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Do You Dare To Venture Through These Tangled 'Woods'?

by Amal El-Mohtar
Jul 29, 2014

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Amal El-Mohtar

I am not a trained reader of horror. Usually whenever I encounter horror stories, I'm left feeling dissatisfied with the quality of my unsettlement; I think "oh, that was gratuitous" or "eh, was that necessary?" With very few exceptions, I tend not to seek out horror.

Emily Carroll's Through the Woods is so thoroughly an exception that I have to revise my stance on the whole genre.

In these five graphic tales (meaning comics, not stories told in Grand Guignol fashion — although that linguistic line is definitely blurred here), Carroll's sinuous prose and emphatic art blend seamlessly into a path through the stories she tells. If there is a key to this collection, it is the phrase "It came from the woods. (Most strange things do)," which recurs in "His Face All Red," the story of a man who murders his brother only to see him emerge from the woods whole, happy, and unscathed. These are tales of strange things that come from or go into the woods — and what they did to people, or had done to them, along the way.

These stories are thick with the cadence and syntax of fairy tale, where the telling's stylised repetitions are rendered as much through art as through words. I badly want to hold up three pages in "A Lady's Hands are Cold" in order to discuss at obnoxious length how the twisting layout on one page draws the gaze into a song, how the song encircles a character, how the art is contrapuntal and telling three stories in harmonic dissonance to the line of the prose. It's a story in conversation with Bluebeard and Mr. Fox while aping neither; it's unsettling, and frightening, and builds expectation in familiar fairy tale lines only to — well. That would be telling.

It's also stunningly beautiful. The whole book is magnificently executed: the work with color, character, contrast, perspective, layout, lettering, is all dextrous and varied and absolutely masterful. It's Gorey with less humour and more eloquence, elegance and poise; in place of whimsy is a wicked sense of pace, threat, and a lurking delight in causing terror. I found myself so awed by individual pages that I had to exclaim about them in great detail to hapless people around me, saying things like "look, just look at how the ribbon around her throat is a threat because of this blood-striped knife," or "do you see how the word 'nothing' here is part of a sentence but also an illustration of what is spoken between them!"

I should say that I greeted the endings of some stories with dismay. They are, after all, horror. But it was a dismay that felt earned, that seemed to say "what kind of story did you think this was?" in a gentle chiding way — while patiently eating your face.

(Not that anyone's face gets — well. Anyway.)

Through the Woods is complex without being opaque; these are all still clear, deceptively simple stories that are kissing-close to beginning with "once upon a time." They're stories about girls who lose a father to the winter, a mother to sickness, a friend to a ghost; they're stories told as straightforwardly as fairy tale while containing all the rich density of poetry.

I am still not a reader of horror. But I am a reader of poetry, of folk and fairy tales, of dark fantasy, and a frequent wanderer of woods — and as such, I am most certainly a reader of Carroll.

It's not lost on me that this book is, in so many ways, a cautionary tale against setting foot in strange forests — while being at the same a dense tangle of story-wood in and of itself. Nor, I suspect, is it lost on Carroll, who lures us in only to do terrible, wonderful things to our heads and hearts.


Amal El-Mohtar is the author of The Honey Month and the editor of Goblin Fruit, an online poetry magazine.

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Penn State running back Evan Royster eludes a tackle by Eastern Illinois' Adrian Arrington during a 2009 NCAA college football game in State College, Pa. Arrington was one of the athletes who sued the NCAA over concussions. (AP)

NCAA Reaches $75 Million Settlement In Head-Injury Lawsuit

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 29, 2014

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The NCAA has reached a settlement with former athletes that provides $75 million for medical monitoring and research into concussions. The settlement also calls for a change in the way schools handle head injuries.

As USA Today explains, currently the NCAA only requires that member schools have a concussion management plan. The settlement would require schools to make changes to their policies and "institute return-to-play guidelines."

The New York Times reports:

"'This offers college athletes another level of protection, which is vitally important to their health,' said the lead plaintiffs' lawyer, Steve Berman. 'Student-athletes — not just football players — have dropped out of school and suffered huge long-term symptoms because of brain injuries. Anything we can do to enhance concussion management is a very important day for student-athletes.'

"The settlement, which was filed in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois on Tuesday morning and still requires the approval of Judge John Z. Lee, would establish a medical monitoring fund similar in some ways to the one proposed recently by the N.F.L. and the N.F.L. Players Association. It would give all former college athletes a chance to receive a neurological screening to examine brain functions and any signs of brain damage like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease.

