Warnings: Violence, Death
The Metamorphosis follows Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman who one day wakes up and finds that he has been transformed into a large insect. Before his bizarre transformation, Gregor was the head of his family who worked to support his aging parents and young sister.
The novel begins slowly, with the first part consisting of his horror at waking up in his new form. There is actually a lot of hysterics in the first part and it’s pretty strange but comedic. The reader gets a sense of who Gregor is as a character and his dedication, only thinking of how he can continue working and supporting his family despite his present condition. Absurd, right? This first part also drags a little bit while laying the foundation for the rest of the story which is a shame because it is the point where I’m sure the book will lose many readers.
The following two sections of the book then go onto cover how Gregor and his family adjust to the new situation. Because of Gregor’s condition, he can no longer work, so it falls on the family to go back to work and take care of Gregor. This is when the story transitions from a comedy to a nightmare. The true “metamorphosis” was not Gregor’s transformation – but instead how his “loving” family change over time. How familial duty can become a burden and lead to neglect. Gregor starts to feel ashamed of himself and hides, yet he also craves the love and acceptance that he used to have from his family. This book was just as beautiful as it is heartbreaking and a little horrifying.
There is a multitude of interpretations for this book, and Kafka intentionally left it pretty ambiguous. To me though, The Metamorphosis at its core is a story about how a family deals with illness. If you take away all the absurdity of Gregor becoming an insect and instead make him terminally ill, you’d get pretty much the same story. It delves into the meaning of family and how quickly loyalties dissolve. How much care is given to a person who is now considered useless? How quickly are they swallowed up and forgotten? The brilliant themes of this novel are still incredibly relevant to this day and it’s an issue that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves. The Metamorphosis is an enduring classic and an important read about empathy and love, it continues to be one of my favorites.
“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”
Author: Algernon Blackwood
Publisher: Public Domain
First Published: January 1, 1910
Genres: Classics, Horror, Paranormal
Source: Free, Public Domain
The Wendigo is an influential horror novella by Algernon Blackwood, which was first published in a collected fiction book called The Lost Valley and Other Stories, in 1910. The story follows a doctor, his nephew, and their party on a moose hunting trip into the deepest wilderness of northern Canada. Things take a turn as the party split up and one begins to follow non-human tracks...
Wendigos are some of the most terrifying specters of Algonquin folklore, a malevolent spirit that is often associated with winter, starvation, cannibalism, and death. The Wendigo reads like a campfire ghost story told around hunting circles about the unexplainable phenomena that can only be experienced in the farthest reaches from civilization.
The story follows a moose-hunting party on their trek into the woods near the end of the fall season. The untamed wilderness leaves the hunters struck with awe at the beauty and terrible loneliness of the Candian wilderness. The writing is a master craft of atmosphere, as the adventure displays the majesty of nature and the ever-powerful call that it has on the hearts and minds of men. The terrifying silence of the natural world feels oppressive, feeling like a monster that swallows up the hunting camp.
The one glaring issue that holds this classic down is the casual racism that is used to describe character traits. While understandable for the time period in which it was written, it is archaic and simply unpleasant to read. A blemish on an otherwise superbly written story, a terrible shame really.
Even so, this book stands as a classic that brought a part of First Nations folklore into the literary canon and influenced other horror writers and filmmakers in the decades after it was written. The Wendigo is a testament that the unseen horror can be just as effective without the excessive blood and gore of more contemporary fiction. A true delight for the senses as the tightly written prose evokes both fear and wonder in readers for generations.
“Men were sometimes stricken with a strange fever of the wilderness, when the seduction of the uninhabited wastes caught them so fiercely that they went forth, half fascinated, half deluded, to their death.”
Trigger Warning: Racism, Violence
What blows my mind about this book is how incredibly readable and accessible it is, considering the fact that it was written over a century ago. Frederick Douglass was a fugitive slave and a prominent leader of the abolitionist movement. While in captivity, Douglass worked hard to teach himself how to read and write, viewing literacy and education as his means to freedom.
“Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will… Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get.”
The narrative discusses Douglass’s experiences as both a plantation slave and a personal family slave in the city, working skilled labor and paying his wages to his master. I never knew how drastically different the conditions were from plantation to city, and the book provides a lot of detail that is often lost in a general history of American slavery.
The appendix also contained an incredibly powerful criticism of how pervasive religion was among the Southern slaveholding populace, calling out slave owners on their hypocrisy. Everything about this narrative was just incredible, and it is a wonderful historical piece to study.
