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Archive for March, 2014

So you say there are no good books coming out nowadays, it’s all dried up like that sack of worms you left on the porch last fall?

Try this: The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones written by Jack Wolf.

So you think all literary writing has to be needlessly dull and artlessly depressing?

You think literary writing can’t be dark, sinister, and still touch the deep issues?

Well, you would be wrong, chump!

Read this or Raw Head will come for you in your sleep.

Read this or Raw Head will come for you in your sleep.

 

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones is part fairy tale, part sinister probing into the dark recesses of the human condition, part historical portrayal of the early years of modern medicine.

One thing I appreciated about the tale is that it never felt inevitable.  The character actually underwent the changes in psyche while we were there with him.  (And the moments of non-lucidity were grand fun, to boot!)  But I never felt like, Oh, yes, of course that’s what’s going to happen.  Also, the mix of a magical fairy realm overlapping the stark reality was both fun to read and added an extra element of suspense.  There was something for every type of reader to hold onto, be it psychological suspense, a glimpse into the medical side of early psychiatry, a treatise on the use of criminal bodies for autopsy so medical schools would not have to resort to body snatching (a major crime that popped up back in that era!), or the magical flitters we couldn’t quite grasp because they were at once real and not quite.

Also, for you writers out there who think “it can’t be done, publishing is all dried up and not open to the weird, bizarre, or otherwise non-mainstream”, I can tell you that Jack Wolf was one of the writers on my course in Bath.  The debut writer really does exist!  (gasp!)  Stay the course.  Maybe it will take five years of editing, but isn’t it worth it, to read this and shudder?

Re-readability: It’s 500 pages, but yes, I do think it would be worth a second read.  The scope covered over two decades of fancy and intrigue deserve a second look to see just what was real, and how the author wove together this twisted little tale.

Would I burrow through the floor and hit someone with it?  Sure!  It’s 500 pages, and it’s going to hurt, so y’all’d best be watching when you hear a little scritch-scritch coming from the carpet.  DISCLAIMER: It’s not for everyone.  Mumsy-dearest would be horrified and try to get me exorcised.  Anyone easily offended… should probably stick to running the school carpool and screaming at children from the sidelines of the soccer field anyway.  Although, easily offended people, how do they procreate?

night,

dawn

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Adults are like children, my people!  Children do not readily take naps.  They do not eat their vegetables.

Adults do take naps and eat their vegetables… ahem.

But children read and adults just plain don’t!  So the problem is, how to get them to sit down for five minutes instead of cultivating their adult-onset ADHD?

ATTAAACKKK!

Lie in their bushes, swing from their trees, ambush them on their porch swings!

“But,” says the tremoring little voice, “but how d’you know what’s good to read?  Reading’s all boring.  It’s all James Joyce.  It’s hard!”

Untrue, my little lemmings!

For today, I attack you upside the head with: Ella Minnow Pea!  Written by Mark Dunn.

Read this, damn you!

Read this, damn you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A clever little allegory, fairy tale, whatever you want to call it, using the constrictures of Oulipo.  Have you ever tried to write a story or an essay?  Have you ever stayed up nights pulling out your few too many hairs trying to get it to say just what you want it to say?  Now, imagine writing that school paper without using half the letters in the alphabet!

Mwuhahahaha!  (Your English teacher just died from enjoying a little too much evil.)

Ella Minnow Pea is about a quaint little island off the coast of the US where everyone reveres the language and worships a man named Nollop, who had the delight in his lifetime to create that old typing-teacher’s friend, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”  Unless you still type with one finger on the keyboard and the other up your nose, you’ve probably heard of it.

The great thing about the little country of Nollop is that people do still read, and they do write letters to each other, and the arts are encouraged, not disparaged.  It’s a little tiny Utopia.  But as with any Utopia, you get a few nuts in a political seat of power, and things are going to make your stomach churn.  See, “The quick brown fox” saying was immortalized in little tiles over a hundred years ago using some funky glue… and as the glue starts to fail and the letters fall, the island council declares those letters dead to the human language.  Outlawed.  By pain of beatings, exile, or even DEATH.

