Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Filmed review.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life was written by Ruth Franklin. Franklin is an American literary critic who spent six years researching Shirley Jackson’s work and life to write this book. Once published, she was awarded several accolades for her efforts. Among those, the Bram Stoker Award for Best Nonfiction, the Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography. And after reading this myself, I can unequivocally say that she absolutely deserves the praise.

I am by no means a Shirley Jackson super-fan. Rather, I wasn’t, but that may have changed after reading this fantastic biography. I’ve read some of Jackson’s biggest works, the Haunting of Hill House, the Lottery short story collection, as well as both of her personal memoirs, Life Among Savages and Raising Demons. Of course, there are many other works I haven’t read, perhaps the biggest being We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Any hesitation I had about reading her other works has vanished. Franklin has inspired me to read Jackson’s entire list of work, and reread this biography when I’m done to fully appreciate the depth and significance of Jackson’s work.

I originally sought out this biography after reading Life Among Savages, Jackson’s first memoir, in October of 2019. I had hoped to get a look into Jackson’s psyche because I knew how significant her work (e.g. the Haunting of Hill House) is in the horror genre. Imagine my disappointment when I came to find out that it is less a memoir and more of an outtake of what it’s like to be a housewife in the 50s (or what you’re expected to be). There’s nothing really discussing her personal life outside of her kids; never is there a mention of her life as a writer. There is the hint of what might be satirical commentary on her life and society, but overall, the book comes across as somewhat antiquated. I couldn’t decide if the book is Jackson being cleverly critical or just doing exactly as it seems, trying to paint herself as the “perfect” housewife. I ended up thinking it must be somewhere in between. Franklin goes deep into what Jackson was trying to get at with these memoirs and what motivated her to write them, and it seems I was mostly right about it being a mix of critic and showcasing. My point here is that the memoir left me wanting. I realized it was never meant to be an honest peak into Jackson’s life.

I approached this biography hoping for a deeper dive into her personal life as well as into her mind. Thankfully, that is exactly what I got. This biography excels because it is more than just an outline of her life; it’s a detailed look at how her life fed into her work and vice versa. Franklin’s expertise as a literary critic really shines through in this aspect. This is as much a critical analysis of Shirley Jackson’s literary works as it is of her life. As someone who has come to enjoy reading memoirs and biographies of celebrities and other significant people in history, I must say this is one of the best that I’ve ever read. Sure, I am biased as a fan of Jackson, especially after learning more about her, but objectively speaking, there is so much here to love.

It is at times almost academic in its detail, but never is a dull. The hardest part is adjusting to just how dense the story is, but it quickly morphs into a compelling story of Jackson’s life. This book is very long—over 600 pages, but never was I bored. I found myself lying in bed at night listening to the audiobook eager to find out what happened next. Needless to say, this book is a masterpiece. I absolutely loved it.

That said, there are caveats. Because this is a literally analysis, Franklin walks us through every single significant work that Jackson wrote. That means spoiling the big reveals and walking us through the arc of Jackson’s books and stories. That includes how the story originates and how it eventually morphs into what we read today. Of course, if you haven’t read all of Jackson’s work and intend to, you absolutely should read those first. I’m not the kind of person who is bothered by spoilers. Plus, I’m often very forgetful, so hopefully it won’t affect my enjoyment when I get around to reading Jackson’s other works.

While I highly recommend you read Jackson’s works before this biography, the exception to that would be Jackson’s memoirs. I mentioned before how the memoirs felt very calculated and almost disingenuous. It’s interesting to hear Franklin discussion of these, and given the somewhat dated nature of these memoirs, I think that they would work better if read with Franklin’s analysis as a frame of reference. Sure you could read the memoirs, then the biography, and reread the memoirs for a complete experience. Except, I don’t think her memoirs are worth the added effort of rereading. The most fascinating side of it comes from Franklin’s analysis. Quite frankly, if you aren’t a Jackson fan working your way through all of her works, I don’t think they’re worth reading in the first place, but that’s your decision to make.

Memory and Delusion | The New Yorker

As a person, Jackson doesn’t come across as the most likable. There are aspects of her life that a very pitiful; she has “a rather haunted life” indeed. She suffered in a mediocre marriage with a husband who was not good to her. She had a mother who was insufferable and unfair, and that doesn’t even consider the everyday struggles of being a woman in a patriarchal society. As a result, she suffered with addiction to alcohol and drugs that were prescribed to her. She also struggled with her weight. All of this would lead to her untimely death before the age of 50.

There are other details that were interesting to learn about. One thing that really stood out for me was her friendship with Ralph Ellison. I never knew how close they were, and Franklin seems to suggest that the two’s friendship may have fed into their work. It makes me want to reread his book, Invisible Man (not to be confused with HG Wells the Invisible Man). Another thing worth noting is that there were moments in Jackson’s life where she expressed some homophobic ideas. Franklin says she is a product of her time, but it is disappointing nonetheless. I also find it hard to sympathize with someone who comes from wealth. At the same time, Jackson’s story is humanizing because it shows how even people of a higher class have their own struggles. Besides, Jackson wasn’t rich her entire life even if her parents were well off. They still struggled, and that was very much apparent throughout Jackson’s life.

No one is perfect, and that is especially true for Jackson. Nevertheless, I’m still left mesmerized by Jackson as a person and as a writer. This was a fantastic book as I’ve made abundantly clear. There are plenty of biographies I have loved reading, but few add as much to the conversation as Franklin’s work. What’s more, rarely does the person being discussed feel quite as significant as Jackson does. Part of that is Jackson herself, but it’s also a biproduct of Franklin’s hard work. 5/5 stars

The Halloween Movie Tag where I talk briefly about Jackson’s adaptions, among others.
Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery full short film adaption (1969)
Trailer for the largely praised, the Haunting, based on the Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
The trailer for the 2018 TV adaption (loosely adapted).

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly ★★★★☆

Reading for A Very Merry Readathon

I don’t remember when I came across this book. It might have been when I was looking at books about books (i.e. reading Diane Setterfield books). I came across this book about this boy who gets lost or taken into these stories he is reading. Honestly, I know very little about this, and that is okay. I only want to know enough to get me excited which I am!

Finished 12/19/19

I started this in a bit of a slump. This is the 5th book I’ve finished for A Very Merry Readathon, but I have DNFed (at least temporarily) one book that I was really looking forward to because it wasn’t working for me. I feared the stress of this busy week was preventing me from getting into whatever I was trying to read. Luckily, that did not prove true for The Book of Lost Things. I quickly found myself lost in the story of a young boy who suffers the lost of his mother and then has to cope with his father remarrying. He’s greatest solace is in reading. So much so, that he hears them talking to him from time to time. This ultimately leads him on quite the adventure where he has to ask himself what kind of person he wants to be.

This is a beautiful and heartwarming story. Is there anything more charming than reading about a character telling us how great reading is? I don’t see how the average reader wouldn’t get hooked on that alone. Added onto that is a unique take on a classic story. The family dynamics helps us connect with our main character, but it also works as a grounding by which he can come to appreciate how to better value the family he has.

I liked the fantastical characters as well. We have our mysterious big bad among other one-dimensional bad guys, but there are also those that we dive more deeply into. We get to see what made them this way. At times, we may even empathize with people who have done pretty bad things. Multidimensional characters are important to me when I’m reading a story. There are characters who are more basic, but the author does a good job balancing the right amount of real characters to the more simple ones that are a common trait in a fantasy story such as this.

Overall, this is a pretty great story. I enjoyed it. I recommend it. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t consider it an all time favorite. 4/5 stars

Trick-or-Treat-a-thon 2019

I’m tired I say. I need a break I say. Come back the next day…LETS DO ANOTHER READATHON!

I already discussed the books I’d like to read this month in my monthly updates, but I came across this page of readathons, and I can’t help but want to do a month long readathon for October. I already am doing my own challenge of reading Halloween themed books, so why not take it a step further. It’s undeniable that these challenges make a great motivator. Sure, I am doing #spookathon, but that is only a week. These are month long goals. No reason I can’t use the #spookathon to do this too!

