Tag Archives: Horror

Does Size Matter?

Guys, I completed one of my 2015 Reading Resolutions just in time to start thinking about 2016’s … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I finally finished Stephen King’s It. I feel a new kind of emptiness inside and my right eyelid has been twitching for the past couple of days (and I thought Chuck Palahniuk wrote some twisted stuff). That old terror of reality is coming to get me, more frightening than any supernatural evil, but I did finish.

I decided to give myself the entire month of October to read It because it’s huge and because I’d finish on Halloween. Spooooooky! I have to say it’s one of the most complete novels I’ve ever read. Some of the book’s detractors may say that there’s too much detail about the history of a fictional town, but it made the whole experience feel more real. I wanted to go on adventures with the kids in the book and I wanted to be with them when they finally faced off with It, which I can only describe as mind-bendingly far out. The made-for-television adaptation is really like a trailer for the book. There’s only so much of the novel that could conceivably be crammed into just over three hours. Some of the novel—like the showdowns with It—are so unfathomably conceptual that they might be unfilmable. Such scenes are better existing only in your mind, if your mind can handle them.

itcoverIt consumed me and took over my subconscious for a several days. I had nightmares about my friends dying pretty regularly while I read it, but on the night I finished it, my dreams were beatific. I didn’t remember specifics upon waking, but I felt at peace.

The novel is a big hulking thing, more weapon than book, that sat on my bookshelf in three different apartments over five years, a towering 1138-page monolith. I felt a new kind of accomplishment when I turned the final page, and finishing it endowed me with the confidence that I could start and—more importantly—finish other long books.

(Please note: When I talk about length, I’m talking about number of pages, not number of words, even though number of words is more accurate.)

For years I’ve been putting off reading some long books, like Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. For some reason I thought it was around 1000 pages, but it’s a paltry 639. Ernest Hemingway‘s For Whom the Bell Tolls and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden are practically novellas at barely 500 and 600 pages, respectively. And Moby-Dick? Herman Melville’s classic allegorical tale, which I always thought was much longer (like Kavalier & Clay), comes in at 625. Haruki Murakami‘s 1Q84? That’s closer to It at 925. What about Gone with the Wind? Margaret Mitchell gets even closer at 1037 pages. War and Peace? Tolstoy’s tome tips the scales at a whopping 1386 pages.

Some of these look downright scrawny next to It.

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That sweet, sweet thickness.

It isn’t even King’s longest novel; The Stand holds that honor at 1153 pages.

There are, of course, plenty of articles and listicles about the longest novels, some of which are in our catalog, like:  Joseph and His Brothers (1207 pages), Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady (1533) or The Man Without Qualities (1774).

But does size really matter? I’ve read long books that were awful, like the 756-page Breaking Dawn (don’t judge—I was in college, trying to impress a girl) right along with short books that were awful (like The Train from Pittsburgh). Likewise, I’ve read short books that were fantastic (like the 295-page Me and Earl and the Dying Girl). Regardless, it’s undeniable that with more words—and more pages—authors have more room to create a more detailed world into which you can escape.

I doubt anyone would bemoan a well-crafted escape.

What’s the longest book you’ve ever read, dear readers? Do you have any recommendations on what I should read next to decompress after It? Sound off in the comments below!

–Ross

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Must See TV in October

Image by GDJ at Open Clip Art. Click through for source.

Image by GDJ at Open Clip Art. Click through for source.

Fall means football, changing leaves changing and the return of TV shows!  While some of my favorite TV shows (Empire, How To Get Away With Murder, & Scandal) have already returned, there are some more shows that premiere very soon that I’m excited about:

1. The Flash (Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW)

The last season of The Flash left viewers with a lot of questions. How did Barry’s battle with the Reverse Flash end? What will happen with S.T.A.R. Labs? What will happen between Barry & Iris? Most of these questions will likely not be answered within the first episode. If you wanna catch up on the first season of The Flash it’s available in our catalog.

2. iZombie (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW)

Olivia “Liv” Moore is a medical examiner who also happens to be a zombie. She applied for the job as a medical examiner so she could have access to brains. Little did she know that when she ate the brains of murder victims, she would get visions that led to discovering how they died. So, with this new found gift she works with the Seattle Police Department Detective Clive Babineaux to help solve cases. Initially I wasn’t going to watch this show because from the trailer I thought that it looked stupid, but it’s actually a good show. Unfortunately, season one isn’t in our system, but the graphic novels that the TV show are based on are available.

3. Arrow (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW)

Oliver Queen is no longer the Arrow! Well at least that’s what the show’s writers and Queen himself want us to think. I doubt that the fairy tale world of Oliver and Felicity Smoak will last (sigh) We’ll just have to see what happens when the show comes back. Season 3 is available in our catalog along with tons of graphic novels featuring Green Arrow.

