Staff Musings

February 25, 2008

British Book Month

Filed under: Fiction & Literature — carricee @ 11:11 pm

For some reason I’ve been absolutely steeped in British fiction lately. Not only am I reading Elizabeth George right now, before that I was reading Jasper Fforde and the car book (that’s the book I read aloud to my husband in the car) we just finished was Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It’s really a coincidence, but it’s been a lot of fun.

Let me say a few words about Jasper Fforde. It’s really hard to just say a few words about him though, because his books are so full of action AND they are freaking hilarious. These are definitely books for readers. They are mystery/science fiction/satirical novels about an alternate England that needs a literary police force, both one inside of fiction and in the real world, where time travel is a way of life, where evil multinational corporations control almost everything, and croquet is a violent, competitive sport often resulting in death and severe head injury.

Thursday Next, the main character, is a Literary Detective. Her adventures are made all the more hysterical by her no-nonsense attitude. She won’t blink an eye at any of the ridiculous things that happen to her, which include learning to work inside of fiction from Miss Haversham (who, when she’s not doing her role in Great Expectations, likes to race cars), dealing with an escaped romance novel hero who wants to take over the world, trying to cheer up Hamlet, being the target of an assassin named the Window Maker, and helping her brother take care of resurrected 15th century saints.

These books spoof almost everything you can think of. The government, the media, bookstores, corporations, sports, even Shakespeare! I’ve read two of them and listened to a third one as an audio book. Though I usually enjoy reading a book much more than I enjoy listening to the audio book, for some reason with these I enjoyed it just as much. It may have been just because they are so packed full of action I didn’t have time to get bored with things I usually skim past.

We have a few in the store, come by and pick some up. Check out his website and see for yourself how funny the man is. We have them in general fiction, mainly because he covered so many categories we couldn’t really figure out where to put him!

February 21, 2008

Elizabeth George is Awesome

Filed under: Mystery & Suspense — carricee @ 12:37 am

It’s not often that I get so involved in a mystery that I nab the next book in the series before anyone else can get to it, but that was before I discovered Elizabeth George.

Now to be honest, I am technically familiar with her. I listened to the novel A Traitor to Memory on audiobook once when we had a copy at the store. See, I like to perform the public service of listening to all of the audiobooks we get in that I can to make sure they don’t skip. Aren’t I a great employee? Now obviously I knew after listening to this that the audiobook was great, but I don’t usually connect how I experience an audiobook with how I experience a book that I read myself. It’s more like listening to a radio play or something. Just because I like Prairie Home Companion doesn’t mean I want to read Garrison Keillor’s novels.

Oh, how wrong I was. If only I could go back in time, and instead of just nod appreciatively at the end of the book and scour the shelves for something else to keep me occupied on my ridiculously long drive back then…well then I guess I wouldn’t have the pleasure of reading her now!

The Lynley mysteries are just amazing. Not only are they good mysteries, they contain a depth that you rarely find in the genre. Everything you can find in the most pretentious literary fiction you can find here. This isn’t Law and Order; the characters, including the cops and not just the victims, are fully fleshed out and make you care about them. And I think that’s what I like so much about them. I do read quite a few mysteries, but usually I read them as a way not to think – if I’m tired at night and don’t want to get involved in something, but just want something to help my brain stop shouting at me so much (SHUT UP, BRAIN!).

Elizabeth George doesn’t beat you over the head with platitudes like a lot of litfic writers do, nor does she introduce you to a dead body and have people run around a city doing nothing but drinking coffee and talking to shady characters until they solve the crime. Nor are the murders so gruesome that they make me want to never, ever read her again, which is a good thing. Her characters consistently have issues they have to deal with apart from their jobs, and they show growth throughout the novels. They make assumptions based on their own experiences that are incorrect, they have to deal with real people in bad or good situations, their lives conflict with and coincide with their cases in the most inopportune ways. They observe society through the patina of their jobs, and at times they are callous, but most of the time they manage to make some really amazing connections about human life through the events they observe; in fact it’s so well done that I’ve actually marked passages to show to friends who are going through similar issues.

