Spring Reception 2015

The Humanities Division hosted its annual Spring Reception and Recognition Ceremony on the last day of spring classes. The reception celebrates the (at long last) arrival of spring and the (at long last) end of the semester. We also recognize student achievements over the past year: students who received Wilson or Honors Scholar Awards, seniors accepted into graduation programs, winners and finalists for the Eleanor Wood Scholarship and the Maud L. Parks Award (both for achievement in English), the winner of the Beth Eisen Scholarship, and Dean’s List achievers.

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Magician (and Creative Writing major) Richard Southard entertained with card tricks before the ceremony started.

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English faculty member Eric Brown read from his newly published Milton on Film.

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Beth Eisen Scholarship winner Aimee Degroat and Sandy River Review award winner Jill Gringas offered creative writing readings.

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Wilson Award/Honors Scholar with Faculty Mentors (from left): Shana Youngdahl (faculty mentor for Darrian Church–not pictured); Kristen Case (faculty mentor) and Tyler Michaud; Kellie Sanborn and Clarissa Thompson (faculty mentor); Curtis Cole and Christine Darrohn (faculty mentor); Marisela Funes (faculty mentor for Kimberly Clark–not pictured).

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There were so many Wilson Award/Honors Scholars this year, we couldn’t fit them all into one photograph: William Jennings and Gretchen Legler (faculty mentor); Sam Oppenheim and Eric Brown (faculty mentor).

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Finalists for the Eleanor Wood Memorial Scholarship and the Maude L. Parks Award: Janelle Noonan, Elise Musicant, Allison Fortin, Elizabeth Ferry, Jennifer Bailey, and Kimberly Arthurs (not pictured: Samuel Bennett, Joshua Cardella, and Joshua Worthen).

I’m not sure who the skateboard belonged to, but it did make into most of the photos.

The winners of the two awards each read a brief selection:

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Maude L. Parks Award winner Nathaniel Duggan taught us how to pet a cat.

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Eleanor Wood Memorial Scholarship winner Sam Oppenheim offered Shakespeare and corpses (an excerpt from a paper presented at The Medieval and Renaissance Forum).

Senior Brunch! (2015)

As the Spring 2015 semester eases into its end, the graduating English and English education majors shared a lovely brunch with the English faculty. This gave students a final hurrah! with the peers and professors that guided them through their undergraduate careers. The morning was lively with exciting conversation and tasty food; students reflected on their college experiences and talked about what is still to come. Senior brunch was the perfect opportunity to shake off a crazy—but memorable—semester.

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Broken Bodies: A Review of “The Dragon’s Wrath: A Virtual Dream”

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Review by Curtis Cole

Brent Roth, like many of Amazon’s self-published authors, have a unique take on science-fiction; often taking cues from their personal life to shore up narrative defects from authorial inexperience, books such as The Dragon’s Wrath: A Virtual Dream takes inspiration from many sources, but none more so than the author’s own misfortune. This is not a claim made in opposition to such strategies but more of an advisement that a reader is ought to be wary when reading such a text as sometimes it can be difficult to tell where the autobiography ends, and the narrative beings.

Throughout the narrative of Wrath the protagonist, a once athletic and sociable extrovert brimming with confidence, is brought low by a series of accidents. His injuries wound him severely and slowly but surely erode his entity until a shell of his former self is seen: he gains weight, loses confidence, and retreats into an introverted realm of virtual reality in order to compensate for the loss of human interaction, slowly confusing fiction with reality.

Curiously enough, Brent Roth was also injured prior to the writing of this volume. Once injured he was bedridden for three weeks. During this time, he wrote for fourteen hours per day, amassing a mammoth of a book totaling beyond two-hundred thousand words. Obviously this was a kind of therapy for the author while he was recovering; even so, however, aspects of his personality and life—from his political outlook to his romantic inclinations—are reflected ‘between the lines’. So the question is one of this: with many of these autobiographical works operating as either subsumed political manifestos or poorly worked manuscripts rushed out to garner someone’s fifteen minutes of fame, is this work one worth reading?

My opinion would be yes, it is worth reading. Let me explain.

