This is a transcription of ‘The Food & Fashion Exhibit and Two New Books — 06 October 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a companion to one of the best horror novels of all time.
David: A mystery series starring a very unlikely detective.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: Shirley Jackson’s novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ is one of the best horror novels ever written. It was published in 1959 and pretty much set the modern standard for haunted house stories. Joe Hill — that’s Stephen King’s son — said that Jackson was the first author to understand that ‘houses aren’t haunted – people are.’
Melissa: I have a complex relationship with that book. Its atmosphere of dread is brilliant. I was transported directly into that terrible, grasping, hungry house alongside its believable, but distinctly unlikeable, unreliable characters. I feel like I should love this book, but I hold it at arm’s length. To me, it’s a little too bleak and grim. I wanted there to be more gleefulness in the horror.
Melissa: Now, there’s a version of the Hill House I’ve wished for, written by the author Elizabeth Hand. This is the first time Shirley Jackson’s family has authorized a novel based on her work, and they chose very wisely with Elizabeth Hand.
Melissa: Her book ‘A Haunting on the Hill,’ is a sequel to the original, with Hill House exerting its evil influence on a new set of characters. It’s unsettling and tingly — and a really good ride. I had FUN reading this haunted house story while also keeping the lights on and nervously looking at the things I saw out of the corner of my eye. For me, this book is the ideal balance of terror and entertainment.
Melissa: The setup is so good: A group of actors temporarily move into Hill House. They’re rehearsing a modernist staging of a 17th-century play about an infamous witch. Why not practice your spooky play in a haunted house? What could possibly go wrong?
Melissa: The small cast of actors is VERY dramatic. They’re a cocktail of narcissism, insecurity, and artistry. I rooted for them, even as I rolled my eyes at their diva-like behavior. Elizabeth Hand does a perfect job of slowly unraveling the characters so their normal versions and the haunted people they become at Hill House toggle back and forth until the characters are unsure of who they are.
Melissa: Sometimes, supernatural stuff on the page is hard to visualize, but the descriptions of the hauntings here are fantastical AND make sense. I could see, feel, and hear just what the characters were experiencing — and it was deliciously awful.
Melissa: This is ‘A Haunting on the Hill’ by Elizabeth Hand. And if you dare, you might read Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House,’ too.
David: SJ Bennett is an author who has been exploring an intriguing idea for three books now. The idea is: what if Queen Elizabeth the Second was an amateur detective? The Queen was bright, observant, and curious. She’d have access to any expert in the world. She knew the state’s secrets. And she was famously discreet. People would tell her things they might not tell others. She couldn’t do her own footwork, of course. She’d have others for that. But what if?
David: So the author SJ Bennett had this idea, and then she decided to make it as faithful to the truth as possible. She set the stories in places where the Queen would have been, and populated the books with other members of the royal house. She wrote cozies that married together mystery and non-fiction.
David: The first is called ‘The Windsor Knot.’ A guest at Windsor Castle is murdered — strangled with a dressing-gown cord. The second is ‘A Three Dog Problem’ where a body is found in Buckingham Palace swimming pool.
David: And the latest just came out. It’s called ‘Murder Most Royal.’ It’s a Christmas story. The royal family is gathering for the holiday at the Sandringham estate. When a severed hand washes up on the beach. Elizabeth recognizes the hand from a signet ring. And we’re off to the races.
David: The book has been out in the UK since August. The reviews have been solid. The author Ruth Ware called the series, ‘The Crown crossed with Miss Marple.’ It just came out in the States last week. It’s ‘Murder Most Royal’ by SJ Bennett.
David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
Melissa: I recently learned about The Museum at FIT. FIT stands for the Fashion Institute of Technology. It’s part of the State University of New York in Manhattan. The museum’s permanent collection includes 50,000 pieces of clothing, accessories, and textiles from the 18th century to the present.
Melissa: The museum has a permanent collection that’s displayed on its main floor. A big chunk of that collection is available online in an archive, so you can look at fashion from a particular decade, or, say, go deep into shoes.
Melissa: A few times a year, the museum puts on large-scale, special exhibitions. Previous shows included an exploration of the dark glamour of the Gothic, how ballet influences modern fashion, and an exhibit called ‘A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk.’ All of these and more are in galleries online with tons of photos and supporting info.
Melissa: The museum’s current show is Food & Fashion. It’s an examination of two things we deal with every day: feeding ourselves and getting dressed. The 90 pieces in the exhibit were chosen for their commentary on luxury, gender, consumerism, and body politics. And while that all sounds very heady, it’s also really fun.
Melissa: All of the pieces in the Food & Fashion exhibit cover a wide range of emotions and styles: some are cute and colorful, others are stark and elegant, some are definitely surreal.
Melissa: There’s a kitschy purse that looks like a serving of McDonald’s french fries and a silk, floor-length gown that is an enormous reproduction of the wrapper for a Hershey’s chocolate bar. Both were designed by Jeremy Scott, the former creative director of the design house Moschino. He said with this collection, he took something trashy and made things to be treasured forever.
Melissa: Dolce & Gabbana — they’re Italian designers — created a collection of dresses to celebrate Italian food and its popularity around the world. Their frocks are printed with pasta, cans of tomato sauce, gelato, and cannolis.
Melissa: Not everything is so over-the-top. Nigerian designer Niyi Okuboyejo was inspired by jollof rice. You might remember I talked about jollof rice in our episode about Nigeria. It’s practically the country’s national dish and is made with rice cooked in a spicy tomato sauce. But instead of illustrating the rice on his clothing, Okuboyejo built his aesthetic around tactile fabrics like corduroy and velour in the earthy colors of jollof rice. The color palette is deep brown, a rich goldenrod, and a warm orange. It’s subtle and luxurious-looking and definitely clothing you’d want to wear.
Melissa: My favorite, which is not at all subtle, is a lady’s hat from 1953 that literally looks like a layer cake with pink flowers on top.
Melissa: The exhibit runs through November 26. If you can’t physically get to New York this fall, there are a few options to consume this exhibition at home. There’s a really nice audio feature in a free app that includes select pieces from the show, along with audio from curators and the designers. I really enjoyed hearing the stories behind the fashion.
Melissa: There is also a gorgeous coffee table book called Food & Fashion. It’s 320 glossy pages of photos and essays documenting the entire exhibition. The cover is a photo of a woman wearing a dress that looks like a 3-layer wedding cake decorated with cherubs and roses. It’s 3-dimensional and architectural, so it almost looks like one of those cakes that a dancer would jump out of at an old-timey stag party. But it’s wearable. I love it so much.
Melissa: I’m really impressed with how much multimedia content The Museum at FIT has online. You can explore quite a bit, and I suspect it will make you want to visit the museum in person.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more on the Food and Fashion exhibit and all the books we discussed today. You can also connect directly with the handy links in your podcast player.
David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is ©2023 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.