Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

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What are you Reading Wednesday: Dracula–When a Vampire was a Vampire

July 1, 2009

By Andrea Cohn, head cataloger at the Indiana Humanities Council

Have you noticed that Vampires have been getting a lot of good press lately? They are the Hollywood it thing at the moment. And, I must confess, ever since “Interview with a Vampire,” I haven’t quite been able to shake the image of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise as smooth-talking, well-dressed night stalkers. But something has happened lately to the Vampire — he/she has been made more human than horror.

There is now a vampire for everyone, not just the horror crowd or the “Goth” click. They even have the Twilight saga, a cleaned-up version of the charming, unavailable, yet “only eats animals” type of vamp that even a teenage girl and her mother can love. HBO has the “TruBlood” series in its second season, which is also a series of novels by Charline Harris. This is much more adult fare, but the vampires are still humanized and morally complex individuals who can opt to dine on synthesized blood instead of snacking on humans (lucky us!). Of course, I am a fan of all of the above, including the Anne Rice novels which the “Interview with a Vampire” movie was based on.

Yep, even before Hollywood picked up on the craze, I was a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” devotee, an Anne Rice fan, and a big friend of horror movies featuring my favorite undead characters. So, it may surprise some to know that I have just now gotten around to reading the origin of all vampire sagas, the 1897 Bram Stoker classic Dracula. I don’t know why I put it off for so long. but I’m glad that I finally made the effort. It is a slow read at first, as the entire book is written as journal entries, diaries, and letters between the main characters. I didn’t really find the book frightening (unless you count the treatment of the female characters in the book, but that is blog discussion for another day!), but I did find it refreshing to see the Father of the Vampires was a despicable, gruesome, loathsome individual deserving of the title. Here is a description of the Count from early in the book: 

“I was conscious of the presence of the Count, and of his being as if lapped in a storm of fury. As my eyes opened involuntarily I saw his strong hand grasp the slender neck of the fair woman and with giant’s power draw it back, the blue eyes transformed with fury, the white teeth champing with rage, and the fair cheeks blazing red with passion. But the Count! Never did I imagine such wrath and fury, even to the demons of the pit. His eyes were positively blazing. The red light in them was lurid, as if the flames of hell fire blazed behind them. His face was deathly pale, and the lines of it were hard like drawn wires. The thick eyebrows that met over the nose now seemed like a heaving bar of white-hot metal. With a fierce sweep of his arm, he hurled the woman from him, and then motioned to the others, as though he were beating them back.”

Now that, my friends, is a Vampire you can sink your teeth into!

Who are your favorite vampires? Dracula? Edward from the Twilight series? Or are you more a fan of vampire-slayers?

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Any Best Books of Indiana?

June 24, 2009

The Best Books of Indiana Competition had a record-tying 62 entries in 2009. Are you reading any of them? http://www.in.gov/library/bbi09.htm

If so, share your thoughts.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: All the King’s Men

June 10, 2009

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at Indiana Humanities Council

Somehow, I escaped college and high school without reading many of the classics—a feat I thoroughly enjoyed at the time, but one that I now regret. So, I am constantly trying to weave in a few of those with my ever-expanding list of “new” novels. My current classic is the Pulitzer Prize-winning “All the King’s Men,” by Robert Penn Warren.

Set in the South during the 1930s, the story follows the rise and fall of Willie Stark—a farm boy turned governor, narrated by Jack Burden, Willie’s right-hand man. What I love most about this book is not it’s overarching themes—original sin, responsibility, love, hatred, etc.,–it’s that each sentence Warren writes is ripe with imagery—whether it’s Willie’s stump speech, an apartment building or his mother’s demeanor towards men.

Willie Stark is bigger than life–so big, in fact, he has to be fiction. Or is he? Some say he’s patterned after politician Huey Long, and we can all pull a few traits out of ol’ Willie that have infected even our favorite politicians. But what about Jack Burden? Anne Stanton? Like any good novel, the characters are bursting with fictional and non-fictional experiences, choices and thoughts.

There are many classics that I avoid reading, some for sheer length, but this should not be one of them. “All the King’s Men,” is a great, timeless novel that offers a one-of-a-kind glimpse into 1920s and 1930s politics in the South. History? Check. Poetry? Literature? Check, check. Politics and law? Check, check. Entertainment? CHECK.

Does Warren present an accurate portrayal of what you think  politics were like in the South during the 20s and 30s? Why should we continue to read about fictional politics from the past?