4. American Horror Story: Hotel (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX)

Ryan Murphy’s creepy anthology show is back for a fifth season. This time it takes place in a hotel. Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates and Matt Bomer are back for another season. There’s a new face along for the ride this time: Lady Gaga. I’m really interested to see how she’ll do on the show. Previous seasons of American Horror Story are available in our catalog.

What new shows are you watching this season? Which ones are you waiting on to return? Let us know in the comments below!

~Kayla

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A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night–and straight into my movie-loving heart

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Photo taken from ShockTilYouDrop.com – all rights reserved to same – click through to read a blurb about the film

I recently had the chance to see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the feature-length debut of Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour.

Let me say this right off the bat:  I’m not really a fan of vampire movies; I could probably count the ones I like on one thumbless hand (Thirst, Vampyr, Let Me In and Afflicted). Sadly, I’ve yet to see the original Let the Right One In or any version of Nosferatu. And, while both were supremely stylish, I didn’t love Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Only Lovers Left Alive as much as I’d hoped.

Oh, did I not mention A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a vampire movie?

The film follows the titular girl, played by Sheila Vand, as she lurks around the aptly-named Bad City, looking for her next victim. As a non-vamp-fan, I’m not sure what interested me in this film in the first place. Was it the fact that it was filmed in black and white (which adds an otherworldly eeriness to the film)? The superbly constructed tagline (“The First Iranian Vampire Western”)? Or was it just curiosity raised from reading an article on Indiewire.  Whatever the reason, I kept checking our catalog, hoping that we’d get a copy. When I finally saw it, I quickly put my name on the waiting list.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is both brand new (The Girl–as she’s credited–is a skateboarding, chador-wearing vampire!) and nostalgic (The Girl loves vinyl; the last song she listened to was Lionel Richie’s “Hello”). There’s no end of vampire symbolism; needles attached to heroin-filled syringes pierce the skin of junkies, we’re often shown oil rigs plunging their giant metallic teeth into the ground and slowly sucking Bad City dry. It’s a wonderful amalgamation of pulpy film noir, Midwest ghost towns and Amirpour’s recreation of Iran; the characters speak Farsi, yet it was filmed in the darkened streets of Taft, CA.

The following scene, featuring Vand and her victim(?), the ecstasy-addled Arash (played by Arash Marandi, a.k.a. the Iranian James Dean), could fit into any idyllic indie/hipster drama (not unlike the adorably charming God Help the Girl) and be a delightful scene. But within the confines of the universe that Amirpour has created, it becomes a near-psychedelic trip that raises hairs as it walks a fine line between terror and temptation. Honestly, even if you hate the other ninety-six minutes of this movie, this scene will more than make up for it. It’s magical:

It’s a film that takes its time building the horror and tension, as evidenced by the above scene. Today’s technology-swilling generation, with the attention span smaller than a femtometer, often equates tension-building with boring (have we forgotten the first half of Psycho or the entirety of The Blair Witch Project?). In an arena mostly dominated by jump-scares and senseless gore, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night shines through the fog of horror mediocrity. To be fair, there is some gore in the film, but it’s used in a way that doesn’t make it the punch line of horror; the gore is used as a means, not the end. Plus, it’s in black and white so it isn’t nearly as gruesome as it would be in color (again, like Psycho).

I could go on and on about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night; it’s a film I’ll definitely want to revisit–and recommend–again and again. It made me an instant fan of Amirpour, so I looked up what she’s doing next. Due out in 2016 and starring Jason MomoaKeanu Reeves and Jim Carrey, her next film is titled The Bad Batch. It’s a love story set in a cannibal commune. I’m not joking. Even if cannibal love stories aren’t your thing, you have to admit that’s a pretty interesting and impressive group of actors for a relative newcomer to assemble.

Do you have a favorite vampire movie? Did you hate the ones I enjoyed? Sound off below!

–Ross

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Sharp Short Stories

Short story collections are a great way to get to know an author, and reading them is a win-win situation: if you enjoy the tales, you can see what else s/he’s written; if you don’t care for them, you haven’t wasted a lot of precious reading time. Short story collections are also a treat for people who already love an author, and are pining away for her/his next novel.

There have been a number of really solid short story collections released this year. Here are three that pair nicely with the cold, dark winter ahead of us.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel. Quiet people leading Mantelquiet lives that suddenly take turns for the uncomfortable, supernatural, or just plain deadly are the meat and potatoes of this collection. They’re all outstanding, but my favorites were “Harley Street,” which, up to the very end, pretends to be one kind of story and then suddenly turns into another; “The Heart Fails Without Warning,” which reads like an homage to Kate Chopin‘s “The Story of an Hour”; and “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher,” which plays fast and loose with English history. Available in print, audio book, eBook, and eAudio.

