Introducing the Honorable Phryne Fisher by Kerry Greenwood by Erin Whitney

Watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries provided my go-to (more or less) comfort watching from about 2015–2016. Not only are the stories interesting, witty, daring, and exciting, but the costuming and casting are just so amazing. I haven’t really read a lot of mysteries, but at work I’m always getting asked about them. I decided to read book one of the omnibus of the first three Phryne Fisher books, Cocaine Blues or Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates and it is super good! Even better in some ways than the show. I keep wanting to read more of these, but I am worried if I start again, I won’t stop until I’m done and there are many books in the series.

Fans of the TV show will find even more to love in this introduction to Miss Fisher and the world of 1920s Melbourne, Australia. Sex, fashion, society, drugs, and politics are the backdrop for intriguing crime cases begging to be solved bu our witty & accomplished heroine—highly recommend for folks who love historical fiction and powerful women!

The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair by Erin Whitney

This book is super cool and interesting. There are a lot of color theory/history books out there, but this one came out around the holidays in 2017 and is really accessible, in that it’s written with the layman in mind and is only $20. The book is divided into color families, and there is also an overview explaining a little bit about color theory. I also reviewed this book as part of one of my ASMR videos. It really sparked a renewed interest in art history and design for me.

This book is my absolute favorite art + design book. St. Clair examines the most commonplace of things—colors—by studying their context within culture. This funny and accessible history tells us all about how language around colors and color theory has changed over time—as well as economic structures and even the natural environment. If you’ve ever had a burning curiosity about where colors come from, this is your book!

Here is my first draft. I liked it more, but it went a little hard.

This book is my absolute favorite art + design book. St. Clair examines the most commonplace of things—colors—through a socio-political-historical lens. Leading us through various groups of colors, she discusses the development of color theory and the formatting of language as it relates to conceptualizing and describing colors. Demand for popular pigments led to production on scales that would change the economic and natural landscape—sometimes leading to the depletion of natural resources and extinction of animals. The scarcity of some pigments influenced adoption by the upper classes, who created sumptuary laws to keep certain colors exclusive. [In the past, just because you had money didn’t mean you had class, in the sense of occupying certain roles or strata within society, and these people didn’t want any merchants pretending to be aristocracy!] This in turn led to scientific innovation to create synthetic options, which yet again changed supply and demand in an endless economic dance!

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami by Erin Whitney

This was the first Murakami novel I read. I had previously read his book of short stories, The Elephant Vanishes, and decided to jump in to his oeuvre with this guy. I don’t know why I chose this book, except I thought it sounded cool and the name was interesting. I picked it up at a very liminal time in my life, which ended up being very fitting. I was 21 and it was 2006. I was in my last semester of college at Texas A&M. I had just broken up with my college boyfriend and found out my beloved grandmother, Mimi, was in a coma following a fairly routine surgery. We didn’t know if she would come out of it and I was in shock, trying to process the news. It felt like reality was crumbling around me and all I could do was sit on the steps of my apartment, drinking gin and tonics (a new discovery), chain-smoking American Spirits, and reading this book. By losing myself in another world, the way the protagonist sinks into his alternate reality, I was able to keep somewhat safe from raw feeling and from what moving forward meant. Spoiler alert on my end: a couple of weeks later, Mimi would be gone.

This is my favorite of Murakami’s many novels. Part noir mystery, part mystical dream, the story is at times weird, sad, and symbolic. Featuring his trademark magical realism and attention to the mundane, this story delves deep into myth, memory, and emotion, and asks us to question where we belong.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind by Erin Whitney

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

I stole this whole thing pretty much from one of my first blog posts, which you can peruse here. I tend to do this thing where I set myself up to experience complementary things at the same time. I do it with books I’m reading, and also I just tend to get into a topic from a bunch of different angles at once. A couple of years ago I took a natural perfumery class and was also reading this book. I had seen the movie before (also good), but had never read the book. I’ll just say that this book is delicious. I like morbid stuff, especially if the line between sick and beautiful is a thin one.

This book has a lot to love. Not only is it historical fiction set in 18th century France, but it features the macabre and genius inner workings of a serial killer’s mind, gorgeous descriptions of scents, and a surprising amount of practical bits about perfume-making techniques. The book contains a sort of creamy, head-tingly description—but instead of visual imagery, the impressions we get are described in terms of scent. The protagonist/antagonist is complex and calls into question morality as it applies to art.

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut by Erin Whitney

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut

It’s been a while since I’ve read this book, but I have gone through multiple copies because I give them away to people. Vonnegut is great, and is probably still my favorite American author. This book is cool because he takes an old story he never used and splices it with his life story. He has a whole lot of awful stuff happen to him and his family and yet he takes it in stride, transmuting it from something tragic into something resonant and universal. I love him, and I love this book. If I start reading Vonnegut quotes, I’ll start crying. One time I just sat on Tumblr or something reblogging Vonnegut memes and weeping, so I have proof.

This is my favorite Vonnegut book, because even for him it’s weird. The story intersperses sci-fi with Vonnegut’s memoir, leading to a work that is both personally painful and critical of society, but also funny, charming, and touching. Vonnegut manages both cynicism and tenderness toward humanity. What would life be like if a timequake caused everyone on Earth to live the past 10 years over again while still being aware? We can all use the call to wake up out of our collective worry and apathy: ‘You were sick, but now you’re well, and there’s work to do.’

on writing by stephen king by Erin Whitney

On Writing by Stephen King

(Drawing by Josh Richards)

This is back when I was trying to figure out my writing practice and just figuring out how to start (I still haven’t figured out how to start). A friend gave me a copy of the book and I blew though it. I’d read a few King novels, but was surprised at how funny, humble, and kind his voice was in this book. Did you know he got hit by a car a while back? I didn’t. Or that when he first got started, he wrote on a typewriter in the laundry room of his apartment after a full day at his job in the meat-packing plant? It makes you think that whatever excuses you have for not writing simply aren’t good enough.

If you’re contemplating becoming a writer, this is a great resource to start with. [In this] Part memoir and part writing guide, Stephen King provides excellent tips about establishing a writing practice, which are gleaned from his own life experience. Not only does this book show that he is accomplished at writing genres other than horror, but it made me really like him as a person.

Welcome to my book reviews! by Erin Whitney

So I work at a book store, and we’re encouraged to write what are referred to in the industry as “shelf talkers” about books, sharing what we like about them to make the recommendations more visible to customers. At first, I was very nervous to write anything, but then I started really liking writing and illustrating them. I got in the habit of documenting them, so I thought I’d share them here.

A few notes:

  1. The vast majority of these were written on the floor, AKA getting interrupted multiple times while writing and illustrating them. If I wanted to get these written, I had to formulate coherent thoughts and write them down legibly (more or less) and quickly in order to get them done. Over time, I got less precious about them

  2. I had only 2-4 sentences to work with

  3. I chose to only write these for books I really liked; I didn’t want to be lukewarm about what I wrote

  4. I had to keep the content pretty clean, PC, and positive, even if there were aspects of the books I didn’t really care for

  5. Some of these books I read at the time of the review, and some I had read quite a while before. This means that I had to be more general about what I liked about the book (and I only did this for books that had become my favorites, that I return to over and over)

Enjoy and feel free to ask me questions about the books!