HORRORSTÖR by Grady Hendrix

horrorstc3b6r_book_coverGood satire is hard to write.  Good horror is also hard to write.  Writing both is a nearly impossible task and in HORRORSTÖR, Grady Hendrix almost pulls it off completely.  Set in an Ikea-ripoff store called Orsk, the novel is the story of Amy, a store employee whose existence is that of miserable hand-to-mouth living driven by a desire to get out of the town where she’s lived since she was born and to not move back into her mom’s trailer, which is where she’s headed if she can’t come up with the back rent that she owes her roommates.  Along for the ride with Amy are the childish spinster Ruth Anne, the uptight manager Basil, and their ghost hunter colleagues Trinity and Matt.  Together, they set out to spend a night in Orsk to investigate the increasingly bizarre events that have been happening during their respective shifts.

What follows is a ghost story that under most circumstances would seem pretty straightforward and almost played–the store has been built on a site where an insane asylum run by a warden who was insane in his cruelty once stood.  But it’s like Hendrix knows this and as a result he spends a lot of time crafting his setting, which is Orsk, and creating a dead-on satire of Ikea and its furniture and lifestyle that we have come to know and … love?  The book, which has illustrations by Michael Roglalski, is laid out in places like a furniture catalogue, with each chapter being titled after a fake piece of Swedish-inspired furniture (and then later in the novel as things get more bizarre, catalogue descriptions of torture devices).  Hendrix goes deep with building that world and has his group of oddball employees inhabit a world that feels like a retail job where some are trying to make something of themselves while others are perpetually fed up.

The horror portion of the book is also solid, although I will admit that I think Hendrix could have used 20-50 more pages of story because I felt like the book’s pacing sped up way too quickly toward its ending even if it did keep me engaged, entertained, and even amused.

-Tom

You should read this book if …

  1. You enjoy workplace satire such as Clerks., Office Space, Waiting …, or Superstore
  2. You like reading or watching shows about haunted places and the legends associated with them.
  3. You want to read a horror novel but don’t want the commitment of an overwrought series or the length of a Stephen King.
  4. You have ever tried–and failed–to put together Ikea’s furniture and are convinced that only a demon from hell could conceive of the Hemnes dresser.

Episode 12: March by John Lewis

Episode 12 Website CoverIt’s the twelfth episode of Required Reading With Tom and Stella! This podcast, which is hosted by Tom Panarese (Pop Culture Affidavit, In Country) and Stella (Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, The Batman Universe) is two teachers talking about literature. Each episode, we will be taking a look at a single work, analyzing it, criticizing it and deciding if it’s worth its place in the canon.

This time around, we’re taking a look at March, the graphic novel written by John Lewis (with Andrew Aydin) and with art by Nate Powell.

You can listen here:

Required Reading iTunes Page

Required Reading Podcast Page at Two True Freaks

Direct Download

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella), check out our Twitter feed at @reqreadcast, or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com

Here’s all four covers to the graphic novel (the slipcase is on the left)

Here is a link to the Newseum and its special exhibit on the Civil Rights movement:

1967: Civil Rights at 50

Footage of John Lewis speaking at the March on Washington in 1963:

A compilation of moments from the Civil Rights movement (may be some graphic content):

President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech from January 21, 2009:

Footage of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama marching in Selma to commemorate the march’s 50th anniversary in 2015 (John Lewis is standing between them and their daughters are to Mrs. Obama’s right):

“We Shall Overcome” as sung by Mahalia Jackson (used in the episode):

 

Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations by Garson O’Toole

51oasncxfql-_sy346_Garson O’Toole is known as “The Quote Investigator” and has made a name for himself on the Internet by looking into the origins and veracity of famous quotations, especially those that often find their way onto inspirational posters, high school yearbooks, and memes that your more senior family members post to Facebook.  His book Hemingway Didn’t Say That is a collection of some of the most famous quotes he’s looked into, broken into various categories and judged in a way similar to what you’d see on the average Snopes entry.

While fascinating at times, the book does tend to drag and I’ll admit that it took me several months to read.  It works better if you consider it a reference work or a book you’ll flip through, much like any of the many nostalgia-based books that are full of lists and profiles and don’t have a continuous narrative structure.  Unfortunately for the Quote Investigator, that only works if you’re buying the book in hard copy and not for a Kindle–then again, maybe I’m showing my age by saying that I find browsing/flipping through a book on my Kindle way more tedious than physically picking one up off of the shelf.

-Tom

You should read this book if …

  1. Are a Snopes addict.
  2. You love trivia.
  3. Don’t mind a book you can put down for a while and pick up without feeling like you need a refresher on the chapters you read.
  4. You are looking to something to flip through while you’re in the bathroom

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro

51fonlierul-_sx328_bo1204203200_If you have driven through a highway, bridge, or tunnel in New York City, you have Robert Moses to thank for it; moreover, if you look at much of the current makeup of the city, it’s due to Moses, who held myriad titles throughout his forty-year career in the governments of New York City and New York State.  But a list of bridges, tunnels, and buildings does not even begin to scratch the surface of Robert Caro’s exhaustive biography of the life of the man who literally shaped the nation’s leading city.

