Tag Archives: nostalgia

Thoughts on “There There” by Tommy Orange

This was the latest selection for the book club to which I belong. It’s a novel written by a Native American author that explores what it is like to be a Native American living in an urban environment. The book is set in Oakland, and follows the paths of multiple characters leading up to a big pow wow.

For me, the strength of this book is in the way Orange uses different voices and narrative styles for each of the characters’ stories. He does manage to give each one a unique voice, which is tough to pull off well, especially with the number of threads and stories that are woven together into the larger tale.

The structure of this book reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino film. There are all these story lines that wind together, bringing the characters together in unexpected ways. Maybe a better analogy would be that the story resembles a Native American dream catcher, with all the stories knotted together; and yet somehow the nightmare is not caught, but slips through, a symbol of how the American Dream just doesn’t exist for so many people of indigenous cultures.

While the title of the book seems conciliatory, it is actually a reference to a Gertrude Stein quote, about how the lives and places we knew from our pasts are no longer there.

“Do you know what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland?” Rob says.

Dene shakes his head no but actually he knows, actually googled quotes about Oakland when researching for his project. He knows exactly what the guy is about to say.

“There is no there there,” he says in a kind of a whisper, with this goofy openmouthed smile Dene wants to punch. Dene wants to tell him he’d looked up the quote in its original context, in her Everybody’s Autobiography, and found that she was talking about how the place where she’d grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore.

(pp. 38 – 39)

I think of the various times and places of my past, and those are just snapshots in time. They no longer exist. On a recent trip back to a city where I had lived for over 20 years, it was almost unrecognizable from what I remembered. There were shadows of what once was, almost like a distant echo that sparks a nostalgic memory, but the place itself is gone, changed beyond recognition. I can only imagine that this feeling must be magnified 100 fold for Native Americans, who were displaced and stripped of their homes.

The book is unsettling, and might be disturbing for some readers. But it is worth reading. We should not avoid reading about topics because they make us uncomfortable.

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Haunted Horror #35

For those of you who are not familiar with Haunted Horror, it’s a cool publication that reprints graphic horror comics from the 1950s, usually centered around a general theme, which in the case of this issue is “love.”

My little shriveling worms, welcome to these rotten pages I have the disgrace to host. You are here for an unlikely lesson in the revolting feeling many call “love.”

Significant others: Sometimes you want to let rats eat them, some others you worship their decaying corpses. Love is strange, indeed?

The stories within are my horrible homage to you. I sincerely hope that one day you will find the omega to your alpha, the nadir to your zenith, the zombie to your graveyard robber.

Enjoy!

In total, the publication includes eight twisted tales:

  • Date with a Corpse—originally published in The Unseen #15, July 1954
  • Death Writes the Horoscope—originally published in The Beyond #26, April 1954
  • The Hand of Glory—originally published in Chilling Tales #13, December 1952
  • Horror Blown in Glass—originally published in The Beyond #9, March 1952
  • Kiss and Kill—originally published in Witches Tales #20, August 1952
  • Mark of Violence—originally published in The Thing #10, September 1953
  • The Rat Man—originally published in The Unseen #9, March 1953
  • The House—originally published in Chamber of Chills Magazine #18, July 1953

I really enjoyed reading this, because it brought back memories of when I was a kid. Growing up, I loved horror comics and magazines, and would regularly read stuff like Creepy, Eerie, Weird Worlds, Vampirella, and Famous Monsters of Filmland. While these publications were not high literature by any stretch, they did foster a love of reading which has lasted my entire life.

There is a local comic convention here in town in November. I think I may have to see if there are any of the vintage horror mags that I grew up reading. I’ll let you know if I find any. Happy reading!

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Haunted Horror: #20

I’ve read several of these collections, and I always enjoy them. Basically, they are collections of old horror tales reprinted on the same type of non-gloss pulp paper used in the original publications. All the comics in this collection (there are six yarns in this issue) were all originally published in the 1950’s. Below the title page of each story, the original publication information is displayed.

What I find so interesting about these old comics are the moral issues that they address. Each of them has some issue woven in, and it seems that these were the types of issues that society was facing at the time: infidelity, greed, envy, loneliness, prejudice, etc. And while society is still grappling with these issues today, in the 50’s, society did its best to whitewash over them. But just as the decayed wood eventually starts to show through the white painted picket fence, so these issues began to show themselves in society. So graphic horror became a vehicle for society to safely examine these issues.

Just a quick mention about the writing and the artwork. They are both very much in the 50’s style. The colors and style of many of the drawings reminded me of the old Dick Tracy comics. And the language! I found myself chuckling internally at phrases like “’Good Grief” and “Great Scott.” But that is part of the nostalgia.

Hope you are enjoying the Halloween season! Cheers.

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Haunted Horror Tribute #22

hauntedhorror_22

I picked this up recently, figuring it would be fun to read and get me in the Halloween mood. It looked like something that was inspired by the old horror comics I read as a kid, but I was surprised to discover that it is actually a compilation of vignettes scanned and reprinted from the classic 1950’s horror comics. So this is NOT just an attempt to recapture the essence of the genre, this contains actual reprints of the original 1950’s tales. It’s all here—the vintage artwork, the cheesy narration, everything that I remember about these publications.

The collection is a nice size, containing eight tales of terror.

