You Spin Me Right ‘Round, Baby, Right ‘Round

The_Exorcist_1971I’ve been afraid of many things during my life, but for some reason the idea of being possessed by a demon has always horrified me. It’s right up there with nuclear winter and Donald Trump becoming president. With all the other evils in the world, I have to worry about demon possession because let’s face it: I don’t think I have a soul. If there’s some wisp of a soul it’s pretty weak and I’m almost 100% certain it’s gas.

William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, was a comedy writer. Probably still is. I don’t know. I’d have to look it up. He read an account of a teenage boy who had been showing symptoms of an odd and inexplicable illness. The boy’s bed would levitate and he would rise from the bed like Lazarus from the dead at a beer pong competition. Words would be written on his skin-but from the inside. The kid’s parents were a mess. Was their boy gravely ill or was it a spiritual matter?

They called in a couple of priests to do an exorcism on the boy and whip bang, old Split Hoof was out of there. Later, there was a story that the boy had been molested by his aunt. Whether the ‘possession’ was a side effect or a cry for help, I don’t know. Maybe in the 1940’s (and sometimes now) it’s easier to talk about being possessed by a demon than it is about sexual assault.

The story stuck with Blatty for years and the outcome was The Exorcist. Here’s the lowdown: Father Merrin is on an archaeological dig in Iraq and uncovers a small statue of a demon he’s come up against in the past. He knows – in the way that priests and prescient children seem to know – that evil is nearby. In the movie, this whole part never made a lot of sense to me, but then again I was six when I first watched it, so a lot of things didn’t make sense.

In the novel, Regan MacNeil is a sweet 12-year-old daughter of a movie star. Regan’s father isn’t in the picture and the mom, Chris, is an actually with-it famous movie star single parent. She and Regan have a very close bond. But while her Mom is filming a movie in Washington, DC something strange is beginning to happen in their house and to Regan herself. Weird noises are coming from the attic. The housekeeper convinces Chris there are rats up there because hey, who would hear scratching noises in the attic and think ‘Is that you Satan?’ (By the way, demonic possession is never by Satan himself in a lot of books and movies. He’s too busy juggling campaigns and suicide bombs and which Kardashian is going to have a “hard” year because her nude selfie didn’t break the Internet).

Regan begins speaking in a language she’s never spoken before. She vomits green stuff. GREEN stuff. That ain’t natural. Chris thinks her daughter is going through a period of pre-teen angst over the divorce of her mother and father. She does what every mom does, takes her kid to get tested for everything and when the doctors can’t find anything wrong, well, maybe her kid is having a breakdown. It doesn’t occur to Chris to search for spiritual support. She is an atheist. Luckily, the place where she’s wrapping up filming is rife with Jesuit priests. She turns to Father Damien Karras for help.

Father Karras is enduring his own struggle: his mother just died and he’s having a bout of ‘Are you there God, it’s me, Damien.’ He sees Regan as a psychologist at first, shooting down the idea of demonic possession until there is no other explanation. I guess once a little girl brags that your mother’s soul is in hell and you actually hear the weak voice of your mother coming from her mouth, there’s not much else to turn to. So he goes to the bishop and the God Network begins to gossip and Father Merrin gets wind of it and says “Hey, that’s the asshole I battled long ago in Africa!”

exorcistfilmRegan is aggressive and speaking in tongues and using swear words that would make a sailor blush. Yeah. This is beyond psychological. What ensues is not only a battle for a young girl’s soul, but also for restoring faith – not just religious but in humanity. What I loved about the novel was the fact that Blatty didn’t shy away from things he knew would be controversial – much like the 1973 adaptation of his novel that shocked and sickened theatre goers. There’s a scene with a cross and….well….if you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. You’re going to a movie called The Exorcist, people! Not Fluffy Puppies on Clouds. And yeah, I even liked the restoration of faith stuff in the book, not the Roman Catholic ritual of Exorcism (although that is pretty gnarly) but the idea that dark matters can be overcome. At least for a little while. Or shipped off to the next unsuspecting soul.

But I do embrace my own darkness and demons, isn’t that right, Beelzebub? Bubs? Oh damn. He’s been exorcised again. Damn it.

Crazy Fall Publishing Part 5: September 29th

Hey there. What’s up with me? I’m drowning in new books. NBD! The things I do for you, dear reader. Yep, I’m definitely coveting and eventually reading all these books for you. No need to thank me, but if you do you can forward your good words straight to my boss. Performance appraisal time is just around the corner and a good word from you is sure to go a long way.

