Now I want to read all of the Shirley Jackson

Let Me Tell You is a compilation of essays and short stories by Shirley Jackson, who you may know best as the author of “The Lottery”, a story about a stoning that takes place in what otherwise seems to be contemporary America. (In one of the essays, she talks about the genesis of that story. She’d been reading a book about human sacrifice, and, whilst walking her kids to school, started thinking about how such a thing would work in the small town in which she lived.)

It was deeply entertaining – some of the stories were better than the others – but the best part of a good book were her essays. One of the best was when she was describing the old house she and her family lived in, and its ghosts which were sometimes friendly and sometimes not, but by and large seemed to approve of them living there. The whole book was smart and entertaining.

Highly recommended.

Fake fairy tales

The Language of Thorns is a lovely little piece of world building. Leigh Bardugo writes young adult books that take place in Ravka, her made-up pseudo-Russia and Kerch, a proto-Amsterdam; they are full of magicians called Grisha. The Language of Thorns are fairy tales from this world.

The most important world-building tale is The Too-Clever Fox, because it was inspired by one of the side characters (who I am a big fan of) who is getting his own two-book series next year. Yes, I was looking for clues for how the next series is going to go.

My favorite of the stories is a tie between the first one, Ayama and the Thorn Wood, which had the great line “They prey that their children… will tell the true stories instead of the easy ones,” and the last story When Water Sang Fire, which was inspired by Ursula from The Little Mermaid.

This fills the gap whilst waiting for the next series to come along.

Sex and violence and feeling worthless

Difficult Women is easily the most literary of all the books I’ve read lately. Roxane Gay is an excellent author, able to express herself clearly and concisely and in a way that makes me appreciate just how good she is. Which is not to say that these stories are overly intellectual or anything. Just… she’s good.

All of the women in these stories have issues with sex, violence, feeling worthless, and the combination thereof. None of them are particularly likable. There is at least one thinly veiled story of Roxane Gay’s own gang rape at the age of 12. I cannot imagine – literally, I can’t.

Are these stories part of her working through that? Maybe? I mean, I suspect the therapy was long and involved and that’s not the kind of thing you can work through whilst writing even one book. Do I think this book of short stories would be completely different if that hadn’t happened? Absolutely, because she would have been a completely different person.

Difficult Women: worth your time.

A Surprising Beach Read

A Paris Affair

What’s is about?
A Paris Affair is a set of short stories about couples, mostly in their thirties, many with young children, who are on their way to breaking up because one or the other is having an affair.

Why should you read it?
It’s a lovely little slip of a book. It made a great back-from-vacation read last month; my brain always lingers in Europe and who doesn’t enjoy Paris? Examining the ways a relationship can go south can be as interesting as how two people get together. It’s not heavy, but who cares? I would classify this one as a sophisticated beach read.

Ominous Oddness

Trigger Warning

 

What’s it about? 
Trigger Warning is a set of poems and short stories by Neil Gaiman at his Neil Gaiman-iest. It’s full of reimagined fairy tales, leprechauns that aren’t quite what you’d expect, that sort of thing. It’s very good to read when you need a little snippet of ominous oddness.

Why should you read it?
Because you’re a Neil Gaiman fan, and this is him doing what he does. Did I forget to mention that there’s also a Doctor Who short story and Shadow from American Gods shows up in another? It’s weird and British and good for a vacation.

Relating to people

redeloyment

 

What’s it about?
Redeployment is a book of short stories written by a former marine. All the stories are, in some ways, about adjusting to civilian life after being stationed in Iraq. The men live spartan lives, and their emotional landscapes have completely changed. The men who weren’t in combat feel less worthy than those who were.

Why should you read it?
I read Redeployment right after The Empathy Exams, and the juxtaposition was interesting. Redeployment hits some of the same themes: trying to figure out what it means to be a person, particularly after you’ve been asked to do some heroic but mentally unhealthy things. How do you get back to personhood? How do other people see you? Are they empathetic? Why or why not? It’s a compelling read.