This is a transcription of Phantom Islands and Two New Books — 21 July 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a spooky novel from the author I’m ready to crown the new queen of intelligent horror.
David: A new book from one of my favorite children’s authors.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: I’m working on being a completist with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. She’s a Mexican-Canadian author who writes horror-tinged thrillers that transport you to different places and times in Mexico. She’s also really good at taking iconic genre tropes, wrapping them in a big hug, then twisting them into something surprising and fresh. She also creates complex heroines that feel like real, strong women. Her book Gods of Jade and Shadow is a romantic adventure set in 1920s Mexico and plays with Mayan mythology.
Melissa: Her take on a vampire tale is Certain Dark Things. It’s set in modern Mexico City and plays out like a crime procedural. And I think just about everyone knows about her manor house ghost story Mexican Gothic. That one was a huge hit. It’s got all the gothic tropes you’d expect, but what’s haunting the estate is way more imaginative than a ghost.
Melissa: Her new book Silver Nitrate is set in Mexico City in 1993. This time, she’s turned her creativity toward the campy horror movie industry. At the heart of the story are two compelling characters. There’s Montserrat. She’s a talented audio engineer who’s described as a tiny, ferocious elf — and her best friend Tristan, a devastatingly handsome soap opera actor with a tragic past.
Melissa: When Tristan moves into a new apartment, he learns his neighbor is a revered movie director from Mexico’s golden age of cinema. Soon, the three of them are drinking wine and swapping stories. One of the director’s tales is a doozie. He believes his final film, an unfinished movie called ‘Beyond the Yellow Door,’ was cursed. He convinces Montserrat and Tristan to help him reverse the curse. Supernatural hijinks ensue.
Melissa: This story has everything you could want in an eerie summer read: flirting, terrible Nazis, occultism and mysticism, Mayan and Aztec mythology, and a reverence for storytelling. It seamlessly blends real movie making lore and techniques with fictional filmographies and lots of details about occultism, so the line between story and facts is delightfully blurry. I’m about 1/3 of the way into it, and I’m hooked.
Melissa: It’s Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and it’s out now.
David: Jon Klassen is a children’s author and illustrator. He’s most famous for his trilogy of books called ‘The Hat Trilogy.’ The first story in that series is I Want My Hat Back. That’s about a bear looking for his hat. The bear finds a rabbit wearing it. Things do not end well for the rabbit.
David: ‘The Hat Trilogy’ books are all very cleverly about desire and revenge and greed. Klassen is Quentin Tarantino for preschoolers. His books are enjoyable for their intended market of 2 to 6-year-olds. And they’re fun for adults, too. He won the American Caldecott Medal and the British Kate Greenaway Medal for the second book in that series.
David: Klassen has a new book out. It’s called “The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale.” I just found out that Tyrol was a state in Austria. It’s where Innsbruck is. Maybe you already knew that.
David: The marketing copy for this book is exactly what I want it to be. I’m just going to read it to you. It says: ‘In a big abandoned house, on a barren hill, lives a skull. A brave girl named Otilla has escaped from terrible danger and run away, and when she finds herself lost in the dark forest, the lonely house beckons. Her host, the skull, is afraid of something too, something that comes every night. Can brave Otilla save them both? Steeped in shadows and threaded with subtle wit—with rich, monochromatic artwork and an illuminating author’s note—The Skull is as empowering as it is mysterious and foreboding.’
David: I will be reading this as soon as I can get a copy in my hands. It just came out this week. It’s The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen.
David: And now, our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: This Distraction of the Week was sent in by Lisa. Thank you, Lisa. If you have a Distraction of the Week, or anything else you want to tell us, drop us a line.
David: Throughout the history of exploration, there have been many islands that were once believed to exist and appeared on maps, even, but then somebody went there, or we used a satellite, and no island. These are called phantom islands. We have phantom islands for a lot of reasons.
David: Some are just myths. There was rumored to be an Isle of Demons near Newfoundland – perhaps stared by local folklore. (You know, I read something like that, and I think – long ago, someone was a good enough storyteller that people were like: yeah. Probably an island of demons out there. We should write that down. Props to that long-forgotten poet.)
David: Ancient Romans had maps with the island Thule, which was believed to be the northernmost point in the world. In classic literature, the phrase ‘ultima Thule’ was a metaphor for any distant place beyond the borders of the known world. Other phantom islands might have come about because of mapping errors. A navigator mistakes a peninsula for an island. Or he finds an island when he thinks he’s somewhere else.
David: Other phantom islands might be something like an iceberg, a fog bank, a mirage, or a sandbank that is no longer above water. And then other phantom islands are straight-up fiction. A cartographer might include one to try to catch people who are copying his work. A captain might make up an island to please a funder. Or there’s the story of an island created by a Venetian to spread the glory of his family and Venice. ‘Let me tell you about the time my grandfather stepped on the shores of a distant island and was warmly greeted by the natives. In Latin.’ That kind of thing.
David: When we find out that an island is a phantom island, it is said to be ‘undiscovered.’ Which I find lovely.
David: Andrew Peckler is a musician who has spent some time with phantom islands. Together with a web developer and a cultural anthropologist, he put together an art project featuring the islands. He calls it a ‘sonic atlas.’ You go to a website, and you’re presented with a map of the world, with callouts for different phantom islands.
David: You get two things with each island as you click around on the map. First, you get a short story about the phantom island, and second, you get an audioscape that Peckler designed. You are listening to the sounds of Sandy Island, an island undiscovered off the shore of Australia. There are dozens of other islands to unexplore. We’ll put the link in the notes.
David: Peckler also did a full-length album of tracks based on his phantom island work. We’ll point to that. And, if you enjoy his work, he dropped a new album today. I have yet to have an opportunity to listen to it, but I’m very curious.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more about the books we discussed and all the links you need to explore phantom islands.
David: Thanks for joining us in the Libary of Lost Time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent book store to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious! We’ll talk to you soon.
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