As explained previously, the premise of the novel is that a former socialite is torn from his preppy upper-middle class life. In order to compensate for the lack of socialization and self-esteem, he enters a virtual world. This is where the narrative picks up: the world he enters is called “The Dragon’s Wrath” a Virtual-Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (VR-MMORPG). Ultra-realistic and difficult, reminding readers of a “Hardcore” gaming experiences such as “Dark Souls”, the world of “The Dragon’s Wrath” is something of a medieval fantasy infused with fictional creatures; recreating a Dark Ages inspired by Tolkein, this VR-MMORPG features home building reminiscent of “Minecraft”, first-person combat inspired by “The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim”, and player teamwork taken from the “World of Warcraft” handbook. Clearly the author is well rounded in his stable of contemporary fictional realms.

The protagonist, also named Brent, thrives in this world: he starts his game in the northern wastelands, the most formidable and deadly region, the barest of resources and the most desolate in terms of villages and other players. Slowly leveling his character while gathering resources, he is preparing for a trek to the top of a mountain. A place which holds a special artifact which will grant Brent’s character a great advantage in combat. After much effort, time, and patience the player is rewarded: he makes it to the top of the peak to be granted lightning powers, one of only a few such legendary perks in the game.

From here on out the narrative, though lacking overall structure, due—in part—to the nature of world building and volume installments of the narrative as a whole, takes a dive in terms of intelligibility: the plot goes from “discernable objective” to a series of events: a rescue, a raid, town creation, a dungeon crawl… with little indication of what any of the transactions amount to, the reader is left in the dark. With the pace of the volume slowing down, in addition to becoming vaguer, quality as a whole suffers. Since is this the first installment of a large book, however, this is to be expected. And yet, even so, I felt that the author could have pushed just slightly harder to include how the narrative beyond the first volume will play-out.

However, pacing and some narrative murkiness aside, I consider the volume’s largest missteps to reside in those autobiographical elements taken from the author’s own romantic life. Repeatedly throughout the volume, the protagonist muses on his relationships, his status and bodily image as women see him, and how he views women in turn. More than once these musings either border, or directly constitute, misogynistic rants; in truth, the story as a whole takes a nose-dive whenever the protagonist wonders about how women ignore him in his non-virtual life: its content tends to be a pseudo-Men’s Rights diatribe while reading it is the equivalent of being privy to the hormonal rant of a fourteen-year-old boy.

This is to say there is nothing original, innovative, or thought-provoking about these segments and could have the volume, and book as a whole, do without. Of course, I would be amiss to characterize the entirety of these relationship diversions as merely trash; there are moments in the volume which read as exceptional existential meditations. When the protagonist recounts a long-distance relationship with a suicidal girl who later rejects him as being weak, and his subsequent life after the break-up, the reader cannot but help be impressed by the emotion: although, of course, undertones of reactionary sentiment persist, this remembrance reads as an authentic piece of drama laid bare so as to reveal, if not justify, where the protagonist, and by extension author, is coming from. Combined with the injury element this brief tale saves the plot whenever the backward musings on woman arrive: not because it is a justification of the anti-woman aspect, but because it reads as a genuine expression of existential Angst.

With a strong voice, vivid descriptions of both combat and nature, as well as an intriguing game world, the first installment of Wrath deserves a read. It is slow at times, yes, while being a bit obscure at other times but if one is able to ignore these non-terminal mishaps, a mistake epidemic to many novels, especially newcomers, while simply rolling one’s eyes at the romantic-sexual connotations, then any fan of fantasy sci-fi will be enjoying themselves in this short read. With several additional volumes likely in the future, since this volume has only taken up “roughly eighty-five hundred words” out of over two-hundred thousand, future fans will continue to be pleased for several years to come.

The Dragon’s Wrath: A Virtual Dream

Brent Roth

272 pages. Published by Brent Roth. $3.99 (Kindle).

Would You Open The Door? Would You?

