Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review: Nightmares and Dreamscapes

I already knew I was pretty much destined to love the works of this author, but what I originally thought would be a scare-your-pants-off kind of horror actually turned out to be a creeping-goose-bumps-and-general-unease kind of horror. It may not have been one of my favorites, but let's just say, I've still been getting less sleep than usual. 

It's the end of October, and as the leaves turn brown and mushy on the streets, making sure footing even harder to find in Red Square, and as pumpkins over-eagerly carved have already started to gather mold or find themselves split into a million pieces by belligerent drunkies walking home from the Ave, I keep pining to read something genuinely scary. This collection of short stories, from one of America's preeminent authors of speculative fiction, seemed like it would fit the bill just fine.

I'm talking about, of course, Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes! It was published in 1993, the year I was born, so it was really only fitting that we celebrated our 21st birthdays together.

Her'es the thing about these short stories, though: the collection was not so much scary or startling than genuinely unnerving... sure, there were monsters, but others found the true chills and thrills in the hearts of humans.

Take, for instance, the first selection of the book: "Dolan's Cadillac," a 50-page excruciatingly detailed description of a brutal revenge plot. The minutae of its focus and the building desperation and tension of its narrator cast into doubt where the true ruthlessness lies, in the protagonist or in his quarry? Believe me when I say that it pairs well with a very specific cask of Amontillado. (Yes, that was a Poe reference... a couple of which you might find in this short story!)

Others, like "The Moving Finger," "The Rainy Season," and "Suffer the Little Children" terrify even with their brevity, by means of their brutality... the strangeness of the positions these characters find themselves thrust into makes their violent reactions seem almost justified, though never wholly absolvable.

Then you had some stories that made you think, rather than just cringe."The End of the Whole Mess" I originally watched a couple of years ago, via it's television adaptation, so I already knew how it ended... but it still made me cry when I read it for the first time. Stephen King just communicates so effectively through the written word; I'd hope that any who takes a chance of viewing adaptations of his work read the originals as well.

Though they weren't all just terror-lurking-in-human-form kind of things... a couple of them actually utilized monster types to make their point. "Sneakers" and "The Night Flier" involve the inclusion of a ghost, and a vampire (respectively), which makes them genuine horror stories from that specific angle of a "creature feature" in the written form. 

So, we've got a brutal revenge opus, brutality inflicted in an unsuspecting way, a sci-fi thinkpiece, and ghoulish monsters, but you know what else? Some of these stories are just freakin' strange. "You Know They've Got One Hell of a Band" and "The House on Maple Street" are essentially Twilight Zone episodes within themselves... from a town exclusively populated by rock 'n' roll legends, to children discovering aliens, these tales are written so unnervingly close to normal that when the uneasiness starts to set in, you're already sold on the outcome.

 (Also, quick note when reading "The House on Maple Street": I'm betting that the family wasn't named the Bradbury children just on some fluke. Beside you know that in his own way, Stephen King is really a child of Bradbury's himself...)

Final Verdict: it's a well-curated collection of curiosities, though I do think I enjoyed Night Shift a little bit more. Now all I've got to read is Skeleton Crew!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

College Fashion Link Up: Sleepy Hollow

Alright, so to answer the question that many who know me well began to ask as soon as they saw the title of my most recent College Fashion article - Did I blatantly use my position as a contributor for College Fashion as an excuse to pimp out one of my Fall favorites?- I answer with a resounding, "You bet I did!"

It's one of my favorite television shows on right now, and it's one of my favorite Halloween movies (no, not the Time Burton one, ya lunk, the Disney musical short!), so why wouldn't I have good reason to make this year's spook-tastic holiday-themed article based around one of the best baddies to ever hit American Literature: The Headless Horseman, and Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"! 