I do have to warn you, her books are set in the strange and wondrous country of England, and her main character is some type of fancy-pants lordy guy. But I promise, he doesn’t act like it. Though she’s an American, she does a great job of communicating the class issues and divisions that are still present there – but if you as a reader aren’t familiar with the society structure it may be daunting, I’m not sure. I was rather surprised she was American when I read her biography on her website; I just assumed that she was British since she wrote British mystery novels. I should have known that didn’t matter from the hugely ridiculous list I made of Scottish historical romance writers I made at the store today for our customers! I doubt many of those writers are from 17th century Scotland.

Her Inspector Lynley mysteries were actually made into a show for the BBC! That eliminated any doubt of British cred I thought might have just been my American public school ignorance (for Brits, public school here means exactly the opposite of what it does there). You can get them on Netflix! I just added one to our queue, though we’ll have to wade through Lost, Black Adder, Monty Python, Absolutely Fabulous, Memoirs of a Geisha (me), and 28 Weeks Later (um…zombie-lovin’ husband) before we can see it.

If YOUR Netflix queue is also ridiculous, why, you should just stop in at the bookstore and pick them up in novel form! Then you can tell your family how different the show was from the book when you finally get it. That’s always much appreciated and an appropriate fannish response.

February 18, 2008

Negative Reviews and Dark Alleys

Filed under: Uncategorized — carricee @ 8:14 pm

So sometimes when I am bored, or waiting around for something, or thinking about books, I read reviews of some of my favorite books on Amazon. Now, I don’t usually read the good reviews of books I’ve already read – if I like them, I already know why they are good. Instead, I like to read the bad reviews.

And it’s not like I’m going in there reading the bad reviews for a scholarly discussion in my mind. I’m not looking for valid viewpoints that are contrary to my own, or a point to make me think with a little more objectivity about the quality of the book. No, I like to read them because I am SURE the people who wrote them are incredibly stupid and it’s about the closest I can come to watching Jerry Springer or professional wrestling without cringing (much). I love reading people’s negative opinions and declaring (in my head) how wrong they are – it’s probably similar to how fashionistas look at my clothes and think how pleased they are that their clothes only have the holes that they paid extra for.

But also, I honestly think that a lot of people who write negative reviews on places like Amazon are mostly doing it for the wrong reasons. Personally, if I don’t like a book, I just don’t recommend it and don’t read any more titles by that author. Everyone has different tastes and different ideas of what makes a book good, and just because I think all Ayn Rand books are nothing but narcissistic diatribes doesn’t mean that they aren’t meaningful and valuable to a lot of narcissistic people. So who am I to go on a public website (meaning one that people besides my friends, Hi Katie! actually read) and say nasty things about a book that someone has worked their fingers to the bone on? Most of the time, negative reviews on reader generated content sites come from people with bad attitudes and too much time on their hands, in my opinion.

Let’s look at an example! I have already raved about Patrick Rothfuss‘ debut fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind. It’s a fantasy epic that’s cut from a little bit of a different cloth than most. It feels fresh, fun, sad, and both gritty and idealistic at the same time, which is quite a feat. On top of that, Pat seems like a great guy, is clearly intelligent and a wonderful speaker; he loves to connect with his fans, and he understands his fans – since he’s been a fantasy reader and a fan for most of his life.

His Amazon reviews are actually pretty amazing – in fact, there are only 2 one-star reviews compared to 173 5-star reviews. And what do these people have to say? What about the book made them hate it badly enough to actually spend the time to sit down, click their way over to Amazon, sign in, and compose something negative about something someone else has poured their heart and soul into?

The first guy seems to be mad that the book is too long. Apparently, he can’t tell how long a book is when he picks it up – I guess he thought all the pages at the end were pictures, coloring pages, or pornography. Really, I think he’s one of the people who was upset about the next book in the series being delayed a year, because he complains that he won’t remember the book by then and won’t have time to reread the 900 pages.

Wait, what? 900 pages?

The hardcover edition of this book is 662 pages long. Admittedly long, but it is, after all, a fantasy epic and I believe that the word epic has long in its definition. If I recall correctly though, the ARC, or advanced reading copy given out to booksellers and reviewers (which I read first) was around 900 pages. So, this guy didn’t even buy a copy of the book, he got an uncorrected proof for free, and then drags down Pat’s rating by complaining about its length? And, the last sentence of his review is, “Sorry bud, get an editor.”

That’s why you should read the book AFTER it’s been edited! That is so awful to me. I just don’t get it! That guy is SO STUPID! I’d be throwing chairs at him on Jerry Springer. Jerry would have a broken nose and a concussion trying to stop me. The audience would be cheering and that guy would be cowering in the corner, holding his 900-page ARC in front of his face for defense. THEN he’d appreciate it.