  • Robot Woman: The opening tale reminded me of “The Stepford Wives.” It explores the dark side of our culture’s obsession with physical beauty, while at the same time offering a critique of the 1950’s view of what a “perfect woman” is supposed to be.
  • Chef’s Delight: This is a story that addresses domestic violence, an issue that sadly still plagues our society today. In the end, though, the wife gets her revenge on her abusive husband.
  • Shadows of the Tomb: This is a story about a man who murders his wife to claim her inheritance. But in a twist reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, the wife is not really dead and exacts her revenge.
  • Guest of the Ghouls: This tale uses ghouls as a metaphor for individuals who violate the dead, who are like vultures feeding off the losses of the deceased. There is a great quote that warrants sharing: “We unburied the dead while we were living and stole what we wanted! You have robbed the dead of their only identity after death — their tombstones!”
  • I Killed Mary: Interesting vignette about a nerdy, dorky outcast. There was a scene about what was considered to be appropriate dinner table talk which I found to be a critique of the overly structured family life of the 50’s.
  • The Haunter: A piece about a greedy man who tries to scare his uncle to death in order to get his money.
  • The Choker: Probably my favorite in the collection. This is a very creative tale about a con job where a woman marries a man to get his money, then she and her lover kill the husband and stage it as a suicide. The brilliance of this piece is that it is written from the perspective of a necklace that the husband had given to the wife.
  • Night of Terror: The final story is about a man who stages a scenario intended to scare his wife so that he can prove himself to be brave in the face of danger, but as you can imagine, things go awry.

I really enjoyed this collection, and I am seriously considering getting more issues in the future. It is more than just a nostalgia piece; it’s a preservation of an artistic and literary genre that was a reflection of the anxiety, fear, and growing social tension that would later erupt into revolution in the 1960s. Highly recommended, even if you are not a horror buff.

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“The Scar Boys” by Len Vlahos

ScarBoys

My wife suggested I read this book. She told me it was a quick read and that it was right up my alley: a young adult novel about starting a punk rock band. She knows me well. I did like this book and as a musician I related to much of what was in there.

Anyone who has ever been in a band knows that there is always drama and that it is like being in Spinal Tap. You deal with attitudes, stupidity, conflict, and the absurd. In spite of that, there are moments when being in a band, playing on stage with a group of people, and connecting to the audience through music are nothing short of magical and transcendent. Over the years I have experienced the full range of musical highs and lows, and that is probably why I found this book so enjoyable.

The book is presented as if it was written as a college admissions essay, answering your generic prompt about a person that influenced you, a problem that you have overcome, etc. I found this an interesting approach. The chapters are short, which makes reading this like eating a bag of Doritos; you can just keep snacking on one handful of words after another. Also, all the chapters are named after songs and the song titles tie into the events within the chapter. Since I connect life events to songs on a personal level, I found this effective.

So for those of you who have never been in a band before and wonder what it feels like to be onstage playing, it can only be described as the best high you will ever feel in your life.

Playing in front of people was like a drug. The walls dropped away and I found myself surrounded by open air, floating above everything. The energy of the audience—even the tiny audience at that first gig—wrapped the entire band in a protective bubble. Only the music and the knowledge of each other existed. We were four individuals merged into one seamless being, each inside the other’s head, each inside the other’s soul. Music, I discovered that night, was a safe place to hide, a place where scars didn’t matter, where they didn’t exist.

(pp. 73 – 74)

When I first started playing music, it was about what I could get out of it: adrenaline rushes, women, free intoxicants, social acceptance. At some point, though, there was a shift and music became more of a spiritual experience, a way of connecting with others on a level that was transcendent. It is this feeling that has kept me playing music for so many years. Vlahos captures that musical epiphany quite well.

“All I’ve ever wanted,” Chey continued, ignoring us, “is to play music that would make people feel good. We did that tonight.” We were all quiet for a moment.

It’s funny. I’d never really thought of it that way before. I’d only ever thought about how playing music made me feel. But Chey was right. The real magic comes from the audience. Music, it turns out, is more about giving than receiving. Who knew?

(pp. 124 – 125)

There is only one criticism I have about this book, and that is the abundance of references to late 70’s television and pop culture. For me, I liked them because I could relate to them and they stirred a feeling of nostalgia. But at the end of the day, this is a young adult book and I doubt that many teenagers would know who Potsie, Horseshack, or Vinnie Barbarino were. I understand that you have to write about what you know and what you feel, but you also need to take into consideration your target audience.

Anyway, this is a very quick and easy read, and one which I personally enjoyed. And if you remember CBGB’s and WKRP, then you’ll probably enjoy this book too.

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Creepy: Issue #13

Creepy_13A couple of weeks ago, when I went to the local comic store to pick up my copy of The X-Files Season 10: Issue 4, I spotted this comic on the rack. I had one of those childhood flashbacks. When I was young, I loved the old horror comics: Creepy, Eerie, Tales from the Crypt, Weird Worlds, etc. I bought and read these obsessively, much to the chagrin of my parents. But the comics served as my “gateway drug” to reading. I firmly believe that were it not for these comics, I would not be the avid reader I am today. Anyway, since it was almost October and I was feeling nostalgic, I purchased the issue and saved it until this morning.

The magazine is a compilation of short illustrated horror tales. The artwork is excellent and the stories are very well written. The comic also includes a graphic rendering of Bram Stoker’s short story, The Squaw. What I found most fascinating, though, is that all the tales are instilled with a sense of morality, although the stories themselves are twisted and grotesque. The characters suffer horrific consequences as a result of immoral actions: incest, greed, selfishness, arrogance, and so forth. It almost felt like values were being taught in a way that would appeal to a younger audience, likely those who do not want to hear some old windbag preaching about right and wrong. I couldn’t help but wonder if the original horror comics I read as a child were similar and whether seeds of morality were planted in my mind at that young age. It was so long ago that I honestly can’t remember (please don’t ask me how long – ha ha).

I have to say that overall I was pleasantly surprised. My expectations were not very high, since this is essentially the resurrection of an old publication. Usually, I’m not impressed with remakes and such. But it is very good and I have to admit that my interest in the magazine has been piqued. I noticed they also revived Eerie. I may pick up a copy of that on my next trip to the comic store.

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