It's a gloomy and overcast day, a good time to read Jenny Offill's new novella, Weather. I really appreciate that Jenny Offill spends so many years on each of her books and emerges with these tiny works. Weather is composed of fragments. Each fragment is the best, most crystalline thought. Like Dept. Of Speculation, her previous novella, Weather is like a needle in your arm: quietly entering until you suddenly feel the sting. It leaves a bruise.
As we all know, there is a nebulous list of books considered ‘classics’, called ‘the canon’. These are books that are taught at schools and universities, bought from bookshops again and again, and are considered 'universal', yet are overwhelmingly written by white/cis/hetero/male authors.
We are about to move into a new decade, and we would like to look forward to the coming challenges and triumphs with the wisdom of texts that have come before. However, we feel that the existing ‘canon’ often does not represent the breadth, quality, and lives lived of great writers and great readers.
Pages Cheshire Street would like to bring together an Alternative Canon. We say ‘an’, rather than ‘the’, because there can be no true and unchanging list of the most important books in English.
We want this list to represent what is important and beloved to our community, so we would like to ask you to tell us which books you believe should be included. Any genre/age group is welcome, as long as the author is a woman, trans person, or gender diverse person.
The full list will be published in December, and will be kept in stock at Pages Cheshire Street until the end of time.
Witches come from everywhere. There are many practicing witches in the world today using specific cultural rituals in their daily lives. Witches who are continuing the traditions of their people and challenging corrupt forms of power in the present.
My own practice is limited. I would consider myself invested in the literature, art, and history of witchcraft. At least in European history, the witch is an outsider, a position that resonates with me as a woman of colour and a migrant. I have always looked for myself in the swirl of folk-lore and ritual, and embraced an ethics of questioning power which I perceive as integral to the witch identity. Also, I am tarot-lite.
Witchcraft and witch-identity is varied, personal, and culturally-specific. I couldn’t make a definitive list of the best books on witches and the Occult currently in publication. Anyway, that list would be very long. So, below are ten books on witchcraft and magic we stock at Pages Cheshire Street that are meaningful and gripping and useful.
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Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women
The immensely significant philosopher and teacher Silvia Federici here ‘reconsider[s] the social environment and motivations that produced many of the witchcraft accusations’ in Europe throughout (mostly) the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Federici considers revitalised contemporary capitalist oppressions of women’s bodies alongside historical witch-hunts, reposing and reevaluating arguments made in her earlier work, Caliban and the Witch (Autonomedia, 2004). This short collection of essays is one of our bestsellers.
Published by PM Press on 4th October 2018
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Spells: 21st Century Occult Poetry
Sarah Shin and Rebecca Tamás (eds.)
Spells is a blockbuster poetry collection inquiring into the ways curiosity towards, and encounters with, the Occult can help an individual grow their sense of power and identity in a world that seeks to efface those qualities. Spells casts moonlight on the natural sympathy between poets and the Occult. Spells loves Ursula K Le Guin.
Published by Ignota Books on 31st October 2018
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How to Cure a Ghost
Fariha Roisin & Monica Ramos
Fariha Roisin shares my interest in mangoes. Her poems live in a place where gods still come down to eat what you have left for them on a stone. Her poems also live in a place where milk has gone off in the fridge. The poems come to you via a small, heavy book. Spirits have been fixed onto the page by illustrator Monica Ramos. If they sit up and start to talk, please do not be alarmed.
Published by Abrams on 24th September 2019
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The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson is famous for many wonderful works that play with the Gothic, but The Haunting of Hill House is her possibly her most ostensibly witchy. Amongst the four strangers who come to stay at the house, Theodora, IMO the true heroine, is a ‘sensitive’, a sort of medium, who picks up the filigree of other lives through atmosphere, objects, skin. However, the most important character in any Gothic novel is the House, the site of gendered domestic trauma and relationships that never evolve, and Jackson’s Hill House, filled with the energy of complex family histories, expends every energy to keep its wayward children ‘walled up alive’. Who will make it out, who will make it home?
