As most of you probably know by now, I am a HUGE fan of ghosts and ghost stories and folklore concerning ghosts. I had heard about this book from YouTuber and author Jen Campbell, who recommended this book about Japanese ghost stories highly. I must say that I was hardly disappointed when I did read this book.
Not only did I get to read about ghosts, but in doing so I got to learn more about Japanese culture and folklore, a subject I wasn’t, and still am not, very familiar with. There were ghost stories regarding samurai, Buddhist ghost legends, and quite a few stories about death and ghosts regarding love and marriage, which I did not even consider could be a category in and of itself!
There are two main reasons I gave this book 3 stars instead of 4 or 5. The layout of this particular edition was only okay – I would have preferred it to be more organized in terms of style and layout. At the end of this book, we get a few essays about insects from Hearn, our early 20th century scholar and translator. I am fine with these sections, but Hearn didn’t relate them to Japanese ghost folklore as much as I would have liked.
In any case, this book of Japanese ghost stories was informative and intriguing. I recommend to all who want to learn more about ghosts in non-western settings.
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I was inspired by Lauren Wade’s video on Youtube, where she talks about her own favorite classics. Some of my favorite classics are a bit more modern or a bit more unusual, but I think that’s what makes them classics to me! These are in no particular order, though based on my other posts I think you can tell which one’s are going to be more favorite than others.
Also doing this because I’m in a bit of a reading slump, but hopefully writing and thinking about books will inspire me to read more!
- The Haunting of Hill House
This is the hauntingly atmospheric novel by Shirley Jackson about a group of people who stay at Hill House, a supposedly haunted house. Told through the perspective of Eleanor, we see a shaky view of the people she meets and becomes more intimate with, and her unreliable narration amplifies the uneasiness felt in the house.
I love how uneasy this book makes me, both because I get a bit embarrassed for Eleanor, but also because you KNOW there’s something strange going on in and because of that house. Jackson really knows how to give chilling vibes.
As you might be able to tell, I do love my haunted house stories, and I count Rebecca as one of those stories. In this book a young woman meets and then marries the mysterious Max deWinter, whose wife, Rebecca, died a year before. As the new Mrs. deWinter tries to get used to her new role, she realizes that the grand manor, Manderley, holds more secrets and ghosts of Rebecca.
This book is so dark and sends the shivers up the spine. Like Eleanor in Hill House, the new Mrs. deWinter is unsure and uninformed enough to make the narrative shaky, unreliable, and eerie, at least until she is able to be in on things.
- I, Claudius
This historical fiction recounts the life of the Julio-Claudians in the early days of the Roman Empire, through the perspective of the emperor Claudius. The narration takes us from the rule of Augustus and ends when Claudius becomes emperor (the sequel Claudius The God tells of what happens after this).
As a fan of ancient history, I love this telling. We get to know fun characters like the murderous Livia, the insane Caligula, and all who seek to impede Claudius’ life. Of course there are elements of this book that are not quite historically accurate, but it is still very, very entertaining.
- The Lord of the Rings
If you know me even a little, you will know that these are my favorite books in the world. I’m not going to go into the plot too much cause I assume if you haven’t read the book, you’ve at least seen the movie, and they’re pretty similar. The only think I will say that is missing from the films from the book is more of the folklore aspects that Tolkien fills his books with. I LOVE folklore and fairy tale, and reading about the elves, the barrow wights, Tom Bombadil, the mythology behind trees, it’s all just *chef’s kiss*. And the fact that all of this folklore has informed a lot of modern and contemporary folklore is what makes these books classics for me.
- Sense and Sensibility
One of my favorite romances EVER! I read this after I watched the movie with Emma Thompson and the rest of that all-star cast. I fell in love with Alan Rickman’s Col. Brandon, and so I had to see for myself if he is just as wonderful in the book and HE IS!! Also, a Jane Austen is always a classic, this just happens to be the best and favorite of mine!
- Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury’s famous novella takes place in a dystopian (deceptively utopian) world where books are outlawed, so people do not have ideas that are non-conforming. Our protagonist, a fireman, is one of the people who burns books when found. But what happens when one day he decides to keep and read one?
This is probably my favorite dystopian fiction because so many times have we almost lived this reality, where knowledge is kept secret and away from those who would learn and have their own ideas. Also, any book about books is for me, and a dystopian book about books? Oh ja.
- Paris in the Twentieth Century
Another dystopian! This is a more obscure book by Jules Verne, imagining what life might be like in the late 20th century. In this version of modernity, the arts and humanities are considered obsolete, and our main character, a classicist and Latinist, has trouble fitting in this world.