The #ToTathon is a month long readathon themed around Halloween. Participants will earn points for their teams by reading and completing challenges. Points will be awarded 1 point per page. Participants can also earn points by completing challenges. I will stick with reading a couple anthologies and a few physical books if possible. What I want to do now is think about what I can read for the challenges.

Reading Challenges: 25 pts each – Cannot be combined.

  1. Costume Party: Read the group book: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  2. Monster Mash: Read a book that has your team mascot in it
    • I chose team Ghost (vs Vampires and Witches), but I have to switch to Witches. This will be White is for Witching. If I don’t read one, I’ll read the other!
    • Done! (Click Here to read my review!) 
  3. Fall Foliage: Read a book with fall colors on the cover (red, orange, yellow, or brown)
  4. Spooky Hayride: Read a book that involves a trip or quest
    • I can’t think of anything for this or anything that I am interested in reading, so I may skipping this one. That said, a fantasy novel that isn’t strictly horror I could read is Viscous by V.E. Schwab. This is a book I really want to read. It isn’t strictly a road trip, but two friends turn enemies battle it out, each set on a mission (i.e. QUEST).
    • Done! (Click Here to read my review!) 
  5. Corn Maze: Read a book where someone gets lost and/or finds themselves
    • This is a tough one. I think the closest thing to fit this is going to be Kindred, the graphic novel, by Octavia Butler. I could do Summer of Night by Dan Simmons which as a coming of age story, that ought to count as “finding” oneself.
    • Done! (Click Here to read my review!) 
  6. Black Cat: Read a book with an animal on the cover
  7. Spider Webs: Read a book that gives you the heebie jeebies
    • I don’t have a hard choice for this. I could choose Fearful Symmetries. Is it a cheat if I already started it before this? Yes. That won’t work :(. Instead, I will use The Dark by Ellen Datlow or A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
    • 10/3/19: I am half way through the Dark. I really don’t want to finish this. I’ve read half the stories and have liked one of them. That said, I am only half way and I want the points… It makes me somewhat annoyed at the challenge :-/
    • Done! (Click Here to read my review!) 
  8. Scary Movie: Read a book and watch the movie/tv show adaptation
    • I think I will read We Have Always lived in This House or reread The Haunting of Hill House both by Shirley Jackson. The former has a new film, and the latter is being released in extended edition (which I want to watch!).
    • Done! (Click Here to read my review!) 

Social Challenges

  1. Post a video or blog about the ToTathon – 10 pts
    • Done! (This post obviously)
  2. Post your TBR list – 5 pts
  3. Make a music playlist to go along with your TBR – 10pts
    • Easy! I’ve got a halloween playlist and know just the right songs for each book. TBD
  4. Insta challenges (5 total) – 5 pts each (25 pts total)
    • Secret Bookshelf Passageway: Post a shelfie (Sept 28 – Oct 4)
    • Jack-o-Lantern: Post a pic of your favorite book with *glowing* reviews (Oct 5 – 11)
    • Apple Orchard: Post a pic of your favorite series (Oct 12 – 18)
    • BOO!: Post a pic of your favorite spooky book (Oct 19 – 25)
      •  TBD (It will be IT obviously)
    • Costume Time: Post a pic of yourself dressed up as a literary character (Oct 26 – Nov 1)
      • Easy! I’ve got so many costumes. TBD


This is the reason I had to switch to Witch/Wizard team rather than Ghosts. Each team has a trick and a treat. Ghosts can start 3 days early (I am too late for that), and they have to read it in order that they are listed above. That makes it hard to do this and the #spookathon. Therefore, I choose Witch. I have to read a book more than 500pgs (the Institute by Stephen King), and I can change any of the challenges to any book of my choice. Right now, I am changing the first prompt from Caroline to Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

I finished The Institute by Stephen King. Read about it here.

Final TBR

  1. Gather Together in My Name, Maya Angelou (finishing)
  2. Fearful Symmetries, by Ellen Datlow (Anthology) (finishing) ★★
  3. The Dark, by Ellen Datlow (Anthology) ★★★☆☆
  4. Viscous, by V.E. Schwab ★★
  5. White is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi ★★★ (#spookathon)
  6. Summer of Night, by Dan Simmons ☆☆ (#spookathon)
  7. The Ancestors, by Brandon Massey (Anthology) ☆☆ (#spookathon)
  8. The Institute, by Stephen King ★★☆ (#spookathon, )
  9. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury ★★☆ (#spookathon)
  10. Mongrels, by Stephen Graham Jones ★★
  11. We Have Always Lived in This House replaced by The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson
  12. A Head Full of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay
    Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
  13. Kindred, Octavia Butler (Graphic Novel)
  14. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
  15. Wizards of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin ★★★
  16. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire ★★★★★

Update 10/17/19: I’m not sure if I’m feeling the last two books on my TBR. They aren’t for any challenge. I may throw in Caroline instead, or I may do that and these! I’m going to have nearly 2 weeks of reading to do. I’m getting Harry Potter Illustrated. Maybe I’ll read those (or rather, continue my HP reread).

Update: 10/21/19: I think I may skip A Head Full of Ghosts and Coraline. I’ve cued up my TBR for next month, and there are a lot of books I want to read but don’t have time for. I’m going to use the rest of this month to start those! A Head Full of Ghosts was always a maybe option anyways. I didn’t expect to finish all of these so fast! I’m going to start with Middlegame because it’s getting so much hype from BooksandLala.

Its scfi-fantasy adult fiction which seems perfect for me. It’s also the same author who wrote the Wayward Children series of novellas that have been on my TBR. They’re also hugo and nebula winners. Then there is Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. She wrote The Thirteenth Tale which has been on my TBR for so long. I didn’t realize that when I bought this one. I decided to read it for the upcoming Buzzwordathon next month with numbers in titles. There ended up being a lot of other books I wanted to read with numbers in the title (including the Thirteenth Tale), and Once was a stretch for a number anyway. Plus this is nearly 500 pages which is a lot longer than I should try to read for a readathon. More on that readathon to come! Point is, I got excited for this book and bought it, so I want to read it sooner rather than later. I don’t want to risk it becoming like The Thirteenth Tale.

Finally, I bought the Ursula K Leguin’s Earthsea collection in a giant illustrated edition. I need to read this since I bought it. I am going to try hard to get this one done this month; it isn’t long! I just hope I like it since there are 6 more.

Update: 10/21/19: I am done with Once Upon a River and Middlegame. I have less than an hour left on Wizards of Earthsea. I don’t think I will get to Every Heart a Doorway, but I haven’t given up yet! As for the challenges, I don’t think I will be doing the last two. I have other things to worry about, and they aren’t worth a lot of points. Honestly, I struggled to update my pages. I like the reading challenges, especially if I need help choosing books, but it is a lot to keep up with. I think I’ll stick to a weekly readathon.

Update 10/31/19: I didn’t finish Maya Angelou’s book or get to Kindred, but that’s okay! I finished 14 others. This includes novellas and 5 from Spookathon, but all in all I am thrilled. I think I read more this month than I did last year (or most years of my life).

All in all, this was a success, but I don’t think I’ll do a month long readathon anymore. It is too much logistics. I have what I want to read. I’ll do that until I have trouble choosing.

The Ancestors, by Brandon Massey, Tananarive Due, and L.A. Banks ★★★☆☆ (Spookathon)

Introduction – 10/13/19

I’m looking forward to this one. Their aren’t a lot of reviews, and what I have read about Banks is not great. That said, I loved Good House by Due, so I am looking forward to her story. It’s very short (9hrs, or <6hrs on fast forward), so I am sure I will finish it even if it is a bad.

Picture courtesy of my Mother.

Table of Contents

  1. Ev’ry Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep by L.A. Banks. ★★★☆☆
  2. The Patriarch by Brandon Massey ★★★☆☆
  3. Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due ★★★★

A discussion on diversity in books is included at the end.

1. Ev’ry Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep by L.A. Banks ★★★☆☆

Banks died of Cancer in 2011. She was a writer of a range of genres beyond dark fantasy and horror. Many of her works are YA or urban fantasy which isn’t my usual preference. I hope I enjoy this story. Even if I don’t, I suspect it is more to do with my own preferences, and I’m glad of the opportunity to experience her work.