AtwoodStone MattressMargaret Atwood. Atwood can do terrible just as nicely as Mantel can. However, her terrible tends to have spots of sweetness, melancholy, or other gentler emotions mixed in as well. This tone is set with the fantastical “Alphinland,” which is then followed by two stories that occur in the same universe to the same characters, forming a lovely little world I would’ve liked to see more of. Other highlights include “The Freeze-Dried Groom” (not a metaphor) and “Torching the Dusties,” in which an elderly woman with Charles Bonnet syndrome must flee an attack on her assisted living facility (uncomfortably plausible) with the help of a fellow resident. Available in print, eBook, eAudio, and Playaway.

Spoiled Brats, Simon Rich. Rich sticks it to the clueless and the entitled with this richwickedly funny collection of tales, narrated mostly by characters who have no idea how clueless and entitled they are. Rich doesn’t let himself off the hook, either: two of the stories feature a character named Simon Rich who is unpleasant as all get out (one of those tales, “Animals,” is narrated by a classroom’s pet hamster). Other highlights include “Gifted,” which satirizes privileged, pushy parenting, and “Elf on the Shelf” (’tis the season, after all). Available in print only.

Dark fiction for dark nights, in easy-to-read bites!  Are you a fan of the short story form? Who are your favorite authors? Read any good collections lately?

–Leigh Anne

 

 

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Don’t Go In There!

It’s hard to say why I find horror movies, and haunted house movies in particular, so appealing. It probably has something to do with being frightened, but from the comfort and safety of my couch or theater seat (the credits roll, and I’m reminded that none of this is real). It could also have something to with the house I grew up in, the “original homestead” of my ancestors in Oregon. While I don’t recall it being particularly haunted, it was a shadowy old Victorian house in great disrepair, and years after we moved out I heard rumors that it was the sort of abandoned house that teenagers would dare each other to spend the night in (I will not include a photo here dear readers, because I don’t want it to haunt your dreams). Of course, scary movies might also appeal to me because of my family’s occasional visits to the Timberline Lodge for dining — the Lodge served as the exterior of one of the (imho) most creepy movies ever filmed, The Shining.

Pop Pilgrims The Shining from Timberline Lodge on Vimeo.

Whatever the reason, I like a good, scary haunted house movie. And whether you prefer your haunted house movies to be atmospheric or funny, there’s sure to be something on this list that appeals to everyone:

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The Amityville Horror
A couple’s Long Island colonial house on the river’s edge seems perfect–until it isn’t.

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Beetlejuice
The non-ghosts are scarier than the ghosts in this film. After a  trendy New York family moves into an old farmhouse, the former tenants (a couple of likable ghosts) contact the afterlife’s bio-exorcist “Beetlejuice” to help them scare the family away. The Danny Elfman score for the film is also killer.

changeling

The Changeling
After the death of his wife and child, a composer moves to a secluded mansion, where he attracts the unwilling attention of a possible ghost. An underrated gem, with some scenes that inspired the director of the more recent The Conjuring.

conjuring

The Conjuring

One of the best haunted house movies to come out in years, this 2013 film focuses on a family terrorized by a dark presence in the secluded farmhouse they just moved into.

The Evil Dead
Five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the Tennessee woods unwittingly resurrect malevolent demons and spirits.

thehaunting

The Haunting
Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, this psychological thriller tells the story of four people who come to a haunted house to study its supernatural phenomena—and may never leave.

house

House (1977)
After learning that she will be sharing the summer with her father’s new girlfriend, a young girl invites some friends to join her at her aunt’s house instead. With a sick aunt, a bloodthirsty cat, and evil spirits lurking around, the girls find that it might have been better to stay at home. A very weird, crazy film that is half horror, half dark humor.

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Unusual Monsters

monsters

Watch out for monsters! Image from: http://www.rogerebert.com

I’d be willing to argue that almost all good horror movies are metaphors (with the added caveat that not all horror movies are good). While I realize that some folks may not be fans of the genre, I wish it were given a little more respect. Although there are plenty of goofy and campy monster movies, there are also quite a few that deal with more serious issues. As with other fringe genres, horror movies have the freedom to deal with weighty social matters—race, gender, and social inequality—through metaphor.

americannightmareThe recent documentary The American Nightmare makes this argument by mostly focusing on the horror movie renaissance during the 1960s and 70s, its main thesis being that during this time of great social unrest, many issues were being worked out through horror movies. Pittsburgh’s own George Romero is featured in the film, and admits that Night of the Living Dead was partially inspired by the violence he witnessed during the civil rights movement; and famed make-up artist Tom Savini found working on special effects to be a cathartic experience after the horrors he witnessed in the Vietnam War.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not trying to take all the fun out of the horror genre (I can appreciate a good, campy horror movie with the best of them), I’m just trying to make the case that there’s a lot more to this most lowly of genres than gory effects and spooky noises. Here are my picks for a few intelligent and original contemporary horror movies:

monsters

Monsters was shot on a meager budget with non-famous actors, but is a solid monster/alien movie. After aliens land in Mexico, the central part of the country is quarantined. An American tourist trapped south of the quarantine line attempts to travel through the “infected zone” with the help of a local journalist. What starts as disaster-monster-road movie morphs into a love story about the horrors of xenophobia.

