Book Review: Dracula Sucks!

 

DraculaDracula by Bram Stoker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dracula sucks but the book doesn’t.

I go through phases of reading classics or otherwise tackling books with reputations of being difficult. Sometimes it’s easy to see why books are classics – they’re timeless and engrossing. A Tale of Two Cities is that way for me. So is Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Other times the classics feel like archaeological work. The reader is excavating and extrapolating. Dracula felt like work to me, but the reader can definitely appreciate the book’s influence on future work. In particular, the book contains real stakes (STAKES!) and real horror, in the sense that things we would never want to happen…happen. It’s great at dread. Two or three scenes in particular stuck with me. One involves a cemetery and one involves a ghost ship. If you like cemeteries and ghost ships, maybe this book is for you!

I will admit that most of what I know about Dracula comes from the movie starring Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder (my two spirit animals). In the movie, Mr Harker (Keanu) is a young attorney sent on assignment to Transylvania where he is to meet an enigmatic Count Dracula, ostensibly about purchasing some land in England. It turns into an Airbnb trip for hell, though, as poor Keanu has to deal with all kinds of antisocial behavior from his host and the host’s trio of lady friends. Also, there are wolves!

The book starts in the same fashion. It’s a collection of journal entries and letters to and from Mr Harker as he journeys from England to spend time at the Count’s house. The Count knows nothing of England and is willing to pay a pretty pence to have a young solicitor visit him and advise him on acquiring property in England. Where should he buy? How can he make sure to get a good deal? What’s the culture like? It all makes sense on the sruface. The old man is friendly enough, even charming, but something is…terribly off. Locals won’t interact with him, except for occasional nomads. Why?

Eventually Mr Harker leaves Transylvania and heads home to England. He is unsure of what, exactly, happened with Count Dracula, but he knows he is glad to be home with Mina, his fiancé. Unfortunately, trouble finds the young couple and their friends, and Hugh Jackman (Professor Van Helsing) has to visit England to figure out why the friend group is acting so weird and why people keep getting beheaded. What a buzzkill!

That’s pretty much the plot, but the main attraction is the atmosphere. There’s a lot of sensational, creepy goings on. A lot of it is spiritual and religious in nature, and in this area I think the Mina of the book is the real hero. If you’ve watched Penny Dreadful, she’s very similar to Eva Green’s character of Vanessa Ives – haunted but resolute in fighting off the darkness in favor of the light. I don’t recall Winona Ryder’s character being so central in the movie, but it’s been a few years.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to casual readers, but you completionist nerds out there should consider giving it a go.

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My Favourite Albums of All Time (At the Moment) – Part I

There’s been a lot of hubbub recently about Rolling Stone updating their top 500 albums canon. I haven’t scrolled through the whole list, but two of my podcast friends* recently suggested that instead of worrying about these kinds of group-created list, it might be more interesting and useful for people to sit down and think about their own lists. Makes sense to me – we can learn more about music and one another that way. So, without further ado, here is my list of all-time favourite albums! Get your wishlists ready.

Axis: Bold as Love by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967) – JHE’s first album, Are You Experienced?, has more hits. But as an album I love Bold as Love the best.  It’s quieter, less-straight-forward bluesy rock, heavier on sounding like some kind of psychdelic fantasy-genre dream. “Little Wing”, “Castles Made of Sand”, and “Bold as Love” are these beautiful, virtuoso performances with big ideas. Hendrix talked about the Electric Church a lot, which means something different from what I mean when I talk about Church, but also something very much the same as when I talk about Church. This album is just peak Hendrix to m.

Beggars by Thrice (2009) – While I was aware of Thrice since The Artist in the Ambulance and had even seen them in their tour supporting that album, I didn’t really take notice of the band until hearing “In Exile” on this album. The whole album is moody and complex, much quieter than their previous work. Dustin Kensrue is a Christian, and he is also one of the most thoughtful songwriters I know. In this album he explores various allegories for Christ, what marriage really means, and the wandering nature of a certain breed of believers. Bonus – Amazing frenetic cover of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”.

Conspiracy No. 5 by Third Day (1997)I was on the fence about Christianity in middle school. I was pretty sure that God was there, but I was not sure that God was good. I knew that Christians weren’t good. They were elitist and hypocritical. Buddhism seemed like a better plan for me. However, one night the parents of some acquaintances took a group of us middle schoolers to this Christian rock concert. Growing up in Austin I was already High-Fidelity-level music fan, and I despised popular Christian music for its awful musicianship as much as for its surface-level lyrics. BUT, Third Day was an awesome band. I couldn’t believe how good they sounded live. The sweaty Southern alt-rock vibe was awesome. After the concert I told one of the guitar players that I didn’t know Christians could be cool. I think he was amused by that. But it was one of the truest things I ever said to someone, and I went and bought their album and listened to it on repeat. And I learned that Christians could be cool and real musicians and therefore that I could live an integrated life. I still listen to this one several times a year.

Euphoria Morning by Chris Cornell (1999) – Soundgarden was never been my band, but when the band’s frontman released this solo project in 1999 I was immediately intrigued. The big single was “Can’t Change Me”, a song about being in a relationship with an amazing girl but knowing you are too much of a piece of garbage to stick around. (That’s how I took it.) I didn’t “get” this album in high school but as an adult it’s remained one of my favorites. Cornell’s bluesy, vulnerable + powerful voice pairs so well with his lyrics about navigating relationships, the death of his friend Jeff Buckley, and more. It’s stayed in regular rotation since probably 2007, and Cornell remains one of my all-time favourite songwriters.

Fantastic Playroom by New Young Pony Club (2007) – Part of my “law school trilogy” of party records. I’m not sure whether this band was ever very popular beyond hipster indie dance folks, but to me it’s just perfect dance music. It’s cool, it instantly sets a mood, every song is good. Even though I wouldn’t call it my the “best” album on this list, I bet I’ve listened to it the most as an entire album. It’s like if Blondie’s song “I Know But I Don’t Know” birthed an entire genre. 

Fever to Tell by Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2003) – Part of my “law school trilogy” of party records. It would disingenuous to say that I knew about this band before they were popular. I did get to hang out in Williamsburg in 2005-2006, though, and so I think I “got” the band a little from being there. OR, maybe I just have an affection for them because I associate them with that great trip. Besides all that, though, the music stands for itself. Karen O is just…living on another planet onstage. This album captures the few-beers-into-a-long-night-with-strangers vibe so well. I have to confess that I didn’t realize the wild band that made “Date With The Night” was the same group that made “Maps” from the Rock Band video game.

*Podcast friends are people I don’t know but whom I haven’t a lot of time with via recorded conversations.