Tag Archives: Scary Stuff

Happy All Hallows Read!

Via https://www.deviantart.com/blablover5/gallery/45901488/All-Hallows-Read

The time has come again, beloved patrons, for All Hallows Read, a monthly indulgence in all things spectacularly spooky, deliciously dark, and gloriously ghoulish!

All Hallows Read was started by the Great and Good Neil Gaiman in 2010 with this blog post, which called for a new Halloween tradition, and stated, in part:

I propose that, on Hallowe’en or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books. Give children scary books they’ll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they’ll enjoy.
I propose that stories by authors like John Bellairs and Stephen King and Arthur Machen and Ramsey Campbell and M R James and Lisa Tuttle and Peter Straub and Daphne Du Maurier and Clive Barker and a hundred hundred others change hands — new books or old or second-hand, beloved books or unknown. Give someone a scary book for Hallowe’en. Make their flesh creep…
Now we at the Free For All never do things by half, and so waiting until the week of Halloween really doesn’t give us enough time to highlight all the creepy tales that live here in the Library.  So instead, we are taking the whole month to showcase some scary (and scary-ish, and maybe not-so-scary) books.  We hope this will help you to  find a new beloved book among them, or perhaps revisit an old favorite from days gone by.  Check out our display at the Main Library, and revel in some of the ghoulish suggestions below.  And feel free to check out the Twitter handle: #AllHallowsRead to see what scary reads people around the world are enjoying, too!
We’ll be updating the blog throughout the month with some scintillating and shiver-inducing reads to help you celebrate All Hallows Read, so stay turned!

Stories That Save You (Part 2)

As we’ve mentioned here before, beloved patrons, we all have stories that save us.  Those books that come into our lives precisely when we need them or stay around for years and years like an old friend.  Today, I wanted to talk with you about another one of those books in my life.  It’s a book I turn to every year around this time, for reasons that might very well become clear as we chat…

It’s ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

King’s second novel, ‘Salem’s Lot was first published in 1975.  According to his introduction to the 2014 audiobook recording, King was teaching Dracula to a high school class, and was inspired to consider what might happen if the titular count were to return again.  Though he might not survive in, say New York City, King’s wife Tabitha mused what might happen if he appeared in a more rural setting.  Like Maine.  And that was that.  The book was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1976, and the Locus Award for the All-Time Best Fantasy Novel in 1987, and King has stated several times that it is among his favorite of his works.  In 1987 he told Phil Konstantin in The Highway Patrolman magazine: “In a way it is my favorite story, mostly because of what it says about small towns. They are kind of a dying organism right now. The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it!”

Very broadly speaking, the novel follows a 32-year-old writer named Benjamin Mears, who returns to Jerusalem’s Lot township in southern Maine (where he lived for four years as a child), following the death of his wife, Miranda.  Ben is intending to write a novel inspired by, and based on, an old, decaying, creepy house in ‘Salem’s Lot known to locals as The Marsten House.  It is a house in which Ben had a traumatically frightening experience as a child that he hopes to heal fully through his writing.  Ben is not, however, the only newcomer to ‘Salem’s Lot.  Another person has rented The Marsten House. And their intentions are far from neighborly, to say the least.

I first encountered ‘Salem’s Lot while I was living in the UK and working on my Master’s Degree.  I had written a seminar paper on Dracula  (another book that I love just a bit too much), and was devouring all the subsequent vampire novels I could get my hands on.  My dad, who I think I’ve mentioned before, is an enormous Stephen King fan (I thought he was a family friend because we had so many of his books around his house), and reminded me that King himself had written a book inspired by Dracula, so I made it my present to myself.  The day I handed in my Masters’ Thesis (September 10, if I remember correctly), I bought a copy of ‘Salem’s Lot.

I loved it from the moment I started reading. Being far away from home, I adored the sections that talk about fall in New England, about the feeling of the cold seeping into the air, into your bones, into your consciousness.  I loved being reminded of the way telephone lines used to buzz gently in the days before digital.  I loved the discussions of darkness, and about what darkness did to the people who lived with it.