wearewhatweare

This movie does something kind of impressive—it makes you feel sympathy for the Mexican cannibal family at the center of the film. After all, they don’t want to eat people—it’s just what they’ve always done.  We Are What We Are  starts with the passing of the father of said cannibal family, and then examines the dysfunctional dynamics of the clan as they try to “provide for the family” after the death of a parent. [Side note: this movie was just remade in the United States, and has been getting mostly glowing reviews.]

changeling

Ghosts are spooky, but do you know what’s even more terrifying? Grief.  After moving to a creepy old house in Seattle, George C. Scott is trying to get over the death of his wife and daughter—but a malevolent ghost won’t leave him alone. The Changeling is neither gory nor violent, but earns its ‘R’ rating by being just plain scary. Technically, it’s not a contemporary horror film, but it only recently became available on DVD. If you like haunted house movies, this one’s for you.

tuckerndale

This horror-comedy definitely subverted all my expectations. We all know the set-up: college kids on vacation at a lake encounter scary looking backwoods boys. Except in Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil the heroes are the two hillbillies, who are a couple of nice guys just out to enjoy a quiet vacation in the woods. The misunderstanding between the college kids & the two lovable rubes reaches a comic, and grisly, conclusion. Warning: this movie does contain a good deal of gore, but is also smart and very funny.

magic

Who knew that Michael Cera could play such a creeper? Picture being trapped and isolated in a foreign country with one of the most obnoxious travel companions you can imagine. That pretty much sums up Magic Magic, in which the protagonist slowly starts to unravel after not being able to sleep and not understanding the local language or customs in rural Chile. This is an unsettling movie, and not recommended for anyone who has ever dealt with the horrors of insomnia.

What scary movies are you watching this Halloween season?

-Tara

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Appalachian Autumn

As the cool evenings settle in for a proper Southwestern Pennsylvania autumn, thoughts often turn to the horror end of the spectrum. As a full disclaimer, I’m not a horror guy. I like some stuff a WHOLE lot, though. For example, Night of the Living Dead stands as one of the best films of all time to me. Also, Carnival of Souls is a fantastically strange, oddly dreamlike horror movie from 1962. They are both available on one DVD for your convenience! Likewise, the original 1963 version of The Haunting is all but unmatched in atmosphere and tension. That film is mind-blowingly good.

Movies are cool and all, but where my interest really lies might be closer to explorations of the cryptozoological kind. One of my favorite cryptozoological/mythical creatures has to be the Mothman. Having roots in the Appalachian region (and I don’t need to remind you that Pittsburgh is the Paris of Appalachia) , the Mothman is a very interesting creature. Some say he is a harbinger of disaster, some that he is the result of ecological catastrophe. Still others look at him as another little-known mountain monster.  One of the best places to get more information is Donnie Sergent’s book Mothman: The Facts Behind the Legend. This book cobbles together facsimiles of the handwritten eyewitness reports, along with news clippings to illustrate a very thorough picture of what the Mothman is all about.

If the cryptozoological isn’t your cup of tea, I would point you in the direction of some excellent fiction by the Appalachian writer Manly Wade Wellman. His collection of short stories Valley So Low: Southern Mountain Stories is a fantastic collection of creepy, interesting, engaging, well written horror. His style struck me as being one that gives enough to create the scene, to illustrate what the reader needs, but I didn’t feel overly burdened with description or setting. Rather, Wellman uses his considerable skill to give the reader what they need and point them in the direction he wishes them to go. He knows when to back off and when to push the reader to a particular spot. Filled with stories of forbidden knowledge, strange creatures, and off-putting half-forgotten places in the mountains, Wellman puts together a fantastically odd, weird, (and at the risk of repeating myself…but I just can’t help it) CREEPY collection that is worth curling up with on a cool autumn night.

There you have it, dear Eleventh Stack reader! A few classic horror films of note and two thoroughly Appalachian sources for some Autumnal creepiness! Enjoy!

Eric – who is gearing up on blankets and tea for cool nights spent reading with the cats

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Punny Side Up: Clever Titles, Fun Summer Reads

The only thing better than a good pun is a bad pun, the kind that leaves you doubled over, groaning. When you spot a pun in a book title, it usually means you’re in for a good time, reading-wise. And since it’s summer, why not put aside the ponderous reads for a while and take a chance on something silly? Here are a few titles to try on for size.

apocalypsecowApocalypse Cow, Michael Logan. Everybody takes it on the chin in this snicker-worthy, satirical horror tale about a government experiment gone horribly wrong. The cows of Scotland have turned zombie, and the virus responsible leaps quickly to other animal species. Look out humanity: now you’re the snack! As the country descends into chaos, three extremely unlikely heroes–a teenage math geek, a slaughterhouse worker, and an inept journalist–do their best to save the day. Which pretty much means humanity is doomed, but you’ll have a lot of fun watching the train wreck. Terry Pratchett enjoyed this book enough to give it a prize in 2011, so now that it’s available in the U.S., you should check it out, too; I expect you will find it very moo-ving.