This story wasn’t as bad as many reviewers made it out to be. In fact, I thought it was interesting and well written. The urban fantasy side of Banks was recognizable, but overall I thought it was a more on the paranormal side. I think my biggest issue with this story is the take away, the main moral of it all. The concept of our ancestors paving the way for us and even being integral to our own continued success and well being is a endearing thought. In many ways, we should respect what our family has done to help us achieve a better life. This basic concept makes its a good fit for this collection.

The issue stems from the Christianity centered themes that define this story. It is very much a Christian story. It was so extreme, it reminded me of reading the Left Behind books when I was still a christian. Christianity isn’t inherently a turn off. I enjoy Maya Angelou’s works even though her life is built around Christianity. The issue is with the concepts this book pushes. It is about the stories idea of morality and ethics. Essentially, every religion offers a form of goodness that our narrator sees in the form of light. It didn’t have to be just Churches, other religious individuals shared this trait. This may seem like an honorable note, but really it has a horrid implication.

It is as if without religion, there is no goodness to be had in a person. A person must focus all their attention on some god or institution if they have any hope to evade the darkness that seeks them. This story is fiction, and I admire it for how it is told. Nevertheless, the ideas within it are not new, nor are they fictional. Plenty of people believe this. It isn’t just ostracizing to a-religous person; it’s fundamentally insulting to what it means to be human.

The story has other issue. It tries to assign evil to taboo words or curses. Basically, they try and assign arbitrary harm to things religious people don’t like to try and turn a fundamentally amoral issue good and evil. I don’t know if Banks was just translating an important piece of African american history or if she was modern day C.S. Lewis. She wrote urban fantasy on vampires which makes me think it’s just this story, but who knows. This is a good work of fiction in my opinion. It’s where fiction overlaps with society that I have a problem with it. 3.5/5 stars, rounding down.

2. The Patriarch by Brandon Massey ★★★☆☆

Massey is a horror thriller writer who lives near Atlanta, Georgia. Wikipedia says his work often involves contemporary African-American life with elements of horror and the supernatural. This sounds more interesting to me than the first story.

This story is only an hour (sped up), and I’m half way through it. It’s okay. I actually enjoyed Bank’s writing more. It may be because hers was more fantasy or paranormal even from the start, but I think her style was more appealing to me too. I’ll save my overall thoughts post completion.

I didn’t hate this, but I don’t think I am a fan of Massey’s writing. It feels kind of amateur. I’m not sure if I’m knowledgeable enough to make that judgement, but it’s the impression I get nonetheless. The story was okay. It reminded me a lot of Fledgling by Octavia Butler. It was published a year after it, so I don’t know how much influence it might have had in it. Although, part of me wondered if they were set in the same world. General plot points may be spoiled moving forward in this paragraph. It’s the same concept: vampires feed on humans, but they are also a separate species. With the help of Vampires, humans can live longer like in Fledgling. There are vampires who don’t like humans just like the other. There is one subtle difference in how humans are tied to vampires in this story versus that.

Overall, I appreciated the similarity. It wasn’t enough to save the story. It was fine. I liked it, but if I had to choose again, I’d go for something better. 3/5 stars.

3. Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due ★★★★☆

Due is the only author I’ve read, and most reviews suggests this story is the best among them. She is an author and lecturer of black horror and afrofuturism. I really enjoyed the Good House and look forward to this one.

I don’t have a lot to say about this story which is odd because it’s also my favorite. The story was good. I enjoyed it. I wish the other stories were as well written as this one. Due is great at creating an dark tone and atmosphere coupled with characters that feel real. I enjoyed the family dynamic of this story; I felt it gave this story more layers of ancestor allegories than the other two which were much more heavy handed. The ancestors in this story aren’t even strictly the family that are the center of the story. That said, the bond this family has is still its own form type of ancestry.

My biggest problem with this story was that the plot didn’t resonate with me as much as I liked. It was well written and immersive. It was even interesting; I suppose I just came in expecting it to pack a bigger punch emotionally. 4/5 Stars.

Concluding thoughts

I didn’t this book. In fact, my expectations were circumvented in each case. I think the biggest surprise was the Banks’ story and my enjoyment of her writing. Then there was Massey who I thought I would like more. Then it ends on a good note, if not a great one with a story that is at least well crafted in prose and characters if not as much in plot. I will definitely be giving Due more of my time. As far as Banks, I will give her books another look over, but I still am not sure if they’re my cup of tea. The average rating was 3.5/5 stars (rounding down).

Commentary on diversity

I saw a great Booktube video by one vlogger Francina Simone discussing what diversity means in books and how we should approach it. She talks about people fixating on a book as being unique because its diverse. It ignores the story, what a vlog should really be about, and makes it about the boxes it checks. I found it informative. It is definitely something I want to think about when choosing and discussing books.

I chose this book because I wanted to find more black writers of horror. I like to think I am focusing on the stories. I want to find good books that I like. I may choose a book because it is a black author, but it isn’t for the sake of saying I did. What I hope to find are authors that I otherwise haven’t (and perhaps wouldn’t) heard of despite their being worthy of praise. I think Due is a perfect example of that. While I am unlikely to read any other books by Banks, I think her story is the perfect example of me having lower expectations for whatever reason and finding those to be wrong, at least in part.

Spookathon 2019

Image result for trick or treating silhouette

Spookathon was a 7 day readathon to read books that meet a set of spooky themed challenges. Jump to my reading updates as it happened. Jumpy to my closing thoughts.

I have recently come across Booktube, which I will discuss when I make my end of month update. Long story short, it has opened my eyes to just how large book world is online. One of my recent encounters was with a video discussing this thing called Spookathon that I was interested in participating in. Essentially, its 7 days where a group of booktubers are going to try to read 5 books, one that fits each of these categories:

  • A thriller
  • A book with red on the cover
  • A book with a spooky word in the title
  • A book with a spooky setting
  • A book you don’t normally read

Can I actually do it?

I love this idea, so I want to think whether or not this is something I can do. By the end of this month, I think I may clock in at 10 books read in the last 2 months. That number along shocks me and makes me seriously wonder what I would be capable of achieving over 12 months. Still, that’s 5 in a month, on average. Could I actually read 5 in one week? I am not sure if I physically have the time, motivation aside. Last I check, I read ~10 pages in 30-40 minutes, of a mass paperback. Say 300 x 5, 1500, assume 10 per half an hour, and we are at 150 half hours or 75 hours, or 15 hours per book.

Actually, that isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I would be doing most of my books on audio anyway. Fledgling is about 12 hours, and 300 pages. I’m listening to that at 1.3 speed, knocking it down to 9 hours or so. Lets be conservative and say I can work with whatever speed gets me down to an average of 10 hours per book. 50 hours, one week. That isn’t impossible in theory. Even assuming I was a good grad student, worked 40 hours, a 90hr work week is a bit much, but people do it. Realistically, we are talking a 50-70hr work week if I were to succeed.

Step 2, check my schedule. The 14th is the Canadian Thanksgiving, and it just so happens to be the first day of the marathon. That is also the week of the Lab Midterms. That means I have to do grading that weekend. The way this class is set up, there are very few weeks where I have to grade, so this is bad timing. Still, it isn’t a deal breaker. It probably won’t even take up as much time as I would theoretically get from having monday off (as grad student, is it really off though?). All in all, it feels manageable, so lets get down to brass tacks.

Assume I read 2 hours in the morning (wake up, get ready, bike to school), no reading at school (conservative), ~1hr leaving and getting home. Lets say I leave at 5 (reasonable). I listen the entire time and continue when I get home until midnight. 7hrs, decent time for bed. That is 9 x 4 + 16 x 3 (assume read 8 to 12, no rest monday, and weekend). 36+48 = 84. Enough time. It is doable. Will I enjoy it? Will I be able to focus on the book? How much of this depends on the books I choose? These are all very relevant questions I don’t know the answer to, but suppose I can. Suppose my ability to get through books vastly exceeds my expectations. Imagine the books I can through for the next 4-6 decades of my life. 5 in a week? Then of course I can do 5 in a month; compare that to my 10 or so per year, the last few years. #lifegoals.

