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My readathon encounter with author Shirley Jackson

This entry is part 24 of 32 in the series Read-a-thon
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson

I confess my readathon summary is a mixed bag. I did finish the first book,We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by Shirely Jackson, and that’s a very good thing. On the other hand, the two other chosen titles remain on the book stack. I did much better in 2010 where I actually read all four books.

Does that mean I’m kicking myself? No way. Given my lack of reading the last six months I’m totally delighted that I began and finished the one book. Even more, I’m happy that I finally delved into more writing by American author Shirley Jackson, a writer who’s not often given her due. Before I present my readathon summary, I thought I’d chat a bit about my encounter with Shirley Jackson and her last novel.

The Book: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle 1st edition

1st Ed Cover Viking Press

It’s an odd book but then the author’s writing style is a bit quirky and her tales a bit odd and strange. There were times when I was quite mesmerized. In today’s book world, this appears to be such a quiet book but that is merely a surface reaction. You won’t find a lot of slap-dash fast-paced action. There’s more of a quiet horror that builds every so slowly and draws the reader deeper and deeper into the lives and daily activities of Mary Katherine and her family.

Mary Katherine Bradshaw is the star of the show and a a definite unreliable narrator. (Mary Katherine was named “best character in fiction since 1900” by Book Magazine in 2002.) She is complex with a complicated inner life, and is a person with a lot to say. She tosses out bits of her previous life and the terrible thing that happened six years earlier that become the breadcrumbs leading the reader into the deepest of family entanglements.

What writers can learn from Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) is Shirley Jackson’s final novel and considered by some to be her finest. For writers, there is a lot to be learned in the realm of dialogue, characterization, and building suspense. Today’s readers and even many writers may pick up the book, flick through the pages, and be put off at the dense text and lengthy paragraphs. They’d be wrong to assume there is nothing to be found within the pages for reading pleasure or for learning. Jackson is a masterful writer. I will definitely be dropping back into the pages.

In many ways Jackson’s writing in this book reminds me of the type of magical realism that is done today by Alice Hoffman and others. I’d be interested in hearing what others think.

The author: Shirley Jackson

Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson

The Life of Shirley Jackson

Although Jackson is not always immediately thought of  as one of the greats of American authors, she is no less an author. Known to be quite a stylist even in her day, Jackson wrote fiction that often outraged readers and provoked a great hue and cry. A writer who can push buttons is worthy of study.

Born in 1916, Jackson died in 1965 and left a legacy of 6 novels and 20+ short stories. She is one of those authors whose work is known more readily than her name. Her short story The Lottery remains a classic and continues to be taught in high school and in college, while her novel The Haunting of Hill House is more readily known in its film form. One thing about her, she is not shy to employ horror, magic, psychology or whatever to tell her tale. (You’ll find more info and links below.)

Roundup April 2012 Readathon Meme

As part of the readathon, the folks at Dewey’s have a tradition of memes for the particpants to complete. Here’s my final summary of the event:

Which hour was most daunting for you?
It took me a little while to get started as I didn’t even know about the event until it was in its second hour. My actual starting hour was Hour #4. The other contender for the prize happened about four hours later when the house alarm system starting going on and off and I learned its battery was low. It took about two hours to handle that situation and get back into the reading game. So Hours 4 and 8 required some perseverance on my part.

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
I enjoy any of Harlan Coben’s books and most thrillers and psychological suspense novels but it really depends on the readers interests and tastes.

Dewey's 24 hour readathon April 2012

Readathon Rat

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
There’s a lot already in place with the Twitter aspect, the hourly updates, and the requested as-you-go summaries. That all makes the readathon very participatory. My biggest problem is that I don’t learn about these readathon dates until the event is about to start so there’s not a lot of time to prepare or tell others. It would be helpful if I learned the dates for the next one at the very least when the current event is ending.

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
I didn’t have any problems and enjoyed the Tweets.

How many books did you read?
I selected three but only completed one book.

What were the names of the books you read?
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

Which book did you enjoy most?
From the first page I was captivated with the voice and style of Shirley Jackson in We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition).

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
If I learn about it in time, I want to participate in more readathons. Right now the best role for me is a reading participant.

And that’s it for today. If you’re wondering why I bother to participate in readathons, read my Dewey Readathon Why Participate post.

More about Shirley Jackson, her novels and short stories


We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

Shirley Jackson»s American Gothic

Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories (The Lottery / The Haunting of Hill House / We Have Always Lived in the Castle)

Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson


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Series NavigationTips to start the year with a classic readathonMid-way through the April 2012 Dewey Readathon
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