10 Fictional Characters That Are Definitely Having a Worse Day Than You

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale (2017)/Photo © 2016 Hulu

We all have bad days. That’s an unfortunate, if inescapable, fact of life. Life is stressful, that’s part of the deal and we all need ways to let off a little steam to perhaps gain a modicum of perspective. Fortunately, the wondrous concept of schadenfreude exists, and while it may seem a tad callous to derive enjoyment from the misfortune of others, literature can give you all the vicarious joy and none of the existential guilt.

So, just remember: as bad as your day may seem, someone in the wide literary world is having a markedly worse one than you.

The cover of the book The Drawing of the ThreeThe Drawing of the Three
Stephen King
Roland Deschain

Roland Deschain’s arch-nemesis has just escaped his grasp. He just dropped a kid to his apparent death. Literally everyone he knows is dead. And now he wakes on some random beach and large lobster-like creatures have gnawed off a couple of his fingers on his shooting hand and his big toe. That’s a bad day, folks.

 

 

The cover of the book A Storm of SwordsA Storm of Swords
George R. R. Martin
The Stark Family

In the world of A Song of Ice and Fire just having the surname “Stark” is an indication that you’re in for a string of really, really terrible days. The Red Wedding is pretty hard to top, though. Robb Stark thought he was bringing allies to his side, but instead sees his men massacred and is murdered himself. Catelyn, after watching her son die, has her throat slit. Arya Stark loses yet another chance at reuniting with her family. At least she got to add more names to her list?

 

 

The cover of the book At the Mountains of MadnessAt the Mountains of Madness
H. P. Lovecraft
Danforth

Imagine you’re a grad student with an interest in the occult, what better place to be than good old Miskatonic University? What better experience than accompanying a geology professor to the Antarctica? There is the small issue of that expedition finding an ancient, evil civilization, a formless monstrosity and a terror so great the mere sight of breaks your sanity. Hopefully, Danforth got a ton of extra credit.

 

 

The cover of the book The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka
Gregor Samsa

Gregor Samsa, a salesman suffering an existential crisis, turns into a giant insect. A giant insect. That is a worse day than yours.

 

 

The cover of the book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Díaz
Oscar de Leon

There are bad days and then there is The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Oscar de Leon suffers through two suicide attempts, a beating-induced coma, the unrequited love of a Dominican prostitute, and his eventual death at the hands of corrupt Dominican cops. Oh, and his family is probably cursed.

 

 

The cover of the book The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
William Goldman
Westley 

You may be having a bad day, but have you ever lost the love of your life to a pompous prince and been rendered mostly dead by a life-sucking torture device?

 

 

The cover of the book 19841984
George Orwell
Winston Smith

I’m certain that most days in a dystopian surveillance state would be fairly bad, but being betrayed by the kindly old guy you and your lady love are renting from and turned over to the thought police? That just really sucks. Throw in the torture, the rats, and the existential collapse and you’re looking down the barrel of Winston Smith’s truly bad day.

 

 

The cover of the book Blood MeridianBlood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy
The Kid

No one really ever has a particularly good day in a Cormac McCarthy novel. There really all just varying degrees of bleak. Imagine being the Kid from Blood Meridian, though. After years of brutality, you think you’re out from under the sway of the Judge. Then you head to the outhouse after an evening with a prostitute and open the to door to be greeted by the massive, naked figure of the Judge who “gather [you] in his arms against his immense and terrible flesh.” There’s no way that ends well.

 

 

The cover of the book American GodsAmerican Gods
Neil Gaiman
Shadow Moon

Being released from prison early should be a good day, right? Shadow Moon likely thought so. That is until he found he was being released to attend his wife’s funeral – his wife who was having an affair with his best friend.

 

 

The cover of the book The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood
Offred

Just pick a day. Literally any day of Offred’s life in Gilead is probably worse than yours.

 

 

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An Aging Philip Marlowe Returns In ‘Only To Sleep’

Only to SleepHow odd it is to step into another writer’s shoes. To pull on the suit of his most famous character and dance around in it for a little while. You gotta have a reason to do something like that. You’ve gotta be, for lack of a better word, invested.

Lawrence Osborne has done some amazing things with words. He’s made a hard, sharp name for himself doing his own thing — telling morally gray and existentially terrifying tales about men and women loose in the world’s far places, and merciless, personal nonfiction. But with Only To Sleep he has borrowed the style of Raymond Chandler and the body of Philip Marlowe. “A perilous thing,” he says of such literary necromancy in his author’s note. And he’s right.