Okay, I’m doing this. So what am I going to read?

1) A Thriller: The Institute by Stephen King

Image result for the institute cover

I am not a big thriller fan, but I love horror. I could make an argument for horror fitting into thriller, but it feels like cheating if Goodreads doesn’t explicitly say Thriller. Lucky for me, The Institute is listed as both. In addition, I haven’t read many of Stephen Kings newest novels since 11/22/63 (which I’ve reread a lot). Scratch that, I read Under the Dome. I loved it at the time, but I think I saw it through rose colored glasses. I’ve come to recognize now King isn’t a god; not all of his books are worth reading. The mediocrity of Under the Dome has made me more hesitant to pick up his newest book. Whats more, I am trying to really diversify what I read. I don’t have the time for filler (not that all my selections or the cream of the crop despite how I try). I have heard some good things about this, but it can be hard to weed through all those readers who also see King through rose colored glasses. Even if this isn’t in Kings top 10, I know it ties into the King Universe rather well, so at least I’ll have that.

2) A Book With Red on the Cover: The Ancestors, by Brandon Massey, Tananarive Due, and L.A. Banks

Image result for the ancestors banks

This is harder. I could easily and happily say IT by Stephen King. Red, creepy name, creepy place (Derry). It isn’t new, and it feels like cheating. I am not going to do another Stephen King, even if I haven’t read it. I read the Cabin at the End of the World, so that’s a no. One of the things I learned from Booktube is how bad I need to read Vicious, by V.E. Schwab, but this isn’t thriller or horror. It’s Spookathon for a reason.

I am looking to read The Ancestors, a collection of novellas by Brandon Massey, Tananarive Due, and L.A. Banks. This is one I found when looking for black horror writers, but I am considering using this for something I don’t usually read. Sure I am reading Due’s The Good House, but one book doesn’t make a pattern. It is, however, a book with a red cover. In the same line of thinking, there is The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi or Dark Dreams, a collection of short stories by black writers, edited by Brandon Massey. My biggest issue with these is that I selected these to push the boundary of what I read, and I fear it may take me time to get into them in a way that may slow me down, or worse, turn me off to them. Still, I am inclined to read one of Massey’s collections. Both are ~300pgs, so I tentatively plan for The Ancestors since it’s only 3 stories. Hopefully, it will be easier to get invested into 3 stories rather than a bunch of short stories (which I find I need to pace myself).

3) A Book With a Spooky Word in the Title: Summer of Night, Dan Simmons

Image result for summer of night cover

First off, let me say, this category is confusing or hard to figure out what fits. I am going with a word or phrase that is creepy or spooky. I googled words that are creepy, but it feels so arbitrary. Some titles have creepy phrases some don’t. Dark Dreams could work here, but like I said, I don’t want to go too far into experimental and risk losing energy. I already picked King, but a King like substitute might be Summer of Night, by Dan Simmons, book one of the Seasons of Horror series. Sure, I may be stretching the spookiness, but I think the phrase is ominous enough to justify it belonging here. Tthink of The Long Night described in GOT or Children of Night, in Dracula; night makes things spooky. The biggest reasons against this is it is 22hrs (600 pages!). Listing at 1.3 can get me to ~17hrs, which is a bit high, but doable. Some books I can only do 1.2 without being bothered, but even then its ~18hrs. I don’t want to rule it out just yet, but if I finish this list and find myself way over budget with my time then I will reconsider. The reason I want to do this is because I know its a well known horror series by an author I’ve never read. This hasn’t been a priority because I am really trying to cut back on the number of white guys I read especially since there are other authors I know who have books I want to read (King included). However, this a 7 day binge of 5 books. I think it evens out.

I do want to mention some back ups in case I need to reconsider this slot. Dark Dreams, obviously still an option, half the size of this one. Obviously, I could speed through it faster than Simmons. In addition to not wanting to lose steam, I really don’t want my first experience with all these authors be rushed or feel like an assignment. I want each of them to have a chance to impress me. The Devil in Silver, by Victor LaValle is a novel by a black man that I think I learned about in a bootube video. It is in my to be read (TBR) list, but I don’t remember a lot about it. It says it’s set in an insane asylum. Maybe that is better suited for the next category. I could do a classic. Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor is a fantasy, science fiction alien story. This isn’t a thriller or a horror novel, but there is something about an alien story that feels fitting for this type of readathon. A couple other options are Demon Theory (which is also an unusual book, i.e. better for #5) and Mongrels, both by Stephen Graham Jones. I am more likely to read Mongrels because its a more straight forward book.

4) A Book With a Spooky Setting: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Image result for something wicked this way comes book cover

The Devil in Silver, by Victor LaValle is a strong contender here, set in an asylum. If this were a strict set of rules I might pick it, but there is another I have been dying to read. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury about a satanic carnival that comes to town. It doesn’t fit as well, but I feel the carnival should work as a spook setting. I have never read this. I feel as if I can’t call myself a horror fan without adding this to my read list. Plus, I expect it will be a fun quick read (293 pages). Another option is We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. This is a classic set in a haunted house. I’ve read Hill House, but not this one. My line about Something Wicked being essential definitely fits Jackson’s work as well. It is also very short. This may change, but I think I will just read Jackson’s story before the Spookathon. The Spookathon is actually taking care of a couple books I had lined up to read for Halloween which frees up my normal routine reading time (it’s more of a novella anyway).

5) A Book You Don’t Normally Read: White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi

Image result for white is for witching

I am going to try reading a physical book (or ebook) of White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi because this is a fantasy, horror, paranormal book that I came across that I want to read that is sadly not on audio. That makes this book a perfect example of a book I don’t usually read. That is coupled with Oyeyemi being a young black woman horror/fantasy writer. Part of the reason I chose not to go with The Icarus Girl was because I knew I wanted to read this. Assuming I read at the same rate I mentioned above, this will take ~12hrs. That is manageable, I just won’t be able to multitask as well. I definitely want to start here, I think that Monday so I can really try and dig in. My follow up, will be Kindred, the graphic novel. I have read Kindred, but I recently bought the graphic novel and would love to read it. Needless to say, I don’t often (as in never have I ever) read a graphic novel. If all else fails, I go to Gone Girl. Your classic thriller which I am sure I will love. I just never read it, even as it is on my TBR because I don’t often go for strictly Thriller novels. I won’t be happy if that’s where I end up, but I want to kill it at this challenge which means I need to be prepared for bumps in the road.

I also want to plug Chesya Burke’s Let’s Play White which is a collection of short stories in fantasy, science fiction and horror. Burke is also a young black author. The book is nearly 50 pages shorter, but in the end, I am more intrigued by Oyeyemi’s book. I would like to try this collection out eventually too. I may give this a shot leading up to the Spookathon.

Preparing for whats to come

I got a copy of White is for Witching from (thanks to @BooksandLala for constantly mentioning this bookstore). It is the paperback, which I prefer hardback. Plus this cover isn’t as nice as the one above. If I end up loving it, I’ll probably get it on hardback. The others are on audio, and I can get either on audible with existing credits or through other resources. I am also buying physical copies because I want a copy of what I read, especially if I get the audiobook from special sources.

  1. The Institute: 19 hrs or under 15 hrs at 1.3 speed
  2. The Ancestors: 9.5 hrs or ~7.5 hrs at ~1.3 speed
  3. Summer of Night: 22 hrs or 17 hrs at 1.3 speed
  4. Something Wicked This Way Comes: 9 hrs or ~7 hrs at 1.3 speed
  5. White is for Witching: ~12 hrs*

*assumes I have the endurance for reading a physical copy as I do for listening to an audiobook.

In total, this will take ~60 hrs hours if I am lucky. For the audiobooks, worst case I lose an hour because I need to back up to 1.2 normal speed, but at 1.3 speed I am saving ~10 hrs. If I can keep the strict schedule of continuous listening, I feel confident I can make it through the books. It leaves me 24 hrs to spare. Even if I take twice as long to finish White is for Witching, that leaves another 12 hours to spare (aka write, tweet, and follow others doing the challenge.


