For the first three months of this year I didn’t read much at all, because I was doing an intensive university course that proved to be very intense, which meant that when I got home all I could bring myself to do was stare at Netflix.
Now, however, I’m back in the swing of reading – for the moment, at least – so here’s what I read last week.
Haitian Vodou by Mambo Chita Tann
This one was interesting. There was a lot of information about the history of Haiti, and in-depth descriptions of individual Lwa, which was helpful.
If you’re interested in Vodou or Voodoo, I recommend it. It distinguishes different traditions and explores how Haitian Vodou relates to the location where it’s practised.
I also appreciated the no-nonsense descriptions of attitudes towards magic:
“The general word… for magic in Haitian Vodou… is ‘travay’ [which means] ‘work.’ This should tell you something about the Haitian magical philosophy. Nothing about Vodou magic is considered more special or supernatural, in any way, than any other sort of work/activity.”
“Nothing in the universe is free…. The reason Vodouisants call magic ‘work’ in the first place is because we understand that if you want something in life, you have to work for it! Thus, magic is not a replacement for effort, so much as it is a way to enhance or multiply our effort.”
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman
…and then I re-read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman. Yes, I deliberately read it in the daytime, because last time I made the mistake of reading it just before bed and I had to watch silly romcoms for hours afterwards because it freaked me out so much that I couldn’t get to sleep. 😁
It was less terrifying this time around, but still disturbing, and still absolutely brilliant. It is very short: you can read it via Project Gutenberg, since it’s old enough to be out of copyright. I thoroughly recommend it.
Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston
I enjoyed this, but Zora Neale Hurston was looking at Haitian Vodou as an outsider, and some of the claims she makes don’t tally with the books written by actual practitioners.
However, she was respectful of Vodou as a path and her writing style was engaging. And she described with great accuracy the way I felt when I encountered Voodoo in NOLA.
Favourite words in this book:
The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot by Louis Martinié and Sallie Ann Glassman
This one started out with an incorrect claim about the Roma, which did not bode well:
It contained a mixture of Voodoo and Santería, which at first seemed intriguing.
In the end I was not such a fan of this one. Not only did it contain incorrect information about the Roma, it also mixed Voodoo and Santería in the same deck, and mixed it all together with Thelema, Kabbalah, Wicca, etc.
It did at least say this was what it was doing, so it was apparently a conscious decision on the part of the deck’s creators, but all the other Voodoo books I’ve read so far have warned against this, so I remain unconvinced.
There were a couple of interesting sections re. personality and the nature of possession, though, so all was not completely lost.
When I posted this review on Facebook, a friend who is very well-versed in esoteric reading generally pointed out that NOLA Voodoo tends to be more syncretic than, for example, Haitian Vodou, and that maybe it was deliberately a bit of a mixture. I agree, to an extent, but only if you’re respectful to all the paths you’re bringing together, and I wasn’t sure this one lived up to that standard.
Contes et Légendes d’Afrique d’Ouest en Est by Yves Pinguilly and Cathy Millet
Then I moved onto this one, which was in French, as you can probably tell, but I’m going to write the review in English because I’m too tired to switch between languages today.
I liked this book, and I recognised several of the stories from my grandmother. If you enjoy the Anansi stories and similar tales, you’ll like these. I particularly enjoyed the one about the elephant woman, because it reminded me of selkie stories, which were some of my favourite things as a Scottish child.
See You In The Morning by Mairead Case
And finally, yesterday whilst nursing a pounding hangover I read See You In The Morning by Mairead Case. It was lovely.
I read it because we never learn the name of the main character, which is also true of the novel I’m writing.
See You In The Morning is a little gem of a book: short, sweet and full of pithy statements that sum up the human condition. It’s definitely going to be one of my top novels of the year.
Quotes I particularly enjoyed included:
“When I graduate [high school] I have to leave because there is nobody here I want to be.”
“I figure when you don’t know what to do, you might as well put yourself in the middle of it.” – Sums up my own life philosophy pretty well.
A line that made me shiver: “I think if something that terrible had happened [in the abandoned house], there would definitely be ghosts, though I don’t know whose bodies they would have. Maybe something so terrible makes its own ghosts. A line turning into a triangle.”
How I feel about having tattoos: “Mom doesn’t talk about my [newly purple] hair, which I know she feels is generous. She thought it was because I wanted to stand out as an individual. But that’s exactly what I don’t want. I just think my hair should be purple. When I close my eyes and imagine my face in a mirror, I see purple.” This is also how I used to feel about my own hair, which is naturally blonde. All my life, it felt like it was the wrong colour for my head, and I used to feel a momentary shot of confusion when I looked in the mirror and saw a shock of blonde on my head. Then when I was fourteen I started dyeing it black, and then it looked right. Now I forget that my hair isn’t technically black and that not everyone has to top up their hair colour every 6-8 weeks.
So yes, there was a lot to love in this book, and a lot to relate to.
What have you been reading recently?