I also really liked that King used his study of a small town to talk about the ways in which secrets moved and circulated, and about the impact of evil.  Not just the big evils (although Big Evils abound in this book), but the petty kinds of evil: laziness, greed, selfishness, chauvinism.  If this book reinforces a real-world message, it is that those kind of small evils permit more small evils, and those build and build into something truly fearful.  Larry Crockett, for example, is a shady, lazy, sexist real estate agent who rents out the Marsten House (see an imagined image on the left), even though he knows in his gut that the man renting it is seriously bad news.  But he is also earning a very fat commission on the transaction, so he looks the other way–and allows the vampires to enter ‘Salem’s Lot.  We learn, eventually, about how the town turned away from the things that scared or disturbed them about the Marsten House…and how that permitted the evil inside it to fester.  I appreciated the ways that King discussed the grief and pain that these evils caused, from the loss of a child to the anguish of marital rape (and I also give him a world a credit for calling it ‘marital rape’ in 1975).

Oh, right, and I also loved the vampires.  That should go without saying.  But if you can’t tell, while this book scared me, I loved it too much to be scared of it.  Instead, I read it every year as fall begins.  And every year, I find something else to love.  Right after reading it the first time, I traveled to Belfast for a research trip.  Belfast wasn’t the best of areas to be around that time, as the trauma of the Troubles was still very real.  While I was there, I listened to the audiobook of ‘Salem’s Lot, and appreciated anew how well King plays on our very human fears of being alone and isolated.  It was a sensational that was as real in Belfast at the turn of the century as it was in the ghost town of Momson, Vermont, which “dried up and blew away” in 1923 (according to the novel).

You can read more about Vermont Ghost Towns here: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/vermont/ghost-town-vt/

Years later, I was working in Copley Square, and had to go to work two days after the Boston Marathon Bombing.  As I, and my fellow workers, emerged from the Green Line to a mob of reporters, camera operators, and police, a found myself recalling a scene where Susan Norton goes to pay a call on the Marsten House–and realizes what real fear is.  Not the jump-scare fear of movies, but the deep-down, paralyzing fear that can warp a person into something very ugly.   But Susan, like others in the book, reject that fear, and confront the darkness in the world with determination and hope.  “The act of moving forward at all became heroism,” King wrote.  That line remains one of my favorite in the book.

These past few years in reading ‘Salem’s Lot, I am struck by the discussion of faith in the book.  Not necessarily religious faith–though that it discussed in the book–but something perhaps more fundamental.  A trust in an inherent structure and a goodness in the world that goes beyond hierarchies and symbols.  Several times in the course of the story, at times of greatest emotional peril, characters in the book refer to their love for each other, and it is that love that saves them.  I find myself reaching for that kind of faith in my readings this time around, and it makes the world outside the book just a little less scary.

…What are the books that save you, dear readers?  Feel free to share them with us here, or come in and find some new ones today!

On Happy Endings…



I think we can all be honest with each other here and acknowledge that, on the whole, 2016 has been a pretty rough year.  We’ve lost a lot of very talented, respected, and decent people, the weather has been extreme to say the least, and this election is just plain ugly.  I mentioned the other day that if I was reading a book about the major events of 2016, I would probably choose to read a different book.

Which got me thinking about why I read.

There is no short answers here.  I read to learn, I read because I am in school and was told to, I read to communicate….but mostly, I read to cope.  This is one of the reasons I am such a fan of horror novels.  Because, as we’ve mentioned before, horror fiction offers a safe, manageable way to experience, and thus learn to cope with fear and anxiety (the good ones also tend to be wonderfully creative and smart, too).  They also allow us to experience the worst-case scenarios through the experiences of other character, while remaining unscathed ourselves (I have not been turned into a vampire more times than I care to admit), and to come away realizing that our own reality is far more stable in comparison.  But fear, or dealing with fear, is not all there is to life, right?

And that is why I believe in books with happy endings.  Because life can be ruthless and mean and utterly unconcerned with us and with those we love.  And life is a huge fan of throwing bad news at us when we are least prepared.

