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Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  1,685 ratings  ·  357 reviews
This historically engaging and relevant biography establishes Shirley Jackson as a towering figure in American literature and revives the life and work of a neglected master.

Still known to millions primarily as the author of the The Lottery, Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) has been curiously absent from the mainstream American literary canon. A genius of literary suspense and
Hardcover, 608 pages
Published September 27th 2016 by Liveright
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4.27  · 
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 ·  1,685 ratings  ·  357 reviews

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Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin is a 2016 Liveright publication.

I wonder, when hearing the name Shirley Jackson, which book pops into your mind? ‘The Lottery’ or ‘We Have Always Lived in a Castle’ or ‘The Haunting of Hill House’?

I’d bet most people associate Jackson with Hill House, which is understandable. But, for me, ‘The Lottery’ is the first thing that pops into my mind. Mainly, this is because of a personal experience, that even after all these years, still sticks
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This biography of Shirley Jackson is a comprehensive exploration of a fascinating woman, who was full of contradictions. Her children's perception of her as a happy mother is challenged by her use of drugs. She appears to have suffered from her husband's infidelities while at the same time maintaining a seemingly "happy" marriage. All this while writing some of the best books of her time. Her story "The Lottery" is a sharp look at small town life (in this case, a village) that is still taught in ...more
Frank Errington
Oct 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Review copy

Admittedly, I don't read a lot of biographies. Not my thing. Nothing against them, I just prefer to spend my time reading fiction. That being said, when I saw there was going to be a Shirley Jackson bio, I decided to get out of my comfort zone just a bit.

Shirley Jackson is perhaps most remembered for her short story, THE LOTTERY, and her novel, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, but there is so much more to her short life.

The bio covers her childhood, college years (she wasn't a very good st
Book Riot Community
I technically have not finished reading this one, despite starting in August, but that’s because it is so so so so good that I am savoring every word. A loving tribute to my favorite author. One million thumbs up; all the stars.

–Annika Barranti Klein

from The Best Books We Read In November 2016:
Oct 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
7/6/18: reread it this week and it’s even better than I’d remembered. Hats off to Ruth Franklin for a marvelous job of synthesizing all the facts of Jackson’s life into such a rich narrative.

A Rather Haunted Life is an excellent, highly readable biography of my favorite author, Shirley Jackson. It seems to have some real buzz, which is fabulous, as all modern day buzz for Jackson related books = long overdue. While I loved the 1988 biography Private Demons by Judy Oppenheimer, here Ruth Franklin
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writers, biography
This book was on so many “Best” lists of 2016 that I had to take notice. I relish a big thick well researched biography, and I was not disappointed.

Shirley grew up in a growing and wealthy suburb of San Francisco, an area which her maternal forbears helped develop and had profited from. Her father was hardworking and upwardly mobile rising to a CEO status that took the family to Rochester NY in Shirley’s late teens. Unfortunately for Shirley, she was not born the petite debutante that flourishes
Beth Bonini
Throughout her writing career, Shirley Jackson's output tended to take seemingly quite disparate forms: either domestic comedy, as exemplified by Life Among the Savages and the many short pieces she wrote for women's magazines during the late 1940s and 1950s, or the psychologically probing 'horror' stories responsible for her enduring literary fame. During her lifetime, many reviewers (and presumably readers) were apparently confused by her ability to switch between these genres; what biographer ...more
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
A smoothly written tour through the complex emotional life--and busy outer life--of Shirley Jackson, a particular favorite of mine. Franklin approaches Jackson evenhandedly, with just the little bit of partisanship that it's best for a biographer to have for their subject, and she selects her incidents well. The most dreadful sign in a biography is a lengthy section describing the person's childhood or, worse, the childhood of their great-grandparents, but Franklin handles both Jackson's family ...more
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have long been a fan of Shirley Jackson’s writing and was intrigued to read her latest biography. To my shame, this has been on my TBR list for ever and I am so glad that I finally managed to get to it. I have read a previous biography of Jackson – “Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson,” by Judy Oppenheimer and it seems odd that there was no other attempt to look at her life, and work, since that volume, in the late 1980’s. Thankfully, both the biographies I have read have been excellen ...more
tortoise dreams
Oct 21, 2016 rated it liked it
A biography of the too often overlooked American writer Shirley Jackson (1916-65), author of "The Lottery," The Haunting of Hill House, and other tales of a damaged psyche.