I mean, it also helps that it's the perfect example of one of my favorite literary movements: Romanticism, with its naturalistic elements and focus on the supernatural, with Gothic literature also falling under its umbrella, makes for the perfect kind of reading material to match with this gloomy Seattle weather. While I'm wasting away studying for midterms as the rain starts leaking through the ceilings of our old Sigma Kastle, at least I've still got one better than that superstitious, flighty Ichabod Crane!

Here's a sneak peek of the article, integrating the spooky characteristics of that good ol' Headless Hessian, into a look that's chock full of riding basics and fall knits, but short one missing head! 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review: Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me

Alright, so this is a little bit of a late post... make that quite the late post. So I read this book during Recruitment way back when, and never got around to saying much about it. Mainly because I didn't have all that much to say. 

Who hasn't gazed into the glossy state of celebrity, as documented by tabloids, gossip blogs, magazines, and more, and not dreamed of being a member to that exclusive faction? I mean, even if you never outright admitted to yourself, "I wish I was a celebrity," there are celebrities you admire... for me, it's Kate Middleton, Mindy Kaling, Emma Watson, and Lauren Conrad, whom I all admire for various reasons. If I see them on Facebook's trending topics list, chances are I'm clicking over.

Well, in Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me, Rachel Bertsche takes celeb obsession to a new level... by crafting a lifestyle plan for her own edification, for the purposes of gaining greater insight into Hollywood talents, like Gwyneth's cooking, SJP's fashion sense, Jen and Ben's marriage, and Beyonce's, well, everything. Cue the shenanigans.

To be honest, I could probably take the easy route here, and pinpoint my dislike of this nonfiction account on the principle of disdain for a dangerous cultural practice - namely, star-stalking - but lets be real: the culture of celebrity is deeply entrenched in modern media. Like I mentioned earlier, I have a ready-and-available list of celebrities I admire, based strictly on the scant amounts of information I've been able to glean on their personalities from a very select source of a very biased, and often unhealthy, media.

We connect to celebrities, and use them as a source of self-projection, building up a sort of dependent relationship, where we consider them close to us, and yet, they don't know us at all. This can take a significant emotional toll on us individually, not to mention on the public consciousness: remember the immediate reaction when Robin Williams died?

(And it wasn't just him, for me: I distinctly remember my mother sitting me down six years ago, in 2008, to break the news to me that Heath Ledger had died. Even just a month and a half ago, I was in the middle of a quick lunch amidst Recruitment workshops, when I got the text from my sister, The Cheerleader, about Joan Rivers' death, with the accompanying sentiments, "I wanted to make sure you heard it from us first.")

However, my dislike for the nonfiction book stemmed more from the fact that I felt like the advice I was being given - detailing how to achieve the lifestyles of those I only read about in magazines - were things I HAD already read in the pages of magazines before. From work-out advice, to cooking tips, to figuring out how to balance work and, well, the rest of your life, the instruction was generic.

Overall, and I know this might sound a little crazy, I felt like the book would have been more successful in a blog format. The personal nature of some of her experiences - including her pregnancy struggle - would seem a lot more intimate and believable than out-of-place,  and the lifestyle plans would seem more easily replicable, as evidenced by their varying degrees of success/failure.

Mainly I feel like it just would have lent the narrative more veracity; sure, you can say that you changed for the better because of this new lifestyle plan, but without concrete information on how and why these things worked for you, your readership strictly relies upon your individual testament. Where are the recipes you enjoyed the most? What workouts were most worth your time? What sort of outfits did you come up with? These are the sorts of individual stories that would have made up a more cohesive overall narrative in the blog format.

Final Verdict: Accessible, but not interesting; Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me takes celeb culture into a slightly more realistic territory without making it something you can totally replicate, relying on generic lifestyle advice and a slight disconnect in the intimacy of the narrative for an overall work that doesn't really give that much of a glimpse into how the famous folk live.

Friday, October 10, 2014

College Fashion Link Up: Gone Girl

This book didn't just provide the chills and thrills as promised by hyped-up fans and movie-trailers alike... it made me more excited about the concept of an unreliable narrator than I've ever been before. 

