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  • Tara Sonin 3:30 pm on 2017/08/24 Permalink
    Tags: , cat on a hot tin roof, , , darkness and light, , , , , ha!, , , , , , ,   

    The Gothic Novel Survival Guide 

    So, you’ve found yourself in the 18th or 19th century, stuck in a gothic—or Southern Gothic!—novel. Surrounded by mysterious settings, dangerous characters and a bit of romance, these novels can prove fatal, but nothing you can’t survive, if you follow these instructions:

    1. First, are you in Europe or America?

    The Gothic genre originated in Medieval Europe with The Castle of Ontranto, the story of a man who undoes his life while trying to prevent a prophecy from coming true (think Macbeth meets Oedipus Rex) while Southern Gothic novels like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil are the American response to the popularity of this genre, and deals with the South’s blood-tainted history as a result of slavery. So, depending on where—and therefore, when— you are, you play by different rules.

    2. If you’re in Europe, figure this out first and foremost: if there’s magic, hide on the sidelines.

    Look, I’m not saying Dracula isn’t kind of sexy (especially the Gary Oldman movie version), but in the Gothic genre, magic and mystery almost always spell death. The people who survive are the ones who don’t get mixed up in it. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, wishing for eternal youth has horrific, murderous consequences when a man decides to trap his youth inside a painting, but ultimately damns his soul. (The servants survive though, so probably best to stick to the downstairs parts of the great, gothic houses.)

    3. Are you a woman? Then decide: villain, or victim?

    There are two types of women in gothic literature. There’s the mysterious, often off-the-page villainess (such as Rebecca, in the classic gothic novel about a woman unraveling the truth about her new husband’s dead first wife) and Jane Eyre (whose romantic anti-hero Rochester keeps his mentally unstable wife locked in an attic until she tries to burn their house down). But there are characters like Jane, who is in many ways a victim of circumstance—an orphan, abused, forced into a life of servitude—and Nelly, in Wuthering Heights, the narrator of the story and servant to the family. She isn’t culpable for the tragedy that ensues as a result of Catherine and Heathcliffe’s romance, but she witnesses it, and lives to tell the tale. As I said before: villains usually have a tragic end, but as far as gothic literature goes, they’re usually the most infamous (and interesting) characters.

    4. If you’re in a Southern Gothic novel, outrun your past—fast.

    In books like The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, and plays like Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the characters are obsessed with events that happened in the past that they cannot undo. If your past is haunting you, it can be almost as powerful as the magic present in the European gothic novels. For the characters in The Sound and the Fury, three brothers fixating on what happened to their youngest sister, Caddy, caused the ruin of their entire family; and in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick’s inability to confront the truth about his sexuality led to tragedy both for his marriage, and a close friend. If you’re going to survive the Gothic South, either make peace with the past, or invent yourself a new one.

    On second thought, these books may be much more fun to read than they are to live through, but with these steps, you’re primed to make it to the 21st century intact. Unless, of course, I’m one of those gothic villainesses haunting you from the shadows of your past, waiting to take you down.

    What tips would you offer someone who’s just trying to live through a gothic novel?

    The post The Gothic Novel Survival Guide appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 2:53 pm on 2017/07/19 Permalink
    Tags: be the book club you wish to see in the world, , , , ha!, , into the water, , , the jane austen book club, , wine   

    The Introvert’s Guide to Being a Book Club for One 

    Reading is usually a solitary activity (unless you live in New York City and ride the subways, in which case you have been subjected to either some deranged person reading out loud from a book or someone reading along with you over your shoulder on a packed train). That’s one reason reading remains a powerful experience—you’re not part of a hive mind audience, you’re all alone, just you and the words someone else created, crossing space and time to find you.

    Sometimes that solitude gets to be a bit much, and naturally we all have the urge to discuss the books we’ve read, to share our insights and be exposed to someone else’s (or, possibly, just to make fun of the author’s penchant for ellipses or their dreadful Marty Sue addiction). Which is fine if you’re someone who enjoys being with other people—you can join or start a Book Club. A few friends, a bottle of wine, and a book and you’re set to go.

