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Highly Engaged

Book of the Month April 2021

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Our Queerest Shelves

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Annotated

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I’m thrilled to introduce our new Newsletter, Annotated, as a supplement to our Annotated podcast. It’s an audio-documentary series telling stories about books, reading, and language.

Each episode will be around 20-25 minutes long, and this first season will have six episodes, with a new episodes coming out every other week.

 

 

Today, episode 1, “Is It 1984 Yet?,” is available. In this episode, we look at the resurgence in popularity of George Orwell’s 1984 and then investigate how and why 1984 came to be in the first place.

It’s available on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play, or in your podcast player of choice. Give it a try, spread the word, and we’ve love to hear what you think, so email us at annotated@bookriot.com.

Happy listening!

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Read This Book

One Book Dev Post — Thrillers are Having a Moment

Thrillers are having a moment. Twisty, suspenseful stories about mistaken identities, missing girls, unreliable narrators, and domestic bliss that isn’t what it seems are all over the bestseller charts. You know the books I mean: everything from The Girl on the Train to Ruth Ware’s latest, The Turn of the Key. This style of crime fiction is often called a domestic thriller, which can best be described as a “psychological thriller that focuses on interpersonal relationships,” often those between husbands and wives or parents and children.

The domestic thriller has a particular focus on and association with women (perhaps that’s why the publishing industry seems to have saddled an entire sub-genre with such an eyeroll-inducing name). Many bestselling thriller authors are women. Many of the narrators of these novels are women, too. And many of the problems in these novels are those which concern women in particular: domestic violence and other forms of violence against women, including abduction and rape; husbands who aren’t who they claim to be; troublesome neighbours; gaslighting and emotional abuse; the demands of motherhood.

Freefall by Jessica Barry book coverAt CrimeReads, thriller writer Jessica Barry (author of Freefall) explores the ties women have to this genre, arguing that for women, thrillers can be heroic narratives. “The narrative is not—or at least not only, and not always—that bad things happen to women,” she writes. “It’s that women have the ability to survive when bad things happen.” And at Bustle, Mary Widdicks calls thrillers “a safe space” where women can encounter their fears in a controlled environment. Both are compelling arguments. If one half of the population regularly experiences violence and abuse, it only makes sense that that group of people would be drawn to stories where characters overcome similar behaviour or are offered some form of justice.

The thing is, women’s love for domestic thrillers isn’t anything new. Erin Kelly points outthat marriage-gone-bad narratives, a staple of the genre, are as old as the Ancient Greeks and Shakespeare. And the domestic thriller as we know it today was born in the 19th century, with the rise of sensation fiction.

Sensation fiction was a popular genre of fiction that peaked in the 1860s. It was a fusion of genres including Gothic fiction, romance, and realist fiction; that fusion was a significant reason for its widespread popularity. Sensation fiction blended the juiciest, most sensational romantic and Gothic plot lines—think secret babies, kidnapping, poisoned spouses, and adultery, like Victorian-era soap operas. These topics all sound fantastic, but when they appear in familiar domestic settings, like a cozy family parlour, they take on a newly thrilling, threatening quality.

Sensation novels were meant to provoke intense emotion in readers, and boy did Victorian readers love that blend of crime and everyday life. Realism was already a popular form of fiction at the time, as seen in Dickens’s novels inspired by his experiences growing up in a workhouse (Little Dorrit) and by a real-life court case that dragged on for years (Bleak House). Sensation novels took the most salacious newspaper headlines, those about divorces, crimes, and murder cases, and made them as familiar to middle-class readers—the people who had money to spend on books and libraries—as a family sitting down to tea. Both domestic thrillers and sensation fiction have that ripped-from-the-headlines quality that we pretend we don’t love.

cover of Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth BraddonWilkie Collins, author of The MoonstoneThe Woman in White, and other books now considered to be classics, is probably the most well-known sensation fiction author. But, and this may not surprise you, it was a genre primarily associated with women. Authors such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Ellen Wood were hugely popular. Even the Brontës borrowed from sensation fiction. Braddon was known for Lady Audley’s Secret, a novel about, in the words of Matthew Sweet, “a murderously ambitious Pre-Raphaelite beauty who secures a fortune by shoving her husband down the garden well.” Published in 1862, it was one of the first sensation novels. Braddon’s books, and those by other sensation fiction authors, were very popular with female readers.

