Sara Zimmermann

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(Fall Fest) Podcast Review: The “NoSleep” Podcast

Our tradition of listening to spooky podcast stories came from our desire to kill time while we roomed together freshman year. Both of us have a love for things morbid and haunting, and while searching the depths of YouTube, we discovered someone who did readings of spooky stories found on the internet. YouTube user Cryaotic primarily makes videos about games but has a small collection of videos in which he voice-acts scary stories he finds on Reddit. His lack of content lead us to the NoSleep podcast. This sparked a ritual that we still enjoy years later. We spent many nights picking stories and then failing to find enough peace to fall asleep afterwards. Based on experience, we can both say that the title of the podcast is very accurate.

The NoSleep podcast is an online series that features original horror stories. This podcast boasts 11 seasons, each season containing upwards of 20 episodes with each episode featuring a handful of similarly-themed stories. The NoSleep podcast is expertly done. There is a talented and experienced cast of voice actors, atmospheric music and immersive sound-effects which bring life to the haunting readings. One of the strengths of this podcasts is that it pulls stories from a diverse batch of authors. Amateurs, published authors, hobbyists and career writers have all been featured on the podcast. Even better is that the NoSleep podcast seems to have no boundaries or limits to its horror content. Each story seems to be more haunting than the last. 

The website for the NoSleep podcast is very user-friendly and provides suggestions on where to start if you are new. Many of these stories are great places to begin if you are unsure of your limits or do not have a particular taste or preference for horror. You can start there with any of the episodes they have listed, but if you’re interested in delving deeper, here are our suggestions based on what we have heard so far:

Courtesy of thenosleeppodcast.com

Borrasca: 
Borrasca was written by published author C.K. Walker and it can be read in its entirety online.

Episode 25 of Season 7 is a special full-length episode clocking in at 2 hours and 17 minutes; this one is a whirlwind. What draws you into this story at first are the characters and the childlike nature of their interactions. This eventually lulls you into a false sense of security as the ending of the story is far from innocent. Main character Sam lives in a small mountain town which exists under the shadow of an urban legend. When Sam’s best friend Kimber goes missing, the legend becomes more of a reality. We found this story to be incredibly memorable due to its intense plot twists and realistic use of horror content.

Soft White Damn: 

Courtesy of thenosleeppodcast.com

Season 5, Episode 18 is a shorter listen, but it is no less terrifying. The main character is a disgruntled single man staying in a cabin alone during a snow flurry. As the night progresses, he begins to hear noises outside. These sounds, combined with the amount of alcohol the main character has been consuming, lead for a terrifying and convoluted night during which the main character must confront both the monster outside and the monsters in his past and in his mind. The voices and sounds in this episode are particularly important to the story. Over a year later, we can still recall the chilling noises from this particular story.

The Smiling Man:

This story, featured in Season 2, episode 5, won the NoSleep horror writing contest of 2012 and for good reason. This story centers around someone who, when walking alone at night, encounters a terrifying and intimidating individual. From there, the story only gets more and more disturbing. This one stuck with us because of how simple it is. It’s one of the shorter stories featured on NoSleep, yet it still has a chilling storyline that leaves listeners feeling uneasy.


Honorable Mentions:

We found the following three stories featured on the podcast memorable and felt they were too spooky to be left out. Each (for their own reasons) left the two of us unable to sleep, yet again allowing the podcast’s name to ring true.

The Disappearance of Ashley, Kansas (Season 2, Episode 5)

The Penpal (Season 1, Episode 11)

Butcherface (Season 1, Episode 4)

 

For anyone interested in checking out the NoSleep podcast, all of their stories can be accessed here: https://www.thenosleeppodcast.com/.

‘In The Lake In The Woods’: A Book Review

“You know, I think politics and magic were almost the same thing for him. Transformations — that’s part of it — trying to change things. When you think about it, magicians and politicians are basically control freaks.”

