The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson


The gates are locked. Hill House has a reputation for insistent hospitality; it seemingly dislikes letting its guests get away.

Shirley Jackson sets the mood straight away, bringing us closer and closer to Hill House as one of the four guests, Eleanor, drives there in the car she has taken against her sister’s wishes. Eleanor seems unable to stop herself from going, and early on we suspect one of the reasons lies in the line she keeps repeating in her mind:

Journeys end in lovers meeting.

A sweet sentiment, this, with which she can easily deceive herself. Three fourths of the way through the book she finds herself on the steps of the summerhouse beside Luke, the heir to Hill House, and she tries to draw him into a romantic conversation, into revealing his affection for her. But at the end of their discussion, which is quite matter of fact, she thinks to herself, “All I want is to be cherished.”

Maybe, more than a house of ill porportions in which walls seem to shift and doors close of their own accord, what is scariest about Hill House is the loneliness of Eleanor.

Her desperation is so acute that I suspect she imagines they form some sort of family: Dr. Montague, Luke, Theodora and Eleanor herself, all living in Hill House to discover what sort of paranormal activity might be taking place there. There’s even a cook, Mrs. Dudley, who reminds me strongly of Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers, presiding over Manderley.

When Dr. Montague’s wife comes, she sits with planchette (like a Ouja board), and discovers that someone named Eleanor Nellie Nell Nell (it tends to repeat a word over and over to make sure it comes out all right) wants a home, and with this summation I concur. Eleanor doesn’t want messages from beyond, or ghostly encounters; she wants a friend. A home. Peace.

Peace, Eleanor thought concretely; what I want in all this world is peace, a quiet spot to lie and think, a quiet spot among the flowers where I can dream and tell myself sweet stories.

Eleanor does find peace, in a shocking way. A respite from her loneliness, or a respite from the evil in Hill House which has gradually overpowered her, whichever side you chose to see. For far more than a simple ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House speaks to the shadows and darkness ready to grasp at any of us.

IQ by Joe Ide

I can’t be diminished by people talking no matter who they are…

This is one of my favorite kinds of books, one with a tightly woven plot, spot-on dialogue, and best of all, a character with character.

How I admire IQ, Isaiah Quintabe, a young man making up for his past sins with the strength of his intellect. A young man with the voice of his dead brother, beloved guardian, speaking in his ear to remind him of all he’s been given and all he owes.

If you like courageous men of character facing the hardships they have endured, while solving a case set in the gang-ridden neighborhoods of Los Angeles, this is for you.

I Am Loving These Short Stories (and the way they are delivered)!


Normally, I’m not much of a short story fan. Just when I get involved in the heart of the story, or the characters, it seems to end.


From October 11 until December 30, you can have a daily installment of a beautifully written short story delivered to your email inbox free.

You can read it while in line. You can read it between chapters of a novel you’re deeply immersed in. You can read it just before bed. The point is, I suggest signing up here.

If you’re like me, you’ll be glad you did. I’m already eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s which is from Thunderstruck & Other Stories, a collection by Elizabeth McCracken.



Henry Green Read-Along with Mookseandgripes, Proustitute, and a Few Others


There has been a read-along of Henry Green before, when Stu hosted Henry Green Week in 2011, and there has been a read-along of an nyrb classic before, when Dorian and Scott hosted Hill. So I am super excited to announce another read-along beginning this November of Henry Green’s newly published books by nyrb press. It is hosted by The Mookse and the Gripes and Proustitute over at Goodreads.

The Year of Reading Henry Green, as the read-along is called, consists of one Henry Green book a month beginning in November. (The first two of his book will be published by nyrb press on October 18; you can see them pictured above.) So, the schedule is as follows:

November: Back

December: Loving

January: Caught

February: Blindness

March: Living

April: Party Going

There are three more of Green’s books to go, and the months to read those are as yet to be determined. But, this is surely enough to pique your interest and get you started should you decide to join the read-along whose members include so far:

Doesn’t it sound like fun?

p.s. Click on the link to read a fascinating article on Henry Green in the New Yorker.

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles (and Give-Away)


That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love.

I can hardly describe the pleasure A Gentleman In Moscow  gave me. For once, the wealthy aristocrat is not the villain. Although there are plenty of people in 1920 Russia who would consider him one, to the reader he is a hero.

Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov was in Paris when the Hermitage fell, and returned after the Revolution. While we learn slowly of his story, we are under house arrest with him at the Metropol, the fine hotel in which he lives, for the authorities have forbidden him ever to leave lest he is shot.

How can one live in a hotel, no matter how extravagant it may be? Surely the rubles hidden in the legs of his grandfather’s table can afford him the luxuries to which he had become accustomed. But, life in Moscow passes him by as the streets and parks change without him ever seeing it first hand.

