“From Sally Rooney to Raven Leilani, female novelists have captured the literary zeitgeist, with more buzz, prizes and bestsellers than men. But is this cultural shift something to celebrate or rectify?”
While a bit less immediate than the previous two stories, this is yet another pubishing issue that won’t go away.
Over the past 12 months, almost all of the buzz in fiction has been around young women: Patricia Lockwood, Yaa Gyasi, Raven Leilani, Avni Doshi, Lauren Oyler. Ask a novelist of any gender who they are reading and they will almost certainly mention one of Rachel Cusk, Ottessa Moshfegh, Rachel Kushner, Gwendoline Riley, Monique Roffey or Maria Stepanova. Or they will be finding new resonances in Anita Brookner, Zora Neale Hurston, Natalia Ginzburg, Octavia Butler, Ivy Compton-Burnett. The energy, as anyone in the publishing world will tell you, is with women.
Jessica Avery declares, “a ghost is never just a ghost.” A ghost “always represents something more than itself. Something that you try not to think about. Something unpleasant you try to ignore or repress until you can’t any more and it rises up to — quite literally — haunt you.”
Follow Avery’s dive into the world of ghosts and haunted houses, including The Haunting of Hill House.
Another literary issue I’ve been following recently is reader dissatisfaction with Goodreads and who or what might step up to replace it. StoryGraph had been in beta for a while as a possibility. Chris M. Arnone here reviews it for Book Riot.
The article includes directions on how to export your data from Goodreads and import it into StoryGraph, followed by discussion of its good points and shortcomings.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried StoryGraph.
Have you ever wondered why your favorite book hasn’t yet been made into a film or TV series? Literary Hub recently conducted a virtual roundtable discussion with several writers from the film/TV industry about “a process that for many, is mysterious.”
“Knowing what people are expecting allows you to subvert the trope. Expectation is its own red herring, built right into your reader.”
Stuart Turton, author of the brilliant The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and newly released The Devil and The Dark Water, admits, “I’m obsessed by the structure of novels.” He particularly likes “books that cross genres and mess with the traditional way stories are told.”
Here Turton explains how he played with crossing genres to create the effects he wanted in his two novels.
This is a topic that fascinates me. Here are two blog posts I’ve written that deal with the topic from a reader’s rather than a writer’s perspective:
There’s a lot said and written about the importance of introductions in fiction, but not so much about endings. And for good reason: to discuss the adequacy or inadequacy of an ending, you have to give away the entire contents of the book.
Here Ron Charles, book reviewer for The Washington Post, takes on this subject. He cites a survey of Goodreads reviews done by the online retailer OnBuy.com , which yielded a list of the Top 12 Most Disappointing Endings. Charles also solicited comments from Post readers about the novel endings they’ve found most disappointing. His conclusion: “If there’s any common thread, it’s that the endings that offend us most appear in the books we love most.”
And while you’re reading Charles’s article, take advantage of the link offered whereby you can sign up for his weekly Book World newsletter. It lands in my inbox every Friday and is one of the highlights of my literary week.
Publisher’s Weekly offers the scoop on “the forthcoming tabletop game Mother of Frankenstein,” which “combines aspects of immersive theater, escape rooms, board games, puzzles, role-playing games, and parlor games in one package, making for a 15-hour playing experience.”
Good news indeed, as it seems we’re in for an extended period of pandemic isolation.
From the U.K. Guardian: “We know the heyday of the ghost story mostly as the province of men like MR James and Charles Dickens. But archivists are finding that some of the finest exponents were women.”
Read why the women pioneers in ghost stories who have been “effectively erased from history over the last century.”
This article on “the concentration of power in UK publishing” reports on the lack of diversity in the Booker Prize.
Author Jamie Harris writes that “The Booker is steeped in Britain’s colonial history” and is seldom awarded to writers published outside of London:
In a country where publishing is so concentrated in the hands of just a few conglomerates who have acquired some of Britain’s most successful small presses, the chances of British novelists who are neither English, nor published by major London publishers, winning seems to be getting smaller.
Reading comprehension, defined as the “ability to process and retain information from texts,” is something we usually think of as happening to children in their early years of school. But here Christine Ro reports on some recent research into enhancing reading comprehension for adults and offers some suggestions for doing so.
Unsurprisingly, some of her suggestions involve slowing down while reading and actively engaging with the text, for example, by annotating, all examples of slow reading.
It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.
This month we start with The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, an appropriate choice for the Halloween season because it features ghosts.
Or does it?
The most salient feature of James’s novella is its ambiguity. Are the ghosts the governess sees real, or are they the product of some psychological projection such as fear, prurience, desire, or repressed sexuality? About 10 years after the book’s publication James wrote that he purposely made the story so ambiguous because a shadowy picture of evil allows readers to fill in the picture with the details that frighten them the most.
