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  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2018/03/07 Permalink
    Tags: , good bad examples, , shirley jackson, the end of the f*cking world, the end of the fucking world,   

    After The End of the F*cking World, 5 More Books Starring Adorable Teenage Sociopaths 

    If the surprise Netflix hit The End of the F*cking World (based on Chuck Forsman’s graphic novel) has taught us anything, it’s that sociopaths can be absolutely endearing (though it’s true James, one of two misfit teenagers who flee their homes seeking adventure and get wrapped up in a terrible crime, only suspects he’s a stone-cold killer). But of course, we already knew that: the disturbed teen at this story’s center is far from the first sociopathic child to charm our boots off—here are five other murderous kids found in literature who hide behind a facade of adorableness.

    Spoilers follow!

    Kazou Kiriyama in Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami
    Handsome, rich, intelligent, and a good student: you might imagine Kazuo Kiriyama be popular with kids and teachers alike. He’s also a pretty good fit for the Battle Royale, a brutal government program that pits students against each other in a fight to the death. After a car accident damages the part of his brain that processes emotions, Kazuo becomes an extremely bored genius who masters challenges with ease—to the point where his decision whether to play along with the government’s demand he murder his classmates is left to the flip of a coin. He proves to be as good at killing as he was at playing the violin.

    Steerpike in The Gormenghast Trilogy, by Mervyn Peake
    One of the tricks Peake pulls off in his classic work of grim fantasy is the character of Steerpike, initially presented as unattractive in just about every way. Despite this, he slowly evolves into an anti-hero worth rooting for, despite his horrific actions and complete and utter selfishness, and a self-centered worldview that suggest classic sociopathic tendencies. By the end, Steerpike’s rage and campaign of terror against, well, everyone who isn’t Steerpike somehow seems almost noble, and his aspects of the sprawling story are the most interesting and enjoyable. You might not want to hang out with him, but you won’t mind following him around and observing him.

    Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed, by William March
    Rhoda is eight years old, and the absolute definition of an adorable child. She’s pretty, polite, and obedient, she does her schoolwork, and she treats adults with respect. The fact that her classmates keep their distance and that people (and sometimes cute puppies) occasionally die when they irritate her (or when their deaths benefit her in even minor ways) doesn’t take away from the fact that if you were googling for stock photos of “adorable little girl,” Rhoda would show up every time. Using her cuteness and youth as a shield, Rhoda literally gets away with murder, and even when her own mother attempts to put an end to her tiny reign of terror, her age and appearance save her. Awww.

    Joffrey Baratheon in A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin
    Sure, now we know just how awful was King Joffrey I, first of his name. But Joffrey inherited his (true) father’s good looks and his mother’s superficial charm, and for a long time before ascending to the throne, he managed to at least appear to be a handsome, if unpredictable child. Of course, once he gains the crown, his sociopathic tendencies blossom into full-fledged tyranny as he declares a whole world his to torment for fun. No, no one shed a tear when he was assassinated (well, we assume Cersei shed a tear, and decided to launch a campaign of murder in his honor), but plenty of people in Westeros were charmed by this kid in the early going.

    Merricat Blackwood in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
    Jackson’s crowning achievement is the slow burn realization that Merricat is actually far from the damaged and persecuted teenager we think we meet early in Jackson’s most celebrated work. She is actually an unreliable and psychotic murderer. And yet, you never stop hoping she’ll find some kind of comfort and happiness, even after you learn she poisoned her family and burned down her own house because she was literally unwilling to accept a change to her small universe. Merricat seems like a sort of kooky twist on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl—until the inky blackness within her starts to leak out. The deep impression she leaves on readers is why she’s become one of the most interesting characters in literary history. The fact that she embodies many of Shirley Jackson’s own fears and struggles just makes her even more interesting.

    Who are your favorite fictional bad seeds?

