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In the Future, the Year 2000… :Thoughts on Science Fiction

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Can you believe we’re living in The Future? For decades, the year 2000 seemed impossibly far away. Folks imagined that, by now, we’d have robot teachers and colonies on Mars, and the end of all disease. Companies would add the number “2000” after model numbers to connote cutting-edge technology from the bright, distant horizon. Marty McFly’s 2015 was a land of flying cars, expanding pizza, and self-tying shoes. (And fax machines. Fax machines were everywhere.)

Some of those visions for the future were spot on; others now seem charmingly out-of-date; and we’re still waiting for many of the rest to be invented. But isn’t it fantastic how often we hear about inventions that were inspired by Science Fiction? If “[science] is magic that works,” as Kurt Vonnegut says in Cat’s Cradle, then Science Fiction is the root of much of that magic. Imagination becomes ideas, which in turn become experiments. Experiments lead to discoveries, then inventions, and ultimately to the commonplace wonders we take for granted: such as the submarine (Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), the cell phone (the direct descendent of the “communicator” from the original Star Trek series), and even nuclear power (H.G. Wells’ The World Set Free). [1]

Wait. A fiction writer born in the 1800s gave the world the idea for nuclear power? It’s true! Decades after its publication, a scientist named Leo Szilard “read [The World Set Free] and was immediately inspired to create what Wells had dreamed up” – for better or for worse. [2] And when a teenaged Robert H. Goddard read Wells’ The War of the Worlds, it set him on a path of “research [that] culminated with the Apollo program, and man’s landing on the moon.” [3] So there’s an undeniable link between the Science Fiction genre and humanity’s incredible achievements. Keep that in mind the next time your friends give you a hard time for being a sci-fi geek!

Another cool thing about the sci-fi genre is that it often combines elements of many other genres, as well. There’s sci-fi horror, sci-fi thriller, sci-fi mystery, sci-fi romance… You get it. So, without further ado, I’m going to leave you with a great list of Science Fiction authors (many of them you’ll find on our genre bookmarks in the library), titles of some of their works, and sometimes the additional genres that come into play. (For example, when you see “humor,” think of it as “sci-fi + humor,” and so on.)

AUTHORS

  • Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (humor)
  • A. American – Survivalist series (pulpy but fun)
  • Charlie Jane Anders – All the Birds in the Sky
  • Hiromu Arakawa – Fullmetal Alchemist (manga)
  • Catherine Asaro – Quantum Rose
  • Isaac Asimov – Foundation series; Galactic Empire series; Robot series
  • Gertrude Barrows Bennett – Citadel of Fear (under pseudonym “Francis Stevens”)
  • Alfred Bester – The Stars My Destination (cyberpunk); The Demolished Man
  • Leigh Brackett – The Long Tomorrow
  • Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles; The Veldt (short story)
  • Octavia E. Butler – Xenogenesis series
  • Pat Cadigan – Synners (cyberpunk)
  • Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game series (YA)
  • Margaret Cavendish – The Blazing World (published in 1666!)
  • Becky Chambers – A Closed and Common Orbit
  • C. L. Cherryh – Downbelow Station
  • Arthur C. Clarke – 2001: A Space Odyssey (there are four books in the series); Childhood’s End
  • Ernest Cline – Ready Player One; Armada
  • Peter Clines – 14 (mystery, horror, paranormal); The Fold (thriller)
  • Michael Crichton – Sphere (psychological thriller); Jurassic Park; Prey
  • Philip K. Dick – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Ubik; A Scanner Darkly (police procedural)
  • William Gibson – Neuromancer (cyberpunk); The Difference Engine (written with Bruce Sterling) (steampunk); Virtual Light (dark humor, detective)
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman – Herland
  • Joe Haldeman – The Forever War series; The Accidental Time Machine
  • Frank Herbert – Dune saga
  • Hugh Howey – Silo series (post-apocalyptic)
  • Kameron Hurley – The Stars Are Legion
  • Aldous Huxley – Brave New World; Ape and Essence
  • P. D. James – Children of Men
  • Nancy Kress – Beggars in Spain
  • Larissa Lai – Salt Fish Girl
  • Ursula K. Le Guin – Hainish Cycle; The Eye of the Heron; The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Madeleine L’Engle – Kairos cycle (beginning with A Wrinkle in Time) (children’s, “science fantasy”)
  • Cixin Liu – Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (hard science fiction)
  • Katherine MacLean – Pictures Don’t Lie (stories)
  • Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven
  • George R. R. Martin – Tuf Voyaging; the Wildcards universe
  • Robert Masello – The Einstein Prophecy (historical fiction, mystery, thriller)
  • Julian May – Pliocene Exile series (high fantasy)
  • Anne McCaffrey – The Ship Who Sang
  • Seanan McGuire – Parasitology Trilogy series (sociological, under pseudonym “Mira Grant”)
  • Maureen F. McHugh – China Mountain Zhang
  • Judith Merril – The Tomorrow People
  • Elizabeth Moon – The Speed of Dark
  • Larry Niven – Tales of Known Space series; Ringworld and the Fleet of Worlds series
  • Alice Norton – The Time Traders (under pseudonym “Andre Norton”)
  • Christopher Nuttall – The Oncoming Storm (military, space opera); The Royal Sorceress (steampunk, alternate history)
  • Nnedi Okorafor – Who Fears Death
  • Malka Older – Infomocracy
  • George Orwell – 1984 (speculative, “social science fiction”)
  • Frederik Pohl – The Coming of the Quantum Cats; the Heechee saga (space opera)
  • Kim Stanley Robinson – Mars trilogy (literary)
  • Joanna Russ – The Female Man (experimental and not what you think)
  • Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow
  • Carl Sagan – Contact
  • John Scalzi – Redshirts; Old Man’s War series

  • Alice Bradley Sheldon – Her Smoke Rose up Forever (stories, under pseudonym “James Tiptree, Jr.”)
  • Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
  • Dan Simmons – Ilium series (fantasy); Hyperion Cantos series (fantasy)
  • Neal Stephenson – Cryptonomicon (historical fiction); Snow Crash (cyberpunk)
  • Karin Tidbek – Amatka
  • Jules Verne – Journey to the Center of the Earth (adventure)
  • Thea von Harbou – Metropolis
  • Kurt Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle; Slaughterhouse Five; The Sirens of Titan (all conceptual/unconventional)
  • Sabrina Vourvoulias – Ink
  • David Weber – Honor Harrington series (military); The Apocalypse Troll
  • Andy Weir – The Martian; Artemis
  • H. G. Wells – The Time Machine; The Island of Doctor Moreau; The Invisible Man; The War of the Worlds
  • Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaries series (described as a fun read!)
  • Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog (historical fiction, rom-com, humor, time travel)

 

That’s enough to get you started, right? Remember, if we don’t have a book at the Williamson County Public Library, we’ll try to locate it with Inter-Library Loan. Enjoy – and be inspired!

