Monday, September 26, 2022

Nerd Alert! Summer Reading Catchup

It's strange to think about just how much I love reading, just how much I love writing about movies, and just how little I ever think to write about the books I love reading. Often that's because my brain usually needs to take more time unraveling novels and coming to terms with how I ultimately felt about them, whereas films tend to be a more immediate experience.

So after a summer filled with a whole lot of library loans, I figured there's no reason not to share some of my recent recommendations, all on the genre(ish) side. And since sometimes it's hard to really get a feel for a book without the ease of a movie trailer, I'll throw in some adjacent material to help you figure out if it's to your taste (sometimes literally). 

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh
Do you enjoy the medieval setting of Game of Thrones but find it, well, a tad too clean? Pump up the literal filth, black humor, class inequalities, and cannibalism for the wickedly entertaining Lapvona, a fictional fiefdom ruled by an idiotic glutton who inspires nothing but the worst in his poor starving subjects. While the point of view moves through several slightly less villainous characters, nobody in this miserable world really deserves the reader's love, and yet, reading their awful journeys never feels depressing. There's such a glorious absurdity to the action that it's kind of a delight. Or maybe I'm just a terrible person.

TV/Movie Pairing

The easy option would be a similarly period-set tale like Black Death or Hagazussa, but this book's real soulmate has deeper aspects in common: a fascination with all things food, no restraints on exploring what can be done to a human body, and a larger-than-life spoiled rotten crime lord who can't shut up. Yes, it's Peter Greenaway's beautifully ugly The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. 

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
When a plane carrying the Miss Teen Dream finalists crashes on a mysterious island, the young contestants are forced to use all of their pageant training to survive in the wilderness. Turns out, catching fish and building storm-proof shelters is much more rewarding than mastering tap choreography and hair removal. Bray, primarily an author of YA fiction, is clearly having fun creating a sort of Idiocracy-esque near future that richly satirizes how corporate America underestimates and devalues teenage girls. The diverse batch of characters are fully drawn, and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that rival the best of Miss Congeniality. Some of the storytelling spins a bit out of control and not every subplot is handled cleanly, but overall, Beauty Queens is a whole lot of fun.

TV/Movie Pairing: 

I found Beauty Queens via an article recommending what to read after Yellowjackets, which makes perfect sense because Beauty Queens is sort of the sunnier, more optimistic version of the same basic premise. Less cannibalism, more explosions.

Clown In a Cornfield Series by Adam Cesare
Nothing is more exciting than seeing someone you know and respect create great work that finds a wide audience. Adam Cesare has been in the horror internet circles for some time, and what a delight to see him step into the (very violent) YA horror realm with not one, but two incredibly entertaining slashers. Danger is looming in Kettle Springs, a dying midwestern hamlet harboring growing tensions between the weary adult population and the teenagers they blame for their town's demise. In the middle of it all is Frendo, a corn syrup mascot turned murderous archer (who might just have a few friends). 

TV/Movie Pairing: 

You don't find a better setting for a massacre than a sprawling cornfield, so why not pair this one with another story that understands its appeal: Netflix's There's Someone Inside Your House. Both properties rise above so much other genre offerings because their teenage characters are treated as three-dimensional human beings. It's a perfect autumn double (or triple).

Blood Sugar by Sascha Rothchild
Every book club (I say as someone who adores book clubbing) has read a book like Blood Sugar, but very few boast such a wonderfully lovable and respectable murderous protagonist as Ruby Simon. The self-aware Type-A Miami psychologist might be an Amy Dunne-ish serial killer, but she's a GOOD serial killer, one who only targets the kind of people who hurt the world. Plus, she loves animals! She has a signature pen! She's the best!

TV/Movie Pairing: 

Between the key Type 1 Diabetes storyline and Ruby's physical description, I couldn't shake casting What Keeps You Alive's Hannah Emily Anderson as Ruby. Her Jackie is far more typical sociopath than the less outwardly violent Ruby, but there's something about that film that could operate in the same universe. Both feature terrifyingly smart, in control women who are intoxicating.  

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Sometimes you read a book that isn't perfect, but that immediately makes you want to seek out everything else its author has done. That's the case for Catriona Ward's strange, disturbing, and fully twisted The Last House on Needless Street. Narrated (perhaps) by a dangerous shut-in, his abused charge, her vengeance-hungry sister, and most excitedly, a beautiful green-eyed cat named Olivia, this book is incredibly dark, but also, very...heartfelt? There are dozens of surprises along the way and saying anything about the story may spoil some reveals. Know that this isn't an easy read, particularly if children in peril upsets you on the page. But it's unlike anything I've read, and it left me deeply hungry for more.

TV/Movie Pairing: 

For a lot of reasons that will be clearer when you actually read The House on Needless Street, the movie that I found myself thinking of after was Scott Derrickson's recent The Black Phone. Both do an astounding job at capturing the voices of children in danger, and both play with perspective in interesting ways. 

If I remember, we'll do this again towards the end of fall. So heed the words of another famous, less homicidal clown!


  1. Ooooh! Book recommendations!
    Thank you very much.
    Lapvona looks a lot like my sorta thing... and maybe Last House as well... but I'll try library all of them and have a taste test.

  2. Whoo hoo! Excited to hear what you think!