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  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/10/30 Permalink
    Tags: beloved, bentley little, bird box, blindness, , carrion comfort, , , , dathan auerbach, dawn, , exquisite corpose, , ghost story, , hell house, , , , jack ketchum, jose saramago, josh malarian, koji suzuki, lionel shriver, , , , , , penal, , peter straub, poppy z. brite, ramsey campbell, , richard matheson, ring, rosemary’s baby, scott smith, , something wicked this way comes, , the face that must die, the girl next door, , the ruins, the walking, , , we need to talk about kevin,   

    25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever 

    Literature can be a moving, beautiful artistic experience. Skilled writers can bring us face to face with scenarios and emotions we might never encounter in real life, expanding our understanding of both the universe and our fellow man.

    It can also scare the living daylights out of us. Horror novels don’t always get the respect they deserve; just because something is scary doesn’t mean it’s not “literary” or well-crafted art, but if the core purpose of a story is perceived to be “making you soil yourself in fear” for some reason that story won’t get much respect. Of course, a story can be terrifying without necessarily being great art. If your goal is to be so terrified of a book that you put it in the freezer and book a hotel room for a few days, here are twenty-five books that might not necessarily be the best horror novels, but are certainly the scariest.

    Literally Everything Edgar Allan Poe Wrote
    Poe had a knack for infusing everything he wrote with visceral dread. His characters and narrators tend towards the mentally fragile and the insane, people who are haunted by things that might be literal or might be manifestations of their unsound thought processes. Either way, stories like The Tell-Tale Heart or The Cask of Amontillado retain their power to petrify more than a century-and-a-half after their publication because Poe tapped into the fundamental fear we all have that the world and people around us are not what they seem.

    House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
    Put simply, House of Leaves is one of the most frightening books ever written. From a fairly standard horror premise (a house is revealed to be slightly larger on the inside than is strictly possible) Danielewski spins out a dizzying tale involving multiple unreliable narrators, typographic mysteries, and looping footnotes that manage to drag the reader into the story and then make them doubt their own perception of that story. It’s a trick no one else has managed to such dramatic effect, making this novel more of a participatory experience than any other work of literature—which, considering the dark madness at its core, isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience.

    Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
    The film adaptation has supplanted the novel in pop culture, but the novel was a huge hit for Levin—and the film actually sticks to the plot and dialog so closely you really do get a feel for the novel from watching it. The story of a young woman who becomes pregnant after a nightmare gets its terror not from the well-known twist of the baby’s parentage (hint: not her husband), but from the increasing isolation Rosemary experiences as her suspicions about everyone around her grow. So many threads tie into the terror, from the emotional and economic uncertainty of a struggling young couple to the simple fear any mother has for their child, all expertly knotted into a story that will keep you awake at night.

    The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
    When you think about clichés in horror fiction, the haunted house is at the top of the list, an idea done so often it’s frequently an unintentional parody. Shirley Jackson, however, was no ordinary writer, and she takes the concept of the haunted house and perfects it. The Haunting of Hill House is simply the best haunted house story ever written. The scares come not just from the malevolent actions of a house that seems sentient and angry, but from the claustrophobia we experience from the novel’s unreliable narrator, Eleanor, whose descent into madness is slow and excruciating and only begins after we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the seeming relatability of her early persona.

    Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
    The great sage Pat Benatar once sang that hell is for children. Golding’s account of children stranded on an island without supplies or adult supervision is absolutely terrifying for one simple reason: there’s nothing supernatural going on. It’s a story about insufficiently socialized humans descending into savagery because that’s our fundamental nature. You look into the abyss at the center of this novel and the abyss looks back.

    We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
    Another story centered on the terror of children, the horror inherent in this story comes from the fact that the human beings we create eventually become their own people—and possibly strangers to us. Not everyone has a close and loving relationship with their parents, and while the idea that your own kids might grow up to be criminals isn’t pleasant, most people assume they will at least recognize themselves in their kids. But what if you don’t? What if your child—your child—is a blank monster?

    Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
    In the Internet Age it’s pretty easy to fall down a rabbit hole of pop culture obsession, and there are still dark areas of culture that haven’t had a wiki created around them. Pessl’s story about a mysterious underground filmmaker whose movies may or may not contain hints of dark power and horrific events and the journalist who becomes obsessed with him asks the reader how you can be certain there’s a clear line between fact and fiction, then, once that wedge of doubt is established, presents a terrifying fiction to fill that space.

