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Book Recommendations Fiction Film List Personal

Happy Halloween!

Because I was having trouble cranking up much enthusiasm for Halloween this year, here’s a collection of items I’ve collected. I hope you’ll find something here to help you get into this weekend’s holiday spirit.

Read What You Need: 9 Gothic Novels for Every Mood

This is the one that first inspired me. Did you ever see a display in a bookstore—back in the days when we could actually go into a bookstore—of offerings for “a blind date with a book”? These are books wrapped in paper with a tag describing the contents from which you can choose. Here Isabelle Popp describes how, when she worked at a library, she did a similar thing with books from the collection and called it “Read What You Need.” 

She does the same thing here with suggestions of various forms of gothic literature to read for Halloween. An added bonus is a section labeled “gothic sidebar” in which she explains several ways in which the term gothic can be applied to literature. Read her descriptions, then choose a book from the type of gothic literature that most appeals to you.

Despite the deep history and heavy themes, gothic literature is expansive. The best writers can deftly expose monsters both literal and metaphorical while delivering a thrilling reading experience that can suit a variety of moods. Here are nine varied Gothic novels so you can read what you need.

8 Books About Hexing the Patriarchy

First, a few key terms. Patriarchy is not, at the end of the day, defined by the gender of one’s leaders. It’s a societal model based on the rigid binaries and hierarchies necessary to divide, conquer, and control—e.g., men over women, men over nature, straight and cis over queer and trans, rich over poor, and, often, white over Black and Brown. Magic is energy moved with the intention of transforming reality. Therefore, for our purposes, #HexingThePatriarchy is channeling energy to dismantle this hierarchical world order and then cast a new, freer world.

Ruth Franklin on the novels of Shirley Jackson: “She never did the same thing twice”

Ruth Franklin: A decade of Shirley Jackson

Discussion of Shirley Jackson, author of “The Lottery,” The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, among many other works, always comes up at this time of year because of the haunting, spooky nature of her work. In these two essays from Library of America, Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, discusses the author and her iconic works.

Read Shirley Jackson’s Eerily Contemporary Letter About Fear

“Author Shirley Jackson often responded to readers’ letters; this one, written in 1962 after republication of her historical fiction for juveniles, The Witchcraft of Salem Village, seems uncannily prescient for our times.”

Meh! Halloween! A Bookish Guide to a Low-Key Halloween

Sarah Hannah Gómez, who thinks “horror movies are fun all year long anyway,” has trouble getting charged up for Halloween. “If you find that you are one of those in-betweenies who wants to participate in holiday fun without losing your cred as an iconoclast, here are some ironic, trope-destroying, or meta selections that might allow you to find common ground with your Halloween enthusiast friends.”

Which Scary Books Should You Pair with Scary Movies This Halloween Weekend?

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to stay home this Halloween, “that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy our haunted holiday,” writes Rachel Harrison. Here she shares her list of some of the best new horror books of 2020 paired “with horror movies that I feel compliment them in tone.” 

The 40 Most Terrifying TV Episodes to Watch This Halloween

Brian Tallerico’s got you covered if you’d prefer watch TV all weekend. His includes episodes from shows such as Black Mirror, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Fringe, and Lost

Monster Mythology

Here’s Atlas Obscura’s gateway to 10 articles about various monster myths. 

They Scream! We Scream!

Even the venerable New York Times gets into the Halloween spirit.

“What’s more fundamental to scary movies than the bone-chilling shriek? But delivering a terrifying wail isn’t easy. It’s an entire art with a history and a world of its own.

NASA offers ‘creepy’ playlist of space sounds for Halloween

“The sounds you’re hearing have been translated into something humans can hear and appreciate. They are not actually sounds that the universe emits, but a different way of appreciating the data NASA collects,” said Kimberly Arcand, visualization and emerging technology lead for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory space telescope.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Last Week's Links Literary History Reading Writing

Literary Links

The Best Time Travel Books

Annalee Newitz is both a science journalist and a science fiction writer who uses science to spur investigations into the nature of human existence. Newitz says science fiction is “less teaching people about how science works, and more about teaching people how history works.” 

Newitz uses the version of time travel “where characters can actually change the past. It becomes a metaphor for how we change things in the present, as well as how our relationship to the past changes us in the present.” This approach to time travel is especially appealing in time of upheaval, such as we’re experiencing now, because it offers the opportunity to go back and look at how and why things have happened and are now happening.