You read the first five pages of Only To Sleep, the first ten maybe, and, if you’re a Chandler fan (which I am, though not as obsessive as some), you’ll be pissed. Not hugely, but a little. You can see, in the arrangements of commas, the pauses, the clipped and bittersweet rhythm of the ink on the page, someone doing a pretty good Chandler impersonation.

But you can see the impersonation, and that’s the problem. Again, if you’re annoying like me and pedantic like me, and overly (one might say professionally) critical like me, there are these little barbs of tempo that catch at the skin around your eyes or the back of your throat and jerk you out of the pretty world being assembled.

But then the first chapter closes. Old Marlowe (in his 70’s now, retired, living slow and blankly and alone in a house on a beach in Mexico) has gotten his call to adventure in the shape of two insurance men who want him to look into a mysterious death. And Osborne walks off with a paragraph that might be one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a year. “It came from out in the tempest, even from the lights of the fishing boats a mile out at sea,” he writes.

You can be called to a last effort, a final heroic statement, because I doubt you call  yourself to leave comforts and certainties for an open road. But the call is inside your own head. It’s a sad summons from the depths of your own wasted past. You could call it the imperative to go out with full-tilt trumpets and gunshots instead of the quietly desperate sound of a hospital ventilator. Victory instead of defeat. You know that it will be the last time you ride out of the gates fully armed and that makes you more curious than you have ever been.

Never mind a year. That is up there among the most beautiful paragraphs on record. Doubly so because it is the moment where Only To Sleep stops being “a Philip Marlowe novel” (as it says right on the cover) and starts being a Lawrence Osborne novel that just happens to feature Philip Marlowe.

That paragraph is both Chandleresque to its bones (the odd constructions, the ping-ponging of near-stream-of-consciousness, the mythic, sad framing) and pure Osborne. It is the moment where he stops pretending and just lets it rip.

Osborne gets Chandler’s belief in Marlowe as a knight-errant (again, read the author’s note). He gets the dreaminess that defined the best of Marlowe’s moments — solutions to cases that never solved anything; long, drifty middles where no one (and least of all Marlowe) understood anything that was happening save breathing, bourbon and the weather. He melds his own fascination with rich, white dimwits abroad and Chandler’s championing of Everyman doggedness in a perfect cocktail, neat, no ice. And that page 10 paragraph? It isn’t the last example of wild, extravagant, counterpunching beauty: “I had sat at a window like this in 1971 and watched the sugar trucks go by and wondered why my hands looked so old before their time.”

The story is simple in the way that all gumshoe novels ought to be. A rich white guy dies while swimming in Mexico. His insurance policy pays out a couple million to his too-pretty young wife. Two men in dark suits, suspicious of such costly coincidence, ask Marlowe to take a look. He does. End of book.

It’s the kind of book where, when you read it, it turns the world to black and white for a half-hour afterward. It leaves you with the taste of rum and blood in your mouth. It hangs with you like a scar.

Like all great gumshoe novels, there are cavernous depths there that only look shallow from the surface. It is simple only for those who bring nothing with them when they open the cover. Only To Sleep is a story about age and regret and murder. About the American Dream. The Mexican Dream. About never being able to let go of the past, and how little the present cares for your sad nostalgia. There are, I would wager, not more than a hundred sentences in this thing that mean only what they say. And Osborne’s sentences (like Chandler’s sentences) are often brutally short. It’s the kind of book where, when you read it, it turns the world to black and white for a half-hour afterward. It leaves you with the taste of rum and blood in your mouth. It hangs with you like a scar.

Most important, it gives Philip Marlowe a sunset to walk off into. Or limp off into, leaning on his sword cane, thinking slow, deep thoughts as he goes. And like the best Chandler twists, that is one thing that maybe no one saw coming.

 

By JASON SHEEHAN, July 26, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR

Editor’s Note:

Jason Sheehan knows stuff about food, video games, books and Starblazers. He is currently the restaurant critic at Philadelphia magazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his latest book.

8 Fictional Families We’d Love to Spend the Holidays With

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) © Warner Bros. Studios

There’s nothing quite like a holiday dinner to bring a family together. I was fortunate to grow up in a huge, boisterous clan (I have enough aunts, uncles, and first cousins to populate a small town), so holiday dinners were always a comically chaotic affair filled with way too much food and plenty of laughs.

In thinking about the brouhaha that so often accompanied the holiday meals of my childhood and adolescence, I realized how much I miss the experience. As a result, I couldn’t resist thinking about the fictional families that would be particularly intriguing to spend the holidays with. From the classic and the heartwarming, to the sure-to-be-delightfully-raucous, these are a few of the fictional families we’d love to visit for the holidays.

The cover of the book A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens

The Cratchits

Why not start with the quintessential Christmas family? The family at the heart of Dickens’ classic Christmas tale was lovable enough to help melt the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge – the most curmudgeonly of curmudgeons. And who can resist a roaring fire, roasting chestnuts, and that massive Christmas goose?

