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What we at ZYZZYVA are currently reading.

Voices from the Dark: Some Recommended Horror Reads

Edgar Allan PoeWith the approach of Halloween, we polled our staff and contributors about which literary works of horror (or of just plain ol’ spookiness) they’d like to point our readers to. From the progenitor of the macabre short story, Edgar Allan Poe, to the psychological stylings of Shirley Jackson and Joyce Carol Oates, these works display a keen understanding of the utter fragility of the human mind. It may be a well-worn genre, but horror retains its power to effectively probe our darker impulses and explore cultural traumas:

Paul Wilner, ZYZZYVA Contributor: I generally stay away from horror literature – it’s a step above science fiction, but it still gives me, you know, the creeps. That’s the intention, of course, but it feels a bit…intentional for my taste.

But I make an exception for Edgar Allan Poe. Besides being the lead Goth of his time, inspiring everyone from Baudelaire to Lou Reed, there’s a hysterical realism to Poe’s prose that continues to be relevant, even incorrigibly modern.

The Poe story that has stayed with me most is “The Tell-Tale Heart.’’ First published in 1843 in The Pioneer, a magazine edited by James Russell Lowell, a poet about as far from the aesthetic of the bard of Baltimore as it’s possible to imagine.
In it, the unreliable narrator recounts the “perfect crime’’ of murdering the old man who lives in the house they share, whether as a servant or family member.
Poe strikes the High Romantic note from the outset.

“True! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad?’’

How, indeed? Let us count the ways.

Trying to explain his motive for the crime, he discounts the usual: “Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me…I think it was his eye! yes it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold…”

In the dead of the night, he falls on the old man with a shriek, pulls his bed down over him, dismembers him and buries his remains in the room. Move over, Hannibal Lecter.
When the police arrive – neighbors had heard the commotion – he entertains them cordially, confident “in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph’’ and places his chair above the spot where the corpse had been hidden. But as he tries to continue his small talk, he hears a sound, persistent and growing ever louder – the heartbeat of his victim.

“Was it possible they heard not! Almighty God! – no, no! They heard! – they suspected! – they knew! they were making a mockery of my horror! – this I thought, and this I think.”
Chattering in terror, he confesses, prefiguring a thousand Raskolnikovs.

Poe is considered the father of the detective novel, a banal ambition. But he was so much more. His excited sentences leap forth and grip us still, even in these short pages.
He anticipates Baudelaire’s famous challenge – “Hypocrite lecteur – mon semblable – mon frère,’’ and Rimbaud’s later derangement of the senses.

Found delirious on the streets of Baltimore on Oct. 3, 1849, he died a few days later. There’s an apocryphal report that the cause of death was “cooping’’ – a form of 19th century election fraud in which unwitting victims were kept in a room (or “coop’’) and plied with liquor until they voted, often several times, for a particular candidate. Or maybe he was just drunk, and took too many drugs – he never needed much encouragement in that regard.

Regardless, “The Tell-Tale Heart’’ still makes me shiver. I see Poe’s wild man, and his victim, in my mind’s eye. Wherever we may go, he is waiting.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You BeenRebecca Rand, Intern: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is one of Joyce Carol Oates’ most famous short stories, and it is an incredibly eerie work of psychological horror. It recalls the experience of a teenager named Connie, approached by a creepy man who calls himself Arnold Friend, who she finds seductive in spite of herself.

When a character in any story utters the line, “You’re a monster!” to a human villain, it is usually after s/he has committed or promised to commit some inhuman act of violence. Oates manages to make Arnold Friend an incredible monster without any violence. We question his humanness because he is grotesquely phony. He has shaggy black hair that is “crazy like a wig,” a face covered in mask-like foundation makeup, a nakedly aged throat, eyelashes covered in tar, and boots stuffed to make himself look taller. His disguise is clumsy and careless–he trips over his obviously-stuffed footwear. Connie sees all this, know’s he’s a fraud, and yet he still exerts psychological control over her. This is part of what makes “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” so freaking scary. And a perfect short read for this Halloween.

Paperbacks From HellZack Ravas, Editorial Assistant: If you walked into a mall bookstore before the year 1995, chances are you saw them: the rows and rows of mass market paperbacks with evocatively rendered skeletons, masked killers, and insect hordes adorning their covers. While you may have thought that titles such as Night-Shriek, Toy Cemetery, and The Accursed – with their almost microscopic fonts and outlandish storylines – had been resigned to the dustbin of history, one man has made it his mission to preserve their dubious legacy. Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks From Hell is both a survey of and a love-letter to the lurid horror novels of the 70’s and 80’s, skipping over the big names like Stephen King and Dean Koontz in favor of the lesser known and forgotten authors who contributed to the genre during the mass market paperback boom.

