I just so happen to own a dusty, crusty, musty old copy of The Shuttle. Here it is. I have read it, and I assure you that it is incredibly boring soppy domestic melodrama, cover to cover. It does not read well to post-modern sensibilities, aesthetic or moral. Will the Gilded Age American heiress marry into English nobility?? Spoiler alert: of course she does. I keep it as a curiosity, a piece of historical flotsam because I personally post-date atomic weapons by forty years (exactly: 1945 – 1985). I just can’t get emotionally invested in this.
Ever wanted a time machine, but for what people thought and felt in the past? To be able to imagine what it was like to live in the head-space of English-language readers before the Great War? Through the magic of digital archives, record keeping, and a healthy dash of imagination, you can try, but ultimately, you can’t. From our perspective, we know that the Great War will be just the first of two World Wars.
I found, on Project Gutenberg, a list of the top ten best-selling books of every year, from 1895 – 1923. With links to those that they have in digital form for free download. Nice. Intriguingly, these seem to be derived ultimately from the Publisher’s Weekly lists. How, exactly, Publisher’s Weekly compiles these lists is a trade secret, so I wouldn’t completely trust it. However, it’s still very, very interesting. The New York Times would begin keeping their own best sellers list in 1931, in case you were wondering.
Please, feel free to go to Project Gutenberg’s Bookshelf of American Bestsellers, and have an extensive look. If you want to read them in paper form, you might have to luck out and discover one at a book sale, and check our collections, although most of them will be very hard to find. How, exactly, best selling books end up falling so far into obscurity is another question, so here are my own observations of the list. I’ll cover the earliest ones, from 1895 up until WWI, in 1914.
I haven’t even heard of most of these books.
It’s true. Most of them are completely unfamiliar to me. Even if it’s a smash hit in its own time, a book can clearly just drop off the popularity cliff and into the void in the course of a few generations. That’s a sobering thought. Maybe it’ll happen to Game of Thronesor Harry Potteror anything by James Patterson or Steven King too, just like it did to 1900’s Red Pottageby Mary Cholmondeley. I know it sounds impossible, but clearly it can happen.
The ones I have heard of.
Special Case: The Shuttle
Oh, hey, it’s The Shuttle. I only know it exists because I found a copy super cheap once. I didn’t realize it was that popular in its time. I think I’ll write a Reader’s Corner post about it. And now you’re reading it. Awesome.
Aside from this one, there’s three rough categories the other books I know fall into: famous author, famous book, and movie books.
People clearly just ate up whatever Winston Churchill wrote. Not too familiar with the books, but I do know about Winston Churchill. Other authors I’ve heard of, although I’m not familiar with these particular titles on Project Gutenburg: J. M. Barrie, Rudyard Kipling, and that’s pretty much it.
The Book Itself is Famous – A Timeless Work of Literature?
Alright, now for the actually famous works in here, and what they’re famous for. If I can recognize a book by title, not author, and I can give you a rundown of what it’s about even if I haven’t read it, it’s on the list. These are the elite few that are still in print, over a century later:
The Jungleby Upton Sinclair. Mostly famous today for the meat-packing plant scene. Everybody likes sausage leaf lard, but nobody wants to see how sausage leaf lard is made. Arguably contributed to the formation of the FDA. Lovely. If you’ve read it at all, it was probably for history class.
Pollyannaby Eleanor H. Porter. I know about this one, but haven’t read it. Named after its endlessly-optimistic heroine… which isn’t necessarily seen as a heroic quality these days, which tells you a lot about why the rest of these books are so obscure. Calling someone a Pollyanna is not a compliment.
Cultural drift over time has made the majority of the books on the list very boring and/or difficult reads.
Continuing on the theme of cultural drift, there’s the third, weirder category. This time period coincides with the rise of cinema, so there are a handful of books that are definitely still sort-of-well-known to very-well-known, but they’re famous for the movie that’s based on them, no longer necessarily in their own right. Ultimately, the movies are more famous than the book.