"The N.C.A.A. would also prevent athletes who have sustained a concussion from returning to a game or practice that day. Trained medical personnel would be required at all contact sports events like football, lacrosse, basketball, soccer and wrestling."

The Chicago Tribune spoke to attorney Joseph Siprut, who represents former Eastern Illinois University defensive back Adrian Arrington, one of the athletes who brought suit against the NCAA.

Siprut told the paper that the settlement does not prevent individual athletes from bringing suit against the NCAA.

"We intend to continue prosecuting those claims on behalf of Adrian and our other clients," he told the paper.

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Jeff Tweedy performs at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival. (Adam Kissick for NPR)

Jeff Tweedy, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Jul 29, 2014

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There aren't a whole lot of failures on the resume of Jeff Tweedy, who co-piloted the groundbreaking alt-country band Uncle Tupelo in the '80s and early '90s, then multiplied its popularity as the leader of Wilco. In that band, Tweedy's refusal to compromise his vision led to his greatest commercial success, vaulting idiosyncratic records like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born into the canon.

In recent years, Tweedy has extended his reach behind the scenes, producing albums by the likes of Low and Newport headliner Mavis Staples (who made a guest appearance on stage just before her own set). But after dabbling in side projects like Golden Smog, he's also begun to work as a true solo artist, though his forthcoming album was assembled in collaboration with his teenage son Spencer.

Backed by his touring band and vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig — the co-leads of the band Lucius — Jeff Tweedy surveyed his career onstage as part of the 2014 Newport Folk Festival, recorded live on Sunday, July 27 in Newport, R.I.

Set List

  • "Diamond Light Pt. 1"
  • "Flowering"
  • "Summer Noon"
  • "Honey Combed" (Feat. Lucius)
  • "Hazel"
  • "World Away"
  • "New Moon" (Feat. Lucius)
  • "High As Hello" (Feat. Lucius)
  • "Low Key" (Feat. Lucius)
  • "Fake Fur Coat"
  • "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart"
  • "New Madrid"
  • "Please Tell My Brother"
  • "Jesus, Etc." (Feat. Lucius)
  • "Wrote A Song For Everyone" (Feat. Mavis Staples and Lucius)
  • "Only The Lord Knows" (Feat. Mavis Staples and Lucius)
  • "California Stars"
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Conor Oberst performs at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival. (Adam Kissick for NPR)

Conor Oberst, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Jul 29, 2014

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Far removed from his days as a white-knuckled teenage prodigy in Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst has settled into his 30s as a wise and wizened elder statesman. He's come to channel his youthful intensity into real showmanship, especially onstage, while continuing to mine powerful emotions and a sort of fearless poignancy in his songwriting.

Oberst has worked with many bands since Bright Eyes, including Desaparecidos and Monsters of Folk, but his latest record, the very fine Upside Down Mountain, is a solo album that finds him pairing inward-looking observations with outward-facing arrangements that project genuine soul and panache.

Onstage, he was joined by horns, backing vocalists and a set of faces familiar to Newport diehards: his touring partners in the roots-rock band Dawes, who perform a full set of their own earlier in the day. Hear Conor Oberst perform as part of the 2014 Newport Folk Festival, recorded live on Sunday, July 27 in Newport, R.I.

Set List

  • "Time Forgot"
  • "Hundreds Of Ways"
  • "We Are Nowhere And It's Now"
  • "Zigzagging Toward The Light"
  • "Bowl Of Oranges"
  • "No One Would Riot For Less"
  • "Danny Callahan"
  • "Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)"
  • "Artifact #1"
  • "Governor's Ball"
  • "Double Life"
  • "Another Travelin' Song"
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Taylor Goldsmith of the band Dawes performs at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival. (Adam Kissick for NPR)

Dawes, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Jul 29, 2014

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The Newport Folk Festival sells out months before its lineup is announced, but fans aren't entirely in the dark: Most know there's at least a 50 percent chance that the lineup will include the countrified California roots-rock band Dawes. Led by brothers Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, Dawes is a heartwarming crowd-pleaser, both on stage and on albums like last year's Stories Don't End.

Dawes enthusiasts are doubly in luck with this year's lineup: The band not only gets its own set on the main stage, but also serves as Conor Oberst's backing players mere moments later. Hear Dawes perform as part of the 2014 Newport Folk Festival, recorded live on Sunday, July 27 in Newport, R.I.

Set List

  • "That Western Skyline"
  • "Most People"
  • "Time Spent In Los Angeles"
  • "Things Happen"
  • "Fire Away"
  • "From A Window Seat"
  • "When My Time Comes"
  • "I Can't Think About It Now"
  • "A Little Bit Of Everything"
  • "From The Right Angle"
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