Photo by Sara Zimmermann

“In The Lake Of The Woods” has become an odd favorite of mine. This novel doesn’t particularly bring me joy or comfort, but it has left me with a lasting intrigue which inspires me to revisit it frequently. Tim O’Brien is a knowledgeable author whose firsthand account of the fictionalized subject matter lends itself to a very genuine and believable story. The subject of war (namely, the Vietnam War) is heavy in this novel, and Tim O’Brien is a veteran. Many people may know his name from his novel, “The Things They Carried,” which is based on some of his experiences in the 23rd Infantry Division. I have read “In The Lake Of The Woods” several times now and I have suggested it to many people.

“The Lake Of The Woods” owes a lot of its magic to the protagonist, John Wade, who happens to have a strange fascination with magicians and tricks. This is only one of the many somewhat bizarre facets of John Wade, who is a politician running for higher public office. His character is very appealing, but he is surrounded by an air of mystery from the very beginning. He is a driven if not troubled man, and he seems to have high chances and an already impressive history under his belt. The plot of the novel doesn’t hinge on this, though. Instead, the plot immediately kicks off when the public is informed of war crimes involving John Wade. Instantly, whatever expectations readers have change into something completely unpredictable. John’s wife goes missing and no one has a clue about what happened. From this point on, Tim O’Brien drags readers down a very dark and convoluted path of twisted outcomes and possibilities.

One of the other strengths of the novel is its eerie tone. Even the mundane seems heavy and tense with Tim O’Brien’s touch. Things that shouldn’t be unusual seem horrific by nature. Readers will be left with a combination of fascination and distrust in the characters, the plot and their own mind. Much of the true grittiness of the novel lies within the imagination. Tim O’Brien does a fantastic job of creating horror with implication — he tells you just enough to lead your mind in uncomfortable directions, and it is up to the reader to imagine the worst.

What makes this novel interesting is its alternating points of view. The story is told in many ways and it is not always linear. In this way, reading this novel doesn’t feel much different from solving a puzzle. The story is told by John Wade (both past and present) and by many of the people involved in his life, be it through testimonial transcripts, flashbacks or interviews. The reader must ultimately pick who to believe and which story to trust. This is by no means an easy feat, and many people may not want to believe some of the things they are reading.

I suggest this novel to anyone who likes to have their minds challenged and who also finds mysteries to be satisfying. The book is heavy with politics, magic and war, but readers need little knowledge or interest in those topics to enjoy the experience. The real point of “In the Lake Of the Woods” I believe is to examine the conscience and the darkness of relationships. The truest form of horror I’ve found is in what real people can do to each other. Tim O’Brien doesn’t need ghosts or ghouls to show what it’s like for someone to be haunted.

Rate: 5/5 stars

“Philosophize This!”: A Podcast Review

Podcasts, I think, are the perfect medium for busy students who may struggle to balance studies, entertainment and ultimately their attentions. “Philosophize This!,” a free podcast dedicated to sharing the ideas that shaped the world, is the perfect informative yet amusing podcast. It can be listened to for free on several websites, which is great for students on a budget. It can be accessed from the main website philosophizethis.org and is also available on Spotify and iTunes. It is perfect for listening to on its own or as non-distracting background listening while doing homework or studying. It could even potentially be supplementary to your classwork. This podcast is best for explaining complex social, political and philosophical issues in a way that nearly anyone could understand. If you are struggling to understand a concept in one of your lectures, there is a high possibility that this podcast may have an episode that could help you out. The episodes can be watched alone, but the host has done listeners a favor of uploading his topics in the chronological order that they shaped our world. And while much of the philosophy is interconnected, each topic can be listened to as a stand-alone episode. What’s better is that it isn’t all Socrates and ancient Roman theories. Much of the philosophy is applicable to the modern age.

Courtesy of philosophizethis.org



Another reason this podcast is so great is because of its accessibility and its pacing. You do not have to have prior knowledge to understand the concepts at hand. Stephen West is an excellent orator and a great teacher. He is clear and concise, but also careful to explain things to his audience to the fullest degree. Not only will you be given a philosophy lesson, but oftentimes you will also learn about history and the greater social context. Stephen West is also fair and objective. Students worried about being mislead or being given biased information need not worry; the goal of “Philosophize This!” is to educate, not to pander.

