Saturday, 13 August 2011

Musings on horror books

So, this year, for the first time in a few years, I have been reading horror fairly consistently.    I say to myself  - RIP challenge - and then start reading the book. 

Currently on the pile to be read I have:
Manitou Blood by Graham Masterton (his version of vampires, I haven't seen this before.  The Manitou by him was one of the scariest books I read, a few years ago)
The Best Horror of the Year Vol 1 - ed Ellen Datlow (it comes highly recommended, replaces the horror part of Year's Best Horror and Fantasy collection she did with Terri Windling. I just bought it this week, and not sure I can wait for RIP!)
Swan Song - Robert McCammon (reread from 20 years ago) - very excited to reread this again.
Darkness - Two Decades of Modern Horror - ed Ellen Datlow - another collection, this time of her collection of the best horror short stories published between 1984 and 2005
Under the Dome - Stephen King - Uncle Steve! horror!  big book to get lost in!
Drood - Dan Simmons - Dickens, madness, and terror. Yum.
A Dark Matter - Peter Straub - a magic ritual goes wrong, and twenty years later someone tries to find out what really happened.  Another yum.
Hell House - Richard Matheson - I've seen the movie several times (The Legend of Hell House) but never read the book. I decided it was time to right this wrong.  I know it will scare me, as the movie scares me (most delightfully and shiveringly).  How long until RIP starts???

Out of the library I currently have:
Haunted - James Herbert - a reread, it turns out, but again it's been at least 15 years since I read it
The Ghost Writer - John Harwood (based on Daphne's review a few years ago)

I have read this year:
The Unseen - Alexandra Sokoloff (review here)

The Red Tree - Caitlin R Kiernan - This is a chilling haunted house read.  Actually, haunted tree by a house book.  Young woman escapes unhappy romance to hide out in house in the woods.....a house with a terrible history of people disappearing in and around it.  This book features a scary relationship with a roommate and downward spiralling of insanity.  Very scary in places.  Highly recommended.

Handling the Undead - John Ajvide Lindqvist - one of my favourite books this year so far.  A book about zombies, but also about the loved ones who try to cope.  What would you do if suddenly the dead started to come to life?  What if your loved dead ones were stirring?  This book is about three recently come back to life people, and the repercussions on their families.  It's also about Stockholm, and society, and how they cope with the dead and newly returned.  It's also about what makes a person a person, that mysterious living part of us that goes when we die.  The worst things about zombies is that they are shells because this mysterious part is not brought back (in any zombie fiction.)  But could you resist seeing your loved one, one more time?  Just to touch them?  Hope that spark is there?

Apartment 16 - Adam Neville - I just finished reading this last week.  What a fun horror novel, and so very frightening.  A lot of horror fiction relies on the unstability of the narrator.  It's as if horror can't come into our sphere until we give it an opening, usually because of madness in some form.  I disagree with this.  I don't think instability is a precursor to good horror fiction.  I think there is horror all around us, and in our natures, and the trick is to make it believable without relying on madness.  That said, in Apartment 16, madness is at the center of the horror.  An artist long ago created obsessively pictures of the vortex, the swirling darkness that we go to when we die (that he believes anyway).  It's a disturbing vortex, filled with the true faces of people, all hideously deformed and distorted - their vices and desires, their lack of spiritual light, becomes their consignment to this swirling hell.  What he eventually creates though, is an entrance for that hell, in his apartment - Apt 16.  Apryl, the niece of an aunt who turns out to have a connection to the artist, inherits her aunt's apartment in the same building where the artist lived.  The book is about how she learns about the artist, and her aunt, and how the power of evil, and that morbid fascination does have its own strength.  This was a horrifying picture of madness, gripping, and sad in some ways.  Mostly, a book to read with the lights on and someone around to remind you things are normal where you are......I will not forget how mirrors are used in this book, for a long time, either.

The Passage - Justin Cronin (review here)

Button, Button - Richard Matheson (short story collection) - The title is from the first story in this short story collection.  It was made into a movie recently called The Button.  I didn't see the movie.  I did enjoy the short story very much - it is perfect, the story of what happens when a stranger calls and offers money in exchange for a life. Would you push the button?  Eerie.  Most of the stories are not quite as frightening as this one, which calls up the dark side of human nature, but the collection is enjoyable and nerve-tingling in places.


Horror books I would like to get for RIP:
Koko - Peter Straub
Feed - Mira Grant
The Dark - ed Ellen Datlow
Haunted Legends - ed Ellen Datlow
The Thirteen - Susie Moloney ***Canadian author, wrote The Dwelling a few years ago, a disturbing and very good haunted house book that has scenes that still bother me today.  The Thirteen just got published and I'm on the library waiting list, so I might see this next year.....

I'm not sure what has me reading horror this year, though I am enjoying it very much.  Apartment 16 is really terrifyng.  The Unseen is one of the best haunted house books I've read in a long time.  Handling the Undead took the zombie story and turned it upside down.  It is haunting and beautiful and exactly what examining horror should be, from all sides - the victims and the zombies, who are also accursed.  The Passage is excellent.

I have a few other books ready also for RIP, but I want to save them for a surprise so when I go to do my post in the next few weeks, I will have something to add to the list!

Are you busy getting ready for RIP?  What are you thinking of reading?  Are there any horror or ghost story books you really recommend for this challenge?  Let me know.  As you can see, I'm always looking for new and good horror to read. 

