24 February 2014
As of a few weeks ago, all of Shirley Jackson's novels are now in print in the United States, thanks to Penguin Books. (UK editions of some are scheduled for March.) I noted in July that this was scheduled to happen, and I fully intended then to write all about the novels individually, but that hasn't yet happened. (I still plan to do so as soon as possible, but the whole getting-a-PhD thing is a bit of an obstacle at the moment.)
I've been reading Jackson's work for most of my life, but finding copies of any but her most famous books has always been difficult — and in the case of Hangsaman, nearly impossible unless you wanted to shell out a lot of money for an old copy. When the Library of America announced they were putting together a Shirley Jackson volume a few years ago, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, I had high hopes that it would include at least one of the lesser-known novels, but it didn't. Yes, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are magnificent — the latter especially seems to me one of the greatest American novels of the second half of the 20th century — but the other novels are not bad, and are often fascinatingly weird. There's a perfection to Hill House and Castle that the other novels never quite achieve (few novels do!), and the lesser-known novels are, perhaps, a bit more novels of their eras than the well-known ones, but they're still very much the novels of Shirley Jackson, and so unlike anything else.
Really, pick up The Sundial or Hangsaman or The Bird's Nest and within a few pages, or even paragraphs, you'll know you're in Jacksonland.
It's taken a long time for Jackson to be known as more than just the writer of "The Lottery", and for her other stories and novels to be as appreciated as they deserve to be, but thanks to Penguin we can now look at her entire body of work. What struck me as I've gone back to that whole body and not just a few favorites (I can't tell you have many times I've read the story "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts"!) is how skilled with language Jackson was. This summer, I re-read Castle, and wondered why I'd never noticed before just how extraordinary her sentences are. The other novels are sometimes a bit wayward in their structure, or somewhat unsatisfying in their conclusions, but they all show Jackson's sensitivity to words and rhythms (like a somewhat less purple Theodore Sturgeon). Because I had always focused on the weird, disturbing qualities of her fiction, I missed some of the beauty and humor. Looking at more of her writing makes the humor especially come through — though of course we should have known from Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons that she had a ... wicked ... sense of humor.
In any case, if you've learned to love Jackson, there's no need now for your love to be left only for her most famous works.
13 February 2014
I was remiss in not noting the book release of my friend and comrade Jeff VanderMeer's new novel, Annihilation, the first volume in the Southern Reach Trilogy, to be followed by Authority and Acceptance later this year. It's getting lots of good press, great reviews, and wonderful support from its publishers. (You can read the first chapter here, if you're curious.)
10 February 2014
|photo by Eamonn McCabe, from The Guardian|
I was stunned this morning to learn of the death of Stuart Hall, one of the great intellectuals of our time. Stunned not because it was entirely unexpected — he was not in the best of health, and had mostly retired from public life — but simply because it feels strange to live in the world after Stuart Hall.
It's entirely likely that you have never heard of Stuart Hall. His fame, particularly outside of the UK, is mostly related to a specific academic field (cultural studies) and his work has not been as well collected and disseminated as it deserves. I was late to his work, learning of it only when I began my master's degree (in cultural studies), and at first I couldn't see its significance — a lot of what he said seemed tied to specific events, specific moments, and many of the ideas he considered were, I assumed at first, part of an academic past that was no longer relevant. His sentences tended to be complex, his vocabulary and range of references even more so. But something about what he wrote made me think I was missing something, and I'm glad I had that perception, because I was right. At some point, with some essay or another, it began to click into place. And from that moment on, I sought out everything I could find by Hall.
There will, I hope, be insightful reflections on his work in the wake of his death. I hope there will also be some new collections of his writings, because we need them. What most sticks with me about Hall's work is its nuance and insistence on tackling ideas in their complexity and contradiction rather than simplifying them, even if simplification would make us more comfortable or more righteous. I am wary of saying anything more right now, because to do so would risk just such simplification of his own ideas. Instead, below the jump, I will leave you with some links to writings by Hall, interviews with him, and a couple of video and audio items.