On the Nightstand

by kara on March 31, 2014

 

The Sky is not the Limit by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Book Binding: Paperback
Pages: 203

ISBN: 978-1-59102-188-9
Shipping Weight: 1lbs


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On the Nightstand

by kara on February 25, 2014

The Magus by John Fowles

(Dell, Mass Market Paperback, 9780440351627, 672pp.)

Publication Date: April 1, 1985

 

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Everybody is talking about the King in Yellow, because they are watching True Detective. I decided to read it - not to write about its influence on True Detective.

The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories written by a guy named Robert Chambers (not the Preppy Murderer of the same name), in 1885. A little research tells me that Chambers has the distinction of having been one of those rare classic writers who was actually successful during his lifetime. And he didn’t kill himself or die of Syphilis, or drink himself to death in a NYC pub or die with a needle in his arm. He didn’t suffer addiction to prop himself up under the weight of his own genius, nor did he spend his final days wandering around the streets of Baltimore prattling on like a lunatic.

I was reluctant to read this at first,  as “horror”, and worse, “turn of the century “weird” fiction” is not really my bag. But the introduction suggest that Ambrose Bierce and Edgar Allen Poe were Chambers’ main influences – the Poe-Bierce-Chambers-Lovecraft continuum was good enough for me. Themes center around characters experiencing a rapid descent into lunacy, replete with disturbing visions of  unearthly things and dire real-world consequences of interacting with them. There’s so much lovely imagery coupled with the absolutely terrifying stories, that I was hooked. The stories are beautiful and creepy and macabre, with heavy use of ambiguities enhancing the dread. There are the weird, creepy names like Carcosa and Hastur, as well as strange terms like “twin suns” and “black stars,” and the fact that the color yellow is so blatantly ominous, with connotations of insanity, death, and decay.

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On the Nighstand

by kara on January 26, 2014

My Struggle, Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Paperback, 9780374534141, 448pp.)

Publication Date: May 28, 2013


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More Terrible than Fiction (update!)

by kara on January 26, 2014

 

What fiction writer – if any – could have conceived of Sarah Palin without completely blowing the boundaries of reality? Dickens? Shakespeare? Ruth Rendell? In children’s fiction, maybe, where a parodic lunatic still has its place. It’s not really in grown-up literatures nature to have stone cold villains, coal-black embodiments of evil. Serious literature has no shortage of killers, molesters, kidnappers, cannibals, misanthropes, black widows, bloodsuckers, pederasts and politicans…and there are plenty of literary counterparts to modern assholes (change Italy to Iraq in Catch-22, and Milo is Dick Cheney and Colonel Cathcart is George W), but of the snidleliest whiplashes ever to have bound sweet damsel to train track, has any serious writer of novels ever conjured up a sub-literate rube from a weird, frozen tundra, a vicious “hockey mom” to 5 terrible children who shoots wolves from helicopters? Or a character as farcical as “Anne Coulter”, or as grotesque as Roger Ailes?

Claudius from Hamlet by William Shakespeare and Chris Christie

Heavy is the head that wears the crown indeed. When we first see King Hamlet’s brother Claudius, he seems a well-spoken and capable ruler. He gives speeches that makes his court and country proud. When King Hamlet is killed, the people unite behind a collective suffering. Claudius diplomatically avoids war with Norway, and is respected as a leader who can take immediate and decisive action in a crisis. In private, however, King Claudius is a villain of cartoonish proportions who Hamlet’s Ghost refers to as an “incestuous, adulterate beast”, and we soon realize that Claudius is what is “rotten in the state of Denmark.” Claudius and his corrupt court bask in their power, representing the worst in human nature — ambition, lust, corruption, and excess. Morally weak, Claudis swaps his humanity for political power and and some stuff. He denies Rozencrantz and Guildenstern the knowledge of the contents of the letter to England  that would have saved their lives. He lets Gertrude drink the poison in the goblet so as not to implicate himself in the insidious plot (#Gobletgate). His sure fire plan to deal with young Hamlet completely unravels when Laertes confesses.

Considering Chris Christie’s long track record of petty revenge against his perceived enemies, and that an old lady died as an indirect result of #Bridgeghazi, he ventures into Shakespearian Villain territory. Cartoonishly large and emotive, Christie is an effective stump politician and a formidably effective communicator, famous for making the complex seem deceptively simple as well as for his withering put-downs of public service unions. Until the unravelling of #Bridgegate, Christie was arguably the most popular politician in America and a rare figure of bipartisanmanship in a party monopolized by psychopathic ideologues and Teabaggers. His public bromance with the President, wearing matching windbreakers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, appealed to those weary of polarized politics.

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On the Nighstand

by kara on January 21, 2014

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

by Charles MacKay

www.bnpublishing.com, Paperback, 9781607960744, 484pp.)

Publication Date: January 2009


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SPOILER ALERT: if you’ve managed to avoid this book for the past 35 years.