Most of us haven’t had to deal, outright, with a Monster of our own creating… or with real censorship (especially not by pain of death).  But the thing is, as the story is told using written letters (epistolary novel, y’all), as the alphabetical letters go away, the posted mail is searched for outlaws flaunting the laws.  Sure, it’s all written with humor and light, but the underlying horror of censorship and unfair laws that benefit only the island council hits home on a deeper level.  It’s a little like the feeling you get when you’re reading Anne Frank, except without the need to throw the book across the room at the end, because you know there are some injustices you CAN fight.

Re-readable?  Indeed.

Recommended?  Absolutely.  It’s delightful.

Would I attack a little old lady in a parking lot and force her to read the book while I sit on her back?  You bet I would!

night,

dawn

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Welcome back to the Kamikaze Adult Literacy Campaign!

Please wear a flack jacket.

That’s to deal with all the people who give you flack for opening a book and sticking your nose in it…

My own mother used to ask me WHY I was reading and if it was a BAD book I was reading, so I’ve heard it all.  I’ve hidden in the garage… in the bathtub… in a tree…  You know, the places where you’ll get RUN OVER or DROWN or FALL TO YOUR DEATH if you’re not paying attention.  I mean, come on, that’s commitment!

So do I expect anything less of the rest of the world?

I expect you all to HIDE in your garages and behind the shower curtains and up in trees–and when your friends and neighbors walk by, when your spouse comes to take a shower, well, jump out and slap them upside the head with a GOOD BOOK!

Papercutsssss!  Noooo!  I got a papercut on my eyyyyeeee!

What wusses thy neighbors be.  Give it to em good.  Hit em harder!  Whappow!  That thar’s a book, and yes, the pages are sharp.  See how much fun reading can be?  It’s DANGEROUS.

night,

dawn

It's Ski-Shooting Now! How to make reading FUN, by gun-toting Yokels

It’s Ski-Shooting Now! How to make reading FUN, by gun-toting Yokels

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Welcome to the advent of the

Kamikaze Adult Literacy Campaign

Where we advocate SURPRISE LITERACY ATTACKS on your (unsuspecting) neighbors, (bewildered) spouses, and of course your head-up-their-ass co-workers!  (That one doesn’t even deserve parentheses! Mwuhaha!)

In the US, children read more than adults.  Young adult books are the most-purchased literature.  Adults are being left behind!  This means that adults are becoming less socially cognizant.  They’re becoming functionally illiterate.  They’re becoming… stupidheads.  (Yes, that is a clinical term.)  Their attention span is waning, their patience grows more minute, and their bodies and minds become primed for ALIEN TAKE-OVER!

I mean this in all seriousness, I’d love to see a few more aliens here and there, especially at the grocery store (someone needs to replace the gal who is always telling me Who Died) and at work (we’re not even going to go into WHY alien alternation is the ONLY SOLUTION for the nutsos, cranks, and poopheads who troll our nation’s libraries–)

Actually, let’s do so!

BECAUSE you did not READ a book last month (admit it!) that comfy spot in the library was FORFEITED to the smelly homeless guy who farts a lot.  And then there’s the crazy lady who’s suing everyone and their grandmother and for some reason thinks her neighborhood library staff will help her sift up new reasons to sue them.  Because you did not READ a book, Porn Man has moved from looking to participatory porn… and he’s writing a “book” detailing the wonders of white trash as portrayed by the industry.

It’s all your fault!

And so, here’s what you can do to make amends (and so I don’t end up under the wheels of a psychiatrist’s $100k BMW–they run over their more troublesome patients, just for fun, just to see the looks on our faces when they turn on us and Don’t Honk)–read a damn book!  And while you’re at it, don’t read some boring shit that everyone says is good for you.  Read something classy and dangerous.  And then turn around and smack your sunbathing nude neighbor upside the head with a great indie-published festival piece regarding the dangers of children.  He (or she) (it’s all the same when it’s your neighbor who’s nude… ’cause it’s not pretty) will thank you for it.

Click below for a larger view.

night,

dawn

Your excuses suck!

Your excuses suck!

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Henry Farrell

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

So I finally stumbled upon the novel that inspired Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  I’d been looking for it when I was doing my MA, and behold!  They have now re-released it.

