he weather starts getting colder, it's the perfect time to wrap yourself up in a blanket with a mug of warm apple cider and read a scary book. I know the horror genre often gets labeled as pulp and not worthy of literary notice, but I think there is no social commentary quite like talking about what terrifies us. With that said here is my October reading list.
One of my twitter people the other day asked twitter what the scariest books we've ever read were. Then on another forum today, someone asked what is the first "grown up" book posters ever read. I realized after a few minutes thinking that for me, these are in fact the same book. You've may have seen the 1963 film, The Haunting, with Julie Harris or the more recent 1999 remake, but these movies have nothing on the book. Shirley Jackson was already known for terrifying short stories like "The Lottery" when she this book was published in 1959, but there is nothing more terrifying to me as the mind of Eleanor Vance and the tricks it plays on her. The most incredible part of this story is that although she has some special abilities (I won't name them), there is something very human and familiar about Eleanor. She's that small, lonely, insecure part of each of us that we try to keep on the inside, and this book is what happens when that part gets stirred up and let loose.
You hunker down at home as a thunderstorm rolls in. When it's over your little town is enveloped in a soupy, opaque mist that is filled with man eating monsters that scoop up your neighbors. Your job is to keep your son safe. Need I say more? Sure plenty of other readers would pick different scary Stephen King books like The Shining or Pet Sematary, but as a mom the idea of trying to herd my children through this kind of situation is terrifying. King is such a pro at creating terror with what you don't see, and this book is a prime example of that.
I picked this book up after hearing a reviewer on NPR describe it at as "James Joyce and Stephen King meet at midnight in a clearing in the woods". Add to that the partial setting of a historic house in the Virginia countryside, and I was sold. I was not disappointed. In fact, my husband couldn't even wait for me to finish this book before he went out and bought his own copy. It's a labyrinth of psychological terror that is just too vivid and too good to be missed. Don't skim, every word is worth it. You might want to have extra bookmarks and post-its handy.
As a Tarheel (in the diaspora) and a student of folklore, this book is right up my alley. The Devil's Tramping Ground is a round path in clearing in western Chatham County where nothing grows. Anything left laying across the path at night is found moved to the side in the morning. Legend has it that the Devil walks this path nightly pondering what mischief he will do. In addition to this legend, this book had other stories like ghost ships in the Outer Banks, the Brown Mountain Lights, and Theodosia Burr who may yet get a short story in Of Sound and Sea. Last but certainly not least the Disappearance of Peter Dromgoole who's story is mentioned in my novel in progress. You can see that the folklore of North Carolina has strongly influence what I write and some of it's just plain creepy.
L. B. Taylor has made a career out of collecting and recounting stories of the paranormal from all over Virginia. If you like folklore and ghost stories I recommend any of his books. This one I find the most interesting and a little chilling because the stories come from my home town. There's a story about the church we attended when I was a child, another about the house across the street from my first apartment, and from local highlights like Kenmore, the Rising Sun Tavern, and Chatham. An area filled with as much history and war as Fredericksburg is bound to be loaded with stories and Taylor finds plenty. If you're interested in other parts of Virginia, Taylor also has books about Richmond, Williamsburg and multiple volumes of stories from all over the state.
What would an October reading list be without at least one vampire book? Funny thing about vampires is that as fiction they're sexy and romantic and compelling, but when you look at the historical roots of our modern fictional vampires the reality is more terrifying and gory than any fiction. In this book two historians go in search of the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, and how the history of a Wallachian Prince struggling to hold onto power in his country evolved into the a legend of terror and cannibalism. It truly fascinating stuff.
Speaking of exploring horror fiction as social commentary, Susan Navarette does that very thing with an eye toward the late nineteenth century. I was lucky enough to take Dr. Navarette's class when I was in college and our examination of Dracula was nothing short of mind blowing. No one analyzes literature quite as completely as she does. I can't recommend her work strongly enough. If you're lucky enough to be a student at Hartwick College, you'd be crazy not to take her class.