The sheer audacity of giving a ONE STAR review to a book that you LIKED, that you got for FREE, because it was too LONG, except you didn’t actually read the fully edited SHORTER version because likely you’d have to PAY for it, is astounding to me. It makes me really, really angry, but in that righteous anger way that almost makes you feel good about yourself.

The other one-star reviewer at least didn’t like the book. I can’t say I understand that, but it is better than liking it and giving it one star. However, the reason they didn’t like it, they said, was because there was no climax. But they said that right after they admitted that they did not finish the book. How do they know it didn’t have a climax if they didn’t finish the book, you ask? I don’t know. But it makes me angry.

I know that there are legitimate reasons for some negative reviews – if it is inappropriate for the age group it was marketed towards, if it has bad grammar, if it is truly poorly written – and I do look at reviews at times when I am considering purchasing a book. But somehow, it seems like the dregs of society have moved from the dark alleys and street corners, from the daytime talk shows and reality shows, to Amazon’s one-star review section. It seems to be a place people use to feel superior, to say to a writer, “I can affect you, I can make your day a little bit worse.”

But then, really, am I any better if I go there and point my finger and laugh, or fume and write about it on the bookstore’s blog while I’m working? Probably not, especially since I look at them in order to find things to jeer at. But I doubt I’ll stop doing it. Hey, I have to read them, ordering books is part of my job!

November 27, 2007

Store News

Filed under: Store News and Events,Uncategorized — carricee @ 9:57 pm

Lots of store news to share this week – first of all, Don’s Books won 1st Place in the Gingerbread House competition in the Local Landmark Category at the Howard County Historical Society! Woohoo! We KNOW we are the best local landmark! We got a ribbon and everything! If you didn’t get a chance to check out the house at the lighting ceremony at the Seiberling, stop in and see it. We’ve got it on display.

Another big piece of news – we are having a t-shirt sale. All of our t-shirts can now be purchased for only $5. I know you are saying to yourselves, Why, what great holiday gifts those will make! Lark even made a beautiful display so that you get to see them immediately upon walking in the door. What does the display look like? I’m not going to tell you! You’ll have to come in and see for yourself.

More news: Don’t forget that Tuesday, December 4th at 6 p.m. will be the next installment of our book discussion group; we’ll be talking about A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf. If you’ve never read Woolf, you are in for a serious treat. She weaves common sense logic with stunning prose, and she does it so well that even people who disagree with her view (that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction) don’t feel particularly offended by it. Some people say that this work is no longer relevant;, personally I believe people who say that haven’t been paying attention. Ooooh! Look, already disagreement and dissension! It’ll be a lively talk on Tuesday, that’s for sure.

What else is going on? The comic book and graphic novel discussion group will be reading The Watchmen by Alan Moore for their December discussion. The Watchmen is the classic graphic novel. It is the graphic novel that made it possible for graphic novels to be considered literature. It was listed by Time magazine as one of the best books of the 20th century. So yes, it’s that good. Come hear what everyone has to say about it on Tuesday, December 11th at 6 p.m.

November 21, 2007

Wha?

Filed under: Social Sciences — carricee @ 7:10 pm

So I’ve been reading The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell, and it’s great. It talks about how epidemics, trends, and ideas get started and expand. Gladwell tries to explain epidemic phenomena as diverse as syphllis and Blue’s Clues – and it makes sense! One of the things I like about Gladwell is how well he organizes his books; he makes concepts easier to grasp by arranging a whole book almost as simply as a five-paragraph essay.

Okay, so one of his examples of epidemic type behavior is the tremendous and unexpected drop of crime in New York City in the mid-1990s. He attributes this drop to the context of the city, or more specifically, the Broken Window effect. Apparently, we subconsciously react to our environment a great deal more than we suspect. Before the 90s the city was being swallowed in a miasma of trash, grime, spray-paint, etc. In neighborhoods and the subways crime was rampant and the streets were filthy. The dramatic shift came about when New York decided to clean up their subway system – no cars were allowed to go out with graffiti, they increased officer presence in the area and prosecuted those who tried to jump turnstiles. This had a dramatic impact on the attitude of the people who entered the subway. All of a sudden, it seemed to be a place where crime and filth were no longer tolerated.