    But what if you don’t like being with other people all that much? What if the thought of offering up an opinion on a book in front of other people makes you nervous? Well, you can still get the benefits of a Book Club all on your own. Here’s our step-by-step guide to setting up an Introvert’s Book Club.

    Step One: Choose a Book

    Obviously you can’t have a book club without a book to discuss. And you might be tempted, out of efficiency or laziness, to choose a book you’ve read already, but we advise you to read a new book for this endeavor. Reading a book knowing you’re going to Book Club it is a different experience, because you’ll be reading with a slightly sharper focus, you’ll be keeping an eye out for discussion points. And, most importantly, you won’t have the option of being lazy and assuming you’ll remember a book you read five years ago. So, pick a new book, like Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.

    Step Two: Choose a Bottle of Wine

    The biggest mistake people make when setting up a Book Club is assuming that the book is the most important aspect of the Club. This is provably false. Book Clubs are all about the free exchange of ideas and the vigorous debate concerning the artistic merit and success or lack thereof regarding a work of art. Alcohol is a helpful lubricant here, a way of loosening you up so you don’t hold back about your opinion of the flashbacks. Choose the wine (or beer or whiskey or whatever) wisely. Of course, books can help here, too; why not read up on wine in Wine by Andre Domine?

    Step Three: Make Notes
    Reading a book with an eye towards discussing it formally is different from just reading it for pleasure. Make notes as you go, circle passages that affect you, scribble insults to the author in the margins, tear out whole pages and pin them to a corkboard—whatever works for you. This isn’t just an exercise; making notes as you go will force you to read thoughtfully instead of passively. You won’t just be enjoying the flow and surprise of the story, you’ll constantly be reading between lines and making connections. Which you’ll need because of…

    Step Four: Locate Discussion Questions

    While some Book Clubs, we’re sure, become mere excuses for some friends to sit around and drink with an air of literary sophistication, the point is supposed to be to expand your understanding of the work (if you’re not certain how Book Clubs work, you can read about them in novels like The Jane Austen Book Clubextra Meta Points if you choose that for your first Book Club read). That’s where the questions come in. Some books come with Book Club Discussion Questions already worked up in the back, and many more have Book Club questions available at the author’s or publisher’s website.

    If there are no prepared questions for you to use, make your own! There are plenty of suggestions for generic Book Club questions (here’s one link), but of course since this is a One Person Book Club, you can do whatever you want, so we have a few suggestions:

    SUGGESTED GENERIC BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS

      • Did you ever experience the urge to throw this book across the room? Did you? Actually throw it, we mean? If you had the urge, but did not follow through, what restrained you?
      • At any point while reading this book, did you find yourself weeping uncontrollably? Were you on public transportation at the time? Did everyone get up and move away from you?
      • On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to anonymously leave this book on someone’s desk at work with a note suggesting they would enjoy it?
      • If this book were adapted into a film, would you totally go to that theater downtown that’s always empty at one in the afternoon, sit all the way in the back, and watch it unless some kids came in and sat near you?
      • How likely are you to a) name pets after the characters in this book; b) begin dressing like a character from this book; c) use familiarity with this book as a way of judging new people?

    Step Five: Start a Blog

    The key to a Book Club is the expression of ideas and the debate thereon. If you don’t actually comment on the book you’ve read, there really isn’t a club, not even a club of one. So, set up a blog—anonymously if you wish—to be the repository of your bookish thoughts. It doesn’t matter if anyone actually reads it. You don’t have to promote it or send out links to everyone you know. It’s just going to be where you formally organize your drunken thoughts about a book. If you keep it anonymous and turn off comments, you won’t ever even know what other people think, so you won’t have to worry about arguing with people who turn out to be tireless 15-year old trolls whose idea of fun is to argue anonymous with people until they burst into tears. Not sure how to start a blog? Luckily, there’s a book for that.

    Book Clubs can be raucous, fun gatherings of like-minded people seeking to elevate their conversation. Or, they can be one-person efforts to be more mindful of your reading. What do you say—will you start a One Person Book Club?