 


Sources:

 

I sourced most of the woman authors and their works from this excellent list: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/50-sci-fi-must-reads-by-women

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Book List: Libraries Rock!

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

School’s back in session for Williamson County, and we’re looking forward to a great school year for our awesome teachers and students. But it’s been a summer to remember, thanks in part to WCPL’s Summer Reading Program! The theme was “Libraries Rock!” and you all – adults, teens, and kids alike – seemed to have a great time with it.

Nearly 70 adult patrons participated in the program, and they read almost 400 books among them! We gave out about 120 prizes, including lots of books (of course) and gift cards donated by beloved local shops and restaurants.*

This post focuses on a display aimed at our adult patrons, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to our amazing teens and kids. One teen reader alone devoured 104 books throughout the summer! (Do we have a future writer here?) And 2,300 children throughout the Williamson County Public Library system participated by reading, reviewing, and attending events. I’m so impressed, y’all. (The teens’ and children’s departments also handed out tons of prizes.)

Recommended method for reading 104 books in a single summer.

Our main floor book display stayed up all summer. In keeping with the Summer Reading Program’s theme, we featured books about readers and rockers, libraries and lyrics, bookshelves and the blues and – well, you get the picture. If you didn’t have the chance to make it through all the intriguing titles, we’ve got the list right here for you to peruse at your leisure. After all, summer in Middle Tennessee really lasts through September, right?


Biography & Memoir

  • Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello (B COSTELLO)
  • Sing for Your Life: a story of race, music, and family by Daniel Bergner (B GREEN)
  • The World’s Strongest Librarian: a memoir of Tourette’s, faith, strength, and the power of family by Joshua Hanagarne (B HANAGARNE)
  • Waylon: tales of my outlaw dad by Terry Jennings (B JENNINGS)
  • It’s a Long Story: my life by Willie Nelson (B NELSON)
  • Stand up Straight and Sing! by Jessye Norman (B NORMAN)
  • Soul Serenade: rhythm, blues & coming of age through vinyl by Rashod Ollison (B OLLISON)
  • The Universal Tone by Carlos Santana (B SANTANA)
  • Turn Around Bright Eyes: the rituals of love and karaoke by Rob Sheffield (B SHEFFIELD)
  • More Room in a Broken Heart: the true adventures of Carly Simon by Stephen Davis (B SIMON)
  • M Train by Patti Smith (B SMITH)
  • Hank: the short life and long country road of Hank Williams by Mark Ribowsky (B WILLIAMS)

Fiction

  • The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom (F ALBOM)
  • Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie (F ALE)
  • A Pleasure to Burn: Fahrenheit 451 stories by Ray Bradbury (F BRA)
  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (F BRO)
  • Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (F CHA)
  • Tender: a novel by Mark Childress (F CHI)
  • The Archivist by Martha Cooley (F COO)
  • Last Train to Memphis by Elsa Cook (F COOK)
  • Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell (F COW)
  • Oh, Play That Thing by Roddy Doyle (F DOYLE)
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (F ECO)
  • The Geographer’s Library by Jon Fasman (F FAS)
  • The Camel Bookmobile by Marsha Hamilton (F HAM)
  • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos (F HIJ)
  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (F HOR)
  • Open Season by Linda Howard (F HOW)
  • Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro (F ISH)
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (F KOSTOVA)
  • White Tears by Hari Kunzru (F KUNZRU)
  • The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (F MAK)
  • The Librarian and the Spy by Susan Mann (F MANN)
  • Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann (F MAN)
  • Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey (F MCCAFFREY)
  • Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (F MCEWAN)
  • Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay (F MCKINLAY)
  • The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer (F MEL)
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (F NIF)
  • The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips (F PHI)
  • Never Mind the Pollacks by Neal Pollack (F POL)
  • Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx (F PRO)
  • Vivaldi’s Virgins by Barbara Quick (F QUI)
  • The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick (F QUICK)
  • Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia (F RACCULIA)
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz (F RUI)
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (F SETTERFIELD)
  • Rock Bottom by Michael Shilling (F SHI)
  • Say Goodbye: the Laurie Moss story by Lewis Shiner (F SHI)
  • The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (F SWYLER)
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (F THIEN)
  • Music & Silence by Rose Tremain (F TRE)