The dramatic drop in subway crime led New York to apply the same technique to the city. Thus, the Broken Windows effect was nullified, and New York became a much safer place to be.

This part of the book made me think about Steven Levitt and Stephen Dunbar’s book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. In it, they also talk about the dramatic crime drop in New York and explore some possible causes. The Freakonomics explanaion is much more controversial – as a numbers guy, Levitt tends to look at everything without the normal patina of ethical and sensitive thought most people clothe their sight with – he believes it’s because of abortion. The children who would have been born to parents who did not have either the resources or the will to raise them well were instead aborted after Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal in the 1970s. These children would have been in their late teens in the mid-90s had they been born, and Levitt believes that the fact that they weren’t born is what caused the monumental decrease in crime – simply, less disadvantaged kids means less crime.

Now, I was thinking the other day (I do a lot of driving and tend to spend long stretches of it thinking about completely unproductive things), if we combined Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Levitt into one person, would their powers grow exponentially or would they neutralize each other? I mean, Gladwell is incredibly sensitive to social data and Levitt brilliantly uses numbers to understand phenomena, but maybe you just can’t HAVE both of those things in one person. For the purpose of my daydream though, I decided that you could.

Then, I started thinking about other brilliant people we could combine with Gladvitt to make an even more impressive human being. I was thinking maybe Neil Gaiman for his writing ability and his almost fey outlook on the world (that would add some color to economics), and then Xeni Jardin from boingboing and NPR just because she’s so cool and good at everything technological, and then maybe that representative from DC who is so passionate and strong-willed and speaks so well,¬† but I couldn’t think of her name. She was on the Colbert Report though (I googled it and it’s Eleanor Holmes Norton). I also thought about Al Gore, because of the environment, but then I remembered he’s not really a scientist, and we already have one politician.

So we have a social scientist, a rogue economist, a technology person, a writer, and a politician, all together in one person, working to make the world a better place. And I have way too much time on my hands.

November 20, 2007

Light Night Reading

Filed under: Fiction & Literature,Sci Fi & Fantasy — carricee @ 11:35 pm

Last night I stayed up entirely too late reading a novel by Robert Charles Wilson called A Hidden Place. Though it’s undeniably a science fiction novel, it’s a good stepping stone for those readers who don’t like quite as much science mixed in with their fiction.

The story is set in the Depression, and it revolves around a young man named Travis whose mother died in some mysteriously disgraceful way. He moves to a small town on the edge of nowhere to live with his aunt and uncle, working in his uncle’s ice factory. The town is similar to many small towns in America, ambitious to be a city, but lacking both the money and the attitude. The characters all start out as typical, but evolve into anything but.

The narrative is like Billie Letts meets Neil Gaiman. The prose is outstanding, the plot engrossing enough that I didn’t notice it was 3 am. Then I turned off the light and tried to go to sleep, then turned it back on and kept reading. I have loved every Robert Charles Wilson book I’ve ever read, and this one was his first. His newest is called Axis, it’s the sequel to last year’s Hugo winner, Spin, which is also brilliant. My copy disappeared into the hands of some unsuspecting dinner party guest I think, during one of my “You must read this!” breakdowns. Stop in and pick up some Robert Charles Wilson. I do believe it’s impossible to be disappointed.

BookPusher

Filed under: Fiction & Literature — carricee @ 12:20 am

Sometimes it seems like my reading tastes are a little wonky. Most of our customers come in to the store with all kinds of anecdotes about sharing their books with friends, of switching books back and forth – in fact, we have several groups of customers who always come in together with books, they share the trade credit, buy stacks, and don’t bring them back until they’ve both read all the books.

That’s so fun! I always tell them. How nice to have friends or family members with whom you can share books! Because, to be honest, none of my friends want to read what I do, despite all my efforts. I try to cram books I like down people’s throats every chance I get. Sometimes they read them, but a lot of times, they don’t. It’s really an addiction. Sharing what I love about books gives me purpose, adds value to my character, makes me feel squishy inside. I think I’ve said before, helping people find books they’ll enjoy is my favorite thing about working here.