    The post After The End of the F*cking World, 5 More Books Starring Adorable Teenage Sociopaths appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/10/30 Permalink
    Tags: , bentley little, bird box, blindness, , carrion comfort, , , , dathan auerbach, dawn, , exquisite corpose, , ghost story, , hell house, , , , jack ketchum, jose saramago, josh malarian, koji suzuki, lionel shriver, , , , , , penal, , peter straub, poppy z. brite, ramsey campbell, , richard matheson, ring, rosemary’s baby, scott smith, shirley jackson, something wicked this way comes, , the face that must die, the girl next door, , the ruins, the walking, , , we need to talk about kevin,   

    25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever 

    Literature can be a moving, beautiful artistic experience. Skilled writers can bring us face to face with scenarios and emotions we might never encounter in real life, expanding our understanding of both the universe and our fellow man.

    It can also scare the living daylights out of us. Horror novels don’t always get the respect they deserve; just because something is scary doesn’t mean it’s not “literary” or well-crafted art, but if the core purpose of a story is perceived to be “making you soil yourself in fear” for some reason that story won’t get much respect. Of course, a story can be terrifying without necessarily being great art. If your goal is to be so terrified of a book that you put it in the freezer and book a hotel room for a few days, here are twenty-five books that might not necessarily be the best horror novels, but are certainly the scariest.

    Literally Everything Edgar Allan Poe Wrote
    Poe had a knack for infusing everything he wrote with visceral dread. His characters and narrators tend towards the mentally fragile and the insane, people who are haunted by things that might be literal or might be manifestations of their unsound thought processes. Either way, stories like The Tell-Tale Heart or The Cask of Amontillado retain their power to petrify more than a century-and-a-half after their publication because Poe tapped into the fundamental fear we all have that the world and people around us are not what they seem.

    House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
    Put simply, House of Leaves is one of the most frightening books ever written. From a fairly standard horror premise (a house is revealed to be slightly larger on the inside than is strictly possible) Danielewski spins out a dizzying tale involving multiple unreliable narrators, typographic mysteries, and looping footnotes that manage to drag the reader into the story and then make them doubt their own perception of that story. It’s a trick no one else has managed to such dramatic effect, making this novel more of a participatory experience than any other work of literature—which, considering the dark madness at its core, isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience.

    Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
    The film adaptation has supplanted the novel in pop culture, but the novel was a huge hit for Levin—and the film actually sticks to the plot and dialog so closely you really do get a feel for the novel from watching it. The story of a young woman who becomes pregnant after a nightmare gets its terror not from the well-known twist of the baby’s parentage (hint: not her husband), but from the increasing isolation Rosemary experiences as her suspicions about everyone around her grow. So many threads tie into the terror, from the emotional and economic uncertainty of a struggling young couple to the simple fear any mother has for their child, all expertly knotted into a story that will keep you awake at night.

    The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
    When you think about clichés in horror fiction, the haunted house is at the top of the list, an idea done so often it’s frequently an unintentional parody. Shirley Jackson, however, was no ordinary writer, and she takes the concept of the haunted house and perfects it. The Haunting of Hill House is simply the best haunted house story ever written. The scares come not just from the malevolent actions of a house that seems sentient and angry, but from the claustrophobia we experience from the novel’s unreliable narrator, Eleanor, whose descent into madness is slow and excruciating and only begins after we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the seeming relatability of her early persona.

    Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
    The great sage Pat Benatar once sang that hell is for children. Golding’s account of children stranded on an island without supplies or adult supervision is absolutely terrifying for one simple reason: there’s nothing supernatural going on. It’s a story about insufficiently socialized humans descending into savagery because that’s our fundamental nature. You look into the abyss at the center of this novel and the abyss looks back.

    We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
    Another story centered on the terror of children, the horror inherent in this story comes from the fact that the human beings we create eventually become their own people—and possibly strangers to us. Not everyone has a close and loving relationship with their parents, and while the idea that your own kids might grow up to be criminals isn’t pleasant, most people assume they will at least recognize themselves in their kids. But what if you don’t? What if your child—your child—is a blank monster?

    Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
    In the Internet Age it’s pretty easy to fall down a rabbit hole of pop culture obsession, and there are still dark areas of culture that haven’t had a wiki created around them. Pessl’s story about a mysterious underground filmmaker whose movies may or may not contain hints of dark power and horrific events and the journalist who becomes obsessed with him asks the reader how you can be certain there’s a clear line between fact and fiction, then, once that wedge of doubt is established, presents a terrifying fiction to fill that space.

    Ring, by Kōji Suzuki
    The novel that inspired the horror films of the same name, the premise is well-known: anyone who watches a mysterious videotape of creepy images is informed that they will die in seven days—and then they die. The investigation into the tape and how to avoid this grim fate leads to what remains an incredibly shocking backstory involving rape, smallpox, and a forgotten well. Technology has shifted, but the terror never really relied on VHS tapes—it’s the concept that ideas can be deadly, that simply by experiencing something you can be doomed, that’s so horrifying.

    Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach
    Pivoting on the idea that we’re often blinded by the details we can see, making it impossible to see the bigger picture, Auerbach’s debut began life as a series of creepypasta stories on the Internet. The episodic nature of the story is ideal for the effect he achieves; the narrator tells of being a young boy and sending a penpal request attached to a balloon with his classmates, including his best friend Josh. He doesn’t receive a response until nearly a year later, and his life takes a turn for the bizarre shortly afterwards. A series of tragic and strange things happen to him and everyone around him, building a sense of dread that is only increased when the truth is revealed.

    Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons
    Simmons’ novel follows several groups of people who have The Ability, a psychic power that allows them to take control of others from a distance and force them to perform any action. When one of their puppets murders someone, the person with The Ability is invigorated and strengthened. Simmons doesn’t shy away from the implications of this power on history and the future, and the book will destroy any sense of security you have in the world around you, revealed to possibly be simply a worldwide board game for those who can control us all like pawns.

    Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
    Several of King’s books could be on this list, but he frequently blunts the terror of his stories with the richness and humanity of his characterizations and the sprawl of his narratives. Pet Sematary manages to be his most terrifying novel by dint of its simple, devastating concept: a magical cemetery where buried things come back to a sort-of life—but aren’t quite what they once were. From that simple idea King ramps up to a climax that gets under your skin in a fundamental way most horror stories fail to.

    The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum
    Horror often pivots on the corruption or warping of societal norms and rules; once you feel like you can’t rely on the natural social order, literally anything is possible. Ketchum’s disturbing novel about the unimaginable abuse suffered by two sisters when they are forced to live with their mentally unstable aunt and her three savage sons is based on real events, but it’s the central theme of an adult giving official sanction to the atrocities that makes this story so utterly horrifying.

    Blindness, by Jose Saramago
    Helplessness is a key factor in a lot of horror; most people labor under the delusion that they are in charge of their destiny and their lives, and horror is often effective simply by reminding us how little control we actually have. An epidemic of blindness leaves an entire city’s population secluded in a mental institution as society within and without crumbles. The brutality and descent into animalistic madness is all too realistic, and Saramago manages to capture the terrifying confusion and helplessness experienced by people in a society that no longer functions.

    Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
    McCarthy’s entire writing style and technique is terrifying; the man could write a grocery list that leaves the reader dripping with dread. This tale of extreme, ruthless, and pervasive violence in the American west emerges from under a sheen of the unreal to become all too real, and the greatest trick McCarthy manages here is by making the single most terrifying aspect of the story—the main character’s death—the one act of brutality he doesn’t depict, leaving the terrors contained within that scene to our imagination—which is infinitely worse than anything he might have conjured.

    Exquisite Corpse, by Poppy Z. Brite
    Brite’s most famous novel follows two serial killers who initially aim to kill each other but, upon discovering a fellow traveler, instead engage in a spree of horrific sex and murder. The matter-of-fact way the pair concocts a plan to kidnap, torture, and then consume a beautiful gay man named Tran is the sort of stuff that could simply be shocking, but Brite continuously considers the value of existence and what we could all be doing with the time we have left—time we too often imagine to be infinite when, of course, we’re all going to be consumed someday by something.

    Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
    Bradbury’s epic rumination on childhood and adulthood tells the story of a magical circus come to a small town, offering the residents dark gifts they weren’t aware they wanted—most notably the carousel that can change your physical age, making boys who yearn to be adults grow older, and middle-aged men and women who yearn for their lost youth to grow younger. Bradbury knows the worst horror in the world is losing the natural order of your life, and perfectly captures the combination of dread and excitement everyone experiences as they crack the mysteries separating them from adulthood.

    Hell House, by Richard Matheson
    What Matheson taps into in this classic haunted house story is the universal fear that we are already lost, already broken. Hired to investigate the existence of an afterlife by exploring the notoriously haunted Belasco House, a team moves in and slowly succumbs to the influence of the entity within—an entity that only uses their own weaknesses and secret shames against them. Their descent into the depths of horror is too close for comfort as a result—for everyone reading the book knows all too well that they have weaknesses, and secret shames, as well.

    The Face That Must Die, by Ramsey Campbell
    Campbell wrote a number of books that are absolutely terrifying, but this one stands out in the way he forces the reader to completely inhabit the mind of a very sick man, Horridge. As he fixates on an overweight man living in his neighborhood, the reader is forced to see the world consistently through his eyes. Everything is off-beat, everything drips with ominous meaning and horrific intent. Horridge sees the entire world as a horror that must be destroyed, and for a while the reader is carried along on that uncomfortable point of view, leaving them exhausted and terrified.

    Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
    Told in alternating chapters that depict a group of aspiring writers voluntarily secluded in an unusual writer’s retreat and the stories they’re writing, Haunted not only contains one of the most disturbing short stories ever published (“Guts,” which caused several people to faint when Palahniuk read it in public) it’s also a deep dive into madness as the reality-TV obsessed characters start sabotaging their experiment in a quest for fame. The sense of suffocating dread that Palahniuk applies grows so incrementally you don’t notice it until you suddenly realize you’ve been holding your breath for five pages.

    Dawn, by Octavia Butler
    Although technically science fiction, this story of the human race centuries after a devastating apocalypse is straight terror in many ways. Lilith is one of the last surviving humans, awakened on an alien ship. The aliens, three-sexed and many-tentacled, offer Lilith a deal: they will help her repopulated the Earth, but their price is to breed with humanity to gain humanity’s “talent” for cancer (and the creative possibilities it offers) while blunting their self-destructive tendencies. The horror imbued in each page is subtle, but it exerts tremendous mental pressure as you progress through the story.

    The Walking, by Bentley Little
    Far from just another tale of zombies, Little’s story of a man whose father rises from death after a stroke sizzles with a sense of doom long before the reader understands what’s at stake. Discovering that many families are hiding zombie relatives, and have been for some time, private investigator Miles Huerdeen digs into the mystery—and what he finds is easily the scariest stuff about zombies you’ll ever read. If you watch zombie movies and shows and laugh at their shuffling, mindless threat, this book will change your mind.

    The Ruins, by Scott Smith
    Smith’s story is deceptively simple: a group of tourists in Mexico go off in search of an archaeological site where a friend has set up camp; they find a pyramid covered in odd vines, the land around it salted and barren. Once on the pyramid, they discover the dead body of their friend, covered in the vines, and that the nearby villagers have arrived with guns to force them to remain on the pyramid. The vines are one of those simple monsters that seem so easy to defeat at first blush, yet the inexorable doom that descends on the characters slowly, grindingly proves otherwise.

    Bird Box, by Josh Malerman
    Malerman’s intense story of a world that slowly crumbles as people go murderously insane after seeing mysterious creatures—referred to simply as The Problem—is so scary because the reader only has the information that the characters have, and that’s not much. The world collapses and the survivors can only seal themselves off from the outside and try to avoid the worst, leading to a torturous wearing down of hope that leaves the reader defenseless against the horrible images Malerman conjures.

    Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
    A good old-fashioned ghost story is designed to terrify and entertain, and Straub’s breakthrough novel does both. Five old friends gather regularly to trade ghost stories, but when one of them dies mysteriously and the survivors begin to dream of their own deaths, a secret from their past is revealed—and the simple pleasures of a ghost story are explored to their most frightening ends by a master of the form.

    Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    If you don’t think of Beloved as a horror story, you haven’t been paying attention. Morrison’s skill as a writer is in full effect as she draws the reader into what is assuredly one of the saddest and most horrifying stories committed to paper. There’s no more terrifying sequence than the long slide into madness as escaped slave Sethe, convinced the young woman calling herself Beloved is the daughter she murdered in an attempt to keep her safe from slavers come to reclaim them, grows steadily thinner and weaker as she gives everything she has—including food—to Beloved, who grows steadily larger.

    Did we leave off any truly terrifying books? Let us know in the comments.

    The post 25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jenny Kawecki 5:00 pm on 2015/11/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , shirley jackson, , , ,   

    A Book for Every Relative at Your Thanksgiving Table 

    Thanksgiving is upon us, which means now’s the time to dredge up all the patience and calm you have buried in your tired soul and bring it to the surface—yep, it’s time to deal with your relatives again. Your aunts and cousins have their moments, sure, but most of the time you just want to shove…these books into their hands, and then run. Fast.

    For Your Marriage-Obsessed Grandmother: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
    If you could erase one thing in your grandmother’s mind, it would be whatever impulse tells her to pester you about your marriage prospects every single time she sees you. No, you haven’t “settled down” yet, and no, you don’t have any plans to in the next six months. Years, maybe. So just hand her a copy of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl—not only should the suspense give her something else to think about (finally), but hopefully it just might change her mind about marriage being the end all, be all of life. Because not all marriages are happily ever after…

    For Your Lovelorn Cousin: Grey, by E. L. James
    Your cousin is lovely and smart and totally capablewhich is why you’re going to throttle her if you have to hear her complain about her latest ex for hours on end. What she really needs is a good boyfriend, and you know what makes the best boyfriend of all? A book. Specifically this book, which should provide all the romance, drama, and excitement your cousin needs, so she can get back to doing interesting things with her life.

    For Your Sports-Loving Father: The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
    The trouble with sports fans on Thanksgiving day is that it’s pretty much impossible to change the subject. Distract your favorite football fanatic, then, with The Art of Fieldinga sports book that’s so good, it could quench his need for sports conversation altogether. Or at least inspire him to talk about the book for a bit first.

    For Your Niece with the Attitude: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?by Mindy Kaling
    There’s nothing like a nice healthy dose of perspective to check the overconfident, right? It’s not like your niece is that much younger or hipper than you—there’s what, ten years between you?—but she acts more like it’s forty. Kaling’s hilarious book might make her rethink the way she looks at life (and her own sense of self-importance). And if nothing else, you two will finally have something in common to talk about.

    For Your Know-It-All Brother: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    You love your brother, but if he interrupts you to mansplain his latest dubious opinion one more time, you’re going to “accidentally” eat that last piece of pie he’s been gunning for. Occupy that brain of his with all 1,104 pages of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which at the very least should keep him busy until the new year rolls around. Bonus? You can spend the rest of the holidays asking for impromptu book reports on his progress and quizzing him on the plot—especially the footnotes.

    For Your Guilt-Tripping Mother: The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen
    How do you guilt trip a guilt tripper? Subtly, of course. And who better to make your mother reconsider her ways than Enid, Franzen’s sympathetic yet terribly frustrating portrait of overbearing mothers everywhere? She’ll love her and hate her for her needy-yet-domineering ways (how is that even possible?), and maybe, just maybe, she’ll learn to cool it on the pressure.

    For Your Perfect Sister: The Opposite of Lonelinessby Marina Keegan
    You want to give her a book that’ll express your frustrations, but let’s face it: even you think your sister is perfect. She’s up there on that glowing, golden pedestal for a reason. So despite the fact that her awesomeness annoys you to no end, you can’t help but want to be the one who gives her a book that’ll fascinate and impress her. With its combination of fiction, nonfiction, and sheer brilliance, The Opposite of Loneliness will make your sister fall in love with being young and break her heart all at once, and she’ll have you to thank for it. (Well, you and Keegan.)