Quarantine book club: Reading for mental health in a plague year

Jeannine Hall Gailey, who previously served as the second poet laureate of Redmond, Washington, describes how reading has been a lifeline in helping her cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, can reading really address the state of anger, despair, and confusion so many of us are in? I can only say that books (along with gardening, cats, chocolate, and phone calls with friends) definitely helped me hold on to not only sanity and hope, but also serve as a reminder of why we continue to act to address injustice instead of just saying “that’s the way it’s always been.” Reading also provided a useful context to talk with family and friends who were also experiencing anxiety about politics, race, class, and fear of illness and death. Discussing books — even on social media — seems safer and more enjoyable than merely doomscrolling or rehashing whatever the day’s traumatic news cycle had revealed.

7 Inspiring and Hopeful Books to Help You Grow Through Change

“These seven stories of extreme hardships and distress all bloom into inspiring tales of immense growth.”

The title of this article expresses one of the most important reasons why we read. The list contains both fiction and nonfiction.

The Neurology of Flow States

Have you ever gotten so involved in reading a book that your sense of time passing slipped away as you became completely absorbed in the world created by the story? This experience is known as a state of flow, and it often happens to people when reading, writing, performing, or observing a performance.

During what psychologists call “flow states,” where one is completely immersed and absorbed in a mental or physical act, people often report an altered sense of time, place, and self. It’s a transportive and pleasurable experience that people seek to achieve, and that neuroscience is now seeking to understand.

For more on flow, see these posts:

woman reading

The romantic story of Menabilly – the real life inspiration for Manderley in Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’

The recent release of Netflix’s new movie based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca has created renewed interest in the writer’s life. Here’s the story behind the estate that prompted that famous opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

What’s the Science Behind Reading?

Mel Ashford provides an overview of the many benefits of reading. The article provides many links through which you can follow up on some of its claims.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Last Week's Links Publishing Reading

Literary Links

Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in “anti-intellectual times”

Thirty years ago Judith Butler published Gender Trouble, a book in which she introduced the notion of gender as performance. The book has since become “a foundational text on any gender studies reading list,” and the question of whether gender is how we act as opposed to our genetic inheritance—known as biological essentialism, or what we now refer to as sex, as opposed to gender—has spilled over from academic halls into popular culture.

Here Alona Ferber interviews Judith Butler, who is now Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at Berkeley. Butler says that any meaningful debate over trans rights “would have to reconsider the ways in which the medical determination of sex functions in relation to the lived and historical reality of gender.”

How My Reading Journal Accidentally Became a Plague Diary

Zoe Robertson originally expected her reading journal “would document my most comprehensive, most astute thoughts about the books I finished in 2020.” But as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and then continued, Robertson, who lives alone, found that her reading journal a substitute for the discussions she normally would have had with other people. As a result:

I am inclined to believe that this act of writing and containing my thoughts is a means to cure some of its secondary effects – it combats the feeling of being dissolved in the mire of everyday horror, it confirms your existence, it speaks to a side of this Hell that is needed to understand the full scope of events.

writing in a notebook

Battle Of The Books

The folks at NPR are interested in settling the months’-long debate: “What kind of books are best to read during this pandemic? Books that connect you to our current reality? Or ones that help you escape it?”

But here’s an answer from “someone who convinced us that maybe escapism versus reality is a false choice.” Here Farah Jasmine Griffin, a professor who teaches African Americal literature at Columbia University, explains why the reading lists in her classes offer a “both, and” solution, “Black authors who refuse to ignore the harshness of the world around them — but don’t ignore the beauty.”

This is a print article based on a recorded interview. There’s a link to the audiofile if you’d rather listen than read.

A Lot of Data and a Little Singing: How The Times’s Best-Seller List Comes Together

The New York Times best-seller list has long been the subject of debate in literary circles. For a long time the engine behind the list was a big, deep secret. This article explains the process: “the work of putting together the lists requires the full-time efforts of the three of us and the support of an information technology team.”

How Do Readers Rate the New York Times Best-Selling Books?

And then Book Riot chimes in: “it’s time to dig into the question that’s been on readers’ minds for decades: do readers really like the books that hit The New York Times Best Sellers lists?”

