we do, often fails to inspire the love of reading in the young.  Manguel’s book is for those who were inspired, who remain inspired by books.  Those of us who categorize and move them around.  Take them with us.  Who love them.  The Library at Night is a beautiful book full of wisdom.  It is a love letter to books. Happy National Independent Bookstore Day!


The Network

Although it’s not NBC, the New Books Network has quite a reach with academics.  That’s why I was glad they accepted my pitch for an interview about Nightmares with the Bible.  The interview is now live and can be heard here.  The experience of getting the interview made turned into quite a saga with my pitch going back to at least November, and acceptance coming early in January.  The actual interview was over a month ago and it was posted only yesterday.  I’m not naive enough to think it will boost the sales of a hundred-dollar book, but maybe a few more people will become aware of it.  Even in academia there are too many books published for all of them to get notice proportionate to the work that goes into writing them.

Some publishers are of the opinion that editors shouldn’t try to be authors.  Obviously I disagree on that particular point.  Author-editors share the ups and downs and know what it’s like to put in the work only to have a book disappear.  I haven’t received any royalties at all for Nightmares.  I have no idea how many copies have sold.  Many writers publishing into the teeth of a pandemic fall into the same category.  While trade books—including fiction—did remarkably well during the height of Covid-19, academic books languished.  Nightmares is, of course, its own kind of hybrid.  A monster, if you will.  Written for educated laity it’s packaged and priced for the academic monograph market.  That’s why I pitched it to NBN.  I’m glad to see the recording is now available.

Nobody writes this kind of book to get rich.  I’ve had friends ask me why I bother.  Believe me, that question occurs to me too.  Some of us have something to say but the auditorium’s empty.  The Bible’s at a low point outside a specific cross-section, and that cross-section generally doesn’t pay attention to horror.  Of course, that’s another reason I do this.  Bringing opposites together offers the world, even the staid academic world, something new.  Horror is at last being taken seriously by literary and cinematography scholars.  Some biblical scholars are realizing that apart from comforting words of love, and towering demands for justice, the Bible itself contains plenty of horror.  When unlike things mix, monsters are born.  I’m grateful to the NBN for taking a chance on my book.  If you’ve got some time, and the inclination, you can listen in here.


Smaller Wolves

It was in Maine.  In 1987.  I can’t remember how Paul and I found this place to camp.  I don’t remember making reservations, but we drove along in his 1968 VW Beetle, unpacked a tent along a  rutted logging road, and set up camp for the night.  We were there to try to find moose.  In the middle of the night we were awakened by howling in the woods.  We were many miles from any other humans and nobody knew where we were.  Were there wolves in these woods?  Paul turned to me.  “Wolves don’t attack people, do they?” he asked.  I said no.  He pulled out a very large knife.  “I was in the civil air patrol,” he explained.  “You know what to do with this, right?  If a wolf bites your arm, cut your arm off and run away.” Not the best advice.  As we drifted off to sleep we were awoken again by furious sniffing outside the tent.  The next morning we saw no moose but found tracks all around our temporary home.  We convinced ourselves they were wolf tracks.  They were actually tracks of coyotes.

Most people in America have a coyote story to tell.  I can’t recall how I learned about Dan Flores’ Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History.  I’ve always been drawn to nature writing, but it was probably the “supernatural” that caught my attention.  This is a fascinating book with a rollercoaster ride through emotional responses.  Flores makes the case that Coyote was the first god of America.  Indian mythology is full of this character and his antics.  But the heart of the book focuses on the many decades of efforts—still ongoing—of the government to eradicate coyotes.  Millions of them have been killed for spurious reasons, largely because the government pays attention to ranchers who pay a lot of money to be minded.  Coyotes naturally find their balance in nature, which we insist on disrupting.  One of their survival strategies has been to move east.  Even moving into cities.