    Ring, by Kōji Suzuki
    The novel that inspired the horror films of the same name, the premise is well-known: anyone who watches a mysterious videotape of creepy images is informed that they will die in seven days—and then they die. The investigation into the tape and how to avoid this grim fate leads to what remains an incredibly shocking backstory involving rape, smallpox, and a forgotten well. Technology has shifted, but the terror never really relied on VHS tapes—it’s the concept that ideas can be deadly, that simply by experiencing something you can be doomed, that’s so horrifying.

    Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach
    Pivoting on the idea that we’re often blinded by the details we can see, making it impossible to see the bigger picture, Auerbach’s debut began life as a series of creepypasta stories on the Internet. The episodic nature of the story is ideal for the effect he achieves; the narrator tells of being a young boy and sending a penpal request attached to a balloon with his classmates, including his best friend Josh. He doesn’t receive a response until nearly a year later, and his life takes a turn for the bizarre shortly afterwards. A series of tragic and strange things happen to him and everyone around him, building a sense of dread that is only increased when the truth is revealed.

    Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons
    Simmons’ novel follows several groups of people who have The Ability, a psychic power that allows them to take control of others from a distance and force them to perform any action. When one of their puppets murders someone, the person with The Ability is invigorated and strengthened. Simmons doesn’t shy away from the implications of this power on history and the future, and the book will destroy any sense of security you have in the world around you, revealed to possibly be simply a worldwide board game for those who can control us all like pawns.

    Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
    Several of King’s books could be on this list, but he frequently blunts the terror of his stories with the richness and humanity of his characterizations and the sprawl of his narratives. Pet Sematary manages to be his most terrifying novel by dint of its simple, devastating concept: a magical cemetery where buried things come back to a sort-of life—but aren’t quite what they once were. From that simple idea King ramps up to a climax that gets under your skin in a fundamental way most horror stories fail to.

    The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum
    Horror often pivots on the corruption or warping of societal norms and rules; once you feel like you can’t rely on the natural social order, literally anything is possible. Ketchum’s disturbing novel about the unimaginable abuse suffered by two sisters when they are forced to live with their mentally unstable aunt and her three savage sons is based on real events, but it’s the central theme of an adult giving official sanction to the atrocities that makes this story so utterly horrifying.

    Blindness, by Jose Saramago
    Helplessness is a key factor in a lot of horror; most people labor under the delusion that they are in charge of their destiny and their lives, and horror is often effective simply by reminding us how little control we actually have. An epidemic of blindness leaves an entire city’s population secluded in a mental institution as society within and without crumbles. The brutality and descent into animalistic madness is all too realistic, and Saramago manages to capture the terrifying confusion and helplessness experienced by people in a society that no longer functions.

    Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
    McCarthy’s entire writing style and technique is terrifying; the man could write a grocery list that leaves the reader dripping with dread. This tale of extreme, ruthless, and pervasive violence in the American west emerges from under a sheen of the unreal to become all too real, and the greatest trick McCarthy manages here is by making the single most terrifying aspect of the story—the main character’s death—the one act of brutality he doesn’t depict, leaving the terrors contained within that scene to our imagination—which is infinitely worse than anything he might have conjured.

    Exquisite Corpse, by Poppy Z. Brite
    Brite’s most famous novel follows two serial killers who initially aim to kill each other but, upon discovering a fellow traveler, instead engage in a spree of horrific sex and murder. The matter-of-fact way the pair concocts a plan to kidnap, torture, and then consume a beautiful gay man named Tran is the sort of stuff that could simply be shocking, but Brite continuously considers the value of existence and what we could all be doing with the time we have left—time we too often imagine to be infinite when, of course, we’re all going to be consumed someday by something.

    Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
    Bradbury’s epic rumination on childhood and adulthood tells the story of a magical circus come to a small town, offering the residents dark gifts they weren’t aware they wanted—most notably the carousel that can change your physical age, making boys who yearn to be adults grow older, and middle-aged men and women who yearn for their lost youth to grow younger. Bradbury knows the worst horror in the world is losing the natural order of your life, and perfectly captures the combination of dread and excitement everyone experiences as they crack the mysteries separating them from adulthood.