Some people choose to deal with that by reading about other people’s experiences with sudden shocks, with loss, or with life crises in general–much like my reason (one of many) for reading horror novels.  Novels with sadness and heartbreak and unpleasant, real-life surprises provide a manageable, controllable way of dealing with the issues in our own lives.  They allow us to empathize with others in similar situations, and, perhaps, to find ways of coping (or things to avoid) based on the actions of characters.  And some people find crying cathartic.  And I promise you, if these kind of books are for you, we will help you find them–because there are a lot of them.

crying-woman-graphicI, however, almost always hate crying.  Crying makes me angry.  As does bad news, sudden surprises, and loss.  And when bad things happen to characters for whom I care greatly, I get just as angry on their behalf as I would if those things happened to me.  Thus, I realized long ago that books that mirrored life were probably not, overall, beneficial to my health.  And I proudly, and loudly, began looking for books with happy endings.  Books where characters survived and grew and were rewarded for doing so.  Books where people could be redeemed and the devil could be bested and the  fires could be put out and there was still magic left in the world.  I know these things don’t happen in real life.  That is why these books are fiction.  But there is a huge amount of power in creating–and insisting on–happy endings.  They are a source of defiant hope in a world that seems to be getting cynical.  They are a little bit of light in an otherwise dark day.  They are a reassurance that if it could happen to these characters, it could happen to you.

bunnicula-quoteNow, I realize that we are not all going to agree on what a “happy ending” is….which is a prime example of why I hate love triangles.   Happy endings don’t have to be a Deus Ex-Machina descending on a scene to right every wrong to the utter detriment of reality, nor to they have to be ones where everyone is rewarded according to their actions, like in Victorian school primers.  Instead, the books that I love are the ones where courage, honesty, self-realization, and love–actions that reject and repel anger and cynicism and dejection–are all valued and championed.  Those kind of books can come in many forms.  Ultimately, what makes a book’s ending “happy” is often when characters decide to turn their story into one of triumph.  When they chose not to give in.  When they chose to love.  When they chose to celebrate their successes, rather than regret their defeats.  And that is something that takes an enormous amount of courage, especially in today’s climate.


And if you are like me, and believe that a few books with happy endings are good for the soul in troubled times, then stop by the Main Library and check out our display of Books With Happy Endings.  I don’t promise they will all be light, or easy reads.  But I can promise that they will take a stand for the goodness of people (and animals, in some cases), and provide an excellent counterpoint to All That 2016 has thrown at us.




All Hallow’s Read!


In his play An Ideal Husband, Oscar Wilde wrote “I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it.”  As far as I am concerned the same can be said of books.  There is very little I enjoy more in this world than passing on a book that I have enjoyed to another reader.  And, it turns out, I have enjoyed a lot of scary stories in my time.  In putting together the display at the Main Library for All Hallows Read, I realized that my stupidly long arms came in handy as I harvested books from the shelves like apples from trees.

Not only that, but we’ve had several patrons requesting scary stories for their Halloween reading, which fills me with more joy than I can express here.  I love sharing books in general, but realizing that there are other people who enjoy the shiver-inducing kind of books that I do is another aspect of being a reader that is so magical.

So, with that in mind, I figured it was time to share with you, dear readers, some of our best spine-tingling, gasp-worthy, dread-inducing books for your All-Hallows-Read-ing pleasure!  And feel free to let us know which books are making an impression on you, too–after, like good advice, books should be passed on, as well!


1702838-1Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark: I know we mentioned this book last year, but seriously, if you grew up in the late eighties or nineties, you probably had at least a passing relationship with this book.  Most of the people I spoke with, however, need only to hear the title of this book to start shrieking, years and years later, that those stories…and moreover the illustrations, oh good Lord the illustrations were one of the most terrifying aspects of their growing-up.  Largely culled from folklore, these stories play on every fear your brain stem holds from ions back…the dark…strange sounds….spiders…..and does it in quick, but descriptive detail, providing a perfect bit of bite-sized terror.  I still carry traces of the terror these stories induced in me to this day.  The only consolation is that so many other people apparently do, too….

2181969The Shining:  We all have a cultural memory of Jack Nicholson hacking through a door and leering, but how many know the novel that inspired this part?  Stephen King’s third novel is so much more than Kubrick’s adaptation–and that’s nothing against Kubrick at all, but there is a lot of haunting subtlety in the text that you can’t put on film.  Even as the troubled Torrance family moves to the Overlook Hotel in the hope of turning over a new leaf, there is the hint of darkness overlaying their conversations, a whisper of things to come that makes their seeming mundanity increasingly gripping.  Even if you know what is going to happen, and the odd abilities that young Danny Torrance possesses, it won’t spoil the reading of this chilling, visceral bit of horror.  Also, the Library has a little tiny paperback edition that is remarkably light (and thus easy to transport!) but shaped like a brick, and I think it might be the cutest book we own.  Come see for yourself!