On Wednesday, April 15th, the Modernism and Manifestos CoLab put on their cumulative event: The Surrealist Salon. There were several events at the salon: a puppet show, poetry readings, art displays, and games. Two lovely ladies in tutu’s made of coffee filters (or “coffee filter couture”) put on a game called: “There Is A Knock At The Door… Would You Open The Door?” As players entered the vicinity to play the game, they were greeted with the following scenario:

“Close your eyes and imagine for me, if you will, that you are dreaming. And in this dream of yours, you are in your beautiful home, doing the things you like to do. You are feeling relaxed, you are feeling peaceful, and you are feeling like you. Suddenly– *someone knocks on a table* there is a knock at the door. You haven’t been expecting company, so you approach the door, and look out the peephole (because all great doors have peepholes.) You recognize the person at the door; you have seen this person before. You immediately have two decisions to make, and thus two questions to answer. The first is: Do you open the door? Yes or no? The second is: What is your immediate reaction to this persons presence at your door? What do you do?”

The players were then shown a slideshow alternating between a door (accompanied by the spoken phrase: “There is a knock at the door…”) and an image of a person, usually a celebrity, whose name would be spoken by one of the game masters. Players were asked to anonymously record their answers to those two questions on index cards. After an unspecified number of slides, the players were asked to share their answers with one another, and of course the game masters.

The following presentation is the very one that was used for the game. However, the anonymous responses from the visitors of the Surrealist Salon who participated in the game are featured with the images of the person who was “at their door.” With very few rules or guidelines and under the veil of anonymity, players provided all kinds of different answers, which have been censored for the purpose of this blog.

By compiling the responses, it has become evident there are a few awards to present:

MOST DISLIKED: Rush Limbaugh, Justin Bieber, and Barack Obama
MOST LIKED: Bill Nye, Prince, Hulk Hogan, JFK, Elizabeth Ferry, James Franco, Steve Buscemi, and Clint Eastwood
MOST DESIRED TO ROB: Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys and Boston Bruins Goalie Tuukka Rask
MOST UNKNOWN: Lil’ Wayne (Honorable Mention to Mark Ruffalo)
BEST RESPONSE: “No, I don’t open the door for anyone.”

Without further adieu, here is both the presentation featuring the results. While watching, ask yourself: would you open the door?

The Medieval and Renaissance Forum at Keene State College: A Narration of Before, During, and After the Experience

“Looking at the program of the day’s readings, it felt immensely empowering to see my name alongside college professors, scholars, and other very impressive people—getting to discuss my own piece with these folks as well, was even more of a privilege.”—Molly Olsen

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From left to right: Molly, Eric, Tyler, Sam, and Misty

It’s proven quite difficult to stop talking about the Medieval and Renaissance Forum at Keene State College! On Friday, April 24, Molly Olsen, Sam Oppenheim, and myself hopped into a UMF van with Dr. Eric Brown and Dr. Misty Krueger to head for the long awaited trip to Keene, New Hampshire. The trip started early Friday morning and lasted through Saturday night.

Although I was really excited to be invited to join the conference, I was also nervous about presenting to people that were perhaps more knowledgeable in the field than me. Luckily, Eric and Misty provided us with ample time to revise and edit our papers as well as rehearse the presentations. By the time of our presentations (Friday at 2:25), I felt amply prepared to give it my best!

I wasn’t alone in my feelings of nervousness; Molly said,

When someone at the conference asked me if I was a Medievalist I was quick to reply, “Well, I’m an English teacher.” Because, although through my studies I have found history and historical works incredibly interesting and important, I am not particularly drawn to this time period (well, at least not beyond wishing that I was Daenerys Targaryen, but that’s a story for another day…). Coming from this mindset, I knew that this event was going to be very different from anything I’d ever experienced, and I was excited to see where it took me.

All of our presentations turned out really well and elicited questions and positive responses from several attendees: three of which were undergraduates from Dartmouth and their professor, Dr. Tom Luxon. Our audience was attentive and inquisitive, challenging us all. Sam said, “Having Tom Luxon sit right across from me and stare me down during my reading was intimidating, but a challenge I was willing to take on!” Perhaps the best part of the presentation was that it gave me a sense of life in English academia, and also provided me with the opportunity to share my work with my peers by choice; rather than with my professor and peers for a grade. This distinction changes everything.

Molly: Presenting a paper I wrote at an academic conference was not only truly educational, but also gave my thoughts and opinions a validation I had never gotten to experience before. The whole event reminded me how glad I am that we have professors at this school who are willing to help us find, participate and thrive in these kind of opportunities.