Anyway, I’ve been counting the days since these new books arrive, and I hope you’ll want to read them, too. Check them out–literally!

all american boysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Summary: A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement? But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
Why I’m stoked: As previously mentioned on this blog, I’m from Alton, IL, a small town across the Mississippi from Ferguson, MO. I don’t think I have to tell you how upset I’ve been to see my neighbors, friends, and family rocked by community violence and mistrust. Books like this one are necessary and welcome. I plan to read it and The Ferguson Report back-to-back. I may be known for my preference for fluffy and frivolous reads, but this is one I know will be difficult for me–and I honestly can’t wait.

madlyMadly by Amy Alward
Summary: When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn. Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime? And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news. No big deal, then.
Why I’m stoked: Fantasy and humor. Romance and adventure. And a cover that launched a thousand Instagram posts (if you didn’t see this pop up in your feed in recent weeks you are following the wrong people, my friend). Oh, my goodness. And it’s also book one in a series. Be still my beating heart. I just know this is going to be a fantastic read.

sanctuarySanctuary by Jennifer McKissack
Summary: After the untimely death of her aunt Laura, Cecilia Cross is forced to return to Sanctuary, a rambling, old French-Gothic mansion that crowns a remote island off the coast of Maine. Cecilia is both drawn to and repulsed by Sanctuary. The scent of the ocean intoxicates her, but she’s also haunted by the ghosts of her past–of her father who died at Sanctuary five years ago, and of her mother who was committed soon after. The memories leave Cecilia feeling shaken, desperate to run away and forget her terrible family history. But then a mysterious guest arrives at Sanctuary: Eli Bauer, a professor sent to examine Sanctuary’s library. Cecilia is intrigued by this strange young man who seems so interested in her — even more interested in her than in the books he is meant to be studying. Who is he and what does he want? Can Cecilia possibly trust her growing feelings for him? And can he help her make peace with her haunted, tragic past?
Why I’m stoked: I know the two plots are not the same at all, but reading this synopsis reminded me so strongly of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir that I felt compelled to put it on my TBR. While I love ghost stories, I confess it’s been an age since I’ve read a good Gothic. And the fact that a personal library plays a prominent role in the book kind of makes me crave reading it even more.

zeroesZeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti
Summary: Ethan, aka “Scam,” has a way with words. When he opens his mouth, whatever he wants you to hear comes out. But Ethan isn’t just a smooth talker. He has a unique ability to say things he doesn’t consciously even know. Sometimes the voice helps, but sometimes it hurts – like now, when the voice has lied and has landed Ethan in a massive mess. So now Ethan needs help. And he needs to go to the last people who would ever want to help him – his former group of friends, the self-named “Zeroes” who also all possess similarly double-edged abilities, and who are all angry at Ethan for their own respective reasons. Brought back together by Scam’s latest mischief, they find themselves entangled in an epic, whirlwind adventure packed with as much interpersonal drama as mind-bending action.
Why I’m stoked: On the plus side, I’ve never read a Scott Westerfeld book, so this makes me feel pretty adventurous. On the downside, I almost across the board loathe dystopian novels. However, the abilities the Zeroes posses make me second-guess my dystopian disgust. This one is going to be book one of at least a trilogy, so if I really love it I can look forward to delving into more stories later.

I should probably take a photograph of my TBR for dramatic effect. However, it would be so much taller than me it may topple over and land me with an injury that may prevent me from reading. Tragic!

House of Leaves

This book is not for you.

book coverSo says the dedication page of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves.  For a brief moment the phrase is threatening: Don’t you dare go any further; put this away because it is not for your eyes.

And then curiosity kicks in: if it’s not for me, then, who is it for?

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is staggering. It reads like non-fiction and carries a hefty section of footnotes and an index that would make War and Peace blush. Some readers might be put off by this. But just try the first dozen pages if you dare. I felt uneasy chills as I read. That funky little reptilian part of my brain woke up and said, “Oh now, dear, here is something really creepy.”