The cover of the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

J.K. Rowling

The Weasleys

This one is obvious, right? For one, there would be magic – that should be reason enough in and of itself. For another, we’re talking about one of the most delightfully quirky and loving families in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. There’s also the after-dinner quidditch game to look forward to, and I’m sure you could even toss a garden gnome or two.

The cover of the book To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

The Finchs

Sitting in the dining room with Scout, Jem, and Atticus Finch would be a very interesting way to spend a holiday meal. You’d have the precocious charm of Scout and the timeless wisdom of Atticus. Really, what could be better than that?

The cover of the book A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones

George R. R. Martin

The Starks

Winters in Westeros may be notoriously unpleasant, but we can imagine holiday meals with the full Stark clan to be an interesting affair. Given that the Starks are one of the great houses of Westeros, they most likely put out a truly epic spread. Beyond that, there would probably be plenty of Stark children hijinks, and we can imagine Ned would have a good story or two to tell.

The cover of the book Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen

The Bennets

While this meal would surely a particularly impressive to-do, sitting down to dine with the Bennets would be an experience in itself. The dinner conversation alone would make this a worthy holiday experience.

The cover of the book Little Women

Little Women

Louisa May Alcott

The Marchs

It really can’t get much more classically idyllic than a holiday with the March family. Imagine a roaring fire in a quaint New England cottage, a freshly cut tree, and perhaps even a holiday themed play written by Jo for the family to perform. Sounds pretty great, right?

The cover of the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Fannie Flagg

The Threadgoodes

First of all, the food for this one would be great – although it might be prudent to pass on the barbecue – but, fried green tomatoes are one of the best things ever. When you factor in the quirky charm of Idgie Threadgoode, this is not likely a holiday meal you’d soon forget.

The cover of the book Talking as Fast as I Can

Talking as Fast as I Can

Lauren Graham

The Gilmores

We generally try to stick strictly to literary world when contemplating these sorts of lists, but in this case I’m going to argue that books were most certainly a big part of “The Gilmore Girls”, so let’s roll with it. There would be epic and wonderfully witty dinner conversation, and a lovely stroll around Star’s Hollow. As long as Luke is doing the cooking, everything with the actual meal should be fine.

Who You Gonna Call?!

Ghostbusters

With people’s minds turning towards things that go bump in the night as we get closer and closer to Halloween, it is important to stop and remember the important things in life. Specifically, a goofy movie from the 80s about catching ghosts.

On the night of October 7, 1984, Ray Stantz, Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler, while enjoying a magnificent feast of take-out chinese food that represented the last of their petty cash, the Ghostbusters received their first call. Shortly thereafter they arrived at the Sedgewick Hotel and, after some sliming and a great deal of collateral property damage, captured their first ghost, the disgustingly gluttonous, but somehow lovable, Slimer.

After that? More ghost-busting shenanigans than you can take shake a stick at – sequels, video games, books, comic books, graphic novels, movie reboots, dogs and cats living together… I bet you could find a lot of it at the library, if you’re interested.

Where to Start: The 7 Must-Read Sherlock Holmes Stories

Sherlock Statue

Sherlock Holmes statue in London, England/Photo © Shutterstock

“Elementary,” “Sherlock,” “House,” “Sherlock Holmes”: These are just some of the more obvious adaptations of the great series of work by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made in recent years. If you are a fan of any one of these, or if you are simply looking to dive into classic literature that has shaped detective-storytelling for decades, here is a cheat sheet for the must-read stories from Doyle’s fantastic collection of works.

1. A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet
If you want to acquaint yourself with Sherlock Holmes and his partner-in-crime-solving, Dr. John Watson, you should really start at the beginning. Doyle’s characters are still taking shape in this first tale, but it’s truly essential to set up the rest of the stories. In it, we learn how the pair came to meet and work together, and are introduced to Sherlock’s idiosyncratic and ingenious ways.

2. The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four
Also a good place to start, “The Sign of Four” explains how Watson came to be married: a key point in the relationship between the two men. Watson as the domesticated man is a stark contrast to Holmes’s independent and disconnected nature, and is often depicted in – and at the core of – various adaptations of Doyle’s work.

3. The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

A Scandal in Bohemia
The first story in the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, this may not be Doyle’s longest tale, but it has left quite a lasting impression as the only piece to reference “The Woman” Irene Adler. Doyle’s stories frequently refer to “women’s intuition” and many of his female characters are perceived as quite clever (if not, perhaps, untrustworthy), but only Adler has gone on to be repeatedly portrayed in television and films as one of the people held highest in Holmes’s esteem. For anyone interested in the character’s origins, “A Scandal in Bohemia” is essential.