Because the ghost story is pregnant with possibilities, it has a long literary history.
Here are six ghost stories that illustrate the variety of ways authors have chosen to present their ghosts. The final one is English rather than American, but it’s such a giant of the ghost-story canon that I couldn’t leave it out.
1.The Sun Down Motelby Simone St. James clearly follows the ghost story’s gothic origins in its use of a building where ghosts prowl. When Carly Kirk sets out to explore the disappearance of her aunt while working at the Sun Down Motel 35 years earlier, she comes up against a classic struggle of good vs. evil when two ghosts face off in a confrontation of apocalyptic proportions.
2. Sometimes a ghost gets to narrate its own story, as does Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. After being murdered at age 14, she watches from her own personal version of heaven as the police investigate the crime and as her family and friends adjust to life without her. (This book is nowhere near as ghastly as the short description might make it sound. It’s done with great sensitivity and insight.)
3. A ghost as narrator also appears, although only sporadically, in Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake. Based on the unsolved murder of a Black woman in the 1960s in Baltimore, Lippman creates a picture of the seething social and racial tensions in the city at that time. The murdered woman is not the central figure in the story, but her ghost appears periodically to help explain the zeitgeist of the era.
4. A ghostly narrator introduces The Better Liar by Tanen Jones with this dramatic statement: “Like most of the dead, I want to be remembered.” Leslie hasn’t seen her younger sister, Robin, since Robin ran away from home 10 years earlier, at age 16. But the women’s father has stipulated in his will that the two women must appear together, in person, at his attorney’s office to receive their inheritance. Leslie, who really needs the money, sets out in search of Robin, whom she finds in a rooming house, dead from a drug overdose. But Leslie really needs that inheritance money . . .
5. C.J. Tudor uses three types of ghosts in The Other People. Driving home through rush-hour traffic one night, Gabe sees his daughter, Izzy, looking out the back window of the car in front of him. She mouths the word “Daddy,” but Gabe loses the car in the traffic. He never sees Izzy again. Gabe quits his job, buys a camper, and spends the next three years driving up and down the same stretch of highway where he last saw his daughter. Haunted by the vision of his missing daughter, Gabe himself haunts the highway and the rest areas along his route. Meanwhile, Fran and her young daughter are on the run along the same highway. Fran’s daughter, Alice, periodically falls into sessions of deep sleep during which she sees a vision of a young girl in a while dress. This is one truly haunted novel, perfect for Halloween season.
6. Sometimes what haunts a story is not some other-worldly presence, but a palpable absence. Such is the case in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, in which a second wife feels compelled to live up to the reputation of her predecessor.
After many different types of ghosts, we’re back again to a novel chillingly haunted by the ghost of possibility. Perhaps that’s why The Turn of the Screw and Rebecca are two of the best known ghost stories in Western literature.
The haunted house is a staple of the horror genre and it’s easy to see why. Your house should be familiar and it should behave predictably. When your safe, warm home turns out to be something else, it’s terrifying… . But what do women do in the haunted house? How does the haunted house function as the terrain on which women work out their fears and anxieties?
Smeltzer examines three classic haunted-house stories:
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
She concludes that “the haunted house is a physical expression of anxiety and trauma that stems from violent misogyny.”
Furthermore, maybe the haunted house is the only way that women in the novels discussed above can process what has happened to them. There do not seem to be very many other options for their processing, after all. The women might not have the words or the protection of societal structures to articulate their fears and passions. Therefore, the entire house models itself after them, horrors and all. The physical space takes on their trauma and anxieties.
The article includes a link to a “list of classic haunted house novels” to allow readers to see if other examples follow a similar pattern.
just a few quotes from the novel that hint at why The Haunting of Hill House resonates when it comes to perceptions of haunted houses.
The most telling of these quotations, to me, is this one:
“In all our conscious minds, as we sit here talking, there is not one iota of belief in ghosts. Not one of us, even after last night, can say the word ‘ghost’ without a little involuntary smile. No, the menace of the supernatural is that it attacks where modern minds are weakest, where we have abandoned our protective armor of superstition and have no substitute defense. Not one of us thinks rationally that what ran through the garden last night was a ghost, and what knocked on the door was a ghost, and yet there was certainly something going on in Hill House last night, and the mind’s instinctive refuge—self-doubt—is eliminated. We cannot say, ‘It was my imagination,’ because three other people were there too.”
we’ve rounded up a list of new books to read for Halloween, including an upcoming release from Stephen King. From spine-tingling horror to twisty psychological thrillers to historical novels full of mysterious creatures, these books are sure to get you in the spooky spirit.
