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Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America By Steve Almond

Here's a good read to relax with while glorying in our post-trick-or-treating rewards. This has to be one of the funniest nonfiction titles ever in the history of funny nonfiction.

I read it a few years ago before Steve Almond was so hip and happenin', and reread it a few weeks ago as I was fighting off the April version of The Miserable Cold. I started laughing so hard on page 16 that it was over an hour, and a half box of tissues later that I finally stopped coughing, and got a grip on the hysteria.

A few days later I texted a coworker at a library convention in Philly to ask if she'd bring me some Peanut Chews because they're raved about in the book and I thought they were only local to Philly (they're readily available other places now and fabulous).

The book's not all fun and games. Almond gets more serious later on, but always with a humorous, self-deprecating undertone that's friendly and lovable. Powell's had the book remaindered a while back and I got it dirt cheap, but you should track it down and read page 16, if nothing else. Off you go.

I'm unfortunate in that I like a good scary movie. Unfortunate because they come along so rarely. I can't get behind those slasher sort of films where someone leaps out from behind a door and the audience sees a knife plunging up and down to the strains of a badly tuned orchestra. No.

Give me movies with a bit of mystery. A creepy old house is good, hopefully one with a troubled history. A ghost -- or I should say -- the suggestion of a ghost -- is even better. And ideally, the protagonist will have to go to the local library to research the events that took place in this strange little town back in 1890 or whenever. And may I say that looking for this information on a microfiche reader is just so much more atmospheric than seeing our protagonist jump on the internet and google "mysterious circumstances in Creepyville".

In my opinion one of the best of these was The Changeling. If you were around at the time, perhaps you remember the ads for the movie which showed a creaky wooden wheelchair, unoccupied, chasing one of the characters down a long hall. George C. Scott played the unsuspecting man who moves into the house, only to find that someone is still living there. Sadly, the library no longer owns the movie, and I suspect it is long out of print. Add to that The Watcher in the Woods (a Disney film no less) and The Lady in White about a boy who gets locked in the school cloakroom on Halloween night and sees a murder from the past replayed before him. Alas! They don't make them like that anymore.

But hey, wait! They do! I recently watched Guillermo Del Toro's ( director of Pan's Labyrinth) The Orphanage. A woman and her husband have purchased the orphange where she grew up with the idea of making a home for disabled children. Their son, Simon, soon begins telling his parents about his new friends. A sensitive kid, an old house with a past, mysterious visitors, bumps in the night, what's not to love? Though some of the reviews were less than glowing, sometimes all you want is a good atmospheric movie, someone to watch it with, and a blanket with which to cover your head.

She's One of Us; (Elle est des Notres); Director: Siegrid Alnoy; Starring: Sasha Andres, 2003, France

Most of the reviewers of this film have it wrong.

Siegrid Alnoy’s story of a small town Frenchwoman with serious social inadequacies has been sometimes characterized as slight, tedious, incomprehensible. Visually unwatchable. Makes me wonder if the reviewers sat through the entire thing.

She stares at you - eyes wide open and guileless - waiting for something - a cue, a connection. Hands trembling. Most comfortable at the Mall or in the woods. She's a highly competent temp worker, desperately trying to fit in with limited results. She's a child, forced to act as an adult having never really emotionally growing past about age 6. Pretending to be One of Us. Finally becoming Her version of One of Us through a messed up series of events.

Cinematically, it reminds me of Antonioni’s Red Desert - in primary colors. Each scene is exquisitely photographed, taking its time to tell the visual story.  Even the sterile office boxes where workers earn their keep are striking. The book jacket word, “riveting” comes to mind.

Recommended for those who like to go places they’re never likely to go.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

In a little mall in Connecticut, the Red Lobster restaurant is opening for the last time. Corporate headquarters says they're not making their numbers. It's four days before Christmas and it has been snowing all day. A quiet sense of suspended animation permeates the novel; the heavy snowfall mirrors the feelings of the staff who show up for their last shift.

The manager did everything he could think of to make the restaurant work. Sure, he's got personal problems: his girlfriend is pregnant and his affair with one of the waitresses is over; but he is dedicated to the restaurant. Tomorrow he'll be assistant manager at the Olive Garden in the next town.

We follow him as he attends to the details of running the restaurant one more day.  All the while, his mind is running in a hamster wheel of woulda, coulda, shoulda: about the restaurant and his impending demotion, about his girlfriend whom he guesses he'll marry, about his ex-lover and how he could have kept that going. He desperately wants to set things right, but just doesn't know how.

Manny, the manager, is a surprisingly sympathetic character. His relationship with each restaurant worker is well drawn. The sense you get of the restaurant workers is spot on. My friend, the former restaurant manager, said she's worked with every one of them.

This is an evocative, poignant novel that reveals a side of restaurants that you don't see when you're eating out and speaks to the aspirations of everyman.
 

I've found another book to add to the library list Slender Stories for Long Summer Days.

Mr Fooster Traveling on a Whim: A Visual Novel by Tom Corwin is an allegory of a young man who ventures out into the world with a sense of childlike wonder, a letter from his uncle in his pocket, his compass and an old bottle of bubble soap. He muses as he walks along, "Why were ducks so fuel-efficient? How come you never see baby pigeons? Who figured out how to eat artichokes?"

It is a quirky little story with a series of surprises. It is about noticing, about paying attention and expanding the senses.

The expressive illustrations look almost like woodcuts. Created with ink pens and artist's brushes, Craig Frazier, the illustrator has added much to the charm of the book. He is also the illustrator of Stanley Mows the Lawn,  which you'll find in the picture book section of your library.

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