While Hendrix’s deadpan, often ironic tone may not be to every reader’s liking, his genuine excitement when he stumbles upon a gem in the dusty stacks proves infectious. His enthusiasm is palpable as he describes the work of William H. Johnstone, whose novels routinely featured muscle-bound Vietnam vets battling Satan-worshipping deviants in small town America, as well as the more clinical and psychologically-driven stylings of Andrew Neiderman (his book Brainchild depicts what happens when a straight A science student turns her household into a laboratory maze for humans). Don’t be surprised if you come away from this book with your own wishlist of macabre titles to track down. An ideal read for the October season, Paperbacks From Hell serves as a nostalgic ode to a paperback era long gone and a reminder of the assorted treasures that might be lurking at your local used bookstore.

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ZYZZYVA Labor Day 2017 Playlist

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for the first ever ZYZZYVA Labor Day Playlist! Here you’ll find a series of songs our staff chose for their resonance in this fraught (and often emotionally exhausting) moment. Music is always an essential source of inspiration and solace, and these are some of the songs we’ll be listening to over this long weekend. We hope you may enjoy them, too, perhaps in the background of your holiday barbecue, or after the guests have departed when you’re left with some quiet moments of contemplation. And who knows, maybe we’ll have to make the ZYZZYVA Playlist something of a tradition. Feel free to comment with your own song selections as well.

1. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Full Band Version)” by Gil Scott-Heron 

Gil Scott-Heron’s song both expresses and provokes an aggrievement that rests not in disaffected anger but instead in a sharp, controlled call to action. There are no excuses in Scott-Heron’s call and the precision with which he intonates every syllable perpetuates this feeling of disciplined anger. The ferocity of domination over one’s experience of dehumanizing injustice through the idiosyncratic and spontaneous nature of jazz demonstrates just how invincible and irresistible this force, once pierced open, can be. As the song continues, and seeps further and mounts higher, there is nothing left to do  but stand up and do something. Why? Because “You will not be able to plug in, turn on and drop out.” Why? Because “The revolution will not be right back after a message.” Why? Because “The revolution will be no re-run brothers/The revolution will be live.”Samara Michaelson

2. “Somos Sur” by Ana Tijoux feat Shadia Mansour

In a time where opposing home-grown, American-as-apple-pie fascism is quickly becoming mainstream, artists like French-Chilean Ana Tijoux and Palestinian-British Shadia Mansour remind us of the importance of anti-imperialist analysis and resistance (I could have chosen a song like “Strictly Against Nazis” by Wizo or Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” but that would be too easy, right?). Tijoux is probably most well-known for her song “1977,” which was featured on Breaking Bad and Broad City, but her music has been part of anti-imperialist and decolonial movements for a while now, and she deserves more recognition. Mansour’s verses are always incredible – I never like to say that rappers “spit fire” because it feels corny, but in the case of Mansour, it’s true. Lyrically, the song reminds me why opposing US imperialism is central to any resistance efforts, eleven within the imperial core. Liberation for all comes in the form of liberation for the Global South and all its people – and this song is the perfect encapsulation of that (and, honestly, any song that tells Yanquis to get out of Latin America is gold).Jasmine Lee Ehrhardt

3. “Hard Times” by Baby Huey & the Baby Sitters

Though Baby Huey is “filled with love,” no one around him seems to care about returning the love and being decent to their neighbor. This song, I think, speaks to the frustration a lot of people around me have been expressing. It’s not just a frustration with the current political state; it’s a grievance with everyone, those we work with, live with, and deal with every day.Paola Vergara 

4. “Divenire” by Ludovici Einaudi

Language is an opportunity for us to explain, in great detail, the wild, torrential, all-encompassing beauty that is the human experience. It is how we express, understand, accept, and share our internal and external worlds to ourselves and to one another, and while I am forever grateful to words for helping me do just that, I can’t help but feel like sometimes we need another primordial outlet for expression: sound. “Divenire” by Ludovico Einaudi is a composition that reflects that intensity in our world today, politically and otherwise, just through music. It has its soft moments, where we strive to better understand and accept one another as individuals and as a collective. It has violent moments, where we are at odds because of ignorance, shame, anger, disconnection, hatred. It has hope and it has sadness, but most importantly, it moves like the intricacies and complexities of being imperfect in an imperfect world.Melissa Halabe

5. “Get By” by Talib Kweli

My fondness for “Get By” isn’t recent; it’s been a perennial favorite since I first came across Talib Kwelli in college. Part of what I love about this song is how it combines concerns with social justice and a very sharp perspective on the big picture, with an ethics of personal responsibility. Though the picture it paints is in some ways grim, the chorus returns to a kind of hope or determination– returns to the conviction that the choices we make every morning as we set out into the world for the day make a difference.Laura Cogan

6. “I Shall Be Released” by Nina Simone (cover of Bob Dylan)

I’m sure “I Shall Be Released” needs no explanation– but why the Nina Simone cover, rather than the Bob Dylan original? I’m rarely a fan of a Dylan cover, but Simone’s incomparable voice and phrasing with Dylan’s unforgettable lyrics make this track another perennial favorite, and one that offers particular solace just now. And this is a good way of making sure two of my all time favorite singer-songwriters (Dylan and Simone) are in some way represented on our mix.Laura Cogan