The philosophy — pun intended — of this podcast, as stated by Stephen West, is: “The world could be a better place with more education and acceptance…I am an agnostic on every issue of substance I can think of. It’s the only honest way of living I’ve come across so far.” I find this podcast incredibly important and relevant, and I appreciate it for more than just its educational value. Philosophy is an interesting and important subject, but one that many people are hesitant to delve into for many reasons. People tend to view philosophy as unhelpful or useless. Many modern people think that philosophy is outdated and that there is no place for it in our current world. Another idea that many people have is that there are no jobs for philosophers and so it is a waste of time. However, philosophy can help many people. It teaches us how to think abstractly. There are so many concepts that we witness and experience in everyday life, but it is incredibly difficult to put these things into words. Philosophy can help you to understand the idiosyncrasies of the human experience, and, just as importantly, philosophy can teach you how to describe and communicate. Philosophy helps us to question the world that we live in and to evaluate things critically and deeply. Our thinking becomes so much more nuanced and open at the same time. Philosophy is fascinating because it is a study that simultaneously complicates and clarifies all of the people, constructs and events in our past, present and future existences.

Philosophy, I believe, enriches our experience with reality, and this podcast is a great place to start.

Rate: 5/5

Book Review: ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold

Photo by Sara Zimmermann

I was introduced to this novel by watching its film adaptation. The story and the characters are heartbreaking in both forms, but the novel takes the brutality and aftermath of the plot to much deeper levels. Regardless, I ended both of the experiences in tears.

“The Lovely Bones,” written in 2002, is one of author Alice Sebold’s earliest works, coming out on the heels of her memoir, “Lucky,” in which the author divulges the details of her rape and assault as a young woman. Though these books are independent works, many readers should know that “The Lovely Bones” is a part of this same, greater story that many women, including Alice Sebold, can relate to. “The Lovely Bones” is a story about a young girl who was raped and murdered and now watches the rest of her would-be life as a spirit. This character, 14-year-old Susie Salmon, is a representation of all the women who are assaulted in their youth and then go through the rest of their lives feeling like ghosts themselves. So many girls find themselves watching things happen around them but never feeling like a part of it. I believe it is important to read this novel with the understanding that, though her story is unique, Susie Salmon could be any girl.

One of the reasons I rate this novel so highly is because of its unique perspective. The main character is dead from the first sentence of the first page, and it is almost impossible, I think, to not instantly fall in love with this character and her family, her journey and her youthful and selfless wisdom. The bulk of the story, however, is about her family and loved ones and it is told as Susie sees and interprets it. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel; each moment is bittersweet when it is viewed through a dead girl’s eyes.Though Susie’s personal journey takes her from a place of vengeance to a state of acceptance, her voice and her being never age. I actually think this is a good thing. Despite her incredible insight and her magical thinking, Susie is first and foremost a girl who never grow up. Very rarely do we see the opinions of young people about such important life issues.

Another strength of this novel is how thoroughly and expansively it explores grief. Mourning is not something that goes away in a few months, or even years. Some people carry it through their entire lives, and yet so few works of literature seem to follow the effects of loss through an entire lifetime. “The Lovely Bones” follows loss through many lifetimes, allowing the reader to see how different people’s lives are shaped by tragedy. Some people crumple and then find themselves while others seem to walk the earth as someone altered by sadness forever. “The Lovely Bones” follows a cast of people who are all deeply touched by Susie and her tragedy. This cast includes her rapist, her family, locals and police, her friends and even complete strangers. This novel also tells the stories of other victims unable to do so themselves.

Ultimately, “The Lovely Bones” is a heartwarming and bittersweet account of the butterfly effect of a young girl’s death. It is an incredibly deep yet charming novel that made me think sincerely about things I’ve never had to consider before. “The Lovely Bones” is a quick and fairly simple read, but it is by no means easy. I will certainly be picking up more of Sebold’s work in the future.