First, there’s The Prisoner of Zenda, which is also the most obscure, being a clutch of movies that were themselves adaptations of the book, play, and then other movies, for decades. IMDB suggests that the most recent adaptations were a very straight 1984 TV miniseries, and a sports-comedy adaptation in 1993. Weird.
Second, The Clansman, is arguably the most famous of these movie-books, because the film it was made into – The Birth of a Nation – is standard watching in film classes, for the fact that this movie represents the invention of modern film editing. As for the story, it’s awful, gut-churningly racist propaganda about the KKK being heroes. In case anyone wanted to plead “but morals were different back then” – no, I’m going to nip that in the bud right here. The director, D. W. Griffith, immediately made another film – Intolerance– to try to absolve himself of contemporary accusations of racism, so, for the record, it was definitely seen as racist at the time. His efforts didn’t work, in large part because The Birth of a Nation was, by far, the most popular, and overshadowed everything that he did after, and also because as a rebuttal after all that, Intolerance was incredibly weak, and also a flop so catastrophic that it ruined him. So, ultimately, the answer is that racism was incredibly popular in 1911.
Third, The Virginian. This is a very quirky book, and arguably the first true literary Western. Before, there were plenty of Westerns, but they were relegated to dime-novel adventure stories and cheap entertainment. This book was adapted to a play, several movies, and in very broad-strokes terms, a well-known 1962 television show.
Whether for pop-cultural or historical reasons, nearly as many books survive as movies as they do as books. Maybe this will be the fate of books like Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, where the book was certainly popular, but the movie franchise even more so. Only time will tell.
The Path to Timelessness?
So, in the end, only very few of these best-selling monster smash hits actually managed to pass a full century in the public imagination. I’m also fairly sure it must have been difficult to predict which of these works would make it. Let’s not forget that nearly half of them are known purely because they had the good fortune to be made into movies. And remade. Lots. If you ever hear people complain about how today’s movie theaters are stuffed with bland safe remakes, remember this: a quick search for the title “The Prisoner of Zenda” on IMDB turns up no less than eight movies or TV series with that exact title. This isn’t a new problem, really.
Ultimately, if you want your book to become a true classic, you need luck, specifically the luck to treat a major concern of your own time, which also will go on to be a major concern of the future, or at least be relevant to future history classes. How was Frances Hodgson Burnett to know in 1907 that the phenomenon of American heiresses marrying English nobility would represent an entire world killed stone dead by two whole world wars bookending a global financial collapse? She couldn’t have known. Nobody really could in her day. Even the list-dominating book is a pinball in the arcade of history. Only few people can claim a spot on the eternal literature high-score list. But, if you want to give luck an extra boost, though, definitely sell the movie rights if you can.
In 2019 two scientists wrote novels. Even more interesting is the fact that they were written by women scientists. While scientists are known for collecting data and writing informative and research-based papers, it isn’t often that you find one that takes that data and uses it to speak so powerfully about the human condition. Both stories are a fascinating look at the way human nature emulates the nature of our environment through the lives of insects and birds. Both books beg the question of our humanity and our connection to the micro-relationships of the natural world.
It is noteworthy that while experts in their field, these women authors are not defined by only their expertise but use their knowledge to cross literary genres. They each move from the often cold and clinical scientific realm to a prose that sometimes lacks scientific authentication to create a unique voice. Merging scientific fact with fiction creates a refreshing genuine voice for the reader that speaks a truth about our basic instincts.
Where the Crawdads Singby Delia Owens takes place in a cove on the North Carolina coast. It is a study of the nature of humans and isolation as well as a stunning look at the ecosystem of a marsh.
often known as Marsh Girl, has lived in the swamp all her life alone and often
lonely until a murder in the swamp brings the eyes of the whole community. When
Chase Andrews is found dead, people start questioning Kya’s connection and
whether this wild beautiful girl is to blame. Even Kya knows that she has been
changed by the seclusion and remoteness of the swamp.
“She knew the years of isolation had altered her behavior until she was different from others, but it wasn’t her fault she’d been alone. Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would.”
— Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
the dynamics of families and relationships through Kya and the marsh. Kya’s
family has abandoned her one by one. Her mother is the hardest and most
unexplained loss. Kya spends many years mourning this loss and trying to
understand it. The reader will feel Kya’s desperation and determination in her
wary attempts to connect and be part of a human relationship; experiencing hurt
and returning time and time again back to the comfort of the marsh.
“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”
–Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
This isn’t just a haunting tale of love and murder but a story of our natural instincts and how we become not just human but how that humanity informs our ideas of right and wrong. It explores the notions of survival versus life and living. Kya has few teachers in this and yet there are those that look beyond the wild to see her heart. Kya’s teacher is the marsh and Owen uses her knowledge to show us how both science and art create the most complete and beautiful picture.
“Her collections matured, categorized methodically by order, genus, and species; by age according to bone wear; by size in millimeters of feathers; or by the fragile hues of greens. The science and art entwined in each other’s strengths; the colors, the light, the species, the life; weaving a masterpieceof knowledge and beauty that filled every corner of her shack. Her world, She grew with them–the trunk of the vine–alone, but holding all the wonders together.”
Joanna Teale spends long and tiring days studying the nesting birds of rural Illinois. She works herself weary so as not to dwell on the recent death of her mother from cancer. She has little time for anything else and thus finds herself in a sticky situation when a young girl, Ursa, appears at her cabin claiming to be an alien who has come to earth to study humans. Joanna enlists the help of her neighbor and recluse, Gabriel Nash. Together they fall in love with this strange little girl while trying to find out where she came from and how to help her.
Vanderah uses nesting birds and their habits to help explore the dynamics of Joanna’s grief and Gabriel’s anxiety. Both characters are afraid of leaving the protective nests they have built for themselves. It is only when Ursa, a girl with her own mysterious past, makes them choose comfort or a chance of something bigger than themselves. Like Owens, Vanderah emphasizes the connection to the natural world.
“Maybe it has something to do with how they can turn their backs on the comforts of society for long periods of time. But it’s not just that they can forgo society, it’s more like they need to. For people like that, the natural world is vital, a spiritual experience.”
— Glendy Vanderah, Where the Forest Meets the Stars
Ursa speaks of coming from the stars and viewing the earth as a being, not of the earth. It is interesting how Vanderah uses this analogy to speak to issues of grief, anxiety, and trauma that both her characters and we, as human beings, face,
Ursa hiding in the stars, Jo and Gabriel separating themselves from human contact; each character creating a way to be in the world but not of it. They are all viewing life and their natural surroundings like scientists, disconnected. It is only when they are forced together that they themselves become part of the living.
Like Owens, Vanderah speaks to the connection of our natural world and the art we make. In her book, she writes, “Art is supposed to represent how you see the world, not exactly copy it,” inspiring us all to find the beauty and our place in the complex weaving of nature and life itself.
Have you ever looked at an old house, an ancient tree, or a piece of antique jewelry, and wished it could share what it has seen through the years? As a young child, Xanthe found that when sometimes she touched an old piece, she would become aware of its history.
Xanthe and her severely arthritic mother, Flora, had recently purchased an old antique shop. One day while adding stock, Xanthe came across a silver chatelaine (a set of short chains attached to a woman’s belt, used for carrying keys or other items) that spoke to her very powerfully. It not only had a story attached but the vengeful spirit of Margaret Merton. Margaret would stop at nothing, even murder, to get Xanthe to do her bidding.
In 1605, a servant girl named Alice was accused of being a thief and had been hanged. Using the silver chatelaine, Margaret sends Xanthe back in time so she can rescue Alice. While in the past, Xanthe also meets a grave young architect, Samuel Appleby, to whom she is strongly attracted, who helps her in her mission. By saving Alice from the hangman’s noose, Xanthe knew she was already risking the future but what choice did she have? Margaret’s spirit was in control and Xanthe would be trapped in the past if she didn’t prevent Alice from dying. Xanthe needs to return to her own time, knowing Flora might die without her help.
