I love reading about the Salem witch trials. Obviously anything to do with witchcraft will seem intriguing and is easily sensationalized, but the trials, because the were so confined to a specific time and place make them so interesting to study. Why Salem? Why 1692? These are questions that have bothered American historians. While many are apt to pass over the witch trials or view them as simply an anomaly in American history, there are a number of scholars who have attempted to give this event a significant amount of attention.
Frances Hill’s book is one of the better accounts that I’ve read. For those unfamiliar with the trials, the historical record is shaky at best, and absolutely impossible to get through at its worst. There are so many families involved, many sharing names and way too many people to keep track of. Factor in the debts owed and the grudges held and wading through the history of the Salem witch trials becomes a giant mess. Hill does a good job however, writing clearly and focusing on the prominent community members so the reader does not get lost.
What was especially interesting was Hill’s ideas about what started the whole paranoia about witches. As most know, the panic started when a number of teenage girls appeared hysterical and claimed to be possessed by other women in the community. Hill blames this on the nature of their existence. Growing up in the Puritan faith would have caused young people a great deal of stress and anxiety. While boys had a physical outlet for these feelings (it was permissible for boys to play outside, fight, etc), girls had no such way of dealing with these emotions. Hill believes the mass hysteria that gripped teenage girls in the community was a result of this. They blamed women who were outcasts in society to begin with and as Hill points out, this episode became one of the first episodes of women-on-women bullying.
It is definitely a feminist perspective on the whole episode in Salem, but seeing as the trials involved a majority of women (only one man was convicted of witchcraft), viewing it through a feminist lense is not off base. Hill does a great job in dealing with this very interesting, but aso muddled subject.
A Cook’s Tour is Bourdain’s second book, a follow up to his successful Kitchen Confidential, and counterpart to his television show by the same name. In this piece of writing Bourdain tries to maintain his disdain for celebrity chefs and those who he believes to have “sold out,” (he harbours a very specific hatred for Jamie Oliver, which despite liking Jamie Oliver, I totally understand). This holier-than-thou attitude comes off as being a bit disingenuous however, since Bourdain at the time of this book, was a growing celebrity.
Bourdain makes up for this though by establishing a “rogue chef” persona that he has come to be known by today. Bourdain travels everywhere writing extensively about the different cities he’s been to and the local cuisine’s he’s tried. He writes at length about his love for Vietnam and Cambodia and mentions his admiration for both the people and the food. Bourdain has also just reinforced my desire to travel to Spain and Portugal simply to eat. This book is part food writing and part adventure writing. If it doesn’t give you Wanderlust, I’m not sure what will.
After reading all the hype about the recently released documentary, I decided I wanted to the read the book first. Scientology has been a joke in popular culture for a while now, but the treatment it gets in many shows and cartoons, detracts from some of the seriously troubling aspects of this organized religion.
Wright’s book looks at the history of Scientology from its roots to the present day, focusing in on famous figures like R.L Hubbard and his family. Hollywood director, Paul Haggis, a former Scientologist, serves as a key player in this story. It was in fact Haggis’ experience with Scientology that prompted Wright to write this book. It was interesting, informative and shed light on some of the darker sides of Scientology without being too disparaging.
One of the most interesting things was reading the history of R.L Hubbard, and how the idea of Scientology developed alongside other occult-type groups in the early 40s and 50s. It was unsurprising that Hubbard was a science fiction writer given the fact that Scientology sometimes seems like science fiction itself. Wright also takes a look at some of the rumours surrounding the darker sides of Scientology as well as the reasons why celebrities seem so drawn to it.
I have read a number of articles and books written by Wright and know that he is a pretty respectable journalist. He does an amazing job in this book of looking at Scientology in an honest and open way. In the end, Scientology is still technically a system of belief and there are practitioners out there who follow it, and not all of them are bad people. In a way, Wright points out that Scientology is not all that different from other organized religions that all have dark moments in their history (think of the Catholic Church in recent years, or ever really).
While there are still a lot of problems with the top levels of the Church of Scientology (seriously, look up SeaOrg and GoldBase on wikipedia), it does not mean that everyone who decides to follow the religion is automatically a terrible person. This was a balanced and fair read, and I’m interested to see if this translates to the Documentary
As I’ve already mentioned, The Shadow of the Wind, is one of my all time favourite books. It has all the elements of an amazing story and unfortunately for Zafon, is proving to be impossible to top.
After being somewhat disappointed by The Angel’s Game, I was looking for a bit of redemption from this book, but found myself even more disappointed. This story is a sequel to the Shadow of the Wind, in which you find out more about Ferimin’s sordid past and get the full picture regarding connections between characters in all three books. David Martin makes an appearance and leads to some interesting speculations about Daniel Sempere’s parentage. The story was interesting enough but it didn’t really go anywhere.
While The Angel’s Game was tied up quite hastily, The Prisoner of Heaven was not tied up at all. I have a feeling that we’ll see another sequel from Carlos Ruiz Zafon and this book was an attempt to set the stage, but I felt let down at the end of it. I highly recommend reading The Shadow of the Wind, but leaving the rest of the books in this series out.