3140975Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James: File under “oldie but goodie”–James’ stories have been around for a century, but his works, and the format he used are still considered seminal works in horror fiction to this day.  Though a bit of a traditionalist when it came to his opinions on literature…and most other aspects of his life, James truly gifted at ghost stories, largely relying on implication and suggestion to his advantage, forcing the reader to fill in the blanks in his stories with their own nightmares.  The result is a set of stories that are occasionally gruesome, often weird (Lovecraft was a big fan of James’ work), and truly unsettling.  There’s a reason that James is still cited as one of the most important horror writers of the past century—and still read widely today.

3789454I Am Providence: And speaking of Lovecraft…Nick Mamatas’ new book is a perfectly creepy, deeply insightful, twisted little novel that makes terrific reading for those who know Lovecraft’s writing, and those who only know his reputation.  This murder mystery of sorts unfolds in two story-lines–one from a female author at a Lovecraft convention who discovers the body of the man with whom she was sharing a room–and the dead man himself, from his drawer in the morgue.  While Mamatas isn’t above mocking Lovecraft’s fan-boys with whip-sharp brutality, but he also provides a beautifully eloquent insight into what Lovecraft does well–and what makes him so utterly deplorable.  The result is a book that will have you laughing, right up until everything gets weird…and shockingly, disturbingly real…

Until next time, dear reader….be sure to read with the lights on!

Happy All Hallows Read!


The time has come again, beloved patrons, for All Hallows Read, a monthly indulgence in all things spectacularly spooky, deliciously dark, and gloriously ghoulish!

All Hallows Read was started by the Great and Good Neil Gaiman in 2010 with this blog post, which called for a new Halloween tradition, and stated, in part:

I propose that, on Hallowe’en or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books. Give children scary books they’ll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they’ll enjoy.
I propose that stories by authors like John Bellairs and Stephen King and Arthur Machen and Ramsey Campbell and M R James and Lisa Tuttle and Peter Straub and Daphne Du Maurier and Clive Barker and a hundred hundred others change hands — new books or old or second-hand, beloved books or unknown. Give someone a scary book for Hallowe’en. Make their flesh creep…
Now we at the Free For All never do things by half, waiting around until the week of Halloween really isn’t an option for us.  So instead, we are taking the whole month to showcase the scary (and scary-ish) books on our shelves, in the hopes that you will find your own beloved book among them, or a new favorite to savor.  Check out our display at the Main Library, and revel in some suggestions below.  And feel free to check out the Twitter handle: #AllHallowsRead to see what scary reads people around the world are enjoying, too!
For those looking for a place to start, here are some Free For All Favorites for All Hallows Read:
3622766A Head Full of Ghosts: This book, man.  Oh, this book.  First off, it’s set in Beverly, and Paul Tremblay is a Massachusetts native, so there is a good deal of (accurate) local flair.  Second, it features a whole bunch of unreliable narrators: beginning with Merry, who is relating the story of her older sisters alleged possession, the reality television series that invaded her family’s lives in order to film their trauma, and the blogger who analyzes the reality show in stand-alone chapters.  Third, its will keep you guessing and wondering and questioning from the very first scene, doubting what is true, what is really happening, and just how much you as a reader are willing to believe in the power of evil, which makes for a genuinely engaging, and unnerving read.  Fourth, it has one of the biggest, best twists in the history of literary twists.  So much so that I made my dad read this book so that I could discuss it with someone.  He agrees with me.  As does Stephen King, who said that this book “Scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.”
3637428Slade House: I am going to put it out there–I have never been so scared by a book, and so annoyed at its author at the same time as I was when reading David Mitchell’s first official foray into the gothic horror genre.  The book itself is made up of intertwined short stories, each taking place on the same day in different years, and each set at the titular Slade House, which only appears to those looking for it.  Even as my rational brain was telling me that Slade House was a trap, that no good could come to those hunting for it, or searching through it, or trying to escape from it, I was genuinely scared while reading of the way that Slade House toyed with its victims, turned their realities inside-out and upside-down, and destroyed them.  Those looking for a truly dread-full read should look no further than this odd little yellow volume (and those who have read Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks will find an added treat in the ending).
2296095The OvernightRamsey Campbell is one of the masters of horror fiction, and has contributed an enormous amount to the genre as a whole.  Though not one of his most famous works, this tale, set in a chain bookstore run by an American on British soil, was too appropriate to pass over.  Woody, the manger of Texts (the bookstore in question) wants nothing more than to make his store into a calm, orderly, peaceful place for customers to browse and buy.  But every day when he and his staff enter the store, the books are tossed on the floor, broken, bent…and mysteriously damp.  The store’s computers literally have a mind of their own, ringing up stocking and purchasing errors at random.  And the employees, too, are falling apart–bickering, accusing, and one has even lost the ability to read at all.  Desperate for answers, Woody demands his staff remain overnight in the store to perform a final stock count…and together, they discover the hell that really lurks on the shelves….This book is told from the point of view of each of the employees in turn, which may make it a tricky read for some, but it also helps create an atmosphere of tension and suspense throughout that works very, very well.
3703559‘Salem’s Lot: I am pretty sure there is some kind of limit about how many times I can recommend a book.  But since I have read this book every year since 2009, and still love it (and still find it scary), I’m going to recommend it again.  Set in the township of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, Stephen King’s book is at once a tale of the undead horror that unravels the town from the inside out, but it is also a love story to autumn in New England that is just as easy to relate to now as it was when the book was published in 1975.  I’m in the middle of my eighth reading of this book, and still finding new treasures in it–and still creeped out about that scene in the graveyard.
Until next week, dear readers…Happy All Hallows Read!