    The post The Introvert’s Guide to Being a Book Club for One appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Tara Sonin 4:00 pm on 2017/06/26 Permalink
    Tags: a quick bite, , bloodsuckers, , ha!, immortals after dark, interview with a vampire, , lords of the underworld, , , , the vampire diaries, , vampire academy,   

    How to Survive a Vampiric Society 

    So, you’ve gotten yourself into a bit of a (blood) bind: you’re surrounded by vampires. Be cool, stay calm, because I’ve got your trust guidebook right here for how to survive (or, succumb to, if that’s your thing) a society of vampires:

    1. Blend in with a troubled past.
    You’ll notice a trend right away, especially with societies like J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. With names like Wrath, Rhage, Rehvenge, Torhment and equally dangerous and devious pasts to match, you have to blend in with a troubled past. Are you cursed and possessed by a beast? Can you see the future but never change it? Are you on a quest for vengeance? Were you held hostage by the enemy? Whatever your past is, it can’t be sunshine and roses, because you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.

    2. Be innocent in contrast to their worldliness
    Vampires have seen the world. Odds are, you haven’t. So if a vampire like Lestat or Louis from Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice is in your midst, definitely don’t suggest that “actually Pizza wasn’t invented in Italy because they didn’t have tomatoes until the 1500’s” because they will come right back at you with the knowledge that they were there in 997 AD in Gaeta, central Italy, where it was invented, and that pizza is even referenced in the Aeneid. Instead, be charmed by their knowledge of what it was like in Ancient Rome, the Harlem Renaissance, or the Disco Age. That is, if you expect to get out with your neck intact.

    3. Are you cool with being blood-bait?
    This is a big one, and you better decide quick: are you okay with being a walking bloodbag? If not, I refer you to number 1, in which case you better come up with a reason why your blood is toxic to vamps. If you’re cool with it, though, it could actually prove handy, like it does in Vampire Academy and The Vampire Diaries, where it heals wounds and even increases the bond between two people. (And odds are if you’re in a Vampiric society, you’re going to get injured now and again.)

    4. Pick a vampire type and don’t stray.
    It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are two types of vampires: those who want to be good, and those who love being bad. To survive in a world of bloodsuckers, you have to decide where your allegiance lies…and do your best not to stray, because that just complicates things, and increases your chances of NOT surviving by a solid 60%. Learn from Sookie Stackhouse from The Southern Vampire Series, people: choosing the bad guy halfway through the journey is a recipe for disaster.

    5. Be really good at keeping secrets.
    When you join a world of vampires, your old world gets left behind. Be prepared to mourn and wrestle with whether you made the right choice in the first place, but under no circumstances should you reveal the truth to anyone around you. Even if you’re in a modern world of Vampires, threats still abound. Bella did not do a great job of keeping a low profile in Twilight, and look what happened to her! (I mean, unless you want to become a vampire with an immortal vampire baby, in which case, blab all you want, just be careful the Volturi don’t come for you.)

    6. People are going to try and kill you. Accept it.
    Speaking of the Volturi, another important piece of info: you’re a target now. Hanging out with vampires, willingly or not, makes you one. Werewolves, witches, other vampires, demons; every creature under the sun is going to want you deader-than-undead, so don’t be stupid and think you can beat them all yourself. You’ve no doubt made allies among the vampires by now (if not lovers, like in A Discovery of Witches), so as long as you’re human yourself, use them as shields. Trust me, with pecs and abs like theirs, they can take it.

    7. Sometimes, you gotta be willing to die in order to survive.
    But while all of the above is going on, you have to think of two really important things: are you willing to die for them? If you’re anything like the humans in Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, you’re willing to sacrifice everything you’ve got—including your life and soul—in order to save them, knowing you might not come back. If that doesn’t appeal to you, I refer you back to #1: blend in until you can find a moment to escape, or an ally who wants to help you, and then, run.