Sleeping With the Entity, Cat Devon. Daniella just wants to open a cupcake shop; is that so wrong? Nick, the head of the local entitybusiness association, doesn’t want Daniella or her cupcakes anywhere near his neighborhood, which actually serves as headquarters for Nick’s vampire clan. Somehow immune to Nick’s mind control techniques, Daniella barrels on ahead with her business plan anyway, which leads to peril for her, exasperation for Nick, and plenty of sexual tension smoldering between them both. Devon’s paranormal romance is as fluffy and luscious as buttercream frosting, and once you’ve savored it, continuing on to The Entity Within will be a piece of cake.

hexHex and the Single Girl, Valerie Frankel. Unlike Devon’s novel, which is slightly silly and mostly steamy, Frankel’s tale of a matchmaking witch is a full-out wacky romp. Emma has used her psychic gifts to hook up countless happy couples, but despairs of ever finding a love of her own. Enter William, a wealthy software developer, who finds Emma utterly fascinating. Too bad Emma’s trying to fix William up with one of her clients…especially since she finds him pretty interesting, too. Replete with bad puns and composed of a cast of colorful New Yorkers (magical and otherwise), this is a screwball romantic comedy that will scramble your brain in egg-actly the way a summer read should.

Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth, Tamar Myers. Tart-tongued Magdalena Yoder and her sister Susannah converted their family farm into a crooksbed and breakfast after their parents died. Now the Mennonite siblings, with the help of some of their Amish friends and neighbors, run the PennDutch Inn, a popular stop for folks touring Pennsylvania Dutch territory. The only thing is, there’s a corpse on the bed, and it’s ruining Magdalena’s quilt, and this simply will not do. Add in a shady politician on vacation, a pack of vegetarians who are driving Magdalena’s cook crazy, and enough food descriptions to give George R.R. Martin a run for his money, and you have a nice cozy-folksy mystery–part of a series!–that also contains recipes (the broiled bananas dessert looks particularly ap-peel-ing).

If you haven’t thrown up your hands in despair and moved on to looking at cute cat photos, you are clearly the target audience for more puntastic goodness. Terry Pratchett, Piers Anthony, Diane Mott Davidson, and Donna Andrews are just a few authors who dabble in groan-worthy titles; you’ll find these and other suggestions via this Goodreads list. My personal favorite title at the moment is Giles Smith’s  Midnight in the Garden of Evel Knievel, which I plan to acquire and read despite having less than zero interest in sports (anybody that punny deserves my consideration).

Your turn: does a punny book title send you to the checkout counter, or running for the hills? Have any fun examples you’d care to share?

Leigh Anne

also currently giggling over Polar Bolero

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Thick As A Brick

Nothing says “summer reading” to me like a giant doorstop of a book that requires two hands to read and a huge tote bag to carry. This may not be the reading experience you want to have, and I can’t say I blame you: those suckers can get pretty heavy, which is why I’m always happy to help people find less hefty alternatives in our e-book collection. Nobody should have to throw out their back or shoulder to enjoy a book!

But, under the correct circumstances–a warm (yet breezy) day, a comfy shady spot, a refreshing cold beverage nearby–curling up with one of those text-monsters sends a definite signal: I am not at all kidding around about reading this giant book here; think twice before dragging me away from it, because I am enjoying myself immensely. It’s an incredibly pleasurable, self-indulgent reading experience, the kind I think everyone should treat themselves to from time to time.

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Image spotted at LetterMidst

However, if you’re going to do this, you have to make sure you pick the right book. There’s nothing worse than lugging what one book blogger calls “chunksters” all the way home only to find yourself flailing with disappointment by page three. No matter what you’re in the mood for, though, there’s bound to be a “thick as a brick” pick for you to while away a cool summer night with. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

ozeki A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (422 pages). Ruth, an author suffering from writers’ block, finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach. The contents? The diary of a Japanese teen called Nao. Despite her conviction that suicide is the only answer to her problems, Nao is determined to write down the story of her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, before checking out permanently. Fascinated by Nao’s tale, Ruth drops her own project to solve the literary mystery that has magically landed in her lap. A lovely, layered tale with a fair share of heartbreak, but also equal parts wonder and joy.

NOS4A2, Joe Hill (692 pages). Beat the summer sun with Hill’s bone-chilling novel about the madman of Christmasland, and the Hillone woman who’s managed to outsmart him. Victoria escaped the clutches of the preternatural Charlie Manx as a teen, but evil always comes back, and this time Victoria’s son is in danger. Can she find her way back to Christmasland and save her boy before it’s too late? A page-turner with a number of wickedly clever “Wait, what???” surprises.

AdichieAmericanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (477 pages). Ifemelu does, and does not, want to go home to Nigeria. A scholarship to an American college has opened doors for her, and her blog about racism in America has earned her a fellowship at Princeton. Still, Ifemelu can’t forget the country–and the man–she left behind, even though returning to both will prove difficult. A sweeping novel that travels back and forth in time, explores life on three continents, and pulls no punches in its examination of race and culture.

 The Eye of the World , Robert Jordan (670 pages). If you’ve been meaning to try out the epic fantasy genre, the long, lazy days of summer jordanare the perfect time. Also, now that the Wheel of Time series is finally complete, you have no excuse not to dive in. There’s an evil power seeking to hasten the end of the world (isn’t there always?), and it falls to three unremarkable boys from a small backwater village to take up the hero’s mantle and try to save the day. Jordan’s saga, which rambles over fourteen volumes, begins with The Eye of the World, in which we meet our heroes, a mysterious priestess, the knight who is bound to her honor, and the big bad who just wants to break things. Good fun for anyone relishing an old-school tale of fantasy adventure.

krantzMistral’s Daughter, Judith Krantz (531 pages). This is not a romance novel to be tossed aside lightly. This is a romance novel meant to be heaved across the room with great force at anyone who makes fun of you for reading romance novels. Krantz’s tale spans three generations in the life of passionate painter Julien Mistral, and the three women who mean the most to him: Maggy (his lover), Teddy (his best beloved), and Fauve (his daughter). From the bohemian arts circles of Paris in the 1920s up to the ritzy glitz of New York in the 1980s, Krantz spins a tale of passion, fashion, exotic locales, heartbreak, jealousy, deceit, art, and haute couture. It’s a delicious romp through the social circles of the wealthy and talented, with just enough sex and scandal to keep you hooked until the end. A classic masterpiece to discover–or rediscover–on a steamy summer night (or three!).

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, eds. (676 pages). Non-fiction and literature lovers cathertake note: Jewell and Stout’s volume is a treasure trove of living history. Cather, who wanted to be judged by her work and not her personal life, specifically stated in her will that her letters were not to be published. The editors went ahead and produced the volume anyway–presumably with permission from Cather’s literary executor!–on the grounds that enough time had passed to soften any objections Cather might have had to the letters being exposed. Arranged chronologically, the correspondence includes missives from Cather’s years living in Pittsburgh, as well as the only known letter from Cather to her partner, Edith Lewis. There are no scandals or secrets here, but the letters are rich with details of Cather’s ordinary life, filled with joy and love of nature and travel, and, of course, many thoughts on writing.

What say you, constant readers? Will you be giving the chunksters some love this summer? Or do you prefer to put in your weight training time at the gym? What’s the biggest book you’ve ever hauled around just for the love of it?

–Leigh Anne

with apologies to Jethro Tull

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Best Books N’At: 2012 Edition

Can you handle one more “best of” list this holiday season? We think you can!

The Eleventh Stack tally of favorites differs from other “best” lists in that we don’t limit ourselves to books published in 2012. “New to us” books are welcome on our list because an excellent book doesn’t stop being excellent just because it’s no longer in the public eye (after a certain amount of time has passed, we call those books “classics”). We also don’t limit our format choices, either; while many of us chose to write about books, you will also find movies and music on this list. We can tell from our stats dashboard that you enjoy our music and film reviews as much as you do our literary explorations, so consider their inclusion here a holiday bonus.

Here’s what your favorite lit-savvy pop culture Pittsburgh library mavens appreciated most in 2012:

Aisha

My head turned into a smiley face because I was so happy.

In my music world, the Kills have my body, Wild Flag has my spirit, and Kathleen Edwards has my soul. Kathleen is the only one who put out an album this year (the Kills’ newest, Blood Pressures, came out in 2011; so did Wild Flag’s eponymous album. They were both excellent and I highly recommend them.) Kathleen’s music is in that hard-to-define alt-country-pop-rock world and while Voyageur, her 2012 release, is less alt-country and more pop, but you won’t mistake it for a Katy Perry or Pink album. Even though it’s musically a bit of a departure from her previous albums (Failer, Back to Me, and Asking for Flowers), lyrically, it’s the same Kathleen. She is not one for dancing around an emotion. She writes songs that make you want to jump and yell and curl up on the couch and cry. She divorced in 2011 and many of the songs on Voyageur deal with that in a very honest way that can leave you heartbroken, but also hopeful. She’ll be playing here in February and she’s worth seeing live. I saw her earlier this year (that’s me and her in the photo) and it was one of the best nights of my life.

TrailoftheSpellmansPicking my favorite book of the year was a tough thing to do because I read a lot of excellent ones. It came down to the graphic novel, Building Stories by Chris Ware and Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz. In the end, I went with Lisa Lutz (though, please read Building Stories. It made me worry about a bee; that’s how good it is.) Trail of the Spellmans is the fifth in Lutz’s Spellman books so you should read the first four (The Spellman Files, Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans, The Spellmans Strike Again) before you read this one. The series is about a family of private investigators who sometimes use their investigative skills against each other. What I adore about this series is that while it’s funny, it also has heart. Lutz has created a family who clearly loves each other, but doesn’t always show it in appropriate ways.