Other key moments from Friday:

  • Delicious food (Italian and Thai)
  • A memorable reception with hors d’oeuvres and refreshments at the president’s house.
  • Molly tried Thai food for the first time—ever—and loved it!
  • I ate duck for the first time (sorry, Sam, it’s totally not my thing).
  • I had the most comfortable king size bed in the whole world all to myself.
  • Molly and I stayed up Friday night to make crowns fit for the occasion. Alas, they never would have survived the ride home.

On Saturday, we decided to separate and go to the sessions that appealed to each of us. In total we saw 8 panels: some of which were amazing (For those, I felt like I couldn’t write quickly enough or take enough notes), some merely average, and some terrible. The variety of work, both in topic and quality, was amazing. The breadth of work that I saw at the panels provided me with considerable context in which to place myself as an academic—in a sense, the forum validated my confidence in myself. By the end of the presentations, we all seemed to be in agreement about the breadth of the work presented.

Molly: The entire conference was incredibly informative in many different ways. Watching so many people present their papers and ideas in one day, really made me think about the way in which I, as a future educator, will teach my students about these sort of topics. The pop culture integration, the jokes, the anecdotes, the passion, as well the overall ways in which people presented, showed me what will keep your audience’s attention, and what may leave them doodling on their notepads. Knowing how to present your ideas in a dynamic and informative way is such a tremendous skill to have, and I felt like I was getting a sort of boot camp in the entire practice.

Sam: It was incredibly fun listening to all of the different papers, some great and some really terrible. The best, believe it or not, came from our sister school. Robert Kellerman of UMA had this amazing essay on Pericles and made me want to read the play!

After the panels, we were all exhausted; but we still had the keynote address by Coppelia Kahn, a founding member of Shakespearean studies. She presented a hypothesis on how Shakespeare became so popular in modern societies. A point that I thought was particularly noteworthy was that after Shakespeare’s death, his plays were ignored for 44 years, only to be revived by William Davenant. Thus, Davenant is responsible for Shakespeare’s preservation.
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Following the keynote presentation we headed to the medieval feast. The themed dinner was relaxing after a long day. Dinner boasted delicious herbed chicken, corn on the cob, diced potatoes, and much more. Aside from the corn, none of these foods were traditionally finger foods. Alas, for the sake of “historical accuracy” and role playing, we had to giggle our way through our meals with nothing but our hands as tools. Between that, the music, and the metal knights guarding the two food tables, I’m sure that the medieval feast will prove hard toforget!

In hindsight, the Medieval and Renaissance Forum at Keene State College was a developmentally significant event in my undergraduate career, and I hope that I’m able to attend more conferences in the future! I want to thank Eric and Misty for the chance to participate. Additionally, I want to thank all four of them (Eric, Misty, Molly, and Sam) for all of the great conversations and memories, as well a their support throughout the event. I’ve spoken to Molly and she also hopes to attend other conferences; she said, “I hope to attend more conferences in the future, although I doubt that any of them will ask me to eat chicken with my hands again—huzzah! for arguable historical choices (and wet wipes)!” Likewise, I’ve spoken to Sam and he wanted to add the following: “Above all else, it was a blast getting to know Tyler and Molly and having many intellectually stimulating conversations with Eric and Misty. It was a truly great experience and I was honored to be a part of it.”KeeneStateForumMedRenCollage

—Tyler M. Michaud

College Prospects

From the New York Times, “College for the Masses,” more evidence of the benefits of an undergraduate degree (click on the excerpt to go to the full article):

Yet the new research is a reminder that the country also underinvests in enrolling students in four-year colleges — and making sure they graduate. Millions of people with the ability to earn a bachelor’s degree are not doing so, and many would benefit greatly from it.

The unemployment rate among college graduates ages 25 to 34 is just 2 percent, even with the many stories you hear about out-of-work college graduates. They’re not generally working in menial jobs, either. The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else is near a record high. It’s large enough, over a lifetime, to cover many times over the almost $20,000 in student debt that an average graduate has, notes the education researcher Sandy Baum. College graduates are also healthier, happier, more likely to remain married, more likely to be engaged parents and more likely to vote, research has found.