    Hell House, by Richard Matheson
    What Matheson taps into in this classic haunted house story is the universal fear that we are already lost, already broken. Hired to investigate the existence of an afterlife by exploring the notoriously haunted Belasco House, a team moves in and slowly succumbs to the influence of the entity within—an entity that only uses their own weaknesses and secret shames against them. Their descent into the depths of horror is too close for comfort as a result—for everyone reading the book knows all too well that they have weaknesses, and secret shames, as well.

    The Face That Must Die, by Ramsey Campbell
    Campbell wrote a number of books that are absolutely terrifying, but this one stands out in the way he forces the reader to completely inhabit the mind of a very sick man, Horridge. As he fixates on an overweight man living in his neighborhood, the reader is forced to see the world consistently through his eyes. Everything is off-beat, everything drips with ominous meaning and horrific intent. Horridge sees the entire world as a horror that must be destroyed, and for a while the reader is carried along on that uncomfortable point of view, leaving them exhausted and terrified.

    Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
    Told in alternating chapters that depict a group of aspiring writers voluntarily secluded in an unusual writer’s retreat and the stories they’re writing, Haunted not only contains one of the most disturbing short stories ever published (“Guts,” which caused several people to faint when Palahniuk read it in public) it’s also a deep dive into madness as the reality-TV obsessed characters start sabotaging their experiment in a quest for fame. The sense of suffocating dread that Palahniuk applies grows so incrementally you don’t notice it until you suddenly realize you’ve been holding your breath for five pages.

    Dawn, by Octavia Butler
    Although technically science fiction, this story of the human race centuries after a devastating apocalypse is straight terror in many ways. Lilith is one of the last surviving humans, awakened on an alien ship. The aliens, three-sexed and many-tentacled, offer Lilith a deal: they will help her repopulated the Earth, but their price is to breed with humanity to gain humanity’s “talent” for cancer (and the creative possibilities it offers) while blunting their self-destructive tendencies. The horror imbued in each page is subtle, but it exerts tremendous mental pressure as you progress through the story.

    The Walking, by Bentley Little
    Far from just another tale of zombies, Little’s story of a man whose father rises from death after a stroke sizzles with a sense of doom long before the reader understands what’s at stake. Discovering that many families are hiding zombie relatives, and have been for some time, private investigator Miles Huerdeen digs into the mystery—and what he finds is easily the scariest stuff about zombies you’ll ever read. If you watch zombie movies and shows and laugh at their shuffling, mindless threat, this book will change your mind.

    The Ruins, by Scott Smith
    Smith’s story is deceptively simple: a group of tourists in Mexico go off in search of an archaeological site where a friend has set up camp; they find a pyramid covered in odd vines, the land around it salted and barren. Once on the pyramid, they discover the dead body of their friend, covered in the vines, and that the nearby villagers have arrived with guns to force them to remain on the pyramid. The vines are one of those simple monsters that seem so easy to defeat at first blush, yet the inexorable doom that descends on the characters slowly, grindingly proves otherwise.

    Bird Box, by Josh Malerman
    Malerman’s intense story of a world that slowly crumbles as people go murderously insane after seeing mysterious creatures—referred to simply as The Problem—is so scary because the reader only has the information that the characters have, and that’s not much. The world collapses and the survivors can only seal themselves off from the outside and try to avoid the worst, leading to a torturous wearing down of hope that leaves the reader defenseless against the horrible images Malerman conjures.

    Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
    A good old-fashioned ghost story is designed to terrify and entertain, and Straub’s breakthrough novel does both. Five old friends gather regularly to trade ghost stories, but when one of them dies mysteriously and the survivors begin to dream of their own deaths, a secret from their past is revealed—and the simple pleasures of a ghost story are explored to their most frightening ends by a master of the form.

    Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    If you don’t think of Beloved as a horror story, you haven’t been paying attention. Morrison’s skill as a writer is in full effect as she draws the reader into what is assuredly one of the saddest and most horrifying stories committed to paper. There’s no more terrifying sequence than the long slide into madness as escaped slave Sethe, convinced the young woman calling herself Beloved is the daughter she murdered in an attempt to keep her safe from slavers come to reclaim them, grows steadily thinner and weaker as she gives everything she has—including food—to Beloved, who grows steadily larger.