    For That One Inappropriate Male Relative: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
    Is he your uncle? Your second cousin? No one’s really sure how, exactly, he’s related to everyone at the table; he just showed up one year, and no one’s been able to stop him since. But between his creepy prolonged staring and totally terrible jokes, you really wish you could send him back to his real family—or at least get him to stop waggling his eyebrows whenever he talks to you. The solution? Give him a subtle reminder that anyone in your family could take revenge a la Jackson’s creepy classic We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Because nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” like arsenic in the sugar bowl.

    What reading recommendations do you have for your obnoxious relatives?

     
  • Jenny Kawecki 5:00 pm on 2015/11/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , shirley jackson, , , ,   

    A Book for Every Relative at Your Thanksgiving Table 

    Thanksgiving is upon us, which means now’s the time to dredge up all the patience and calm you have buried in your tired soul and bring it to the surface—yep, it’s time to deal with your relatives again. Your aunts and cousins have their moments, sure, but most of the time you just want to shove…these books into their hands, and then run. Fast.

    For Your Marriage-Obsessed Grandmother: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
    If you could erase one thing in your grandmother’s mind, it would be whatever impulse tells her to pester you about your marriage prospects every single time she sees you. No, you haven’t “settled down” yet, and no, you don’t have any plans to in the next six months. Years, maybe. So just hand her a copy of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl—not only should the suspense give her something else to think about (finally), but hopefully it just might change her mind about marriage being the end all, be all of life. Because not all marriages are happily ever after…

    For Your Lovelorn Cousin: Grey, by E. L. James
    Your cousin is lovely and smart and totally capablewhich is why you’re going to throttle her if you have to hear her complain about her latest ex for hours on end. What she really needs is a good boyfriend, and you know what makes the best boyfriend of all? A book. Specifically this book, which should provide all the romance, drama, and excitement your cousin needs, so she can get back to doing interesting things with her life.

    For Your Sports-Loving Father: The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
    The trouble with sports fans on Thanksgiving day is that it’s pretty much impossible to change the subject. Distract your favorite football fanatic, then, with The Art of Fieldinga sports book that’s so good, it could quench his need for sports conversation altogether. Or at least inspire him to talk about the book for a bit first.

    For Your Niece with the Attitude: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?by Mindy Kaling
    There’s nothing like a nice healthy dose of perspective to check the overconfident, right? It’s not like your niece is that much younger or hipper than you—there’s what, ten years between you?—but she acts more like it’s forty. Kaling’s hilarious book might make her rethink the way she looks at life (and her own sense of self-importance). And if nothing else, you two will finally have something in common to talk about.

    For Your Know-It-All Brother: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    You love your brother, but if he interrupts you to mansplain his latest dubious opinion one more time, you’re going to “accidentally” eat that last piece of pie he’s been gunning for. Occupy that brain of his with all 1,104 pages of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which at the very least should keep him busy until the new year rolls around. Bonus? You can spend the rest of the holidays asking for impromptu book reports on his progress and quizzing him on the plot—especially the footnotes.

    For Your Guilt-Tripping Mother: The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen
    How do you guilt trip a guilt tripper? Subtly, of course. And who better to make your mother reconsider her ways than Enid, Franzen’s sympathetic yet terribly frustrating portrait of overbearing mothers everywhere? She’ll love her and hate her for her needy-yet-domineering ways (how is that even possible?), and maybe, just maybe, she’ll learn to cool it on the pressure.

    For Your Perfect Sister: The Opposite of Lonelinessby Marina Keegan
    You want to give her a book that’ll express your frustrations, but let’s face it: even you think your sister is perfect. She’s up there on that glowing, golden pedestal for a reason. So despite the fact that her awesomeness annoys you to no end, you can’t help but want to be the one who gives her a book that’ll fascinate and impress her. With its combination of fiction, nonfiction, and sheer brilliance, The Opposite of Loneliness will make your sister fall in love with being young and break her heart all at once, and she’ll have you to thank for it. (Well, you and Keegan.)