Fantastical Conmen: A Review of Scott Meyer’s Off to be the Wizard

The cover title for Scott Meyer's book

The cover title for Scott Meyer’s book “Off to be the Wizard”.

             Review by: Curtis Cole   

                In the overcrowded science fiction and fantasy market, it takes a special show of talent to be noticed. This is doubly important for new authors. For people like Scott Meyer who, after beginning his career as a radio personality, eventually began penning his, still continuing, comic strip Basic Instructions this means risking much in a budding career, and highly finicky market, to make an impact in an virtual ocean of competition. Luckily for Meyer, however, his attempt to branch out seems to have paid off: with the success of the first book of his “Magic 2.0” project, he has managed to negotiate the poorly defined ground of the young adult niche; with, as of writing, two additional entries in the series published, Meyer is quickly becoming a name in the genre.

With a plethora of positive reviews, a work ethic to rival that of Stephen King (once we consider that Meyer has written three books in a single year), and the possibility to rise indefatigably higher into the pantheon of new writers to watch, Meyer’s first book (“Off to be the Wizard”) is a an apt demonstration of postmodern culture: the hip, geeky vibe of U.S popular culture combines with history, humor, and authorial musings to make a decisive entrance into the cut-throat young adult circlet.

Meet Martin Banks: he is the protagonist of “Off to be the Wizard”. He is a hacker, an aficionado of computers, technology, and popular culture in general. More to the point, however, he is a computer program; a facet of his being which, as the reader may be surprised to discover, is unremarkable: for when you discover that the entire world is nothing but an electronic simulation, much in the same way Martin discovered one night upon hacking into a cell phone manufacture’s website, everything else becomes superfluous.

This kind of irrelevancy is what the book is banking on, however, as from beginning to end the text is a borderline existential journey. The premise of the world as a computer program enables a number of questions, such as the purpose of life, the motions of history, and the praxis of interaction between the base and the superstructure. Martin’s actions post-discovery of this truth is indicative of such an idealist subjectivity.

Following his discovery of the all-determining computer program which runs the world, Martin quickly cashes in on his ability to automatically generate money, shifts the laws of gravity and time, and surmount the spatial limitations of navigation as such: but between eliminating the need to work for a living, paradox-free time travel, and instantaneous travel to anywhere on the planet capable of being rendered mathematically, the ‘natural’ law’s disintegration eventually attract attention. Enter the U.S government who, in attempt to capture Martin once and for all, raid his home.

The moment of this raid forces Martin’s hand. Although ever since discovering the program Martin had an idea of the care-free life he wanted to lead, the raid forces him into committing to an early living possibility. Enter medieval Europe. A place where due to (romanticized) superstitious faith and a lack of scientific knowledge, the populace is easy for any contemporary wiz-kid to manipulate.

Martin’s plan of posing as a wizard, in order to extract free food and lodging from the locale, though, takes a turn for the worse when he meets another wizard. Initially believing this locale wizard to merely an odd-ball espousing mystical trickery, Martin originally disregards this other wizard. However, this attitude is short lived as this other wizard demolishes Martin’s cobbled together ‘magical performance’ with a tremendous display of wizardry. Coming to, after losing consciousness, Martin is shocked to discover that this other wizard, Philip, the man who incidentally ends up training Martin throughout the course of the book, is none other than a time traveler like Martin himself; an individual who also wanted to live simply and without labor. In fact, Phillip is part of a self-policing collective of wizards, all of whom were once in the same position as Martin prior to their settlement.

Branching out from this introduction, the plot’s dissemination is slow and paced. In fact, most of the pages are spent with Martin orienting himself to his new life, training his ‘powers’, mastering his ‘macro commands’, and acclimating his disposition with that of his new wizard compatriots. Truly, the concept of an antagonist barely exists, being introduced only in the book’s final chapters. While part of this is done to effectively build the universe, it is also done to establish interpersonal dynamics: with the antagonist being a fellow wizard gone rouge, the reader needed to be fully induced to the cast as a whole without the villain being obvious. Personally, it is not one of my preferred modes of writing, but that is not where the bulk of my complaint lies.