Of course, if I paid more attention to my friend’s tastes in books, I might find more pleasing selections for them. Lately my reading has been rather heavily focused on light science fiction and fantasy, which few of my friends read to any great extent. Those who do favor the formulaic epic fantasy, which I also enjoy, but not nearly as much as I used to. Battles between good and evil are undoubtedly necessary, and certainly interesting at first, however they tend to get tiresome after you’ve read fifty or one hundred of them. Nor do most of them want to read the social psychology type of non-fiction that I find interesting. I could probably get some to read mystery cozies, but, though I do enjoy those books, my heart’s just not in it.
So, what do my friends like to read? Funny, we’ve been talking about that a lot lately. I thought I’d share what they are currently reading (or have recently finished) with you, in the hopes that it will inspire me to keep on searching for them.

Best Girlfriend: The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman – This one is one I gave to her , and she loves it. Success!

Husband: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan – This is also one I gave to my husband, but he’s pretty much stopped in the middle. Not that it’s not a good book; he’s really enjoyed it and loves to tell everyone about all the corn that’s in the food they are eating at parties; he’s just gotten out of the habit of reading after finishing two whole books this summer. It’s very sad, but at least we had a run!

Dinner Party Friend 1: The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant – I don’t think I had anything to do with this one, though it is a book I enjoyed a great deal. It’s a historical fiction about some of the women in the Bible.

Dinner Party Friend 2: The House of God, by Samuel Shem – Apparently a frighteningly true-to-life portrait of the life of medical interns, this is a book I had never heard of until last week. According to DPF2, it created a huge uproar when it was released, as patients learned just exactly how tired and crazy the people who are trying to keep them alive can get.

Role-Playing Friend 1: The Orc King, by R.A. Salvatore – Though I loaned him the copy he is reading, I really can’t take credit for this read as my friend knows much more about the Forgotten Realms universe and Drizzt and his friends than I do. I don’t know how much he’s enjoying it, but I’ll likely find out this week.

Role-Playing Friend 2: The Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling – After the untimely death of Robert Jordan, I’m sure many people will follow my friend’s example and not begin a series until the author has finished it. I’m not sure how much he’ll like this series. He’s distressingly picky when it comes to books, and though I’ve tried to narrow down exactly what he needs in a novel to keep his attention, so far I’ve failed utterly. He didn’t like Robin Hobb. ROBIN HOBB!

See how few of these books I had anything to do with? That is why you must come into the store and help allay my book-pushing addiction. Come in and tell me that you like to read historical fiction about Irish potato farmers! Tell me you like books with anthropomorphized animals as the main characters! Books with a social conscience, books without one, and books that seem to have been written by drunken monkeys I’ll happily help you find. Despite trying to make my friends read what I like, it’s as much fun if not more for me to help customers find books to suit their own tastes. So come into the store and save my friends from my need to be a book pusher! It’s almost a social obligation.

November 10, 2007

Superman, Virginia Woolf, and Paint Fumes

It’s been quite awhile since we’ve blogged about what’s going on here at the store, not because there’s nothing going on, mainly just because we’re more interested in talking about books than about ourselves! But we’ve had a great couple of months.

If you haven’t attended the book discussion groups the first Tuesday of every month, think about giving them a go. The readers who make regular appearances are outgoing, fun, and up for lively discussion. Moderator John Rudy helps keep them from getting too rowdy. Just kidding! He’s the rowdiest. The next book to be discussed, on Tuesday, December 4th, is Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, an essay that first found form as a lecture given at a women’s college. She talks about what a woman needs if she is to be a writer, and what would have happened to a fictional sister she invents for Shakespeare had she tried to write. The debate on this will be unrestrained wildness, I’m sure. Woolf is a brilliant writer, and no one denies that, but I’ve already had people tell me they think her work is irrelevant in the light of modern society. I gnash my teeth and respond politely (because I’m in retail) but if I manage to get the evening of the discussion off, so go the gloves.

We’ve been doing a lot of painting and shifting around books at the store lately in preparation for the upcoming holiday season – we want to make it all pretty so you will want to come here even more! Christian fiction is getting more room, and mystery is getting a make-over. We are switching around self-help and health a little bit too, though they will be in the same general area. Stop in and let us know what you think.

This coming Tuesday is our first comic book discussion group, and they’ll be talking about The Death of Superman. There has been a lot of interest in the group and we’re excited to see how it turns out. The fun and fascinating Joe Klemann will be leading the discussion. The Death of Superman¬† is the best-selling graphic novel of all time, not just because of the demise of the world’s most beloved superhero, but for the years and years of back story that went into the plot. The collaborative and serial nature of graphic novels and comic books make them a perfect avenue for discussions of this sort, and we couldn’t be more pleased to be hosting it here. That’s this Tuesday, November 13th.

