Reading List: Tricksters

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Painting by Jan Matejko Stańczyk.

The trickster is an archetype that appeared in the myths of many different cultures and is still popular with writers today. These characters are rule-breakers and agents of chaos; they are often animals (e.g. foxes, crows, coyotes), travellers, or even shapeshifters able to cross boundaries between worlds. For this reason they sometimes function as a guide or messenger, like the Greek god Hermes. Characteristically, the trickster is clever and creative. They generally lie to obtain sex, food, or just to get out of something they don’t want to do, using their wit to outsmart of the Man/the Establishment/the gods/what have you.

Since they are so unpredictable and paradoxical, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what the perfect definition of a trickster is. As Lewis Hyde puts it in Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art:

[The] best way to describe trickster is to say simply that the boundary is where he will be found – sometimes drawing the line, sometimes crossing it, sometimes crossing it, sometimes erasing or moving it, but always there, the god of the threshold in all its forms.

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Reading List: Haunted Houses

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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.

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Reading List: HIV/AIDS in the United States

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Keith Haring was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1988.

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.

 

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Reading List: Campus Novels

Science fiction author Joe Haldeman once said:

Bad books on writing tell you to “WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW”, a solemn and totally false adage that is the reason there exist so many mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery.

And yes, ageing white professors cheating on their wives is definitely a recurring theme on this list – but there is also some sexual experimentation, a murder or two, slapstick comedy, and plenty of cheap wine.

In Omnia Paratus!

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Reading List: Labyrinths in Literature

There is something about mazes and labyrinths that fascinates me – the sense of mystery while you’re solving a carefully constructed puzzle, the darkness enveloping you more and more as you wander its paths… And I am not alone in this. Many authors have used labyrinths as the setting for their stories, and some have taken it even one step further, creating abstract labyrinths that only exist in the mind.

Are you ready to get lost?

Follow me.

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Reading List: Female Friendships

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Picture Credit: Bananya Stand.

In honour of Galentine’s Day (what’s Galentine’s Day? Oh, it’s only the best day of the year!), I decided to focus on a topic that is overlooked far too often in fiction: friendship between women. We all know about the Bechdel test, but try putting together a list of books where female friendship is the focus of the story, I dare you. Bonus points if the women in question are not related. It is practically impossible! That said, here are some of my favourite fictional examples of female friendship – the good and the bad. Some of these duos are attached at the hip for life, whereas other relationships go sour in the worst possible way.

If you can think of more titles, please leave a comment below!

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Reading List: True Crime

Humans are fascinated by evil. We wonder where it comes from and whether we ourselves could ever carry out such an act. Some readers turn to crime fiction for answers, while others prefer true crime. Of course, there is a vicarious frisson for the fan of either – the reader stands at the shoulder of monsters without being endangered.
Ian Rankin.

Note: I felt very uncomfortable putting this post together, but for the sake of learning more about a genre I very rarely dive into, I pushed through. Just assume that I’ve tagged this list with every single trigger warning you can think of; this is disturbing stuff. If you think this might be too much for you, it probably is.

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Reading List: Adultery In Literature

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Annie Leibovitz’s photoshoot for Vogue inspired by Edith Wharton.

As much as we love reading about how Jane Austen’s heroine’s find the perfect husband, we seem to be just as obsessed with marriages gone sour. For many writers, illicit affairs are where the real romance is. Two people throwing caution and society’s judgment to the wind because they simply cannot contain their passion anymore – what could be more thrilling than that? But what if it turns out to be a huge mistake? Is it worth the risk? Read more

Reading List: Postcolonial Rewritings of the Imperial Canon

After my reviews of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (here) and On Beauty by Zadie Smith (here), I decided to dedicate a full post to postcolonial rewritings and reworkings of the Western literary canon.

These are some works that I could think of off the top of my head, but if there are any more out there that I should know about, please let me know in the comments!

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Reading List: Death, Grief, and Mourning

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“Funeral of Atala” (1808) by Anne-Louis Girodet.

The space next to me bristles with silence. The emptiness is palpable. Loss isn’t an absence after all. It is a presence. A strong presence next to me.

Trumpet, Jackie Kay.

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