Oct 31, 2012

Spooky Stories: Recommendations from Fellow Bloggers

Happy Halloween, everyone! I can hardly believe it’s the end of October already. This year time got away from me completely, and I feel like I’ve barely done anything Halloween-y at all. I haven’t really read much in the way of spooky, season-appropriate stories, and as a result I didn’t have anything to share with you today. Thankfully, some of my favourite fellow bloggers came to my rescue and kindly shared some of their favourite spooky stories with me. I’m interested not only in the books or films they picked, but especially in why they find these stories so engaging, in the way they describe them, and in what the experience of encountering them was like for them. In short, I’m nosy and like hearing all about why people like the things they like. That’s my favourite thing about this guest post, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Heather from Capricious Reader recommends: Dracula by Bram Stoker:


“A couple years ago, I had a plan. During the Readers Imbibing Peril (or RIP) event Carl hosts every autumn, I was going to read Dracula. I’d wanted to read it for years, had even tried to read it on occasion, but never quite managed to make myself do it. It just never clicked. I mean, I knew the story. Who doesn’t? I’ve seen the movies. I’ve watched the plays. I’ve seen the parodies, even! Somehow though, the thought of reading the book gave me the chills. The willies. The heebie jeebies.

I should preface this with one fact; I am the world’s biggest chicken.

So anyway, I was determined. I had several copies, so I chose one. I sat down. With my favorite blanket. Shut up! And I started reading. And the most surprising thing happened! I could not put it down. I was immediately transported to Transylvania. I despaired with Jonathan Harker in that dark, lonely castle. I haunted the graveyard with Lucy. I tiptoed on the edge of madness with Renfield. I mourned with Seward, Lord Godalming, and Morris. I plotted downfalls with Van Helsing. And I was a pillar of strength with Mina. That final scene, the flight through the woods, after the elusive and cunning Dracula was a breathless moment for me. I felt like I lived that book and I cannot recall ever having such an experience with a book as I did that year with Dracula.”

Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania recommends: Let The Right One In by by John Ajvide Lindqvist:


“In this supernatural and dramatic novel we meet Oskar, a young boy who is being mercilessly bullied at school, and Eli, a strange girl who might not be what she first appears to be. One lonely evening while Oskar is plotting revenge against the boys who are ruining his life, he discovers the strange Eli at the playground and is intrigued by her very obvious differences from the other girls he knows. But what Eli hides is much more than her physical differences. She has aligned herself with a horrible and unpalatable man to fulfill her needs, a man who will stop at nothing to give Eli the things she needs but who also wants a bizarre payment in return. Meanwhile, a group of ambivalent outcast alcoholics will become embroiled in Eli’s dangerous fight for survival, and one by one, they will all come to see that the little girl who looks so innocent and frail is in reality a powerful and savage enemy. But for Oskar, Eli will become an unlikely savior, one who has the power to lift him from the hands of his foes and bring him the peace he craves. In this tale of an unlikely and frightening little girl and her struggle to stay alive, readers will repeatedly cross between horror, betrayal and survival to a powerful climax that will leave them both stunned and cheering for the disadvantaged misfits that this tale so powerfully encompasses.

While I found this book to be highly disturbing for oh so many reasons, it was also captivating and it forced me to ask questions about the true nature of evil and about the innocence that abounds, even in those who appear to be anything but innocent. The book was filled with monstrousness of all types and there was no scarcity of brazen and horrific images, but at its core, this was a story of friendship and loyalty, trust and love. It may have been hard to see these altruistic nuggets amid the mire of ugliness that surrounded them, but the more I think on it, the more I come to believe that this was a story about faith, hope and the courage to do the things you must, despite the price you must pay to get them done.

Discovering and reading this book was quite an experience for me, for while a lot of it was hard to swallow and made my knees weak, it was like finding a diamond in a pile of refuse. It was disturbingly graphic and scary, but the fact remains that it told a very powerful story in a way that will captivate many. If you’re not a reader with a strong stomach, I would say that this one is better avoided, but if you can look past the gore and discomfort, this is a book that will blow you away with its implications. A truly one of a kind way to amp up your Halloween reading. Highly recommended.”

Alex from The Sleepless Reader recommends: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James:


“Imagine a group of friends around the fireplace on a winter night. They’re sharing ghost stories and all agree the one involving a child was especially eerie. That’s when one of then says: I know of a true tale involving two children. It turns out he’s in possession of a manuscript written by someone who lived it first-hand: a governess in an isolated country house haunted by supernatural visitors. Shall he read it to the group?

Thus starts The Turn of the Screw, a classic ghost story where what's not said has as much power as what is. This short novel is like a repository of all 19th century fears, from the haunted mansion, to the lonely female facing supernatural beings and sexual predators, the monstrosity of a not-so-innocent child and the thin line between sanity and madness.

The perfect choice if you’re looking for old school horror.”

Jodie from Book Gazing recommends: “The Lost Boys”:


“Asked to explain what makes a good ghost story, Susan Hill cited ‘Atmosphere.’ as a key component. A lot of scary stories make use of detailed creation of dark, cobwebbed atmosphere to encourage readers to feel afraid and apprehensive as the story progresses, but many horror stories also successfully building those feelings by using settings filled with light.