November 7, 2007

Dark Elves and Evil Geniusi

Filed under: Children's Literature,Sci Fi & Fantasy — carricee @ 12:46 am

This past week I’ve finished two books I’ve been meaning to read for a while – The Orc King by R.A. Salvatore and Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks. Let’s start with the most famous one, so less dedicated readers can slip away after. What did I think of them?

The Orc King is the first in a series called Transitions by Salvatore, and it also ends up wrapping up quite a bit of plot line that had been left at the end of the last series, The Hunter’s Blades trilogy. I admit that this was not my favorite Drizzt book. I think this stems more from personal preference than from the actual quality of the book though; sometimes it’s hard to tell. Particularly, I thought it dragged because I like to skim over the battle scenes – they just really aren’t that interesting to me – and since they are in the middle of a war with the orcs and the orcs are also at war with each other, battles take up a good chunk of the book.

The other thing I didn’t particularly care for was all of the orc action. Obould, the actual Orc King, and his enemies eat up quite a few pages, and Salvatore hasn’t made me care about them yet. They are boring, mean, and not witty at all, even the “good” ones. I don’t really like to read about characters I don’t care about, and there are a LOT of them in this book.

Now let me mention the things I did enjoy about the book. Mainly, that was Cattie-Brie. Her character actually changed and developed in interesting ways, and I found that I quite enjoyed the new role she took on in the group dynamic, and also enjoyed speculating on her future. I also like the way she and Drizzt’s relationship plays out. I love how Salvatore has always ensured that she was written as at least as strong a character, if not more so, as the guys.

I did enjoy the scenes with Wulfgar and Colson but I’m not sure how I feel about his actions yet. Nor am I entirely sure I know what his actions ARE.

So, all in all, I’m definitely glad I read it, however I’ll probably never read it again. Unless you hate orcs, it’s a must for people trying to follow the canon of Drizzt, of course, and it’s not really BAD, I just didn’t think it was all that interesting. To me. However, if you’ve never read one of Salvatore’s Drizzt novels before, do NOT start with this one. You will be bored and confused.

On to Evil Genius, a young adult book by Austrailian author Catherine Jinks. I first heard of this novel through a book review on SFSite, and it sounded like so much fun I had to order a copy. Evil Genius is the story of a young boy named Cadel Piggot, an orphaned child genius who is being raised by two incredibly soulless and dispassionate individuals, leaving him with little to distract him but the study of systems. When Cadel is forced to go to a psychologist due to criminal hacking activity, he learns that his real father is actually a criminal mastermind who is currently in prison, and has created a school to teach evil geniuses such as what he is trying to shape Cadel to be.

The book is dark but funny; it toys with the ideas of mental and physical superiority and the meaning of morality in ways that, while they lead the reader along a path, they don’t force them at gunpoint down the road. It’s well-written, you grow to care about Cadel and several of the other characters, well, at least one, almost in spite of yourself. And best of all, there’s a sequel in the works! Great for teens, it’s probably at about a 6th or 7th grade reading level? I really just made that up. But it’s definitely a fun read for adults too.

I also read another cozy this week, but I wasn’t going to admit that.

October 30, 2007

Vampires – Why?

Filed under: Horror — carricee @ 10:53 pm

I went to my neighborhood’s farmer’s market this morning, and was surrounded by the comforting, warming fruits of the fall season. Squashes, eggplants and sweet potatoes that have fed all year on the leavings of past veggies and leaves and other carbon-based life left the stands and went into my bag, for me to feed on this week.

See, with Halloween coming up, Robert suggested I should write a post on vampires, and since I’m a weirdo, I decided I should do some research first. So now I’ve been thinking about and reading about vampires for three days straight. So, fall vegetables make me think of death and feeding on life, and such. It’s ridiculous to go to a farmer’s market and think about vampires (except Bunnicula, of course)!

Robert’s idea was for me to talk about different vampires in books and film – not about how they relate to farmer’s markets. There are hundreds, if not thousands of depictions, all with differences large and small that could (have, actually) keep me writing for days. Vampires in myth and folklore have been around in some aspect in nearly every culture since the beginnings of recorded history. The mythos is what Jung would call part of our collective unconscious – that the psychological idea of the vampire is part of the human experience.