A narrative we've seen spelled out too many times splayed across spreads of tabloid pages, a cause championed by media blowhards like Nancy Grace, the twisted tale of a seemingly idyllic marriage cracking like a mirror, played out in cliche's that rip through Facebook news feeds like buzzsaws. After all, who doesn't love the spine-tingling reality and grim thrill of tracking down a Dead Wife... and who better to pin her disappearance on than a Deadbeat Husband? Nick, what did you do to Amy? 

I don't have to pretend that most of you don't know the plotline for this epic best-seller of a novel. It's maintained a spot on the New York Times list since its publication two years ago, in 2012, so it's a pretty big deal in Bookworld (and now, Movieworld, too!). The very idea of a wife's mysterious disappearance and her husband's inability to account for his actions is already a harsh situation, especially when even the narrator himself seems to be unable to explain his motives...

Alright, I know I shouldn't say "narrator," because the novel itself is a study in perspective. Part One alone flips between the modern-day observations of Nicke Dunne, while Amy's diary pages make up the rebuttal... the entire novel displays the chasms of disconnect built from the years of their relationship, only to bridge the gaps with flashes of strange commonality.

Also, to make this point clear - especially to my Dad - I refuse to tell you what happens. It's a holy mindf*** of a situation, and I went and ruined it for myself by reading the Wiki synopsis before I'd even gotten to page two, so I won't tell you, but be wary: like I said above, it's a study in perspective. So keep your eyes open. 

When it comes to construction, the characters are so well-rounded, it's astounding. Both Nick and Amy are incredibly relatable, even for their faults and foibles and differences and destructive habits, there were aspects of their personalities I viewed with close familiarity. Without giving away too much, I'll just say that we can call killers and psychos "monsters," dehumanizing them to create a discernible breach between Us and Them... but I recognized pieces of myself, my friends, my family, etc. in each of the characters of the novel.

I'm immensely impressed with Flynn for being able to craft such a monster of an interconnecting story. Trying to sift through the plot of this book was like untangling the contents of a mixed-up jewelry box... trailing along endless knots, criss-crossing story lines, coming across glinting, sharp edges of cutting commentary and recognizable views of the world, but all muddled together in an addicting mess you are determined to see through to the end. Just like I was determined to wear my long pendant tassel necklace to the first day of school, even though I had to spend a good hour extracting it from the mauled mess of my other necklaces, I was determined to find out what happened to Amy Dunne.

And be forewarned, oh future readers: this is the kind of book where people ask, "What part are you at?" then immediately follow up with the ominous, "I want to talk to you when you're finished." If you don't like having others' opinions impressed upon you unbidden, then maybe keep this title to your Kindle, so nobody gets any crazy ideas about approaching you while you're reading.

This maybe is going to sound a little heavy-handed, but honestly, it makes me reaffirmed in my desire to be a writer, that there are still people like Gillian Flynn out there writing.

So, I did a College Fashion article on this one, though inspiration didn't exactly come to me as easily as I would have like, but I'm still proud on how it all turned out. Here's my favorite look from the piece, depicting the summer Southern setting, juxtaposed against its dark and bleak tone:

Also, this amazing 8Tracks playlist by user "alihendrix" definitely helped get me into the mood for writing this post... with numbers like a low-key Sky Ferreira rendition of Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang," and indie rock The Neighborhood's smoldering "Baby Come Home" I was sucked right back into the mindsets of Nick and Amy Dunne. Definitely recommended for those who like music to accompany their reading habit!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: The Intern's Handbook

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't really do thrillers. But this one isn't just a thriller... it's a handbook. And I bought it in HARDCOVER.

They pass unseen through the hallways of the most important corporations in the country, catering the wealthy and worldly with their morning Starbucks and printing copies before afternoon meetings. Nameless and unpaid, their efforts go mostly unremarked by their higher-ranking superiors... that is, of course, what makes them such lethal assassins. It's what makes John Lago the world's deadliest intern.