Rather, the concern of my criticism lies with the premise’s legitimation of anti-proletarian practices. From beginning to end the entire concern of the characters is to mislead people, to circumvent the natural laws of historical materialism, and maintain through, trickery and fear, a mythologized puppet state based off of their childhood fancies. It is both a reactionary and immature. While the narrative presents these backward conceptualizations through that of a moralizing lens, of trivializing the trickery because it I all only a computer program, of de-valuing the labor practices needed in order to force a qualitative shift into the next, properly capitalist, epoch, and of maintaining the villain’s fiefdom out of economic concern, the truth cannot be hid: although seemingly nice guys, the wizards story here is one of a ‘revenge of the nerds’ scenario disguised as existential agency. Riddled with bourgeois ideology the narrative as such is, although unremarkable in the long run, denotes an antiquated political conception realized through an assemblage of pop culture simulacra.

Overall, the book depends on this mindset because of the target audience: young adults and teenagers. Written simplistically with straightforward plot points and developments, the story is only singularly layer; there is no “B” story to go along with the “A”. The reading level, while not overly juvenile, so as to appeal to the young adult readers, does not strive for exceptionality. Its self-referential nature, of its multitude of pop culture references, mixes with the counterrevolutionary sub-text because the machinations of bourgeois discourse are, for the majority of the massed hordes of youth, the only, as Fredric Jameson might have said, ‘political unconscious’ available to the disenfranchised.

In conclusion, while the first installment of Scott Meyer’s “Magic 2.0” project is an enjoyable romp in the world of young adult sci-fi/fantasy, as it takes many tropes from pop culture and the nerd-geek substratum, and the premise holds narrative promise if handled correctly, Off to be the Wizard, while never truly becoming memorable in its own right; the obscuring of the more disconcerting sub-textual elements, and its simplistic method of dissemination, although likely appealing to anyone with a hankering for an easy comedic read, its ultimate value will only ever be as a noteworthy first step in a new author’s literary career.

Off to be the Wizard

Scott Meyer

373 pages. Published by 47 North. $14.95

Review: Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep is Stephen King’s long awaited sequel to his famous 1977 novel The Shining. Published 36 years after its predecessor, Doctor Sleep picks up on the story of Danny Torrance who, now an adult, remains psychologically traumatized by the events that took place during The Shining.
The return to Danny’s story is not only a return to one of King’s earlier works (the Shining being only his third book published) but a return to his earlier style of writing as well. Doctor Sleep sees King’s return to the horror genre after a five-year hiatus writing mystery and historical fiction novels. Sleep also finds Danny, now going by Dan, traveling to a small New England town, a location often written about by King early in his career. The combination of a return to the horror genre, the universe of The Shining, and to a New England setting lend a certain nostalgic effect to the novel throughout.
Taking place around September 11th, 2001, Dan finds himself wandering New England combating alcoholism which he has inherited from his father, Jack Torrence, of Shining fame. Eventually settling in the New Hampshire town of Frazier, Dan begins attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and working for a local hospice, with the intent to clean up his life and not wind up like his father. Dan’s psychic abilities begin to resurface as his sobriety grows stronger, and he begins a telepathic connection with a small girl, Abra, who also has the shining ability.
Of course, no New England set Stephen King novel would be complete without a group of villainous vampires à la Salem’s Lot. While Dan is developing his relationship with Abra, a gang of vampire-esque immortals, called the True Knot, are traveling the US feeding off “steam” – an energy produced by those with the shining ability. Eventually, Abra gets tangled up with the True Knot by accidentally psychically witnessing a murder by the group, and Dan is left with the task of defending Abra.

