Saturday, October 12, 2013

Booktoberfest, or, Happy Halloween Reading!

I love Halloween. I always try to read at least one spooky and/or Halloween-themed book every October, so on a recent trip to my local independent bookstore I was very excited to see a display of the new Penguin Horror line of special editions of classic horror tales. Not that I’m actually a horror aficionado—more like I love great cover design, and Penguin has definitely cornered the market on that front. According to Penguin USA’s website, this is a six-volume series curated by filmmaker and horror lit fan Guillermo del Toro. I don’t think anyone would question this guy’s horror chops, but just in case you’d like extra proof that he’s a good man for the job, I’ll direct you to this nightmare-inducing creature from his excellent film, Pan’s Labyrinth:


The cover art for these editions was created by Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley, and they are very nice hardcover copies that would make a festive eye-candy addition to any bookshelf. Seriously, I hold Penguin solely responsible for all the duplicate classics I have on my shelves, which I felt compelled to buy simply because of the awesome covers. Maybe some of these will join the ranks someday! Here’s a look-see at what’s on offer in this line:

I would probably be interested in trying out the Lovecraft (every year I mean to check out his books, but I never get around to it…) and The Haunting of Hill House. After actually reading Frankenstein in college it struck me as more sad than scary, but that is an awesome cover. The Poe one is, too. And all the rest of them. WHY MUST YOU DO THIS TO ME, PENGUIN?!?

I thought I’d follow up my fascination (obsession?) with the Penguin Horror line with a rundown of some of my favorite spooky or Halloween-y books throughout the ages. Maybe you’ve read some of these, and maybe some will be new to you. In no particular order, I present to you a smattering of my seasonal fall faves:

  1. The Hallo-Wiener, by Dave Pilkey. A super cute picture book about a dachshund who is made fun of by all the other dogs for being short, and humiliatingly has to dress up as a hot dog for Halloween. But when a monster attacks, he saves the day and the other dogs feel ashamed about their treatment of him. Back when I was in high school I used to read books to kids at a local Halloween event, and this was always a great favorite. Very cute and funny!

  2. House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not actually finished reading this book. I started a couple years ago (in October, of course) and for one reason or another got distracted and haven’t gotten back to it yet. Even if I had finished it, I don’t think I’d be up to the task of blurbing it, so I will refer to GoodReads for this one:
    Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth -- musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies -- the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

    Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.

    The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

    Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story -- of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.

    I remember the story being layered, complexly structured, meandering, and very creepy. The whole bigger-on-the-inside thing is fun when it’s a TARDIS, but for the house in this book it was more ominously malevolent. Someday I will finish reading it!

  3. The Diviners, by Libba Bray. Having read other things by Libba Bray, I knew she was more than capable of scary (the poppy knights in A Great and Terrible Beauty, anyone?). Still, I was not prepared for the level of creepiness I found in The Diviners. The story revolves around a girl named Evie O’Neill and a cast of other bright young things living in New York in the 1920s. Sounds pretty normal, until things take a left turn into creepy territory when occult shenanigans and a serial killer enter into their lives, and Evie, with her secret ability to learn things from touching objects, tries to get to the bottom of it. I read this one quite accidentally last October, having no idea it would end up being so appropriate for the month. Parts of it were really, really scary. Actually, I think the book trailer probably does a better and more artful job explaining it than me. I normally find book trailers to be kind of ridiculous and hilarious and not my favorite thing, but this one really captures the feel of the book:

    Yeah. Terrifying, but awesome.

  4. “Nowhere is Safe,” by Libba Bray, from Vacations from Hell. While we’re on the subject of Libba Bray, this is the first thing I read from her that really made me go, “Wow. That was scary. And really, really good.” There were moments of creepiness in the Gemma Doyle trilogy, but nothing really scary for me. Then I read her short story in the Vacations from Hell YA anthology. Her story, “Nowhere is Safe,” was really the standout of the whole book. Here is my attempt to summarize it in one sentence without ruining any of the fun: Some young people are backpacking in Eastern Europe, and find themselves trapped in a town where the people have a contract with the Devil. Perhaps your brain might be thinking, “Hostel?”, but I assure you it’s not like that at all (I’m not into the slasher/torture-porn sort of stuff.) It’s so so SO worth tracking down a copy of this book—the story is scary good and good scary.

  5. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz. A classic collection of horror folktales for kids! I remember first reading this one when I was 10 or 11 at my aunt’s house on Cape Cod—I can’t remember whose book it was (probably belonged to one of my cousins), but I remember tentatively flipping through the pages and reading a couple of the tales before I got too creeped out and put it away, only to bring it back out a couple hours later and read some more. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations really add to the scare-factor. I get chills just thinking about them!

  6. The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard (illus.). Okay, I guess this one is sort of a gimme these days, but I decided graphic novels needed some representation on this list. I enjoy both the TV and comic versions of The Walking Dead—they each have their own distinct personalities, and they’re different enough that I don’t find myself constantly comparing them. I really enjoy the character development in the show, but I think the graphic novels have more moments of true, stomach-flipping horror. (And it’s always the humans, rather than the zombies, who perpetrate it.)

  7. Baby-Sitters Club Super Mystery #3: Baby-sitters’ Fright Night, by Ann M. Martin. Like most young female readers of the ‘90s, I loved me some Baby-Sitters Club. The mysteries were always my favorites, and this was one of my most dog-eared ones. Sadly, it’s been a decade and a half since I read it and I don’t remember many details, but here’s what I managed to dredge up from the quagmire of my memory: The BSC goes to Salem, Massachusetts around Halloween. Can’t remember why. School trip? Maybe. Anyway, there is a famous diamond that gets stolen, and the BSC does their thing. Abby was super-cool, and I loved her narration. I wanted to be awesome like Abby! Who knows how this would hold up if I re-read it now, but at the time it was the perfect mix of spooky and fun for Halloween.

  8. And for my final offering, I present you not with a book, but with an internet-y virally-spread creepypasta-presented-as-reality type story called The Dionaea House. It’s about…a creepy house. And that’s all I’ll say, so as not to spoil anything. But it’s good. And veeeeery creepy. Click here to read it.

Now that I’ve thoroughly creeped myself out writing this post and am now jumping at noises and shadows, I don’t think I’ll be walking my dog after dark tonight. What are your favorite creepy or Halloween-y books? Anything in particular you like to read when the weather cools down and the leaves start to blow? Hit the comments and give me suggestions of things to read and add to my list!

1 comment:

Susan said...

I love that The Hallo-Wiener is on the list. Everything around it looks so creepy, and then it's just cute dogs, and I have to check 3 times to make sure there are only cute dogs and no terrifying monster lurking. (Unlike in that book trailer. Still get chills from it, and worse chills remembering how much more gruesome the bodies were in the book.)

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