Xanthe is a quirky outspoken young woman whose vintage clothing, Doc Martens, compassion for others, witty sense of humor make her quite a character. The kind of person you’d want to travel back in time with on this adventure. Flora, her mother is a loving, smart woman who does not let her ailments and arthritic pain stop her from working and becoming a part of their new situation in Marlborough. Samuel is a renaissance man, who surprisingly overcomes his caution to befriend Xanthe who’s fighting for justice in an unjust time.
There are other characters who come to life with a few swipes of author Paula Brackston‘s pen. They will live on after the last page ends. Brackston shares stories that bridge the centuries, mysteries, one mother’s love for her daughter beyond the grave, injustices of the times, and a daughter’s commitment to her mother.
Comics, horror, noir crime, sword and sorcery, and YA lit are all brought to the fore in Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands. This collection of short essays riffs on the gamut of genre fiction, finding interesting ways to defend genre fiction and to connect it to “high” literature. Chabon brings his own insights on writing – a process often obscured by one’s experiences as a reader – as he alchemically unites diverse and disparate topics from Norse epics to Howard Chaykin’sAmerican Flagg!Not just dry literary theory here, no sir.
In the essay from which the book derives its name, Chabon regales readers with a childhood tale of his family’s move to an unfinished subdivision. Rather than the typical narrative of being stifled by suburban newness and sterility, Chabon imparts a feeling of awe at such open opportunity. It is an awe that motivates him to fill a sketchy map of the subdivision with wonders, as if drawing out secrets from the air. Readers are able to vicariously feel that rush of power inherent in the creative process, one which leaves you in its afterglow wondering how you have gotten from start to finish.
Filling in the map is – to the author – part of a more general aesthetic of writing from the vantage point of exile. As he sees it, both Jews and lovers of genre fiction are vibrant communities often excluded from the mainstream of society and literature respectively. It is this position of exile which tethers Chabon to his Jewish roots and to genre fiction as a collective whole.
Other pieces are, in some ways, meditations on loss of youth and its closely-associated sense of adventure. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materialstrilogy is characterized in such a manner. The only criticism in this laudatory essay is that the heroine of the trilogy, Lyra Belacqua, becomes a much flatter, less interesting character as she moves from unbounded agency to dutiful fulfillment of destiny. In essence, Chabon views Pullman as much greater at exploring the map of his richly developed tale than in reaching the story’s destination.
Maps and Legends is for fans of genre fiction, particularly those who do not mind blending and blurring of genre’s boundaries, or of writing about writing.
I’m pretty sure that the majority of America knows about the TV show, Outlander. Most people have been introduced to Jamie and Claire through Starz hit show, including me, an avid reader who must read the book before watching adaptations. However, that wasn’t the case with Outlander. I was three episodes in before I discovered that this awesome TV show was a book, and not just one book but an eight-book series! So I stopped watching and picked up the first book from my library.
I was hooked from the very beginning. Claire visits Craigh na Dun, a stone circle near Inverness, with her husband Frank. She ends up falling through the stones to 18th Century Scotland, arriving on the eve of what would become known as the Rising of 45, the last of the Jacobite rebellions. This set up gave my adult self what my childhood history nerd self could only dream about, traveling back in time to witness first hand a historical event. And it is set during one of my favorite periods of history, the Scottish Highlands before 1745.
The Clans system, still intact, plays a strong role in the storyline and how the characters interact with each other. Claire, a modern woman, is definitely not prepared for the past. Soon after arrival, she is rescued from Black Jack Randall (her husband Frank’s ancestor) by a ragtag group of Highlanders led by Jamie Frasier. Jamie Fraser is pretty much a man of the 18th Century. He’s used to the mild and submissive women of his time, not one as strong-willed and slightly foul-mouthed as Claire.
These two seem the least likely to fall in love. Love, at first sight, it is not; Claire can’t stand his old fashioned views and he calls her “Sassenach,” meaning “outlander” or “outsider” as an insult. Eventually, this turns to a term of endearment. The two become part of a hasty marriage to protect Claire from the English, but it’s not a happily ever after. Claire gets sent back through the stones and the couple ends up being separated by over two centuries.
