I have a well-worn copy of The Secret History on my bookshelf. It’s written by Donna Tartt and, as far as I’m concerned, is far superior to her recent novel The Goldfinch.
From the book’s jacket: “Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.”
That description makes it sound like a cheap thriller, but really it’s a thoughtful, philosophical work of literature.
The Secret History is an intriguing study of otherness, narrated by a young man looking from the outside in. The narrator is Richard Papen, an aimless college student who has escaped his lower-class life in California and becomes enamored of his wealthy classmates.
I think one of the reasons I like this book is that I identify with Richard’s background. I was raised in the mountain coalfields of Appalachia by poor parents. Many of my fellow students at the University of Virginia were wealthy—some were filthy rich—and the lives they led confounded me. My college years were marked by a distinct feeling of being out of place.
Richard spends most of the novel watching his classmates without investing his true self in his relationships with them. I understand that as well. Often I felt as if I needed to be someone else in order to be accepted. Certainly that’s a feeling a lot of college students have, but I think those who “grow up hard” experience it with such intensity that they struggle throughout their undergraduate journey.
Here’s an excerpt from The Secret History.
The Lord of the Rings is my favorite book. Of all books. Of all time. I've read it at least fifty times.
My uncle gave me my first copy of the trilogy plus The Hobbit when I was eleven. I was hooked immediately. Although I've owned several versions, including some collector's editions, I still have that first set. The tattered covers are held fast by clear tape.
There is so much to love about Middle Earth. Growing up, I daydreamed a lot about living in the treetops of Lothlorien or navigating the dark passages of Moria. I developed crushes on Faramir and Legolas. I rooted for Sam Gamgee and wept for tired, pitiful Smeagol. I pondered the origins of Tom Bombadil and his lady Goldberry. I shuddered when Frodo and Sam crawled through the Dead Marshes.
LOTR taught me important lessons about loyalty and true friendship, perseverance, courage when all seems lost, and integrity. It also showed me that hope and light can be found in the most unlikely of places.
Here's a link to the official online bookshop for Tolkien.
I guess her most famous work, widely read in schools, is her short story "The Lottery."
I'm fond of her books, particularly The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
THoHH is by far my favorite haunted house tale, but it's much more than that. It's a study of Eleanor, a young woman who's a bundle of neuroses. Eleanor has developed a daydreaming habit as a coping mechanism. Her inner world is quite rich:
“I could live there all alone, she thought, slowing the car to look down the winding garden path to the small blue front door with, perfectly, a white cat on the step. No one would ever find me there, either, behind all those roses, and just to make sure I would plant oleanders by the road. I will light a fire in the cool evenings and toast apples at my own hearth. I will raise white cats and sew white curtains for the windows and sometimes come out of my door to go to the store to buy cinnamon and tea and thread. People will come to me to have their fortunes told, and I will brew love potions for sad maidens; I will have a robin...”
Ultimately Eleanor's fanciful thinking takes her down a path of darkness
The other memorable character that Jackson created is Merricat Blackwood, the teenage narrator of WHALitC. Like Eleanor, she is extremely troubled. She's also an unreliable narrator. Jackson introduces us to her in grand fashion:
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the deathcup mushroom… Everyone else in my family is dead."
If you haven't read any of Jackson's work since reading "The Lottery," check out her novels. You won't regret it.
Authors I Love: Ron Rash.
I'm in awe of this writer. His poetry is wonderful and his novels stay with you.
One Foot in Eden is my favorite of his works. I've read it three times. In fact, I once read it aloud to a person who told me he didn't like to read.
I'm excited to share the news that my work will appear in Shepherd University's 2018 Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Wiley Cash Volume X. It's scheduled to be published in April 2018.
Anyone who knows me knows that October is my favorite month. I'm a Halloween fiend!
In honor of All Hallows' Eve, I present to you a list of scary books I recommend for the season (in no particular order):
1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
2. The Shining by Stephen King
3. Ghost Story by Peter Straub
4. Dark Companions by Ramsey Campbell
5. Salem's Lot by Stephen King
6. The Other by Thomas Tryon
7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Also try the collected works of Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft.
Check out The Year's Best Horror Stories edited by Karl Edward Wagner (1980-1994).
August 9 is National Book Lover's Day. Celebrate by supporting your local authors!
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