Nonfiction

  • This Book Is Overdue!: how librarians and cybrarians can save us all by Marilyn Johnson (020 JOH)
  • Letter to a future lover: marginalia, errata, secrets, inscriptions, and other ephemera found in libraries by Ander Monson (020.8 MON)
  • The Vanished Library: a wonder of the ancient world by Luciano Canfora (026.932 CAN)
  • Library: an unquiet history by Matthew Battles (027 BAT)
  • At home with books: how booklovers live with and care for their libraries by Estelle Ellis (027.1 ELL)
  • The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel (027.4 MAN)
  • Part of Our Lives: a people’s history of the American public library by Wayne A. Wiegand (027.473 WIE)
  • America’s Library: the story of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000 by James Conaway (027.573 CON)
  • Running the Books: the adventures of an accidental prison librarian by Avi Steinberg (027.665092 STE)
  • Books that Build Character: a guide to teaching your child moral values through stories by William Kilpatrick (028.5 KIL)
  • The Books that Changed My Life: reflections by 100 authors, actors, musicians, and other remarkable people by Bethanne Patrick, ed. (028.9 BOO)
  • The Little Guide to Your Well-read Life by Steve Leveen (028.9 LEV)
  • Bibliotherapy: the girl’s guide to books for every phase of our lives by Nancy Peske and Beverly West (028.9 PES)
  • Remarkable Reads: 34 writers and their adventures in reading by J. Peder Zane, ed. (028.9 REM)
  • Unpacking My Library: writers and their books by Leah Price, ed. (028.9 UNP)
  • Honky-tonk Gospel: the story of sin and salvation in country music by Gene Edward Veith and Thomas L. Wilmeth (261.5 VEI)
  • Taboo Tunes: a history of banned bands & censored songs by Peter Blecha (303.376 BLE)
  • Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: a history of the hip-hop generation by Jeff Chang (306.484249 CHA)
  • Dewey: the small-town library cat who touched the world by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter (636.80929 MYR)
  • Beethoven’s Hair by Russell Martin (780 MAR)
  • And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl: the Jewish past as told by the records we have loved and lost by Roger Bennett and Josh Kun (780.89924073 BEN)
  • Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (780.92 HAU)
  • Waking the Spirit: a musician’s journey healing body, mind, and soul by Andrew Schulman (780.92 SCH)
  • Beethoven’s Skull: dark, strange, and fascinating tales from the world of classical music and beyond by Tim Rayborn (780.922 RAY)
  • Children of the Stone: the power of music in a hard land by Sandy Tolan (780.95695309051 TOL)
  • Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: what pop music rivalries reveal about the meaning of life by Steven Hyden (781.64 HYD)
  • The Chitlin’ Circuit: and the road to rock ‘n’ roll by Preston Lauterbach (781.6408 LAU)
  • Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: five years in New York that changed music forever by Will Hermes (781.6409747 HER)
  • Pilgrimage to Dollywood: a country music road trip through Tennessee by Helen Morales (781.64209768 MOR)
  • Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the rise and fall of American soul by Craig Werner (781.644 WER)
  • The Book of Exodus: the making and meaning of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ album of the century by Vivien Goldman (781.646092 GOL)
  • Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth by Kim Cooper and David Smay, ed. (781.66 BUB)
  • Corn Flakes with John Lennon: and other tales from a rock ‘n’ roll life by Robert Hilburn (781.66092 HIL)
  • Language of the Spirit: an introduction to classical music by Jan Swafford (781.68 SWA)
  • Go down Moses: a celebration of the African-American spiritual by Richard Newman (782.25 NEW)
  • Shake It Up: great American writing on rock and pop from Elvis to Jay Z by Jonathan Letham and Kevin Dettmar, ed. (782.4216 SHA)
  • Dark Midnight When I Rise: the story of the Jubilee Singers, who introduced the world to the music of Black America by Andrew Ward (782.42162 WAR)
  • Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: the story of pop music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé by Bob Stanley (782.4216309 STA)
  • I Hate Myself and Want to Die: the 52 most depressing songs you’ve ever heard by Tom Reynolds (782.42164 REY)
  • Hard Rain: a Dylan commentary by Tim Riley (782.42164 RIL)
  • Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: the making of a masterpiece by Michael Streissguth (782.421642092 STR)
  • Who Shot Ya?: an illustrated history of hip hop by Ernie Paniccioli (782.421649 PAN)
  • Songs in the Rough: from “Heartbreak Hotel” to “Rhythm nation” : rock’s greatest songs in first-draft form by Steven Bishop, ed. (782.42166 BIS)
  • The Beatles Lyrics: the stories behind the music, including the handwritten drafts of more than 100 classic Beatles songs by Hunter Davies, ed. (782.42166 DAV)
  • Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: a rock ‘n’ roller’s 12 steps to becoming a golf addict by Alice Cooper (782.42166092 COO)
  • Danny Boy: the beloved Irish ballad by Malachy McCourt (782.4309415 MACC)
  • The Soloist: a lost dream, an unlikely friendship, and the redemptive power of music by Steve Lopez (787.2092 LOP)
  • In the Stacks: short stories about libraries and librarians by Michael Cart, ed. (808.83 IN)
  • Leonard Cohen: poems and songs by Leonard Cohen (811 COH)

* Many thanks to our local sponsors, who provided prizes for our adult summer reading program:

  • Mafiaoza’s
  • Belvedere Commons of Franklin
  • Landmark Booksellers
  • Mellow Mushroom
  • Pueblo Real
  • McCreary’s Irish Pub
  • Frist Art Museum
  • Handy Hardware
  • Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant
  • Franklin Theatre
  • Schakolad
  • Nashville Pet Products

How to Care for Your Book Hangover: An Intro to Readers’ Advisory Websites

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

What Am I Going to Read Now??  We’ve all been there. After spending days – weeks –months! – devouring plotlines, falling in love with characters, forming a map of their world inside our heads, we all must reach The End. Closing a book after reading its last line can be bittersweet, to say the least. When you’ve exhausted your favorite author’s bibliography, pored through every volume of a series, or simply finished a Darn Good Book, you may find yourself in a Book Hangover.

How will you find “The One” among all these books?

That Darn Good Book can never – should never – be replaced in your heart. But you don’t have to suffer hopelessly through a Book Hangover. Assuage your pain by picking up another book. And not just any book: though millions of books are published each year, there are ways to increase your odds of finding love again. Friends, relatives, librarians, and critics can all be a great source of recommendations. And for the internet-connected book fiend, there’s another option: Readers’ Advisory Websites.

Despite the somewhat ominous phrasing (calling to mind the sternness of a Parental Advisory, or the anxiety of a Weather Advisory), a Readers’ Advisory Website (denoted here as “RAW”) can be a useful, entertaining tool. Essentially, a reader inputs preferences, and the RAW outputs suggestions. Those are the ones we’ll look at today. Review sites also fall under the umbrella of RAWs, so I’ll list some of those, too.

I had never used a Readers’ Advisory Website before researching them for this article, so I’m presenting them to you from a new user’s point of view. Here are my four picks.

Search Engines

Some RAWs are smarter than others. You don’t need a machine to tell you that you “might also enjoy” Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets if you liked Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That’s accurate, but thoroughly unenlightening.

Best Results: Whichbook (https://www.whichbook.net/)

Perhaps the cleverest site I discovered is Whichbook. Its various search methods are fun to use and give spot-on results. Start by customizing your search with up to four criteria, adjustable on a sliding scale. (See screenshot.) You can also search by Character, Plot, and Setting; or get results by going to an author’s name, choosing a title, and clicking “Find similar books.”

The Whichbook team eschews bestseller lists in order to bring you curated selections you may not find elsewhere. All of their recommendations for me felt personally considered. I felt seen, known, loved – by a website!

Caveat: This site is based in the UK. I didn’t find some of the authors in our local library, but that’s what Inter-Library Loan requests are for.

Thorough Analysis: Allreaders (http://allreaders.com/)

Allreaders provides detailed reviews and a “specific, searchable breakdown of the plot, setting, character types, and style.” I enjoyed reading breakdowns of books I know. And I liked the layout of book recommendations “with storylines, themes & endings” similar to the book I searched for.

Allreaders’ Detailed Power Search (DPS) isn’t very pretty, but it gives so many options, some of them quite amusing. (Be sure you’re in the right genre first – here’s the link for Literature, and there are others.) I threw a lot of criteria into a search, requesting convoluted Plots & Themes, a unique Main Character, an elaborate Setting, and even a distinct Writing Style. DPS returned a long list of suggestions – some more intriguing than others. No suggestion matched every one of my crazy demands, of course. But if I were desperately seeking something new to read, I’d have fun browsing the results.

Easy Search: What Should I Read Next? (https://whatshouldireadnext.com)

If the minutiae of the first two search engines put you off, What Should I Read Next? may be the RAW for you. Simply type in an author or book you love. Results are tagged with keywords, so you can decide whether to follow up on the suggestions. You can click the keywords to find more books with the same tag. (One suggestion I got was tagged with “attempted assassination,” “cats,” and “time travel.” Now that’s a must-read!)