7. “I Am Waiting” by The Rolling Stones 

“I Am Waiting” is an odd little song, but there’s something about its anxiety that feels so
apropos since the election– because with each new day bringing yet another revelation (thank you, Washington Post and New York Times) about the connections between Trump’s campaign/family/business and Russia/election interference/obstruction of
justice/corruption, it often feels as though we are holding our collective breath as we wait to see the whole picture, to get the full scope of the wrong-doing, and to find out how it will all fall apart.—Laura Cogan

8. “Down for Some Ignorance” by Saul Williams

Well, let’s be honest: at times, things feel grim. “Down for Some Ignorance” is a track for when you need to take a moment to sit with your sadness and frustration, to let
incredulousness and grieving for humanity’s endless mistakes wash over you.—Laura Cogan

9. “September Song” by Agnes Obel

“September Song” at first sounds like how pain feels; how it feels to experience an injustice, or witness cruelty (perhaps your authority over your own body has been threatened due to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, or maybe your president refuses to denounce the actions of white-supremacists). The song is sparse, shaky, and dark. It sounds shocked, with elements of repetition, like one is processing what has happened, taking stock of injuries and how one has been wronged. There is a silent pause, a breath, a rest…and then the mood starts to shift. The piano swells with brighter notes. It builds and builds until it is more powerful than before, and ready to retaliate against injustice with strength.Devan Bretkelly

10. “Yes, I’m a Witch” by Yoko Ono 

Yoko Ono’s “Yes, I’m a Witch” is at once an old-school, punk feminist anthem and a playful nod to her fascination with magic and witchcraft. With cool and perfectly measured lyrics against a screaming electric guitar, Ono proclaims, “Yes, I’m a witch/ I’m a bitch/ I don’t care what you say.” She takes up space, and she’s not sorry about it. Recorded in 1974, and released on LPs in 1997 and 2007, this song shrieks self-possession and power at maximum volume. Being yourself is a political act to Ono; it doesn’t require “vengeance/But we’re not gonna kill ourselves for your convenience.” Protest can happen day or night, in front of your mirror or in a crowd, and this track provides the perfect riot grrl noise to march to.Kailee Stiles

11. “This Thing Was Bound to Happen” by The Radio Dept.

Last fall Swedish indie poppers The Radio Dept. returned with their first album in six years. The world has changed a great deal since 2010 and the band has been paying attention, particularly to the rise of Far Right elements in their native country. As such, Running Out of Love could be said to be the first overtly political statement from a band previously most well known for their lovelorn and poetic lyrics. Like the best cultural critics, The Radio Dept. doesn’t fail to implicate themselves: besides being a ridiculously catchy number in the tradition of early New Order, “This Thing Was Bound to Happen” sees its the narrator calling themselves out for their own political inaction (“I drink Cuba Cola/It’s my contribution/to the political debate/My silent cheer/for a change”). In turn, the oft-repeated mantra “This Thing Was Bound to Happen” expresses the overwhelming ennui of our current moment and the lingering sense that, given the divisiveness of our political system, the toxic culture of the last year and a half was perhaps inevitable.Zack Ravas

12. “Tramp the Dirt Down” by Elvis Costello

Is this the most seething political pop song in the past thirty years? One of the cuts from Costello’s solo album Spike, an album juicy with vitriol for a Western world decidedly corrupted by unregulated greed (“…This Town…”) and technological brawn (“Satellite”), “Tramp the Dirt Down” names names, singling out Margaret Thatcher, the British embodiment of the toxic brew of fear and hate cynically embraced by politicians the likes of Reagan in the ‘80s. “When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam,” Costello sings. “And the future looked as bright and as clear as black tarmacadam.” The song is literally about the singer’s desperate wish to outlive the prime minister so he can witness “when they finally put you in the ground.” The pollution introduced into the body politic by Thatcherites is brutally summarized: “I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap.” Upon listening to the song today, Costello’s righteous indignation sits all too well. You need only replace “Margaret” with, say,  “Paul” or “Mitch.” This is a j’accuse of those leaders who place their societies in danger for the sake of their mean agendas.Oscar Villalon

13. “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday

Named ‘Best Song of the Century’ by TIME magazine in December 1999, “Strange Fruit” is as unforgettable as it is earth-shattering. Billie Holiday’s version– performed to little applause in New York at the height of Jim Crow–is the haunting original, but Nina Simone’s Civil Rights era cover is stratospheric. The track has all the hallmarks of a romantic jazz standard, but none of its sweetness; its meandering, potent lyrics come over a simple, pounding piano melody that lends the song both force and room to breathe as the poetry unravels. It hardly needs to be said, but know the “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” aren’t swollen peaches. Often overshadowed by their other protest standards, this single belongs in a whole other category of protest music: one that unveils the grotesqueness of the past to remind us why we protest at all. Quiet and fierce, “Strange Fruit” chills the spine even as it ignites the resistant soul.Kailee Stiles

 

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