In Praise of the Villains

Now, before anyone gets too overly concerned about That Lady at the Circulation Desk, allow me to explain to you what, precisely it is that makes me love a good baddie.

Ford Sterling with the sledgehammer and Mabel Normand tied in the rails in Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life (1913)
Ford Sterling with the sledgehammer and Mabel Normand tied in the rails in Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life (1913)

A good villain is so much more than a hunchbacked crone with a crooked nose (think of the Wicked Witch in Snow White, or the Wicked Witch of the West in the film version of The Wizard of Oz), and it isn’t just a rampant dislike of the hero or heroine…a lot of James Bond villains fall into this category…actually, they usually fall under the category of ‘inexplicably scarred’, as well…
These characters generally adhere to the old Victorian concept of physiognomy (which they borrowed from Aristotle), which said that ugly people had ugly souls.  Oscar Wilde plays with this concept in The Picture of Dorian Graybut his characters are far, far more complex than, say Mr. Hyde.

Dr_Jekyll_and_Mr_Hyde_poster_edit2Some villains are villainous simply because they are mirror images of the hero, and exist to show up his or her darker traits.  Take, for example, Mr. Hyde, of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  There is no doubt that Hyde is a bad guy, but he doesn’t have an independent agenda.  He is, literally, the embodiment of all of Jekyll’s bad qualities.  Similar, though a bit less obvious, is the character of Clare Quilty in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, who literally and figuratively embodies all the evil, lascivious, and predatory qualities that Humbert refuses to see in himself.  Indeed, there are plenty who believe that there was no murder in Lolita, because Quilty is nothing more than Humbert himself.  The same argument has also been made for character of Professor James Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes canon–that he is a figment of Holmes’ imagination, the man on whom he blames all the cases he cannot solve…or he might even be Holmes himself, who has all the makings of a master criminal, as well as a master detective.

2097676There are other villains who are psychotic, sociopathic, or otherwise…warped.  For the record, there is a huge difference between characters who are inwardly deformed and those who are mentally ill, both realistically and in a literary sense.  The ones I am describing here are ones like Hannibal Lector, or Francis Dolarhyde, from The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragonrespectively, or  just about any villain from the Pendergast novels from Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.   These villains are generally utterly chilling and terrifying, particularly because they are physically human (usually), but psychologically, they are totally untranslatable.  Their psyche is so skewed that looking at them is like looking in a broken mirror.  That line between human and monster is a very interesting one, but not an easy one to walk.  It’s very, very easy for a character to become a caricature or cartoonishly wicked, which is why the good ones are so memorable.

But those villains who exist as independent entities…who have their own narrative arc, and drive, and desires?  Those are the kind that really get my attention.  Because it actually takes a lot of work to make a really good villain, because there is so much psychology, so much humanity, and so much passion that goes into making them really great.  For villains like this, it’s not so much what they do, as why they do it, and the object that drives them–because we, as readers, are allowed to get close enough to them to understand this.  This is a dangerous game to play with readers, because we are taught to sympathize with the hero of a story, to find a bit of ourselves in the protagonist and his quest.  So to give us the chance to see the world through a villain’s eyes, to taste their desire and understand their drive, not only transforms them into something more like an anti-hero than a villain (in most cases), but also transforms us, by forcing us to realize that we may, in truth, have a little villain in us, as well.