As we head into fall soon - and already our leaves are starting to change colour here, which is very early for us - I'm thinking about ghost stories and horror, and what I really enjoy about them.  Why do I read them?  Why do you, dear Reader?  Do you like being thrilled?  Scared, safely in the comfort of your home?  Do you like that eerie frisson of chill running over your skin when you read a particularly scary line or scene?  I know that I am always on the lookout for this.  It's delightful and shivery at the same time.  There is nothing like a good chill. 

I also find that horror tales are cautionary.  They remind me of what not to do.  Don't go into the unknown house alone.  If lights keep flickering on and off and you get chills and the sense you are not alone, you're not!  Horror also tells me what to do/not to do when I find myself in a scary situation.  The edge that horror has though, is that often it's from deep within our subconscious, so we can't control these deeper urges, or we are overtaken by events that we are powerless to do anything but try to survive.  The best horror shows us a way out, reminding us that there is a price to pay for going to the edge of the dark, where terror and truth lie.  It's also exciting, and a safe way to confront our darkest fears. 

12 comments:

Chris said...

I cannot WAIT for RIP!!! And guess how many of these I have read? None :p

brideofthebookgod said...

I can't wait for RIP either, really going to try hard to complete it this year. And having frightened myself almost to distraction last night finishing Michelle Paver's Dark Matter I might take a break from horror and creepy stuff until then, though there's a LOT of Stephen King on the tbr pile....

Susan said...

Chris: I know! so did I tempt you to go looking for any of these??? :-D

bride: What Stephen King do you have on the pile? You've made me determined to try to get a copy of Dark Matter for RIP, it sounds very very good if it scared you that much.

Jen (emsun.org) said...

I have never heard of the RIP Challenge. I like horror because I'm a total adrenaline junky. If I can get a rush from a safe book instead of from my motorcycle or from jumping out of a plane, my husband and family are so much happier!

Thanks for the list of books - I can't wait to look into them.

GeraniumCat said...

Oh, your first sentence made me laugh! I am trying *so* hard not to read my RIP books! And the list is growing daily - I'm going to have a Merrily Watkins binge and I'm just itching to get my hands on them - the first three are downloaded on my Kindle, yum. I'm also thinking of A.S. Byatt's Ragnarok as some serious contrast.

I'm not at all good at horror, I am very much not an adrenaline junkie, but I'll try to get a good shot of dark fantasy into my reading this year.

I'm with bride, Dark Matter is pretty creepy, there's an image in it I can't get out of my head and it's over a year since I read it, I think.

Daphne said...

It's time for me to make my list! I want to participate fully this year. I'm totally going to steal some of your list. Have you read Drood? I read it last holiday season, but it's PERFECT for RIP. Very, very long, beware (but worth it)

Stephanie said...

Oh...I LOVED Swan Song when I read it oh so many years ago. I found a copy at a yard sale a few weeks ago. I intend to read it for RIP too. RIP is possibly my favorite challenge. So much so that I will come out of "retirement" for it! (at least as much as I can do with 6 classes this semster!)

Cath said...

Me too... also trying hard not to read my RIP books. I *want* to... probably because it's so autumnal here at the moment... cool and fresh and showery. What's stopping me is that I've only just started Barchester Towers, which is very long. Then I have to read the latest Elly Griffiths which is on my daughter's library ticket. And *then* I have to read Septimus Heap book 4 so I can chat to my grand-daughter about it in just over a week when she comes to stay. Don't think I'm going to manage all that *and* harvest all the fruit and veg from the garden somehow. LOL.

All your books are new to me apart from Drood which is also on my pile. Look forward to hearing about them.

I'm not sure why I read horror. I think for me it's more the attraction of old fashioned ghost stories. They're not blood curdling as such but they're creepy, usually beautifully written and transport the reader back to another age... Victorian, Edwardian and so on.

Novroz said...

Glad to see another horror lover :)

I haven't read most of the books in our list...but I am happy to see Under The Dome in that list, one of King's best books.

RIP is coming soon,I joined last year and eager to join again this year :)

Emily Barton said...

You've added to my TBR tome exponentially! I'm gonna have to save your questions and right my own blog post, methinks. Been stockpiling for the R.I.P. challenge myself (first time I'm officially participating this year).

Susan said...

Jen: welcome, and I hope you join the Challenge, too. It's lots of fun, and we always find good scary books to read, too!

Geraniumcat: ooh, a Merrily Watkins binge! I was checking recently to see if a new one was out in the series, sad to say I don't see any. After I reread Ian Rankin, I think Merrily will be next. I love her series, so creepy and atmospheric.

I really want Dark Matter too, it still hasn't come in at the library.

Daphne: I haven't read Drood yet, it's sitting here waiting to be read. After reading Under the Dome, I have to read some shorter books to recover, though I am hoping to get Drood done for the challenge. It looks lovely and dark!

Stephanie: I know, isn't Swan Song so good? I'm glad you're coming out of 'retirement', even if it's just for this challenge. I've missed you!!

Cath: I so want to read the latest Elly Griffiths. I have to keep talking myself out of the hardcover! lol

I also agree about the ghost stories - that is my favourite part of horror, and a sure way to get me to try a book, is to throw a ghost into it.

Novroz: welcome! and so glad you enjoyed RIP enough to come back. It really is a fun challenge.

everyone: I will come and see your lists! You know I always want more horror to read and love reading what you read :-)

Susan said...

Emily: yaaaay!!! you know it's payback for all those books you get me to read.... lol I'm so thrilled, absolutely delighted, you are joining this year! Yes! *pumps fist in air* Now I am coming to read what you wrote about horror, ghosts and RIP, and what you're going to read - cause you know, between yours and everyone else's lists in RIP, I probably will be out buying more books this weekend for the challenge!!! :-D