Serious Literary Critics, of course, were no fans of the sensation novel, and many worried that young women in particular would be corrupted by reading these tales of murder and mayhem. As you probably already know, Victorian society was strictly divided along gender lines, with men responsible for the public sphere and women confined to a private, domestic world. It’s no surprise that stories about women murdering their husbands, committing bigamy, having secret babies, and stealing jewels were looked upon with suspicion by critics and excitement by female readers. These novels threatened the very fabric of orderly middle-class Victorian life by allowing women to feel emotions and imagine situations far beyond their daily experiences.

Fast forward to 2019, and we have our own version of sensation fiction: the domestic thriller. Domestic thrillers aren’t quite as threatening to the fabric of our society. To me, they seem to reflect the worst bits of it back at us with a few distortions, like a funhouse mirror. Domestic thrillers can be an escape, but I think they’re also something of a punishment: look how bad we’ve let things get.

What domestic thrillers and sensation fiction both do so well is portray the crimes and betrayals experienced by women, from major violence to the everyday indignity of having a man belittle your opinion. Like female characters in Victorian sensation fiction, female protagonists in domestic thrillers may be unreliable; they may drink too much or withdraw from public life; they may have suspicions no one believes. They have a tragic incident in their pasts or a secret they can’t reveal. They definitely have a man in their life gaslighting them.

All of these are things that happen in real life. We think they’re just newspaper headlines, but they’re happening all around us behind closed doors. Domestic thrillers and sensation fiction—both shine light on a world that we think can’t touch us. It’s been there all along.

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The Fright Stuff

6 Nonfiction Horror Books for Those Who Need True Scary Stories

Horror fans! To get the most out of life… you’ve really got to die! Welcome to my grave.

The part of any horror movie that makes it so scary is the reality of it, whether it’s the plausibility of the events or their repercussions happening, the authenticity of the characters, or, as S.A. Bradley puts it, “the stinger.” He says that the stinger “elicits the visceral emotions the [reader] would feel if they were watching the real event…when horror is at its best, it can challenge both sides of an issue without insulting or boring the audience.” Although Bradley was talking specifically about film, I think the concept of “the stinger” extends to literature as well—if not more so. In particular, nonfiction horror books pack a particular punch because, well, it did actually happen, so you have the terror of WILL it happen, on the front end, and then the lingering horror of OH. SHIT. IT DID. FOR REAL.

This list, though, is even more specific than that, because it’s specifically memoir, meaning that all of the terrible things that happen actually happened to the people telling the stories. For me, the experience of reading nonfiction horror books, especially written by the person whom the events affected, is cathartic. I’m the person who watches murder documentaries, listens to true crime podcasts, and reads books like these. Not everyone gets it. Sometime I have to explain. I generally oversimplify it to this: I NEED TO KNOW ALL THE MOST HORRIFIC SHIT SO THAT I CAN AVOID IT.

And then, of course, I need to talk about it. I am a part of the family who, at any social gathering, can be expected to take the conversation somewhere disturbing. For example, when the conversation lulled at Father’s Day dinner, I asked my dad and first cousin, “In a survival situation, who at this table would you eat first?” We all answered the same, laughing: the baby, of course. Like veal, probably. And then finished our meals. (None of this is true. We would never consume human flesh. It was just a game. But still.)

If you’re like me, that’s what you need, though: talking about horror makes you feel ready for it, though there are honestly a million billion other reasons to love true horror stories. If you do, you’re in the right place: here they are, the memoirs for people so looking to be scared that they need the horrors to be true.

SA bradley screaming for pleasure book cover horror memoirScreaming for Pleasure by S.A. Bradley

S.A. Bradley is the author I mentioned above, and his book Screaming for Pleasure: How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy is a genre-bending look at horror film, criticism of it, and personal narratives about how various films impact the narrator.

This book is perfect for those either very well-versed in horror film or interested in becoming more familiar with it. He examines motifs of horror movies, their evolution and new applications, and uses his personal experiences with them to analyze them. In particular, he talks about living in a fundamentalist household, preparing for the apocalypse, and the apocalypse not happening. He then dives deep into the crevasse of scary movies and how they affected his childhood. Or adulthood.

carmen maria machado in the dream house book cover horror memoirIn the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is a memoir that focuses on the horrors of queer domestic abuse. What interested me most about this book (besides its importance to our society, which apparently believes that domestic abuse is not a thing among non-heterosexual couples) is its format. She discusses the self-doubt involved in emotional abuse, the gaslighting, the self-blame, and the doubt about the abuse’s existence, but does it through metaphor. Each chapter examines a different storytelling motif, to make (in my opinion) the narrative itself more accessible. It’s a genius move, super effective, and super scary, since it renders the experience ethereal, surreal. While we never doubt her honesty, we are made to feel the doubt of the narrator in regards to her own experiences. (If you like this book, you should also get Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of stories, Her Body and Other Parties.)

kathryn harrison the kiss horror memoir book coverThe Kiss by Kathryn Harrison

The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison is a very short memoir, and it’s told from the perspective of a woman who has a love affair with her biological father. Consensually. She knows who he is. She knows. And yet.

