Fantasy and Paranormal Reading Ruminations Reading Themes

[Saturday Reads] A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories from the Vandermeers

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Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just booklove miscellany in general.

Many thanks, dear Iphigene, for this lovely widget. Truly beautiful.
Many thanks, dear Iphigene, for this lovely widget. Truly beautiful.

This book by the Vandermeers fit our current reading theme perfectly.

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Several Saturdays back, I have done a feature on the Vandermeers’ collection of short stories in Thackery Lambshead and their tome of a time travel book. I am glad to find another “Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories” with “The Weird” also edited by the same prolific powerhouse couple.

In the Introduction written by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, they defined their definition of ‘weird tale’ in this fashion. I have taken photos of the book page and edited it using an iPhone app as you can see below:

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It is pretty clear that the ‘weird tales’ in this collection go beyond the mere presence of ghosts, zombies, or glittering vampires in high school, or werewolves with six-pack abs. In Michael Moorcock’s Foreweird, he elucidated the concept further by noting this:

“For me, the appeal of the weird story is precisely that it is designed to disturb. At least if left to itself. Maybe all we can really say about it is that it suits a certain mood in the reader; that it’s subtler and more complex than generic fantasy stories.

The best writers, as this collection shows, write the best weird stories. So the weird story is Bradbury, Kafka, Lovecraft. It is Borges, Leiber, Angela Carter, Chabon. Clever artistry guides our encouners with the unknown and the numinous. At its best the weird story commands us with a style both original and engaging but not necessarily good in the opinion if its day.”

In this vast collection, the Vandermeers attempted to provide a semblance of “organizing principle(s) and enhancement(s)” by arranging it chronologically from the earliest story- an excerpt from Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side – to K. J. Bishop’s Saving the Gleeful Horse.

What makes this collection stand out for me is the editors’ commendable efforts to include not just stories from the Western canon, but also luminous writers coming from outside the US-UK mold such as Japanese poet Hagiwara Sakutaro, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Rabindranath Tagore, Jorge Luis Borges, Augusto Monterroso from Guatemala, Julio Cortazar, Dino Buzzati among others. I was also thrilled to see contributions from George R. R. Martin, Haruki Murakami, and finally, Clive Barker.

As I was reading the Vandermeers’ Introduction, I was amazed by how all-encompassing their vision is. There was also the recognition that these are fellow weird-hunters, and they have successfully put these strange tales together in one ‘compendium’ for the weird reader’s delectation. This should be required reading in the university.

China Mieville’s Afterweird: The Efficacy of a Worm-Eaten Dictionary perfectly sums up the collection in this fashion:

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I would most likely purchase a copy of this book so that I can slowly savour its contents. This is lifetime reading.

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