Just who are we talking about here?

Paradise Lost, Gustave Dore
Paradise Lost, Gustave Dore

I’m thinking of Lucifer from Paradise Lost, the fallen angel that Milton painted as the arch-enemy of God and Mankind, but whose real ‘crime’ was to demand the right to exercise his free will.  His exile from Heaven only resolves Lucifer further to thumb his nose at the intractable deity that scorned him–and the fact that he is still a popular character on tv, in films, and in books, shows just how enduring Milton’s image of the Prince of Darkness has become:

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deifie his power…


Or how about Mr. Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness?  We only ever meet through the reminiscences of Marlow, the book’s narrator, and because of this, Kurtz’s real personality remains somewhat obscured.  Nevertheless, Marlow (and Conrad, who took the same trip in real life) is able to describe the total incomprehensibility, size, and foreignness of the African jungle in such powerful terms, that it becomes frighteningly easy to see how one could become like Kurtz–how one could demand to control everything and everyone in the hope of imposing order, and how that need for control and dominance could warp a person’s soul permanently.  In a time when colonialism and imperialism, particularly in Africa, was being held up as a duty and a privilege for the heroic White Man, Conrad’s depiction of Kurtz was all the more startling for its brutal honesty:

He began by saying that we whites ‘must seem like supernatural beings to savages, we must look like gods to them,’ and so on. ‘By applying our will, we can do endless good,’ etc. It carried me away, though it’s difficult to remember what exactly it said. I know it gave me the impression of an immense land overseen by gentle and noble rulers. It was exciting, so full of brilliant words. There was no practical advice at all, except for a note on the last page, which he apparently scrawled sometime later, in a shaky hand. It was a very simple method of rule that he proposed, and after reading all of those pages of pure poetry about helping the natives, it was like a terrifying flash of lightning in a clear sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’… As it turned out, I had to handle his affairs after he died. After everything I’ve done, I should have the right to put his memory in the trashcan of history, but I don’t have a choice in the matter. He won’t be forgotten.

Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy
Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy

And finally, the whole reason for this post, is because of Draco Malfoy.  In a discussion with the wonderful Melissa, who writes the fabulous “Wednesdays at the West” posts, I admitted to having a sort-of, kind-of thing for Malfoy, which I probably wouldn’t admit to in public.  There just seemed to be so many layers to him, even when he was being a sneer-y, misogynistic jerk.  There was fear there, and a sense that Malfoy was as lost in Voldemort’s plans as Harry was, at times.  Apparently, I am not alone in my feelings, as J.K. Rowling went on record saying that Malfoy was not the guy you wanted him to be:

Draco remains a person of dubious morality in the seven published books, and I have often had cause to remark on how unnerved I have been by the number of girls who fell for this particular fictional character… All of this left me in the unenviable position of pouring cold common sense on ardent readers’ daydreams as I told them, rather severely, that Draco was not concealing a heart of gold under all that sneering and prejudice and that no, he and Harry were not destined to end up best friends.

AND YET.  Once you’ve read Harry Potter and the Cursed Childperhaps we should revisit this discussion again, and accept that even some of the darkest of villains are far, far more human that any of us might like to admit.

Summertime Shivers…

Summertime is a super time for scaring yourself silly!

Last summer, I talked about my love of scary stories and horror novels, and specifically how I always tend to read them in the summertime.  As I mentioned then, maybe it has something to do with the abundance of sunshine in the summertime, and the stark contrast between the darkness inside the book and the brightness outside.  Maybe because I have the time to really sink into the atmosphere and sensations of a book in the summer, more than I do over the school year.  But, as I continue my summertime horror-binge, I had few more thoughts about The Scary Stuff and (naturally), some recommendations to pass on.

