Recommended Reads

Bethany Stayer Recommends “Supernatural”

In this post, English MA student Bethany Stayer recommends something a little off the beaten path as far as “reads” go. She recommends spending cold winter nights watching the television series, Supernatural.

Why should we watch this, Bethany?

If you haven’t already delved into the cultural phenomenon that is Supernatural, the seemingly endless summer hours offer you the perfect chance. Supernatural follows the adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who travel the country hunting demons, spooks, and anything that goes “bump” in the night (or any other time of day really). A perfect mix of horror, humor, supernatural-season-and intertextual elements that draw on myths, folktales, and superstitions from around the world, Supernatural will have you hitting “Keep Watching” again and again. There really is something for everyone here.

I’ll admit, the first season can be a little rough to sift through; it is kind of like a watching a toddler try to fit those little shape blocks into the correct holes. You know they’re going to get it right, you just have to be patient, and your patience is well worth the wait. In the beginning episodes they are finding themselves, but once you make it to season two you’ll be glad you did.  By the time season three rolls around, you’ll be hooked. The characters really develop, the writing dramatically improves, and you become unwittingly engrossed in the story of the Winchesters. Watching the actors, writers, and characters improve and learn before your eyes really is part of the fun of the series. Once things start firing on all cylinders the theme of brotherly love and self sacrifice permeates the plot lines, while the humor and occasionally ridiculous situations keep the story from becoming melodramatic.

It is a truly unique experience that I can’t recommend enough. I do not think there is a television show (or book or movie) that provides such a fun take on the horror genre while developing characters and relationships we really care about, and mixing in actual folklore. I’ve learned a ton about myths and myth creation from this show. Basically, if you enjoy the supernatural/horror genre with a healthy dose of comedy then Supernatural is for you. And even if you don’t think you like this stuff, watch it anyway, there is plenty here to love for pretty much anyone.

Billi MacTighe Recommends “Bad Feminist” By Roxane Gay

English MA student Billi MacTighe recommends Roxane Gay’s nonfiction collection, Bad Feminist.

Why should we read this, Billi?

“I resisted feminism in my late teens and my twenties because I worried that feminism wouldn’t allow me to be the mess of a woman I knew myself to be” Roxane Gay, “Introduction; Feminism (n.): Plural”.

Roxane Gay’s recent book, Bad Feminist—a collection of essayscontains a sassy vigor reminiscent of grade-school war-stories told in ten-year retrospect; just enough time has passed to make the nostalgia wane into humor, but all of the details are still there, still potent. But the book is more than recollections and reflections, it’s a commentary on Feminism and Feminists, and, as Gay so eloquently puts it, the idea of an “Essential Feminismone true feminism to dominate all of womankind” (and the lack of existence of such an all-encompassing feminist community). Gay gives an insider’s view of what it means to be an outsider. As we follow the catalog of her experiences- tackling being an upper-middle class black woman in academia- we take a journey through cultural shifts and pop culture highlights (or low-lights, depending on where you think Chris Brown and Robin Thicke fall on the musical spectrum).

(more…)

Jennifer Grouling Recommends “The Stormlight Archive” by Brandon Sanderson

“Expectation. That is the true soul of art. If you can give a man more than he expects, then he will laud you his entire life. If you can create an air of anticipation and feed it properly, you will succeed.” (Sanderson, Words of Radiance, p. 1077)

the-way-of-kings-by-brandon-sanderson

Brandon Sanderson masters the art of expectation in his series The Stormlight Archive. A planned series of ten books, only the first two are out: The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance. Unlike other fantasy series of their length, these 1000 + page books never feel slow. Even when you have a good idea what’s coming, that sense of expectation and excitement never goes away. Sanderson exceeds expectations with engaging characters, witty dialog, creative world-building, and masterful pacing. It’s a fantasy series you’ll find seriously addictive. I’m already craving re-reading it, and I rarely re-read novels!

