Monday, October 26, 2009

A Few Frightening Titles in Honor of Halloween

It's almost Halloween! Which may be my favorite holiday. Most of the population dressing in bizarre costumes while handing out candy? Best holiday ever.

I love watching cheesy horror movies. These movies (almost) never scare me, so I decided that I should branch out and read horror fiction. My reading tastes don't naturally gravitate towards horror, but I felt that I should give the genre a chance. It turns out that horror fiction is infinitely more frightening than zombie flicks or "Sleepwalkers" (although "Sleepwalkers" does involve incestuous cat-people and an incredibly bad Stephen King cameo). I've always felt that reading is a more personal experience than watching a movie, as a reader brings all his or her collected experiences to the text and enriches it. When you watch a horror movie, you're watching the director's idea of what is frightening; when you read a horror novel, your imagination embellishes the author's story in untold ways. These untold ways usually involve me triple-checking my window locks and getting paranoid when I hear a suspicious (read: completely normal) sound outside my apartment.

If you too would like to start triple-checking your window locks, read one of these deliciously scary novels:

Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac
I adore Joseph Bruchac. His books for children generally contain Native American themes and he never talks down to his audience, something I really appreciate in children's literature. Skeleton Man begins with Molly waking up to find her loving parents gone. When they don't return, a mysterious, very thin older man appears claiming to be Molly's great uncle. He takes her home, where she is locked in her room after she returns from school every day. As Molly becomes more and more despondent, she comforts herself with traditional Native American tales, which she relies upon to guide her to the truth about the disappearance of her parents and her eerie "great-uncle." Bruchac's story is never obvious; you know the great-uncle is up to something shady, but the end is completely unexpected. I read this book in a hotel room and got up to check the door lock twice--and this book is meant for eight-to-thirteen-year-olds. Apparently kids are hardier nowadays. James and the Giant Peach freaked me out when I was ten, let alone tales of kidnapping and missing parents.

Skeleton Man
is the perfect read for newcomers to the the horror genre. Frightening, but not nightmare-inducing.


I love Neil Gaiman. I know not everyone feels similarly, especially since some of Mr. Gaiman's more recent adult fiction hasn't been up to par, but his children's fiction is excellent. It's obvious that Gaiman truly understands children and how their imaginations can be wild, tumultuous places where an everyday event can be nightmarish. (It's also possible that I might have just been an extremely wimpy kid, as shown by my fear of James and the Giant Peach.)

Gaiman's Coraline is a fabulous example of his sparse yet affecting writing style (he's like the Kazuo Ishiguro of children's literature). Coraline moves with her busy, distracted parents to a new home. She's largely expected to entertain herself, which leads to disastrous results. During one of her explorations, she discovers her "other" home. At first this "other" home seems remarkably similar to Coraline's home, only better. There is delicious food and "other" children and "other" parents. . .who desperately want her to stay with them.

This book is creepy. I cannot describe it more eloquently than that-except to mention that the "other" people have buttons as eyes. Buttons as eyes. Just thinking about it give me the shivers. Read this book immediately! The film adaptation is very well-done, as well.

If you like Coraline, check out Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, which just won the Newbery Medal. It's also a fantastic read.

If you're interested in young adult horror, stick with Lois Duncan. I scared the hell out of myself reading her books as a thirteen-year-old.

John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things is the perfect transition from children's to adult horror, as it chronicles a young boy's coming of age. Connolly normally writes crime fiction, so The Book of Lost Things is a bit of departure from the norm for him. When twelve-year-old David's mother dies during WWII, he relies on books for comfort and consolation. The line between reality and fantasy slowly beings to blur, until David finds himself in a land of violent fairy and folk tales, pursued by the Crooked Man. . .

The Book of Lost Things perfectly captures the horror of fantasy come to life. At the heart of the novel is a hero's quest to become an adult and overcome grief. David's progression through trials and tribulations is engaging yet tinged with sadness and triumph. There is also a nifty compilation of fairy tales at the end of the book.
Speaking of disturbing and violent fairy tales, one of my favorite authors, Angela Carter, is the creme de la creme of the dark fairy tale genre. If you haven't read her, immediately do so. She is amazing. Start with Heroes and Villains, a post-apocalyptic tale. After the apocalypse, society is divided into three factions: the Professors and Soldiers, the Barbarians, and the Out People. The Out People attack the Barbarians as the Barbarians attack the Professors and Soldiers. Marianne is captured during one of the Barbarians' raids. She is meant as a prize for the Barbarian Jewel. While this seems at first to be heading into some moderately cheesy science fiction territory, what follows is a bizarre, dangerous love story told in lush language peppered with disturbing imagery. I honestly cannot do Angela Carter justice. Her voice is incredibly unique and she defies a specific genre.

Hopefully one of these titles will inspire you to check your door locks. After finishing Skeleton Man or The Book of Lost Things you might even have to watch a Disney movie, which is my steadfast cure for reading something a tad too scary. Enjoy!


  1. loved the halloween themed post! maybe we should do some sort of blog collaboration, i.e. post on an item of food inspired by/related to a book? i was also frightened and somewhat perplexed by james and the giant peach(though i loved it).

  2. I would love to do a blog collaboration! Maybe a Central or South American novelist and then you could make something from your travels? Yummy!

  3. Wonderful! I would respectfully add E.A. Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher." High gothic psychological melodrama with a twist of incest! Perfect for Halloween. Or, frankly, any old time.

  4. Good choice on "Coraline," bro. Have you read Carter's "The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman"? Good times. (And, in a totally douchey and aren't-we-precious yet related sidenote, I read it in Paris just after we celebrated your 21st birthday at that funny little restaurant and ran through the streets. So I always associate it with you, which is sort-of a compliment?)

  5. I have read "The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman"--one of her best. How can I be anything but complimented that you associate me with Angela Carter? Also muchas gracias that you are following our blog! Have you read Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" yet? Equal to "Coralline," I think.