Book Review: Despite the recent renewal of her reputation (all her major work seems to be in print) Shirley Jackson is one of the most underrated authors of the 20th Century, so I much anticipated this new biography by Ruth Franklin. Unfortunately, I was disappointed and this is not the definitive volume I hoped for. To paraph
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook of this biography. It is organized somewhat chronologically, with each chapter dealing with a work of Jackson's and a general theme in her life. There are lots of spoilers for her works, but that didn't bother me even though I've read nothing by Jackson. This an important work discussing women torn between their identities as workers and mothers because of societal expectations and judgements.
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
A disappointing book. Author Ruth Franklin begins with the premise that talented and accomplished author Shirley Jackson was a highly unhappy individual, and given the fact that she developed addictions to liquor, cigarettes, "diet" pills and even chocolate, then died at age 48 of heart failure in 1965, grossly overweight, that's not a difficult case to assert. It is, however, a tougher case to prove. Shirley Jackson succeeded at almost everything to which she put her mind, be it mystery short s ...more
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
Shirley Jackson is one of my personal top five favorite writers. Some books come to us in a moment of time that pack such a powerful punch or so sharply define something that puts us in touch with our inner core that they are magical, timeless and revered. Shirley Jackson came to me when I was in grade 7...the middle of middle school. I can't remember if I read 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' or 'The Haunting of Hill House' first. I can actually see my 12 year old self, lying across my bed ...more
No rating. The book is decent but it's filled with tangents and more about her husband's work/ onus, IMHO than I have interest to know. Also the core of Shirley's personality and papers is so off-putting to me that I don't find much more of her "depth" or why she is always so defensive- while reading such lengths of her whines and dissatisfaction. She also lead such a privileged life in a time when most were literally starving that I find her blindness to any of her luckier placement realization ...more
Jan 23, 2017 marked it as abandoned
Okay, on page 114 out of 500 pages of text (not counting the notes), and I'm abandoning this, at least for now. I recently really enjoyed Jackson's short novels, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, and of course I read The Lottery when I was in high school, and this biography of the author seemed intriguing. I was interested in the fact that she was famous for her humorous magazine stories about family life, which were published in women's magazines in the 50's (an ...more
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it

I’m about to devote the majority of this review of a 600+ page book to a single chapter, which describes public reaction to the publication in The New Yorker of Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” I can’t help it, because I was equal parts stunned and amused by what seemed to be only two categories of responses: a) What in tarnation does this story mean? And b) Is it fact, or fiction? The latter was explained in part by Franklin—at the time, The New Yorker did not label stories as fiction or no
Richard Moss
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I only came to Shirley Jackson two years ago when I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It instantly became one of my favourite reads, and it probably has the best opening paragraph ever written.

But what mind could produce a work so moving and affecting, and yet also strange and disturbing? Many of the answers are contained in this superlative biography of the all-too short life of Shirley Jackson.

Ruth Franklin has unearthed some tremendous detail about Jackson's childhood and marriage, as
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot about Shirley Jackson, so I'm pretty pleased.
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: childhood-gothic, bio
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.

Well integrated biography of the author of The Haunting Of Hill House, The Lottery, We Have Always Lived In The Castle.

Author Jackson is difficult to na
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
You don't read a biography of someone like Shirley Jackson because she had a particularly exciting life. She didn't cure cancer or storm the beaches of Normandy. You read this type of biography to illuminate the artist's work. Does this book do that? I'm happy to report, yes!

