SLU Libraries Recommended Reads: Julie Portman Enjoys 'Bad Manors'
As summer heads into the home stretch, it’s not too late to enjoy one of the season’s greatest pleasures: getting lost in a great novel.
If social media and streaming services have taken over your leisure time, but you’d like to get back to the singular experience of reading for fun, librarians at SLU’s Pius XII Memorial Library can help.
All faculty, staff and students are encouraged to take advantage of the expertise and resources SLU’s librarians can offer. And, though much of their work involves supporting course work and research, they are quick to validate the value of reading for pure enjoyment.
Julie Portman is a catalog librarian at Pius Library, where she studied under her mentor, Charles Croissant (emeritus) for the past two years. Prior to joining the Pius Library CMS team, Julie worked for 17 years at Fontbonne University wearing a number of hats in dedicated service of the Jack C. Taylor Library.
In her free time, Portman enjoys tending to her plants, podcasts and pop-culture, birdwatching, bicycling through Forest Park, and, of course, reading. She also takes great pleasure in connecting people to print and media resources, the arts, and each other, and invites students and faculty to stop by Pius to connect with her and the team.
“There’s something to be said for reading for pleasure, with no agenda, no need to take notes or summarize the author’s findings,” Portman said. “Whether you read on a tablet or a physical book, the lack of distractions from pop-up ads and side-tracking internet rabbit holes can be really refreshing. And it’s so easy to use the Libby app to download thousands of free eBooks and audio books from SLU Libraries.”
Portman shares three books she thinks would make great summer reads.
Her choices all deal with "bad manors" — all three are gothic novels that involve troublesome mansions.
One of my most frequent book recommendations is Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 gothic novel, "Rebecca". In this hard to put down psychological thriller, the unnamed heroine and narrator, a naive woman in her twenties, is working as a lady’s companion in Monte Carlo where she meets Maxim de Winter, an aloof but handsome and urbane middle-aged widower. After a whirlwind courtship, they marry and the new Mrs. de Winter moves to Manderley, a large mansion in Cornwall, where she is haunted by the specter of Maxim’s first wife, the titular Rebecca.
The menacing housekeeper Mrs. Danvers carries an obsessive adoration for Rebecca and resents the young bride. Mrs. Danvers preys upon the new Mrs. de Winter’s wide-eyed insecurities, cruelly undermining her as she tries to assert her position in the household. All the while, the young Mrs. de Winter discovers her husband’s secretive past and the mysterious circumstances around Rebecca’s death. With its well-crafted characters, ominous tone, and slow burn of a plot, "Rebecca" warrants multiple reads.
Published in summer 2020, The New York Times best-selling novel "Mexican Gothic" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an eerie and grotesque page turning gothic horror novel about Noemí Taboada, a glamorous young mid-century socialite who leaves her comfortable her Mexico City home to check in on her ailing cousin Catalina who is married to her English husband Virgil Doyle and living with his ill-boding aristocratic family in their decrepit mansion in the isolated mountain town El Triunfo.
After learning about the Doyle family’s dark and violent history, and experiencing nightmarish visions, Noemí decides to leave the threatening manse, only to find out that she is trapped by the controlling Doyles in their rotting ancestral home that is infected with a creeping botanical malaise. Throughout "Mexican Gothic’s" unexpected plot twists are themes of colonialism, class exploitation, and misogynist patriarchy.
This summer, I was thrilled to find Isabel Cañas’s suspenseful and supernatural debut novel "The Hacienda," which has been described as "Rebecca" meets "Mexican Gothic." After losing both her father and the family’s wealth during the Mexican War of Independence in the early 19th century, Beatriz marries the handsome widower Don Rodolfo Solórzano in hopes of gaining back her elevated lifestyle.
Rodolfo whisks Beatriz off to his dilapidated remote country estate San Isidro and then returns to work in the capital leaving Beatriz alone to tend to the hardscrabble gardens and manage the run-down mansion. At night she is terrorized by visions, voices, and a pair of red eyes that seem to watch her every move.
The call is definitely coming from inside the hacienda. With the help of Andrés, a local young priest, Beatriz works to banish the sinister presence that haunts San Isidro and uncover the mystery of the mansion’s dark past and of Rodolfo’s first wife’s untimely demise. Since I am still reading this gripping novel, you’ll get no spoilers from me.
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