Published by Penguin Classics on 1st October 2009
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The Virago Book of Witches
The Virago Book of Witches looks to give a wider perspective on witch-lore, bringing in stories from all over the world. ‘There are tales of banshees, crones and beauties in disguise from China, Siberia, the Caribbean, Armenia, Portugal and Australia. The characters featured include Italy’s Witch Bea-Witch, Lilith, Kali, and Twitti Glyn Hec. Alluring women, enchantresses, wise old ladies and bewitching women: they are all here and ready to haunt, entice, possess, transform, challenge – and sometimes even to help.’ Sounds like perfect bed-time reading.
Published by Virago on 17th October 2019
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Kirstie Millar & Alice Blackstock
Curses, Curses is a pamphlet featuring poetry and a short story by Kirstie Millar, the editor of Ache Magazine, and artworks by Alice Blackstock. The collection considers sensation, movement, and the body, presenting the works in a sort of reverse-chronology of the life of a bleeding woman. Full disclosure - I am very proud to be part of the publishing team behind this gorgeous pamphlet.
Published by Takeaway Press on 26th August 2019
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Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art
Susan L. Aberth
Leonora Carrington’s writing could easily be included on this list, but I went with this monograph by Susan L. Aberth, as it spends time elucidating the relationship between Carrington’s work and the Occult. Carrington’s art is so involved with story - it does what the best surrealist work did: values emotions and archetypes as highly as metaphor.
Published by Lund Humphries on 28th March 2010
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Astro Poets: Your Guides to the Zodiac
Alex Dimitrov & Dorothea Lasky
The Astro Poets are the most famous astrologers on Twitter - that seems fair to say? Their readings will arrive, elliptical and difficult to pin down, on your feed. You have to slow down to make meaning from them. For instance, a very flattering reading from the Astro Poets for my week as a Pisces: ‘Week of 10/13 in Pisces: You are really the only one. You leave the lamp on. Because why shouldn’t you. Someone has to.’ This is a very classic Pisces reading - a Pisces is typically very empathetic. This can be challenging - they take on the emotions of others very easily and feel a responsibility to do so - as well as a power - they have great insight into other people. So it goes. Whenever the Astro Poets post a reading (though this one is fairly clear), other Twitter astrologers will immediately present their analysis of the more beguiling original tweet below. As implied by their handle, the feed is written by poets Dorothea Lasky and Alex Dimitrov. The Astro Poets represent a confluence in the renaissance of poetry and witchcraft.They believe that the two practices are basically the same - both using ritual, seeking harmony, and asking questions. They have a new podcast where they interview other occultists (witches, astrologers, writers) about their spiritual practices. Recent interviews have been Aminatou Sow on chosen families and Pam Grossman on modern witchcraft. I have been writing about the digital presence of the Astro Poets because this book hasn’t yet been released! I anticipate a heavy, and also light-as-a-feather, fascinating guide to the stars.
Published by Picador on 31st October 2019
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Forms of Enchantment: Writings on Art & Artists
Marina Warner has a blinding knowledge of mythology, folk-lore and feminist literature. I have long been obsessed with her. People often come to my house and see my pulpy looking copy of From the Beast to the Blonde and make a disparaging remark based on its cover. This will be a mistake on their part, as they will then be in for a severe browbeating. Luckily, Forms of Enchantment, an anthology of some of her best essays on myth and magic in (predominantly women’s) literature and art, is a very beautiful looking volume. After you’ve read the preface, my recommendation would be to start with ‘Louise Bourgeois: Cut & Stitch’. Then search for Bourgeois’ Steilneset Memorial, a collaboration with architect Peter Zumthor for the victims of the 1621 Vardø witch trials.
Published by Thames and Hudson on 1st September 2018
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Daphne du Maurier
Here again we have another haunted house. When the narrator, the young new wife of Maxim de Winter, comes to live at Manderley, his Cornwall manor house, she finds that his previous, deceased wife Rebecca, has left her mark indelibly on the house and its inhabitants. The energetic, graceful, forceful, virile Rebecca, essentially merges with the house for the narrator, and she struggles to exist within its belly. Everywhere she goes, the house seems to loom large, and Rebecca too. Shadows and spectres bear coldly over the new Mrs de Winter, and she shivers in the legacy of her surname.