Monthly Archives: October 2014

Our Favorite Spooky Books

It’s late October, and Halloween (and Pumpkin Bowl!) are right around the corner. Here are some of our favorite creepy, eerie, and downright horrifying books to get you in the mood for the best holiday.

Ms. Barrows Recommends:

house

House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. A story inside a story, but even more complex than that. Basically, a family is living in a house that is larger inside than outside. And there’s other stuff. There’s weird page formats, including footnotes for footnotes (often citing fictional sources) and word layouts that depict events happening in the book. The result? Readers report feelings of claustrophobia, agoraphobia, and overall creepiness.

passage

The Passage, by Justin Cronin. Just do yourself a favor and read this book. Need convincing? Click here.

hill house

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. Terror, sheer terror, drives Jackson’s story. Forget monsters, who needs monsters when you have the good ol’ human psyche? Dr. John Montague, in an effort to investigate the supernatural, invites individuals who have been affected by unexplained events to come and visit Hill House. What is Hill House, you ask? Well it is just about the creepiest mansion ever constructed. The only people to take Dr. John Montague up on his offer are Theodora and Eleanor, the story’s protagonist. What follows is an exploration of the gray area between the supernatural, imagination, reality, and delusion. In a tightly written 174 page book Jackson develops a sense of tension and terror with each sentence.

Mr. Gette Recommends:

tlccontent

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. “There was a hand in the dark, and it held a knife.” How can you go wrong with an opening line like that? Boy’s family is murdered, boy is raised by ghosts, murderer comes back to finish the job. devil

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. Sometimes truth is stranger (and scarier) than fiction. Devil follows two men: the architect who designed the Chicago World’s fair, and the murderer who used the fair to ensnare his victims. Includes creepy murder house!

house

House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. Ok, sometimes fiction is a lot stranger. Even the premise of the book isn’t that simple: a man tells a story about a neighbor who wrote a scholarly paper on a documentary that doesn’t seem to exist. The documentary is about a man who discovers that his house is bigger on the inside than the outside: and it’s not as friendly as the TARDIS. Add in a ton of footnotes, footnotes with their own footnotes, words with their own color schemes, non-vertical writing – just reading this book is an adventure.

-Signing off, James Gette and Jenny Barrows (who are cowering in fear under a book fort)

Who is Sarah Dessen?

Sarah Dessen is an author who kicks some serious teen-lit tookus. She has been around since the early 2000’s and she has written a lot of stories – eleven, to be exact. The Calarco Library has six Sarah Dessen books on Kindle, and three are reviewed below.

Along for the RideAlongForRide_FINAL.indd

[This was the first book I read by Dessen. During the winter, I go to a bookstore or the library to hog a chair and read on a weekend afternoon. I wanted something fast and NOT representative of the freezing cold, so I chose Along for the Ride]. High achieving, insomniac Auden would (grudgingly) rather spend her senior summer with her Dad and his new family than help her feminist mother host parties for her multitude of graduate students. Auden’s days are filled with a distracted novelist-father, an overwhelmed step-mom, a job at a clothing boutique her own mother openly mocks, and an always crying baby sister. Then Auden meets Eli, a fellow insomniac, and she discovers the carefree life she always avoided. But Eli has his own secrets and his own reasons he never sleeps.

dessen 2Just Listen

[This was the last book I read by Dessen. I was on a roll by this point]. Annabel Greene has a secret. It is the reason her friends dropped her and she has to eat lunch alone, sitting against a wall with the other students who have no one to eat lunch with. Annabel can’t imagine talking to her family, not when her mom is grieving her own mother and her older sister has an eating disorder. She certainly can’t imagine telling anyone that she wants to quit modeling. The last person she expects to share anything with is Owen – the music-obsessed, truth-telling guy who is well known for violence and sitting alone against the wall during lunch. Can his policy of “Don’t judge, just listen” help Annabel face what happened to make her another loner sitting against the wall?

dessen 3The Truth About Forever

Macy witnessed her father’s unexpected death – something she is forced to face every time one of his peculiar packages arrives at the doorstep. If she’s learned one thing, it is better to be safe than sorry. She is a high achiever, but her higher achieving boyfriend, Jason, is away at “Brain Camp”. The summer is shaping up to be lonely and boring – one filled with SAT prep and working at the library.* Macy even has to keep helping out at her mom’s open house events, which couldn’t get any worse…until she ends up helping the Wish Catering Crew and getting a job. Besides happy chaos and new friends, Wish also brings Wes, an artist who followed an unconventional path. Will new friendships and the ongoing game of “Truth” she plays with Wes help Macy face her grief and choose her own path?

The Final Verdict

Although Sarah Dessen’s books feature a love story of some kind, they never ignore other important relationships and life obstacles. All of Dessen’s books deal with family, friendships, academics, communication, and honesty without ever feeling like an after school special. The stories move quickly, and it is easy to care about the characters. The books can feel formulaic and a bit predictable after a while, but it actually adds a level of comfort to the stories. Bonus: they usually take place in a beach/seaside town, so they are fun to read when it is cold and miserable outside.