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What-Are-You-Reading-Wednesday

June 3, 2009

In this weekly series, we’ll touch base with Council staff members, board members and friends to discover what book is on their nightstand. This week, intern Christian Hines catches up with Orwell.

As a student of the English language and literary tradition, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m just now getting around to 1984. I’ve read my Bradbury, I’ve read my Huxley, and I even made it through Ayn Rand’s tirade at the end of Anthem. But not having read 1984 is akin to being on the outside of an inside joke. So much of Orwell’s phraseology like “Newspeak” or “Doublethink,” and even the adjective “Orwellian,” have assimilated into the English vernacular. Even a scant familiarity with figures like Big Brother functions as a sort of cultural currency in American society. 

Though I’ve only completed roughly 70 percent of the novel, Orwell’s frightening vision strikes me not so much for its political, but for its historic import. It is not necessarily the story’s plot, but the story’s mood, that has left an indelible impression upon the literary world. The book was published only four years after the close of World War II, right as the Cold War embers were beginning to glow. And though Orwell creates a terrifying villain in the government of Oceania, there is still an element of satire and humor to the work.  The Capitalists, according to the government’s history textbooks, were barbaric industrialists who created monopolies, suppressed the poor, and always wore top-hats. Like all humor, there is truth in such a depiction, and Orwell recognized that one need not abstain from poking fun at the propaganda of radical politics even as it destroys a society. 

Despite Orwell’s subtle humor, 1984’s influence has persisted because of its prophetic critique of radicalism and authoritarian intervention. Perhaps I’m too young to really be frightened by his vision, but I still recognize the biting accusation against the pattern of political and societal revolution which, in this case, led to the dystopian world of 1984. The paradox, of course, is that it takes a revolution to undo a revolution.  “If there is hope,” Winston mutters, “it is in the proles” (short for Proletariat). Though society produced a monster in its discontent, it is discontent, once again, which must overturn the beast. Orwell’s most prominent work, therefore, is not only an admonition against a certain type of government, but against the excess, folly, and capricious passion of the masses.

Have you read 1984? If so, what book should I check out next? And, if you haven’t, what’s stopping you from pulling the book off the shelf?

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Time and Again

February 2, 2009

Since today is Groundhog Day, we were thinking of watching the movie. This movie is so well-known that “Groundhog Day” has entered the cultural vocabulary as referring to a particular type of time travel: being caught in an infinite loop and reliving the same experience over and over.

What is your favorite movie about time travel? Mine would probably be “Back to the Future,” “The Final Countdown,” or perhaps “The Lake House.” Of course, there are many others, including “Somewhere in Time” and the classic, “The Time Machine.”

“The Time Machine” was adapted from the novel by H.G. Wells which defines the genre, but in American literature there is another very fine example: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. I have always enjoyed the chapter where Hank, the Yankee, is trying to explain the concept of inflation to sixth-century peasants who think a penny is an excellent wage for a day’s work. Film cannot possibly capture the fun of the verbal slapstick in Twain’s dialogue as Hank predicts a time in the future when a mechanic’s average wage will be an astonishing 200 cents a day.

In 1890, the year after Twain’s book came out, Ambrose Bierce published a short story entitled “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” This tale set the standard for journeys through compressed time, wherein a character lives a lifetime in a single moment of imagination.

All of these forms of fiction illustrate the mystery of time and the magic of literary and cinematic art. A good book is, after all, a time machine in itself.

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Sycamore Review is Reviewing Submissions

August 26, 2008

Sycamore Review is now accepting submissions for Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Art/Design. Submission guidelines for the various categories are explained on their site.

Deadline is October 17 so get to mailing!

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Latest Sycamore Review is Out

August 26, 2008

I’ve been way behind on my blog reading (as you might have noticed if you saw the date of the WYA link from yesterday). But this is information worth passing along even if it’s a couple of months old.

The newest Sycamore Review is (ahem…has been) out. Unlike a lot of university literary mags the Sycamore Review is not only produced at Purdue U. but it features content from students there (I could be wrong but I think student content is all MFAs and PhD candidates). At the time that this issue was being put together Michael Chabon was set to deliver what turned out to be a marvelously engaging talk at the university. As a result Chabon was interviewed for the issue and Friend of Hoosierati, Nancee Reeves,1 wrote a review of Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road.

1. Nancee is resistant to all attempts to get her to start posting again on her own blog, Fickle Foe, but many of the personal essays she’s posted about her teeny tiny hometown are worth re-reading.