Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Spectacular Spectres of Toronto’s Landmarks

Halloween is this Friday and to celebrate I picked my five favourite haunted places in Toronto for the Musings Blog. Did you know that One Toronto Street is located on the site of Toronto’s first hanging grounds? That University College at UofT is haunted by the ghost of a murdered stonemason and to this day, you can still see his axe mark in the door? The next time you’re enjoying a steak dinner at the Keg Mansion peruse through their “ghost log” where visitors have left accounts of their own paranormal experiences, and ladies, make sure to take a friend to the washroom with you. As October 31 marks the day that spirits and ghosts come out to play, be wary when walking around Toronto late at night, you never know who you might meet.

See the full list here

Marilynne K. Roach – Six Women of Salem

Six Women

Happy Halloween everyone! If you’re looking for interesting things to research this week, the history of witchcraft is simply fascinating.

I decided to read Roach’s Six Women of Salem at the same time that I was watching American Horror Story: Coven. For those of you who don’t know, the third season of AHS follows a modern day Coven of witches. I’m not one for horror movies, but I loved the show. It was slightly more “Pretty-Little Liars” than horror-story but it was still wildly entertaining. (Stevie Knicks guest stars). It was an interesting experience reading a non-fiction account of the Salem Witch Trials and then watching a highly sensationalized version of the events, but it is clear that the writers on the show did their research, and not everything is totally made up.

Studying the Salem Witch Trials is confusing at best, and absolutely chaotic when done poorly. There are too many names and relationships to keep track of, but Roach tried to tame this wilderness by focusing on six main women and splitting the book into three different sections; their life before the witch-hunts; their lives during the trails; the aftermath. Roach beings each chapter with a paragraph long fictional account of each women’s inner monologue, a personal touch and a nice surprise. While some may find this out of place in a non-fiction book, I found it added nicely to the story.

The book is incredibly well researched which is a hard thing to do, as so much evidence from the trials is hearsay or incidental. It is still almost impossible to determine exactly what happened with the trails, and Roach is a brave soul for trying. I would have however, loved to see a bit more speculation on Roach’s part about what she thought the spark was in Salem rather than just dry facts. The causes and lead up to the Salem witch trials are so important to try and understand, but it felt like Roach glossed over them.

Additionally, I also felt like Roach could have brought race into her book a little bit more. Tituba, the slave who was one of the first women accused of practicing witchcraft is one of the Six Women Roach talks about, but the implications of her being a slave and being Black are largely left out of the equation. In contrast American Horror Story makes race a central (although somewhat essentialized and sensationalized) theme in the show. The season takes place in New Orleans and the war between the White Witches or Descendants of Salem and The Might Voodoo Priestess (a very Sassy Angela Basset) plays a pivotal role in the season. The Salem trials took place at a time of very turbulent race relations and the accusations against Tituba, as well as her release, pose some very interesting questions.

Overall Roach does a good job of trying to make sense of the chaos that is the Salem Witch Trials. Anyone interested in the field should read this, as it is one of the most comprehensive accounts out there. Also watch AHS, just not at night.

Rating: 4/5

Dana Goodyear – Anything That Moves (2013)


As a staff writer for the New Yorker, I found Dana Goodyear’s writing style clear and easy to read. While the organization of her chapters seemed a bit strange at times the content itself was so interesting that it didn’t really matter. Essentially in this book, Goodyear looks at the rise of the “foodie” movement in the United States and how some people will really eat, anything that moves. Some of the more interesting parts of the book that I flagged were:

1. That one repercussion of the end of the Cold War was that the dissolution of the Soviet Union meant overfishing and poaching threatened the Huso huso, along with other sturgeon species prized for their roe, with extinction. Turns out that Dictators were good beluga stewards.

2. That foodie’s have an interesting alliance with the Tea Party and Libertarians, the common denominator being a desire for less government regulation.

3. The story of Josh and Amanda, a couple who turned their apartment into a grow house and candy kitchen where they produced fruit leather infused with THC. (I mostly flagged this because it sounds amazing).

4. The discussion of how different countries have different “cultures of texture.” In the United States for example, that culture is crunchy while in Asia the food is more soft and unctuous; “There’s nothing crispy – unless we make it crispy,” stated a chef committed to making “offal” (the parts of the mean American’s did not want to eat – spleens, blood, liver, etc) popular.

While I don’t think I’ll be running out to try “Bug Nuggets” or become part of the “nose to tail” movement, Goodyear has made me think about the food I eat every day.