Because of Lifetime’s new movie adaptation of Flowers in the Attic, I got to thinking about this ridiculous book. V.C. Andrews’ best-selling “novel” of bad parenting, greed, whips and a love so taboo it dare not take a DNA test, has endured for 35 years as a nostalgia-fueled oddity. Back in the day, we would read the book – the scary cut-out paperback cover version – aloud on the school bus, laughing and gasping at the campy, hilarious, thrilling tripe. Consdering the book snob I was, it’s amazing that I stooped to reaing this trash, I knew it was really scraping the bottom of the barrel. But, in the mind of a pre-teen, Flowers in the Attic was kind of like watching a more sinister version of General Hospital.

The 1979 “novel” told the sad tale of four very blond siblings who get locked up in an attic for three or four years, and a series of increasingly terrible events take place, including but not limited to: the aforementioned whipping, hair tarring, starving, poisoning by arsenic doughnut, and incestual sex (between the older ones, although the younger ones would have gotten around to it, had the boy not been murdered by arsenic by his mom). It rolled  tortured gothic drama, over-arching pseudo-Victorian syntax, orphan fantasy, and uniquely framed teenage rebellion and yeah, a heapin’ helping of incest (Cathy is raped by Christopher the first time. Later, she is fully on board), into a paperback package that sold 40 million copies. V.C. Andrews was (she’s been dead for 20 years but few seemed to notice as V.C. Andrews never missed a beat, under the tutelage of a ghostwriter), a terrible writer. The book is full of puerile and ridiculous dialogue and plot holes, but the fact that this story can still provoke such strong emotions in so many of my ilk is a testament to something.

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On this Date!

by kara on January 10, 2014

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Carol Bird, the dying Christmas Swan

I really became a bookworm around the age of 8, and the books I read then lodged themselves in my brain forever. Primarily because I read them over and over and over again. Between the ages of around 8 and 10, I probably re-read the entire 9-book set of Little House on the Prairie books and the entire Trixie Belden canon of mysteries 10 times. I think it was seen as a sign of my budding eccentricity. I used to take to my room and read – with a bowl of candy ala Francie Nolan – these books in a vaguely seasonal rotation, over and over, in their entirety, like some pre-teen addict. I think it felt as if there were a finite number of books for me,  and after exhausting everything in our small local library and ever smaller school library, I really had basically read everything there was to read.  I would beg my mother to take us to the BIG LIBRARY – a marginally less small library than the one in our neighborhood. I read quickly and obsessively and it didn’t stop until I matured into the next level, and more vast of reading material. The supercharged imagery in the 8-year old books are seared in my brain forever.

It’s generally good policy to avoid revisiting the books we coveted as children. There’s nothing wrong with feeling deep nostalgia for those delightful tomes, as long as we know that what we are looking for from them is not exactly as we remember. Folks who grew up in the 1950s may wax nostalgic about hula hoops and Elvis Presley, leaving out the part about McCarthyism and women’s roles vacuuming for Jesus and popping out quiverfulls of babies like Michelle Duggar.  I had an exceedingly privileged childhood. Good schools, plenty of food, summer camp.. But I often lived more through my books then through my own experiences, and literally (not literally), every heroine in every book I read had a life more desirable than my own.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

Little Sylvia is dirt poor, an orphan living with a decrepit old aunt. When her aunt gets too old to care for her, she is shipped off to live with her rich cousin Bonnie at Willoughby Chase.

During her train trip, she is attacked by starving packs of wolves who leap through the windows of the train.

Sylvia’s malevolent seat-mate grabs a shard of glass and stabs a wolf in the throat and then heaves its carcass out the window. In fact, the entire landscape is literally crawling with salivating wolves, made savage and reckless from hunger.

Once at Willoughby Hall, Sylvia and her Bonnie are immediately deserted into the care of a cruel governess named Miss Slighcarp who locks them in the attic and abuses them, before sending them to a prison-like orphan school for endless hours of drudgery and horror, subsisting on dry bread morsels and water. But, there is Simon the cute gooseboy who lives in an underground cave in the forest with his geese and a little donkey…once an exhausted and feverish Sylvia is tucked into Simon’s donkey cart with feather-filled mattress and quilts below and warm feathery geese on top.  Lulled by the soft warmth, she slumbers. The book is crammed with other such sumptuous descriptions – of  ice-skating in the frozen park cosy, fire-lit nurseries and violet cream pastries -  that had me longing to be in Sylvia’s old shoes.

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Girls I Envied in Literature

by kara on January 6, 2014

Lisalottie from Lisa and Lottie

Two nine-year-old girls meet on a summer camp in Bohrlaken on Lake Bohren. Rude Lisa Palfy from Vienna is a tomboy with wild curls. Shy Lottie Horn from Munich is polite and has neat braids. Apart from that, they look alike. Exactly alike….

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