Published in 1974 when New York City was descending into the nadir of its existence, The Power Broker is a thorough look at Robert Moses’ life and a treatise on the nature of power.  While definitely in the thick of New York City and State politics, Moses himself was a lifelong bureaucrat who found ways to influence several of the city’s mayors and the state’s governors, even if his relationships with many–among them, Fiorello LaGuardia, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Nelson Rockefeller–was often adversarial.  Caro, whose research was extensively detailed, weaves a story of a man who went from an idealist to blinded by his own ego, his fall eventually coming because the visionary he once had been wielded too much power and influence for his own good.

I spent much of my life driving around the highways and parkways of Long Island, all of which have their origin stories with Moses and can be found within the book; in fact, I spent summers in college working at Robert Moses State Park.  But even though I feel I have a personal connection to Moses and The Power Broker, I’ll admit that this book was a feat of strength to read.  At a grand total of 1366 pages (if you count notes and the index), The Power Broker is not a leisurely read and could be the basis for its very own seminar or course.  But the accomplishment of finishing the book proved well worth it.

-Tom

You should read this book if …

  1. You have a serious interest in the history of New York State, New York City, and Long Island.
  2. You’ve read Gotham by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace (itself a tome) and want to continue a look at New York City history.
  3. You’re a fan of The Bowery Boys NYC History Podcast and want to learn more about Robert Moses.
  4. You’ve got an interest in politics and political history and want to see how theories of power (and the egos of the men who wield it) often play out in real life.

Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran by Elaine Sciolino

51eX21diw4L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Elaine Sciolino, a correspondent for Newsweek and The New York Times, was aboard the airplane that took Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Tehran in 1979. She has had more experience covering revolutionary Iran than any other American reporter, and was present for the revolution, the hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq war, the rise of President Khatami, the riots of 1999, and the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program. Persian Mirrors looks at the public and private spaces of Iran, and goes into the politics, culture, religion, and society of Iran.

I originally picked this up because I wanted to get some more background on Iran before teaching Persepolis during a seminar course. Unfortunately, the seminar was canceled, but I decided to keep reading because the subject matter is so interesting. As Americans, I feel like we see people in the Middle East as the enemy, but this book explores why that is not necessarily true. True, we have been on opposing sides from time to time, but there is more to the story, and it is unfair to consider all “others” a terrorist. One must still read this book with a grain of salt since it is coming from someone who, while narrating her first-hand experiences, is not Iranian.

You should read this book if…

  1. you are interested in other cultures.
  2. you would like to learn more about Iran.
  3. you enjoyed reading Persepolis.
  4. you are willing to let your impressions and attitudes about the Iran be changed.

 

Episode 11: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Episode 11 Website CoverIt’s the eleventh episode of Required Reading With Tom and Stella! This podcast, which is hosted by Tom Panarese (Pop Culture Affidavit, In Country) and Stella (Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, The Batman Universe) is two teachers talking about literature. Each episode, we will be taking a look at a single work, analyzing it, criticizing it and deciding if it’s worth its place in the canon.

This time around, we’re taking a look at Ella Minnow Pea, a novel of letters by Mark Dunn.

You can listen here:

Required Reading iTunes Page

Required Reading Podcast Page at Two True Freaks

Direct Download

If you like our podcast, feel free to like our Facebook page (just search for Required Reading with Tom and Stella) or email us at requiredreadingcast@gmail.com

41-rjggub5l-_sx318_bo1204203200_

The Serafina Series by Robert Beatty

S61uD+4Tts4L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_tella here! I wanted to do a short post — probably all of my posts are going to be short, because, let’s be honest, we all have attention disorders and don’t want to read much, amIright???– yes, a short post about a series I have been reading called The Serafina Series written by Robert Beatty. I came upon this series while I was in a Barnes and Nobel in NYC and was intrigued by the cover and blurb about the book.

While I do recommend all three books that are published, I most recently finished Serafina and the Splintered Heart. The series takes place at and around the Biltmore Estate during the height of the Gilded Age. Among the majority of author-original characters, you will find yourself familiar with the Vanderbilts and others that were present during that time.

The series continues to be a fun read with dark turns and suspense. The genre is fantasy with historical aspects sprinkled in. The heroes – Serafina and Braeden – are twelve years old, but don’t let that fool you! The vocabulary throughout the novel and the decisions and actions of the characters speak to their wisdom. They also encounter fierce and unforgiving villains which darkens the tone of the novels.

You should read this book if you:

  1. Enjoy fantasy with some historical aspects
  2. Enjoy characters with a strong sense of right and wrong
  3. Enjoy characters that are devoted to family, friendship and loyalty
  4. Enjoy animals

ex animo,
Stella