Photo source: imdb.com

Photo source: imdb.com

The movies Netflix usually recommends for me fall into categories like “Critically-acclaimed Quirky Independent Movies” or “Visually-striking Emotional French-Language Movies” or “Understated Comedies” so it might be surprising to them (it?) that my favorite movie of 2012 was Warrior. This came out in 2011, but I saw it this year and cried; for some reason, sports movies reduce me to a sobbing mess. Rudy, Rocky IV, RedbeltWhip It, and now Warrior. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about two estranged brothers, one a former Marine, the other a schoolteacher, who for differing reasons, take part in a mixed-martial arts tournament and end up battling each other for the top prize. It stars Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte and is worth your time and Kleenex.

Amy

fullbodyburdenKristen Iversen’s memoir, Full Body Burden: Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats (also available as a book on CD), is really two stories in one. On a personal level, it’s the tale of a crazy dysfunctional family headed by an alcoholic father that goes through an awful lot of pets (and cars – drunk father even causes an accident that breaks young Kristen’s neck, something she doesn’t learn about until years later). On the nuclear side of things, there’s the history of Rocky Flats, a plant that used to manufacture plutonium triggers for atomic bombs (they somehow managed to lose a few TONS of plutonium in the air ducts and survive a few fires that should have destroyed large portions of Colorado). So yeah, disturbing and illuminating. (If you want to learn more about Rocky Flats, check out the documentary Dark Circle.)

Holly

220px-Channel_ORANGEFrank Ocean is an R&B/Soul genius, who came from seemingly out of nowhere and blew my mind in 2012 with Channel Orange.  His huge, weird, gorgeous, Wizard-of-Oz-referencing single, “Thinkin Bout You” shows vocal range, song-writing talent and the rare ability to bring a tear to Beyonce’s eye.  I think I listened to this song 100 times in a row.  Channel Orange contains many songs worth more than one spin.   “Pink Matter” and “Bad Religion” are also must listens.  And to be fair,  Frank Ocean didn’t really come from out of nowhere, he came from New Orleans by way of Odd Future.  He’s nominated for 6 grammys, so get a hold of the CD now, before he wins them all and the holds list goes through the roof.

Irene

I love fairy tales: not the happily ever after, princesses being saved by princes type, but the darker stories that the Grimm brothers immortalized.  Graham Joyce’s novel Some Kind of Fairy Tale is about a woman who appears on her family’s doorstep twenty years after her mysterious disappearance and appears not to have aged at all in the interim.  Her perplexing explanation– that she was spirited away to fairy land– would seem delusional, but as the story unfolds details emerge that make it hard for even her fiercest critics to continue doubting her.  The story itself is dark and intriguing, and the writing is wonderfully done.

Another book in a similar vein is almost too obvious to mention, but I will anyway because I loved this one too: Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version.  I love Pullman, I love the Brothers Grimm, and this book is a great marriage of both.  The simple retellings are gruesome enough to win the Grimm brothers’ approval, and the notes at the end of each tale about its origins are a great addition for those of us who like that kind of thing.

Jess

 Grave Mercy may best be explained as “Alias set in the Middle Ages…”  But instead of the great Sidney Bristow, we have Ismae, an assassin trained at the convent (yes, convent) of Saint Mortain – otherwise known as the god of death. Set in the French duchy of Brittany, Ismae escapes her awful father and even worse arranged marriage after her husband-to-be discovers the red scar across her back, a sign that she had been sired by Saint Mortain himself. She soon finds herself settling in with the sisters of the convent, learning to kill those who have been marked for death by her patron saint. A few training montages and a successful field test later, Ismae is assigned to help the very handsome and very mysterious Gavriel Duval protect his half-sister, the duchess. There’s lots of court intrigue, questions about Ismae’s own beliefs, and ultimately, the future of a kingdom hangs in the balance.

This is a young adult novel that manages to successfully flirt with the notion of being an adult book, especially in how author Robin LaFevers handles the historical aspects. The convent of Saint Mortain was likely based – at least the location – on the Abbaye Blanche, in Mortain, France. She incorporates a number of real people, such as Anne of Brittany and her court, while balancing the myths and legends of these “daughters of Death.” The second book in this series is out in the spring and I can’t wait.

Leigh Anne

I have a teensy–and by “teensy” I mean “massive”–authorcrush on Cheryl Strayed, and I am not ashamed.

It started with Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which I picked up solely because Oprah chose it for her book club, only to be blown away by talent and surprise. Wild is a sucker-punch to the soul by way of the gut, a wrenching memoir about the excruciating grief of losing a parent, and the hard-fought recovery from that grief, by way of an extremely long walk. Vision quests and pilgrimages have been rites of passage for many cultures for ages, and Strayed shows you how that theme is still relevant to the 21st-century heroine’s journey. Enthusiastically recommended for anyone coping with great loss, or who has survived it (and really, that’s everybody, no?).

