Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Special

‘Warning: You may have a huge, invisible spider living inside your skull. This is not a metaphor.

You will dismiss this as ridiculous fearmongering. Dismissing things as ridiculous fearmongering is, in fact, the first symptom of parasitic spider infection – the creature secretes a chemical into the brain to stimulate scepticism, in order to prevent you from seeking a cure. That’s just as well, since the “cure” involves learning what a chainsaw tastes like.’

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halloween

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

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You know the story of Bluebeard, right? When he isn’t looking, his innocent new wife stumbles into the one room in their house he keeps locked – his make-shift tomb, filled with the bodies of his murdered lovers.

Moral of the story: If your new husband has a locked room in his house/ship that he’s weirdly evasive about, run away.

John Dies @ the End – David Wong

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I know I’ve mentioned this one before. But it’s one of my favourite books ever. It makes sense that it would come up a lot.

‘STOP

You should not have touched this book with your bare hands.

No, don’t put it down. It’s too late.

They’re watching you.

My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours. You may not want to know about the things you’ll read on those pages, about the sauce, about Korrock, about the invasion, and the future. But it’s too late. You touched the book. You’re in the game. You’re under the eye.

The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.’

This was a random bookshop find for me. You get why I had to buy it, right?

This Book is Made of Spiders – David Wong

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‘Warning: You may have a huge, invisible spider living inside your skull. This is not a metaphor.

You will dismiss this as ridiculous fearmongering. Dismissing things as ridiculous fearmongering is, in fact, the first symptom of parasitic spider infection – the creature secretes a chemical into the brain to stimulate scepticism, in order to prevent you from seeking a cure. That’s just as well, since the “cure” involves learning what a chainsaw tastes like.’

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

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This book is a manifestation of all the Victorian fears around scientific and technological progress. Mary Shelley wants us to consider the idea that someone, somewhere has probably built a man from the parts of various dead men, and that he’s feeling pretty murderous about it.

Lot No. 249 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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A student at Oxford University reanimates an ancient Egyptian mummy. It runs around the city murdering anyone it can get its hands on.

This story serves to answer the question we’ve all wondered: What are the weird noises we can hear in the flat upstairs? A reanimated ancient Egyptian mummy, of course.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime – Oscar Wilde

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During a dinner party at a friend’s house, Lord Arthur is informed by a famed psychic that it is his destiny to become a murderer.  Lord Arthur is horrified by the revelation, and resolves to get the awful deed out of the way as soon as possible in order than he can marry the woman he loves (it is not right, in his mind, to marry before so horrible but inevitable a task is completed). As such he sets about attempting to commit a murder. However, killing someone is not as simple a business as he would have imagined.

Until it is.

One night on his way home from work, Arthur sees the psychic who caused him all these problems leaning on a bridge, staring down into the water. One quick push later, Arthur has achieved his task and is now free to marry his girlfriend, Sybil.

Dracula – Bram Stoker

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A vampire invades London, frightening its men and corrupting the innocence of its good 19th century ladies.

Reading this book you can’t help but wonder if Bram Stoker’s real fear isn’t the monster he describes, but instead the possibility of female sexuality. When one of the female characters turns into a vampire she becomes an overtly sexual being. The men’s reaction? Cut her head off.

Grasshopper Jungle – Andrew Smith

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‘In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend Robby have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things.

This is the truth. This is history.

It’s the end of the world.

And nobody knows anything about it.’

Warm Bodies – Isaac Marion

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In this book a zombie falls in love with a girl and gradually starts become human again. It’s one of the only zombie-related stories I have ever read.

It’s in this list because cute romance or not, the zombie apocalypse terrifies me. I have decided that were it to happen, I would rather go early. I would rather be a happy brainless zombie than live in that world as a human. This fatalistic attitude may have sprung from the fact that I live right down the road from a graveyard, so if the zombie apocalypse were to go down, I would be totally screwed.

The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson

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This book is about ghosts. Specifically, the ghost of Jack the Ripper. You can imagine what he must be up to. It’s the job of Rory and her gang of ghost hunters to bring the murderer down. Hopefully for good, this time.

Sequel Watch: Winger

This book was great. Andrew Smith uses Ryan Dean West’s immature but developing voice to navigate issues of sexuality, masculinity, misogyny and loss. He manages to do this while also being very, very funny. Not many books make me actually laugh out loud, but this one had me giggling with abandon even outside of the safety and seclusion of my bedroom. I laughed, by myself, reading, in public.