While Outlander is the love story of Jamie and Claire it is also a family saga of survival. Both Claire and Jamie survive a war and terrible times but still manage to find each other again, as well as expand their family through blood, marriage, and adoption. Outlander was Jamie and Claire’s love story while Dragonfly in Amber is the story of war and how they became separated. The follow-up installment, Voyager, is the story of how they find each other again. Drums of Autumn, my favorite book in the series, is the story of their family, blood or otherwise.
The series has something for everyone – history, time-travel, romance, and adventure – which is what made the series so enjoyable for me. When I read historical fiction I don’t mind romance but I don’t want it to take over the story. I want the history of the time to play a role as well as a nice balance. Gabaldon does that well you can tell that she does her research on the period before sitting down to write. Each book is filled with rich historical detail that translates well to the screen.
If you’ve read the books and enjoyed them I would recommend watching the show. Keep in mind the show is an adaption of the books, so scenes may differ. If you’ve only seen the show and are experiencing Outlander withdrawal (a.k.a. Droughtlander), I would highly recommend reading the books. The library has copies of the first eight books as well as the DVDs of the first three series.
First off, this is one of those quirky, dark but humorous books that isn’t for everyone. Fortunately, I like dark and quirky. I like it a lot actually. If you go in for bizarrely ironic tales of untimely demise this is the book for you. For example, a dude tripped over his own 4-5 foot-long beard while attempting to escape from a fire. A cactus crushed another guy to death. A French undertaker died when a pile of coffins fell on top of him. I mean you can’t make this stuff up. It’s short and sweet, yet lovely and clever. Each character comes to life within the telling of their peculiar ends and the accompanying beautiful illustrations.
I went to Paris alone for the first time about 5 years ago
and the city still lingers in me. I was
terrified as I had never traveled alone or been overseas but I loved every
second! It was exhilarating and exciting
and extraordinary! ALL THE E WORDS!
However, I can only dream of being as chic and nonchalant as the women in this book. It’s an elegant little book with 20 profiles of inspiring women living in Paris. Included are fabulous recommendations for the best red lipsticks, the best places in Paris to be kissed, best florists, best vintage clothes shops and more. I got a real kick at imagining myself back in the city of light and imagining I can pull off the sophistication and smartness Parisian women seem to possess.
I’m not a Disney fanatic…but I am what I’d call a huge Disney fan. I adore the Disney villains. Possibly more than the heroes sometimes. Maleficent being my favorite villain of all time. Although, I think she’s a tad misunderstood. They should’ve just invited her to the party.
In this eye-catching coffee table book each villain is outlined in detail and includes information on the animators, directors and the voice actors who brought the character to life. My favorite part being a catalog of all the rides at the various Disney parks that include villains, such as the Alice in Wonderland Maze and the Haunted Mansion Holiday. It made me want to start saving for a trip to Disney ASAP.
Editor’s Note: The following review contains a quote from Jack Kerouac that may be offensive to some. However, it is used by the reviewer to capture a certain point of view from a certain place and time, not for shock value.
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
JACK KEROUAC published his most famous book in 1957. He had been working on it off and on for a few years, when he sat down and typed it all out in 3 weeks in 1951 on a 120-foot-long scroll. It would take him over 6 years to find a publisher. When he did find a publisher, they cut it, changed it, and cleaned it up for the Puritanical society of 1950’s America. On September 5, 1957, The New York Times published a glowing review and Kerouac became famous overnight. Jack was a shy man and serious writer, and couldn’t handle the pressures of fame and drank himself to death in 12 years.
In 2007, this uncut version was published as it looked when Jack typed it out. No paragraphs or spaces between lines. I started reading this when it came out, but the print threw me off and I only made it through about 30 pages. How can a person who worships Kerouac as the greatest American Writer since Wolfe wait almost a decade to read this? So now, with GLASSES and a will to move…FAST THIS TIME (the words Jack used to describe how he was going to tell his new novel.), I read this as fast as possible to get the feel of how Jack spewed it out onto paper.