The narrator is perfect. The swear words proliferating the dialogue may put off some readers, but being that he's supposed to be 25 years old, it just makes his language more appealling. And he's a total smart-ass, which I love. All in all, the language he uses - from swearing to the way he relays anecdotes of his work in the field - sounds like somebody I know is telling the story.

Which makes sense, because it really is a coming-of-age novel: at the age of 25, John is worrying about transitioning into the job pool, meeting a nice girl, figuring out who he is in relation to the rest of the world, while questioning his origins with a mother who died before giving birth to him and a father he never knew. Not exactly Catcher in the Rye, but definitely a quest of self that would be recognizable to anyone going through the same life experiences, just framed through the lens of a sniper's sightpeice.

The punches weren't taken lightly, and the emotional manipulation was at an all-time high. This book was brutal in its unrestrained and well-documented violence, and instead of miraculously fixing all of his problems and injuries with the start of a new chapter, he really felt the impact of what he was going through. It was, honestly, refreshing to see a character get so beat up, and actually feel like he was getting beat up.

Which is funny, because - while this kid is no superhero - in reading, I kept referring back to my action home base of the Marvel Universe for comparison. The troubled upbringing and assassin background Natasha Romanoff, the wonderkid back-talking of Spiderman, and the double agent conflicted-about-a-love-interest trope of Grant Ward of Agents of Shield (in fact, one particular scene from John's past was practically identical to a scene involving Grant and Garret from AoS) . I felt totally at home with this character, because he was an amalgamation of some of my very favorite super-people.

The only thing that left me feeling some kind of underwhelm was the ending. I just didn't feel like everything was resolved all that well.... especially after a ship-rocking plot twist or two during a final standoff left me with more questions than answers.

Final Verdict: BANG BANG. This movie-lover's shootapalooza packs a one-two punch of meta-referential gunslinger references and relatable twenty-something bildungsroman cynicism. I would definitely read it again! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Coming Attractions: October

{A festively Fall calendar for October, straight from Oana Befort!}

Bow down to Washington! I am back in the full swing of things up here in Seattle, and it is feeling good to have a schedule again. Being in a sorority and school is always busy, and yet, with the new year, I find new energy, and am on the lookout for a new internship or job I can fill the rest of my time with... when I'm not working on updating this blog, of course! 

Can you tell that I'm raring to go this month? It's going to be a good one; I can feel it. It's my birth month - I'm turning 21 on the 15th! - and the leaves are turning, and the weather is starting to fade to that cool chill and brisk sunshine I love so much. Not to mention there's just 30 more days 'til Halloween! Yup, life is good. 


{#tbt to Disneyland, we left you too soon!; Sigma Kappa walking to End Alzheimer's; and my sister, The Cheerleader, participating in her first philanthropy with Alpha Chi Omega!} 

these are a few of my favorite links...

1. If you're like me, and have had Lena Dunham's new book, Not That Kind of Girl, pre-ordered since July, then you've probably heard about her funny and (and often poignant) "Ask Lena" web series!

2. Taking a short story-oriented English class this Quarter has already got me feeling some kind of way about small-length literary content, which is what makes this Flavorwire collection of "50 Essays Guaranteed to Make You a Better Person" so appealling!  

3. Did you know that The New Yorker hosts a free podcast, with fiction editor Deborah Treisman, discussing a monthly-chosen short story? Now you do!

4. Banned Books Week has already passed, but some schools celebrated it the worst way possible: by banning MORE books from notable authors like Sherman Alexie and John Green. Annie Julia Wyman writes for The New Yorker about how it felt when her high school started changing up their curriculum for the worse.

5. And just the title of this post from Hello Giggles should be enough to get you pumped: How to Host a Jane Austen Girl's Night In! 

quote of the month

{courtesy of Verily Mag!}