During August I did a lot of research reading, which means many bits and pieces of nonfiction books and articles. However I did finish a few books as well:
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Incredible writing, but also one of the most upsetting books I have ever read, possibly because it is told so convincingly from the viewpoint of an obviously unreliable and rather deranged narrator. The Turn of the Screw on steriods. Two young sisters and their elderly uncle are in self-imposed imprisonment in the old family manse, surrounded by hostile (albeit maybe with good cause) villagers. This is a harrowing depiction of what it must feel like to be the target of small-minded fear and hatred.. Since I've always felt a bit of an outsider myself, I found this aspect particularly chilling.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
What can I say? I'm sure you've heard of this one. It's as good as advertised. I've seen Jay Gatsby referred to as the #1 character in American literature. I don't know about #1 but it was quite a feat to get me to feel sympathy for a fabulously wealthy crook who feels sory for himself! I am compelled to point out to all the writing instructors and critics that the whole book ultimately hinges on coincidence. (Or is it fate?)
The Christian Topography by Cosmas Indicopleustes
Cosmas was a sixth century Byzantine business traveler who became a monk in later life and wrote this treatise to explain how the pagans got their cosmology all wrong. The universe is not made up of spheres, nor is the world spherical. (How could people in the antipodes be walking around head down? What a joke!) Rather, as clearly described in innumerable, unrelated Biblical verses (every one tediously set forth) the design of the world is revealed by the instructions Moses was given for building the tabernacle in the wilderness. Put simply , the world is a box, shaped like a luggage trunk with a curved lid. Heaven occupies the lid, spearated from earth below by the firmament. The sun appears to rise and fall as it passes around a huge conical mountain in the northwest. The habitable lands are surrounded by an uncrossable ocean, ringed by what was once Paradise, (Noah floated over from them during the Flood) from which rise up great walls. If ever I write a fantasy book, this is my setting!
Nothing in Her Way by Charles Williams
This Gold Medal novel from the nineteen fifties was quite unlike Williams' realistic, noir River Girl which I enjoyed a few months back. Nothing in Her Way is a crime caper book with double-crosses, triple-crosses, and double-double-triple crosses. Kept me reading but I have no idea whether it actually added up or not.
The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
A classic collection of loosely related short tales set on a far future earth where the sun is a dying red ember low in the sky. Magic looms large, and while I' m not much of a fan of wizardry, Vance puts enough logical constraints on his wizards and their powers, to make it all palatable. The plots are simple, the world in which they are set complex and brilliantly delineated. Who could ever forget Chun the Unavoidable? Plus, I have to love an author who uses the word illimitable three times in one story! I am reminded of the earlier fantasy works by Clark Ashton Smith but Vance's style is less over the top.
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Another terrific collection of stories. Most have a supernatural element (a haunted theater),some are simply weird (an inflatable boy), others are grounded in reality, more or less (a bittersweet love story involving two extras on the set of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead). Unlike many modern short stories, these are written in a straight forward manner. There was only one that I admit I didn't really understand, and even that was entertaining. I guess so far as getting published goes Joe Hill has an unfair advantage, being Stephen King's son, but maybe mostly the advantage is in the genes. He sure can write.
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson
During the fifties Shirley Jackscon penned a couple humorous books about the travails of domestic life, beating out Erma Bombeck as a matter of fact. I love personal essays, especially those written in the old New Yorker style (E.B. White, James Thurber, Wolcott Gibbs) and not suprisingly these fit right into that category. After all, The Lottery first appeared in The New Yorker. I'd never have guessed the author of these tales of child rearing was the same person who wrote The Haunting of Hill House, except that Jackson's description of the rambling old house her family occupied, with its odd layout, which caused one to become lost, the windowless central rooms, and the way the house seemed to look at you as you approached resembled so closely her description of Hill House, but used to create an entirely different effect.