That’s really all there is to say. Just read it. You’ll blow through it in a single sitting. That’s how horrific this memoir is.

ann rule the stranger beside me book cover horror memoirThe Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

You likely know this memoir already as the book on Ted Bundy, but Ann Rule’s classic true crime book The Stranger Beside Me is about so much more than just him. Ann Rule actually knew Bundy, as a friend and a coworker at a suicide hotline. She became a crime writer long after beginning her friendship with him, and even after she was assigned his case, she did not immediately put the pieces together. In fact, while she was first writing about the serial murders, she noted all the similarities of the killer to her friend, Ted, and rejected her own intuition.

This book shows how the deviant mind can trick even those closest to him into believing he would never be capable of the many atrocities which he was consistently committing. Rule illustrates exactly Bradley’s principle of “the stinger” through showing her ambivalence toward her long-time friend. His ability to manipulate the most wary of writers is truly horrifying. Bundy is the worst; Ann Rule is the best.

matt baglio the rite horror memoir book coverThe Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio

If you’re familiar with William Blatty’s book The Exorcistyou’ll like Matt Baglio’s memoir, The Rite: The Making of a Modern ExorcistThis memoir details the training of an American priest in Rome, learning how to exorcise demons. It’s a true story, and not meant to scare, but hearing the recounting of actual demon possession, and how many sessions cannot often exorcise them, is truly haunting.

This book also details the convention of exorcism and demon possession as documented by the Catholic faith. It also talks responsibly about the process of exorcism, and how it has often been performed incorrectly, which results in torture and sometimes death. It’s a true terror.

whoever fights monsters robert ressler tom perkins horror memoir book coverWhoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI by Robert Ressler and Tom Schachtman

You may have heard of Robert Ressler before, but if you haven’t, you’re definitely familiar with works for which he’s been consulted. Thomas Harris utilized the FBI criminal profiler’s expertise for authenticity when writing the Silence of the Lambs trilogy, so if you liked/loved Hannibal Lecter, you have to read this memoir.

The title, Whoever Fights Monsters, is this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” Which is perfect, because Ressler was on the forefront of developing the process of criminal profiling (so that it wasn’t just straight-up racism, as it had once been), meaning he interviewed all of the worst men in existence. This memoir is his recounting of those experiences. You won’t be able to put it down. (I actually got it on audiobook, and believe, me, my house has never been cleaner…although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I found myself leaning against the counter with a dripping mop listening to Tom Perkins narrate these experiences.)

Because there are not a lot of horror memoirs written by authors of color, the last text is the documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black HorrorThe film interviews filmmakers, actors, and theorists about the roles of Black people in horror film. Though it’s not written down, each person interviewed states their personal experiences with horror, which I think definitely qualifies as horror memoir.

If you like memoir, but you don’t need it to be horror, you should check out this post next! And if you like horror, but you don’t need it to be memoir, check out this one! And if you noticed that I’m missing a really important book from this list, by allllll means, please. Let me know!

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In-Flight Lending Libraries Added To 300 Flightssss

Granted bibliophiles come prepared after hours, days, and even weeks of selecting which–and how many–reads to take on a flight, but our booknerd hearts still love the idea of in-flight libraries for kids. EasyJet will have over 60,000 books available across 300 flights tucked into the seat pockets.

Memoir Gets Fashion Collaboration

Elaine Welteroth, who made Teen Vogue what we know today and current Project Runway judge, has teamed up with two fashion brands for her memoir: More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are. There’s a Lingua Franca cashmere sweater with “More Than Enough” embroidered on it and a ByChari necklace that says “More Than Enough.” Brilliant and I want both!

Nonfic To Get Multi-Part Docuseries Adaptation

The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism by Howard Bryant will be adapted into a multi-part docuseries by Maverick TV, with Sacha Jenkins producing and directing one episode. For more on the book and the production read on here.

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Today’s The Stack is sponsored by TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations.

TBR is Book Riot’s new subscription service offering Tailored Book Recommendations for readers of all stripes. Been dreaming of a “stitchfix for books?” Now it’s here! Tell TBR about your reading preferences and what you’re looking for, and sit back while your Bibliologist handpicks recommendations just for you. TBR offers plans to receive hardcover books in the mail or recommendations by email, so there’s an option for every budget. Sign up here.