Written by Henry Farrell, the movie follows the book without deviation.  In fact, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more in the book than they were able to put in the movie.  Normally I’m all about the book version.  Was it over-excitement?  I’d waited five years to stumble upon a copy of the book after the movie made me swoon and go ka-thump in my heart for dear old Jane the creepy ex-child star.

I enjoyed that the publishers put a few of Farrell’s short stories at the end of the book, including the short story that Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte was based on.

It’s been a couple months since I read this book, and unfortunately, it never gave me dreams in the middle of the night and hasn’t popped up in my subconscious with a niggling little memory.  So I’m setting it aside for now with my other cult fictions to see how it holds up.  Has it been forever eclipsed by the movie version?  A cult fiction takes its test when you go back to read it later, so although it didn’t give me that thrill in the pit of my stomach that told me I was going to be reading it again, I think I will.  Just to see.  Will you stand up to time, Mr. Farrell?

 

Robert Bloch

Psycho

A RANDOM ASIDE: Bloch is also author of a random episode of Thriller that was on last night.  About Jack the Ripper and the possibility of the ritual killings keeping him alive and unaging for decades at a time.  The end of the episode seemed… kind of rushed.  And I was a little offended by the treatment of the “bohemian” personality.  But at the same time, I loved that those artists had a place they could go to be creative where at least other artists wouldn’t make fun of them (although the police certainly didn’t watch their tongues).

~So I also read Psycho recently.  The thing is, I have never seen the movie.  But I had this immense feeling of deja vu the entire time I was reading the book.  The story is such a part of our culture that even if you have never seen the core classics, you won’t escape them.

Reading Pyscho was possibly a little more interesting, textually, than Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, or it could be that I had not seen the movie, and so was not over-anticipating everything.  In fact, I had a little faux pas.  In my head, I had put the shower scene from The Shining into Psycho, and so while I was reading, I was anticipating Here’s Johnny!  And the whole time I was like, Who thought that creepy old Jack Nicholson was a dead ringer for Norman Bates????

Quite possibly, the suspense was just up one notch from Baby Jane, at this point.

Re-readable?  Sure.  But I almost feel that, knowing more about Edward Gein’s real history, there is more to the story than we were getting.  It’s probably the thing that I love to hate about Phantom of the Opera.  It’s a mystery.  The detective sets out to solve a crime.  We follow clues.  It becomes a little underwhelming because if you’re following clues, you’re in the land of science, and so you are not in the speculative land of an actual thriller.

 

William March

The Bad Seed

The only thing I knew about The Bad Seed going into the book was that the child was a naughty-pants.

Thanks to the fact that this story and its movie have not crept into our subconscious minds the way the other two stories have, I actually enjoyed the reading experience more on a suspenseful level.  Like the other two, there was a technique employed that you’re going to have every writing teacher of the modern era screaming and pulling at their hair, but when you’re creating drama, it’s actually a useful technique: omniscient narrators capable of seeing into the heads of multiple people and telling you where they stand.  That has become a taboo in writing classes nowadays, a taboo that always made me go hmmm, simply because you pull out a lot of classic books that have stood the test of time, and you’re going to find omniscient narrators every which way.  Including up.

March also chose to pull out 70s psychobabble of the type that had been so du jour.  Although some reviewers panned his idea of the inheritable genetics of personality traits, the thing is that March picked his stance, for the story, and he stuck with it.  So go with it.  Don’t try to debunk his “science” because the thing is that it’s a story.

There were enough twists that I was properly impressed, not having expected anything much to come of the mother, Christine, who was a self-described wet blanket type.  She knew she wasn’t up to the task in front of her.

I was suitably impressed by March’s portrayal of Rhoda, the darling little girl who was born of a bad seed.  Nicely played!  I have often been intrigued with the cute character being naughty, like in the anime Dai Mahou Touge (Magical Witch Punie-Chan).  I didn’t have a lot of hope for this eight-year-old to actually be evil and be able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.  But she had a few lovely creepy techniques of cute to slay anyone.

The psychobabble could have been overwhelming, but I love the historical aspects March brought in to Christine’s search for an answer later on.

On first reading, I knew we were going to end up with at least one victim, and the nice thing was, I was completely wrong about who I suspected was going to get it.

Re-readability?  Highest of the three.

night,

dawn

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