BURN PILE: Shirley Jackson, Ouija Boards, and Truman Capote's Ashes

The spookiest month of the year begins tomorrow. Here are some literary tidbits of a decidedly darker nature to get us all in the mood.

  • This week marks the publication of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, a new biography of the oft-overlooked American writer best known for her short story “The Lottery” and the novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Biographer Ruth Franklin reports that Jackson was pegged (and promoted) as somewhat of a domestic “witch” in the early days of her career, and that Jackson took exception to this claim. Later, however, Jackson wrote the following, which should delight those of us who embrace our inner witches: 

I am tired of writing dainty little biographical things that pretend that I am a trim little housewife in a Mother Hubbard stirring up appetizing messes over a wood stove. I live in a dank old place with a ghost that stomps around in the attic room we’ve never gone into (I think it’s walled up) and the first thing I did when we moved in was to make charms in black crayon on all the door sills and window ledges to keep out demons, and was successful in the main. There are mushrooms growing in the cellar, and a number of marble mantels which have an unexplained habit of falling down onto the heads of the neighbors’ children.

At the full of the moon I can be seen out in the backyard digging for mandrakes, of which we have a little patch, along with rhubarb and blackberries. I do not usually care for these herbal or bat wing recipes, because you can never be sure how they will turn out. I rely almost entirely on image and number magic.