In our December book club, we will discuss The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. In 1972, a skeleton found in an old well unravels the hidden secrets of Chicken Hill, a Pennsylvania neighborhood where Jewish and Black communities coexist amidst racial tensions. Chona Ludlow is the Jewish owner of the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, which shapes the destinies of various characters over the decades. The novel explores themes of community, survival, and justice.
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?