Gillian Flynn’s ‘Dark Places’: A Book Review

“Dark Places” is a best selling murder mystery novel by Gillian Flynn. Flynn is famous for her mystery novels, namely for her book, “Gone Girl,” which received even more acclaim for its film adaptation. “Dark Places,” as a novel, has been overshadowed by other works in this author’s catalogue, but it is no less fascinating, grim and gripping. If anything, its subject matter ranks it amongst the darkest novels I’ve read. Clocking in at 349 pages, this book is just long enough to steal your attention away for a while but not so long that you can’t binge read it in a few days’ time (and you certainly will want to).

Photo courtesy of Penguin Random House

On its surface, this novel is a mystery involving murder, family secrets, cults and small-town isolation. The main character, a young woman named Libby Day, is at once unlikeable in personality, but fascinating nonetheless. She is immature, petulant and bitter, but as her story unfolds, it becomes clear why she is like this. The reader will find it hard to hate her entirely as they uncover the traumas of her past, and Libby’s intrigue is one of the many reasons I rate this novel highly. Within the first few pages, readers learn that Libby is the sole survivor of the massacre of her family in a seemingly satanic act. Among the victims were her struggling mother and two younger sisters.

The massacre was highly sensationalized and covered prolifically by the media, something that causes this event to follow Libby every step of her life. As an adult, the protagonist of the novel struggles to find meaning in the remains of her life. She seems, at times, to never have truly grown a day after the event happened, and author Flynn’s portrayal of the trauma pulls no punches.

The plot kicks off when members of a serial killer fanatic fan-club contact Libby imploring her to help them uncover the truth about the past and present facts of the event. Through her eyes and through flashbacks, readers watch the characters unravel what really happened to the Day family. One of the things that makes this novel so strong is the alternation of perspectives. The story is built up of pieces of the present and flashbacks to the past leading up to the massacre. The perspective also switches between key players in the story which challenges the morals and emotions of readers. The subject matter is already dark, but Gillian Flynn wants to take readers to even more convoluted, dark places.

Another strength of this novel is the subtext underneath the scandal. Under the surface, this novel makes some very important social observations. While the murder plot propels the story forward, readers are taken to the heart of Middle America where we see that the real Dark Places are inside of humans and the culture they’ve created. First, this novel critiques America’s morbid curiosity surrounding cults and murderers. This novel is very period-savvy; the massacre occurred in the mid 1980s, a time in our reality that was riding on the coat-tails of similar massacres and killings. People have called this time period the “Deadliest Decade.” America was just recovering from the 14 murders committed by Richard Ramirez and Jeffrey Dahmer. Furthermore, the years after Charles Manson’s crimes had the general population obsessed with cult activities. This novel is an important look at the cruel nature of these crimes and the harmful impact of people who glorify them. Much like in the novel, there is no shortage of people who contact murderers and victims, collect memorabilia and news clippings, and commemorate these events through conventions. “Dark Places” is a warning about what happens when we desensitize ourselves to trauma.

This novel also touches on poverty, broken families and the social risks of living in a small town where word travels fast and is quickly misconstrued. The family grows up in Kansas in impoverished conditions. The strain that this, in addition to the absence of the once abusive father, puts on the mother and son in the story is one of the many things that contributes to the awful fate of the family. While media does scratch the surface of these issues from time to time, “Dark Places” takes it to a level that people are often uncomfortable reaching. One of the things that makes this novel so heartbreaking is the lives that the characters led before their deaths. All of these issues are exacerbated by the small-town mentality, which is ironically similar to cult mentalities. This novel also discusses dating abuse, pedophilia, peer pressure, drug use, masculinity and adolescent depression.

If you are interested in an emotionally challenging novel that tackles dark but prevalent social issues, “Dark Places” does it very well. The writing is sophisticated by nature but can be easily understood. The characters are unique, and there is an array of characters both likeable and detestable. Though the ending may be a bit lacking for some (hence the 4/5 rating), there is not a dull moment from start to finish.