    8. Be willing to become one yourself.
    And the second question is, of course: do you want to be a vampire yourself? Come to think of it, how did you end up in this pickle in the first place? Was it a curiosity about the mysteries of life you couldn’t explain, like in Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld? Was it a hunger for passion that your human existence could never provide, like in A Quick Bite, by Lynsay Sands? Have you actually wanted this all along and this survival guide has just been a waste of your time? Well, in that case, just find your vampire soul-mate and join the party.

    We’ve been waiting for you.

    The post How to Survive a Vampiric Society appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Nicole Hill 4:00 pm on 2017/06/01 Permalink
    Tags: , ha!, lovecraft country, matt ruff, ,   

    The Book Nerd’s Guide to Being in Love With a Book 

    Welcome to the Book Nerd’s Guide to Life! Every other week, we convene in this safe place to discuss the unique challenges of life for people whose noses are always wedged in books. For past guides, click here.  

    Nine days out of 10, I’m inclined to agree with Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people.” On those days when the rest of the species disappoints you, it’s so natural, so easy to rely on your No. 1 coping mechanism: a good book.

    This is why I believe it is entirely possible to be in love with a book. You see, books fill a void often left by interactions in this world. Sure, what you’re reading can often tear your heart out, stomp on it, and shove it back into your chest. But it doesn’t discourage you or fill you with regret. A book’s challenges and heartbreak only make you love it more.

    Better yet, a book doesn’t discourage you from loving again. A healthy relationship with a book isn’t monogamous at all.

    I’m happy to announce I myself am in a new book relationship with the unexpected and haunting Lovecraft Country, the one-two punch of otherworldly and Jim Crow horrors you never knew you needed. Right now, I’m in the phase of the relationship where I sing its praises to everyone I meet. I want to shout from the rooftops about my undying affection for this book.

    What other phases of book love are there? Oh, I reckon you’re familiar with them, on the off chance you’ve ever loved another—homo sapien or hardback.

    Infatuation

    You see it, in the center display, among the new releases. Its striking cover catches your eye. The typography seduces you. You come closer, because you must. Once that book in is in your hands, you know it’s coming home with you, and every sentence of its backside blurb confirms for you the rightness of the situation.

    You have more errands to run once you leave the bookstore, and it drives you crazy that you can’t tear open its page right now. But you pull it out of the shopping bag and place it, regally, on the passenger seat. You want it to understand your interest.

    Casual Dating

    When you finally do get a chance to dive into your new reading relationship, the infatuation only grows. You find any and all excuses to sneak some time with your book of choice. You take up recreational bathroom breaks at work, and you upsize the clutches you take out to dinner with you so you can squeeze in some reading between courses.

    This is the stage of book love that has you sharing favorite passages on Snapchat, and your Instagram is nothing but various shots of the book in different locations: perched on your lap by the pool, swirled artistically in a blanket on the couch, peeking out from beneath your cat, etc.

    Long-Term Relationship

    You’d think that once you finish a book, your relationship with it would mostly end. Instead, it’s just the beginning of a much more serious commitment. Now you must proselytize. You must persuade the rest of the world not only of your love but of the belief that they too much love this book. You work the title into conversations entirely unrelated. You compare real-life situations to key plot points (without revealing too much, of course). You shoehorn it in as your book club’s next selection just so you can re-read it.

    Till Death Do Us Part

    There are some books you know are destined to be bequeathed in your will someday. Your grandchildren, once they have proven their merit through a series of challenges, will inherit this precious tome one day—once they pry it from your cold, dead hands.

    These are the books that inspire you to tattoo yourself with their quotations. These are the books that survive countless moves and a number of real-life relationships. These are the books whose covers are falling off because of the number of times you’ve re-read them—and the number of times the dog has yanked them off the nightstand. These are the books who understand the meaning of well-loved.

    What books have you in it for the long haul?

