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Riddance: Or the Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers & Hearing-Mouth Children
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Monthly Reads > January 2020 Monthly Read: Shelley Jackson's Riddance

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Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments As selected by our few but passionate voters, our first monthly read of 2020 is Shelley Jackson's Riddance: Or the Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers & Hearing-Mouth Children!

Jackson and the novel were profiled in The New Yorker:
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/per...

An enthusiastic review from Publishers Weekly:
https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-...

Let's take maybe a week to score our copies, then start early next week!


Janie C. | 150 comments Looking forward to this one - I'm in.


message 3: by Dan (new)

Dan | 331 comments 512 text pages!


Janie C. | 150 comments There are pictures...


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments I'll be starting this later today. Very much looking forward to it.


Janie C. | 150 comments I began this afternoon and am finding this to be an addictive read. The parallel childhood experiences of Jane and Sybil are very interesting.


Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments Awesome. I'm starting tonight.


Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments Just finished Chapter 1. How's everyone doing?

I'm enjoying what I can glean of the basic story so far (unfolding at a leisurely pace), and the way it's delivered. I've only read Jackson's more conventional fiction, not the hypertext or tattoo-based pieces; here she seems to be playing with the friction between all the different texts and perspectives. Some of this is very funny. (view spoiler)I wasn't sure about the extended "editorial" sections at first, but they get more sly and subtly revealing.

The design of the book is a delight, with the quirky graphics, what look like vintage photos, and "reproductions" of old documents.


message 9: by Janie (last edited Jan 15, 2020 05:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Janie C. | 150 comments I am up to Chapter 4. I am enjoying the editor's input, then jumping into the crackling static text by Joines. I have not read anything by Jackson before, so this is a new experience for me. I agree that there is some biting and welcome humor, Bill. I also love the graphics, documents and odd photographs included.


message 10: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments That second Melville letter approaches slapstick, ha.

Ok, I'll pause for a bit until someone other than Janie and I chime in.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments I'm about three-quarters through Chapter 1 and enjoying this very much. I really love the addition of graphics, photographs, etc. and I'm liking the variety of voices provided through the first-person accounts.

Have either of you read Laurie Sheck's A Monster's Notes? 'Riddance' reminds me just a bit of that wonderful book in form (the "documents" and alternating narrators) so far.


Janie C. | 150 comments Bill, I am finding all of the letters to authors to be entertaining, some of them rather sad as the book progresses. Marie-Therese, I am also enjoying all the graphics, photos, and such - they really add to the surreal atmosphere of the book. I hadn't heard of A Monster's Notes, but just looked it up and added it on my tbr. Thanks! :)


message 13: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments Marie-Therese wrote: "Have either of you read Laurie Sheck's A Monster's Notes?"
Nope. Looks totally up my alley, thanks!


message 14: by Janie (last edited Jan 17, 2020 04:47AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Janie C. | 150 comments I am at 70%. I don't think it's a spoiler to mention that I feel a bit sorry for the headmistress. Despite her self-centeredness and cold demeanor, she has her weaknesses. I appreciate the stenographer's tough shell. The author's attention to detail regarding alphabet(s), tools and methods of speech are amazing.


message 15: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments Janie wrote: "I am at 70%. I don't think it's a spoiler to mention that I feel a bit sorry for the headmistress."
I also feel bad for her, even though I laugh at her flights of (il)logic. Jackson is so good with her voice, so consistent and inventive.

I'm about 150 pages in, and eager to press on. How's everyone else doing? (Whitney?)


message 16: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments Note on using vintage photos etc: a couple years ago we buddy-read David Demchuk's The Bone Mother, which I loved. That took the edge off my memories of another vintage photo-wielding novel: Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, which I didn't. (I see Miss Peregrine has developed into an industry...)


message 17: by Whitney (new) - added it

Whitney | 127 comments I am lagging behind but hope to do some serious reading this weekend. I was almost done with chapter one, and decided it needed more dedicated and sustained attention, so I went back to the beginning. There is so much to unpack in just the editor's introduction.

There's a strong implication that we have an unreliable editor, or possibly a split into an alternate world. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon that the editor experiences after finding the original article is extreme, even as she(?) dismisses it as an observer being "newly awakened to these echoes". A random paper airplane, a shoe ad, a discarded bundle on the sidewalk et. al. with mentions of the school; unlikely to say the least. Then there's the cease and desist from the school, which is probably manipulation, before she has gone public with her interest. I think this line is key:

"Once again I had the uncanny feeling that the SJVS was created expressly for me, was summoned forth by my interest in it, towing its history behind it like a placenta."

Whatever the explanation, the editor is not a simple chronicler of history. I would guess she's a tool of otherworldly forces, or even the prime mover in their creation.


message 18: by Whitney (last edited Jan 18, 2020 12:06PM) (new) - added it

Whitney | 127 comments Bill wrote: "Janie wrote: "I am at 70%. I don't think it's a spoiler to mention that I feel a bit sorry for the headmistress."
I also feel bad for her, even though I laugh at her flights of (il)logic..."