Rating: 4.5/5

100 Years of Loss – The Residential School System in Canada

I want to share another interesting post with everyone taken from the University of Toronto’s Museum Studies Blog, Musings As someone who has studied Native Canadian history I found this incredibly interesting to read. It is true that growing up, Aboriginal history was not necessarily a part of our curriculum; you learned that they existed, but that’s about it. Nothing about the tragedies faced. While Native history is not the only thing conveniently left out of grade school curriculums (I did not learn about Japanese internment until high school, or the history of slavery in Canada until university) the “100 Year of Loss Initiative,” is a step in correcting an education system that has largely been Euro-centric.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (2012)


Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Here’s a review of Gone Girl (the book). I have yet to see the movie but I hear that there are some striking differences. For one the idea that Amy tries to present herself as “the cool girl” is more apparent in the book than in the movie. I was disappointed to hear this as I thought that Amy’s rant about “cool girls” was one of the most genuine things I had read. Still I’m looking forward to seeing the movie and how certain other aspects are translated to film.

I was originally weary of reading this as I had mixed reviews from various friends. Overall however, I liked it. Gone Girl, is one of those books that you have a hard time putting down, wanting to finish it and to know what happens, but not one where you spend a great deal of time thinking about it once you have finished it. The plot and the story were incredibly creative and intriguing, and Gillian Flynn manages to mess with your mind and change the way you view characters in a way that only George R.R Martin seems to have mastered so far.

The ending is slightly anticlimactic as (SPOILER ALERT) Amy never gets her come-uppance, and Nick has to give in trying to fight her. While sometimes life is like that, and revenge is not always sweet, in a fast paced murder mystery novel, it should be. I liked the book and would recommend it to my friends, but I don’t know if I would reread it myself. Knowing how it ends, and that Amy gets off scot-free does not make me want to read it again.

There’s been a lot of great debate on the internet regarding the complicated gender roles in Gone Girl and whether or not this book/movie is an excuse for men to claim “women are crazy.” Does Amy’s manipulation make Nick the good guy? The debate going on surrounding this book/movie echoes the debate that raged when Fatal Attraction came out. Susan Faludi in Backlash spends an entire chapter dedicated to the gender roles in that movie and a lot of what she says could be applied to Gone Girl today. Nick is not a blameless character and Amy’s farce should not turn him into a hero. That being said, Amy is also clearly not a protagonist, so who do you root for? It is an interesting debate and one that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. So what was your take on the book or the movie? Is Amy a symbol of female empowerment? Or just an example for men to point at and claim victim status?

Rating: 4/5

Special Post – Prismland

While I wouldn’t normally post looking for support for a project, this one is JUST TOO CUTE! Some good friends of mine came up with this idea to engage kids with geometry starting from a young age. The characters are adorable and they’ve done their research into educational methods and how their project fits into school curriculums. (Plus the site is full of puns) Please take a look and lend your support if you think it’s worthwhile. We’re all dying to see this become a reality.


Lily Koppel – The Astronaut Wives Club (2013)


I was a little shocked to see such negative reviews of this book on Goodreads. Many complaints cited the fact that this was more of a “story” rather than a history. While as a historian I did have a slight problem with the lack of footnotes or sources to back up the stories Koppel tells, over all I felt this was en enjoyable read.

Astronauts during the Space Age were literally larger than life, and their wives often had to keep up the appearance of the nuclear families. While I always assumed the hardest part of being an astronaut wife was dealing with the fact that your husband was continuously in danger, most of these women were previously army wives and were quite used to this aspect of the job. It didn’t necessarily make their lives easier, but they had dealt with the possibility of their husbands not coming home for many years before they became astronauts. The hardest part of the job was the spotlight that these women were inevitably put under while their husbands raced to the moon.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this book was the discussion of how the government and NASA injected themselves into every part of the women’s lives from the way the dressed, where they lived, and even what colour lipstick they wore. In a photo shoot for Life Magazine the wives had all decided to wear pink lipstick, but when the cover was printed the colour was changed to red to symbolize the women’s patriotism.

While overall I liked the book, it got a bit hard to follow since Koppel wanted to talk about all astronaut wives, not just the Original “Mercury Nine.” I began to loose track of the wives and “who’s who.” Furthermore I would have loved to know more about the wives of the Apollo 13 astronauts. This book would have been stronger had Koppel simply chosen to devote all her attention to the original Astronaut Wives Club. I still enjoyed the book and would recommend it; I think that there is a lot more work to be done on the lives of the astronaut wives.

Rating: 4/5