Horror novels

Obligatory Halloween Post!

Happy Halloween, everyone! Let’s talk about books before I dress up like a mouse and get my squeak on.

For the past few years, I’ve started the wonderful tradition of reading a classic horror novel each year leading up to this wickedest of holidays. This is an especially delightful tradition if you follow these simple steps: 1) curl up next to a crackling fireplace with your horror novel, 2) make sure to stock up on your Halloween candy, 3) don’t forget the apple cider.

I started this two years ago, with Stephen King’s The Shining. Doctor Sleep, The Shining‘s sequel, was about to be released. The timing was perfect. This book is an absolute must for horror novel lovers.

the shining

“Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

–Stephen King, The Shining

Last year, I went for Shirley Jackson’s classic The Haunting of Hill House. This was, dare I say it, better than The Shining. It was horribly, dastardly scary. And if you are a cover geek, seriously google image search The Shining and The Haunting of Hill House. Both books have had incredible covers through the years.

the haunting of hill house

This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together into its own powerful pattern under the hands of its builders, fitting itself into its own construction of lines and angles, reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope.

― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

And this year, I’m reading Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. Stephen King has referred to it as one of the best of the supernatural wave of horror that also carried The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby (uhm, why are horror movies always more famous than the novels they are adapted from?). I’m not impressed yet, I’m not even sure what is going on. But I have high hopes.

ghost story

The mind was a trap–it was a cage that slammed down over you.

― Peter Straub, Ghost Story

None of these, I have to say, compare to the scariest book I read this year. That was Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, about her relationship with serial killer Ted Bundy. Rule, a true crime author who passed away this year, worked long nights at a suicide prevention hotline alone with Bundy in 1971. They stayed in touch after the job, and Rule eventually came to realize Bundy may be a suspect in the killings she was writing about. The coincidence is a writer’s dream and nightmare all bundled into one.

I unfortunately finished this book, which included descriptions of the Chi Omega murders at Florida State University, just before it was announced there was a prowler on the loose who had been breaking into women’s apartments in my complex in Scottsdale. The combo of Ted Bundy in my mind and a prowler on the streets did not make for well-rested nights. Luckily, they caught the prowler and with doors and windows locked, I moved on to my next read.

stranger beside me

Just be careful,” a Seattle homicide detective warned. “Maybe we’d better know where to find your dental records in case we need to identify you.”
I laughed, but the words were jarring; the black humor that would surround Ted Bundy evermore begun.

― Ann Rule, The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy The Shocking Inside Story

Time for me to put on my whiskers, dear readers. Remember, if it is a part of someone’s culture, it’s not a costume! And save some candy for the kids!

The Shining!

the shining

I just finished Stephen King’s The Shining, in anticipation of reading the recently released Doctor Sleep.  Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining, features a grown-up but still traumatized Danny Torrance.  The Shining is one of the most horrifying books I’ve ever read, and it is amazing how King manages to heighten the fear around harmless things like topiary art to an intense level.

I love to read King’s comments on his work, as he always has great perspective. Here are some great thoughts written by the author in an introduction to a new edition of The Shining, written in 2001:

A killer motivated to his crimes by supernatural forces was, it seemed to me, almost comforting once you got below the surface thrills provided by any halfway competent ghost story.  A killer that might be doing it because of childhood trauma as well as these ghostly forces…ah, that seemed genuinely disturbing.

The decision I made to try and make Jack’s father a real person, one who was loved as well as hated by his flawed son, took me a long way down the road to my current beliefs concerning what is so blithely dismissed as “the horror novel.”  I believe these stories exist because we sometimes need to create unreal monsters and bogies to stand in for all the things we fear in our real lives…

That truth is that monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too.  They live inside us, and sometimes they win.

The Shining by Stephen King on Amazon

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King on Amazon /Doctor Sleep on Indiebound