Haunting of Hill House

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. Pengin Horror, 2013.

Reason read: October is the time for spooky stories. I also needed a story where the house is central to the plot for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge. This fit the bill.

Any story endorsed by Stephen King is going to be a thriller. At least, one would think. Such is the case with The Haunting of Hill House. I was thrilled with it. Jackson is masterful at making an old mansion come alive in subtle, yet ominous ways. For starters, the house is built all wrong. Jackson obviously understood that symmetry is the key to desired beauty, so to make something ugly it has to be confusing with uneven angles that defy logic. Sightlines would not make sense. Doors have to lead nowhere. Staircases turn inhabitants around to the point of dizzying confusion. Despite all this, a certain Dr. Montegue has heard all the rumors about Hill House and cannot wait to investigate the so-called haunted house. He has been waiting for a house like this all his life. His “guests” Eleanor Vance and Theodora (first name only Theodora) join him and the heir to Hill House, Luke Sanderson, in a quest to search out the ghosts and paranormal activity.
Rules of the house: try not to close any doors, keep lights on at all times, don’t try to leave the house at night, never get separated and/or try to do everything together. It goes wothout saying, they all fail at one or all of these commands at one time or another. Hill House starts to show its personality when it first drops the tempature. The colder the room, the closer the threat. Then it tries to get the group to break up by masterfully turning them against one another. Eleanor is the obvious weakest link. She feel empty before even coming to Hill House. The death of her mother weighs on her and guilt threatens to strangle her at every quiet moment. Guess who falls prey to the house?

As an aside, my father-in-law was not a fan of neither the book nor the movie. I’m not sure why. Since it’s October, I watched both versions of the remake. I can’t tell you which one I liked better. The 1963 version was more true to the novel, but the 1999 version was scarier (people actually die in the latter version).

Author fact: Jackson died in North Bennington, Vermont. Just up the road from me.

Book trivia: The Haunting of Hill House was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1959. It was also made into a kooky little movie in 1963.

Nancy said: Pearl had lots to say about The Haunting of Hill House. She said it cemented Jackson’s reputation (despite two bad movies). She called it a classic that has been “scaring people” since it was first written. She also said it was a “superb” example of the range horror fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice, once in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 100) and again, in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 217). A little redundant.

Sand County Almanac

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: and sketches Here and There. Read by Cassandra Campbell. New York: Penguin Audio, 2020.

Reason read: Turtleback Zoo opened in the month of June. Read to honor a place that I used to love to visit. This zoo always treated their animals with such care. It has been years since I lasted visited. It could be completely different now.

There are certain books in the world you can’t help but try to read all in one sitting. They draw you in and you can’t find your way out of the pages until you reach the final words of The and End. A Sand County Almanac is one such book, especially as an audio read by Cassandra Campbell. Hour after hour would rush by as I got lost in Aldo’s world. I could hear the calling of the birds in the fields, the rattle of dried leaves in the oak trees signifying winter is on its way, and the gurgling rush of the stream as it stubbed its toes on rocks worn smooth. Leopold’s observations were so warm I couldn’t help but think if he were alive today, he and Josh Ritter would be friends.

Author fact: Leopold smoked. Okay, so it’s not the most enlightening fact, but it shocked me nonetheless. I like my naturalists without vices.

Book trivia: Barbara Kingsolver wrote the introduction to Sand County Almanac.

Nancy said: Pearl called A Sand County Almanac a “beautifully written classic.” Another interesting point. Pearl points out a section I found particularly intriguing. As Leopold saws through a fallen oak on his property he recounts historical moments the tress has lived through, ring by ring. Pearl called this section “transcendent” and I couldn’t agree more.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s ” (p 70).

Beautiful Place To Die

Nunn, Malla. A Beautiful Place To Die. Read by Saul Reichlin. New York: Atria Books, 2009.

Reason read: South African began self-governing on July 11, 1931.

Detective Sargent Emmanuel Cooper makes his debut in A Beautiful Place To Die as the only officer put in charge of solving the murder of an important Afrikaner in the small South African town of Jacob’s Rest. This is no ordinary murder. This Afrikaner is Dutch-born Captain Pretorius and despite this being 1952 apartheid South Africa, Pretorius is liked and respected by everyone. Pretorius’s strapping four sons are out for blood while racial tensions clash with color blind desires.
An Englishman, Emmanuel Cooper comes to the case as a complete outsider. He also comes with personal baggage from his soldier days in World War II. He can’t shake daytime memories and haunting nightmares. He often hears voices and has an unfortunate deep addiction to pain medication; medication he feels is necessary to tame real and imagined injuries. To complicate matters, the Security Branch in charge of flushing out black communist radicals stand in Cooper’s way of solving the crime. National Party laws crack down on acts of immortality between blacks and whites and Copper has plenty of suspects on either side of the color divide.

Quotes, “The world is a cruel place for old soldiers” and ” His smile was a trench…”

Author fact: A Beautiful Place to Die is Malla Nunn’s first novel. She is an award winning filmmaker.

Book trivia: A Beautiful Place To Die won a 2009 Davitt Award.

Nancy said: Pearl includes A Beautiful Place to Die in the category of “Break Your Heart” books as a contemporary mystery.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 7).

Box Garden

Shields, Carol. The Box Garden. New York: Open Road Media, 2013.

Reason read: Carol Shields was born in June. Read in her honor.

In a nutshell, Box Garden paints an uneasy picture of a grown woman returning home to attend the wedding of her elderly mother. Charleen lives a very unsettled life. Divorced. Single mom. Dating. Strained relationships with everyone around her. She lives a sparse life by choice and seems incredibly fragile. However, when confronted with a series of intensely emotional situations, Charleen emerges as a surprisingly strong and capable woman.
As an aside, the very first thing that struck me about The Box Garden was the uncomfortable realization Charleen Forrest’s mother could have been my mother. I found myself highlighting passages that struck a chord with me. Every missed opportunity for a kind word, a hint of compassion. It was unnerving.

Author fact: Even though Shields was born in the United States, she is considered a celebrated Canadian author.

Book trivia: The Box Garden is one of Shield’s less popular titles.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about The Box Garden.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Carol Shields: Too Good To Miss” (p 197).

June Travels

Of course I am not really traveling anywhere, but for the first time in a couple of months I have (finally) gotten back to reading. and. And! And, I did drive a car for the first time since 3/19/20. There’s that. In truth, I have been reading all along, just not with the pleasure and leisure I used to have. All of that is slowly coming back, in part due to the realization it’s okay to disappear into the pages from time to time. It is okay to read with no other agenda. I have started to think of the books as different forms of travel. Without further ado, here are the books for June:

Fiction:

  • The Second Summer of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. Places I’ll go: Washington, D.C. & Alabama.
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Places: Pennsylvania & something like heaven.
  • Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Places: around Sweden.
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. Places: Barcelona, Spain and thensome.
  • Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. Places: My back yard of Western Massachusetts and Honduras.
  • Garden of the Gods by Gerald Durrell. Place: Cofu, Greece.

Nonfiction:

  • Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro. Places: all around New England