Readersforum's Blog

March 26, 2014

Weighing Whitman

Walt Whitman    (1819 - 1892)

Walt Whitman
(1819 – 1892)

By Steve King.

On this day in 1892 Walt Whitman died. The high and controversial emotions which surrounded Whitman in life attended his death: in the same issue that carried his obituary, the New York Times declared that he could not be called “a great poet unless we deny poetry to be an art,” while one funeral speech declared that “He walked among men, among writers, among verbal varnishers and veneerers, among literary milliners and tailors, with the unconscious majesty of an antique god.”

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July 29, 2013

When Edward Gorey Illustrated Dracula: Two Masters of the Macabre, Together

goreydracula_cover  By Maria Popova

“No man knows till he has suffered from the night how sweet and dear to his heart and eye the morning can be.”

As if knowing that the great Edward Gorey illustrated a small stable of little-known and wonderful paperback covers for literary classics weren’t enough of a treat, how thrilling it is to know that he also illustrated the occasional entire volume, from classic fairy tales to H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds to T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. But out of all his literary reimaginings, by far the greatest fit for Gorey’s singular brand of darkly delightful visual magic is Edward Gorey’s Dracula (public library), a special edition of the Bram Stoker classic originally published in 1977 and eventually adapted as a magnificent toy theater of die-cut foldups and foldouts.


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May 17, 2013

When horror stopped being supernatural

Nowhere left to run for horror? Brad Pitt in the 2013 film of World War Z.

Nowhere left to run for horror? Brad Pitt in the 2013 film of World War Z.

How afraid should we be for scary reading now that fiction’s monsters are being reinvented as worldly threats?

By David Barnett

It’s a cliché to say that Author W does for Subject X what Author Y did for Subject Z. But it was one I found unavoidable when I turned the final page of Benjamin Percy’s excellent Red Moon, released last week.

For it has to be said that Benjamin Percy does for werewolves what Justin Cronin did for vampires and, before that, Max Brooks did for zombies. This century the monsters of old have been taken out of the shadows. Where once a single, terrifying creature sparked supernatural terror, now monsters have become the product of science, of viruses, of very human meddling. They have multiplied and been recast from the night into bright sunlight on a global scale. The horror is now the prospect of monsters supplanting humanity … but does that make them any more scary?

Vampires, werewolves and the revenant dead have been the unholy trinity at the heart of modern horror since the days of folk tale. But their journey from archetype to ubiquity has, I feel, been brought to an almost inevitable conclusion.

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November 8, 2012

Horror: a genre doomed to literary hell?

Horror: ripe for resurrection … a still from the 1981 film The Evil Dead

The status of the crime and SF genres is being raised by great modern writers. Why hasn’t horror received the same treatment?

By Stuart Kelly

For a while now, so-called “literary” and “genre” fiction have been moving from outright opposition to a cautious rapprochement. Literary writers such as Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt and Michael Chabon increasingly deploy tropes and images from genre, while genre writers have upped their stakes considerably in terms of complexity, moral resonance and style. Sophie Hannah, Josh Bazell and Denise Mina have reinvented crime fiction; Charles Yu, Iain M Banks and M John Harrison have given a literary uplift to science fiction; while China Miéville, Jeff VanderMeer and Kelly Link have done the same for fantasy. But horror – the third aspect of “speculative fiction” – has had markedly less success. Yet it might be the genre most tractable to our contemporary concerns.


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April 20, 2012

Stoker, Irving & Count Vlad

Filed under: Today in Literature — Tags: — Bookblurb @ 6:34 am
On this day in 1912 Bram Stoker died. The author of some twenty books, Stoker is known almost exclusively for Dracula, published in 1897. The novel brought little fame or fortune in Stoker’s lifetime — so little that he had to ask for charity at the end of his career. More surprisingly, Dracula raised few eyebrows, though modern critics find it a “veritable sexual lexicon of Victorian taboos.”

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February 25, 2012

LURID: Deadlier Than The Male

LURID: vivid in shocking detail; sensational, horrible in savagery or violence, or, a twice-monthly guide to the merits of the kind of Bad Books you never want your co-workers to know you're reading.

By Karina Wilson

Murder is a man’s, man’s, man’s world, supposedly.  There’s a rigid gender equation at work in both newspaper headlines and airport paperbacks: male killer, female victim(s).  The traditional view has been that female killers are rare, that those of the “gentler sex” have to be provoked into murder most foul by extreme circumstances, usually sexual abuse.  Even in fiction, they have to be (in Shirley Maclaine’s telling categorization) a “victim, doormat or hooker” first, before they are permitted (by their usually male creator) to embark on a vengeful rampage.  In order to be a sympathetic character for the reader, they must maintain their fragile, feminine core.  Yes, Lisbeth Salander, I’m looking at you.

It gets off-putting for female readers if women keep ending up on the mutilated-and-dumped-on-an-empty-lot side of the crime thriller equation. Especially when there are five seasons of Investigation Discovery’s most decidedly Lurid true crime show, Deadly Women, in my Netflix queue that suggest that the tables are often turned.  While male killers seem to grab the headlines and the stereotypes, over the centuries the female of the species has been quietly poisoning, suffocating, and even stabbing and shooting her victims.  It’s just that you never noticed.  She’s clever like that.

FACT: female serial killers escape detection for, on average, eight years, almost twice as long as their male counterparts, and may even go for decades before anyone even realizes that there is a serial killer at work.  Put that in your electric chair and smoke up a side of beef.  No, wait: juries are often reluctant to give women the death penalty, and prefer to hand down life sentences, unless the convicted’s crimes are heinous indeed. Carol Bundy, one half of the Sunset Strip Killers, got a life sentence (although she died in jail) while her partner, Doug Clark, was sent to Death Row.  Not all murderers are equal under the law and sexism cuts both ways.