    For That One Inappropriate Male Relative: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
    Is he your uncle? Your second cousin? No one’s really sure how, exactly, he’s related to everyone at the table; he just showed up one year, and no one’s been able to stop him since. But between his creepy prolonged staring and totally terrible jokes, you really wish you could send him back to his real family—or at least get him to stop waggling his eyebrows whenever he talks to you. The solution? Give him a subtle reminder that anyone in your family could take revenge a la Jackson’s creepy classic We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Because nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” like arsenic in the sugar bowl.

    What reading recommendations do you have for your obnoxious relatives?

     
  • Ester Bloom 7:53 pm on 2015/08/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , , let me tell you, , , , shirley jackson,   

    The Impressive Range Of Shirley Jackson’s Let Me Tell You 

    One of America’s foremost proto–mommy bloggers is also one of America’s masters of horror and suspense, and yet many audiences only known Shirley Jackson as one or the other. Readers tend to recognize her either as the author of the short story “The Lottery,” which has become a popular entree for middle school teachers to order off of the accessible but still mind-blowing literature menu (and to which Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games owes a great debt), and of similarly eerie novels such as We Have Always Lived In The Castle; or as the wry, irreverent, easy-to-relate-to mother of four who wrote the parenting memoirs Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons

    Those, as she called them, “disrespectful” descriptions of everyday catastrophes, originally published to acclaim in the mid-20th century, have been repackaged and rereleased by Penguin/Random House. To accompany them, Random House has also put out a collection of previously unpublished work called Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings, which allows everyone at last to experience the full complexity of Shirley Jackson, to admire the breadth of her talent, the dryness of her humor, and the scope of her imagination.

    You’ll have to pick your own favorite of the mix. Do you prefer ghost stories like “Showdown,” which makes you feel as though someone is standing behind you, breathing softly against your neck? The deceptively simple stories about small-town life such as “The Lie,” which makes it clear one really cannot, and should not, go home again? Or her more scholarly appreciation of both madcap and revolutionary children’s literature (“A Vroom for Dr. Seuss”)? Or perhaps the domestic essays about moving with her family to Vermont, which send up with wicked yet goodhearted zeal the conformist world of the 1950s? Consider this passage from “Good Old House.”

    The painter arrived to do the outside of the house. As always, we were not consulted. The house had always been white with green trim, as were all the other houses on the block, and I suppose all the other houses in New England, and the painter did not for a minute imagine that anything else would be required of him; indeed, I doubt if he owned any other colors of paint.

    Jackson’s work often trades in implication and metaphor; she refused to make her work overtly political, though according to her husband, she said she “was always proud that the Union of South Africa banned ‘The Lottery,’ and she felt that they at least understood the story.” The sharpness of her observations can lead readers, as well as governments, to political conclusions. Of course the stifled, pre-Friedan women of her fiction would feel more fulfilled if their lives were less circumscribed. Of course the men, too, would benefit from less constraint. In one hilarious short story, a regular Joe enters his apartment, puts down his briefcase, hangs up his hat, calls a greeting to his wife, sits down for dinner, and only then realizes he is in someone’s else’s home. Yet every detail is identical, so, in a sense, what difference does it make?

    One of my favorite pieces is “The Play’s The Thing,” a world-weary piece of nonfiction about trying to write a sendup of a children’s musical for her family’s amusement, only to have her satire taken seriously by educators for miles around, and then further.

    I tried to tell everyone that it was a rather callous parody, cynical and full of slang, but all the teachers said the same thing: What a wonderful idea! … Now that it exists, I can’t seem to get rid of it. It is a defiant statement by a pack of children about their world and their acceptance of it. I finally gave in as gracefully as I could: I had the play copyrighted, including the lyrics and music, and gave it to the children. It belongs to them, as it should. I am going to stick to ghosts and bridge games and haunted houses, where I belong.

    Thank goodness Jackson did not decide to follow her own advice. We are all the richer for it.

     
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