Read if you like: summer, realistic fiction, honesty, and smart girls

Avoid if you dislike: predictable endings, love stories, and teen-lit

-Signing off, Ms. Barrows (who is definitely going to read Goblin Emperor after reading Mr. Gette’s review)

 

*Libraries aren’t boring or lonely! There are books! (she shouts while shaking her fist)

Book Review: The Goblin Emperor

goblin

I am not going to lie to you: in The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison, the words “thy” and “thou” show up with some frequency. Look past this. Solider on. It is worth it. The Goblin Emperor is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in years.

Maia is his father’s unwanted fourth son, the only child of a loveless and ill-advised marriage between an elf and a goblin. He’s spent most of his life living away from the rest of his family – until they all die in a horrible accident. Did I mention that Maia’s father was the Emperor? Well, Maia is emperor now – the untrained, unprepared, reluctant emperor of all the Elflands. And some of his subjects are none too happy about having a half-goblin sovereign.

What follows is part coming of age, part mystery, part fish-out-of-water, and a whole lot of court intrigue. Maia must learn to govern, deal with his recalcitrant advisers, and investigate his father’s death – which may not have been an accident after all. Slowly he learns how to build alliances and trust himself. The lynchpin of the novel is Maia himself, who is so sweet, earnest, and well-intentioned that he wins over both his people and the reader.

In some ways, Maia is almost too good. In a world with strict class structures and gender expectations, he is infinitely egalitarian. Whether through basic decency or naivety, Maia forgoes convention over and over again.

I am in the habit of dragging my sister into a library, loading her arms with books, and whispering (because it is a library) “Read these!” before bounding away to find yet more books to bury her under. Shortly after I shoved The Goblin Emperor at her, I received an email that said “I think it’s been forever since I was so genuinely pleased at a developing romance as I was with Maia and [spoiler removed].” And I agree. Maia’s relationship with his love interest develops in a natural and charming way. I wish they had more
scenes together. I feel that way about a lot of characters – they’re engaging, funny, and real.

By the end of the book, all I wanted was more time with these characters. And there isn’t a better recommendation than that.

The Goblin Emperor is available on our Kindles.

Read if you like: politics, complicated families, underdogs.

Avoid if you don’t like: complicated naming structures, made up words, and other fantasy trappings.

-Signing off, Mr. Gette (who really wants a sequel, and is really sad the author has said there won’t be one).

How M.T. Anderson’s Feed Visualized an App-Filled World

feed

JG: Last Thursday at Convocation, when Howard Gardner told his anecdote about the student who asked him why students still have to go to school when smartphones exist, I immediately thought of Feed, by M. T. Anderson.

JB: And since Mr. Gette read it several years ago and I read it this past summer, we thought we could provide a review/discussion!

 

Summary of Feed (JB)

Titus and his friends want to party on the moon for spring break, but when they meet Violet Durn, they end up getting hacked by an anti-feed “terrorist” instead. For the first time, Titus can’t access the Feed. He doesn’t know what his credit is. He can’t buy things. He has to talk to his fellow Feed-less friends because he can no longer chat through the Feed. Stranded in a hospital room until it is safe for the Feed to be turned back on, Titus gets to know Violet in the unreality of a Feed-less world. Titus knows he likes Violet, but is he prepared for a girl who can confidently live beyond the Feed? When they return to earth, Titus returns to corporate-run SchoolTM while Violet reunites with her father, a professor of dead languages (like BASIC). At first Titus has fun going to the mall and never buying things, creating false consumer profiles with Violet and mocking his Feed-washed friends. He’s falling in love, after all. But will Titus stick by Violet when she pays the price for her rebellious rejection of the Feed?

 

On Consumerism (JG)

Gardner talked about the omnipresence of corporate logos, such as the Amazon shopping cart or the Twitter bird. These symbols are instantly recognizable to many people. He also mentioned David Egger’s The Circle – a 2013 novel about a giant corporation and lack of personal privacy.

In Titus’s Feed world, everyone has a profile. Anything you look at, talk about, watch, etc. affects and informs your profile, which corporations then use to sell you things. Admire someone’s shirt? It can be yours for just $15.99! Corporations are powerful and ever-present. Violet encounters trouble because her profile is erratic, and doesn’t conform to the usual standards. It even impacts her ability to get medical care.

 

On Image (JB and JG)

Keeping up with the Jones’s – did this disappear with the 1950’s or has it been reincarnated in Facebook likes and Instagram comments? Gardner didn’t comment, but he did discuss the pressure to appear polished and invincible on social media.

There are three types of people in Feed – those who were given the Feed at birth, those who purchased the Feed later in life, and those who can never afford the Feed. Through access to the Feed, Anderson scaffolds the socio-economic divide. Titus and his friends represent the first group – upper middle class individuals who have been building credit and a consumer profile since birth. They care only about who has the most lesions and the best cars. What are lesions? Only the best example of Keeping up with the Jones’s. Throughout the book, characters develop lesions (probably as a result of the environmental destruction and pollution perpetuated by the corporations). After the stars of a popular show start showing lesions, having them becomes trendy. Those with the Feed wear clothes designed to show the lesions off. One character even gets artificial lesions in a bid to fit in and keep up with her peers.