Winger, by Andrew Smith, is the diary of Ryan Dean West, fourteen year old genius who just landed himself in what his boarding school, Pine Mountain refers to as ‘Opportunity Hall’ for the semester. It’s where they put the bad kids, and Ryan Dean has found himself sharing a bedroom with one of the baddest: notorious school bully Chas Becker. As he’s been skipped ahead a couple grades owing to the whole genius issue, most of Ryan Dean’s friends are a couple years older than him. Generally, this isn’t a problem, apart from where Ryan Dean’s best friend, Annie – who he also happens to be madly in love with – is concerned.  When Annie looks at him, she only sees a little kid. Winger is Ryan Dean’s homemade school survival manual, complete with the hand drawn comics he uses to make sense of his life as it develops.

wingerThis book was great. Andrew Smith uses Ryan Dean West’s immature but developing voice to navigate issues of sexuality, masculinity, misogyny and loss. He manages to do this while also being very, very funny. Not many books make me actually laugh out loud, but this one had me giggling with abandon even outside of the safety and seclusion of my bedroom. I laughed, by myself, reading, in public.

A central theme of this book is the idea of masculine identity. One way that Smith dissects this is through Ryan Dean’s relationships with girls. Ryan Dean, like many teenage boys, spends most (pretty much all) of his time thinking about sex, and in particular, how to get sex. His interactions with girls are limited as a result, because he views them as sex objects. This attitude almost entirely messes up his relationship with Annie as Ryan Dean struggles to figure out whether sex with a girl is better than a relationship with the girl he has actually feelings for. Joey – Ryan’s friend, I am going to talk more about in a minute – points out to Ryan Dean that perhaps his quest for ‘a girl’ is part of what keeps ‘the girl’ (Annie) away. How is she supposed to trust a boy more interested in sex in general than women as individuals? Much of Ryan Dean’s journey throughout the novel is concerned with the importance of love and sex to his happiness.

Probably my favourite part of the book was Ryan Dean’s friendship with the aforementioned Joey Consentino, another resident of Opportunity Hall. Joey is the only openly gay kid at Pine Mountain. Initially, Joey’s sexuality makes Ryan Dean uncomfortable. He spends a lot of time dwelling on Joey’s sexuality, and what it means to him. He worries about his friendship with Joey being misinterpreted as something more, both by Joey himself and the wider school community. The better he gets to know Joey, however, the more he gets over his anxieties. At the start of the novel, Ryan Dean processes the idea of ‘gayness’ in the same way as he sees women: monolithically. Rather than – as he comes to (because Joey is the freaking best. As per usual, I fell in love with a guy I could never have…) – seeing Joey as the loyal, kind, funny, troubled, complex person that he is, he just obsesses about the fact that he likes boys. Ryan Dean’s friendship with Joey helps him realise that sex isn’t at the centre of everything. Love is.

In coming to understand the complexities in others, Ryan Dean really comes to know himself. When unthinkable heartbreak occurs, he has the tools to survive it. He understands that love will see him through. He learns that his masculine identity is complex, that it’s more than sex and beating on boys who disagree with you. It’s about imagining women complexly and having loving and platonic relationships with other men.

Winger is a wonderfully complex imagining of the mind of a teenage boy. Ryan Dean West is a frustrating, funny, immature but growing protagonist. His journey makes awesome reading.

Stand Off, Andrew Smith’s sequel was released early September. Details on Goodreads.

5 Weird Reads

5 Weird Reads to Get You Out of Your Real Life and/or Reading Rut

Sometimes real life gets kind of boring.

Boredom is contagious. It infects all areas of your life. Sometimes – and I hate to admit it – boredom even invades your sacred reading space.

YA has trends like everything else after all. There are only so many dystopian novels a person can read, you know?

I might have a solution.

5 Weird Reads to Get You Out of Your Real Life and/or Reading Rut:

1. Going BovineLibba Bray

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Cameron has mad cow disease. He’s going to die. Unless he does as the hot angel Dulcie tells him to, and takes his hypochondriacal dwarf buddy, Gonzo and an angry Viking gnome across America in search of a cure. And defeat the evil United Snow Globe Wholesalers in the process, of course.

2. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender – Leslye Walton

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This book is a beautiful example of magical realism. The story weaves throughout the tragic history of the Roux family. Ava Lavender, a girl born with wings, traces back through the saddest stories in order to find her place in the world. Is she an angel, or just a girl? Can she be both?

3. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

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Bod is the only living resident in a graveyard. It’s hard to grow up around the dead, but it comes with certain perks. Bod knows about to fade, like a ghost. It’s a killer move for hide and seek, but sadly Bod doesn’t have anyone living to play that with.

4. Grasshopper JungleAndrew Smith

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Austin and Robby may have accidentally brought about the end of humanity by accidentally releasing an army of unstoppable, six foot praying mantises in Iowa. Unstoppable praying mantises who pretty much only eat and fuck, which wouldn’t be so bad if their diet weren’t strictly human.

5. John Dies @ the End – David Wong

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This book isn’t YA, and absolutely isn’t for younger readers, but remains one of the weirdest pieces of fiction I have read ever. Basically if you take the soy sauce Korrock (evil God of evil) becomes your responsibility. You can’t un-learn about the invasion (led by Korrock). Once you’ve taken the sauce you must fight the forces threatening to enslave humanity. This might involve killing the same two headed creature with the same ax twice.

100 Sideways Miles

100 Sideways Miles is an interesting read. It’s pretty preoccupied with death, but that’s unsurprising considering it’s about a kid with a serious illness whose mother was crushed by a falling horse when he was only a toddler. Finn Easton is definitely a boy you’ll want to spend time with.

I am beginning to see the potential for Andrew Smith to become one of my favourite authors. I sometimes find myself in a bit of a reading rut, where all of the narratives bleed into one and the characters start to feel somewhat the same. It’s sadly inevitable in a trends based book market. But Andrew Smith’s work exists outside of that.

100 Sidew100 sideways milesays Miles is about Finn Easton, the epileptic boy who sees the world in miles rather than minutes. He has heterochromatic eyes and a scar on his back that looks something like this :|:

Finn’s dad wrote a book about angels who invaded the earth, scars exactly like Finn’s own on their backs from where they removed their wings, the evidence of their true nature. The angels also happened to be cannibals. The book was pretty popular and very controversial among religious types, so when people see Finn’s scar they tend to freak out. He doesn’t take his shirt off much.

The main character in his father’s book is also called Finn. His father says they aren’t the same person, but Finn isn’t so sure. In fact he’s pretty certain that he’s trapped inside of his father’s book, his whole future mapped out for him.

What I like about Andrew Smith’s writing is its unflinching study of human character. Finn Easton is an angry kid. After he has a seizure he wakes up and tells the world to fuck off. He even wishes that he would die sometimes. He’s in love with a girl called Julia, but he doesn’t feel grown up enough to have sex with her yet. He feels highly inadequate compared to his best friend Cade Hernandez, who seems like he has everything figured out.

It’s much harder for kids with disabilities to feel like they can take control of their lives. In Finn’s case, with his seizures, there is a genuine danger that he could do himself serious damage if left alone. He can feel his family watching him constantly, checking and worrying and waiting for the next seizure to come around. And it always does. You can see why he would feel his life had already been determined for him.

It was interesting for me to read this one. My brother has epilepsy, and I am forever trying to make sure that he doesn’t have to feel the burden of our mum and I worrying about him. I know that he probably does anyway. Sometimes when you look after somebody you get into the habit of thinking of their disability as you experience it – as the person doing the caring – so it was good for me to spend some time thinking about the experience of actually having the thing.

As much as I enjoyed it, the book wasn’t without issues. I would have liked to get more of a sense of Julia, Finn’s girlfriend. She’s a rape survivor, which is brought up once then never again. Finn tells us that the boyfriend responsible is beaten to death in prison, but this information doesn’t seem to have any effect on the actual story. I had such an in depth sense of Finn and the issues he had to deal with, the lack of development of Julia was particularly noticeable. It also seemed to me as if their relationship happened very quickly, so much so that I didn’t have the opportunity to get as invested as I might have liked before Julia was leaving again.

100 Sideways Miles is an interesting read. It’s pretty preoccupied with death, but that’s unsurprising considering it’s about a kid with a serious illness whose mother was crushed by a falling horse when he was only a toddler. Finn Easton is definitely a boy you’ll want to spend time with.