Fun Interface: Literature-Map (https://www.literature-map.com/)

Calling itself “The Tourist Map of Literature,” Literature-Map offers a unique visual approach. Enter your favorite writer’s name, and you’re rewarded with a clickable constellation of authors. “The closer two writers are,” claims Literature-Map, “the more likely someone will like both of them.” Searching for Jane Austen brought up a great variety of names to explore. I was impressed that David Sedaris, Harper Lee, and C. S. Lewis were among them, in addition to predictable results (Dickens, the Brontë sisters). Also included were Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon, so there’s truly a path for every taste.

Review Websites and Social Networks

Taking the time to browse review sites, you might stumble upon a fantastic book that otherwise lies outside of your field of vision. Here are some to check out.

  • The Book Report Network (https://tbrnetwork.com/) comprises “six editorial websites … organized … by demographic and … interest.” Adults, young adults, teens, and kids all have their own specialized sites; reading groups and graphic novel fans are also provided for.
  • Overbooked: The Next Chapter (http://overbooked.com/next-chapter/) looks at new releases, both eclectic and mainstream, to “encourage omnivorous reading.”
  • With YourNextRead (http://www.yournextread.com/us/), you can “discover and share” by searching for recommendations, browsing user lists, and customizing your own book map. (Registration required for some features.)
  • GoodReads (https://www.goodreads.com/) is a large social network of readers. Browse and create reviews and shelves (custom lists), add friends from Facebook, follow users with similar tastes, and even interact with authors who use the site. (Registration required for some features.)

That’s all from me. May your horizons broaden and your tastes refine. Have fun exploring! And check out the links below for even more RAWs not listed here.

 


Article Sources, and More RAW Suggestions

Ink, Paper, Action!

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Amidst Hollywood’s profusion of bigger-and-better sequels, nostalgic remakes, and “dark re-imaginings,” there’s a longer-standing trend: movies that are based on books. Some of these movies are so iconic – so visually spectacular – their worlds so complete – that audiences may be surprised to learn of any literary origins. (Think The Princess Bride, The Wizard of Oz, Trainspotting, Ready Player One, Mary Poppins, Die Hard…) Other adaptations are not quite so successful. (The Cat in the Hat, anyone?)

An early example of a book-to-film adaptation is a 1924 silent film called Greed, based on Frank Morris’s novel McTeague. The director’s vision led him to make a 9½ hour-long behemoth, but he was forced to cut it down to an “incoherent” two hours. (Most likely, the sentence, “The book is so much better than the movie,” was first uttered around this time.) Greed’s director, Erich Von Stroheim, had tried to be completely faithful to his source material. While that’s an admirable endeavor, it was the film’s downfall. (1)

These days, adapting a book for the big screen is an art form all its own. Just as a novel and a film are completely different mediums, so too are a novel and a screenplay. The team adapting the novel must remain true to the heart of the story. They must also choose which plot points to highlight or omit. Pacing often needs to change completely. Then there’s the daunting task of casting actors and creating worlds. Before any movie, these characters and places materialized inside thousands of readers’ imaginations. Entire fandoms wait in the wings, ready to adore or decry as soon as they glean tiny details from a promo trailer.

Like all art forms, there is going to be a lot of dreck. But there will be some shining examples, too. Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, Black Panther, To Kill a Mockingbird, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy – these are some groundbreaking, enduring favorites that all made their first homes on bedside tables and in bookshelves. Each is a good example of how a film can omit certain original details (Scarlett O’Hara originally had two children by other men; jolly old Tom Bombadil was axed from Middle Earth altogether) while still capturing the story’s essence. (2) Andre Dubus III, whose novel The House of Sand and Fog was adapted into a well-received movie, says, “I’m all for giving filmmakers their creative due. As long as [they’re] loyal to the spirit.” (3)

Here we see a couple breaking up due to
differing opinions
about The Shining.
(Probably.)

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, based on the Steven King novel, is an interesting case of adaptation. It manages to polarize opinions like few films do. (If you ask Google, “Do people love The Shining?” you’ll see what I mean!) For its acting and its atmosphere, for technical precision, powerful visuals, and downright scariness, film buffs and horror enthusiasts hold The Shining in a place of reverence. (4) But fans of the book say the movie falls terribly short. King accuses the film’s main character of having “absolutely no arc at all” – quite damning, coming from the author himself. (5)

So it seems that both works are well worth appreciating, but should never be compared. I wonder if that’s true of all adaptations. Writer Bernhard Schlink offers this perspective: “As an author, you can’t expect a movie to be an illustration of the book. If that’s what you hope for, you shouldn’t sell the rights.” (6)

It’s fraught with peril, this business of turning a book into a movie. So why bother? As it turns out, sourcing stories from books is actually quite low-risk – despite the possibility of alienating fans. A popular book turned into a movie “can rise above the noise [and] competition from the internet, video games, and Netflix,” explains Hawk Otsby, co-writer of Children of Men. (7) This is just another way in which we as consumers can get our fill of the familiar. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as there’s still room for original and independent films to be made.

The year may be halfway over, but there are several upcoming adaptations to look forward to. Maybe you’ve heard buzz about Mowgli (a darker remake of The Jungle Book), Bel Canto (based on the Ann Patchett novel of the same name), Ashes in the Snow (a wartime drama adapted from Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys; the title was changed for obvious reasons), or Mary, Queen of Scots (from John Guy’s lauded biography of Mary Stuart, which in the UK carries the wonderful title of My Heart Is My Own). (8, 9, 10, 11)

The faithfulness of these films to their source material remains to be seen. And honestly, I’m ambivalent. A badly-done movie won’t detract from a book I love; and a well-done movie might point me in the direction of an author I’ll adore. Creatives absolutely deserve to be recognized – and paid – for their good work. If it takes a movie to make a great writer famous, so be it!


Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_adaptation
  2. https://gwenonichi.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/gone-with-the-wind-differences-between-the-book-and-the-movie/
  3. https://filmmakermagazine.com/58787-turning-a-book-into-a-movie-an-authors-perspective/#.WyrBX6IpW5I
  4. https://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/7mcpcw/what_is_the_deal_with_the_shining/drurpzs/
  5. https://deadline.com/2016/02/stephen-king-what-hollywood-owes-authors-when-their-books-become-films-q-a-the-dark-tower-the-shining-1201694691/
  6. https://ebookfriendly.com/books-and-movies-quotes/
  7. https://www.theverge.com/2017/1/26/14326356/hollywood-movie-book-adaptations-2017-expanse-game-of-thrones
  8. https://variety.com/2018/film/news/mowgli-jungle-book-1202786074/
  9. https://variety.com/2018/film/markets-festivals/bel-canto-with-julianne-moore-ken-watanabe-sells-to-screen-media-exclusive-1202800859/
  10. https://www.bookbub.com/blog/2017/12/26/book-adaptations-2018-movies
  11. https://variety.com/2018/film/news/saoirse-ronan-margot-robbie-mary-queen-of-scots-moved-1202758120/

More Chills! More Thrills!