I first read ON THE ROAD in my late 20’s around the same age as Jack was when he wrote it. It became my bible. So, I re-read it several times and through the years every year or two to get different perspectives as I age. Most people that I know who read it, have no desire to read it again. It is considered, much like Thomas Wolfe’s books (Jack’s favorite writer) to be a book for the youth. It is a book of youthful promise and WILD adventure that is sometimes criminal. But the way Jack tells it, it all seems to make sense. So, I’m almost 55, what am I doing reading this book now?
VISIONS AND GIRLS…and more?
“Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.”
When my Great Aunt read OTR about 10 years ago, in her late 70’s, she gave me the one-line review, “it’s nothing but a lot of cross-country drinking, drugging, and screwing.” On the surface yes. Isn’t that want most guys in their early twenties are seeking? But, Jack’s ramblings have a deeper aim. He knows he is a writer and for him that is a religious duty.
The Scroll version has vulgar language and uses the names of the actual persons instead of a pseudonym. Some of the Characters would go on to become very famous, such as Allen Ginsberg, Williams S. Burroughs, and Alfred Kinsey. Also, this version has a lot about homosexuals that 1950’s America was not ready for, even though Kinsey’s report in 1948 told us that over 1/3 of males had had at least one sexual experience with another male. That stuff, along with anything sexual, was supposed to stay in the closet or at least behind closed doors. Jack and his gang blow those doors off of their hinges.
But The Scroll is a purer text than the cleaned up version. It is what you tell your friend directly, but not the whole world. But because Jack had felt that God wanted him to “Go moan for man,” he is tell us all. The most controversial section of OTR wasn’t in the Scroll at all:
“At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night. I stopped at a little shack where a man sold hot red chili in paper containers; I bought some and ate it, strolling in the dark mysterious streets. I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a “white man” disillusioned. All my life I’d had white ambitions.”
And this sums up what Jack is. He is looking for something on the road. Neal’s father? Religious Enlightenment? Girls? It is all there. And being a young, White, healthy male in 1950’s America it was his pearl to find.
But those fun kicks come with a weary price. And in this book you will find Joy and Sadness are but one taste.
MODERN LIBRARY rated On the Road as #55 in its 100 Best Novels. I would rate the Scroll even higher and as great as anything written at that time. It is a book (even more so than OTR) that preaches and practices NON-CONFORMITY, and as I age the more I get outside of society. It is also a book that preaches poverty for art’s sake or adventure’s sake. For better or for worse, this book in both versions, has had the most influence upon my life. I am not disillusioned and have no white ambitions at all.
Lizzie Borden took an axe And gave her mother forty whacks When she saw what she had done She gave her father forty-one.
I remember singing this rhyme as a child. I found it fascinating and morbid and terribly ghoulish. So began my obsession with all things true crime, the tale of Lizzie Borden being one.
I find true crime to be an irresistible genre, whether in books, movies or television, it holds my attention like no other category. Making a Murderer, The Staircase, Amanda Knox, Forensic Files, you name it, I’ve probably watched it. As a teen and young adult I very much wanted to be an FBI profiler and read John Douglas books prolifically. I studied serial killers and during my undergrad study in a major of psychology my two favorite courses were Deviant Psychology and Homicide. I never became an FBI profiler but being a librarian is pretty rad in itself and when a new book came out recently about the trial of Lizzie Borden, I was on it.
I knew of the basics of the case and some of the theories, she did it naked, she had a mysterious lover, maybe she and Bridget Sullivan did it together…etc., etc., etc.
Yet the case still
holds a deep fascination for me and many other people. If she did commit the murders, how did she do
it without having a speck of blood on her?
