For the spookiest month of the year, reading groups will love this quartet of slightly unsettling titles.
Sorcery abounds in Pam Grossman’s Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power. Grossman goes deep into the subject of witchery, digging into imagery, symbolism and—through evaluations of Salem, Massachusetts, and other storied locales—the significance of witches in history. She also looks at depictions of witches in books, movies and television shows. Grossman, a popular podcaster and active witch, writes with authority and wit, spinning a magical narrative that book clubs will find both instructive and playful. This book is a provocative study of an endlessly fascinating figure and a treat for mere mortals in search of a rewarding seasonal read.
The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski unpacks America’s fascination with the extraordinary escape artist and magician. Posnanski gives a captivating account of the elusive Houdini (1874–1926), whose real name was Ehrich Weiss and who grew up in an immigrant family in Wisconsin. There are many rich ideas at play in this book, including the power of the media and the ways pop culture icons come into being. A whimsical selection for reading groups, it’s a captivating look at one of magic’s greatest practitioners and how his influence still lingers today.
A strong stomach is not required for readers to enjoy Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, zoologist Bill Schutt’s intriguing study of a dark subject. Schutt traces cannibalism across species and eras, investigating myths and misconceptions while documenting cannibalism’s place in the evolutionary process. His narrative is lively and well organized, and it brims with concepts that are ripe for discussion, such as cultural taboos, the survival instinct and genetics.
In Witches of America, Alex Mar travels across the country to investigate the world of modern covens, mys- tics and pagans. Mar is an admitted disbeliever, but as she meets with members of the occult in New England and the Midwest, she finds her perspective shifting. She gives readers inside access to these arcane groups and reveals how they find a foothold in contemporary society. Book clubs will appreciate Mar’s evenhanded consideration of topics such as faith and the supernatural. Written with intelligence and an eye for eerie detail, her book is a can’t-miss Halloween pick.