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Have you been on the edge of your seat, waiting for this next installment of my Suspense Spectacular? (Just answer Yes; let’s get an atmosphere going.) My previous post introduced a few big names in the genre. We also honored the predecessors of today’s hits. Today, I’ll start by focusing on female stars of the genre. Lastly, we’ll dig up hidden gems from authors you might not expect.

Writing for The Atlantic, Terrence Rafferty claims that “Women Are Writing the Best Crime Novels.” He says, “They don’t seem to believe in heroes as much as their male counterparts, which in some ways makes their storytelling a better fit for the times.” Without shying away from murder – be it most gruesome – the insightful women who have flourished within “domestic noir” write with “awareness of that inside-out sort of violence” that occurs so often in real life. (1) So, if you’re looking for a psychological edge, you’ll be spoiled for choice among women authors in this genre.

Incidentally, I learned that several male writers use female pen names within this genre. (2) That makes marketing sense, as their readers are more likely to be women. (3) Considering the history of women authors using masculine noms de plume – their only option if they hoped to be taken seriously – it’s ironic that men can now use women’s names in order to increase their own profitability as authors!

Don’t worry. This is not a blog post about The Patriarchy. But I hope to highlight some of the writers of this genre who actually are women – not men using women’s names. (Yes, I did double-check them all! My search history got a little weird.) You can find summaries of intriguing titles online.

Women of the Genre

  • Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train; Deep Water.
  • Katherine Neville, The Eight. This “historical thriller/whodunnit/magical story” paved the way for works like The Da Vinci Code, Kostova’s The Historian, and Mosse’s The Labyrinth. (4)
  • Tana French, The Secret Place. In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad series).
  • Amy Greene, Long Man. A small, East Tennessee community desperately searches for a missing toddler before the TVA floods their town.
  • Sarah Waters, Fingersmith. Readers love this Dickensian tale’s twists and turns.
  • Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl confronts the myth that “women are … naturally good,” a misconception that “robs [them] of any sort of will.” (5)
  • Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me.
  • Denise Mina, Garnethill (Garnethill trilogy); The Field of Blood (Paddy Mehan novels); Still Midnight (Alex Morrow novels).
  • Minette Walters, The Ice House; The Sculptress; The Scold’s Bridle.
  • Dorothy B. Hughes, Ride the Pink Horse; In a Lonely Place.
  • Donna Tartt, The Secret History. “[It’s] both an intellectual novel of ideas and a murder mystery without the whodunnit element.” “[An] amazing book that combines crime and Greek language and mythology with Donna Tartt’s beautiful writing style.” “[This] was one of the most unique reading experiences of my life.” (6, 7, 8)
  • Alex Marwood, The Darkest Secret.
  • Libby Fischer Hellman, A Bitter Veil. Reviewers call it “gripping,” “poignant,” “terrifying,” “viscerally effective.” (9)
  • Vicki Hendricks, Miami Purity. A raw, erotic story.
  • Liane Moriarty, The Husband’s Secret.
  • Tess Gerritsen, Playing with Fire. I love this review: “OMG Tess Gerritsen, give me my life back! I’ve never been so consumed by a book — let alone one about a…diabolical cursed violin score, toddler psychopath, and WWII-era Italy? Yeah, I was as skeptical as you probably are, but somehow it all works. I couldn’t stop tearing through the pages… What a whirlwind!” (10)
  • Renée Ahdieh updates the story of Scheherazade (1001 Nights) in The Wrath & the Dawn.
  • Alison Gaylin, What Remains of Me.
  • Jessica Knoll, Luckiest Girl Alive.
  • Val McDermid, The Mermaids Singing (Tony Hill series); A Place of Execution.
  • Margaret Millar, How Like an Angel; A Stranger in My Grave.
  • Sophie Hannah, Woman with a Secret.
  • Barbara Vine (real name, “Ruth Barbara Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE”) was a prolific writer of intense psychological thrillers and murder mysteries. Award-winning titles include Make Death Love Me, A Fatal Inversion, The House of Stairs, and King Solomon’s Carpet. Reading thrillers written by an English baroness sounds like a good idea to me. (11)

As you can see, there are so many incredible women authors to choose from; I found it difficult to stop adding names to the list!

Now, by “Deep Cuts,” I mean a few things: lesser-known works by famous authors, works of suspense by authors who normally write within a different genre, or even books you might pick up without knowing what thrills lie in store.

Deep Cuts

  • Agatha Christie sometimes falls into the “cozy mystery” subgenre, thanks to her Miss Marple But And Then There Were None is a deliciously frightening work.
  • Steven King, master of horror, also writes suspense that takes place in a monster-less world. The Long Walk and The Running Man are two examples, published under pseudonym Richard Bachman. (12)
  • Dan Brown wrote tech thriller Digital Fortress before finding fame with The Da Vinci Code.
  • Herman Koch’s The Dinner finds two families deciding how to deal with their teenage sons, who have committed a violent crime, over dinner. The evening starts off civil enough, but inevitably unravels. (14)
  • Gogol, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and others shine in the lesser-known tales collected in The Greatest Russian Stories of Crime and Suspense (Otto Penzler, editor). (15)
  • Roald Dahl, beloved children’s author, wrote some truly twisted short stories for adults. I have to say, it was eye-opening to stumble upon them as a young girl!

Nothing beats a page-turner when it comes to summer reads; and I’ve certainly given you a lot to choose from here. So come to the library, check out a book, and beat the heat with a chilling tale of suspense!

Read the rest of this entry

The Suspense is Terrible! (ɪ ʜᴏᴘᴇ ɪᴛ ᴡɪʟʟ ʟᴀsᴛ.)*

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

₮ⱧɆ ₴Ʉ₴₱Ɇ₦₴Ɇ ł₴ ₮ɆⱤRł฿ⱠɆ

When confronted with a thriller, I used to think, “Here’s a novel that features guns, bombs, and lies. Probably some politics, too.” And while those elements might feature in some bestselling books, I now know how narrow my perception was. For I have probed past the whims of pop culture, and discovered some of the fascinating premises to be found within the realm of suspense, thriller, and crime novels. While this genre may not be new to you, I hope you’ll follow along with this two-part post, and perhaps leave your best recommendations at the end.

“Crime pays,” says journalist Anita Singh, writing for The Telegraph: “thrillers and detective novels now outsell all other fiction.” [1] It’s a broad category: these novels might be packed with fast-paced action (the Jason Bourne series), psychological drama (Gone Girl), or military intrigue (The Hunt for Red October). With high stakes and life-or-death outcomes, thrillers often become the basis for hit movies. And while supernatural or dystopian tales may have had a surge in popularity over recent years, thrillers continue to enthrall us because they could happen. Grounded in reality, often set in present-day, they let us imagine what life would be like if we got on the wrong side of a corrupt government – or a jealous lover.

