Sunday, October 23, 2011

First Officer's Log No 40: The Spooky Season

Halloween is upon us once again. The Spooky Season, All Hallow's Eve, Trick or Treat Night, and all that jazz. I don't have four weeks worth of spooky stories to share with you this year, but I do have four spooky books that I think everyone should read, especially around this time of year.

The spooky classics are always in fashion. Doesn't matter the time of year, the class, or the busy schedule, there's always time for a good, old fashioned ghost or horror story.

I stumbled upon a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde the other day and couldn't help thinking that it's one of those classic stories that everyone knows, but doesn't get talked about nearly as much as, say, Dracula. Jekyll and Hyde is the classic 'good vs evil' tale, a murder mystery, and a story about the proper friendships between good men, and how they disintegrate. It's ultimately a tragedy, but it maintains its ability to unnerve and spook, even 125 years later.

Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera is primarily known for the musical based upon the text. I read recently that the musical is actually more famous than the novel, originally published between 1909 and 1910. The thing is, it's a great scary story, one that has a "ghost", a beautiful woman, the man who loves her, the opulence and splendor of the opera world, and the terrible, truly awful things that the "ghost", the Phantom, does to get what he wants. He's one of the greatest villains in literature, and one of the great monsters of film. The musical makes him fluffy and almost sympathetic; the novel shows you a man capable of horrible things, who takes pleasure in doing them, and ensures that others will suffer as he has suffered, regardless of the cost.

Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray is a story that looks at the horrors that a man can unleash upon the world, and the price he must pay to redeem such a life, even if that life is beyond redemption. Dorian Gray is one of those novels that can speak to every decade since its initial publication, in 1890. It speaks to decadence, to immersion in the pleasures of the self, the ultimate in selfish desires. Dorian, himself, is a man who lives life to the fullest, but at the cost of many others' happiness. Wilde created a story that can be twisted to the decade, can speak to the pursuit of "happiness" in each decade, and perhaps even speak to the horrors of every day life, regardless of the time when one is reading it. In our time, perhaps it speaks to love of technology, love of the small pleasures, the lack of commitment to living, the fear of suffering because others make all the decisions... Dorian Gray speaks on many levels. It's why it's still one of my favorite books.

Last, I'd pick a real classic: Beowulf. I know, I know, you're looking at me, and thinking 'really, really?' Consider though: the monsters, Grendel and his Mother, are described vividly. The monsters are as much a part of the tale as Beowulf, himself, is. The monsters have a presence, and they are remembered. It's an old story, a classic story, and I think that the monsters have something to do with it. Consider it the next time you need a truly great monster story.

So there you have it! Four classic scary stories, with ghosts, ghouls, monsters, and abominations, all ready for you to curl up in a warm blanket, to get lost in their tales. Definitely sounds like my idea of a great holiday.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Until next time, fellow bibliophiles.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Man Booker Award 2011

Julian Barnes was just announced as the winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, proving that the fourth time is the charm (look at the smile on his face!). Barnes has been nominated three times previously, and won for his novel The Sense of an Ending.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Between the cats and the books, every time I come in here, the studying just doesn't get done." - A customer, quite content to make friends with Nierme

Nobel Prize in Literature 2011

The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2011 is Tomas Tranströmer, a Swedish poet. We'll be sure to keep an eye out for his work filtering into the shop.