The Voyage of the Book Sommelier

It’s been too long since I wrote one of these, readers, and I’m a bit rusty. I hope you enjoy these bookish combinations!

Broken People, by Sam Lansky v. Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko

Coping with mental illness is so multi-faceted that it’s no wonder so much of Western literature uses it to create characters and plots. (I’m leaving out other world literatures because I don’t know enough about them to generalize.) But I saw a connection between Broken People and Ceremony because the protagonists seek out traditional indigenous ways of healing to be able to function in the wider world. The difference between the two is that where Tayo of Ceremony is able to access an authentic experience with a medicine man of his own tribe, Sam of Broken People seeks out a healer who has cobbled together various philosophies from South America and Asia, combined it with ayahuasca, and is now a guru for people able to afford his fee. The contrast between the healing experiences in these two books had me thinking hard about lost knowledge, conditions Western medicine struggles to understand and treat, and who has the right to call themselves a healer.

Thin Girls, by Diana Clarke v. The Lightness, by Emily Temple – self-annihilation of young girls

Both of these books are troubling, triggering reads featuring what I see as young girls trying to annihilate themselves so that they can be a perfect reflection of someone else. The protagonist of Thin Girls, Rose, so wanted to be like her twin that she developed a near-deadly case of disordered eating. Olivia, of The Lightness, wanted to be what she thought her father sought for himself so much that she took on the identity of a spiritual seeker and disciple. Both books show these girls subsuming their own needs and desires until they find a way to break out of their self-denying thinking to realize that they, themselves, are worthy of expressing and living their own personalities.

A Demon-Haunted Land, by Monica Black v. Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch, by Rivka Galchen

This one’s a bit of a cheat because I mentioned this pairing in my review of Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch, but I’m going to recommend it again. Both of these novels are based on real accusations of witchcraft in Germany, told in two different ways. A Demon-Haunted Land is straight-up historical nonfiction about the rise of faith healers and witch denunciations after World War II. Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch is a fictional account of the legal trials of Katharina Kepler, mother of the astronomer Johannes Kepler. Looking at what leads to neighbors accusing each other of witchcraft from outside (A Demon-Haunted Land) and inside (Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch) is a fascinating way to understand the sometimes deadly phenomenon.

We Keep the Dead Close, by Becky Cooper v. Somebody at the Door, by Raymond Postgate

Authors who write mysteries tend to go for taut plots that race along in an effort to increase narrative tension and keep readers turning those pages. True crime authors often do the same, with some allowances for deeper discussions about larger social or legal issues. These two books throw that model right out the window to show us how messy an actual investigation might be. In We Keep the Dead Close, Cooper investigates a long-cold case from the late 1960s. Without DNA and very little forensic evidence, investigators were stuck looking into everyone’s business as they tried to find a killer. Raymond Postgate’s novel, Somebody at the Door, contains a case where everyone had a motive to kill the victim. Lots of dirty laundry comes out in both of these books, making me wonder how on earth detectives discern between clues that are genuinely evidence, red herrings, and stuff that just looks bad.

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