83a5423fd2b06a2bd7146aa59ed8c8adFirst off, horror novels, the really good horror novels that nestle under your skin, that stain your hands, that linger in your dreams, take a heck of a lot of work.  A lot of writers do the gory stuff, and, frankly, I don’t find those things too scary.  Stomach-churning?  Absolutely.  But the kind of horror that floats my boat really aren’t that gory or explicit at all.  My favorite horror novels are the ones that create a fully-immersive world for me to believe in, and characters who are real enough for me to feel for them, and the plight into which they fall.  When my heart and mind are engaged (instead of my stomach), it’s a lot easier to scare me.  This takes a lot of work, and no considerable amount of talent, over and above a knowledge of the human anatomy and how to take it apart.  As a result, some horror novels feature some of the most beautiful, descriptive, and insightful writing I’ve come across, precisely because they need to build that emotional and imaginative bond in order to have the proper effect on the reader.

Secondly, as a reader with anxiety–shocking bookand book anxiety, to boot–scary stories are actually really helpful.  My mind really loves jumping to the worst case scenario, to the ‘what-ifs’, to all the things that could go wrong–and I spend a lot of time and energy trying to ignore those thoughts, or silence those worries, and it’s really tiring.  Horror novels provide a safe space to explore those fears, by not only presenting you with a worst-case scenario (sometimes its realistic, sometimes its supernatural or extraterrestrial), but also by reveling in it.  A lot of these books also leave a lot of room for the reader to insert their own thoughts and fears into the story.  I’m thinking of the scene in ‘Salem’s Lot where the Glick boys are in the woods, and Danny Glick says he sees “it”.  We, as readers, are never really told what it is, or what it looks like…which gives us plenty of room to place our own bogeymen into that space.  Good horror books let us take our fears and worries and concerns out of the shadows and explore them, an act which takes a lot of power away from those fears.

So, if you’re looking to explore the world of scary stuff for the first time, or searching around for a new fix, here are a few of my recent favorite horror selections to give you some summertime shivers…

3622766A Head Full of Ghosts: When Stephen King says a story scared him, we should sit up and pay attention, but I wasn’t sold on it until about the last 50 pages.  But oh, those last fifty pages made this book one of the best I have read in a really, really long time.  Fifteen years ago, the Barrett family (of Beverly, Massachusetts) were the subject of an enormously popular reality show called The Possession, that allegedly documented fourteen-year-old Marjorie’s struggle with demonic possession.  Now, Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry, is telling her side of the story to a journalist who is hoping to get behind the now-famous scenes of the show to what really happened.  This is a heartbreaking, and ultimately horrifying, intoxicating story of familial relations and the fragile ties that bind us, about the desperation and despair of failure, and asks a lot of questions that are impossible to accurately answer.  This is a very tricky book to describe without giving things away, so….just read it.  Then we can talk.

3740626I’m Thinking of Ending Things: This book falls very squarely into the category of cerebral horror, where the reader is given just enough information to follow the plot, but not nearly enough information to feel comfortable.  What we know is that the narrator (who is not named, despite a number of summaries that state the contrary, grr….) is driving with her boyfriend to meet his parents.  But there are so many weird, off-putting, seemingly incongruous events and conversations taking place in the course of this story that it becomes very clear there is far more going on beneath the surface.  Add to this the snippets of conversation we overhear throughout this book, and the stage is set for a book that will play around with your mind for everyone of its 200 pages.  Though the ending of this book was a little too psuedo-deep/intellectual for my tastes, if you like narrative tricks and literary conjuring tricks, along with a thick, increasingly tense and inexplicably hostile atmosphere in your reading, this book is definitely for you.

3726204Security: We recently featured Gina Wohlsdorf’s debut in a recent post, and, since then, and I am here to tell you that All The Reviews are right–this is a remarkably told, viscously creative, and expertly-balanced story that keeps readers on edge by telling them everything….except ‘why’.  Manderley has been billed as the most luxurious, and the most secure hotel in the world.  But, days before its opening, a Killer is stalking the halls and rooms of Manderley, killing off its staff one by one.  The story is narrated by an anonymous member of Manderley’s security staff, who watches all the action from the totally isolated security room on the hotel’s top floor…with less impartiality than one might expect.  There are times when the narrative diverges, sometimes visibly on the page, as we watch characters going up and down the elevators, entering different rooms on different floors, allowing us to keep tabs on them at all times–but never quite sure what is going to happen next.  Though there is a more gruesomeness in this book than most, Wohlsdorf handles it with grown-up discretion, and tempers it by offering insights into her characters and their relationships…and even providing a pitch-perfect love story in the midst of everything that balances this book perfectly and makes it one that is impossible to put down.

There will definitely be more scary stuff to come readers, but for now–enjoy!