Sunday, August 8, 2010
The Sunday Question
What is the most frightening book you’ve ever read?
I’ve been reading James Howard Kunstler’s The Witch of Hebron, a post-apocalyptic tale set in upstate New York, the second book in a planned trilogy about the end of our oil-based civilization. I often forget that the book is set in the near future, and slip into a kind of complacent nineteenth century mind-set. The horse is the best means of transport, everyone grows their food and barters. The descriptions of the lovely rural landscapes are beguiling. But once in awhile, a character makes a reference to “the old times” of Internet access and cell phones. The old times of easy travel and knowledge of the world. The deserted McMansions molder away, homes to skunks and highwaymen. This for some reason creeps me out no end. So I started thinking about which books scare the bejesus out of us, and why, prompting this weeks Sunday Question. The answers have been fascinating in their diversity.
Marika couldn’t read Neil Gaiman's Coraline at night, because the buttons for eyes creeped her out.
Nieves discovered Poe when she was eight, and was terrified and fascinated in equal measure. “I didn’t understand it all, but enough to be like, whoa!"
One customer told me that her most recent reading fright fest was Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, which I agree is amazingly creepy in the traditional ghost-and-graveyard way.
Another customer claimed he was most frightened by a recent biography of Mao. I could see that, too.
I confess to a love for all things creepy. I adore Edith Wharton’s ghost stories, H.P. Lovecraft is a fave. I write creepy books. But they don’t really scare me. I am a fairly recent convert to Stephen King’s books, but I’m not too fussed by the scary bits there, either. No. What really makes my skin crawl and my stomach churn are true crime books. I can’t comfort myself with the thought that they are only fiction, because, gee, they’re not. When I read Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter in high school, I couldn’t sleep with the book in my room. I read Truman Capote's chillingly gorgeous In Cold Blood not long ago, perhaps the perfect true crime book, and even though I’m older and more hardened, I had to make a special trip to leave it out on the porch before I could sleep. For me that’s the true test of a frightening book.
Which books must you relegate to another room before turning out the lights?