The Haunting of Hill House: Spooky

Shirley Jackson writes good creepy. We read The Haunting of Hill House for book club and all (who read it, at least) agreed that it was unsettling in the most delightful ways.

We follow a group of four as they plan to spend the summer at a haunted house observing the phenomenon and the effects on the group. Quickly things take a turn, as Eleanor, our mostly protagonist gets weirder and stranger. By the end of the book its an open question about whether she is a ghost herself, where the entire book has been a haunting vision for her, whether the people around her are real or imagined, or a combination of the above. The freedom to interpret and re-interpret makes the book a delight, and the unsettling moments (never truly ‘scary,’ don’t worry) wriggle away in the imagination for days after.

Save it for next October, maybe, or enjoy now, but worth reading if you missed it in…. 1959.

Oh and apparently there are few great adaptations for TV. Not that you watch TV, but just in case.

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Ten Years of Literary Vice

Driving home last night I had a moment imagining writing the ten year post for Literary Vice, thinking it would be at least a few years before the anniversary arrived. So when I checked this morning and realized this thing launched in November 2009 (on tumblr!) I was surprised. And sad? Maybe sad. Or maybe nostalgia, remembering where and who I was when this collection of my reading reflections began: living with M. and Titus, finishing my PhD, surrounded by friends who loved to read as much as I did and we had All the Time in the World to do just that.

This year I’ve read fewer novels than in any of the past ten. I’m tempted to make excuses, but I’m sure a lot has to do with a smart phone and how I used to fill the quiet moments of waiting with novels, and now I fill with Twitter. Sad. (A sure sign I’m reading a book I love is when I slip back into my old habit of walking across campus with my book open to squeeze in just a few more minutes with characters).

Maybe more than sadness it’s an observance of change. Certainly to my life – where I am, what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with. But more the way and what I read has changed, I listen to audio books now because I commute for two hours a day. I fall asleep earlier and forget what happened pages before. I read many, many children’s books because I am raising a kid and one of my (too many) hopes for him is that he will find as much comfort, joy and light in reading as I do.

For all that changes that gift – the total love of reading – remains true. I wasn’t a popular kid in high school (shocked face). I remember being in drama class and every time (which was all the time) there were group activities, I wouldn’t have a group. And so I started skipping class and finding my way to the library to read. And it was in every way a better education in the expression of human emotion, I promise. Not that I had a Tragic time or anything, I had S., J., and J. and they got me. Just that I knew then and I know now that whatever else might be happening around me – and there is so much happening – there is this space of mindful, quiet, slowness. Of absorption and warmth. Of conversation with characters who evoke and provoke and we are so lucky.

And I have been and am so lucky to continue to be surrounded by people who love me and love reading, too. I’ve formed too many book clubs over the past ten years, and the one that remains is full of smart, caring and wise friends. I continue to have some of the best chats with my mum about what she is reading and what I am reading (and why I’m not reading more than I am) (and I know differently now, in the fiftieth recitation in one night of Where the Wild Things Are, how much I owe to her and my dad for giving me this reading joy). I swap book recommendations with friends and colleagues (and strangers) and in each of these moments of connection through books I am grateful.

Proud, too, I suppose. For ten years of writing here and ten years of reading. It’s about 500 books in the last decade. Almost all of them novels. You could look for trends in what I read and when and you’d probably find I read more in the summer and I read a lot of Canadian literature and I have attachments to particular authors and unpopular views about others.

At one point I imagined I’d stop writing at ten years. It’s one more thing and now I almost always forget until several weeks have gone by (see my latest post for evidence!) and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used the same adjectives to describe the same things in different books. And I’m not sure who my audience is or what the point is (is it a summary? a critique?). But in recalling the original purpose – to help me remember what I’ve read – it seems like it might be okay to continue. To scale down my expectations from the high of the 2010s when I wrote 3000 word thoughtful reviews to something smaller and more in line with what I can do right now: I read this book and I liked/didn’t like it.

And maybe you will continue to read here, too. Such a humble imagining to know there have been thousands of you checking to find out what I thought about a particular book. And I’ll try to keep thinking of you in writing reviews, but really – and selfishly – this is really for me.

So cheers to ten years. Thanks to each of you for reading. Reading this, sure, but reading.

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City of Girls: Jazz Hands

I was so disappointed to piece together midway through that the author of City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert, also wrote Eat, Pray, Love. Not sure what that was so disappointing, except I think there’s something silly about Eat, Pray, Love and so I extended this silliness to City of Girls. And despite being at the top of a bunch of the best of lists for 2019 I think it’s only okay.

We follow Vivian Morris as she gets kicked out of school and joins up with the aunt’s theatre company in New York. Sex, scandal and romping through the streets ensue, as Vivian stretches the bounds of her small town upbringing and confronts the Big City. After a massive betrayal, Vivian is castigated by her once-friend and told that she will never be anyone important and never do anything important (or something to that effect). We take this ‘curse’ and follow Vivian through the rest of her life as she tries to atone for this betrayal. Finding herself never in the arms of ‘true love,’ (thank goodness) but rather making her own family and forming close and meaningful friendships. The message being I suppose that we have to create our own meaning and that friendship is a life work and project.

I think the ‘only okay’ part comes from the saccharine message and the pulp feel to the writing. But there are some fun parties and the occasionally thoughtful scene about what we owe our friends and ourselves when we make mistakes. So sure, read it, but I’d never put this at the top of 2019.

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The Innocents: The Unexpected Gripping Plot in 19th Century Rural Newfoundland

Michael Crummey is one of my favourite authors. I read River Thieves in graduate school when I had lots of Thoughts and Ideas (I suppose I still do, but they are buried deep beneath Responsibilities) and loved it. Since then I’ve loved Galore and Sweetland and you would do well to read them all. Actually they all make pretty good Halloween/winter curl-up reading, Sweetland in particular (as a ghost story).

Anway. The Innocents follows Evered and Ada on this totally barren and isolated outcrop of Newfoundland in the I’m not-sure-when-but-at-least-a-few-hundred-years-ago as they struggle – like really struggle – to stay alive after their parents and sister die. They struggle in the physical ways of starvation and storms and bears (those Can Lit majors looking for another bear novel on which to write a thesis need look no further). They struggle more in the psychological loneliness of being without any other companionship than one another. Not knowing how to read, and with limited access to stories, in the few instances when others cross their paths, one of their most heart breaking revelations is how much is unknown and lost to them because they don’t have stories to share.

The land is a character of its own with incredible richness in its description (though not in a bogged down detailed way) and the tension between its claustrophobia and endless – if dangerous – expanse is yet another way in which horror is visited upon the two children.

They do encounter horror both from the natural and human worlds. Human horrors in the form of colonialism, the barbarity of humanity when pushed to its extremes (think cannibalism), the cruelty of capitalism in the early fisheries and the stricture of religions. Actually, in contrast, the natural horrors feel less vicious and purposeful, more accidental in their cruelty, though still: flooding rain, short crop seasons, storms.

But the real heart and horror of the book is who and how Evered and Ada come to mean to one another. Alone for so long and dependent on one another for physical and psychological survival, their relationship encounters strain and then pushes into spaces of incest with a delicacy and sensitivity you might not believe til you read it.

It doesn’t sound like it would make for a compelling story: two orphans survive by fishing cod and have a complicated relationship. But boy-oh-boy is it gripping. Well worth the wait since Crummey’s last novel and one I strongly urge you to seek out!

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Filed under Canadian Literature, Fiction, Giller prize, Prize Winner