As a classicist myself, it is encouraging to read about those who will love the classics and language and art even in dire times, though it is sad to think about this decline. Even though it was in translation, I love the way Verne tells his stories.
- The Last Unicorn
I also read this book after I saw the movie, and I am happy to say that they are very similar! The book is so fantastic though, with a diverse and quirky cast of characters. I also love the theme of the disappearing fairy tale represented by the loss of the unicorns in this book. And a wizard named Schmendrick? I want him to be my best friend.
Another more modern classic, but a fantasy classic nonetheless!
- The Chronicles of Prydain
Again, I read this classic fantasy series after watching Disney’s The Black Cauldron, which takes its name from the second book in the series. In this series we follow three heroes, Taran, Princess Eilonwy, and Fflewddur Fflam as they overcome the evil powers that be in the lands of Prydain.
This series is all based on Welsh mythology, much of which can be found in the Mabinogion. I think that’s why I was so drawn to it at all, cause Welsh mythology is so cool!
- The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
Not really a classic in terms of books, but definitely in terms of the author. Edith Wharton is famous for her novels, but some don’t know that she also wrote ghost stories! Very much in the same vein of horror as Shirley Jackson, Wharton sets many of her stories in houses that have ghosts or secrets, the perfect haunting and eerie atmosphere that I am just in love with!
Those are my top 10! What are some of your favorite classics?
picked up Bierce’s collection of ghost stories because I am a huge fan of reading ghost stories written around the same time and style – think Edith Wharton, E.F. Benson, Shirley Jackson, etc.
While these stories were VERY spooky, and definitely enjoyable, I encountered some rather unfortunate mannerisms of the time; that is, sexism, racism, making men either murderers or gamblers. It is unlike Wharton’s stories, which center around circumstances outside of the protagonist’s control – Bierce’s characters often put the supernatural experiences upon themselves while also being kind of horrible people. I didn’t ignore it as I went, nor did I excuse the behavior of the characters, but I did feel these traits were what made the stories so centered upon the characters’ downfalls.
I don’t know if I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t like period ghost stories as much as I do.
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Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If I had to pick a word to describe Through the Woods it would be gorgeous. I am always looking for new fairy tale and folklore retellings with horrific twists, and this gorgeous book did not at all disappoint. Through the Woods consists of seven tales, each one encapsulating some fear that we all see lurking in the heart of fairy tales.
The first tale simply illustrates the fear of what could be hiding under the bed.
The second, a sort of retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, illustrates the harshness of winter and the fear of possibly losing one’s family.
The third could be a retelling of any number of tales, including Bluebeard, The Fall of the House of Usher and the Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, and vampire stories. The fear expressed here is the uncertainty of an arranged marriage – and of course the odd fear of the dead wife coming back for vengeance.
The fourth shows a man’s fear when a seemingly perfect copy of his brother comes back from the dead. Invasion of the body snatchers? Perhaps!
The fifth story is all about ghosts and spiritualism, both the reality and fears that come with it. A young woman who pretends to commune with ghosts. Her friend who can actually see ghosts. Who is more afraid?
The sixth story is similar to the fourth in body-snatching, albeit a bit more gruesome. The creatures featured in this story are what I would associate to the term “skin-walkers.” The fear here is, again, losing one’s family – and perhaps even oneself – and not being able to trust those around you.
he last story, which is not really a story, more of a moral, reiterates one of the big themes of all the stories in this book: getting lost in the woods, and either coming out different, or being eaten by the wolf.
I read this book so quickly, that’s how good the stories were – I didn’t want to put them down for a moment. And Carroll’s illustrations and art in this book had me absolutely entranced. I honestly may go back and just look at the art. It sets the moods of each story so well, readers will be mesmerized and enchanted, just as one would venturing into the strange woods that star in each story. I would love to see Carroll create more tales like this. It is the perfect bedtime story, and the perfect midwinter read.
I recommend Through the Woods to those who love fairy tale and folklore, who want to explore fears a bit, and who want to get lost in a good and gorgeous book.
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The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I love ghost stories, especially those that border on the gothic. What I consider to be a good ghost story is when the writer takes the mundane and colors it with tiny traces of the supernatural, just enough to make the reader feel uneasy. Edith Wharton is among such writers, writing with such frankness as to lull the reader into a false sense of security. She even seems to add a sort of game for her readers. Going into each of her stories I knew there would be a ghost somewhere, but the fun and mystery is to speculate who the ghost is going to be and where. It could be the old gardener, a woman who died in the house long ago, it could even be the master of the house! After that it’s just a matter of how we the readers and the protagonists of each story choose to deal with the ghost presented to them.
I recommend this book to all who are ready for the spookiest season of the year, and who want some fun and games with the supernatural.
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