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Three Odd Books: A Taste for the Macabre

Three odd books on famous hauntings, macabre collections, and tales of the unquiet dead, from Odd Salon Fellow and producer of radio play tales of mystery and horror, Aimee Pavy.

Curiosity draws me to many subjects, in particular, to ghosts, monsters, and medicine. In grade school, Scholastic books kicked off a lifetime obsession with a book of ghost stories, featuring the customary gauzy figure. About this same age, I would often accompany my physician-dad to his office and would lounge around by myself for hours pouring over his older medical books and their gruesome, but clinical photos and illustrations. I became fascinated with what I believe to be a similarity between storytellers and doctors, who, despite very different goals, both meet unbelievable horrors head-on with curiosity and determination and are deeply concerned with the human condition. I read these three books practically back to back and their juxtaposition brought me back to my childhood obsessions. In a way, the stories of ghosts, monsters, or medicine are all horror stories, and at least for the latter, we hope for a happy ending.

Ghostland: An American Story of Haunted Places

Colin Dickey, Viking, 2016

By Odd Saloner Colin Dickey, Ghostland: An American Story of Haunted Places doesn’t debate the existence, or not, of ghosts. Instead he examines how we tell their stories, and how these stories affect our lives in the present and the lives of those involved in the events of the past. Whether you’re an aficionado of ghosts or a novice in the realm of the spirits, Colin presents eerie and creepy tales to fascinate all. “’Information,’ he said, ‘is killing ghost stories.’ When I asked him if this was a good thing or not, he replied ‘I don’t’ know. The romantic idea of a lonely person haunting a place is slowly disappearing…the idea is becoming a ghost, I guess.’”

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Haunted: On Ghosts, Witches, Vampires, Zombies, and Other Monsters of the Natural and Supernatural Worlds

Leo Braudy, Yale University Press, 2016

“What makes us afraid?” This is the first question posed to a reader of Haunted: On Ghosts, Witches, Vampires, Zombies, and Other Monsters of the Natural and Supernatural Worlds. Leo Braudy takes us on a tour of what makes us afraid and the monsters and stories we create in response to these fears: fear of the natural, the artificial, the psychology of humans, the evil of the world. And he explores the question “How have those stories mutated over the centuries…and shaped our sense of reality?”

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Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, Gotham Books, 2014

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter’s name is infamous in connection with the curio-filled Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. Dr. Mütter himself though is not well known—he doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page! When did Dr. Mütter live, what kind of doctor was he, and why did he put together such an odd mélange of objects and specimens for his museum? Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz uncovers the mystery of Dr. Mütter’s life and reveals a man and a career that should be prominently in the history books as he was a brilliant surgeon and innovator and a passionate advocate for patient-centric care. “Mutter’s hands were a confident blur of motion as he cut and pierced, excised and sutured, flayed and positioned…Where others once saw a monster, Mütter thought, he had revealed a man.”

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Aimee Pavy is a Fellow of Odd Salon, and the producer of the retro-style radio play podcasts, Twelve Chimes It’s Midnight, which are perfect for listening on dark October nights.

Books to inspire, awe & bewilder: See all our book reviews here: THREE ODD BOOKS

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