Violet and her father represent variations of the second group – Violet can usually “pass” as “Feed since Birth”, but her father’s lower-class status is made obvious through his Feed Pack (a backpack computer with glasses that allow him to view the Feed). Anderson depicts the last group, the Feed-less, only through the main characters’ interpretations. We learn that there are entire legions of people without Feeds – they riot, fight and challenge the Feednet. Not to worry! Corporations co-opt the Feed-less for their own gain, popularizing riot gear (Kent State is all the rage) and other “third-world trends” that Titus and his friends quickly purchase.

 

On Relationships (JB)

Gardner lamented the changing nature of relationships – can intimate relationships exist online? Can the virtual world enhance a relationship, or will it automatically render it shallow and meaningless?

Anderson takes care to depict relationships that began outside of the Feed – Violet and Titus, Violet and her father, Violet’s mother and father. The reader would identify these three relationships as the only human, intimate relationships. Do any of these relationships survive? When Violet entrusts her memories with Titus via the Feed, he is already questioning his commitment to her, or his ability to deny the Feed. Titus is familiar and often satisfied with relationships based in the Feed – consumerist, status obsessed parents and amoral friends whose greatest concerns are winning free stuff from the corporations and donning the latest trends like lesions and riot gear. Can human relationships exist within the Feed, or is the only lasting relationship with the Feednet itself?

 

On School (JG)

I led this post with Gardner’s story about being approached by a student who asked why, when smartphones exist and can be used to look up the answer to any question, Even with the Feed in his head, which lets him instantly look up anything he wants to know, and will even suggest that word that’s on the tip of his tongue, Titus still has to go to school. Or rather, SchoolTM. He thinks it “sounds completely, like, Nazi”  that schools used to be government-run (p. 107). Titus explains that they used to learn useless stuff, like when Columbus landed and how to do chemical experiments. Now, SchoolTM  teaches students how to use their feeds and bargain hunt. It is, Titus assures the reader, still hard.

 

Of course, just because Titus can look things up at a moment’s notice doesn’t mean he does, He hates feeling stupid, but ask Violet and her father to tell him what something is or means without looking it up himself. Violet’s father, whose speech comes across as formal but normal to the reader might as well be speaking Shakespearean English to Titus and his friends. Titus’s language is peppered with slang and abbreviations, as one might expect in a chat-based culture. Corporations also shape language through gimmicks like offering prizes for mentioning a brand – through the feed, of course – a certain amount of times.

 

Technology Timeline

Anderson semi-frighteningly predicted a lot of technologies that either 1. did not exist in 2000 or, 2. were barely emerging in 2000. Not convinced? Here’s a list:

  • Google Glass – 2011 prototype, 2012-2013 testing, 2014 use in the military
    • Feedpacks
  • GPS navigation systems – widely popularized with the TomTom in 2002
    • Titus’ car driving to the correct place on command
  • Bluetooth – invented in 1994, but not widely popularized until the 2000’s
    • Talking to someone through the Feed
  • Online classes/education –  University of Phoenix (for-profit school) launched online classes in 1989, which popularized in the 2000’s
    • SchoolTM
  • Charter Schools (receives public funding, operates independently) – first charter school laws written in Minnesota in 1991, since then 41 states have enacted charter school laws
    • SchoolTM
  • Google (highly responsive search engine with targeted advertising) – began in 1996, received patent for page ranking mechanism in 2001, Google Adsense launched in 2003
    • The Feed’s ability to tell you what material things you like and want to buy
  • Silicon Valley – Google moved to Silicon Valley in 1999
    • Corporate technology living spaces, such as where Titus lives (similar concept also featured in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake)
  • Mobile, wi-fi enabled technology (smartphones, etc.) – the iPod released in 2001,
    • The Feed
  • Streaming video – Netflix introduces streaming in 2007
    • TV shows and news are streamed through the Feed (a feedcast).

Hey, so it could be worse, right? I mean, at least you’re not being constantly advertised to when you’re on your smart device. Apps don’t have pop up ads for goods or services or other apps, right?

Oh, they do?

Oh.

– TTFN, Jenny Barrows and James Gette

New Books News – Game of Thrones Edition

game_of_thrones_logo

Greetings Hopkins! The new year brings new things to the Calarco Library Blog. The newest of the new things is New Books News, a quasi-regular column that will highlight recent additions to the library.

A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge. (Tyrion Lannister)

The Calarco Library has long had George R.R. Martin’s incomplete A Song of Ice and Fire series on Kindle; however, we came to realize three things:

  1. Some people might want to read epicly long books in their physical form
  2. Winter is coming…someone might need something to do. The Song of Ice and Fire series certainly qualifies as something to do.
  3. Some of us (including librarians) may have binge watched all four seasons of the Game of Thrones HBO series this summer and may have decided to read all the books before season five comes out in the spring.

So without further ado, we present Martin’s current installments in A Song of Ice and Fire! If you are interested in checking out a copy, simply pay a visit to the upper level of the library or search the library catalog for availability.

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