Finished reading Stephen King‘s Under the Dome. It’s one of the author’s longest works, and has been compared by publishers and critics to his earlier post apocalyptic novel, The Stand. While the story of an hermetically sealed American community has the feel of a modern parable, Under the Dome is ultimately a straightforward (if fantastical) crime thriller about small town political corruption.

Stephen King, Needful Things (1991)
Stephen King, Needful Things (1991)
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lood. Someone’s reflection in a bathroom mirror. A man in a wide-brimmed hat. These are my fragmented recollections of the 1993 adaptation of Stephen King’s Needful Things, which starred Ed Harris and Max Von Sydow. I caught the end of it on television late one night when I was around ten years old, and these anxious impressions are all that I remember. Actually, that’s not true. I also had the impression that the film’s themes were somehow too grownup for me at the time, remote from the day-to-day concerns of a child still in primary school. Marriage, relationships, mortgages and finance, that sort of thing.

By the age of ten I was already familiar with King’s novel, which had been published back in 1991. In fact, I owned two copies. A shiny paperback published in the mid 1990s, and a hardback that came my way shortly after that. There was a period during my childhood and adolescence when King was about the only author that I read; I avidly collected his books and ordered them neatly on a shelf in my bedroom. But I didn’t read Needful Things back then. I got my kicks reading about killer clowns and supernatural forces, and just wasn’t interested in the idea of a demon shopkeeper mortgaging people’s souls. (more…)

Cinephilia & Beyond

In a recent piece for Literary Hub, writer Ben Dolnick talks about the shame he felt when he heard a book he enjoyed being described as “junk”:

“Until then I’d existed in a literary Eden: a book could be good or bad, dull or transfixing, but there was no way of predicting its quality other than to plop down on the couch and read it. Yes, I’d observed that some books—often the ones involving detectives and/or serial killers—had protagonists whose names had a certain extruded-plastic quality (Jake Brigance, Rob Reilly). And sure, I’d wondered why some novels included ten-page previews of others of the author’s books. But these had been curiosities, no more substantively telling than the font in which a book happened to have been printed. Now, though, I’d eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Junk, and when I looked at a book whose back jacket consisted of nothing but an enormous author photo, I felt shame.”

You’ll be pleased to hear that Dolnick’s story has a happy ending.

Images of Don DeLillo, Alice Munro, Cormac McCarthy, Joan Didion, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, Zadie Smith, Stephen King, Philip Roth, Alice Walker and more — Literary Hub

Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy

I have a new routine. Since finishing my duties at the university where I work, I have been dividing my time between applying for full-time academic posts and working on a manuscript for Ibidem’s Samuel Beckett in Company series.

I rise early and prepare myself a light breakfast with a cup of green tea. I check the news headlines with a sense of stoic resignation. And then I spend some time reading and writing. After finishing Stephen King‘s The Stand a week or two ago I moved on to William Peter Blatty‘s notorious novel, The Exorcist, and then found myself completing Georges Bernanos‘ excellent Diary of a Country Priest.

Yesterday morning, I restlessly searched among my books for another novel to read. Something that might pique my interest. As someone with a tendency to collect books, there is never a shortage of titles to choose from. Among the contenders were Émile Zola‘s Germinal, and both of Gustave Flaubert‘s novels, Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education. But I stopped on Leo Tolstoy‘s Anna Karenina. I am an avid reader of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but have never read Anna Karenina before. Somewhat ridiculously, I own two translations of the novel: the recent Pevear and Volokhonsky edition that drew critical attention and acclaim, and a 1912 translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude. According to my Everyman’s Library edition, the latter were a Quaker couple that befriended Tolstoy while living in Russia, and helped him organise the Doukhobor migration to Canada in 1893. I also find in their short biography that they “share[d] many of Tolstoy’s views on spiritual life, moral obligation, and passive resistance to violence”. I picked up the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation and began reading. (more…)

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Tom McCarthy

Having finished Marilynne Robinson‘s superb Gilead last week, I am now revisiting one of the favourite novels of my adolescence: Stephen King‘s The Stand. It’s the expanded 1989 version of King’s post apocalyptic novel, which I have been meaning to return to since re-reading King’s It last summer.

Silent Frame has published a great interview with Andrew Gallix, the journalist and translator many will know as the editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine. When asked what book he would recommend to Silent Frame‘s readers, he responded: “Remainder by Tom McCarthy. The best French novel ever written in English. It has a special place in 3:AM Magazine’s history, as we were the very first to champion it. This is where twenty-first-century literature began.”

LitHub has posted a conversation with Jacques Testard, founder and editor of the rising independent publisher Fizcarraldo Editions: “I’ve had a few glamorous moments—the pinnacle was the Nobel Prize dinner for Svetlana Alexievich in Stockholm—but I spend a lot more time carrying big bags of books to the post office than drinking martinis with famous authors.”

Roger Luckhurst offers a critical and entertaining survey of Kubrick’s horror masterpiece
Roger Luckhurst, The Shining (Palgrave, 2013).
Roger Luckhurst, The Shining (Palgrave, 2013).

In the thirty-seven years since its premiere, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) has been the subject of heated debate. Based on a bestselling novel by Stephen King, the adaptation was dismissed by the author as ‘maddening, perverse, and disappointing’. His judgement was not unique. Critics and audiences alike found the film bewildering and strange, not knowing whether to take it as an art film or a low-brow horror shocker. Yet, as Roger Luckhurst points out in his excellent book, The Shining (BFI Classics, 2013), despite its chilly opening reception the film is now regarded as ‘one of the most admired horror films in cinema history’.

