Shelf Life: Fear Factor



In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Cut to a glass-walled cabin in the woods in winter. (Um, I’d never stay there overnight, would you?) But protagonist Nora is reuniting with close friends after 10 years of estrangement for a “hen party”—the British version of a bachelorette bash—and it’s too late to leave when the already dramatic vibe takes a very, very dark turn. Publishers Weekly named the thriller one of their “Top 10 Mysteries and Thrillers.” Pace gets faster and faster so you may feel breathless by the end of the book, but it’s still easier cardio to read this kickass tale than kick through glass and run for your life, am I right?

The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self by Anil Anathaswamy
Detailed author/patient interviews give readers a brain’s-eye view into the neuroscience of autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, ecstatic epilepsy, Cotard’s syndrome (these poor souls think they are already dead), out-of-body experiences, and other extreme conditions. Page to page, Anathaswamy attacks and analyzes the puzzle of self-concept via these totally novel (nonfiction) discussions and his instruction. For example, new Alzheimer’s research shows how memory constructs the narrative self by using the same part of the brain for one’s past and one’s future. The Library Journal compares Anathaswamy to Oliver Sacks and advises, “[This book] could change your sense of self.” Does that frighten you, too?

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
Born in 1936, Lucia Berlin wrote short—when time permitted—Raymond Carver-esque stories inspired by her own rambling, working-class autobiography, that of a romantic (and likely alcoholic) realist of a woman who married (adventurously) three times and raised four sons, mostly on her own. The title story centers on the life of a cleaning woman who has lost her husband and needs her job for basic survival. In The New York Times Book Review, Dwight Warner called this one a masterpiece and labeled the stories overall “careworn, haunted, messily alluring and yet casually droll.” If you need one more shot of courage before picking them up, story-writing demigod Lydia Davis provides the foreword. Pour me a drink—because I’ve got chills.

Speak by Louisa Hall
In this ambitious, time-hopscotching novel by Louisa Hall—who suffered from verbal anxiety as a kid and later became somewhat fascinated by robotic voices—five characters contribute to the creation of artificial intelligence. And AI alters their world—and ours—as we think we know it. In one section, a Puritan woman reaches the New World; in another, mathematician and code-breaking brainiac Alan Turing drafts deep letters; in another, a Jewish professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his wife; later, a lost little girl embarks on a friendship with software to communicate; and a brilliant inventor expresses himself by creating terrifyingly lifelike dolls. The novel asks: Where is the gap between computer and human communication? And what, in 2015, does our future hold? If you’re game to consider such potentially creepy questions, come inside. I recommend. And like I said before, I dare you.

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