One of the best things about The Stormlight Archive is the world-building. Sanderson manages to create an amazing and different world without transgressing into the multiple-page descriptions that can bog down fantasy novels. While keeping common fantasy elements such as magic, high courts, and battles, Sanderson’s world is truly unique and creative. The world is plagued by massive storms. The grass retracts into the earth for protection, the animals are often huge crustaceans, and the humans gather money through gems that are recharged when the storms hit. There are also delightful spren, which are a cross between fairies and the daemons from the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Sanderson’s spren are a significant part of the world of Roshar. Some seem to be simple atmospheric elements—windspren dart around in a breeze and flamespren dance around the evening fire pit. Others depict human emotion, such as gloryspren and fearspren. There’s even rumored to be intoxicationspren. However, as the story progresses it becomes apparent that spren have a key role in the story, and two of the best characters are intelligent spren who have bonded with main characters.

(more…)

Robert Young Recommends “Timequake” and “Hocus Pocus” by Kurt Vonnegut

Welcome to Summer Reads!

In this segment Ball State English brings you a selection of recommended reads to get you through the long Summer Break.

In this post, English MA student Robert Young recomends two lesser known books, Timequake and Hocus Pocus, by fellow Hoosier Kurt Vonnegut

Why should we read these, Robert?

A younger version of me fell in love with Vonnegut shortly after reading Slaughterhouse Five in high school. That younger version of me proceeded to completely devour as many of his books as possible. I read The Sirens of Titan, Mother Night, Cat’s Cradle, and even Slapstick (which is not a very good book, by the way). It was a furious summer of reading. Two of the books I devoured that summer that I’d like to highlight here were Hocus Pocus and Timequake. They’re the last two novels he ever wrote, and they might be two of my favorites, and yet I rarely hear people talk about them.

Both of these novels bear the trademark Vonnegut style of frenetic, non-chronological storytelling. I’ve always enjoyed how Vonnegut will spell out the endings of his books early on, and yet still find ways to keep you interested (“It ends like this: ‘Poo-tee-weet?’”). Hocus Pocus and Timequake are no different.Kurt_Vonnegut_1972

Vonnegut has his satire sights set firmly upon the Vietnam War in Hocus Pocus, but the book also has things to say about the majority of American life. Calling it a novel might be a bit of a stretch, as the book is built entirely out of short, mostly paragraph or shorter chunks of text. This is due to the fact that Vonnegut wrote the entire book on a series of scraps of paper (letters, paper bags, etc.), and the novel is presented in this way. This gives the novel a kind of quickness to it. It’s a fast read, and it seems all over the place, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The structure is about the madness of thought, and it’s something that Vonnegut manages to control.

Vonnegut’s always danced on that line between science fiction and traditional literary fiction. Hocus Pocus, however, has little to no sci-fi elements, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of satire here. In fact, this is the one I remember when I think of his most biting satire. He’s got things to say about everything from the military and war to class, being a teacher, and just America in general. Due to the structure of the book being quite disparate, it’s hard to latch onto a concrete plot, but the novel succeeds in filling in the gaps with Vonnegut’s humor and strong voice, which adds to the character.

There’s always an ever present element of autobiography in Vonnegut’s work. It doesn’t take much to notice, but none of his books have more of this aspect than his final novel Timequake. Marketed as a novel, this book really can’t be called that. Or can it? The book goes back and forth between nostalgically reminiscing about various events in Vonnegut’s life and ruminating on a novel he struggled to write called Timequake, wherein the whole world of 2001 is sent back in time to 1991 to relive the entire decade. People are forced to make the exact same choices that they did previously, relive the entire stretch of time, aware, and unable to change. People are forced to relive miserable car crashes and watch their loved ones die all over again. The book digs deep into themes of sadness, depression, and how people cope and move on. It’s not exactly a happy read by the way, but there’s a bittersweet quality to it.

As stated previously, Timequake waxes back and forth between this other novel and what essentially amounts to creative non-fiction—Vonnegut writing of his own life, inserting himself into the novel. The book is split into chapters, but the chapters themselves are very arbitrary, as a chapter break will rarely end a train of thought or mark the end of a scene. Vonnegut’s trademark cynicism is present, but Timequake always struck me as being deep down actually quite sincere. There’s a lot of emotion in the book, especially in the sections where he talks about his sister and brother, and this one more than any of his other books really stuck with me as being quite emotional.

If you’re someone who was a fan of Vonnegut in the past but never tried out his later novels, give them a read; both of these novels feel profoundly different from his earlier work. Alternatively, if you’re someone looking for a few additions to your summer reading list, give them a read! They won’t disappoint. Or maybe they will. Nobody’s perfect.