Friday, October 27, 2006

Books for the creeps

The Hallowe’en books are still on the displays and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve helped recently who said they were buying early Christmas presents. Like the overachiever who finishes the test way ahead of everyone else and cheerfully parades his paper to the teacher while the rest of us toil away, I meet these people with a mixture of envy and irritation. Perhaps it's only appropriate that our front table, the one you see when you first walk in our store, is covered with piles of scarlet red books: Lisey's Story by Stephen King (ISBN: 0743289412) and State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III by Bob Woodward (ISBN: 0743272234).

We have Hallowe’en displays galore and are selling everything from Stephen King’s more recent titles to It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (ISBN: 068984607X for the 35th Anniversary Edition). My two favorite books for this time of year are The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (ISBN: 0140071083 or 0143039989) and The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror by David J. Skal (ISBN: 0571199968).

The Monster Show is a wonderful critical analysis of the history of American horror movies and how the horrors and the anxieties of the real world were echoed on the screen. George Romero’s Living Dead films are often sited as having a racial or political agenda, but Skal also makes cases for how horror films like Tod Browning’s Freaks, It’s Alive, and other schlocky delights base their origins in real cultural fears.

The Haunting of Hill House is probably the most perfect haunted house novel you will ever read. Before you send me emails asking “what about The Shining (ISBN: 0743424425)?” just know that Stephen King freely admits he stole from Hill House to decorate the Overlook Hotel . It has qualities of a fairytale as Eleanor leaves her dull practically non-existent life as a spinster to join a trio of merry ghost hunters at this house whose malevolence overwhelms them. It is dreamy in parts as Eleanor meets her fellow researchers and then turns deadly serious when, in the middle of the night, something starts banging on doors and the hand that she clutches in the dark may belong to no one at all.

Hill House scared the HELL out of me! I first read it while I working an overnight shift at a creaky old house in the woods at a school for disturbed adolescents. I reread it once a year it or watch the very faithful 1963 film (ignore the 1999 unimaginative adaptation) and get creeped out again and again.