    Did we leave off any truly terrifying books? Let us know in the comments.

    The post 25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 9:00 pm on 2016/04/11 Permalink
    Tags: , beloved, , , iron man, ,   

    10 Fictional Characters Based on Real People 

    The dirty secret of some fiction is that it’s less, well, fictional than we imagine. Behind every soaring flight of fancy, you’ll find grueling research, direct experience, and, sometimes, real human beings who inspired our favorite characters. While discovering your favorite author isn’t above nicking from real life might be deflating, the trade off is realizing some of the most amazing characters from fiction actually existed, which is kind of like discovering magic is real. Here are 10 fictional characters you might be surprised to discover were based on very real people (or majestic beasts).

    Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
    The most well-known—and creepiest—literary inspiration might be Alice Liddell, who, at the age of 10, met Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (under the pen name Lewis Carroll). Dodgson became quite close with the Liddell family, especially young Alice, for whom he wrote the original story. The author took countless photographs of the young girl before abruptly breaking off his friendship with the family (or was it the other way around?) in 1863, when Alice was 11 years old. Liddell went on to marry into money and became a celebrated society figure, though she was forced to sell the original Dodgson manuscript at auction in later years to pay her bills.

    Moby Dick from Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
    That much of Moby Dick is based on actual, real-life stuff shouldn’t be a surprise; much of the novel reads like a 19th-century guide to the whaling industry. But the motif of the “white whale” that the obsessed Captain Ahab pursues to his doom seems so, well, literary that it must be made-up—except it isn’t. There really was a white whale (called Mocha Dick) famous for being a ferocious fighter as well as an unusually large and aggressive example of his species. While not the only white whale known to captains at the time, it’s almost certain Melville took inspiration from this actual creature. Mocha Dick was reportedly finally killed in 1838, although there was an alleged sighting a decade later, so who knows?

    Sethe from Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    Anyone who has read Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel likely had to compose themselves after the revelation of the shattering backstory of the main character, Sethe, an escaped slave who (spoiler alert!) killed her two-year-old daughter rather than see her snatched back to the plantation. The emotional response grows only more powerful when you learn Sethe was based on a slave named Margaret Garner, who fled from Kentucky to Ohio when one of the coldest winters in recorded history froze the Ohio River solid enough to serve as an escape route. When slave-catchers surrounded the house she had barricaded herself in, she did in fact kill her daughter, and when captured, was in the process of killing her other children in order to spare them a life of slavery. Margaret never stood trial; returned to her owners in Kentucky, she was moved frequently in a successful effort to hide her from the Northern authorities.

    Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
    J.K. Rowling based everyone’s favorite Slytherin on one of her former teachers, John Nettleship, who was surprised to learn of his role in the literary juggernaut. Nettleship, who passed away in 2011, was quoted as saying he was “horrified” when he heard what he’d inspired, saying, “I knew I was a strict teacher, but I didn’t think I was that bad.” He admitted he was “a short-tempered chemistry teacher with long hair…[and a] gloomy, malodorous laboratory,” and thus could see the connection. Considering Snape is arguably one of the most complex and interesting characters of all time, it’s not a bad legacy.

    Iron Man
    Comic books frequently borrow from real life in order to fuel their stories, but it’s usually a little less obvious than with everyone’s favorite billionaire-playboy-superhero. Tony Stark is based (very obviously) on Howard Hughes; the connection makes a little more sense when you consider that Iron Man made his debut in 1963, when Hughes was still years away from his sad, insane end. Back then, he was the eccentric, outspoken billionaire who invented technologies in a variety of fields. It probably wouldn’t have surprised anyone if the man who built the Spruce Goose had suddenly shown up to a press conference wearing a flying suit of armor.

    Hazel Grace Lancaster from The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
    No one who reads The Fault in Our Stars finishes it with a dry eye, and the feels become nearly unbearable when you learn that Hazel was inspired by an girl named Esther Earl, diagnosed with terminal cancer when she at the age of 13. Earl met the author online and the two began a correspondence, and later met at a con. While Hazel isn’t meant to literally be Esther, it’s clear she is the basis for the character, and one reason why Green’s portrayal of Hazel is so moving, and so real. Esther was a talented, spirited girl whose YouTube channel remains up and accessible, and whose writings were collected into the book This Star Won’t Go Out, published posthumously in 2014.