Luckhurst’s take on The Shining manages to pierce the lid on thirty years of critical discussion, and to yield a fresh perspective on one of cinema’s most discussed and perplexing films. The book addresses Stanley Kubrick’s status as a distinctive auteur filmmaker, but dismisses the tendency of critics to see deliberate intention in every move and gesture. Instead, Luckhurst reads The Shining within the broader cultural and historical context of late 1970s-early 1980s American culture. Insightful connections are made to films like The Amityville Horror (1979), The Omen (1976), Poltergeist and The Evil Dead (both released in 1982). Through its representation of prescient children, telepathy, and horror, Luckhurst reveals how The Shining expresses widely-held anxieties about traditional gender roles, the nuclear family, and histories of repressed trauma and violence. (more…)

How Stephen King’s second novel cemented his reputation as America’s foremost horror writer
Stephen King, Salem's Lot
Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot

Stephen King first found his way onto the international stage with 1974’s bestseller, Carrie. But it was his next published novel, ‘Salem’s Lot, that cemented his reputation as America’s foremost writer of horror fiction. King, who had been working in obscurity until his newfound success, had two unpublished manuscripts. In his 2005 introduction to ‘Salem’s Lot, King recalls a conversation with his editor Bill Thompson, who was enthusiastic about one of the two manuscripts, calling it ‘Peyton Place with vampires’. It had bestselling potential, Thompson had said, but there was one problem: the decision would forever type him as a horror writer. King was relieved: ‘I don’t care what they call me as long as the checks don’t bounce’.

The cheques didn’t bounce. In the four decades since ‘Salem Lot’s publication in 1975, Stephen King has become one of the world’s bestselling living authors. And, while his work ranges a broad range of styles and genres, including thrillers, fantasy, and nonfiction, his reputation as the ‘King of Horror’ persists. It seems Thompson had been right on both counts. (more…)

An inventory of imaginative potential

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Scott Esposito has recently published The Missing Books, a catalogue of written works that do not exist. LitHub, who has posted extracts from the work, describe its entries for ‘books that have not yet been published (but might one day be), books within books, and books whose authors did not manage to ever complete’. Among the nearly 100 texts listed are Jorge Luis BorgesBook of Sand, a work that promises totality and completeness but which never came to be; there is a non-existent universal dictionary of every word in every language; and H. P. Lovecraft‘s Necronomicon, a book of magic to be written and expanded by future authors. In each case, Esposito is alluding to books that seem to hover tantalizingly between presence and absence. (more…)

What the hit Netflix show can tell us about our fascination with ’80s nostalgia and American suburban gothic

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The word ‘stranger’ can suggest many things. One antiquated definition, used in the 18th and 19th century, refers to ‘things which are popularly imagined to forebode the coming of an unexpected visitor’ (OED). These ‘things’ might refer to tea leaves floating in a cup, a moth appearing suddenly out of the dark, or candlewax that causes the light of a flame to flicker and die. For viewers of Netflix’s thrilling new drama, Stranger Things, this superstition holds a unique significance.

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Stephen King’s bestselling horror novel adapted by composer Paul Moravec

“‘Stephen King’s original novel is all about love, death and power,’ says Pulitzer-winning composer Paul Moravec. ‘And those are the three foundational components for an opera.'”

More at NPR.

From Ted Gioia’s article on Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist novel, Nausea
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Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

In general, Sartre is more committed to philosophy than to fiction, even here in the pages of his greatest novel. But when the story lags, the intensity of the intellectual debate flares up to compensate—so much so, that Nausea is essential reading not just for students of literature, but also for anyone interested in the evolution of Sartre’s views on a range of philosophical issues.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this book is Sartre’s decision to supply a happy ending. His horror story ends with a way out of the nausea. I am less than convinced by this turnabout in our suffering Mr. Roquentin, but as a longtime jazz lover, I am secretly pleased at the cure for the existential nausea. A jazz record featuring a singer and saxophonist does the trick—to be specific an old recording of “Some of These Days.” I only wish Sartre had been more specific about the names of the musicians on the date (he doesn’t identify any of them). I would love to hear the jazz record that trumps Freud, cures the ill, and solves existential angst. (more…)

Britt Grootes (GEMS) talks to the prominent Barthes scholar about his life and work

On Roland Barthes

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Roland Barthes

What draws me back to the late Barthes above all, I think, is his attention to ‘the magic of the signifier’, to nuance, to all that is light and delicate. His restless invention and reinvention. Drift. Then there’s the unclassifiability and the mischief. And the style, of course — that elegant, seductive style. (We often call him a ‘theorist’ in the anglophone world, but ‘écrivain’ is much closer to the mark in so many ways.) Barthes knew a thing or two about the seduction of the reader with only the signifier. When I open something like Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, I’m his. [Read More] (more…)

A notable precursor to the contemporary zombie movie
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Richard Matheson, I Am Legend
Recently, I picked up a copy of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend at a second-hand bookstore. Matheson—whose high-concept man vs. truck short story Duel was to launch the career of Steven Spielberg—made a name for himself in the genres of science-fiction, horror and fantasy. His writing spans novels and short stories, alongside work in television and film. I Am Legend, itself no stranger to the silver screen, has been adapted no less than three times, and is, in some ways, a reflective document of post-war American culture. First published in 1954, it laid an early foundation for zombie movies such as George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) series, and critiques many of the same social and cultural concerns associated with these later films.

“a reflective document of post-war American culture”

The plot revolves around Robert Neville, the ‘last living man on earth’. He navigates a post-apocalyptic landscape where every other man, woman, and child has been converted into zombie-like nocturnal vampires. It is a cautionary tale, negotiating the long-term impact of violence and exploitation in the atomic age.   (more…)