book review


The Indulgent Pleasure of Re-Reading Bram Stoker's Dracula

draculaTurn on all your lights, find a dog to sit at your feet and don't expect to get any sleep the night you decide to read Bram Stoker's Dracula.

You would think that when you read Dracula, that all the mystery and suspense would be sucked dry from the plot line by all those vampire movies you watched. Not so. Even though you know the punchline, why yes, the Count really is a blood-sucking demon out to cause no good, every page, almost every passage, sinks its fangs into your heart and pulls you along at a fearsome clip.

The book opens with young Jonathan Harker’s diary. Jonathan, a new solicitor, travels to Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania to prepare the Count for his move and new life in London. In only a matter of days, the danger of the place and his company become readily apparent to Jonathan. He must escape home, where in short time, mysterious happenings occur throughout the town. Frivolous yet charming young maidens go sleepwalking, children disappear, giant bats bash against windows. The three suitors of the tormented maiden band together with doctor and occultist Van Helsing, unbelieving, yet driven by terror and grief to fight the evil that has stolen their love.

Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in epistolary format, meaning the narrative comes together in the form of diary entries, newspaper clippings, letters, ship logs and other official documents. It would be fair for you to assume this hodgepodge collection of narrative snippets would slow the plot and remove you from the story, but the actual effect is quite the opposite. While reading, you discover each plot twist through pieces of evidence, as though Bram Stoker was not telling you a story, but building a case. He retains realism in detail, voice and format, yet never allows the pieces to stray from the quickly building plot line.

Vampires are sexy. We all know this, and if we didn’t, the modern retellings assert this truth again and again, from sparkly Edward (Twilight) to angst-y Lestat (Interview with the Vampire) to bad boy David (The Lost Boys). The origin for this association with sex and the undead becomes remarkably clear while reading Dracula’s steamy pages. The entire book reads as a sophisticated seduction. Even simple passages about place, or Jonathan's terror as the wolves descend upon his carriage, are written with such care and delicate texture that they feel like love letters. Never explicit, Bram Stoker teases you with glimpses of moonlit skin, voluptuous lips and cunning hands. In the ruins of a church courtyard, well past midnight, he finally takes us. Listen as Jonathan's fiancée Mina tracks down her childhood friend Lucy on a fateful night.jpeg

...there, on our favourite seat, the silver light of moon struck a half-reclining figure, snowy white. The coming of the cloud was too quick for me to see much, for the shadow shut down on light almost immediately, but it seemed to me that something dark stood behind the seat where the white figure shone, bent over it. What it was, whether man or beast, I could not tell; I could not wait to catch another glance. ... There was undoubtably something, long and black, bending over the half-reclining white figure. ...

Whew. I'm ready for my drink now.

Want to know what cocktail I recommend sucking down while reading Dracula? Well, you'll have to wait for Book Lush! Make sure you get on my email list so you get notice the moment it's out.


Do You Dwell in Your Mind or in Your Body?

The theme of the week for me seems to be touch.

Do you "live in your head?" Are you one of those who are rarely present in the moment, but instead drifting off on a swiftly flowing current of thought? I am. While I love the robust riches of my mind, the years have shown me that I miss much when I can not anchor myself in the physical world, in even my physical self.

Inspired by a post on Brain Pickings, I recently purchased and read Eve Ensler's new memoir, In the Body of the World. The book begins with this beautiful passage.

“A mother's body against a child's body makes a place. It says you are here. Without this body against your body there is no place. I envy people who miss their mother. Or miss a place or know something called home. The absence of a body against my body created a gap, a hole, a hunger. This hunger determined my life. ... The absence of a body against my body made attachment abstract. Made my own body dislocated and unable to rest or settle. A body pressed against your body is the beginning of nest. I grew up not in a home but in a kind of free fall of anger and violence that led to a life of constant movement, of leaving and falling. It is why at one point I couldn't stop drinking and fucking. Why I needed people to touch me all the time. It had less to do with sex than location. When you press against me, or put yourself inside me. When you hold me down or lift me up, when you lie on top of me and I can feel your weight, I exist. I am here.”[white_space]
― Eve Ensler, In the Body of the World: A Memoir

Eve well-illustrates a familiar ache. Human touch asserts a certainty. Proof. Evidence. Connection. For those of us that dwell chiefly in our minds, the hunger for this confirmation of our existence in the physical world may grow until we binge in corporeal experiences. I penned such episodes in my novel, which focuses not just on the separation of body and mind, but also the division of self.

We sit on the bed in my minuscule room, glasses of sickly sweet plum wine in our hands. He looks at me with a sadness so deep that I worry it might take me down with him. He sets his glass on my nightstand and places his hand on my thigh. A breathe I’ve been holding releases from me, long and slow.[white_space]

First touch brings great release. The frenzied anticipation fades, smooth relief flows through my limbs. Even from a stranger, a gentle touch feels like love. It is the realization that you can reach someone, can make a connection, even if you barely share a common language. He touches to feel my stockings and the curve of my thigh, but also to feel the heat and calm that comes when you are close to another person.[white_space]

- Kelsye Nelson, The Secret Life of Sensei Shi

Eve's book talks largely of trauma, of physical violence, of illness. These horrible actions came with a gift of mindfulness, of clarity, of immediacy. How lucky we are that our experiences needn't swing to such extremes in order for us to achieve presence of being. Here are the things that I do to root my mind to moment:

  • Run
  • Get outside for a little bit every day
  • Sleep well
  • Indulge in a steady, constant stream of light physical affection
  • Walk by any large body of water
  • Pet my dogs
  • Work outside doing something that requires the labor of my entire body
  • Breathe deep
  • Travel or put myself in uncomfortable environments
  • Walk in the woods
  • Swim

I love my brain, and the ethereal journeys it takes me on. Some of my favorite activities, such as writing or reading or dreaming regularly lift me from the concrete world. The trick, per usual, is balance. I have a natural inclination towards happiness. If for some reason I decide I must hold on to anger or resentment, I must actively work on it. (Which, like a fool, I sometimes do.) It's the same in this situation. My natural inclination is towards the mind. While a trauma or violence may rip me out of thought and into the present, in normal days I must make vigilant efforts to wake from my dreams. It's work. Thankfully, pleasure accompanies the process.

And you? Where do you stand? Do you live mostly in mind or in body? What do you do to anchor yourself to passing moments?

Also, go read Eve's book. It's incredible.