I’ve heard coyotes in Wisconsin, and I saw at least one while out jogging in the early mornings there.  Since moving east I’ve not spotted any, but they are, I know, here.  I’m largely on the side of nature, but the first ever documented adult human wolf fatality took place in another place I’ve camped, Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, in 2009.  Reading this made my human pride rear up—we don’t face predators well.  The book goes on to touch on how I, and many others my age, learned of coyotes—through Wile E. in animated form.  This book is difficult to read in many parts, but it is an absolutely mesmerizing journey through many lenses of what it means to be American.  Whether you’re canine, or human.


Places and Books

I recently had the opportunity to travel to a new town and spend the night there.  This is a rarity in the days of pandemic and I’d forgotten the magic of waking early in a new place and looking out the windows at the deserted, artificially lit streets.  It’s so peaceful and full of wonder.  The place we were staying was next to a public library and I noticed that there was a light on in the cupola in the pre-dawn hours.  I like the idea of books watching over us in the night.  Often when I’ve traveled to conferences I’ll arise early and look out on that orangey, artificial light while most other people are still asleep.  Even the city in pre-dawn can be a peaceful place.  This is a pleasant displacement since it’s only temporary.

One of the things about the pandemic is that it has accustomed us to life just so.  The controlled environment of home.  There’s a comfort to routine, but there’s wonder in breaking it as well.  When it’s not a conference and still a new city, I begin to look for a bookstore.  One of the common misconceptions—perhaps bolstered by the cookie-cutter experience that has been Barnes and Noble—is that bookstores are all the same.  They aren’t.  Each reflects the minds of the owners.  They reflect their knowledge of their public.  New ways of looking at things.  I suppose this fascination with books has been enhanced by my starting to read some Jorge Luis Borges again.  Those of us who read for pleasure are in the minority and we find the open book to be open arms welcoming us in.  Welcoming us home.

I always travel with books.  My travel bag carries my laptop and my reading.  New technology having to learn to adjust to the old.  I’m not a particular fan of technocracy.  I’ve always preferred paper to plastic.  In a new town I look for authenticity.  We lived for many years in Somerville, New Jersey and one of my concerns was that it couldn’t seem able to support a bookstore in the shadow of that equalizing Barnes and Noble.  The new owner, James Daunt, believes that bookstores should reflect local interests.  His own stores in Britain are cathedrals to books.  Unlike other industries, bookselling isn’t all about the business.  Much of it is about the place.  We travel to see new places, and we read to visit them as well.  And perhaps to reflect in the artificial orange glow before the city awakes.


Body Doubles

Learning about how Dark Shadows developed has freed me a bit, I think.  The stories between the original program, the novels, and the movies were never consistent.  I’d made that most fundamental of Fundamentalist errors—I’d assumed there was only one story and it went in only one way.  This helps explain, but not excuse, the Burton-Depp version of the story.  In any case, now I can read the novels with minimal baggage.  Understanding childhood is important if we survive long enough for it to haunt us.  Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers is a departure, even for Marilyn Ross.  Something critics sometimes overlook is just how literate the original, and subsequent, program was.  Ross occasionally attempts to cash in on that without feeling tied to the story line.

This plot relies on the 1956 movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Indeed, as a daily show Dark Shadows couldn’t really utilize a “monster of the week” format effectively (although it seems to have given the idea to those who later did).  The novels, however, could draw on such cultural tropes.  Both major releases of Body Snatchers (there was a remake after Dark Shadows ceased, in 1978) were considered terrifying by implication: how could you tell if someone took over the body of someone you know?  Who could you even trust, if such a phenomenon were possible?  Since such things aren’t common down here, it’s easier to suggest they come from outer space.  So it is that this installment has the weird juxtaposition of a vampire and werewolf having to outsmart aliens who take over human bodies. Kind of an early monsters vs. aliens scenario.

Again, not to seek too much depth where it doesn’t naturally exist, this scenario raises interesting questions.  How would terrestrial and extraterrestrial supernaturals interact?  I’m not sure W. E. D. Ross was up to this kind of gothic-sci-fi mash-up.  He was, after all, primarily a romance writer.  (Although, a recent trip to a library book sale and used bookstore in the same day led to the realization that paranormal romance is a burgeoning field.)  I recently read an article disputing the “willing suspension of belief” that is said to accompany such ventures.  As an adult I know that these novels are what must be considered cheesy, quick, and formulaic ephemera.  Still, I couldn’t help being pleased to see Barnabas and Quentin cooperating here.  If aliens ever do decide to invade, we’ll need all the help we can get.


