Book Review · Books & Reading

Book Review – “Gothic Charm School” by Jillian Venters


Overview: This obscure but entertaining gem was written by a Goth herself, Jillian Venters, who prefers to go by the title Lady of the Manners. That’s because Venters…ahem, Lady of the Manners…is all about good old-fashioned etiquette. But this just isn’t your usual “how to say please and thank you” handbook. Gothic Charm School explores the background, explains the aspects, and explodes myths of and about the Goth subculture.

My Take: I confess – the Goth subculture has always fascinated me, and I don’t mean that in a condescending way. It actually does interest me but I never found any good, solid resources on the topic that weren’t biased against Goths in some fashion. So when I stumbled upon this book, I knew immediately I wanted to read it. And I’m quite glad I did.

First, the Lady of the Manners explores the origins of the Goth subculture and what it really means to be Goth. She expertly dismisses Goth stereotypes and gives good reasons why they exist and why you shouldn’t believe them. Some of the most common misconceptions are that all Goths are Satanists, psychopathic, and/or obsessed with death. The Lady of the Manners puts a firm foot down on those. Goth is a lifestyle and a mindset, one that sees light in the darkness and isn’t afraid to wish for more to life and embrace life’s brevity. Most Goths have a morbid sense of humor and view life more in terms of, say, “The Addams Family” than “I Love Lucy.”

I think we could all learn a thing or two from Goths. At least those who are serious about why they feel that way and not simply concerned with freaking people out. (By the way, the Lady of the Manners doesn’t look too kindly upon people in the latter camp.) The fact Gothic Charm School is written by a mature adult lends credibility to what she has to say, both in terms of her subculture and her experiences in life. At first I thought this book was going to be of the “you know you’re a Goth if…” persuasion. But I’m glad the Lady of the Manners chose not to take that approach.

Aside from dispelling myths and explaining her subculture, the Lady of the Manners also discusses how to interact with Goths and gives pointers on how Goths can handle people who don’t understand them. One thing she stresses is something we can all learn from – be polite! Don’t let people pick on you but don’t get into fisticuffs. I think if she had stuck a motto on her book, it would probably be, “Treat people like people.” Just because someone likes to wear black and bat jewelry doesn’t mean they are a freak.

Gothic Charm School
is actually an interesting sociological text and, for that reason, I could honestly see this being used as a supplemental text of sorts. The writing is engaging, the insights are informative, and I actually learned a great deal about Goth culture. Sadly, I had been mostly informed by the very stereotypes the Lady of the Manners discredited, so I’m quite glad I read this book. I love it when I can read something and actually walk away a little bit smarter than before!

Language – Seemingly none though there may be a handful of minor PG-rated profanities I overlooked.

Violence – None.

Sexual Material – The Lady of the Manners makes a brief, passing mention to fetish clubs but never goes into any detail about them. Likewise, there is a chapter about dating and Goths but, again, there is nothing overtly sexual discussed.

The Run-Down:
Perfect okay sign

If you’re looking for a good, informative read that peels back the layers of a subculture you don’t know much about, Gothic Charm School is a great choice. It would also make a valuable resource for parents who want to learn more about what it means to be Goth. And for people who enjoy reading about society and culture, this is a good pick as well. Overall, I enjoyed it and learned a great deal about both Goths and myself.


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