Today (Mar. 31) marks the end of the TBR Triple Dog Dare. A big THANK YOU to James for hosting and encouraging us all the read from our stacks for the first quarter of 2016. The only thing I read that wasn’t acquired before Jan. 1st was an online short story that I came across.
A big shout out also goes to Julianne at Outlandish Lit for her Month-long Weirdathon. Even though I didn’t stick to my list (I never do), I had a lot of fun reading and discussing great, weird books all during March.
Finished in March
Did great in regards to #readMyOwnDamnBooks in March. All the books I finished were from my own collection:
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp. (via Goodreads)
I’ve been meaning to reread We Have Always Lived in the Castle for quite a while now. I first read it in 2003, probably the second Shirley Jackson novel I’d ever read after The Haunting of Hill House. Since then, I’ve read most of her other novels. There is a definite progression in their clarity and focus. Castle is the last she wrote and it is the most distilled in terms of story and tone. I got into a discussion on Reddit and as a fellow redditor put it, “If there’s one author I could go back in time and tack another decade onto her life to see what she’d write it’s Shirley Jackson…”
I realized though, at about the halfway mark, that I had munged the plot of The Sundial (which I read three years later in 2006) into Castle, probably due to both having inter-family murders and imposing houses. The Sundial kind of meanders as a novel, while Castle is clear in its purpose.
Mostly, I wanted to reread Castle to look at it in the context of Gothic literature. There is indeed a “castle” at the heart of the book (Blackwood House), and a young woman, and family secrets, but if we’re to place the story into the Gothic mold, it’s Charles who is the character who comes into the situation from outside. He is a poor substitute for the usual Gothic heroine. He’s not interested in his cousins’ secrets, only their money. If Eleanor in Hill House wants to be in a Gothic novel, Castle is a Gothic novel already in progress and Constance and Merricat are unperturbed by their places within it until Charles (the not-Gothic world) intrudes.
At the end of Castle, the Blackwoods have been ousted from their Gothic story, but placed into what is maybe the 20th century equivalent: the urban (rural New England?) legend.
Was it weird? Well, there are no cosmic monsters. No frogmen. No gods on earth. Can two sisters, one of them a murderer, living in an old house with their uncle, surviving on their garden and a belief in magic be weird?
Publishing info, my copy: mass market paperback, Popular Library, 1962 Acquired: Sometime before April 2003. My copy has a $1.00 price tag on it, which might be what I payed for it. It also has stamps for Sembach Junior High Resource Center and Vogelweh Library Exchange, both located in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany. Genre: horror
I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.
If you dwell in certain corners of the internet, there has been quite a few headlines about a lost Lovecraft manuscript, a work-in-progress on the nature of superstition commissioned by Harry Houdini. The manuscript was unfinished at the time of Houdini’s death and Bess Houdini didn’t choose to follow-through with her late husband’s patronage of the writer.
Houdini’s association with H. P. Lovecraft began a few years prior in 1924 with Lovecraft ghost-writing “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” (or “Under the Pyramids”) for Weird Tales magazine. At the time, Weird Tales was struggling financially and sought to bank on Harry Houdini’s fame by having the magician’s name associated with one of their stories. While Houdini was given the by-line, the very successful escape artist is never named in the story. It wasn’t until over a decade later that Lovecraft was given credit.
But, how is the story? I will admit, I’m not much of Lovecraft fan. I’ve read a few of his stories, but my familiarity with his style is limited. That said, “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” seemed more succinct than later stories. The setting is less ornate and more geography-driven, which I will assume was due to Lovecraft academically researching Egypt rather than relying on his first-hand knowledge. Is it weird? Heck, yeah! Lovecraft’s interpretation of the sphinx is the stuff of cosmic nightmares!
It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?
Once again, I’m going into this week asking myself, what *am* I reading? I think I’ll work on Gerald’s Game by Stephen King until Friday. What’s Friday? The end of the Triple Dog Dare! Don’t get me wrong, reading only pre-2016 acquisitions has been good for me. Instead of immediately buying/checking-out the new shiny thing, I’ve tried to make a habit of looking to my shelves first. But my biggest mistake was ordering The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 2 as a late Merry-Chistmas-to-me present in January. There’s also Central Station by Lavie Tidhar. And The Reason I Jump, Doing Dewey’s April Book Club pick. I’ve been good, really I have. Hopefully, I won’t undo all my good habits in a month.