    Dean Moriarity from On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
    One of the best-known real people in a novel is Neal Cassady, the counter culture icon who was the basis for Dean Moriarity in On the Road (and who appears in other books, most notably The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test). In fact, this hardly counts as a secret, as the character was actually called Neal Cassady in the original draft. Cassady has a near-epic ability to sow enjoyable chaos in his own life and in the lives he touched, and his death, likely from exposure after he passed out in the open country, remains both tragic and totally fitting for a larger-than-life character.

    Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    There are certain characters so firmly entrenched in the culture, it’s almost impossible to imagine the world that spawned them. Hester Prynne, central character of Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter, stems from a distant past (where names like “Hester” weren’t considered weird), and it’s a shock to realize she was probably inspired by a real person: Elizabeth Pain, a woman who had a child out of wedlock and was later accused of murdering that child. Although acquitted, she was convicted of negligence and sentenced to pay a fine and to receive a flogging (ah, the good old days). For an eerie moment, go find her tombstone in Boston and read the ending of the novel, and realize you’re looking at the same grave that Hawthorne is describing.

    Popeye
    Popeye the Sailor Man is a ridiculous figure: always chomping on a corncob pipe, always wearing his jaunty sailor hat, and such a slave to rage (and spinach) that when he’s not speaking authentic shanty gibberish, he’s beating everyone to a pulp. Obviously the creation of a fevered Prohibition-era brain desperate for alcohol, right? Except, the creator of Popeye, Elzie Crisler Segar, lived in Chester, Illinois, where a man named Frank “Rocky” Fiegel lived. Fiegel chomped on a pipe, wore a jaunty hat, and was constantly fighting with anyone who looked at him funny, often taking on multiple opponents. Fiegel is widely believed to be the inspiration for Popeye, and his grave even features an image of the character.

    Dill Harris from To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    With the passing of Harper Lee this year, many readers discovered and re-discovered the joys of her remarkable 1960 novel . Berkeley Breathed even published a special Bloom County cartoon informing us that while everyone always thought Harper was the basis for Scout, he believed she was actually the basis for Boo Radley, the shy, disturbed, and ultimately heroic recluse living next door to the Finches. But Lee probably did see herself in Scout, because she blatantly based the character of Dill, Scout’s best friend and asserted future husband, on her own bestie, Truman Capote. To be fair, Capote could also have been the basis for Boo. Let’s just face it: we’re all Boo to some extent.

     
  • Jenny Shank 6:30 pm on 2015/10/20 Permalink
    Tags: , beloved, , , , song of solomon, , ,   

    Where to Start Guide: Toni Morrison 

    The incomparable Toni Morrison looms large in American literature. She’s the only living American novelist who has won the Nobel Prize in literature, and only the second American female writer to ever win it. Other honors for her 11 novels include the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Morrison’s reputation for genius can make her work seem unapproachable if you’ve never read her before, but it would be a shame to miss out on this singular storyteller, whose lyrical prose feels like it has a live current of electricity running through it. If you’ve never read Morrison, or are looking to explore more of her work, try these five can’t-miss books.

    The Bluest Eye
    Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, in 1931, and her first novel, set in her hometown, might offer first-time readers the best entry to her world. “Quiet as it’s kept,” Morrison writes, “there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not grow.” The story of 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove, a confused, mistreated African American girl who wishes for eyes as blue as Shirley Temple’s, was revolutionary when it hit bookstores in 1970, and remains startling for the depth of its revelations.

    Beloved
    Morrison’s riveting 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner is the novel that shows off the most of her gifts at once: her poetic prose that almost seems as though it’s meant to be sung, her fierce storytelling instincts, her ability to channel folklore and history into a tale all her own, and her knack for creating an unconventional structure that underscores the impact of the story. This harrowing novel, set after the Civil War, concerns a ghost named Beloved who haunts her mother, Sethe, a woman who killed her child rather than let her be taken into captivity by a posse seeking runaway slaves in 1856.

    Song of Solomon
    Next to Beloved, Song of Solomon is probably Morrison’s most lauded book, winning the National Book Critics Circle award and a boost from Oprah’s Book Club decades after its publication. This novel is one of Morrison’s only books to feature a male protagonist, the unforgettable Macon “Milkman” Dead III, so named because he kept breastfeeding long past babyhood and was teased for it. In this coming-of-age story set in Michigan, Macon must navigate the complications of growing up as a black man in America, including a rift between his parents and a young woman’s obsessive, unrequited love for him.

