So, I've finally finished Ruth Franlin's biography of Shirley Jackson (A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE), after picking it up again upon our return from Arkansas.*
In the course of doing so, I came to realize that Jackson and her husband (the critic Stanley Hyman) were biblioholics.** That is, they bought books -- not unusual in people who wrote stories and reviewed books for a living. But the Hymans did so at a scale which suggests that they enjoyed buying books just as much as they did reading them:
"Shirley and Stanley's main source of books, aside from review copies that poured in from The New Yorker and elsewhere, was the Seven Bookhunters. This group of men traveled around the country buying books from secondhand bookstores and reselling them, often at a high markup . . . Whenever Stanley and Shirley needed an obscure, out-of-print or otherwise hard-to-obtain title . . . they put in a special request to Scher*** . . . [who] was 'as familiar with secondhand bookstores . . . as a policeman is with his beat' . . .
Stanley was accorded the ultimate privilege: every year he accompanied Scher on a book-buying trip, sleeping in cheap hotels or on the benches of railway stations, eating and drinking with Scher's friends along the way, and buying as many as a thousand books."
(Franklin p. 273-274)
Elsewhere it claims that Hyman knew exactly where every book was (p. 79), but I'm skeptical on this point.
Perhaps the biggest surprise that emerged from reading this biography was learning that Jackson in her life time was famous for two kinds of fiction: the unsettling psychological horror of "The Lottery", THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED AT THE CASTLE, and also for comic accounts of life with a houseful of kids (think PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES, which comes from about the same era). Those latter books and stories are entirely forgotten now, but it's interesting to learn of an author with two distinct reputations, one of which endures and the other vanished away.
Three misc. points worth sharing:
(1) here's a self-portrait of Jackson from the Franklin (p. 159):
(2) here's an evocative fragment from a poem written by Jackson's pen-friend Jeanne Beatty:
make me a charm
so the dark won't find me
and the frightful things
rise up behind me.
(3) finally, here's a witty clip from one of Jackson's short stories:
I have never liked the theory
that poltergeists only come
into houses where there are children,
because I think it is simply too much
for any one house to have
poltergeists and children
--Shirley Jackson, mother of four (p. 304)
*where I'm happy to report that the courthouse square in my hometown now has not one but two coffeehouses. Go Magnolia.
**cf. the hilarious but all-too-true book BIBLIOHOLISM: THE LITERARY ADDICTION
***Louis Scher, the chief Bookhunter
current reading: THE APPRENTICESHIP OF JRRT by Simon Cook; THE FALL OF GONDOLIN ed. Christopher Tolkien; STONEHENCE: A NEW UNDERSTANDING by Mike Parker Pearson.
current audiobook: THE SILENT SPEAKER by Rex Stout (a Nero Wolfe mystery).