Frederick Douglass truly lives up to his reputation for having a gift for storytelling and his writing is powerful, I wish I could’ve heard him speak. He is one of the most admirable historical figures I’ve encountered and I regret not reading this book sooner. If there was one memoir I could ever recommend to anyone on the subject of slavery, it would be this one.
Warnings: violence, racism
I thought that I couldn’t love Stephen King any more than I already do being a long time fan of his short stories, but damn do I love when he writes non-fiction. Guns is a no-nonsense essay about gun violence in America, focusing on mass shootings and the factors that contribute to them.
“Semi-automatics have only two purposes. One is so owners can take them to the shooting range once in awhile, yell yeehaw, and get all horny at the rapid fire and the burning vapor spurting from the end of the barrel. Their other use – their only other use – is to kill people.”
He doesn’t hold back and he talks pretty frankly on the topic. Specifically, he details the difficulties we have in America with political discourse (and the utter lack thereof) which prevents us from really enacting any kind of meaningful change. I wish that people both on the left and the right of the political spectrum could take a minute to settle down, put their differences and their personal pride aside to pull us all together, put on our thinking caps, and think about some reasonable action to make our every day lives safer.
King also takes some time aside to talk about his first story, which he has since taken out of print, a book about a high school shooting called Rage. He discusses where he was when he wrote it, why he took it out of print and makes a strong argument against the assumption that America is ruled by “a culture of violence.” This point in particular I find important as certain forms of media (most commonly video games) are often blamed for gun violence, despite numerous studies that dispel this myth. He also makes a pretty strong argument on the debate on where culpability lies: the person or the weapon.
“We’re like drunks in a barroom. No one’s listening because everyone is too busy thinking about what they’re going to say next, and absolutely prove that the current speaker is so full of shit he squeaks.”
While King is slightly leaning to the left, he takes a middle road approach to most of his stances and offers suggestions on what can be done, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. This essay was great; it’s a quick read and I would strongly recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in the gun issue, both those that are for and against gun control. Even if you don’t agree with him, I think it’s a good conversation starter, as opposed to both sides just yelling at each other without trying to consider compromise.
This book seems to have been published as a direct reaction to the 2016 election, and I read it years ago as an ARC. It is an anthology that covers the intersections of race, sexuality, and feminism. It was really cool to get to see the world through the eyes of women coming from walks of life entirely removed from my own. There were many whose struggles I couldn’t even begin to imagine dealing with, while others I found comfort that I wasn’t alone in the issues that I have faced. Nasty Women covers a wide range of topics by authors from drastically different backgrounds.
“Being able to be myself was like being able to exhale for the first time after holding my breath for years. It’s only when you taste freedom that you can see how tight your bonds were.”
The one essay that stood out the most to me was Choices by Rowan C. Clarke, which discussed the author’s difficult relationship with her mother and that never-ending struggle to please. While the underlying messages in all of the stories were political and feminist, they were also very personal and down to earth which is what made this collection pretty emotional.
I did have a few issues with the anthology, however, that I need to address. The first was that since there was no specific theme the quality of each essay varied pretty wildly. The ARC kindle edition that I read also had formatting errors with the citations. As for the actual content, most were incredibly well written and heartfelt, but a few felt like angry rants that were more alienating than empowering.
While on the subject of alienation, despite the rather diverse sets of authors and essays, I feel like there were some missing pieces still. It’s obvious from the title what many of the authors thought about the 2016 election and who they voted for. The politics were so black and white that there was no room in-between, and the discussion of what were recent events at the time seriously dates this book. With these sorts of books, the only readers they invite are ones looking for confirmation bias. With today’s political climate in the United States, this is a tragedy because it completely closes the door on discussion with the other side.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that what was already here was pretty great. I see what they were going for and I appreciated it. I love to see discussions about politics and social issues, but I worry when the tone leans too far toward one extreme it only invites backlash from the other extreme. It’s a difficult balancing act between maintaining one’s own core beliefs while also trying to open discussion with the other side so that perhaps they could engage in the conversation and, ideally, listen and have their own perceptions changed.
But I digress, despite the complaints I had about the book, I found it to be a pretty quick and enjoyable read. It gives a voice to groups of women that aren’t often heard in the greater narrative of the feminist movement. The experiences of these many women enrich that narrative and there’s a lot we can all learn from each other especially in these troubling times.