The article reports on research by SuperSummary, “an online resource that provides in-depth study guides.” The report explains how the study was done and what the major results were. It also discusses some serious limitations of the study, “the biggest of which is how biased the NYT List itself is.”

Be sure to read the whole article to understand the full complexity of such research.

In Crime Fiction, Anyone Can Be a Murderer. That’s What’s So Great About It

The subgenre of domestic suspense thrillers is full of men who treat women badly because, as author Lisa Jewell tells us, around 90% of all violent crimes are committed by men. But, she argues, “We all know men are capable of horrors, but it’s the unexpected criminals who are the most satisfying to write about and to read about. And who could be more unexpected than a woman?” 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Quotation

Quotation: In a “Post-Truth Era”

I hate the phrase “post-truth era,” but truly we’ve stopped agreeing that there is such a thing as truth and that some things are truthful and some things are facts and it’s not a matter of opinion. Opinion is one thing that’s very different from truth and, unless we all can agree that at least there’s such a thing as a provable truth that exists, then we’re in a very, very vulnerable place where we can be easily manipulated by outside forces, whether that’s for money or power or politics. To me it seemed like it was just the way all these great paranoia thrillers that I love came out in the post-Watergate era in response to that idea that institutions can’t be trusted, like All The President’s Men, The Parallax View, and Marathon Man.

Gillian Flynn

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Book Recommendations List

It’s Time for Spooky Reading

One of the reasons why we read is to practice life, to look at particular circumstances and wonder what we’d do if we found ourselves in them.

For example, I don’t think I’d ever kidnap a child. But what if someone called me and told me she had kidnapped my daughter, and to get my child back I’d have to kidnap another child to replace her? I’m pretty sure I know what I’d do: the same thing Rachel Klein does in the novel The Chain by Adrian McKinty.

And as the ghosts come out for the approach of Halloween, we get the opportunity to meet some characters, see some settings, and have some experiences we hope never to have in real life. Here are some lists to help you choose your seasonal reading while you still have some reading time before Halloween arrives.


10 Eerie Books for Autumn

48 Books That Scared the Bejesus Out of Readers

“These books are great for joining in on the autumnal fun, without reading anything too scary or gory.”

The Most Terrifying Books: 15 Titles Not for the Faint of Heart

11 of Our Favorite Horror Books

From the folks at Mental Floss: “From genre classics that should be on everyone’s list to a few offbeat entries—including a must-read comic starring a spectacularly creepy ice cream man—here are our favorite horror books you should pick up.”

The 40 Most Popular Horror Novels of the Last 5 Years

Forget Sleep. These 7 Gripping Horror Stories Will Keep You Up All Night Reading

14 Scary Books So Terrifying, Readers Wish They Never Read Them

Take that title seriously.

8 Eerie Reads From the Literary Fiction Shelves

“scary seasonal books [that] fall outside traditional horror or mystery formats.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book News Last Week's Links Publishing Reading Writing

Literary Links

How the Pandemic Has Changed Our Reading Lives

woman sitting & reading in front of book shelves

“Many of the readers who have more reading time are finding that the mental toll of current events is hurting their attention spans, or seeing their genre preferences shift and twist.”

Leah Rachel von Essen “talked to authors, book bloggers, librarians, and general readers to investigate how the anxiety and circumstances of the pandemic have changed our reading habits.”

She made some interesting discoveries, which she explains here. However the COVID quarantine has affected your reading, I bet you’ll find that many other people are having a similar experience.

Ubud writers festival still standing after COVID-19 twists the plot

If it was a book it would be a page-turner: the Australian woman living on a tropical island who founded a literary festival imperilled by terrorist attacks, smouldering volcanoes, the shadow of a massacre and a global pandemic.

Read the story of a writers festival founded in 2003, after the terrorist bombing of a nightclub in Bali.

Craft Capsule: The Art of Literary Criticism

Here’s one of the most useful expositions I’ve ever seen of how and why we read and review what we read.

Gillian Flynn on Paranoia, Conspiracy Theories, and Adding “Showrunner” to Her Resume

As every reader knows, the book is always better than the movie or TV adaptation. But this article intrigued me because it offers a new take on the subject. 