When actress Anna Urbanova falls from grace, after Stalin’s disapproval that the films she stars in refer too grandly to “waltzing and candlelight and marble stairs”, in other words nostalgically looking at times gone by, she and the Count unwittingly join the Confederacy of the Humbled.

Like the Freemasons, the Confederacy of the Humbled is a close-knit brotherhood whose members travel with no outward markings, but who know each other at a glance. For having fallen suddenly from grace, those in the Confedarcy share a certain perspective. Knowing beauty, influence, fame, and privilege to be borrowed rather than bestowed, they are not easily impressed. They are not quick to envy or take offense. They certainly do not scour the papers in search of their own names. They remain committed to living among their peers, but they greet adulation with caution, ambition with sympathy, and condensation with an  inward smile.

One day, the Count is paid an unexpected visit by a man named Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov, former colonel of the Red Army and an officer of the Party, who wishes to learn the Count’s secrets of being a gentleman. To develop certain diplomatic skills, for he has noticed that the Count is not reconciled to his position. Rather, he is resigned to it, with grace and style.

But these two characters are not my favorite. No, I am enchanted with Nina, the child whom the Count befriends, and with whom he plays, in the lobby of the hotel. Then suddenly Nina is grown up, and she comes back to leave her daughter Sofia with the Count. This little girl is now in his charge. She sleeps in his room on a mattress hoisted above his with cans of tomatoes stacked on top of each other. She invents a game with him called Zut (after the French phrase, “Zut alors!”) which is the only thing one can exclaim when one has run out of answers. They are utterly beautiful to read about, as Sofia grows up, and their relationship grows with them.

This novel is about Russia, and politics, and the time period from 1922 to 1954. But, it is mostly about the Count, and his friends, and life lessons seen from the interior of one hotel which somehow seems to encompass the whole world.

“I’ll tell you what is convenient,” he said after a moment. “To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment’s notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children altogether. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka-and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most.”

The publishers have granted me one copy to give-away, to a U.S. address only please, so if you wish to enter the drawing please mention it in a comment below. A winner will be drawn one week from today.


Thank you to all who entered! The winner of A Gentleman in Moscow provided by Penguin is Lesley of Prairie Horizons. Congratulations, Les!

Happy October!


October had tremendous possibility. The summer’s oppressive heat was a distant memory, and the golden leaves promised a world full of beautiful adventures. They made me believe in miracles.

~Sarah Guillory, Reclaimed

I welcome October with open arms. Bye-bye September’s frenetic pace of starting the year when it still feels like August; hello white pumpkins on coconut twig runners, underneath white wax candles in crystal holders. Hello atmosphere of chill and darkening days, Earl Grey cups of tea, and reading quietly until midnight after everyone has gone to bed.

I’m finishing the fabulous book A Gentleman in Moscow with a review, and a give-away to a U.S. address, this week ahead.

I’m not forgetting about the Japanese Literature Challenge 10, which I myself am hosting; a new arrival concerning poetry landed on my door this week, with a review to come, and I have a read-along planned for December with this book:


A True Novel, by Minae Mizumura, is the winner of Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Literature Prize. From the back cover, “Mizumura has written a beautiful novel, with love at its core, that reveals, above all, the power of storytelling.”

Tomorrow I’m receiving a new student, making my class total that of 29 of the most sociable children I have ever taught in all my years. I’m thinking I may just sit and read-to-self, a pedagogical term if you can believe it, and let them carry on amongst themselves. I don’t think anyone would care, do you?

Please feel free to join in the read along for A True Novel, if you would like. And, Happy October!


Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler


Had I ever felt the fatality of autumn like my bones did now, while I watched the pensive currents of foot traffic?

What Jay McInerney’s book, Big Lights, Big City, did to describe the 80s, is what Stephanie Danler’s book, Sweetbitter, does for the present. They both describe a world which was never mine: life in a big city, “blown out on cocaine”, random encounters of a sexual nature, going to work hungover. And yet somehow, I keep reading; it’s like trying not to watch a train wreck, you can’t pull away.

Tess comes to New York, only knowing the friend of a friend from whom she rents a bedroom, and finds a job in a prestigious Manhatten restaurant. She aspires to become a  waitress, for long before that she must learn the intricacies of this career: the opening of a wine bottle without ever turning the label away from the guest; fulfilling the call from the kitchen to “Pick up!” and carry seven plates to a table effortlessly; how to live a life which is a far distance from the Nine-to-Five regular  who has a set routine during normal daylight hours.

Intertwined in her story are characters such as Simone and Jake, with both of whom she is entranced. Simone’s studio apartment, without a couch, but filled with books and a tub within which one could nap, seems the height of luxury. Jake is the elusive bartender who gives off such charisma she knows she must ignore him if only she could. He secretly leaves her gilded figs in a little basket one day, leans in for a kiss another, and doesn’t seem to notice her presence the rest of the time. Yet each time he calls, “Behind you!” as the servers do with one another, she freezes, afraid yet longing for him to brush against her.