    The post The Book Nerd’s Guide to Being in Love With a Book appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Brian Boone 3:17 pm on 2017/03/17 Permalink
    Tags: ha!,   

    5 Recent Comic Novels That Are Hilariously Reviving the Form 

    The comic novel is not a genre as popular as it once was. This form, generally expressed in the format of a sane narrator slowly unraveling at the slowly-building chaos around them, or responding to a bunch of crazy characters or situations, had its big cultural moment in the middle of the 20th century, and were often very dry and semi-intellectual, set in semi-intellectual places like colleges, because it takes brains to have a sense of humor. But still, there are a lot of recent novels that pick up the gauntlet thrown down long ago by Kingsley Amis, Tom Robbins, and John Kennedy Toole.

    The Stench of Honolulu, by Jack Handey
    One could make an argument that Jack Handey is the greatest jokesmith of all time. He wrote for Saturday Night Live for years, most notably the recurring segment that bore his name: “Deep Thoughts.” A book of these goofy, ridiculous, and absurd pronouncements was published in the ’90s, establishing Handey’s distinct voice. (A favorite “Deep Thought”: “If you saw two guys named Hambone and Flippy, which one would you think liked dolphins the most? I’d say Flippy, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong, though. It’s Hambone.”) Handey doesn’t write for the screen much anymore, choosing instead to write comic essays (collected in What I’d Say to the Martians) and novels, such as the delightful The Stench of Honolulu. An unreliable narrator is one thing, but the first-person narrator at the center of this novel, accurately reports what’s happening, but he’s completely unaware of how incredibly stupid and destructive he is. Handey’s rhythm, which is somewhat important to comedy, is impeccable—almost every paragraph ends with a joke.

    The Terrible Two, by Mac Barnett and Jory John
    One place where the comic novel is alive and well is in the youth market. As comic novels point out the absurdity of life, life is even more absurd if you’re very young and haven’t seen much of it to form a frame of reference. So, more often than not, middle-grade novels include a robust through-line of the weird. Those huge-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are surprisingly dark—all the adults are buffoons and the narrator, Greg, is lazy, awful, and entitled. Publishers have been eager to find the next Wimpy Kid, and it just might be Mac Barnett and Jory John’s The Terrible Two series. The premise is familiar and engrossing: new kid moves to town, principal is a bad guy—but it goes in an amusingly anarchic direction, as the new kid and the narrator play elaborate, impossible to notice pranks against one other before deciding to team up and combine their powers to generate mischief of the highest order. After all, friendship is merely nihilism with high fives.

    Contemptible Blue, by Lucas Gardner
    Another kind of comic novel is the one that makes fun of other novels, and that turns literary conventions on their heads, providing at least two or three levels of comedy. It’s dizzying when done well, like in Contemptible Blue. It’s about a lame, boring guy who is very sad about being lame and boring and winds up reading Moby Dick. Well, he skims it, absorbing just enough information to re-brand himself “Captain Fortnight” and set a course for a life of adventure as a whaling boat commander. His white whale is actually blue, the one of the title, who is at least 500 years old and possibly immortal. The premise is funny, and the jokes are non-stop.

    Skunks Dance, by St. John Karp
    A good comic novel has to have that bit of ongoing madness at its core, but it also needs quirk and uniqueness from which it can derive humor and jokes. There’s a ton of this in Skunks Dance. One timeline involves Gold Rush-era California, and the timeless story of how one man done another man wrong by robbing a bank with his identity and then making him wear a tutu in a one-man play. The other timeline is about present-day teenagers trying to find the treasure left behind in the first timeline. If you love books with Western themes, clever teens, and crime fiction involving bizarre explosions, this should suit you just fine, pardner.

    Sweetness #9, by Stephan Eirik Clark
    This book doesn’t contain the kind of humor that one would call “ha-ha” humor or “laugh out loud comedy.” It’s more funny in the existential meaning of the word, in that life is meaningless and absurd, and whether you try or don’t try, you’re ultimately doomed. LOL. Clark’s Sweetness #9 is about a very well-meaning guy who, decades ago, helped invent food additives and sweeteners that in the 1970s seemed like godsends but ultimately turned out to be at least mildly toxic. What transpires is a darkly comic novel about cosmic guilt.

    What are your favorite comic novels?

    The post 5 Recent Comic Novels That Are Hilariously Reviving the Form appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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