Card picked: Ace of Hearts From:Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown, edited by Marvin Kaye
Thoughts: One day, when Spence leaves work early—a deviation from his routine—he spots someone in the passing crowd that he thinks he recognizes. It isn’t until later that he realizes that the stranger looked like his cousin Sandy who has been dead for twenty years. As Spence finds himself late in a line or detouring through the underground on a stormy day, he sees others that he recognizes, but are dead. Who are they? What are they? Or is Spence going insane?
It occurred to me as I read “The Others” that I don’t really know what it’s like to think I recognize someone, but not know from where. Somewhat face blind, I have the opposite problem: not recognizing people I’ve met. And to run into someone from twenty years ago? I guess I have fodder for my own set of unsettling stories.
About the Author: Editor Martin Kaye in the introduction to this story, the first of the anthology:
The condescending attitude of certain critics and academics toward imaginative literature is exasperating. The significant prosodists who have assayed fantasy is virtually a roll call of Western belles lettres… To this list may now be added Joyce Carol Oates.
Just as legends and fragments of history from ancient Britain became the Arthurian tales we know—the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, the Clantons and others, told and retold in innumerable stories and dramatizations, has became a great American myth.
In Emma Bull’s Territory, some of the mystery of that brooding, puzzling tale is accounted to the hitherto unrealized presence of magic. It is a story of power, of compulsion, and of consequences. If Roger Zelazny had written a western, or if Susanna Clarke had reimagined the myths and legends of the American West, the results might have been something like Territory. But only something like. Because nobody writes like Emma Bull. (via Goodreads)
I read Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks back in 2011 and loved it. When I found out that she’d written a fantasy set in 1881 Tombstone with Doc Holliday as a main character, I treated myself to Territory. And then the book sat on my shelf for nearly three years…
“There are people in this world that have a power about them. Most of ’em only have a little, and don’t know they’ve got that… Then there’s those that have a lot of power, but don’t know it, and can’t use it for anything… But there’s a few that have it, and know it, and use it.”
In Territory, Emma Bull proposes that many of the “names” in Tombstone have this power. The power is derived and bolstered by the earth–the claiming of territory–and by the strength of alliances between men. With history as a backdrop, who has power and why they are using it is the primary mystery of the story.
Doc Holliday *is* one of the primary three characters along with Jesse, a drifter who has found himself (not) passing through Tombstone, and Mildred, a sometimes typesetter, sometimes journalist, sometimes fiction-writer. Much of what of occurs in town is seen from the outside of the Earp/Cowboy conflict as Jesse attempts to harness his own use of power.
One of the things I appreciate most about Territory is that it steers clear of the most famous of Tombstone events: the gunfight at the O.K. corral. Instead, Bull shows more of the intricacies of Cochise County politics. There is a lot going on in the background of events that may or may not be due to the influence of magical forces. Territory ends with the gunfight as a looming inevitability. Which means that it also ends in a somewhat unresolved manner. Territory worldbuilds, but we leave the world much too quickly.
Favorite quote: “Eccentricity, once embarked upon, lay always like a pit at one’s feet.”
Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Tor, 2011 Acquired: 2013, Amazon Genre: fantasy, western
Card picked: Eight of Spades – I swear I’m shuffling, but this is my third Shirley Jackson story in a row. From: The Lottery and Other Stories
Miss Clarence lives in Greenwich village. She moved to New York City in hopes of becoming a dancer. Instead, she became a secretary to pay the bills and, twelve years on, has become a private secretary, has a comfortable apartment, and considers herself a “Village die-hard.” At age thirty-five, she is always on time, with a pack of Kools on hand, as she searches for the right furniture for her apartment.
Not like the Roberts’ who are selling off their (woefully inappropriately oak) furniture and keep a messy house. Miss Clarence doesn’t even meet Mrs. Roberts–Mrs. Roberts had to run an errand she forgot about and left with door unlocked with a note for Miss Clarence to look around until she gets back. The Roberts’ are obviously the artistic sort; their bookshelves full of books about painting and photography…and dance. To kill time, Miss Clarence strikes a dancer’s pose, something that she used to do but had always required work, and is interrupted by a young man also there to look at the furniture. In order to not seem foolish, Miss Clarence tells him that she is Mrs. Roberts, a dancer.
Of the three stories of Shirley Jackson’s that I’ve read in a row, this is the second with identity at its core. Jackson doesn’t really leave us with a firm sense of whether Miss Clarence is regretful of the path her life has taken; whether the work it took to be a dancer was joyous or, well, just work.