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. 

Saturday 6 August 2011

84, Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff, or once upon a time before the internet

I've been reading a lot of mysteries and horror lately - reviews will come shortly - and yesterday I wanted to read something different.  I grabbed 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff off of my books to be read shelf.  I read it once long ago, and I've seen the movie with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.  I prefer the book version, because the sense of the relationship, the love of books, the love of selling books to the right people, comes through this series of letters over 20 years between Helene, an American writer, and Frank, who works in a used book store on Charing Cross Road in London.  This was my introduction to London, that there was a street devoted to selling books.  This is no longer true of Charing Cross Road, although many good bookstores are found in and around the area, both new and used.  I know because whenever I go to London, that's always one of my destinations.  I came to Charing Cross Road because of the book 84, Charing Cross Road.

I love the generosity between these two people, and the lives that are touched by this correspondence.  Helene writes because of an ad the book store - Marks & Co - have put in a paper, advertising they specialize in out-of-print books. As I read about her request for books, I was thrilled to see that in the 15 or so years since I read this book, I have read some of these books now myself!  Helene is always searching for a particular edition of a book, and Frank is both the buyer for the store, as well as book seller and correspondent with Helene. 

This is a fine meeting of love of books and kindness, and it is becoming a book I love.  My edition is the new Penguin edition with a photo of the bookseller on the front cover.  I see only the books, though.  .And the street in London. 

Last week I finally took the plunge and ordered some out of print books from the Book Depository in the US.  You can find them through  They will hopefully arrive next week - I'll do a post when they arrive, but really what has struck me is how different the world is now from 60 years ago when Helene first wrote to Marks & Co with her list of books. Back then, there was only mail, and letters written and sent, and long waits for replies.  Now, it's the internet - in some ways magical, with book ordering at my fingertips, and I do love the internet for this!!  And being able to see at any time what's in print, what's available, what isn't.  But I don't write letters any more, and unless I go to my local bookstore - which I do regularly -  I don't get to meet and talk with my local bookseller about books. 

What some of you may not know, is that once upon a time I worked in bookstores also.  Both new bookstores, and used bookstores.  I like them both, for different reasons.  I miss spending my days among books, helping customers find the right books, ordering for them, and just being surrounded by books.  84, Charing Cross Road made me long to be back in books again!  So I said to my husband that when I have my holidays at the end of this month, I really want to take a day to just go wander in the used book stores in Ottawa.  Because we have two universities here, we have more used book stores than many cities do, which is a secret pleasure of living in Ottawa.  Many have gone out of business now, including The Book Market on Dalhousie St, where I got my very first job when I moved to Ottawa 26 years ago.  There are still many fine ones, and I always, always find books when I go into them.

84, Charing Cross Road is all about the magic of reading, and the sharing of good books. 

Here is a small list of some of the books that are currently out of print or very hard to get, that I am looking for, because part of talking about books, is talking about what we really want to read and just can't find yet, as well as what we love. 
- Winds of Marble Arch by Connie Willis - put out by Subterranean Press, only the hardcover was published so far.  I held a copy of the hardcover in my hands, and put it back as my birthday was approaching and I wanted my husband to get it for me.  Sadly, when I went back to get it, it was already gone and any more copies have been unavailable since. 
Forest of Souls - A Walk Through The Tarot by Rachel Pollack.  I recently found a copy at our library and read it.  It was a revelation to me, and I have since bought all her books and am restudying the tarot.  While some are available used on line, I want to wait and see if I can track it down here before risking the mail.
The Spiral Dance - Gabriel Garcia Y Robertson - I had a copy of this book, read it and loved it - time travel romance set in England and Scotland, it was amazing.  It's also out of print.
Raising Demons - Shirley Jackson. I once saw a copy, I might even have owned one.  I sillily gave it away and have been looking for it ever since.  It's the hilarious story of raising her children, à la Erma Bombeck.
- any book by Charles Addams, who is the creator of the Addams family in cartoon sketches.  I once owned several books of his illustrations, which are gorgeously creepy and deliciously hinting at darkness in humans.  Absolutely the best and I finally found one of his books online at Powell's, so this is one of the orders I am waiting to see how it gets here, and in what condition.  I'm so excited! Here is a link to one of his on my wishlist.

What are you looking for, dear reader, that you haunt used book stores for, or pine away on Amazon looking for a copy suddenly appearing?