Staff Musings

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.

October 23, 2007

What am I Reading?

Filed under: Historical Fiction,Sci Fi & Fantasy — carricee @ 11:27 pm

Lately, despite the piles and piles of new books I have to read, I’ve been rereading old favorites. I was definitely inspired by the death of Robert Jordan, author of the epic series Wheel of Time, to reread his work and hope that they find a worthy author to finish off the series. The death of a favorite author seems to me to be much more heartbreaking than one thinks it will be. Writing is a very intimate process, and if you’ve read many of their books, you’ve spent more time in their head than most people spend in each others’ – and if you particularly enjoy what you find there, it’s sad to hear of the loss to the family and real-life friends, not to mention sad to think that what was in that head will no longer leak out onto a page.

So, once I finished rereading the eleven books currently out in the Wheel of Time, I found that I still needed comforting, preferably from someone who was still around. So I picked up the perfect time-travel novel, The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. One of the things I like about Connie Willis’ writing is that, despite it being time-travel and set in the future, the world she writes in is undeniably ours, and she’s trying to tell a story about people, not about science or about how many fancy gizmos she can come up with. In the novel, a young historian named Kivrin travels back in time to the Middle Ages to study the culture and people, but arrives in the past ill and in a desperate situation. At the same time, Oxford (where she traveled from) is under quarantine, it’s during Christmas, and multiple university people are laid up while they try to deal with the hassles of life under quarantine and to make sure Kivrin arrived safely and will be able to return.

In the midst of all that, you find stirringly real characters, both in the future and in the 14th century. The small touches thrown in provide not just historical accuracy and a feeling of recognition about the future, but a story that can be related to  Рregardless of whether the reader is a science fiction fan or not. The Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards in 1993.

October 22, 2007

Horror-ish

Filed under: Horror — carricee @ 10:37 pm

I know it seems odd, but though Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I’m not much of a horror reader. I think I’d rather pretend to be something scary than read about it most of the time. Though I know I do occasionally miss out on some good literature, there are distinct advantages to not reading horror – such as not being afraid of clowns or ventriloquist dummies.

However, I have occasionally picked up a novel from the horror section, some of which I enjoyed, and some I did not. Here’s a few to getyou started:

Imajica, by Clive Barker – Very creepy, and very difficult for me to finish, but also very, very well done. I can’t really remember the plot though – I think I’ve blocked it. Weaveworld is another by him, however I don’t believe I was able to finish that one.

The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice – Anne Rice does live in the horror aisle, but to me her books aren’t classic horror, they’re much more gothic. I guess that means that they are just dark and romantic (though not romances) instead of full of horrors. I like the Mayfair witches series much more than the Vampire one, but I’ve only read up to Lasher in it, then I kind of lost touch.

And, speaking of gothic, how can we forget the classic writers of gothic horror when we talk about spooky books? Poe is the penultimate of course, with too many stories in the gothic tradition to list – the most famous being ones such as The Fall of the House of Usher, in which madness leads to destruction, and The Tell-Tale Heart, in which guilt leads to madness which leads to destruction. Of course there’s also Shelley’s classic Frankenstein, Stoker’s classic Dracula, and even George Eliot gave us one of my favorite gothic tales, a short story called The Lifted Veil. Edith Wharton gave us many gothic tales, including Ethan Frome. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s got several gothic tales, but my favorite is Young Goodman Browne, since you are never really sure what happens. That feeling of uncertainty is creepier than any bloody axe or ventriloquist dummy, probably.

More modern authors have tackled the gothic genre as well; perhaps the most well known being Joyce Carol Oates. Poppy Z. Brite is also well worth looking into if you enjoy this type of fiction – though she is VERY creepy and disturbing! In a well-written way, of course.

October 20, 2007

Cozying up to Mysteries

Filed under: Mystery & Suspense,Uncategorized — carricee @ 11:33 pm

Today at the store we got in a ton of cozy mysteries, and while I was shelving them I was thinking about why I love them so much. Of course, I love lots of books, so it’s really not surpising that I love the cozy mystery genre, but let me ensure you know what a cozy is before I leap into why they’re great.

A cozy usually has an amateur sleuth, rather than a PI or a police detective. These sleuths are quite often women, and they usually end up investigating the death of a neighbor, co-worker, friend, or enemy quite often while running their own business or working a particularly appealing job. These jobs or businesses usually (but not always) have something to do with food, flowers, drink, or cleaning – thus giving the author the opportunity to package recipes and tips along with her story. These mysteries are most often marketed towards women.

Now why does this grizzled veteran of thousands of science fiction books adore cozy mysteries? Easy! First of all, sometimes science fiction is just too hard. If I come home, after a long annoying day of work and just want to fall in bed – and especially if I’ve just finished a book and am starting a new one – I don’t want to pick up a science fiction novel and have to understand an alien culture! As much as I enjoy it, I frankly don’t always have the energy for it. Cozies, on the other hand, are incredibly easy to digest and get into.