I thought the headmistress's childhood was the perfect set-up for her fancies and beliefs. Her father's abusive authoritarianism, and his embrace of endless quackery masquarading as 'scientific'. Nothing more likely to push someone away from acceptance of conventional authority, as well as what they may have come to consider mainstream science.

As an aside, I was also a hold-out in not loving Miss Peregrine's Home. It felt like a story was being shoe-horned into fitting with the bizarre photographs the author had found. In this case, the vintage materials are supporting the narrative and not vice-versa.


message 19: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments I'm really enjoying how all the narrators are so unreliable (with the possible exception of the stenographer, but I haven't reached p.200 yet, plenty of time for her to go off the rails!) They can be so insistent on a specific nutty idea or assumption, then all of a sudden start questioning or even contradicting themselves.

And having spent uncountable hours slogging through technical pubs, I love those absurd Necrophysics sections, in a kind of vintage scientific language.


Janie C. | 150 comments Joines herself is the epitome of unreliability. She is fickle with many of her theories, abandoning one for a newer one on a whim.

Some of the Necrophysics had me shaking my Kindle in frustration. I confess to being a mite impatient.


message 21: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments I think skimming the Necrophysics sections probably won't compromise your enjoyment of the rest.

I also have a short attention span. But I'm enjoying the Necrophysics for the play with language, and also because I love unstable, evolving forms like the ectoplasmoglyphs. Wish I had come up with the idea!


Janie C. | 150 comments The mouth objects are totally fascinating, even upon their dissection. Very cool and imaginative.


message 23: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments I'm in Chapter 10, about the halfway point. Very little has happened so far (in 250+ pages!), and I'm surprised I'm enjoying this so much. Mostly the headmistress and the stenographer walk around the school, tending to nutty rituals. Normally 200+ pages of this would test my patience. But the two main characters are both fascinating to observe, quirks, warts and all. Jackson's prose is (appropriately) mannered. While I've been known to complain about overwrought prose (see our current buddy read, sorry), this mostly works well for me.

So much was made at first of the authors that the letters were addressed to (Melville, oops, sorry he's dead, etc), but eventually it hardly seemed to matter who the recipient was. (I'm peeking ahead and I see Mina Harker, ha. Wonder if there'll be a sly reference to Dodie Bellamy.)

And footnote 16 (p. 245) on tacky plastic souvenirs is hilarious!
... a flash drive in the shape of a tongue with what appears to be a chancre on it, inside of which tiny pages turn when the tongue is plugged into a USB port.


That has my name written all over it.


message 24: by Janie (last edited Jan 21, 2020 03:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Janie C. | 150 comments I finished. I couldn't help myself. I agree with Bill that (at least up to 250 pages) not much happened plot-wise, but the descriptions of everyday occurrences held my interest raptly. Idiosyncrasies of the headmistress and the stalwart responses of the stenographer were a treat to behold. The writing itself kept my attention for the most part (some of the descriptions were a bit difficult for me to follow, but that's just my impatient nature). There was a wink of humor underlying much of the goings-on, which I greatly appreciated.

The letter to dead author et al were priceless. And Bill, those souvenirs cracked me up too! All in all, the author's attention to her subjects was incomparable.


message 25: by OliveTree (new) - added it

OliveTree (themostsmooth) | 1 comments Oh I'm late (wasn't intending on doing any monthly reads this month) but I happened upon a copy of this incidentally and thought it was something I'd like to read so I might as well pitch in a bit here.


message 26: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments I'm done, but will try to hold off on spoilers.

I really enjoyed this novel. If it seems a bit slow in the first half, things will pick up considerably later.

The later "final dispatch" sections seem to be much smoother and less disrupted than the early ones. Maybe this is because (view spoiler).

Ok, I'll go practice the mouth routine in Appendix 2, and try to produce an ectoplasmoglyph.


Janie C. | 150 comments I really enjoyed this book, too. I also thought that the second half flowed well. (view spoiler)

Best of luck with the mouth routine, Bill. Be sure to do it in front of a mirror.


message 28: by Whitney (new) - added it

Whitney | 127 comments Bill wrote: "Ok, I'll go practice the mouth routine in Appendix 2, and try to produce an ectoplasmoglyph ..."

Pictures or it didn't happen.


Janie C. | 150 comments I concur with Whitney.


message 30: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments Janie wrote: "I concur with Whitney."
You guys are harsh! Couldn't you be satisfied with a typewritten transcript from my stenographer?


Janie C. | 150 comments Bill wrote: "Janie wrote: "I concur with Whitney."
You guys are harsh! Couldn't you be satisfied with a typewritten transcript from my stenographer?"


Read my glyphs: no


message 32: by Bill (last edited Jan 27, 2020 11:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments The poll for Feb 2020's monthly read is up!
https://www.goodreads.com/poll/show/1...

Please vote by end of Friday. If you vote for a book and it wins, you plan to participate in the monthly read.


message 33: by Bill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments Reminder: our Feb 2020 monthly read poll closes end of today:

https://www.goodreads.com/poll/show/1...


message 34: by Bill (last edited Feb 29, 2020 10:14AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1227 comments Please help select our March 2020 monthly read:
https://www.goodreads.com/poll/show/1...

Remember, if you vote, and your choice wins, you are committing to participate in the forum discussion.


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