The book at the center of it all was supposedly written by an old man named Zampano, who wrote garbled words on scraps of paper. He died and left behind a trunk full of personal items. John Truant, gliding through life on drugs and alcohol while working at a dead-end job, finds the notes and the uncompleted manuscript called House of Leaves. The story it contains tugs at the back of his mind. Then it finds its way into his life. Then he becomes obsessed by it. Finally his mind breaks and he begins to believe it wasn’t some old man’s dreamy fiction but something real that happened to a particular family.

The book-within-the-book starts when Will and Karen buy a new house for their family.  One morning they wake to find a door to a hallway that wasn’t there the night before. Karen stays with the children while Will goes in. The hallway’s walls are black. Will shines a flashlight but it’s not much help. He decides to go back while he can.

Will and his friends decide to explore this hallway from nowhere. The hallway continuously expands and changes in the darkness. There is also a disturbing roaring sound. Sometimes it’s far away.  Sometimes it sounds like it’s a few feet in front of them.

Five men go into the hallway and four come out. The one they never hear from again has been lost in a hallway which leads to rooms with 200 foot ceilings and temperatures that plummet to 30 degrees.

John Truant’s own story is pulled parallel with Will and Karen’s. He becomes the story’s caretaker even as his own life spirals downward. He begins to see shadows where only light shines. He hears breathing and roaring where there is only silence. His own life and memories begin to blend with the story he is reading.

The essence of the book is about sacrifice, fear, family and obsession. What would you be willing to give up if something locked onto you and fueled an obsessive need to explore or even become lost for many months? Would you leave your family behind to find the truth about something that shouldn’t exist? Would you let your fear keep you from saving your own children?

The book may seem fantastic but there will be times, I promise you, that you will start to believe. You’ll start to hear noises, subtle ones at first and then growls in the deep silence of 3 a.m. You’ll begin to leave lights on and doors open.

And finally, there will be times where you’ll have nightmares of being lost in a black maze where all you have is the light of a guttering cigarette lighter as something growls ominously behind you…

Jennifer

What to Read (Halloween Edition)

It’s a fact, and not a very surprising one, that we all read what we like. Why go out of your way to read something that you doubt will be to your taste? This is fine but becomes a problem when, as we do here often at Everett Public Library, you try and recommend  a title to someone who might have a very different idea about what makes a “good read”.

Recently we have been trying to overcome this difficulty by having staff members talk about books that they enjoy on a particular theme. The latest topic was “Books that frighten you” in honor of Halloween. Check out the titles recommended by the staff and see if you agree on their scariness.

Cameron: The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski

Carol: Dick and Jane and Vampires by Laura Machesani

Eileen: Absolute Friends by John LeCarre

Emily: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Jennifer: The Stand by Stephen King

Kristen: Books by the author Inger Ash Wolfe and Ariana Franklin.

Marge: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Mindy: Columbine by Dave Cullen

Richard: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ron: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Scott: Hooked on Horror by Anthony Fonseca

Susan: Under the Dome by Stephen King

Theresa: Thinner by Richard Bachman

Read-Alikes

Cigarettes were the Agent Orange you paid for. –Sully (Hearts in Atlantis)

The Things They Carried is widely hailed as one of the finest books about the Vietnam War. Sometimes poignant war stories sneak up on you, where you least expect them.

I recently picked up Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis due to a recommendation I heard months ago, from none other than Seattle’s favorite reader, Nancy Pearl. I remembered her saying that Hearts in Atlantis was terrifying because of the way the terror slowly reveals itself. Though I had previously really enjoyed Stephen King’s books, I hadn’t read one in years. Pearl’s description made me want to check in with King again.

Hearts in Atlantis is a book that, strangely, complements O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. In these two books, King and O’Brien are telling a story of survival, lost innocence, and a war’s interminable legacy. And in their own way, both books are a little fantastical. In Hearts in Atlantis, King brings in his penchant for terror early in his protagonists’ lives, long before they ever go to war. He then uses that terror to explore the reasons why some became anti-war activists and why others became soldiers.

You won’t find Hearts in Atlantis on any “read-alike” list for The Things They Carried. There are many outstanding books about war, or that use war as a metaphor.  The Everett Public Library currently owns 57 titles with the Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975 — Fiction subject heading, and even more under Vietnam War, 1961-1975 — Fiction.

What I enjoyed most about reading Hearts in Atlantis was not just the book itself, but the transcendence of Pearl’s recommendation, the way the book unexpectedly balanced my reading of O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. To me, this is what programs like The Big Read are all about!

Kate

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