    Jazz
    Morrison’s Jazz hasn’t gotten as much attention as some of her other books, but it’s a favorite of mine, in part because of its fascinating setting: Harlem in the 1920s. Morrison incorporates rhythms of African American music into the book’s structure. It opens with its narrator discussing a bit of neighborhood gossip, the sad tale of doomed love at the novel’s heart: “He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going.” The language in Jazz is as sensuous as the passions are unbridled.

    God Help The Child
    The 84-year-old Morrison isn’t ready to retire to the literary hall of fame just yet. She remains a working writer publishing accomplished novels just as frequently in the ninth decade of her life as she did during the stunning beginning of her career. God Help The Child tells the story of Bride, a woman whose light-skinned mother rejected her because she was born “midnight black, Sudanese black.” Bride tries to attract her mother’s attention any way she can, and ends up accusing an innocent person of a crime. When Bride grows up, she tries to make amends for her lie, drives off her lover with a revelation, and then sets out to regain him. Morrison’s writing feels loose and fresh in this novel, as she delves into magical realism. “What you do to children matters,” Morrison writes, underscoring a theme to be found in many of her novels, “And they might never forget.”

     
  • Jenny Shank 6:30 pm on 2015/10/20 Permalink
    Tags: , beloved, , , , , ,   

    Where to Start Guide: Toni Morrison 

    The incomparable Toni Morrison looms large in American literature. She’s the only living American novelist who has won the Nobel Prize in literature, and only the second American female writer to ever win it. Other honors for her 11 novels include the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Morrison’s reputation for genius can make her work seem unapproachable if you’ve never read her before, but it would be a shame to miss out on this singular storyteller, whose lyrical prose feels like it has a live current of electricity running through it. If you’ve never read Morrison, or are looking to explore more of her work, try these five can’t-miss books.

    The Bluest Eye
    Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, in 1931, and her first novel, set in her hometown, might offer first-time readers the best entry to her world. “Quiet as it’s kept,” Morrison writes, “there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not grow.” The story of 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove, a confused, mistreated African American girl who wishes for eyes as blue as Shirley Temple’s, was revolutionary when it hit bookstores in 1970, and remains startling for the depth of its revelations.

    Beloved
    Morrison’s riveting 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner is the novel that shows off the most of her gifts at once: her poetic prose that almost seems as though it’s meant to be sung, her fierce storytelling instincts, her ability to channel folklore and history into a tale all her own, and her knack for creating an unconventional structure that underscores the impact of the story. This harrowing novel, set after the Civil War, concerns a ghost named Beloved who haunts her mother, Sethe, a woman who killed her child rather than let her be taken into captivity by a posse seeking runaway slaves in 1856.

    Song of Solomon
    Next to Beloved, Song of Solomon is probably Morrison’s most lauded book, winning the National Book Critics Circle award and a boost from Oprah’s Book Club decades after its publication. This novel is one of Morrison’s only books to feature a male protagonist, the unforgettable Macon “Milkman” Dead III, so named because he kept breastfeeding long past babyhood and was teased for it. In this coming-of-age story set in Michigan, Macon must navigate the complications of growing up as a black man in America, including a rift between his parents and a young woman’s obsessive, unrequited love for him.

    Jazz
    Morrison’s Jazz hasn’t gotten as much attention as some of her other books, but it’s a favorite of mine, in part because of its fascinating setting: Harlem in the 1920s. Morrison incorporates rhythms of African American music into the book’s structure. It opens with its narrator discussing a bit of neighborhood gossip, the sad tale of doomed love at the novel’s heart: “He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going.” The language in Jazz is as sensuous as the passions are unbridled.

    God Help The Child
    The 84-year-old Morrison isn’t ready to retire to the literary hall of fame just yet. She remains a working writer publishing accomplished novels just as frequently in the ninth decade of her life as she did during the stunning beginning of her career. God Help The Child tells the story of Bride, a woman whose light-skinned mother rejected her because she was born “midnight black, Sudanese black.” Bride tries to attract her mother’s attention any way she can, and ends up accusing an innocent person of a crime. When Bride grows up, she tries to make amends for her lie, drives off her lover with a revelation, and then sets out to regain him. Morrison’s writing feels loose and fresh in this novel, as she delves into magical realism. “What you do to children matters,” Morrison writes, underscoring a theme to be found in many of her novels, “And they might never forget.”

