I have already delved into the music that has filled in the uncanny spaces this season. Next up, I want to provide a brief synopsis of the books I have been reading. Every year I reserve October for “scary stories” and it always seems like I never have enough time to get through everything I had hoped. This year I adjusted and started my season reading on September 01. Over the last 60+ days this is what I have read (as well as what I plan on finishing before the month is up):
The Elementals by Michael McDowell: An unexpectedly great Southern Gothic novel by the guy who wrote the screenplay for Beetlejuice. It is clear that he had a thing for haunted houses and precociously gothic teenage girls. He also happens to be skilled at writing about uncanny environments that are beyond human understanding.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me by Lindsay Hallam: Critical theory that firmly situates David Lynch’s misunderstood masterpiece as a high water mark for the horror genre.
Halloween: The History of America’s Darkest Holiday by David J. Skal: From the writer who has written (well) on the various popular iterations of vampires and movie monsters. Gives a good perspective on what a hodgepodge weirdo amalgam of culture Halloween truly is. It’s cathartic and we need it and it evolves. I love it for those reasons (and many, many more).
Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix: An unexpectedly fun horror romp through a haunted IKEA-esque big box that sits on the former grounds of a panopticon prison run by a sadistic warden who can’t stay dead. Blends horror and comedy well and manages to flesh out its various characters reasonably well in spite of the short(ish) page count.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado: A collection of haunting short stories that really run the gamut. Some play on old-timey classics, some are apocalyptic, and some are about doppelgängers dwelling in the SVU universe.
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown: One of the few nonfiction books on this list, but maybe the scariest book I’ve read this year. It follows the doomed route of the Donner Party using party-member, Sarah Graves as an anchor point. It is harrowing on all levels: the environment indifferently conspiring against human hope; the misguided decisions human beings make with bad and/or incomplete information; the depths that human beings can sink when dire realities set in. Can’t recommend this one enough.
I do have hope for making it through at least a two (or three) more before Halloween. These include:
We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix: As of this writing I am about halfway through this book. It encompasses so many things I love…horror…metal…that might be it, but it has still been GREAT. \m/
The Hunger by Alma Katsu: A historical fiction horror take on the Donner Party. After reading Indifferent Stars, I’m slightly worried about tackling a fictionalized version featuring characterizations of the real human beings I now have some understanding of. That said, the premise here is too promising to turn down.
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey: Another nonfiction exploration of haunted places and the ghosts that haunt them.