Gillian Flynn, author of Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, worked as writer and executive producer of the science fiction TV series Utopia, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. The series is adapted from Dennis Kelly’s British of the same title. Here’s what Flynn has to say about the process of creating this adaptation:

I approached Utopia the way I’ve approached all adaptations—this has to become my own. I don’t think it serves the original material by trying to be beholden to it. I don’t believe in just remaking something because the original was good. Adapt when you really know that you want to do something different or have it come to life in a different way.

So maybe instead of grousing because the movie differs from the book, we ought to look for and examine those differences. And although I haven’t read the source material for Utopia, I eagerly anticipate watching that series as soon as my husband and I finish the series we’re current bingeing on Acorn TV.

Akwaeke Emezi shuns Women’s prize over request for details of sex as defined ‘by law’

“Author, who became first non-binary trans writer to be nominated for the award in 2019, declines to submit future novels for consideration in protest.”

The controversy over inclusivity in the publishing industry continues to rage.

Hollywood has gobbled up book rights during the pandemic. Here’s why

Cover: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

If you sometimes feel compelled to try to find the silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud, this might be a good item to put at the top of your list.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Last Week's Links Literary Criticism

Literary Links

14 of the Scariest Books Ever Written

Halloween reading season is upon us. Leila Siddiqui, declaring that “as readers, we love the sensation of being scared—it is adrenaline-inducing and addictive,” offers her list of reading material for the season.

THE WOMEN WHO SHAPED THE PAST 100 YEARS OF AMERICAN LITERATURE

This article from Smithsonian Magazine spotlights a show at the National Portrait Gallery that features “such literary giants as Toni Morrison, Anne Sexton, Sandra Cisneros, Ayn Rand, Jhumpa Lahiri, Marianne Moore and Jean Kerr. Collectively, the museum notes in a statement, the women represented have won every major writing prize of the 20th century.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen, 1st Asian American Pulitzer board member, on how his new role transcends literature

Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016 for his first novel, The Sympathizer. Now the Aerol Arnold Chair of English at the University of Southern California, he has been appointed to the Pulitzer Prize Board as the first Asian American in its 103-year history.

“In all the realms of artistic productions in this country, it’s really in literature that Asian Americans have been the most prolific and successful,” said Nguyen.

What Is the Purpose of Literary Criticism?

In this partial transcript of a podcast discussion, Rumaan Alam talks with Charles Finch, author of the Charles Lenox mystery novels and the literary novel The Last Enchantments

A key part of the conversation is Finch’s notion of the purpose of literary criticism. He describes his job as a critic this way:

For me, books evoke a feeling first, and then you have to try to feel lucidly in words. When I read Ali Smith’s most recent book, it stirred up all these interesting and strange feelings in me. Then, as a critic, I had to go back and look at where I put an exclamation point in the margin, and I have to try to cobble together something lucid and intelligent and rational about that. That’s the art of criticism to me: trying to explain emotions, which, in a way, all art forms are trying to do through different means.

You’ll find a link for listening to the complete discussion if you’d like to hear more.

Thriller vs. Horror: Your Guide

With Halloween coming up, there’s a lot of discussion in literary places about thrillers and horror books. But what’s the difference between the two genres? Anna Gooding-Call offers some advice on telling them apart.

Thrillers, she says, usually build incrementally toward a climax. “Thrillers tend to be rooted in reality, albeit a reality filled with psycho killers and murderous butlers. Plot is important in a thriller, as is a good, strong villain.” But what you don’t usually find in a thriller is a ghost.

But while a thriller “builds toward a scream,” she writes, “horror is all about the background moan”: “The goal of horror is to evoke existential terror, disgust, or revulsion.” Horror characteristically features “lots of supernatural goings-on and big metaphorical statements about society.”

Gooding-Call lists a few examples of each to illustrate the difference.

With His New Mystery Novel, John Banville Kills Off a Pen Name

Here’s an interesting look at one reason why a writer might choose to publish under a pen name.

Charles McGrath describes Irish novelist John Banville as a perfectionist who typically takes “four or five painful years” to complete a novel. When, in 2005, Banville found himself writing a mystery novel, he was surprised at how quickly he was able to complete it. That novel, Christine Falls, was published under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Banville didn’t try to hide his identity as the book’s author but used a pen name to indicate that “John Banville had a dark other half who was up to something different.”

The author has published ten more books as Benjamin Black, but when his most recent novel, Snow, a mystery, is published in the U.S. next month, its author will be named on the cover as John Banville.