     
  • Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick 5:00 pm on 2014/09/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , beloved, , , , heroines, the awakening, the golden compass, , , ,   

    Our Favorite Heroines of Banned Books 

    Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also RisesBeing a character in a banned book is no joke—you’re dealing with enough sex, drugs, and violence to find yourself kicked off of library shelves around the world. We hear about the male rebels, the Holden Caulfields and the Jay Gatsbys of the literary world. But what about their equally badass female counterparts? We’re tired of seeing our favorite banned heroines left out of the spotlight. So, to celebrate Banned Book Week, we’re showcasing nine of the most badass ladies in all of banned literature. These women have the spunk, courage, and strength to keep up with any male character, patriarchy be damned. 

    Jordan Baker, The Great Gatsby
    The ladies of The Great Gatsby get a bad reputation, mostly because both Daisy and Myrtle are a little bit crazy. In fact, their antics tend to make readers forget about the most badass woman in the entire novel. In the 2013 film adaptation of the novel, Nick describes Jordan as “the most terrifying woman I had ever seen,” and her literary counterpart is no less terrifying and fantastic. A golfer with a scandalous background and no time for Nick’s nonsense, it’s a shame to see her thrown over at the end of the novel. She could have whipped our incredibly neurotic narrator into shape. Can we have more Jordan and less Daisy, please?

    Sethe, Beloved
    Sethe’s unbelievable strength in the face of evil makes her deserving of some major recognition. Her actions against the young Beloved don’t stem from a place of violence, but rather one of desperation and, ultimately, love. How many would have the courage to do what she did to keep her daughter from a life of slavery?

    Lady Brett Ashley, The Sun Also Rises
    Has anyone who had to read The Sun Also Rises in high school not felt the need to bow down to queen bitch Lady Brett Ashley? With her short hair and free-spirited sexuality, it’s no wonder Jake can’t help loving and losing this thoroughly modern woman. Plus, she says one of the most badass lines in all of Hemingway: “You know, it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch.” Doesn’t it though, Brett?

    Dewey Dell, As I Lay Dying
    It’s not easy being seventeen and pregnant, especially when you’re a main character in a Faulkner novel. But Dewey Dell doesn’t just sit around and accept her bad luck, instead attempting to take ownership of her body and her destiny. The fact that she’s beaten down by male interference only shows how tough she is to be fighting against a patriarchy much stronger than she is.

    Edna Pontellier, The Awakening
    Edna has always been a pretty polarizing character, but whether you love or hate her, you can’t deny her a place on a list of female badasses. Edna not only embraces her sexuality, but spurns the female stereotypes held by her community, moving into her own home and abandoning a maternal role that never fit her. She shows readers that there is no “normal” woman, no mold one has to fit in to claim that title.

    Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale
    We all agree that The Handmaid’s Tale is a terrifying book, right? So any lady that manages to live through that dystopia has to be one tough cookie. Offred is forced to face the probable murder of her husband and the loss of her daughter, and still finds the strength to fight against an oppressive regime that attempts to take away the rights of all women. Offred, you go, girl.

    Sam, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Sam, the girl with the past. What might be most refreshing about her is her honesty and her strength. She doesn’t deny the things she’s done, but tries to grow from them. Her acceptance of her flaws make her an incredibly vulnerable, and therefore entirely relatable, character. Plus, how relatable was this quote, when she called Charlie out on his crap? “It’s just that I don’t want to be somebody’s crush. If somebody likes me, I want them to like the real me, not what they think I am. And I don’t want them to carry it around inside. I want them to show me, so I can feel it too.” Preach, girl.

    Lyra, The Golden Compass
    She may be the youngest on this list, but she probably has more spunk than the rest of these ladies combined. She has a blatant disregard for authority, she risks her life to save her friends, and she becomes partners with a bloodthirsty polar bear. EVEN AN ARMOURED BEAR LISTENS TO HER. What could be more badass than all that?

    Did your favorite badass make the cut?

     
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