10/13/19 – One more day

It is nearly 3 am, and I’m up preparing for my blogs to come over the next week! I am so excited. In particular, I am excited to read White is for Witching. I just really hope I have the attention span to finish this in a week. I still haven’t finished Maya Angelou’s second autobiography when I should be. It’s all about time management. I think I am ready because since I set this up, I’ve got into listening at 1.8 x speeds. That means I am going to save a lot more time on the other books.

10/15/19 – Chug, Chug, Chugging along
10/17/19 – White is for Witching Done. Summer of Night almost there

I finished White is for Witching. I gave it 4.5/5 stars. I read this as a book I don’t normally read. It fit that category in several ways 1) not an audiobook, 2) considered literary and definitely confusing in structure, 3) a woman of color horror writer. I discuss this in my review, but I had an amazing experience reading a physical copy again, at least toward the end. I won’t lie, it felt like a chore at first. It was daunting. Large parts of it I narrated out loud to help keep myself focused. I am not sure if I have that kind of patience to keep that going. That said, I also appreciate that it just takes time.

If it is a good book, it’s time I might otherwise be spent watching TV or wasting time on Facebook. I am currently reading the second autobiography in Maya Angelou’s series via a physical book. I have been reading it for at least a month. I started with a chapter a day. Then I read it for pleasure for a couple hours one weekend. Then I just stopped for a couple weeks and it sat. I feel like I can do better. I enjoyed reading with a cup of coffee at Starbucks these past two nights. Perhaps I can dedicate a night each week for such a thing. At the very least, a book a month seems reasonable. If not for the joy of reading a physical book, then for the risk of missing hidden gems like White is for Witching that isn’t on audio.

I wish I had as many great things to say about Summer of Night. I’m nearly 2/3rds through the book with ~3 hrs left. It isn’t as emotionally satisfying as White is for Witching. I don’t feel all that invested, but there isn’t much left in any case. It is very long, and it makes me worried for King’s The Institute. I’m already feeling fatigued. Which sucks.

Updates 10/18/19

I finished Summer of Night and started The Institute and Ancestors. I’m over half way through the former and over 1/3 through the later. Luckily, the first story was the longest. It was also better than I expected based on reviews. The Institute still has over 4 hrs, add on ~5hr for Something Wicked and probably a couple more hours for Ancestors and that leaves me with ~12 hrs. My birthday being today, yay me, means I’m hanging with friends today and tomorrow. That will make this difficult, but with 2 days, I think I can make ~6hrs a day work. Even if I can’t, this is for fun! Who care is I have to spend an extra day to finish up.

I am enjoying this. Summer of Night was the only disappointment, and that’s mostly because it was so long and so “okay”. I think when this is done, I may begin some non Halloween stories. I’m ready for a chance, and a little eager to start my TBR for next month.

Update 10/19/19

I spent as much of Saturday as I could trying to get through Something Wicked this Way Comes. My birthday was on Friday, so I was busy at least part of each day this weekend. Luckily, I knew that was going to happen, so I stayed up until 4 AM Friday night to finish the Institute. Luckily, Stephen King is a master writer and I can speed through his work without any issues.

Finished 10/20/19

I finished Something Wicked This Way Comes, listening while I cleaned up after my Saturday night partying. Luckily, the intense ringing from the night before wasn’t so bad I couldn’t hear what was going on. I enjoyed it more today than the day before. I don’t know if that’

s the book or the fact that I was on the bus and at the mall while listening. It was a bit distracting. Today, though, I had the cleaning and laundry. Mindless tasks work so well as a way to focus on the story.

Dishes, laundry, earbuds in my ear! Such fun.

I took my time finishing the last story of The Ancestors. It was split into three stories, so I’ve been listening to one story in between each new book I read after Summer of Night. I finished it as I edited my TBR for November and the upcoming #buzzwordAthon 5.0.

Editing and planning while listening to the last story in The Ancestors.

I was definitely pushing my cognitive abilities here. I’m just so excited for next month and the books I will get to read. I wasn’t adding books. I was just figuring out which books I have on hand and cued up. I kept pausing it though because I kept wanting to watch a video or read good reads descriptions. I eventually finished it, spending my last 20-30 minutes (1/3) preparing some food. That’s it! It’s done.

Closing thoughts

I really enjoyed this even if I got a little fatigued. It gets me excited about books, even those I don’t read. There are 10-15 I want to read for the next readathon, but I know I can’t. This readathon gives me a reference point to plan around in the future because I definitely want to keep doing one every month. Its usually one week where my social life is more book centered. I think that’s reasonable. It also easily doubles my reading for the month, or if I find myself waning as I approach my comps, I might end up only reading during this point. That’s okay. I just want something interactive to keep me going!

I will try to continue the “read a physical book” during each readathon because I really enjoyed that. It does take up a lot more time. I read about 3-4 times slower than I listen. Still, I think it’s worth it. After all, White is for Witching was my only 5/5 star read. Imagine all the gems I’m missing because they aren’t on audio. Plus, I learned how much I enjoy reading at a coffee shop; I’d like to keep that up regularly. I could easily read one night every week for a few hours. I want to finish the last 30 pages or so of Maya Angelou’s second autobiography. I think I could still finish Kindred, the Graphic Novel. Granted, I’ve never read a graphic novel. I don’t know how long it will take or how much time I should admire the pictures. I’m betting on it being a quick read, but hey, I’ll learn as I go!

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury ★★★★☆ (Spookathon)

Introduction – 10/13/19

Right now, I am saving this for last. I don’t know what to expect. I am curious how deep into horror this story goes, but in either case, I am intrigued by the synopsis.

Finished- 10/20/19

I am conflicted by this book. I loved it, but it had to grow on me. The trouble is, I don’t know if that’s my problem or its. This story is very well written. Bradbury writes in a way that is lyrical or poetic. Every word is crafted to create an atmosphere of dread. By the end, I grew to enjoy it and even love it. It creates a world unlike most books. Unfortunately, it took me about half the book to really get into it. I love it for what it is, but as a story telling device, it’s distracting. It seems like this sort of writing can best be appreciated with rereading the story. Perhaps if I had been reading a physical copy, I might have enjoyed it more being able to reread things on the spot.

That is my only complaint. The story itself is wonderful, in both plot and themes. I read this alongside The Ancestor’s edited by Brandon Massey. Bradbury creates a tale of good versus evil perhaps one that is in part created around the mythos of good and evil. In the Ancestor’s, we get overtly christian stories with heavy handed allegories that were frankly offensive. Bradbury discusses good and evil in a much more leveled manor. Even the best of us do bad things, yet it is often the best of us that stress so much about how good they are. It is strange how that should happen, how self reflection is so essential yet so damning.

Another thing that I loved about this story was the dynamic between the father and son. All to often in supernatural stories, kids will try and open up to their parents, but of course they never believe. In truth, why should they? Kids are young and imaginative, but that doesn’t stop the father figure from trusting his son, at least to an extent. He trusts him to be honest and to treat him like he isn’t a pet to be managed. That shows such a strong loving bond that really resonated with me. To be honest, it was my favorite part of the story.

Lastly, we can’t ignore the mastery of our villains. Bradbury masters the art of ton in his writing, and it is complemented by his nefarious characters in their speech and mannerisms. I thought about the ideas he proposes and how that has gone on to influence future stories. One major point is the power of good against evil. It may come across as somewhat naive, but it is also a good principle to work towards. Basically, don’t feed the trolls; Don’t give the power over you they try to manipulate you into giving.

In the end, there was so much to love in this story. It is easy to see why it is a classic. The style is different and somewhat disconcerting, but it helps set the tone for the story. 4/5 stars.

The film trailer that is surprisingly difficult to get.

The Institute by Stephen King (Spookathon) ★★★★☆

Introduction – 10/13/19

I really hope this is good. I just got off my Kingathon. I hope I am not Kinged-out. At the same time, I think I am primed to judge this story objectively and not through the rose colored glasses of a King fan. Worst case scenario, this is an easy and mildly entertaining book because King is so easy to enjoy.