“What happened, Banville says, is that in rereading some of the Black books, he decided they were better than he remembered.” When he realized that he liked the Black books, he decided he no longer needed “this rascal.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: Ghosts!

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we start with The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, an appropriate choice for the Halloween season because it features ghosts.

Or does it? 

The most salient feature of James’s novella is its ambiguity. Are the ghosts the governess sees real, or are they the product of some psychological projection such as fear, prurience, desire, or repressed sexuality? About 10 years after the book’s publication James wrote that he purposely made the story so ambiguous because a shadowy picture of evil allows readers to fill in the picture with the details that frighten them the most.

Because the ghost story is pregnant with possibilities, it has a long literary history.

The American literary ghosts I love most aren’t psychological shadows—they are solid enough to slam doors. But they’re not horror movie monsters either. They’re conflicted beings with messages more complicated than the expected “avenge me” spiel; they want us to think about what it means to be a human in the world.

Amy Shearn

Here are six ghost stories that illustrate the variety of ways authors have chosen to present their ghosts. The final one is English rather than American, but it’s such a giant of the ghost-story canon that I couldn’t leave it out.

1. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James clearly follows the ghost story’s gothic origins in its use of a building where ghosts prowl. When Carly Kirk sets out to explore the disappearance of her aunt while working at the Sun Down Motel 35 years earlier, she comes up against a classic struggle of good vs. evil when two ghosts face off in a confrontation of apocalyptic proportions.

2. Sometimes a ghost gets to narrate its own story, as does Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. After being murdered at age 14, she watches from her own personal version of heaven as the police investigate the crime and as her family and friends adjust to life without her. (This book is nowhere near as ghastly as the short description might make it sound. It’s done with great sensitivity and insight.) 

3. A ghost as narrator also appears, although only sporadically, in Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake. Based on the unsolved murder of a Black woman in the 1960s in Baltimore, Lippman creates a picture of the seething social and racial tensions in the city at that time. The murdered woman is not the central figure in the story, but her ghost appears periodically to help explain the zeitgeist of the era.

4. A ghostly narrator introduces The Better Liar by Tanen Jones with this dramatic statement: “Like most of the dead, I want to be remembered.” Leslie hasn’t seen her younger sister, Robin, since Robin ran away from home 10 years earlier, at age 16. But the women’s father has stipulated in his will that the two women must appear together, in person, at his attorney’s office to receive their inheritance. Leslie, who really needs the money, sets out in search of Robin, whom she finds in a rooming house, dead from a drug overdose. But Leslie really needs that inheritance money . . .

5. C.J. Tudor uses three types of ghosts in The Other People. Driving home through rush-hour traffic one night, Gabe sees his daughter, Izzy, looking out the back window of the car in front of him. She mouths the word “Daddy,” but Gabe loses the car in the traffic. He never sees Izzy again. Gabe quits his job, buys a camper, and spends the next three years driving up and down the same stretch of highway where he last saw his daughter. Haunted by the vision of his missing daughter, Gabe himself haunts the highway and the rest areas along his route. Meanwhile, Fran and her young daughter are on the run along the same highway. Fran’s daughter, Alice, periodically falls into sessions of deep sleep during which she sees a vision of a young girl in a while dress. This is one truly haunted novel, perfect for Halloween season.

6. Sometimes what haunts a story is not some other-worldly presence, but a palpable absence. Such is the case in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, in which a second wife feels compelled to live up to the reputation of her predecessor. 

After many different types of ghosts, we’re back again to a novel chillingly haunted by the ghost of possibility. Perhaps that’s why The Turn of the Screw and Rebecca are two of the best known ghost stories in Western literature.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book News

For Banned Books Week, I read the country’s 10 most challenged books. The gay penguins did not corrupt me. – The Washington Post

Every September, I look over the new list and sigh, “How could anyone object to these great-looking books?” This year, instead of just sighing, I read all the books. The experience introduced me to some great new titles and, by implication, the anxieties of too many censorial Americans.

Source: For Banned Books Week, I read the country’s 10 most challenged books. The gay penguins did not corrupt me. – The Washington Post

Ron Charles, Washington Post book critic, on Banned Books Week.

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Book Recommendations Reading

Star Wars Reads Begins Today!

This October marks the ninth year of Star Wars Reads, a month-long celebration of Star Wars and reading.

Source: Star Wars Reads Begins Today!