Shirley Jackson is one of my very favorites. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is probably my very favorite book. So she is very near and dear to my heart, though before reading this biography, I didn't know a whole lot abo
V. Briceland
Oct 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What elevates Ruth Franklin's examination of Shirley Jackson over the only previous full-length biography written about the author is Franklin's insightful criticism of Jackson's output. At the height of her career, Jackson's dual fame as both the deft craftswoman of eerie tales of human evil, as well as the droll raconteur of domestic comedy, managed to baffle many reviewers. Franklin, however, makes a convincing case for a more unified appreciation to Jackson's novels, memoirs, and abundant sh ...more
Aug 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
Too many tangents.
reflections: When I was a teenager, Shirley Jackson was a huge part of my literary upbringing. Back then, I read everything about her as well as by her. So I was eager to read her biography.

The author of Jackson's newest biography gives a too-long chapter: "Foundations" about Jackson's ancestors. The chapter explains why she wrote spooky stories about haunted houses. Her maternal ancestors were architects of mansions in California and fans of the supernatural such as the Ouija
Mar 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing, biography
A well focused and thoughtful biography of a fascinating writer. My only complaint was that the timeline was occasionally confusing, with chapters giving information then doubling back to catch up to that point again. I read this with a notebook beside me to keep track of all the stories I need to catch up on.
Feb 14, 2017 rated it liked it
This biography wavers between 2 1/2 stars and 3 stars for me but I'll be generous because I really liked the parts about Shirley Jackson. The book begins with her early life and later each chapter focuses on the period of her life during which she is writing one of her novels or stories. I really enjoyed reading about her writing process. Shirley Jackson is mostly known as being a horror writer but she also wrote humorous non-fiction stories about her family life and being a housewife in the 195 ...more
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this exquisitely researched and detailed biography of the Janus-faced writer Shirley Jackson utterly beguiling. Though her life seems charmed from the outside (a child of wealthy parents, married to a brilliant critic who was her intellectual equal, a commercially successful writer at a young age, doting mom to four happy, healthy kids) Jackson was crippled her whole life by insecurity and agoraphobia brought on by her mother and husband Stanley Hyman's incessant criticism of her writing ...more
Debbie Notkin
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like previous biographers of Jackson, Franklin discounts the possibility of Jackson having multiple personalities (despite lots of internal evidence) and having bisexual curiosities (again, despite evidence). And I felt like she got some insights very wrong. Nonetheless, this is a sympathetic and well-written biography, jam-packed with facts and quotations, and I learned quite a bit.
Sarah Beaudette
Oct 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Franklin's biography of Shirley Jackson is perceptive and incredibly empathetic--it seems Franklin was the best person to write it. Not only does she examine the details of Jackson's life and shaping of her personality, but she also devotes considerable time to the development of each of Jackson's novels, the connections of these novels to what was happening in Jackson's life at the time, and the critical response to all of Jackson's work.

Franklin addresses the confusion of many critics that Ja
Liina Bachmann
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, favorites
Easily one of the best books I have read this year. It makes me want to reread all of Jackson's books I've read before and also it gives me a feeling of warm joy that I still have a lot to discover from her body of work.

What a fierce, intelligent and extraordinarily talented woman she was. But also so fragile and compassionate. She made it as a woman when it was A Man's World, literally. And her work has stood the test of time. Definitely one of my favourite authors and this biography could not
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Whenever my favorite authors talk about their favorite authors, one name has come up again and again: Shirley Jackson. Before I sought her out, I only knew her because of her amazing short story "The Lottery" which all cool and edgy English teachers in middle school have their students read. I've read most all of her short stories and half of her books. Needless to say, she's truly one of a kind. I've never read another author who captures the horror, reality, and fantastic nature of life before ...more
Michael Perkins
Had trouble with the husband, a womanizing pervert who liked to seduce his students, and had no problem with rape.

The author does her best to show how he helped Jackson in her work, but it was not a happy situation. They stopped talking fairly early into their marriage.

Jackson was the real and lasting talent, although she was treated as second class ("faculty wife") because she was a woman.

some interesting bullet points....
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