Update – 10/18/19

It’s nearly midnight, and I’ve made it through 3/4ths of the book. It’s really good. The story starts off much like many of King’s recent crime novel as we follow the happenings of an ex-cop. We spend a good chunk of the start following him before we abruptly pivot. I’d say the transition into the main plot is probably the worst part of the book. It comes out of no where, and it really doesn’t flow very well. That said, we don’t have much time to focus on that because we move quickly into the life of a young boy named Luke. He is exceptionally intelligent, and his life is forever changed one day when he wakes up to find himself in a place called the Institute.

I’ll admit, I was a little worried with how the story started because, as much as I enjoy the Bill Hodges series, I really don’t care much for a detective story. I also want something different. Thankfully, this is different. This isn’t exactly a detective story. It is much more about a young boy and certain struggle he and others like him have to overcome.

We seem to be covering a lot of ground in this book. King often does that where his stories can be broken into sections. What I like about this book is that it can do that and still feel refined. I’m not usually one to complain about his length. In fact, this story is still over 500 pages (see Trick or Treat-athon), but I’m still impressed by how fast pace and compelling the story is. It should come to no surprise that I like King’s writing style. Nevertheless, it’s nice to love the story too. I’ll be surprised if this ends with less than 4 stars. There is only one thing I feel the story is lacking, but I’ll save that discussion for the end where I can give a minor spoiler warning.

Finished 10/19/19

It was a great book. It isn’t King’s best, but I stand by it being better than his most recent crime novels (including the Outsider). I thought the ending was satisfying. I was ready to come in her and dock King for an easy ending if that was what happened; it didn’t. There are larger consequences to the actions of the book and our main character. King address issues in politic and society making a point to provide commentary on the President himself. This isn’t new. I am happy with this read. It seems like a good novel that is pretty consistent throughout.

There are similarities to the Shop in Firestarter. It involves the abduction of children with special gifts. The institution is secret, etc.. The story itself is different; the Big Bad, is not so different. The question then becomes if it hurts the story. The next paragraph will have very mild spoilers as it relates to the Shop. Skip it if you don’t want to hear it.

In The Outsider, I criticized it for its similarity to IT, so I want to be fair and do the same here. These are only spoilers for what is not in the book. I was a little annoyed that we never got even a mention of the Shop, from Fire Starter. King is all about inter-connectivity and even when things don’t connect, he isn’t afraid to reference his own work (the Shining in The Outsider). Still, we never get a mention of the Shop. It could easily have been included if only in passing. Our character might think of how it compares to the Institute, or an Institute employee could mention it in passing. The lack of that connection makes me think he doesn’t want that connection to be there. The fact is, it’s there. Your ideas are meshing. If they’re worthy of being an independent work then why steer clear of acknowledging the elephant in the room? Why not make it an updated version of it (I’m pretty sure its not).

In the end, I still enjoyed this novel. I liked it more than Firestarter even. This story felt darker and the ending less convenient. 4.25/5 stars.

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons ★★★☆☆ (spookathon)

Picture courtesy of my mother
Introduction – 10/13/19

Summer of Night is going to be the second book I start in Spookathon 2019. It is a long one, so I hope I don’t get fatigued from it. Although, I wanted to save Stephen King for when I may start to get tired (second to last), and I didn’t want to read Ancestors right after White is for Witching since it is also another experimental book.

This should take ~12hrs; that’s down from 22 hrs at 1.8 speed. I may even go up to 2.0 x since it is such a long book. I really hope I like it. I want a good Halloween scare.

Update – 10/15/19

I’m 18% in with ~9hrs left (on 2x speed). I’m enjoying it, and there are some great creepy moments. I think they might be more effective if I wasn’t listening nearly as fast, but I’m still enjoying it! I’m still learning the characters. It has a nice small town vibe, but it isn’t as dark as IT exactly.

Update – 10/16/19

I am enjoying it. There are moments where I am almost hooked and intrigued. I’ve learned whose who, for the most part, and I am mildly invested. Unfortunately, I still don’t feel the emotional investment I was hoping for here. This is so often compared to IT. The coming of age story is there, and it certainly feels like a cleaner more desirable edit (so far as how it deals with race and sexuality). I still was hoping for more. At this point, I don’t see this getting better than a 3.5, rounding down. It just feels like a lot of fluff. IT is so long, but I cherish every line of it. In this, I feel half the excitement a fraction of the time.

I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to IT. IT is a uniquely exceptional book in my eyes, but I didn’t go into this looking for IT either. If anything, it really brings on that comparison itself..

Finished – 10/17/19

It was okay. This isn’t a bad book. There are few complaints beyond the central one. I just didn’t really connect with the story. There were moments where I was really interested, but too much of that was woven together by slow moments that felt like a slog.

The story has interesting characters. Although, there wasn’t much characterization of the female characters. Simmons avoids the mishaps Stephen King made (to put it mildly), but even with the flaws in IT, it wasn’t male centric. A key part of the story was Beverley’s childhood experience. and I was even surprised a couple times. Here, they feel more like character development for the male characters.

I may be biased with my love for IT, but in all of King’s overly long book, it keeps me interested. It earns its length. That isn’t the case here, and it’s more than half as short. Add on part two of the series, and the combined set get closer to IT if not quite that big. It isn’t exactly the same though. I think it’s a different kind of story. I don’t know if I’ll read it. This story makes me want to say no, but it also makes me want to read it out of a hope that maybe I’ll enjoy. Then, in a way, it makes up for spending so much time on the first one. 3.25/5 stars.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi ★★★★★ (Spookathon)

Introduction – 10/13/19

I am so excited to be reading this via a physical copy for this years #spookathon as a book a don’t normally read. This book does that twice over. One: a new fantasy/horror writer that is a woman of color and two: not listening to the book. I’ll post updates as I go along! The “plan” is to read it on Monday, but I am prepared to spread it out over the week.

Update – 10/14/19
Sunday night (monday morning)

I kicked spookathon off about 3 hours late, but I was determined to get going before I went to sleep. I got all of 5 pages or so before just had to go to sleep. It certainly didn’t help that the start of this book was weird and hard to follow.

My late night led to a late morning along with a few things that came up. I finally got going around lunchtime. It was a little rough going at first, but I ended up getting a steady 4 hours of reading in. I definitely enjoyed it, but I struggled. The format of this is a bit abstract, and I really wish it did a better job setting it up so we know what we’re getting into. I only got ~75 (1/3) pages in before I took a short break.

Monday evening

I got nearly half way Monday night before I had to call it. I was at a point where I finally started to understand what was going on enough to really enjoy everything it has to offer. The story starts off with a very weird beginning. Miranda is missing. This is the opening line. What follows is a strange assortment of writings that begin to introduce you to the story, but they are so obscure that it is hard to follow what the hell is going on. Luckily, this section is very short. The problem is, my confusion leaked on into part one where things were moderately more sensible.

The story is told, for the most part, from specific perspectives. I now appreciate the subtly of these perspectives and how the story transitions from one to the other. It may just be me, but this is very disconcerting for a very long time. Without revealing any hard details, what I would say to any perspective readers is to take great care to identify “who” is our narrator. I found this particularly hard because of how characters referred to members of their family. Dad was called dad yet mother is referred to by her name. This left me very confused and unsure who exactly was narrating. Therefore, try and figure out the relationship of our characters as soon as possible. Make a point to clearly distinguish them in your mind. I think this will make it far easier to understand; specifically look for a change in narrator after each break.

Speaking of breaks, sometimes sentences are ended with the same word that starts the next paragraph. Rather than state it twice, it’s printed once in between the two paragraphs (See the Instagram post below). This is pretty easy to catch onto, but I know I was confused over at least one break and just kept going without fixating too much on the incongruity.

Tuesday night
Update 10/15/19

I’m writing these first few entries at the same time, taking care to reveal things as they revealed themselves to me. I am officially in the full swing of things, capable of jumping in and out of the story with ease. I began reading with the intent to finish part 1 (~40 pages), but once I did, I was too hooked to stop. I’m now ~15 pages into part 2 and I had to stop to talk about how much I am loving this book.

