If you follow Dark Academia as a genre may have noticed that it’s grown somewhat stale in recent years. There are a few standout novels, but for the most part it’s become a genre largely trying to rewrite the same stories over and over. As a fan, I’ve found myself getting more and more frustrated. In comes The Cloisters. From the setting alone I knew I was in for something a little bit different: trading the tried and true Ivy League halls for the backrooms of the titular medieval art museum in New York City.
The story opens on Ann Stilwell, freshly graduated from the college in her hometown. Haunted by the death of her father and terrified of becoming stagnant, Ann is eager to fly out of her hometown and into a new life at the Met in New York City. But when a twist of fate has her internship replaced with a summer position in the Cloisters Ann is thrust into the worlds of occultism and privilege.
This book does an incredible job of interrogating the seemingly unavoidable connection between academia, privilege, and wealth. It provides a ruthless perspective on how easily positions of power and a habit of getting one’s way can corrupt them, while simultaneously being a deeply engaging story of ambition, fate, love, and betrayal.
If you have any interest in art history, tarot, the occult, or botany the book will have something for you. And if none of those things pique your interest, give it a read anyway; after all, who doesn’t like a good story about office politics and murder with an air of the occult hanging over it?
It’s so incredibly comforting when another person can so articulately put into words something you cannot and reading those words at a time when you really truly need to. This is my experience with Katherine May’s writing—in her book Wintering, which I loved more than I can say when I read it in the fall of 2020, in her book The Electricity of Every Living Thing which I read last year, and her newest book Enchantment which was just released on February 28.
In Enchantment, May shares moments from her life that seem ordinary to most, but also transport you somewhere. Not necessarily to the place she’s describing (although sometimes that is the case) but to your own place where you hope to remember a mundane moment as a moment of wonder.
In each chapter of the book, you’re urged to experience things that activate you on a physiological level not necessarily on a thinking level, something that my counselor spoke to me about just days before listening to Enchantment. May says, ‘When we want to escape the surface, we activate our bodies and they show us a different intelligence; point to a mind that resides not just in the head.’ This is how to find enchantment in the world, joy in the small wonderful things. In simply being, not always doing. The book is a reminder that you have to be willing and open to experience every single day. Not only that, but also open to being taught something by those experiences.
Personally, I don’t think I have ever experienced burnout so intense as what has been creeping in these past few months. A seemingly unending exhaustion and unknowing of how to help myself. This is a topic May covers throughout the book in response to the pandemic: “I am only just beginning to understand my burnout was the result of multiple losses each one so small that I thought it didn’t matter…And I was surprised to find there was nothing left of me.”
This book could not have come into my life at a more fitting time and I will continue to revisit it, and the wisdom within it, often.
Regular hours will resume Wednesday, May 31st.