Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due, Narrated by Tananarive Due, Robin Miles, and Janina Edwards

The fifteen stories collected in Ghost Summer are some of the most engaging short stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading. That pleasure was in no small part because these stories often provide a vastly different perspective from much of the horror and speculative fiction on the market, informed by the author’s experiences as a black woman, both socially conscious and attuned to history. It’s a perspective and worldview that readers should actively seek out because Tananarive Due successfully displays both the ways we are all the same and the stark differences that haunt many people to this day.
There’s nothing not to love in this collection, but it’s the Gracetown stories kicking everything off that stuck with me the most. This strange, haunted place in northern Florida arrests the reader just as it seems to capture residents and visitors, sometimes in horrifying ways. Gracetown is a place of transformation and possession. It’s a town where the ghosts of a torturous, hateful past reveal uncomfortable truths.
Due provides us with glimpses of the past, of places where myth and legend overlap with the real world, where cultures collide with sometimes beautiful but often horrific results. We experience sadness and loss, sickness, and terror as the author paints all-too-real portraits of people, from those struggling to escape their circumstances to those hoping to find the peaceful embrace of death.
It isn’t all about the past or present, as she also takes us to the end of the world, displaying a keen understanding of human nature that proved almost prescient when compared to the pandemic conditions that ushered us into the current decade.
Narration provided by Tananarive Due herself, as well as Robin Miles and Janina Edwards makes for a different experience from story to story, each individual breathing life into the narratives in slightly different ways, but never in an unsatisfactory manner.

The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski: Narrated by Peter Kenny

Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Tower of Fools won’t necessarily appeal to fans of his far more popular The Witcher series. While elements of his distinctive writing style carry over to this first book of the Hussite Trilogy, the story itself is a major departure from what readers might expect.
The Tower of Fools is more akin to Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver (the first book of The Baroque Cycle) or Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, in that it’s a dense fantasy tale firmly embedded within true European historical context. Whereas The Baroque Cycle transpired in a fictionalized version of the late 1600s to early 1700s, and Clarke’s novel took place in the 1800s, Sapkowski’s trilogy inserts itself into Eastern Europe of the 1400s.
We are introduced to Reinmar of Bielawa, an unlikely and peculiar hero, as unwanted adventure is thrust upon him by virtue of Reinmar caught in the process of a different sort of thrusting–with the wife of a member of a wealthy and powerful family. On the run from vengeful aristocrats (and those working on their behalf), the inquisition (for being a magician and heretic), and sinister forces with unknown motives, Reinmar finds himself on a meandering scramble across the Eastern Europe of the late Middle Ages.
Populated by an almost intimidating cast of additional characters, while not as bad as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow–a book I’ve never been able to finish–it becomes challenging at times to keep track of precisely who is who. Strange acquaintances along the way become friends, friends become enemies, and enemies become victims of the peculiar sort of charmed life Reinmar seems to live. With the familiar wit and subtle comedic writing Sapkowski brings to the narrative, we witness an extreme example of fortune favoring the fool. As Reinmar stumbles from one bit of trouble to another, dragging unfortunate allies with him as he careens from frying pan to fire and back again.
Densely packed with historical events and figures of the Hussite Revolutionary period, The Tower of Fools is as much a history lesson as a tale of fantasy. Though Sapkowski’s novel incorporates elements of magic, witches/sorcerers, and supernatural beings aplenty, the narrative is so deeply fixed in a foundation of historical veracity that it all feels more textured and real than it might otherwise. Of course, those familiar with The Witcher are well aware that the author is capable of fleshing out a fictional world without the benefit of drawing the fine details from real-world history. It’s a nice touch, though, being able to explore a historical period many of us aren’t familiar with.
The titular Tower of Fools–though referenced at numerous points throughout the story–makes an appearance in Chapter 26, at almost the end of the book. It could be argued that the wider world we witness in the book is the real Narrenturm, and the whole of Eastern Europe and the Holy Roman Empire makes up the real Tower of Fools.
Though the story is not one that I can praise in more than peculiarly specific ways, the narration provided by Petter Kenny is spectacular. This narrator is impressive, to put it mildly. He successfully tackles various accents, dozens of characters, as well as songs and chants performed in Latin and other languages, all with a clarity and quality that almost astounded me.

Musings On Education

STEM is important, vitally important.

We absolutely need basic comprehension of math and science literacy to be more widespread here in America (and throughout the rest of the world, of course). We’ve seen precisely how dangerous ignorance of those topics can be.

Just as important, we really need accurate, unbiased, objective lessons in history and sociology to be treated as being of paramount importance for our children. The study of history and of social structures is no less imperative than the study of STEM subjects.

Additionally, it would be great if we could incorporate some low level critical thinking and logic education as early as elementary school as well. Mindfulness and self-awareness could be useful too.

Sure, these things wouldn’t lead to a perfect society…such a thing can’t likely exist…but it would make for a better society, more well-equipped to tackle the obstacles that come with both day-to-day life and more challenging times.