Specifically, I finally understand what the opening of the story was saying. I don’t know everything, but finally, over half way through, I finally can look back and understand what the hell is going on. Making that connection was immensely satisfying. I am a little slower than the average reader and others may connect the dots sooner; if not, give it time. It is worth it. I have another 20 pages I want to read tonight (finishing this chapter and leaving ~1/3 left). I only stopped to gush about how great it is once it all comes together. It is weird and dark, and I am here for it.

The story itself is about Miranda and her place in her family. I still have a good bit to learn, but so far we see an interesting generational connection of strange women. To understand why Miranda is missing, we have to understand her. To do that, we have to understand her family. It’s a series of strange events full of well meaning characters suffering from serious mental issues for whatever reason. I suspect these mental issue must connect somehow to whatever secret this family of women hold.

It’s Wednesday night, and I finally finished White is for Witching.

Finished 10/16/19

In the end, I think I loved this book. I’ve read a lot of weird stories, whether it’s a short story, a novella, or full novel. Every time, I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s left me wanting wishing the intriguing mystery was more clearly addressed by the end of the book. I think I’ve finally found a book that does that. The more I think about it, the more I wonder. There is still plenty left up to the imagination. I think that makes things especially curious. Overall, this walks the line between curious and confusing, and it certainly crosses it times. In the end, I think it comes together nicely.

There is a connection between our character Miranda, her family, and their house. We never get to see things from Miranda’s perspective, and it becomes a journey of understanding what’s going on in her head. I liked the multiple perspectives because they each offered a different take. It reminded me of Anne Rice’s first two Vampire Chronicles books that center on Lestat and Louis, each from from the other’s perspective. It completely redefined Lestat’s character getting inside his head. While I am desperate to get inside Miranda’s mind, I do feel as if we get close to it.

The magical realism of this novel is like the manifestation of her own mental illness. It is chaotic, disturbing, and nearly impossible to escape. One of the reviewers quoted on the cover of the book relates Oyeyemi to Shirley Jackson. They are distinctly different, but I certainly see the similarities as it pertains to mental health. While it is unsettling, it is still a gripping tale.

What begun almost as a chore, ended with me desperate to make it to the end, not for the sake of being done, but to consume everything this book has to offer. This is probably the first physical book I’ve read in years, and I’ve missed the feeling of anticipation as I go from one page to the next. I kept checking my watch, wondering how much longer before I lose the high of my current cup of coffee. Can I afford another one so late? Part of me didn’t care if it meant I get to finish this book, and that, I think, best sums up, my feelings of this book.

I’m stuck rating this between a 4.5 to 5 stars. Should the slug of the beginning outweigh my feelings in the end? Was this slug a necessary component to ensure such a strong reaction in the end. Personally, I don’t think so. I think you can go into this book, unspoiled but with the slightest bit of advice to help ground you. However, as much as I can appreciate the unique style, I don’t entirely understand why it’s necessary to confuse your reader, right down to grammar at the end or start of a paragraph. 4.5/5 stars, rounding up.

The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson ★★★★☆

Image result for shirley jackson the lottery and other stories
Introductory thoughts 10/10/19 (Jump to Table Contents)

I am reading this for Totathon 2019 as a “book” that I read and then watch the adaption of. AKA the Scary Movie challenge. I originally planned to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, also by Shirley Jackson. Then I got ahead in my schedule. I decided to allow myself to deviate from the plan (oh no!) and read Jackson’s first autobiography, Life Among Savages. It made me want more Jackson. It was so well written and charming, but it also felt like a commentary on society intentionally or not. That left me wanting more. Of course, the Lottery is a commentary on society, and I wanted more of that.

I’m also not that excited by We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the book or the movie. I also have the impression that it isn’t that scary. I am trying to remember why I had that idea because as I research it, everyone calls it creepy. In any case, I went with this collection instead.

This is composed of 26 stories (see table of contents). That is a lot of stories. At roughly ~300 pages, this isn’t very long nor are many of these stories. It makes it easier to read. Unfortunately, trying to blog about it is hard. The formatting to discuss each story takes time. Then the content begins to blend together if I don’t stop in between every story. Of course, I am not going to do that; this isn’t high school. I will rate each story, and discuss those that stick out.

Update 10/12/19

I love this collection. Sure, they don’t all do as well as others, but this is probably the most consistent collection of stories I have read all year. This is a collection of deliciously disturbing and unsettling stories based almost entirely in mundane human circumstances. At this point, I have read most the stories (some twice), but I have few left to read. Signature among them is the Lottery for which this book gets its name. I am glad it is last. I expect it to work fantastically as a closure to this collection. It fits perfectly in this collection, and I could see plenty of readers making the mistake of stopping with it were it first (probably even with it last).

I am amazed at Jackson’s talent. Fresh off of Life Among Savages, I am finally beginning to understand why she was such a significant writer of her time. Even the less impacting stories are satisfying to read.

Finished 10/13/19

This collection is easily one of my favorites of the year. I think a lot of these stories say a lot about Jackson’s take on society. Some of them are a little hit and miss, but many of them are very short. On average, this story gets 3.74/5 stars. I don’t think that score gives this collection justice, especially since so many of them are a lot longer than others. That’s why I decided to calculate the rating based on how long each story is. Essentially, each story is multiplied by the percent of the whole the story is. It brings the score up to 4.05/5 stars. I still feel like the story’s overall impact on me deserves more. I’ll give it an even 4.25/5 stars.

PS: I’ve got a physical copy in the mail. I’ll post an Instagram picture when it arrives!

Table of Contents

  1. The Intoxicated (Part I) 
  2. The Daemon Lover ★★★★
  3. Like Mother Used to Make ★★★★
  4. Trial by Combat ☆☆ (2.5)
  5. The Villager ☆☆☆
  6. My Life with R. H. Macy ☆☆
  7. The Witch (Part II)  ☆☆ (3.5)
  8. The Renegade
  9. After You, My Dear Alphonse ☆☆ (3.25)
  10. Charles ☆ (3.5)
  11. Afternoon in Linen ☆ (4.25)
  12. Flower Garden ☆ (4.25)
  13. Dorothy and My Grandmother And the Sailors ☆☆ (3.25)
  14. Colloquy (Part III) ☆ (4.25)
  15. Elizabeth
  16. A Fine Old Firm ☆☆ (2.5)
  17. The Dummy ☆  (3.75)
  18. Seven Type of Ambiguity ☆ (4.25)
  19. Come Dance with Me in Ireland ☆☆ (3.25)
  20. Of Course (Part IV) 
  21. Pillar of Salt ☆☆ (3.5)
  22. Men with Their Big Shoes ☆☆
  23. The Tooth ☆☆
  24. Got a Letter from Jimmy ☆☆ (3.5)
  25. The Lottery
  26. Epilogue (Part V)

1. The Intoxicated ★★★★☆

I listened to this story twice. Not out love per say but because I forgot what it was about. It is a good story; I just read a lot at once. I would actually say my opinion of it went down the second time around. Its a story about a drunk man talking to a 17 year old girl about her essay on how the world will end. Originally, it felt like a commentary on men who think they know better than women. That is definitely there, but it also feels like a commentary on today’s (yesterday’s ?) youth and their exaggeration of things. The sad thing is this could be written today about climate change and the still ever present sexism in society. 4/5 stars. (table of contents)

2. The Daemon Lover ★★★★★

This was one of the longer stories, but I read it twice because I loved it. This is a story about a young woman who is preparing to get married. Today is her wedding day, and naturally, she is nervous and wants everything to go smoothly. That’s when she becomes unable to locate her husband to be. What follows, is a sad desperate attempt to find him and convince herself what she fears isn’t the case. This story was fantastic. It was human and so terrifyingly real. Jackson takes us on a journey that we can guess the end of, but it’s the path she takes to get us there that is so enthralling. I never savored the woman’s pain. I just appreciate the ability to experience such a real yet unsettling occurrence of a human being losing them-self in madness because reality is too much to take. 5/5 stars (table of contents)

3. Like Mother Used to Make ★★★★★

This is another story I read twice because I loved it. It’s about an OCD man who is obsessed with cleanliness. We meet him as he prepares for dinner with a woman who lives in his building. To his surprise, she seems to have invited a man she works with. She begins to take credit for his nice apartment, his fine cooking, and everything that he did, probably in part for her, to impress this other man. What does this man do in response? He rolls over and takes it in the most infuriating yet repeatable way possible. I’d like to think I am not as bad as him, but I understand the instinct at times to be agreeable, especially when it involves someone you want to like you. Even if it means losing your own self respect. 5/5 stars (table of contents)

8. The Renegade ★★★★★

This was another favorite story of mine. It’s a story about a dog who supposedly kills a bunch of chickens. There is no proof, at least not at first. All we have is an angry call from a neighbor complaining to the dog owner. Denial turns to apologies and attempts to repay the damages. Unfortunately, neighbor isn’t interested in payment. They want the dog put down.