But why would anyone want to do that? The late novelist and critic Mary McCarthy explained it this way: “We all live in suspense, from day to day, from hour to hour….” And, as writer Lisa Gardner adds, “…one of the appeals of suspense is [that we can] safely explore our innermost fears.” [2] In other words, we all live with a high degree of uncertainty in our lives. The more nervous, fragile, lonely, pessimistic, or uninformed we feel, the more we fear that uncertainty. When fiction addresses that primal fear, it allows us to take a breath, say to ourselves, “OK. What if?” and confront those worst-case scenarios. Fear often shrinks under scrutiny. And if we vicariously reach a satisfying solution through the deeds of our literary avatars, so much the better.

Today, we’ll start with the heavy hitters: the names that even I recognized! Then we’ll look at the classic works of literature that paved the way for those authors. Next week, we’ll scrounge up a few “deep cuts” – lesser-known works of suspense by authors who usually fit into a different genre. And we’ll highlight some of the women authors who are shaking things up in the realm of suspense.

Heavy Hitters

  • Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond Casino Royale is a classic. Fleming said, “While thrillers may not be Literature with a capital L, it is possible to write what I can best describe as ‘thrillers designed to be read as literature’.” [3]
  • Robert Ludlum, creator of the character Jason Bourne. Ludlum died in 2001, but the wildly popular Bourne series continues, thanks to a collective of authors who carry his torch.
  • Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series also continues posthumously, following the success of Larsson’s first three novels, beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
  • Tom Clancy created the Jack Ryan character in The Hunt for Red October. There are now more than 20 novels in the series.
  • John le Carré introduced British intelligence officer George Smiley in Call for the Dead, and he appears in nine other novels, perhaps most famously in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

The Classics

  • The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale by Joseph Conrad. A tale of terrorism, anarchy, and political intrigue, set in 1880s London.
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Although many modern reprints give this gothic work the appearance of a romance novel, it’s a psychological work that led to a rather faithful film adaptation by that master of suspense, Sir Alfred Hitchcock.
  • A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes, star of four novels and many short stories by Doyle. Fans of the BBC series Sherlock may find the differences – and similarities – amusing.
  • “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe. Before there was Sherlock Holmes, there was C. Auguste Dupin, Poe’s amateur detective with uncanny skills of deduction. Dupin appears in two more of Poe’s stories.
  • A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (also titled The Mask of Dimitrios). Charles Latimer is a mystery novelist becomes intrigued by a dead man’s past, which leads to dangerous consequences. The story is described as a hybrid of “spy thriller” and “detective noir.” [4] There is a sequel, The Intercom Conspiracy.
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. This is a “quintessential Gothic romance,” with a young heroine in both physical and psychological danger. Austen, Poe, and others were heavily influenced by Radcliffe. [5]
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. “Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, [it] is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.” [6]

That’s all for this week. Check back next week as I do my best to turn up some unexpected finds, and explore the success of women authors in this genre. Don’t forget to share your favorites (especially classics) in the comments below!

* A line you will recognize from either The Importance of Being Earnest or Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, depending on your tastes.

How to Take a Mental Health Day

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Are you unusually overwhelmed at work? Do you fear that – contrary to your character – you are one careless comment away from smacking a coworker in the face, or bursting into tears in the break room? Can you no longer distinguish your personal life from your work life? If you’re otherwise healthy, but feeling out of sorts and out of control, maybe it’s time to take a mental health day.

A mental health day (MHD) is just like a sick day. Instead of staying home because of a sore throat or a twisted ankle, however, an employee takes this day off work for a legitimate wellness concern that may not present physically. Sometimes the need stems from a clinically diagnosed illness (i.e., Major Depressive Disorder), but not always. Depression, anxiety, grief, stress, and emotional trauma are some possible reasons to take a mental health day.

“That sounds like playing hooky,” you might say, skeptically. Indeed, our culture pressures us to put career first, ahead of family and sanity. You may know someone who missed a child’s birthday party, rescheduled an anniversary dinner, or cancelled a vacation due to being “on call” at a job that has nothing to do with life and death.

Web developer Madalyn Parker made waves in 2017 by publically sharing her experience taking a mental health day. Check out this screenshot of her Tweet. See, it can be done!

And there’s still a cultural stigma against mental illnesses. They often go ignored or misunderstood, and aren’t given the same consideration as a visible sickness or injury. People with depression, for example, are instructed to “buck up.” This places the demand for a cure back on the sick individual, rather than encouraging them to seek help. (Imagine telling someone with a broken leg to “walk it off!”)

I’m not suggesting we all abandon our jobs and start living like Thoreau in the woods. (Although that is my own personal plan for early retirement.) But I am suggesting we start to value mental health as a vital element of wellness. It’s irresponsible to show up to work if you’ve got a fever. It’s equally unwise to wait until you’re in psychological crisis mode before you take some time off work. When you see your emotional distress flare, consider scheduling a mental health day (people who know you well can help you spot the warning signs, too.)

Be sure the day is productive in some way. You’re not skiving off work; you’re taking care of yourself. Evaluate the reasons you are staying home from work, and decide what you need most. Is it sleep? Quality time with a loved one? An afternoon full of play? If a Netflix marathon usually leaves you sluggish and empty, skip it. This is a day to fill yourself up. Here are some elements you might incorporate into your MHD:

  1. Drink lots of water all day long, and eat healthy food. (Dehydration and poor nutrition amplify the effects of emotional stress.)
  2. Schedule an appointment with your therapist, counselor, or mentor; or catch up with a friend who will listen with compassion.
  3. Attend to personal issues that have been causing stress, such as a long to-do list or a wilting relationship.
  4. Get out in nature.
  5. Sleep in, or take a restorative nap during the day. Go to bed earlier than usual.
  6. Exercise, to get your mind and body back in sync. It should be something you enjoy, not a chore: yoga, swimming, shooting hoops, golfing, climbing rock walls, …
  7. Book a therapeutic massage.
  8. Drive a few towns over for a change of scenery.
  9. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb. This will help block out social media, e-mails, and marketing calls. (Most phones let you customize this option, so you can still get important calls from select contacts.)
  10. Do something creative and meditative, such as painting, writing, cooking, or gardening.
  11. Laugh – and cry! Both work wonders for stress relief. Watch a movie, listen to a podcast, or read a book that you know will engage your emotions.

During your mental health day, you may come up against a few lies, so be sure to equip yourself with the truth: Time spent resting is NOT time wasted. It is NOT weak to ask for help or to express your needs. You ARE worth taking care of! And self-care is NOT selfish!

