When I was a little girl, Matilda was my hero. I read the book until it started to fall apart, I had listened to the audio book so many times that I could recite entire paragraphs with the exact intonation the narrator used, and I would watch the movie any time I caught it on TV. Mara Wilson, the girl who played Matilda, was not as scruffy as I had always imagined the character to look when I read the book (too sweet, especially with that ribbon in her perfectly combed hair), but I still sighed with relief every time she got her happy ending.
(I also cried a lot when I listened to the West End cast recording of the Matilda musical for the first time, but that’s a story for another time.)
Years later, Mara Wilson rushed back into my world. She had a hilarious cameo on The Nostalgia Critic’s review of A Simple Wish, became a recurring guest star on Welcome to Night Vale as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home, and before I knew it I was scrolling through her Facebook feed, laughing at her posts. She’s funny! I’m so glad she’s funny! I found myself wondering why she had disappeared from the public eye all those years ago. One minute she was a star, and the next she was gone. What happened?
“Grief is the thing with feathers,” eh? I see what you did there.
Read me, he said.
Just because the title grabbed me? I don’t think so. Have you seen my list of books to read? Who wrote you?
I’ve never heard that name before.
I’m his first book.
Crow is an immaculate conception, a virgin birth (not that Max Porter is a virgin, although he might be, you never know).
I’ve never heard of you and I have no idea what you are. I bought three books this week that I want to read – forget it.
I can’t. I am crushed by the weight of all the books I haven’t read. Go away.
Rat-a-tat-tat. Knock. Knock.
But I’m really short. Look at me. You could finish me this afternoon if you wanted to.
Rat-a-tat-tat. BANG. BANG.
FINE. (I throw my twenty-euro bill on the counter like it has personally offended me.)
No need for that kind of violence.
Books v. Cigarettes is the second volume of essays written by George Orwell in Penguin’s Great Ideas series that I’ve read – the first one being Some Thoughts On the Common Toad (review here). Between the two, Books v. Cigarettes is easily the superior selection. As you would expect of Orwell, there is some talk of politics and totalitarianism, but he also writes about working at a bookstore and his time as a young boy at St Cyprian’s school for boys. …That said, the essay about his school days still ends up being about class differences, snobbery, and indoctrination, because of course it does. Orwell has a lot of feelings about social mobility, you guys.
Slade House initially seems like a typical horror story: an old house that is located in a place it cannot possibly be, strange disappearances, and a pair of mysterious twins with a horrible secret. However, since this is a horror story written by David Mitchell, there is more to Slade House than meets the eye at first. If you are at all familiar with his work, you know that all of his novels are connected in some way. There is an overlapping mythology, including recurring characters and concepts. Slade House takes place in this shared universe as well; you could even say that it is a missing intermezzo to 2014′s The Bone Clocks. As some of you may remember, I had some issues with that one; it was too long, too baggy, too confusing. Thankfully, it seems that Mitchell has learned from these mistakes; Slade House shines exactly where The Bone Clocks struggled – but it’s not quite there yet.
I have set three ground rules for this list:
a. The horror is either supernatural or its precise nature is left open to interpretation – nothing clearly caused by people and their madness alone. This rules out works like A Rose for Emily, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Great Expectations, and The Yellow Wallpaper.
b. The story has to take place in an actual house; no Castle of Otranto or The Shining.
c. The house is the main setting of the story and/or the horror in question is tied to the house in some way.
A couple of years ago, I was making plans for my semester abroad; I was going to study at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (go Badgers!), and it was time for me to decide which classes I wanted to enroll in. I had only one condition: I wanted to take at least one class that I would never be able to find at my own university. When I spent a semester at the National University of Ireland in Galway, I had enrolled in Irish Women’s Poetry. So what did Madison have to offer that my home base didn’t? By the end of the afternoon, I had narrowed down the list to two options,, Ghetto Literature and Literature and HIV/AIDS; on a whim, I picked the latter.
Literature and HIV/AIDS turned out to be one of the most fascinating classes I had ever taken, and I cannot even begin to tell you what an impact it has had on me. Being introduced to Angels in America alone was a lifechanging moment, as was watching the mini series with my roommates. At the end of the final lecture, students lined up to hug the professor and thank him for the experience.* I sent my mentor back in the Netherlands an e-mail and told her that I wanted to write my MA thesis on American AIDS literature. I also started a monthly donation to the largest Dutch HIV/AIDS charity, which I still support to this day.
In this post, I have made a selection from the (very, very long) resource list I had compiled while working on my MA thesis. Since my research was on works written by queer authors during the American HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 80s and 90s, that is mostly the focus of this list as well. It is far from complete, but it is a good place to start, I think. Of course I don’t expect you to read every work I’ve listed, but personally, I would strongly urge you to pick up either Tony Kushner’s Angels In America or Mark Doty’s Heaven’s Coast. These are voices that need to be heard.
*The professor’s name is Colin Gillis., the course code for Literature and HIV/AIDS is English 474, and Gillis also teaches Queer Narratives, another class I thoroughly enjoyed. Get on that, Badgers.
As a relatively new Discworld fan, I am still getting to know Pratchett’s world and the way the series operates, but after nine books I can say that I have noticed a recurring theme: Pratchett loves to take an invention/development from our own world and introduce it to the Discworld, often with hilarious results that reflect our own response back to us. Sometimes these books tie in wonderfully with the overarching plot of its respective subseries (like Men At Arms – review coming soon!), but they can also be little more than amusing filler (like Soul Music – review here).
Moving Pictures falls in the second category: witty and quotable, but ultimately skippable.
I read my first Harry Potter book when I was ten years old, and made my brother take me to the store with him to buy the second one the moment I finished it. When I was eleven, I wrote my first work of literary criticism on the series – which basically means that I looked up the meanings of the characters’ names and listed them all like a very dorky IMDB trivia page. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the first book I read entirely in English because my family was on holiday in the US when it came out and I refused to wait until the translation came out. While I was still in the middle of reading it, I left my copy on the roof of our car, and we drove off without anyone realising that I had forgotten to take it inside. I then yelled frantically at my parents until they stopped on the side of the road and let me look for it – and there it was, battered but still intact and, most importantly, still readable. The last book came out the same summer I moved across the country to study comparative literature. I remember travelling to the next town over that morning so I could be the first in line when the store opened. I giddily read the first lines while waiting for the bus back home, alone on a bench in the morning sun. I wrote my BA thesis on power, morality, and responsibility in the Harry Potter series (and got an 8.5/10 for it, thank you very much). I own a Gryffindor tie (even though I consider myself to be a Ravenclaw), a Time Turner, and a replica of Harry’s wand. Two days ago, I got my first and only tattoo – a small Deathly Hallows symbol on my wrist.
And I really wish J.K. Rowling would just stop already.
(Note: This review is full of gigantic spoilers.)
“A game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.”
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014)
At last, it is time to bring two of my interests together: literature and video games. I have tried to create a varied list of games that are either directly inspired by works of literature or are a strong narrative experience themselves. However, my own personal bias has definitely influenced what made the cut (I am all about atmosphere), not to mention the fact that I have tried to recommend only those games that I have either played myself or watched playthroughs of. That said, hopefully there will be something on this list for everybody, from the more experienced gamer to someone who is completely new to the field. Think of this list as a starting point. If you have any suggestions or recommendations that you want to share, please leave a comment below!
Note I: These games are presented in no particular order.
Note II: Take a shot every time I use the word “journey,” “experience,” or “patience.”
Note III: Take another shot when I recommend a game that features terminal illness and/or traffic accidents in some way.
Note IV: Or Troy Baker.