It brings me a world I never knew, to be sure, and even now am glad I didn’t have. But it certainly is captivating in its own raw sort of way.

Any Interest in a Read-Along of Captivity by György Spiró?


Behold this book, Captivity, winner of the Aegon Literary Award, translated from Hungarian, and coming in at a mere 864 pages, it is not for the “subway reader.”

In fact, that term was brought to my attention by Vishy on Facebook tonight, who highlighted this gorgeous article: Ten Giant Translated Novels That Make a Mockery of Subway Reading. Included in the list is Haruki Murakami’s 1984 (love!) and Roberto Bolano’s 2666 (not so much), but I am woefully unaware of Hungarian authors.

So I wondered, with all of Captivity‘s accolades, and they are not a few, if anyone else would be interested in picking it up with me. VishyFrances? Claire?  Dorian? Tom? Juliana? Anyone?

We could start in January, or whenever you like. Tell me what you think.

Participants (thus far):







The (Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel Arrives at Six Finalists, and Deserves a Heartfelt Thank You from Me


In the collage above, you can see the six books the (Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel has determined are the best of all thirteen from the long list. Each one of us has at least one favorite represented in the collection; all of us agree that these are the novels which should ultimately be considered for the prize.

The best part of reading the Man Booker Prize long list for the last five weeks has been reading with these ladies: FrancesNicoleRebecca,  and Teresa. The five of us have read, and tweeted, and sent each other messages since the long list was announced on July 27. In the process, these fellow bibliophiles have broadened my horizons immeasurably.

I have discovered that I am an emotional reader, a reader who focuses on the book more with her heart than her head. And in the last week or so, I have grown to see that I need not bring my agenda to what I read, that I should read with an open mind rather than taking things personally. What an author has written is not necessarily accusatory; there is the possibility (!) that an author is writing to reflect our times. Our culture. Our morality. When I look at a book through a narrow lens made up of only  my beliefs, I am not doing the author, or myself, justice. I have shut out another one of the very reasons I love to read, which is to grow intellectually.

So I thank them, each one, for hearing my point of view nonjudgmentally, for openly discussing their interpretations, for each one contributing to a short list of six with which I wholeheartedly concur.

Now we just have to decide which one of these six should be declared the best, a decision that the official judges will also have to determine, by October 25, 2016.

My Thoughts on the Man Booker Prize Long List for 2016, Not What You Might Expect

man-booker-2016I come to the Man Booker Prize this year much like I come to the Presidential election in November: is this the best there is from which I must choose? While neither candidate of either party satisfies the criteria I am looking for in a leader, neither is there a book in the long list which satisfies the criteria I hold for an outstanding novel. (Only one comes even close.)

What makes an outstanding novel? That’s like describing what makes a truly delicious meal; you can hardly pinpoint the separate elements, but they all combine to make a memorable, unique experience.

For me, a prizeworthy novel has story. It has story which not only wraps me up in its intrigue, it brushes the facets of my own life. It causes me to say, “Oh! I know what that is, or at least I’ve felt that before.”

It has characters that breathe. Characters that feel so real it’s as though they’ve joined me in my living room. We could sit and have a chat together over a cup of tea, and even if we disagree, we have spoken to one other. (If only you were there for the tête-à-tête’s Anna Karenina and I have had.)

It has writing so beautiful I could weep. It has passages that make me pause in my reading to record them in my reading journal; it has quotes that I want to remember long after the novel is finished.

When I consider Man Booker winners in the past, I marvel at their permanence in my life. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981), Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of The Day (1989), Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997), Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (2013), Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to The Deep North (2014) and my personal favorite of all time, a book so meaningful to me that I’ve never written about it, A. S. Byatt’s Possession (1990), are all novels I keep on my shelves. I will take them with me if ever I should move.

What would I take with me from this year’s Man Booker short list? My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is the only one. And as the (Wo)Man Shadow Jury decided to come up with our personal top six for today, and then our top six as a panel tomorrow, I would add the following: The Many by Wyl Menmuir, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, The North Water by Ian McGuire, His Bloody Project by Graeme Burnet.

Yes, I can count. That’s only five. But, there isn’t another book I would add. As for what I believe will be on the official short list? Most certainly it will include Paul Beatty’s The Sellouthis accusations disguised as humor are well received in today’s political climate.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s verdict from the (Wo)Man Booker Shadow Jury, for not everyone agrees with the point of view I have expressed just now. Until then, I leave you with an apt quote from Madeleine Thien’s book, Do Not Say We Have Nothing:

Though, in general, anything universally praised is usually preposterous rubbish.