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Overall, Doctor Sleep is a very strong novel from King after a lengthy break from the horror genre, with lots of twists, turns, and an atmosphere throughout the novel that will make you leave a night light on when you go to sleep. There are a few hiccups that detract from the story, including an unnecessary sub-plot where the True Knot contract measles. Not only that, but there are a few convoluted developments within the plot that reduce the value not only of Sleep but of the Shining as well, such as the wholly disposable moment where Dan learns that Abra’s mother is actually his half-sister via their father, Jack Torrence.
Despite these momentary lapses, Sleep features copious other references to Jack and Wendy Torrence,the Overlook Hotel, and other call-backs to the Shining that are very welcome after such a long time. Not only do they add to the brooding atmosphere over the novel, conjuring up uneasy feelings in those who have read the Shining before, but King uses the references to bring home wonderful characterization of the Torrence family and the ghosts that haunt Dan, Jack, and his father before him.
There are no cheap thrills in Sleep, Stephen King is in full force throughout, showing readers why he is considered a master of his craft page after page, a claustrophobic experience is delivered that will leave readers anxiously checking over their shoulders for the True Knot.  While certainly catering to those who have been waiting nearly forty years for a Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep stands very strongly on its own two feet and should not scare away first-time readers of King’s work. With all the horror trappings one would expect from King’s return to his iconic universe, the novel does not disappoint and will have readers turning every page with sweaty palms and trembling fingers. Sleep takes an established universe and adds in just the right amount of new and memorable characters, surreal locations and events, and old fashioned Stephen King-frights to create a masterpiece that stands among his best work.

Doctor Sleep

Stephen King

531 pages. Scribner. $13.60.

 

 

Review: Koko Be Good by Jen Wang

Koko Be Good is a graphic novel by Jen Wang published in 2010. This makes it a little old for reviewing, but I’m disregarding that fact because until I plucked it off the shelf at Mantor I had never heard of it. I’m talking about it because it needs to be talked about.

The story revolves around a cast of young characters in San Francisco—Jon, a recent college grad with Big Plans; Koko, a young woman tripping through life and leaving much chaos in her wake; and Faron, her quiet, unhappy young friend. Each one is facing the big question: What on earth am I going to do with my life? A surprising theft brings the three together, and the friendship between Jon and Koko inspires both of them to really consider their freedom and place in the world.

At the beginning, Jon thinks he has it figured out. His girlfriend, Emily, is Peruvian, and the two are planning a move to Ayacucho. There, she will work at the orphanage her mother came from, and he will do—something, probably. He’s working on that bit, along with his Spanish. Koko knows she doesn’t have it figured out—she always has ideas and projects, but she’s hanging in the listless, meaningless certainty that none of it is the Right Thing. Inspired by Jon and Emily’s Goodness, Koko decides that her new mission in life will be to be Good (Good is always capitalized in the book—Koko is the kind of person who uses Emphasis Capitalization).

Koko Be Good both praises and questions the idea and desire to be Good. For Emily, who is driven by purpose, Goodness is easy to achieve. Koko wants to be Good because being Good sounds better than what she’s been doing—she is constantly vigilant and receptive to ways in which she could make the world a little better, determined to be a hero to someone. She sponsors a child through the World Children’s Fund, joins in a rally for Mexican rights, and volunteers her time at soup kitchens and care facilities. She struggles, though, because none of it feels like pure goodness. She hates changing diapers and doing mountains of dishes. She causes trouble with the old folks. And she feels different when she’s around other do-gooders.

Aligned with the discussion of Goodness is the constant struggle with Selfishness. Koko wants to help the entire world, but is thwarted because this plan is, obviously, much too big and, frankly, not the right humanitarian project for her. Jon just wants to help Emily, but in doing so he is forced to put aside something which is very important to him, which is music. It is revealed gradually throughout the book that Jon is a talented musician; by moving to Peru, he is choosing to help Emily follow her dreams instead of following his own, a decision which may not sit as easily as it first appears.

The artwork is fantastic. Jen Wang uses a light, feathery stroke that complement her sepia watercolor style. The focus on hands is entrancing, the movement graceful, the faces and large eyes endearing. The artwork was what made me pluck it off that library shelf in the first place. Wang’s panels are the perfect platform on which to tell this story, which is at times funny, sad, incredible, and heartbreaking.

This book will appeal to anyone with an internal struggle between Goodness and Selfishness, doing what is right or what is fun and easy. I believe it is particularly relevant for people in their twenties, because at this age the future is big, looming, and full of possibilities. Like Koko, we will all have to decide how we want to exist in the world, and this story offers a comforting array of ideas.

 

Koko Be Good

Jen Wang

300 pages. First Second. $18.99.