Wild certainly could have stood alone as my favorite book of the year, but then I found out that Strayed is also the genius behind Dear Sugar, the internet advice column that reads like Dan Savage and Anne Lamott’s  literary love child. Tiny Beautiful Things, a selective collection of various Dear Sugar columns, is an instruction manual on how to be a fearless, compassionate bad-ass, and is guaranteed to knock you on your behind, then extend a loving hand to pick you back up again. No topic is taboo in Sugar’s world, and her willingness to share her own mistakes and character flaws gives her advice heft and weight: you know you should do what Strayed tells you to do, because she’s not just preaching it–she’s lived it. And yet, her advice is always delivered in such a way that you believe she has your best interests at heart, and really cares about whether or not you succeed. That’s no mean feat; you can’t fake that. After you read the library copy, buy this book. In fact, buy two: one for yourself, and one for somebody you love enough to give the gift of radical honesty.

Maria

Detroit: A Biography, Scott Martelle. As a Motown girl born and bred, I snatched this one right up. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, but it was entertaining and enlightening (and still managed to make me feel homesick). From the history of the Motor City as a French trading post to Indian warfare and through the explosive growth of the auto industry to its nasty and tragic race history, this book is the story of a city’s failures, hopes, and dreams, and of the resilient spirit of its people. Of local interest: the last chapter (“Pittsburgh: A Different Case”) is all about Pittsburgh’s resurgence after its decline, and the lessons learned that Detroit can hopefully implement.

Melissa

My hands-down favorite book I read this year was Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. You know how every year you read one book that you recommend to everyone you see? This is mine. If I haven’t told you about this wonderful piece of fiction yet, it’s because you haven’t seen me or my staff picks. So I’m sorry to be redundant, but I still think about this book almost daily. The prose was vivid. The dialog, witty and sharp. I found myself picturing the whole novel in my head as I was reading it. It was like my own personal moving picture. Rules of Civility was everything I want a book to be.

Suzy

This kid will kill you.

This kid will kill you.

Little Star, John Ajvide Lindqvist. There is something alarming going on in Sweden. Lack of sunlight, possibly? Too much salted herring? Frostbite? Whatever is going on, every single book I’ve read from the Land of the Midnight Sun has been unbelievably dark and twisted. And awesome. In fact, my favorite book in 2012 is from heir apparent to Stephen King, John Ajvide Lindqvist. Lindqvist , best known as the author of Let the Right One In (Swedish movie and U.S. movie,) is redefining the horror genre. Yet the book I love best is his first “non-supernatural” novel. Little Star, released in English in October, definitely has elements of the supernatural, but ultimately it’s about alienation, bullying, fame and teenage angst. Because nothing says Happy Holidays like a gang of murderous teen girls.

Left for dead in the woods, Theres is rescued (if you can call it that) by D-List musician and wife beater Lennart Cederström.  Upon discovering her perfect pitch, Cederström makes the (odd) decision to hide her in his basement and raise a perfect singing machine. By the time Theres is a teenager, she is eerily beautiful with a spooky stare, and clearly has no concept of right or wrong. When events takes a gruesome turn (with a drill) she ends up in Stockholm with her “brother” Jerry, one of the many adults in her life who treat her like a commodity. After appearing on the Swedish American Idol, Theres hooks up with the overweight, bullied Theresa and together they make a chilling duo. They create a gang of alienated, disenfranchised teenage girls who are fiercely devoted only to one another, to the point of torture and murder. Twisted and grisly, Little Star is a compelling and horrifying tale of the suffering of modern living with an equally compelling and horrifying cast of characters.

Oh, and you’ll never listen to ABBA the same again.

Tara

My Heart is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart
This was one of the most enjoyable essay collections I’ve read in a while. Mr. Rothbart is something of a good-hearted raconteur, willing to try anything at least once for the sake of a good story. I dare you to read the second essay in this collection, entitled “Human Snowball,” and not walk away grinning from ear-to-ear—which is quite an accomplishment when you consider that it’s a story about riding around wintery Buffalo, NY in a stolen van.

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
This is something of a genre mash-up. At its heart it’s a mystery novel, shaded with classic noir hues, but there’s an intriguing twist–the world is about to end in approximately six months. With an asteroid plummeting towards earth’s surface, Detective Hank Palace has to wrestle with the ultimate existential dilemma: what’s the point in solving a murder if everyone is going to end up dead anyways? This is a quick, fun read (and hopefully the first in a trilogy), with many uncanny speculations about what a pre-apocalyptic USA might look like.

Have you tried any of these? Have favorites of your own? Get the conversational ball rolling in the comments below.

The Eleventh Stack bloggers wish you a holiday season filled with harmony, good food, and safe travel conditions. After a short posting break, we will resume our regular publishing schedule on December 26th.

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