Also, cozies are not gritty or gory. Hardly ever. Sometimes mystery novels freak me out, not many of them, but some of them, sometimes. I know I can read a cozy even if I’m home by myself at night during a thunderstorm and everyone in the prison just escaped. No problem! They might have murderers and and violence, but there’s always some sort of charm that glosses over all the really gross stuff. Plus, the killers in cozies usually end up being pretty pathetic – after all, the mystery is always solved by removing a stain or realizing someone added a new flower bed!

Another reason I love cozies is that they have to be the least pretentious books in the world. People who read cozies know that they are reading for pure escapism, and maybe they like the stain-busting tips or recipes that go along with the mystery. Though I do enjoy reading literary fiction, non-fiction and other esoteric such things, sometimes it’s just as fun to know that you aren’t getting anything extra out of a book. Who needs enlightenment when you can learn how to make a perfect cup of coffee? In fact, isn’t it near to being the same thing?

Hmmm…I hope I’m not veering towards learning something from a cozy…that would take away some of the joy. Well anyway, let me give you a short list of some of the cozies that I enjoy, and for once, ones that we have in stock in the store!

Coffeehouse Mysteries – by Cleo Coyle. If you like coffee, you will LOVE these mysteries. The protagonist manages a fantastic historic coffeehouse in New York City, and all too often finds herself in a mess of trouble with some type of murder or other threatening her business. Add to the mix delicious gourmet coffee tips, believable and likable characters, a fun and interesting backdrop, and an acceptable and pleasing amount of romance, and you’ve got yourself the perfect cozy!

Death on Demand Mysteries – by Carolyn Hart. Running a mystery bookstore in the small-knit, idyllic island community of Broward’s Rock, Annie Darling has the perfect setting (and name) for the cozy genre. And who loves books who doesn’t love reading about people who run bookstores?

Toadfern Mysteries – by Sharon Short. Josie Toadfern runs her small Ohio town’s only laundromat, and has become something of a stain expert, leading her to be one of the few people who can figure out what the mysterious markings on a silk blouse or handkerchief actually are. The characters in Short’s series are wacky and fun, and the setting is believable and interesting, making for a perfectly satisfying read for me.

The one downside I’ve found with cozies is at times the characters are very stereotyped and the plot can be incredibly formulaic – not with all, but definitely with some. Sometimes, the authors work so hard to be acceptable to as broad an audience as possible that in the course of trying not to offend anyone they offend most people – or at least me. But when you know you’re only reading for fun, those things really don’t seem that important. Come in and ask about cozies, everyone here will be more than happy to lead you to the best of the bunch.

October 19, 2007

SHAZAM!

Filed under: Comics & Graphic Novels,Store News and Events — carricee @ 2:21 pm

Great, exciting news! We were recently approached by a group of guys who would like their discussion group on comics to start meeting here at Don’s Books. They will be meeting the second Tuesday of every month, beginning November 13th, from 6-8, and new people with an interest in comics are welcome.

Questions about the group can be sent to the famous world-traveler comic book aficionado Weston Strickler at westonelliot@gmail.com. I’ve known a couple of the guys in the group for a long time, and trust me, the group will be fun and laid back. If you’ve ever felt like you had no one to talk about your comic book obsession, if you’re just getting started reading them and need some help, or if you have an interest in comics and graphic novels as a literary medium, come and check out the group.

October 18, 2007

Space / Time Continuum Errors

Filed under: Sci Fi & Fantasy,Store News and Events,Uncategorized — carricee @ 3:09 pm

Wow, I could have sworn we were still blogging all this time. Gee whiz, has it really been since July? I think that it’s not my fault, there must have been something going on with that darn space/time continuum doodad again.

Regardless, it’s been a great couple of months at Don’s Books. We have successfully started our monthly book discussion group, led by former IU Kokomo professor Dr. John Rudy. In November we’ll be discussing Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. Make sure to come early, we’ve been running out of chairs! Surely it’s not due to the striking resemblance our discussion leader bears to Brad Pitt?

I personally spent some time down at GenCon in August, which, for those of you unfamiliar, is a convention for role-playing gamers. The geeky ones with pencils and paper and funny shaped dice. It was huge and actually quite overwhelming. The BEST part was meeting one of my favorite new writers, Patrick Rothfuss. Rothfuss is writing one of the most compelling and beautifully written epic fantasy series out there. The initial title, The Name of the Wind, is just out in hardcover right now, so we don’t generally carry it, but we are more than happy to order it. The paperback (and the next volume in the series) is coming out in April of next year. Not only is it a great book, it was written by a GNOME.

Carri and Patrick Rothfuss, Name of the Wind author, at Gencon

Now, I honestly can’t say enough about the quality of this book. Especially as a first novel, it makes the fantasy epic seem brand-new. If you have EVER enjoyed reading fantasy, pick it up. If you are disappointed you can blame me, but I can’t imagine how you could be, and I would probably question your taste and perhaps your character. Rothfuss won the Quill award for best Science Fiction / Fantasy novel this year, and you can watch him accept the award on NBC Saturday, October 27th. I’m sure he’ll say something delightful and witty, because he’s just that kind of guy.

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