Racism and the Power of Language: A Review of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen

Citizen is Jamaican poet and playwright, Claudia Rankine’s fifth volume of poetry. Published in 2014, Citizen was a a finalist for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle awards, where it was nominated in two categories, poetry and criticism, the first time since the awards were created forty years ago that a single book has been nominated in more than one category. It is the winner of Poets and Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and an Amazon #1 bestseller. Online magazine The Millions called it one of the most anticipated books of the year [1].

A shocking compilation of racism, Rankine’s poems deliver the cutting reality of what it is to be black in America through her own personal tales of prejudice, as well as through tennis star Serena Williams, Trayvon Martin, and other black figures. Rankine constructs each poem with a vivid scene and wraps it up with a poignant last sentence that will hit the reader with its telling subtlety even if he or she has never experienced racism before.Citizen

With many of the poems written in the second person ‘you’ form, the reader is able to share the humiliation of the true story behind it. Citizen begins with a twelve year old black girl who is asked by her white classmate to move her body to the side of her desk during exams, so the white girl can copy her answers. Meanwhile, the implication that Sister Evelyn does not notice the similarity in their exams, is that the copying only works one way. Or the black girl takes too little space in Sister Evelyn’s mind to even notice her presence. The poems that follow are similarly humiliating—You taking the window seat on an airplane after a year of traveling. When a mother and daughter approach the same row, the daughter is initially surprised, followed by disappointment at the seating arrangements, apparently not expecting a black person in the same row as them. The mother promptly takes the middle seat. In another, an individual makes an appointment with a trauma therapist over the phone and comes to the door at the back that the therapist uses for all patients. The therapist cannot imagine a black person is here for an appointment and treats the individual like a criminal. She can only repeat sorry several times over after the poem’s protagonist says softly that she is here for an appointment.

Though prose like, there is much carefully written syntax and underlying musicality that add to the powerful delivery of these pieces. Rankine does a beautiful job of packing everything into the last sentence. The surprising importance of the last lines in the poems reveal the humiliating prejudice that the reader cannot fully understand until the end. One example of this is when an individual meets with a manager she has only spoken to on the phone. When they meet in person, the manager blurts out that he did not know she was black. A dialogue between the two follows, “I didn’t mean to say that, he then says / Aloud, you say / What? He asks. / You didn’t mean to say that aloud.” The poem ends with the line, “The transaction goes swiftly after that” [2].

Citizen does many things to take the reader off guard. One way is Rankine’s choice to not name the poems. After finishing reading through the first few, this technique I initially found disconcerting, became preferable. The content was able to speak for itself rather than a distracting set of words up top to say ‘this is what this poem is about’. In turn, the poems flow without interruption into the next poem, helping to build to a powerful climax at the end. To return to the earlier idea of this book as a series of essays, the way the pieces are separated only by Roman numeral sections make it feel like a large essay. A large amount of the poems are held together by the poems that proceed and follow them, meaning that on their own they may not make the same amount of sense that they do functioning together in a book. This does not negate the power of any of the pieces but to say that the way in which they read like short essays is them building off of one another.

Unconventional, not only in the prosaic like way in which they are written, but also in the way the essay like nature helps the book function. Some of the poems are no longer than a page, while others, such as the Serena Williams piece and the sequence from the 2006 World Cup are several pages. Both of these pieces are written like articles, long spins where Rankine’s voice and quirks are present, but the the pieces do not necessarily feel like poetry. The author gets away with calling this poetry, because it is in a collection of poems. Though it is not necessary to debate which literary genre Citizen should fall under; it is however, interesting to note the flexibility of these pieces and how they function in their unusual forms.

Citizen will leave a sting long after finishing it. It is a book for everyone who has had racism done to them and for anyone else who has not. It is not pretty; it is storytelling with a literal kick at society, exposing racism and racial profiling through real life instances. A quote on an intro page in the book, from French film director Chris Marker, sums the story of Citizen up well; “If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black”.

Citizen: An American Lyric

Claudia Rankine

169 pages. Published by Graywolf Press

Paperback: $20.00 (Graywolfpress.org)

 

References:

1. “Citizen: An American Lyric.” Graywolf Press

2. Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2014. 44. Print.

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