The story of the dog quickly makes it way through town, and before long every person is playing sad and sympathetic. Although beneath the surface, there is air of sick satisfaction that people seem to be having with this idea of this dog being put down. The story make great use of the mob mentality of small town and how people like to relish in the pain of others. As if, the pain of others reflects somehow on the quality of their own life. It is disgusting, and I am here for it! 5/5 stars. (table of contents)

10. Charles ★★★★☆ (3.5)

This story was in Jackson’s Life Among Savages. It’s about a boy named Charles in Jackson’s son’s class who keeps getting into trouble. He’s “fresh” with the teacher; other times he does and says obscene things that too much to even say out loud. That is, until the end of the story when we learn the stories her son has been telling aren’t exactly true. I think it works better in this collection because there is less context, so the implications of the ending are broader. Is it all fabricated? Was Charles her son all alone? Or was it something more sinister and supernatural.

If you haven’t read the story, hopefully this is making senses because I am trying not to overtly spoil the story. Overall, the story reflects the imagination of children and how sometimes even an innocent mind can go to pretty dark places. I enjoyed it. 3.5/5 stars. (table of contents)

14. Colloquy ★★★★☆

This is one of the weirder stories. It’s about a woman who, for lack of a better word, is hysterical. She is going mad over the slightest of phrases. Things like “stock markets” or “inflation” are driving her insane with fear. It all felt too extreme to be real. I got the impression that the woman in the story was a caricature of what society expects women to be. It is as if they aren’t capable of discussing politics or dealing with worldly issues. Because it is so weird, I wonder if I’m reading into it, but I enjoyed it even if I’m wrong. 4.25/5 stars. (table of contents)

16. Elizabeth ★★★★★

This is definitely one of my top stories of the collection. Which, I am glad because it’s also the longest. This is a story about a women who works in publishing with a man who doesn’t respect her nor does anyone else. Whats more, the man is incompetent and incapable of handling problems. I found myself quickly siding with the woman, Elizabeth. That eventually changed as she becomes as much a part of the problem of women being mistreated and dismissed. I don’t know if Jackson intended this character to be unlikable; her treatment of this young pretty assistant who was hired for her looks comes with a tinge of satisfaction. Although, that sharp stinging attitude is misplaced. It isn’t the assistants fault that Liz’s business partner is a imbecile. Sure, I want Elizabeth to get the respect she deserves, but that doesn’t give her the right to continue this cycle of abuse. There are so many levels to this story, and I love it. 5/5 stars. (table of contents)

18. Seven Types of Ambiguity ★★★★☆ (4.25)

This is a story about a young boy who is an avid reader who helps an older man find several great books. The older man has lived a busy life that hasn’t allowed him the time to read. Now he is older; he can afford and has more time. The boy on the other hand, comes to this store to read what he can’t afford. I really liked this story because the man feels fake. Its as if he wants people to have this perception of him as a well read man. He has no real interest, nor is likely to read any of these large book hauls. He fails to appreciate the young boys passion and love for books.

In particular, there is one book the boy comes back to read over and over. After the boy has gone out of his way to help the man to become a better reader and find books he is likely to like, the man goes on to purchase the very book the boy has been reading during each of his visits to the book store. The reason I enjoyed this story so much is because I find the man very realistic. He is infuriating, and he represents whats wrong with so much of society. People are so self absorbed in perception that they don’t appreciate true passion. The man fails to realize the love the boy has for reading because if he did, he wouldn’t mindlessly purchase the book the boy has been avidly reading. I hate him, but I love the story. 4.25/5 stars. (table of contents)

21. Of Course ★★★★☆

Of course! That is obligatory remark to any sort of obvious statement or situation. Even when you don’t recognize something as such, perhaps you will resort to it so people won’t think you daft or unusual. That’s the case of main character here. She is moving or has a new neighbor (I forget), and she goes to introduce herself. She tries to be friendly; she invites her son to go to the movies with her child. But of course, this family doesn’t go to movies. They don’t watch TV. They don’t read newspapers. What an absurd concept! But of course!

She tries so hard to be welcoming and friendly, but in doing so our main character just goes along with every pompous and absurd thing her new neighbor spits out. It is insanity. At some point, you just have to accept these people are assholes, but that is not an option. Social niceties must be obeyed in this weird yet entirely real scenario. Real life and the expectations society puts on us is truly unnerving. 4.25/5 stars. (table of contents)

26. The Lottery ★★★★★

I’m not sure if this really deserves 5 stars. It isn’t my favorite, but it is a classic. I think part of it was the lack of a surprise made it have a slightly less jarring impact. It’s still interesting reading it knowing where it’s going because appreciate the subtle details you would likely overlook the first go around. That is, knowing the premise because I didn’t remember any hard details. It starts out very calm and slowly reveals the dark and twisted nature of the story. It’s unnerving and insane, but it’s presented as normal because it’s tradition. What I think many people may fail to see here though is that there are plenty of absurd traditions or beliefs that people abide by that could easily be seen as absurd to an outsider (e.g. think religious services or rituals). I love that I reread this the same summer-fall season as the release of Ari Aster’s new film Midsommar that shares a lot with this story in my opinion.

I definitely want to read this story again, and I’ll be watching the short film adaption of it for the Trick-or-Treatathon. It’s dated, but it’s short and I remember enjoying it (I think) in high school. 5/5 stars. (table of contents)

The Lottery 1969 adaption
Trailer for Midsommar.

Mongrels, by Stephen Graham Jones ★★★★☆ 

Begin 10/6/19

I am officially ahead of schedule. I thought I would be reading this after Spookathon, but instead I am up to my next book more than a week early. Jones refers to Mongrels as his favorite book (on Goodreads I think it was). I have also read a couple other things by him that I enjoyed. His short story, Spindly Man, struck gold in my book. Then Mapping the Interior and The Last Final Girl were confusing but satisfying. Despite the issues I have with Jones, they are always cast aside by his technique and originality. That originality is what brings me back and will hopefully bring me back again!

Finished 10/8/19

I really enjoyed this novel. It was well written, charming, and entertaining. It is a coming of age story of a boy in a family of werewolves. Except, this boy has yet to change, so we read as he grows up around it all the while desiring it for himself. Jones creates a unique mythos for this world of werewolves that is similar to the classic tale but different in subtle and often hilarious ways. It is a story that has depth, and I bet there is a lot I could gain from rereading this. There in lies my one issue with the book which again revolves around confusion with the structure.

The story is told from two different narratives (with two different narrators) of the same boy and family just at different ages and different locations. One of the many facts about werewolves is their need to be on the move for their own safety (some of it feels analogous to racism in the south). My problem was trying to navigate the story overall. I got the big picture, and during each section of the story, I was engrossed in what was going on in the moment. The problem was with how it all connected. The overarching story was confusing. Knowing this author, I have to believe he has a very clear intent with how he wrote this. Never was I not entertained, and I leave this book more inclined to reread it than the average book. In that way, I think it did what it was supposed to do: entertain and make me want to keep reading.

Nevertheless, this go around, I can’t help but rate it based on my current experience. 4.25/5 Stars but probably one of my favorites of the year, even though it wasn’t a 5 star.

PS: Since I am ahead, there is a good chance I may dive into one Jones’ short story collections. Included in that is Spindly Man, yay me, all the more reason if I get to read that again!