“I’m not lonely, baby, I am free,” sings Hayley Williams on her debut solo album, Petals for Armor, and her relief is palpable as she hums, “Finally.” She is singing of her home and of finding peace in her daily routines, which has taken on a new meaning since the pandemic has turned our homes into workplaces, classrooms, and the site of most of our everyday activity. Williams is known best as the lead singer of the American band Paramore, which has released five studio albums since 2005, but it took Williams until 2020 for her to strike out on her own (even as she reassured fans that her solo album did not spell the end for Paramore). It’s not that Paramore has ever held her back artistically; it is simply that now, Williams embraces the opportunity to dive into a narrative that is identifiably her own.
If you’ve spent any time online interacting with popular books, movies, TV shows, or many other types of media, you have probably run across the concept of fanfiction. At its simplest, fanfiction involves taking already-established aspects of fictional universes, including characters, settings, and items, and employing them in new stories. Writers get to take the age-old question of storytelling – “What if?” – to the next level. What if Kylo Ren were a sullen closing-shift worker at a coffee shop? What if an adult Harry Potter went on a begrudging buddy-cop-style mission with his school rival? What if Sherlock Holmes – and you’d have to be specific about which incarnation of the character – had joined up with Moriarty to form a mob? Plot holes or gaps in storytelling are also creatively addressed; if a particular character wasn’t on screen, where were they and what were they doing? If they are introduced as an adult without much backstory, what was their childhood like?
The title of Darren C. Demaree’s newest poetry collection, Unfinished Murder Ballads, beautifully sets the haunting tone of his work long before you can turn its first page. A murder ballad, as the name suggests, tells the story of a violent death; what does it mean to leave such ballads unfinished? All at once, the collection’s title blends death, stories that are passed down as folklore, and an overarching sense of loss. These persist through the entire work, which is made up of moments that build up into a portrait of isolation, violence, intimacy, and perhaps above all, humanity.
“Can reading make you happier?” Ceridwen Dovey asks in the headline of her 2015 article for the New Yorker, where she describes her experience with bibliotherapist from the London-based School of Life. At its most basic, bibliotherapy, or book therapy, uses reading as a method of emotional and psychological support. Dovey was gifted an appointment with bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud, who sent her a questionnaire to help establish Dovey’s needs, including the question “What is preoccupying you right now?” Dovey wrote back that she was concerned about not having the “spiritual resources” to be able to weather grief when it inevitably arrived in her life. With this in mind, Berthoud sent her a list of books to help guide her through this worry.
“What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me,” wrote Walter Dean Myers in a 2014 opinion piece for the New York Times, titled Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books? He explains that when living through extremely difficult points of his life (including coping with the murder of his uncle, grief, and alcohol abuse by family members),reading books became a retreat from the world. He noted that the world he saw around him was not reflected in his reading material: “As I discovered who I was, a black teenager in a white-dominated world, I saw that these characters, these lives, were not mine.”