In the show, New Zealand journalist David Farrier visits an array of peculiar or dangerous places around the world to see what he can learn. Most people who participate in “dark tourism” travel to places that have, historically, been connected to tragedy, death, or other dark topics.
This article isn’t limited to Halloween; it’s appropriate for the fall season. Romeo Rosales is “excited for the fall beers that hit market shelves to welcome the change in weather and season.”
I am not claiming to know an actual science behind which dark beers should be paired with which dark read. You could pair your favorite dark beer with any dark book, but I have a few book and beer recommendations.
And if you’re not a beer drinker, presumably these books could also be read with wine, coffee, tea, or any other favorite beverage.
Here’s another article about Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.
Jackson was the first author to understand that “houses aren’t haunted – people are”, says Hill [writer Joe Hill, son of Stephen King]. “All the most terrible spectres are already there inside your head, just waiting for the cellar door of the subconscious to spring open so they can get out, sink their icy claws into you,” he says. “In the story, the house toys with the minds of our heroes just like the cat with the mouse: with a fascinated, joyful cruelty. Nothing is more terrifying than being betrayed by your own senses and psyche.”
You can also read what other horror writers have to say about Jackson’s novel.
As for the new Netflix adaptation, the description indicates that it makes many major changes in the source material. I plan to watch it at some point to see if it’s true to the novel’s spirit despite the changes.
Card, Orson Scott. Lost Boys New York: HarperCollins, 1992 ISBN 0-06-109131-6 Audiobook by Blackstone Audio
This is the story of the Fletcher family: Step (Stephen) and his pregnant wife, DeAnne, and their children–Stevie, age 8; Robbie, 4; and Elizabeth, 2. It’s 1983, and the family is relocating from Indiana to Steuben, North Carolina, for Step’s new job. Step created a wildly popular game for the Atari computer, and the royalties from that allowed him to complete his doctorate in history. But now the Commodore 64 is replacing the Atari, there’s a recession on, and the only job Step could get was writing manuals for a small software company in Steuben.
As soon as Step arrives at the offices of his new employer, Eight Bits Inc., he realizes things are not quite right. The human resources manager tries to get him to sign a highly unfair non-competition agreement, the head of programming informs him that he is not to be involved in programming in any way, and the owner of the company tells him to help out with the programming as much as necessary but without letting the head of programming know. Step soon realizes that the company is run by exploitative, manipulative, incompetent people who expect him to go along unquestioningly. And, just in passing, Step discovers that the real creative genius behind the company’s software is a child molester.
Things at home aren’t much better. The long hours Step is required to work keep him from seeing much of his family. And Stevie is having a terribly hard time settling into second grade at his new school. At first he makes no new friends, and then he begins to talk about friends who, disturbingly, have the names of several young boys who have recently disappeared around Steuben.
This book was shelved in the horror section of both my local bookstore and my local public library. And most of the customer reviews on Amazon call this a horror story. But Lost Boys is not a horror story, nor is it a supernatural thriller, the other term a lot of Amazon readers applied to it. Lost Boys is a ghost story, a literary form with a rich history throughout world literature and American literature. (Perhaps the best-known examples of ghost stories are A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.)
Ghost stories usually involve some form of the eternal conflict between good and evil in the world, and that’s exactly what’s going on in Lost Boys. From the narrative’s opening scene, in which the Fletcher family has to pull off the road to clean up toddler vomit, Step and DeAnne are caught up in all parents’ desire to keep their children safe. The Fletchers try very hard to protect their children. In fact, DeAnne’s maternal ministrations cross the line from protective into hovering.
But evil is everywhere: We see it in the deceptive, manipulative people Step works with and in Stevie’s teacher and psychiatrist. And soon we realize that this is no mundane badness the Fletchers are up against. This is pure Evil. As the Steuben detective investigating the boys’ disappearances tells Step and DeAnne:
. . . there’s some people who do things so bad it tears at the fabric of the world, and then there’s some people so sweet and good that they can feel it when the world gets torn. They see things, they know things, only they’re so good and pure that they don’t understand what it is that they’re seeing. (p. 441)
I do have some criticisms of this novel. It’s long, and about the first 75% is devoted to straightforward exposition. I kept waiting for the story’s real conflict to ratchet up. There are also a few occurrences that strain credulity. For example, when Step bumps into Mrs. Jones at the pharmacy, it’s hard to believe that he doesn’t recognize her, given their past history. And the Good vs. Evil dichotomy is set up just a little too neatly and stereotypically.
Yet all these criticisms fade into unimportance after the book’s powerful climax. In fact, the unequivocal emphasis on Good vs. Evil is one of the traditions of the ghost story that gives this literary form its emotional punch. And the extended exposition ensures that we will sympathize with the Fletchers when this ordinary family finds itself in extraordinary circumstances.