Spooky Reads

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
—Alfred Hitchcock

The days get gloomier and my load of work for uni gets heavier and heavier: time for some spooky reads. I have always enjoyed reading about ghosts, vampires, superstition, magic and curses. I think the supernatural and otherworldly has always been a strong subject in literature, coincidences and oddities have always fascinated writers, and the unexplicable is always a great presence in our lives. Perhaps that is why we read about ghosts and haunted mansions, or perhaps we just need a scare every now and then. Either way, there is no greater season for unsettling reads than fall.

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Illustration: Edward Gorey.

If we get technical, there is a difference between horror and terror. Terror is anticipating something dreadful, fearfully expecting that those slight knocks on your windowpane are not the skinny fingers of a ghost. Horror is going out to actually find a dead corpse knocking on your door; it is the shock of actually seeing something dreadful. I honestly side with Ann Radcliffe, a pioneer of the gothic novel and sickly heroines, when she said terror dwells on indetermination and therefore requires more from the reader. Gothic novels, for example, could be categorised at terror, and also the reads I am about to suggest… although I can’t guarantee that the monsters and creatures that creep in their pages won’t actually come out of under the bed. As always, read at your own risk.

The Monkey’s Paw“, W.W. Jacobs

First things first. I think this short story is one of the greatest examples of terror. Could write about what it is about, but it’s so short you should just read it right now. Let’s just say, be careful what you wish for.

 

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

As it title lets out, this is about a haunted house. This house is supposed to have driven out its inhabitants for years and now, a scientific is determined to prove that it is not haunted by bringing a group of peculiar people who are likely to perceive anything that is amiss in the house— among them an artist, a clairvoyant, a reclusive young woman—. So is the house haunted? Strange things definitely happen, but the thing with Shirley Jackson’s writings is that you should always fear people more than you fear ghosts. Did I mention Jackson was also a witch?

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Illustration: Edward Gorey.

 

Night Shift, Stephen King

What do quitting smoking, cornfields, trucks and a laundry press have in common? Basically that, when passed through King’s imagination, they can turn out to be pretty damn scary. In the stories that compose this volume you’ll find a wide variety of subjects; from creepy children to killing machines. It is really scary at times, but also entertaining and unsettling in more than one way. From King I have also read The Shining, which scared me a lot, and Pet Sematary, which I coulnd’t even finish.

Collected Short Stories, M. R. James

When it comes to ghosts, there is no one better than M. R. James. These the old fashioned ghosts than have been shaping nightmares forever, and another perfect example of “anticipating the bang”. The settings for Jame’s stories are also phenomenal: old abbeys, boarding schools, deserted inns, foggy paths in the night. Definitely read this, start right here with Number 13.

The October Country, Ray Bradbury

This small book of short stories might be Bradbury at its best. Ghosts, circus entertainers and mummies lurk in the pages of these stories, that I would describe as creepy. What is wonderful of this book is the way that the strange and the grotesque mix with human emotions such as nostalgia and love.

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Illustration: Edward Gorey

Of course, one should never skip the classics: Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde deserve a space on any spooky shelf. If short stories are more your thing, then most of Edgar Allan Poe‘s tales will definitely creep you out, an the same goes for the weird stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Charles Dickens and E. T. A. Hoffman also wrote a considerable number of short stories that involve ghosts. There’s Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper and Daphne DuMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now”. Ans also the American Classics, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. There are also many very good anthologies, like Late Victorian Gothic Tales from Oxford University Press.

 

Happy reading…

and be careful 🎃

Summons
Illustration: Edward Gorey.

 

P.S. Currently I am reading Joyce Carol Oates’ The Accursed, so I might be adding it to the list. Next for me is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. What are you reading? Anything you would include in this list?

Five Mystery Books for Long Flights

Sparkling-CyanideSparkling Cyanide, Agatha Christie

I’m a huge Agatha Christie fan and this was the first book I read by her. Seven people sit down for dinner, the lights go off and when they’re back on, someone is dead. Who did it? This books is a classic whodunnit and there lies it’s strength. Following some basic detective fiction structures and creating new ones, Christie’s novel dwells on both the motives behind crimes as much as on the thrill of following clues and discovering patterns where there seem to be none.

This is a stand/alone novel, so you won’t hear about Poirot or Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s most famous characters, but if you want to read a Hercule Poirot Mystery I recommend The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Murder at the Vicarage for a Miss Marple story. 

  • 300 pages

3687The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

This novel presents a wholly different kind of detective, the kind that is neither a goodie goodie or a lover of truth, but just a very shrewd person trying to survive in a world of corruption. In Chandler’s noir California, Marlow solves crimes for money, and usually things get violent and dirty. Mafia men, underground detective networks, millionaires and evil women are some of the things you’ll find in Chandler’s novels, and The Big Sleep is a very good start. 

  • 200 pages

51RKUXU01fL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Where’d You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple

This is not a conventional mystery. The book is composed by letters, telegrams and other documents that give account of the disappearanceof Bernadette Fox, a notorious woman from Seattle who is a famous architect, the wife of an IT guru and also the mother of a 15-year-old who will do anything to find her. This book is both thrilling and funny, not exactly a YA novel or a mystery, but something in between… and a very enjoyable read.

  • 300 pages

Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier 

I would describe this novel as a psychological thriller more than as a mystery. A young woman marries a rich widower, Edward de Winter, and moves with him to his beautiful state, Manderley. Being of no noble birth, the new Mrs de Winter will face some social difficulties and the disrespect from the servants of the place, but her greatest challenge will be to compete against the memory of the first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca.

Everybody talks of how wonderful Rebecca was and her mysterious death still haunts the place, driving the new occupant Manderley to obsession. Does Rebecca’s ghost haunt the place? And what happened to her really? The plot of the novel takes some unexpected turns and the first person narrative introduces the reader to an obsession verging on madness. This book is a page turner and, if you enjoy period literature, you’ll enjoy this one too.

  • 400 pages

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

A young man, Daniel Sempere, takes care of his fathers bookshop in Barcelona during Franco’s dictatorship. The business is not going well, but Daniel’s father takes him to a secret place, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where he finds a rare book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Daniel becomes obsessed with the book and starts looking for clues about its author, noticing later that he is been followed too, by a man named after a character of the book, Laín Coubert.

Daniel’s life takes a strange turn as he begins uncovering the truth about the mysterious book, a truth that concerns him, his father’s bookshop and some of his dearest friends. This book is a metafictional adventure that book lovers will enjoy for its grand depictions of forgotten libraries and old bookshops, as well as for its many classic literature references. It is also a very exciting thriller, as the characters find themselves in dangers that go from the political to the fantastic every few pages.

  • 500 pages

Have you read any of these?

Which book has gotten you through a long flight?