If taking a paid day off isn’t an option at your job, you can still dedicate a day to your mental health. The same goes for those of you who work from home, or stay home as a caregiver to family members. You’ll have to be intentional with your scheduled days off. You may have to ask for more help and be firm with your boundaries. But you CAN do it, and it IS worth it.

None of these activities will cure a mental illness or replace a long-term management plan, of course. You may need to incorporate lifestyle changes, or find a counselor or medical professional whose job is to equip you to navigate life’s challenges. (Check the links at the end of this post for a starting point to that search.) But taking time to care for yourself in meaningful ways can help maintain a sense of balance, self-worth, and perspective. As the rallying cry goes, “Mental health is health!”

When you are ready to go back to work, I hope you notice that you’re feeling refreshed and in control. A healthy person can give more, and joyfully so, to all around them: at home, at work, and everywhere else.

 


A few links to help you search for a mental health care professional:

Sources:

“LOL Books”

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

April was National Humor Month. (Remember our April Fool’s Day Prank?) To celebrate, we put together a great selection of books – both fiction and nonfiction – that fit the theme. In case you missed it, we’re sharing that book list here. We hope you’ll find a book to make you laugh all year long!

  • Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, (792.7028092 BRO)
  • Yes, Please by Amy Poehler, (92 POEHLER)
  • Life’s a Stitch: the Best of Contemporary Women’s Humor by Anne Safran Dalin, ed., (817.608 LIF)
  • Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, (92 BURROUGHS)
  • The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an America in Britain by Bill Bryson, (914.1048612 BRY)
  • In Such Good Company: 11 Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett, (791.4572 BUR)
  • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, (F MOO)
  • Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton, (F EDG)
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, (814.54 SED)
  • This Is a Book by Demetri Martin, 817.6 MAR
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, (F ADA)
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, (F ADA)
  • I Could Pee on This: and Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano, (811.6 MAR)
  • Being Dead Is No Excuse: the Official Southern Ladies’ Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral by Gayden Metcalfe, (393.097633 MET)
  • Reasons My Kid Is Crying by Greg Pembroke, (818.5407 PEM)
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding, (F FIE)
  • The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae, (92 RAE)
  • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde, (F FFO)
  • The Eyre Affaire by Jasper Fforde, (F FFO)
  • Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan, (814.6 GAF)
  • How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen, (814.54 FRA)
  • Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg, (818.602 ORT)
  • The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, (914.04286 TWA)
  • Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, (F CHA)
  • Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling, (92 KALING)
  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, F HOR
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron, (814.54 EPH)
  • I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections by Nora Ephron, (817.54 EPH)
  • The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes, (814.3 HOL)
  • The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse, (F WOD)
  • Holidays in Heck by P. J. O’Rourke, (818.5402 ORO)
  • How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity by Rick Chillot, (818 CHI)
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, (F GIB)
  • I Am America (And so Can You!) by Stephen Colbert, (818 COL)
  • Midnight Confessions by Stephen Colbert, (818.602 COL)
  • Maskerade: a Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, (F PRA)
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey, (92 FEY)
  • Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins, (F ROB)
  • Night Thoughts by Wallace Shawn, (814.54 SHA)
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman, (F GOL)
  • The Bear Went over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle, (F KOT)
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith, (F SMI)

Discover the World of Urban Fantasy

By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

“The Dresden Files” by Mika-Blackfield

Being a lover of memoir and “the classics” (think, “books you were forced to read in high school”), I’ve felt comfortable referring to those categories in previous blog posts. But when I saw the colorful genre bookmarks we have at the library – check them out on your next visit!–, I felt inspired to explore some authors I’ve never read before.

One genre I’m pretty unfamiliar with is Urban Fantasy, so I thought I’d start there, and every research trip begins with a visit to Wikipedia, doesn’t it (just don’t tell your teachers)? From there, I gathered these elements of the Urban Fantasy subgenre (1):

  • A primarily real-world, urban setting, in the past, present or future
  • Earthbound mythological creatures (sometimes)
  • Coexistence / conflict between humans and paranormal beings (some other times)
  • Often explores how city life changes after the discovery of magic
  • Does not rely primarily on a romantic plot (as distinct from Paranormal Romance subgenre)

This sounds like many of the bestsellers and blockbusters in the past couple of decades! So who are the storytellers behind this enduring pop culture phenomenon?

“Neil Gaiman’s American Gods Fan Art” by AnamikaB

Even I, in my ignorance, recognize the name Neil Gaiman halfway down the list on the bright yellow bookmark before me. His novel, American Gods, is a prime example of the genre. In it, Gaiman posits that “gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them.” (2) Therefore, in modern America, new gods – representing media, the internet, and the stock market, among others – have more authority than the old gods brought over by immigrants; and fantastical creatures hold commonplace occupations. But a mysterious man wishes to shake things up, and he needs the help of ex-con Shadow to rouse ancient powers. A strange, epic journey, with elements of horror, fantasy, and magical realism, this award-winning novel has an international fan base.

Neil Gaiman, and indeed the genre of Urban Fantasy, would not be where they are today without Terri Windling. She created the Bordertown universe, tales of which have been written by a multitude of authors. Bordertown is “a dystopian metropolis that lies along the border between “the Elflands” and “The World”.” (3) The tagline on some of the book covers reads, “Where Magic Meets Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which I find charming. As one reader puts it, “the aesthetic of Celtic punk rock, elf/human gang warfare, and glamorous urban decay absolutely succeeds. You can understand why this series inspired its own new wave/nerd subculture back in the eighties.” (4)

Mercy Thompson

Interestingly, 57% of writers in this genre are women. (1) Another such writer who caught my eye was Patricia Briggs, with her Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is a shapeshifting mechanic who was raised by werewolves. She interacts with vampires, gremlins, and other creatures of the night. Ignore the sexy artwork on the book covers: this is not a steamy series, but rather one with compelling dialogue and a strong, sensitive female lead. There are plenty of books in this series, starting with Moon Called.

I’d like to leave you with some more author recommendations, which is a hard thing to do as I haven’t actually read any of them. But thank goodness for those bookmarks, and for Goodreads.com, a great resource for book lists and reader reviews. Searching Goodreads by genre, I found that there are some Urban Fantasy authors whose books have been reviewed by community members hundreds of thousands of times! (Side note: If you find a reviewer whose taste matches your own, you can follow him/her on the site. It’s like having your own personal book critic who delivers tailored book recommendations.)

  • Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series (AKA the Southern Vampire Mysteries). These books are the source material for HBO’s True Blood.
  • Jim ButcherThe Dresden Files Harry Dresden is Chicago’s first and only wizard P.I. This series is the Urban Fantasy high standard for many reviewers.
  • Kelley ArmstrongDarkest Powers A genetically-engineered teenage necromancer’s powers are out of control: she raises the dead without even trying. On the run from her creators, she’s accompanied by a sorcerer, a werewolf, and a witch.
  • Seanan McGuireWayward Children Children who have gone through magical portals – like Wonderland’s rabbit hole, or Narnia’s wardrobe – find it hard to adjust to normal life once they return. Luckily, there’s a home just for them.
  • Kevin HearneThe Iron Druid Chronicles. The last of the druids runs a bookshop in Arizona, but that won’t throw an angry god off the trail of his magic sword. Celtic mythology meets vampires, werewolves, and Thor. Yes, this series definitely has a silly edge to it, but reviewers say it’s a lot of fun!
  • Holly BlackThe Poison Eaters and Other Stories. Elves, werewolves, vampires, faeries: whatever your creature obsession, there’s a short story for you in this YA/adult collection from the author of popular middle-grade series The Spiderwick Chronicles.
  • Terry BrooksWord & Void There’s been a long strike in a steel town, and it’s the hottest Fourth of July on record. Into this volatile atmosphere come a knight of the Word and a demonic servant of the Void, whose opposing goals are mysteriously linked by a teenage girl. The fate of humanity is to be decided amidst the fireworks that celebrate freedom.
  • Ilona AndrewsKate Daniels Magic feeds on technology, creating a chaotic backdrop for tales of a mercenary who lives in Atlanta, cleaning up paranormal problems.

I plan to broaden my literary horizons by adding a couple of these to my reading list. If I abandon my classics and only ever write about Urban Fantasy from now on, you’ll know what triggered it!


Sources:

Art

The Symbols of Ireland

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations
In Moscow, Russia, 2012
by Кирилл Сергеев – wikimedia

This Irish feast has taken on a life of its own in countries around the world. On March 17, we are inundated with cartoons, clothing, even cards, embellished with images of the day: shamrocks, harps, elaborate crosses. Familiar as they may be now, what do they really have to do with St. Patrick’s Day?

Symbols provide a glimpse into the psyche of an artist – or an entire culture. Sometimes, patterns and figures evolve to express an idea. Other times, the meaning follows the motif. (For example, when previously pagan symbols take on Christian significance.) Just like language, a culture’s symbolism serves both as a time capsule and an evolving conveyance of modern ideals. Today, we’ll take a look at some common symbols associated with Ireland, and discover the meanings they carry.

 

St. Patrick
with a shamrock

Shamrocks and Four-Leaf Clovers

When you think “St. Patrick’s Day,” do you visualize a lucky four-leaf clover, or is it a shamrock? With its three leaves, the seamróg, or shamrock, is the true symbol of Ireland’s patron saint. Legend has it that Patrick used the plant to illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity to pre-Christian Ireland. So, while you might want to wear a rare four-leaf clover to represent the “luck of the Irish,” only the tri-lobed seamróg represents St Patrick himself.

Of course, pre-Christian Irish art indicates that the island’s inhabitants already had a concept of “three-in-oneness.” But it’s still a nice legend, and a great example of how we can find new significance in existing symbolism.

 

Spirals and Knotwork

Trinity knot

triskelion

One ancient motif resembling the Trinity is the triskelion. Three arms spiral out from the center, with rotational symmetry. Spirals feature heavily in ancient Irish art, but there’s no way of knowing what the earliest artists wished to convey. Perhaps the spiral represented the course of heavenly bodies through the night sky.

detail from the Book of Kells

The triquetra, also known as a Trinity knot, is another indigenous emblem that found a Christian meaning. Its three distinct wings form an unbroken, never-ending whole. In one variation, a circle winds through the wings, further unifying the design. The triquetra is the simplest element of Celtic knotwork. Elaborate examples can be found in the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells, and on decorative crosses in churchyards up and down Ireland.

 

The Celtic Cross

A beautiful design that looks as striking on a tattooed arm as on a headstone in a cemetery, the Celtic cross is composed of a traditional Christian cross with a circle around the intersecting lines. The stem and arms of the cross are often decorated with elaborate knotwork.

Legend attributes this cross to St. Patrick himself. According to the story, Patrick stamped the cross over a circle representing the pagan sun god, emphasizing the spiritual importance of the cross by associating it with the life-giving powers of the sun.

 

A golden Claddagh ring by Royalcladdagh – wikimedia

Claddagh Rings

A heart for love, a crown for loyalty, and two hands for friendship: these are the elements present in every Claddagh ring. They originated in the small fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, possibly earlier than 1700, and are now popular as wedding rings the world over. The hand on which the ring is worn, and whether it’s worn facing inward or out, can communicate the romantic status of the wearer to one in the know.

 

The Irish Tricolor

Ireland’s flag has three vertical bars, of green, white, and orange. The green represents the sovereign Republic of Ireland, traditionally a Catholic nation. The orange represents Northern Ireland, which is thought of as a Protestant land, and has been part of the United Kingdom since 1921. And the white field in between? Referring to the strife between his divided countrymen, Irish nationalist Thomas Francis Meagher explained, “The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between Orange and Green and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.”

It’s a concept that’s still relevant, as governments discuss what the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will look like in a post-Brexit UK.

 

The Maid of Erin

Guinness by swissbhoy – Flickr

The Harp

As a nation of poets, storytellers, musicians, and bards, Ireland has long been represented by a harp. Before the tricolor flag, a banner commonly used was a golden harp (sometimes with a winged woman, the Maid of Erin, carved into it) in the center of a green field.

The Irish government wanted to trademark the harp symbol – but Guinness, hallowed creator of Ireland’s most famous stout, had gotten to it first, back in 1876. That means you’ll always see Guinness’s harp facing one way, and the government’s harp facing the other.

 

Beer

Speaking of Guinness, why does alcohol feature so heavily in modern St Patrick’s Day celebrations? It has to do with the calendar. No matter when Easter falls, the Lenten fast is already underway by the time March 17 rolls around. Until the 1970s, pubs in Ireland were closed – by law – on the day. The festivities were quiet indeed.

Dog and men gathered in Patrick Sullivan’s Bar, c. 1963

But somewhere along the line, Irish-American Catholics wanted to celebrate their honorary patron saint while still remaining pious, and so the restrictions on food and alcohol came to be lifted for the day. Try to fit 40 days’ worth of revelry into 24 hours, and excess is the natural result! This Americanized aspect of the holiday made its way back to Ireland in the 1990s, largely as an effort to promote tourism.

If you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in this way, you’ll need a ready toast. Raise your glass and say “Sláinte!” (pronounced something like “SLAWN-chə” to drink the health of your party.

Thanks for joining me on this cultural expedition! I hope you’ll enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations all the more, having these few fragments of knowledge. Slán go fóill! (Bye for now!)

Vintage St. Patrick’s Day postcard with the motto “Erin go bragh,”or “Ireland forever”


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