There’s an hour time lapse after her stepmother was killed to when her
father was murdered. So she’s got an
hour at least with other people in the house and she spoke to her father before
he went to lie down in the parlor. If
she did do it how in the world did she hide that she had murdered her
stepmother for AN HOUR? AAGHH. I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. So my skepticism that she could have done it
is strong. However, who else would
commit such a very personal attack? Makes my head spin…
The Trial of Lizzie Borden: A True Story by Cara Robertson was a treat to read. Robertson being a lawyer herself, the book is incredibly well organized and researched. I learned of the particulars of the day of the murders, Lizzie’s arrest, the intricacies of the trial, newspaper accounts, local accounts by members of the Fall River society and the sensation the murders and trial triggered in the community and the world. The mystery of Lizzie’s burned dress, the curious disappearance of a hatchet handle, possible missteps by the local police and more puzzling details are included. Robertson gives a gifted account of the time period as well, being the Gilded Age of America, and how cultural and gender expectations of the time affected Lizzie and the trial.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden is a page turner and kept me on my toes. While I was reading late at night I’d turn to look down my long, dark hallway past my bedroom and fear the figure of Lizzie staring me down at the end of it. I spooked myself pretty badly a couple times. And yet…I still cannot say what I believe in terms of her guilt or innocence. Robertson leaves it to you, the reader, to be judge and jury and I still can’t find myself on one side or the other.
“What motivates me is seeing people in the crowd and wondering what they’re going home to and what they’re dealing with, and knowing that for the time being we’re their escape.” – Hayley Williams, lead singer
Where I first heard Paramore is where most fans probably heard about them. In the summer of 2007, they released their single “Misery Business,” and in a moment where Rock and Pop Punk were still viable means of making a true radio hit, it ended up taking the charts by storm, seeing significant exposure across North America and Europe.
“Misery Business,” from their second studio album, Riot!, provided an exciting flavor that was unique in the Pop Punk crowd, and though I was OBSESSED with this song, I wasn’t yet engulfed in the full range of Pop Punk aesthetic and didn’t seek out much of the genre. It wasn’t until early 2018 when I saw a copy of Riot! at a local used music shop for 1 dollar, where I couldn’t resist but to give Paramore a worthwhile try. As much as I was waiting to hear “Misery Business” in it’s full context, the rest of the album blew me away, showcasing even more ambition and talent than their single lead me to believe.
I became fascinated and immediately yearned for their remaining 4 studio albums, spanning between 2005 and 2017. In their 12 years of production, they put out an impressive amount of talent in their diverse discography, and the chemistry and attitude this band creates has sky-rocketed them into a top 5 slot for my personal “best bands EVER”.
I should add here, that due to the band maturing since 2007, they have recently announced that they would like to stop performing “Misery Business”, as it contains anti-feminist sentiments, and Hayley & Co. would like to distance themselves from their fickle, teenage attitudes. I applaud these folks for realigning their ethics after becoming developed adults, and in the grand scheme of their career, “Misery Business” only rocks half as hard as much of their music. All of their albums can be found through LFPL and I encourage everyone to listen.
All We Know Is Falling
Before we even start, let it be known that Hayley Williams was 16 years old at the time of this release. 16 YEARS OLD?! What were you doing at 16 years old? I had started my first Rock band, but in no way were we putting out records on a label that already supported kingpins of Pop Punk, such as Jimmy Eat World, Yellowcard, and Less Than Jake.
I love the simplistic approach on this album, with instrumentals that allow Hayley to showcase her adolescent story through an impressive vocal performance. This original Emo sound with its humble, vulnerable, and sharp songwriting created what some call a “scene classic”, providing a beautiful and thoughtful texture to the 2005 “scene” culture that was somewhere between the heavier likes of Hawthorne Heights and the exuberant approach brought by Motion City Soundtrack. Some call these songs tame but there is a soft spot in my heart for these teenaged, angsty lyrics and its moody production.
If you don’t know what the heck “scene” culture is, check out this Wikipedia article. Also, here is a music video from this album: Emergency. (please take note of the excessive eyeliner and swooped bangs).
The opening track, “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic,” will have you bouncing off the walls with their energetic and progressive songwriting, and a chorus that will have you screaming. Tracks like “When It Rains” will casually melt your heart with its sense of longing and reverbed guitar tones. This may seem unfounded but I think their hometown of Franklin, Tennessee, plays into this track, giving off similar vibes to the softer moments on a Dixie Chicks or early Taylor Swift record. That seems silly in this context but these musicians are versatile, owning every approach they take. Nestle this soothing sound against some powerful, electrifying, and confident Punk Rock, and you have a beautifully constructed album that is iconic for its era.