Other stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes worth noting are: The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Man With the Twisted Lip, The Speckled Band, and The Copper Beeches.

4. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

The Final Problem
Brought to the reader in the final story of the collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, James Moriarty is considered to be the arch-nemesis of detective hero Sherlock Holmes. He is described by Holmes as the “Napoleon of crime” and the only man to match him in wit. Simply put, no list of Holmes must-reads would be complete without the tight but significant story of their battle at the falls of Reichenbach.

Other stories from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes to consider adding to your list are The Gloria Scott, The Greek Interpreter, and The Naval Treaty.

5. The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Written after The Final Problem but set before, The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably Doyle’s most famous Holmes adventure and therefore should not be missed. Rather than a short, Hound is a longer novel like A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four and an enjoyable romp of a mystery that stands alone better than any other Holmes work.

6. The Return of Sherlock Holmes

The Empty House
For reasons that shall not be spoiled for newbies, Watson goes several years without documenting Holmes’s cases. The two are finally reunited in this first story of the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes. You will be delighted by Watson’s joyful reaction to his friend’s reappearance, and this short will lead you directly into a new series of adventures for the pair including The Dancing Men and The Three Students.

7. The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

The Three Garridebs
In the final collection of short Holmes stories, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, lies a small narrative called The Three Garridebs. The case itself is not necessarily the most fascinating of Doyle’s work, but it is in this particular story, when Watson is suddenly injured, that Sherlock’s true affection for his only friend is revealed. It is a lovely note on which to end such a wonderful anthology of works, as it is really where the stories began: a surprising, and perfect, friendship. And that is why the small tale should find its way to your must-reads.

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There are a great deal more Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson stories beyond what we’ve featured on this list, and all are worth exploring. These choice titles, however, should not be skipped and will offer the perfect introduction to Doyle’s sharp and highly revered world. If you’re a smart reader looking for something classic but fun, the decision to start these delightful tales should be rather, well, elementary.

14 Favorite Book Sidekicks to Celebrate on Dr. Watson’s Birthday

Goodreads Blog: Posted by Hayley Igarashi on July 07, 2017

BudsToday is the birthday of one of literature’s most beloved and long-suffering sidekicks, Dr. John Watson. A war veteran as well as an accomplished writer and detective, Watson gives Sherlock Holmes much-needed backup and friendship, all while enduring less-than-complimentary observations about his character. “You have a grand gift for silence, Watson,” Sherlock says at one point. “It makes you quite invaluable as a companion.”

To celebrate the good doctor’s birthday, [goodreads.com] asked you on Facebook and Twitter to share your favorite book sidekicks. Check out some of the most popular answers below and add your own in the comments!

Sherlock1. Dr. John Watson
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books and stories

Sherlock’s friend, roommate, biographer, crime-solving partner and on-hand physician

 

Harry Potter2. Ron and Hermione
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books

Harry’s fellow Gryffindors, friends, partners in managing mischief, frequent rescuers (especially Hermione) and family

Click here for the rest of the list…

Fantastic Voyages – “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” (Part 3 of 3)

So far we’ve traveled the blue expanse of the sea and the great nothingness of space. What else could there be?

How about time travel?

Yankee

June 19 was not turning out to be a good day for Hank Morgan. He was an intelligent, successful engineer with thousands of people working for him, but, it turns out, not all of them were happy with him. In fact, one went so far as to bash him in the head with a crowbar, and, as if that weren’t enough, Hank woke up in middle-ages England of all places. This was beyond a little perplexing since Hank had been in 19th century Connecticut when he was last conscious.

Hank, who would soon become known as “The Boss,” didn’t have much time to consider this odd change in scenery though, as he was accosted by a lance-wielding knight on horseback soon after his arrival. Things only got more complicated from there.

Without giving too much away; Hank, using his knowledge of engineering and science, quickly rose to a position of power posing as a great magician and spent the next three or four years trying to turn medieval England into an industrialized (and Americanized) utopia. Also, King Arthur and Merlin were involved. All did not go well.

Still, A for effort, Hank.

Want to learn more? Check out A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.

Want your shot at building your own utopia? That’s a bit more difficult (we would like to take this opportunity to advise against the “angry employee with crowbar” path to changing history) but it is possible and there is no time like the present. It’s summer, the sun is shining, people are out and about and there are things to do everywhere, so let’s get to it. First things first, find a problem, any problem – small, big, medium-sized, whatever – and fix it, or at least make it better. Then repeat. It’s going to take a while, but then Rome (or an industrialized Camelot with a modern standard of living) wasn’t built in a day.