There is a long-established culture of females who kill (and kill again) that gets less and less underground by the day. The number of women convicted of homicide has exploded since 1970, and on the other side of the law, governments are recognizing that women operatives represent a valuable resource. My top secret source (thanks “J”) tells me that many new Delta Force assassins are women, and I’m sure you all saw that story about Iranian female ninjas.

So where are their fictional sisters, goes the cry? Where are the female Hannibal Lecters, Dexter Morgans, Patrick Batemans, James Bonds, Tyler Durdens and Tom Ripleys?  It’s true they’re more difficult to spot than their butcherly brethren, and are often the far-off object rather than the first person subject of narratives.  Nonetheless, deadly damsels have been a staple of Bad Books for centuries – where would Shakespeare be without Lady Macbeth and Tamora, Queen of the Goths?

Aside from revenge killers, like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, or Dawn Kincaid in the Kay Scarpetta books, female multiple murderers can be categorized into six basic types, according to Michael & C. Kelleher’s Typology (Murder Most Rare, 1998).  Although this list was derived from US studies in the 1990s, the real life categories have plenty of fictional antecedents. You just have to look in some of the less obvious places.

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February 13, 2012

Deathless prose: the vampire novel of the century

Bloody brilliance ... Tom Cruise in the film version of Interview with the Vampire

The Horror Writers Association has shortlisted six contenders – do they hit the right vein?

ByDavid Barnett

In these post-Twilight days, vampires are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to believe they were once confined to a dark corner of the horror genre. But this mainstream acceptance – all sparkly rock star vampires and comedy bloodsuckers – has leeched away the terror of the shadow rising at the foot of the bed. Vampires just aren’t scary any more. It’s like Dracula never happened.

One hundred years after the death of Bram Stoker, the Horror Writers Assocation is reminding us what vampire fiction is really about with the launch of an award for the Bram Stoker Vampire Novel of the Century. After considering 35 novels published or translated into English over the last 100 years, a jury of writers and academics have come up with a shortlist of six for the prize.

So here are the six titles they consider to have “had the greatest impact on the horror genre since the publication of Dracula”:

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October 19, 2011

Bram Stoker’s notebook offers cryptic clues to Dracula

Private notebook discovered by author’s great-grandson has ‘clear parallels’ with Jonathan Harker’s journal in vampire novel.


The discovery of Bram Stoker's private notebook has shed new light on his classic vampire tale Dracula.

By Alison Flood

The private notebook of Bram Stoker has been discovered in an attic on the Isle of Wight, offering cryptic clues into the origins of the author’s most famous work, Dracula.

Providing a snapshot of Dublin between 1871 and 1881, as well as a window on the life of the very private Stoker, the notebook was found by the author’s great-grandson, Noel Dobbs. Dobbs sent photographs of pages from the book to his relative, Stoker’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker, author of the recent novel Dracula: The Un-Dead, and Stoker has worked to decipher his ancestor’s “terrible” handwriting with Dr Elizabeth Miller of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula. The Lost Journal, complete with annotations, is now lined up for publication by Robson Press next year, marking the centenary of Bram Stoker’s death in 1912.

The 100-odd-page notebook covers the period when Stoker was a student at Trinity College in Dublin and a clerk at Dublin Castle, written in a clear precursor to the journalistic style of Dracula and containing the author’s earliest attempts at poetry and prose. “There are some definite parallels between this notebook and Jonathan Harker’s journal, and certain entries from Bram’s notebook actually resurfaced twentysomething years later in Dracula. Because he wrote little about himself, Dracula fans and Stoker scholars have largely been free to speculate about Bram. Rumours and myths have taken on a life of their own. Now, with this chapter of Bram’s life revealed, the rest of his life will be more accurately interpreted,” said Dacre Stoker.

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April 20, 2011

Stoker, Irving & Count Vlad

Filed under: Today in Literature — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 2:05 pm
    On this day in 1912 Bram Stoker died. The author of some twenty books, Stoker is known almost exclusively for Dracula, published in 1897. The novel brought little fame or fortune in Stoker’s lifetime — so little that he had to ask for charity at the end of his career. More surprisingly, Dracula raised few eyebrows, though modern critics find it a “veritable sexual lexicon of Victorian taboos.”

                                                                             …read more

December 19, 2010

Rowan Somerville’s top 10 of good sex in fiction

You are interested, aren't you ... Photograph: Holger Scheibe/zefa/Corbis

From Bram Stoker to Vladimir Nabokov, the novelist selects the best writing about a subject ‘central to much of our lives and indeed life itself’

Rowan Somerville is the author of two novels, The End of Sleep and this year’s The Shape of Her, described by the Economist as “deceptively simple in plot and singularly musical in its voice, it is a study of the place where our past has become our present. A summer read to be kept – and visited in the dark days of winter…” Last month, the novel followed authors including John Updike and Norman Mailer in winning the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in fiction award.

    “Most adults are interested in sex. I am. My father was, and said as much to me when he was 92. I suspect that you are too. You’re reading this after all. Being so central to much of our lives and indeed life itself, it is a valid and important topic for fiction

“The challenge of writing about sex is to evoke the physicality, the yearning, the counterpoint between magnificent operatic grandiosity and ludicrous bestial grunting – without resorting to cliché. As the American author Elizabeth Benedict wrote: ‘A good sex scene is not always about good sex, but it is always an example of good writing.’ As an enthusiastic reader and a writer too, my opinion is that it doesn’t matter how weird things get as long as it remains original and feels authentic.

“Some of the sex in the books below works as a device for revealing the state of society, some is a device for characterisation; a way of revealing truths about characters that they themselves may not be able to see – but most of it is just about desire, lust and sex itself.”….read more

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