Monday, October 30, 2017

What Books Chill You?

Happy Halloween!

October 01 begins, for me, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas fall into step and I'm constantly delighted by the tricks, treats, scares, food, songs, hymns, classic movies and myriad ways people express themselves and celebrate.

For me, Halloween conjures up memories of Princess Leia costumes, ghost stories, hiding under the covers, convinced the Headless Horseman was coming for me, and watching The Goonies, Gremlins and Ghost Busters. Not much has changed, actually, only now I'm more inclined to dress up as Luna Lovegood than Princess Leia. Still, there's nothing quite like letting your inward Nerd shine brightly and give yourself a few good frights.

Scary books are my favorite. I write horror and my reading leans more towards the spooky. While I'm not a fan of horror movies (not the stuff they put out today), I love a good, scary story.

And that, Dear Readers, is what today's post is all about! What books scare you? What stories chill you, send you hiding under the covers or cowering from those creaks in the attic? Horror isn't about blood, guts and gore. That's just Hollywood slash and trash. Disgust isn't where the truth in horror resides. If you'd like to really understand what horror is all about, read this brilliant piece on the Horror Writer's Association Website.

So, what DOES scare you? What books have left a lasting impressing of fright imprinted in your mind? And please remember that fright doesn't necessarily mean the monsters jump out and grab you. No, think about those slow seeping, long lingering horrors that make you shudder even on a bright, summer's day.

Here's my top five:

1. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
This is the grandmother of all horror novels. I've never seen the movie and didn't think the story was for me. For whatever reason, I picked it up several years ago and read it. Here's the interesting thing about it: yes, it was spooky. It was horrifying. But not for the reasons you THINK. I went into this novel with preconceived notions fueled by previews of pea soup puke and spinning heads. What I read was a story filled more with a battled between love and hate, faith and unbelief than the terrifying "ick" I was expecting. DISCLAIMER: while this is one of the best books I've ever read, I don't recommend it to anyone. It's hard - VERY HARD - to get through. It's about possession. It's about unadulterated evil encroaching upon an innocent child and the things that happen to this child are not safe for the whole family. You've been warned.

PS: After reading this, I didn't read horror for an entire year. Seriously. It impacted me that much.

2. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Again, I've never seen the movie. Not a fan of what Hollywood does to authors' visions. Susan Hill, however, is a genius at Gothic horror. She's a contemporary author who has the skill to weave tension and terror so subtly that builds and builds and, just when you think something horrible is going to happen - she lets you down, softly, and you heave a great sigh of relief. You realize your hands have been clenched, your muscles ache from trembling, and you're teeth are clamped firmly down on your fingers. Then, out of nowhere, WHAM! She hits you backwards and you sit, stunned, because you should have known what was coming but she placated your fears so well, so cunningly that you forgot you were reading a ghost story. So. Brilliant.

3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Here's another genius of the Gothic story. I LOVE Gothic horror. It's all about horror - the emotion and what it does to the people involved. Gothic horror shows humanity at it's best and worst. It reveals what horror can do physically, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically. It twists some minds and brings out bravery in others. It makes people do things they would never, ever ordinarily do. It's not blood and guts. It's more horrifying than that. It's presenting us with a question and then asking us, "What would YOU do?"

Shirley Jackson, like Hill, gives us these totally believable situations, creates these totally fantastical series of events and then hits is where we're blindsided. Then, slowly, the truth seeps in. Days later you remember something and you back-maze into the realization that the story you thought was kind of silly was actually terrifying. In this way, Hill House does not disappoint. In fact, I'd be so bold as to say it should be a Gothic Writer's 101 text book.

4.  The Shapeshifters by Stefan Spjut
The first thing you need to know about this book is that it's translated from Swedish. If you've never read a book in translation before, it's going to seem a bit ... odd. Which is actually perfect for this odd story. It starts out slow and continues that way, all the while building something in the background of you mind that makes you wonder, simultaneously, why you ever picked the book up and why you simply cannot put it down. It climaxes and then, it's over. You're left sitting in your arm chair, staring at the wall, wondering why on earth you read it.
"That's it?" You question. You close it, you put it own, you walk away.
Then, three days later, something clicks. And it niggles and it bores into your mind and you shudder and *ugh*. You feel violated, like the story has somehow taken over your mind, your soul, and you'll never, ever be able to shake it.
And you won't ever, ever, ever be able to forget it.
* insert evil, toothy grin here*

5. Drood by Dan Simmons
This book is delicious. It's huge and very Dickensian in scope. Perhaps it should be Wilkie-esque in scope because the narrator is Wilkie Collins, a contemporary of Dickens and, yes, good, old Charles is a major player. If you haven't read Victorian novels since college, give yourself a bit of grace with this one. You'll need it to settle into the lengthy prose and plodding descriptions. But it is all so necessary.
This tome is atmospheric at best, gruesome at worst, and utterly horrifying in ways you won't ever be able t predict. It builds slowly, like a festering wound that you just keep picking at and won't get treated. This is another one that leaves you thinking and pondering and finally - finally - coming to the conclusion that the whole thing was twisted and wrong and down right demented.

If you like modern horror films, if you're idea of horror is intestines hanging from ceiling fans, then you won't like these suggestions. Well, maybe The Exorcist. But, if you like the slow, psychological trauma that comes from suggestion, from the idea that Something Else could control you without you knowing it, even after the story is over, and if subtle shivers and long, lingering, deep rooted terror keeps you up years after you've read The End, pick up one of these and read them. Devour them. Let them soak into your psyche.

Trust me. You'll be scared.
And you'll never, ever look at squirrels the same way again.

So tell me: What stories scare YOU? Have you read any of these? Do any of these titles sound appealing? Do you prefer the slash and trash genre and if so, why?

Happy Halloween!
Stay clear of squirrels. Just saying.

 PS: If you just can't get enough of scary suggestions, check out the HWA Reading List. You'll definitely find something to freak you out. And if not, well, you obviously have no soul. ;)

PPS: I'm out of town until Wednesday of this week. I'll be sure to respond to comments and vists starting Thursday! Cheers!


  1. I've never read The Exorcist, but the movie scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.

    1. The book was disturbing enough. I don't think I could trust anyone else's vision of it!

  2. I recently read The Shining by Stephen King. I was surprised at how well it gripped me. I was drawn in by his vivid descriptions. He is truly the master of suspense. I downloaded The Stand, also by Stephen King, to listen to while I drive and walk, and any other time I can listen. It's great. I just saw the play adaptation of The Woman in Black this weekend at our local community college theater. Very creepy. I think I'd like to check out the book!

    1. I haven't read The Shining or The Stand but I want to. He is such an amazing writer, really knows how to build suspense.

  3. I read a Dean R. Koontz book years ago but I think House of Thunder is more thriller than horror. I did like King's Night Shift collection. He's good in small doses.

    1. I'm just discovering King's short fiction and I'm really excited!

  4. I'm not a big fan of horror stories or horror movies. I guess I'm a big scaredy-cat :-) Did Shirley Jackson also write "The Lottery"?


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