This album deserves the fame and acclaim, not just for the killer tracks, but for the confidence in their image and talent. Just look at these guys. They had the look and the chops to back it up, having a lot of fun along the way. Check out this music video from the album that exhibits some complex rhythms, swapping between 3/4, 6/4, and standard time, while adding a sweet spin to a sound that is reminiscent of 90’s Screamo/Post-Hardcore: That’s What You Get.
Brand New Eyes
With two albums under their belt, Paramore carefully built stamina, honed their craft and created a record that is full of home-run’s. They still bring their youthful energy to the table, but with tighter performances, crystal-clear and punchy production, and a mature sense of self that was cultivated through their success up until this point.
While their first album was somber in its loneliness and their second album was fierce with questioning and rebellion, the narratives here are more complex, exploring themes of independence, encouraging the listener to put their self-worth above any social or personal road-blocks. Hayley Williams’ sense of pride on Brand New Eyes creates a triumphant role-model, instilling inspiration and fearlessness in the listener. Considering this was released in 2009, this record helped pave a way for feminism in both mainstream and indie music of this nature. Cultural significance aside, this is my favorite to listen to, over and over again. If you have 15 minutes to spare, tracks 7 – 9 are a perfect triad. It brings me so much joy.
At this same time, Paramore was commissioned to write a song for the first Twilightmovie, ushering in a Grammy nomination and more mainstream exposure. They were on top of the world. This album has many music videos, but here is one of my favorites: Playing God.
After the release of Brand New Eyes, there were creative differences in the band, leading to the departure of both guitarist Josh Farro and drummer Zac Farro. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Williams stated that a couple of those years were “emotionally exhausting” and she felt a need to reaffirm themselves in a new chapter, hence the self-titled approach.
They recruited the drummer from Nine Inch Nails and Angels & Airwaves to perform, but despite his veteran talent I find this album to be the most under-baked in their catalog. They introduce some new influences, with more Pop, Dance, and Electronic sensibilities, that adds fun and anthemic sounds to the record, but it seems that their direction was unsure. Their influences seem to be emulated instead of adopted, misplacing their sense of identity. At times, I feel like I’m listening to The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Le Tigre, or Blondie instead of Paramore.
This album is still fun to listen to, as Williams rocks the house with some ambitious vocal performances. In context of the mainstream rock of this time, I’d still listen to this over Imagine Dragons, Muse, and Cage The Elephant. The single “Ain’t It Fun” won a Grammy that year, and that song rules, but I might try their other records first. Here is the playful video: Ain’t It Fun.
As you could probably tell from the cover art, Paramore went through some soul searching in preparation for this record. Zac Farro had made up with the band and is back on drums and Hayley Williams battled a divorce in the midst of this songwriting. These reality checks combined with a new appreciation for stylized, refined, and mature songwriting lit a fire in these musicians, eager to prove themselves.
They turn a stark 180° for this release, being influenced by 80’s Electro-Pop, Art Rock, and Dance, reminiscent of Talking Heads, Paul Simon, and Janet Jackson. This sounds strange for a band who started their career in Emo, but these efforts are so genuinely indicative of Paramore’s heart and soul, that every ounce of their talent shines through in these stunning performances. After a bumpy road filled with personal journeys, Paramore reclaims its identity with emotional songs about redefining self-worth and love, with a zen acceptance that the world doesn’t always turn the way you thought it would. With textured and tasteful soundscapes, Paramore sports a gorgeous smile on their face with this delicious breath of fresh air.
As this is their most recent album, their official website is still advertising it if you want some cool merchandise. Here is a video to Rose-Colored Boy with a heart-warming skit and a sense of humor.
Finally, here is a link to LFPL’s catalog for all things related to Paramore. Feel free to put any of these items on hold so we can ship them to the most convenient branch for you.