Of course, the first big vampire novel was Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Stoker was the first writer to make the vampire more than a shambling, blood-sucking monster. See, prior to him, vampires in myth and belief had been more akin to how we think of zombies today, except they liked blood instead of brains. Stoker turned the vampire into a romantic figure – charming, intelligent, stylish, but who nonetheless murdered people and (which was worse to the Victorian’s?) stole the virtue of many a young lady. He created the idea of the vampire as a sensual, pleasure driven being we see many of them as today – yet Dracula, despite his lust for sensual pleasures and a gothic aesthetic, still gives the reader the image of death and decay, despite the promise of everlasting life.

Dracula was made into several films, the most famous of which stars the legendary horror actor Bela Lugosi. Yet, despite the popularity of Stoker’s new image of the vampire, we didn’t see a huge amount of work being done on them until the last 30 years. Authors such as Chelsea Quinn Yarbo, Tonya Huff and Stephen King have all written, with great skill, about different vampires, but the big one came in 1976 – Anne Rice, and Interview with the Vampire.

One of the first novels to to be written from the vampire’s perspective, Interview struck a chord with people who didn’t feel they fit in. Always living apart from humanity, yet needing it; both to feed on and to assuage the terrible loneliness that comes with immortality, the vampire as created by Rice exerted a great pull on teenagers and others who have always felt alienated, as separate from the rest of their culture as the vampires in the novel are. Not only for the lonely; the romantic, brooding, and philosophical Louis in the book resonated with almost all who read it – and many of those who didn’t enjoy him particularly immediately fell for Lestat, Louis’ passionate and destructive creator. The aesthetics created by Rice also fed into the lore. Crumpled velvets, southern gothic, Parisian cabaret have all wormed their way into our cultural consciousness as part of what it is to be vampire.

Lestat’s passion for life also began to dispel the stench of morbidity and decay associated with the vampire image, for, despite him being essentially dead, it’s been nearly impossible for any reader to think of such a vibrant and chaotic character as a symbol for the grave. In fact, Lestat’s ecstatic grasp on life, so different from Louis’ melancholy, is one of the reasons so many young people searched for ways to emulate him.

In 1991, White Wolf, Inc. expanded on Rice’s idea of the vampire as a tortured soul and created the role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. The game was a huge, immediate hit among role-players, and brought lots of new people into the world of pencils and dice. LARPing, or live-action role playing, or, dressing up like your characters and running around in the woods or wherever, was incredibly popular with this game. White Wolf has continued the series and the current edition of the game is called Vampire: The Requiem. White Wolf games are well-known for the attention they put into their rulebooks; not only will you find the basics on how to roll your dice, make up your character, and beat each other over the head, their books are always beautifully designed with compelling narratives scattered throughout. Drawing on myth, alchemy, folklore, science, and the literary canon, the books inspired a new generation of creative thinkers.

These three books, Dracula, Interview with the Vampire, and Vampire: the Masquerade, led us to the explosion of vampire fiction we see today. The most popular romance novels feature vampire lovers, and of course, the horror section has no shortage of blood-suckers. Buffy and Anita Blake were only the first two women to be known as hunters of the vampire, (quite the twist on the mythos), many others have followed in their wake. It seems that we (the collective we) are turning the vampire myth on its head every time we want something different from it. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. Everything we’ve given to vampires – beauty, power, charm – we have ended up taking away. The power to rob young women of their virtue has been replaced by young women with stakes and witty comebacks – not to mention, women now seem to be robbing vampires of their virtue, at least from the few steamy vampire romances I’ve read. The elusive mystique of the vampire isn’t quite the same anymore. Are we losing interest? Is this the downslide of the vampire myth?

I don’t think so. The symbols of vampire are too universal, too powerful. The immortal, nearly all powerful being who lives off of our life essence – an anti-christ, a killer of babies and innocents in a velvet cape and top hat -has too strong a hold on our psyche. Jung believes the vampire is made from parts of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge – so we give them monstrous form. Perhaps as our forms, or our collective societal ideals change, what we find monstrous changes too? Or perhaps the vampire has simply been released from our subconscious and is being allowed to play in the world at will? Now that’s a fine twist on eternal life.

Maybe now I’ll be able to concentrate on vegetables.

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