Shadows of Childhood

While it may not seem to fit my current re-fascination, I’m not really a “fan”personality.  My interests are far too diverse.  Since I’ve been thinking about Dark Shadows a lot lately I decided to do some reading on it.  There’s a genre of nonfiction that involves small format, short introductions to various media.  I’ve read a few of the Devil’s Advocates series about horror movies and I recently discovered the similar TV Milestones series about, well, TV.  They have a volume on Dark Shadows by Harry M. Benshoff, and I knew it would help scratch my current itch.  You see, I wasn’t really a devoted fan of the show—I watched it after school like a lot of kids did in the late sixties and into the early seventies.  I read a few of the novels.  I never attended any conferences (they exist) and never wrote any fan fiction.  I think my level of engagement was different.

Nevertheless, this is an informative little book.  I found out that there’s even more to the phenomenon than I already knew I didn’t know.  I never really followed the whole plot line.  I didn’t realize just how complex the story is.  Perhaps on some level I knew the series was culturally significant.  As a child I didn’t know much about the wider culture.  We were working class poor, how was I to find out about such things?  For me, Dark Shadows was a kind of escapism, I suppose.  A fantasy that met a need, not a plot to be unraveled.  I wasn’t aware of how sophisticated, if cheap, it was.

By the time I got to college and started to meet different people, it was a moment that had passed.  I really didn’t think much about Dark Shadows again until after my own gothic tragedy of Nashotah House.  During the days of my career malfunction I rediscovered my childhood, perhaps looking for something better.  I started collecting and reading the novels again, and if I’m honest, were it not so expensive I’d consider watching the original series again.  Like all things nostalgic, I know my Rosebud will never be today what it was back then.  My reading sense wasn’t developed enough to see what might’ve been going on behind the scenes.  Benshoff does a good job of bringing much of that to the light.  I’ll likely read more on the series as time goes on, but I now have a better framework for looking at this particular milestone.  Not, however, as a fanatic.


The Campus Library

Perhaps it’s an odd kind of nostalgia.  Many people can’t wait to be done with school and get on with “life.” Some of us remain fixated at the learning stage and society used to shuffle us into colleges and universities where we could be safely ignored.  One of the refrains in the very long song that is this blog has been the lack of a university library.  Although I’ve tried to get to know the academics in the Lehigh Valley really only one has made an effort to befriend me and when I was asking him about library access he actually did something about it.  Such acts of kindness are rare and require a kind of thinking that takes into account the circumstances of the academically othered.  I’ll be forever grateful.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a college or university library.  Many are protective and/or restrictive, as if knowledge is only for those academically employed.  I had to look up a couple of references for an article I was writing.  My colleague checked with his institution and yes, I was welcome to come in and use their collection.  The night before going to campus I had a series of nightmares of various librarians barring my attempt to get to the books.  I’d been trying to get there (in real life) for weeks.  Between family work schedules, the occasional weekend blizzard, and the library being closed for spring break, it ended up taking about six weeks to find the time to drive there, negotiate parking, and look up the references.

Everyone has a place they belong.  Mine has unwaveringly been the college campus.  It is home to me, even if it doesn’t recognize me.  I’d almost forgotten the feeling of being let loose in the stacks.  It was a Saturday morning and there was almost nobody else there.  As early as Grove City College I cherished the feeling of spending time in the library.  Few other students were hanging out there, but those of us who belong on campuses know that being surrounded by books is the only place that will ever feel like home.  Having looked up my references I wished that I had more to do.  I’d been to both the Dewey and the Library of Congress sections and, being a weekend, I had much else to do.  Stepping back out onto campus I was filled once again with a poignant nostalgia.  Getting to where you know you belong is a lengthy journey.