After an initial dark and disturbing opening, the cult classic 80s vampire film ‘The Lost Boys’ shows a middle aged woman (Lucy) driving her two teenage sons Michael and Sam to their new home in Santa Carla. Lucy has just been through a divorce and here the film uses the ever popular device of forcing teenage characters into an unfamiliar place, full of story material, through a change in their parent’s circumstances. The scene is brilliant lit by sunshine and the family are scrambling through radio stations, bantering about musical taste. As they drive into the centre of Santa Carla, which the boys later find out is ‘the murder capital of the world’, the sun is still shining down.

Although the lovely, apparently horror-proof weather persists, the desperate social scene which allows Santa Carla to be the scene of bloody vampire horror is set up masterfully. Michael asks if there are any jobs to be had, only to be told there’s ‘Nothing legal’. Lucy gives Sam some money for a couple of homeless kids who are searching through a dumpster for food. And there are close ups of the many posters asking for help tracking down missing people. All of these details accumulate to suggest that Santa Carla is a hopeless town, the sad destination of people running from bad situations and a place where those bad situations may only get worse. It seems like a place where people go missing because it’s just so easy for predators to take them. It’s also, as the viewer can infer from the Goth clothes many of the background characters are wearing and the fact that one person is seen kissing a rat, a place where people make their own alternative communities, which may appear a little disturbing to outsiders. Echo and the Bunnymen’s cover of ‘People are Strange’ plays over this visual investigation of Santa Carla. Its simple reminder that, well, ‘People are strange/When you’re a stranger’ and its heebie jeebie, twanging guitar riffs insist on emphasising the oddness of this new place the boys have to deal with.

The film may have begun with decadent, dark shots that push the creepy right in your face, but its transition to a sun lit atmosphere also explains to the viewers that something is not quite right in Santa Carla. And it’s showing why in a town like this, people might not suspect that they should probably be concerned about a rather sinister gang of teenagers, with romantic fashion sense. It may be an over the top 80s film, with old school horror effects, but the way ‘The Lost Boys’ contrasts dark with light in horror film tradition and manages to evoke troubled feelings in both kinds of settings is one of the reasons why it’s my favourite scary story.”

Cass from Bonjour, Cass! recommends: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:


“I had avoided Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House because of the terribly over-wrought movie adaption The Haunting (1999). If I've learned anything since I finally picked up the book, it's to never judge a book by its movie. The Haunting of Hill House made me nervous, if not scared, charmed me with witty characters, and as soon as I finished it I wanted to read it all over again. Without any giving any spoilers, there is a queer subtext between the two main characters that I found fascinating and unexpectedly thought-provoking. I can't recommend it highly enough, especially if you want to discuss theories like it's an episode of LOST or something.”

Lastly, Memory from Stella Matutina recommends: “Sredni Vashtar” by Saki:


“Several years ago, a friend urged me to read some Hallowe’enish fiction she’d found for free online. Few of the tales made an impression on me, but Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar” has since become one of my favourite classic horror stories. It’s a relatively quiet piece in which an unhappy young boy turns his pet ferret into a god. An overarching sense of desperation takes the place of overt action as Conradin struggles against his hated guardian in the only way he can: with his imagination. It’s always my first recommendation when anyone asks me about vintage horror.”

Many thanks to the wonderful contributors, and again, have a very Happy Halloween!

16 comments:

Chrisbookarama said...

Some great choices there!

Melody said...

Happy Halloween, Ana!
You've a great list there!! :-)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I agree - hearing why people like what they like is the best part!

Literary Feline said...

What a fun post! Like Heather, I was surprised how much I enjoyed Dracula. It is such a good book. Let the Right One In is definitely a good story for this time of year! The Lost Boys is one of my favorite nostalgic films. Boy, does that bring back memories!

Alex in Leeds said...

Oh yes, Saki is perfect for an unsettling read with dark humour occasionally creeping in. :)

Jeane said...

For some reason I didn't enjoy Dracula, but I am looking forward to reading Let the Right One In, after enjoying the film (and I don't usually like scary films, so that's saying something!) It wasn't really scary though, so much as... ominous.

Aarti said...

I definitely plan to read Dracula some time soon (famous last words, I know - "soon" being in the next decade, I suppose). I didn't love Frankenstein when I read it but I realized how different the story is from the popular version in my mind, and I think I'd enjoy Dracula for that reason, too.

Tasha B. said...

Lots of classic recs! I'm listening to Dracula right now (since it was free on Amazon), and I'm making up sub-plots to keep myself entertained. :p

Geranium Cat said...

I love Sredni Vashtar, it's such a good story. I like Saki's Clovis stories, too - they're not exactly spooky, but there's definitely a dark side to them.

Debi said...

Such a fun post! Definitely made me want to dive into a few more of these books! (Like The Haunting of Hill House--why the heck have I not read that yet?!!) Also made me want to watch The Lost Boys again--been ages since I've seen that, and I've always really loved that movie.

Jenny said...

Oh this is why I'm awful! I'm so sorry, I didn't answer your email. I am a poop. I couldn't settle to any one book -- I thought of like twelve and wrote two unsatisfactory sentences about each of them and couldn't choose in the end.

Lots of good choices from others though!!

stujallen said...

some great choices there Ana,I like let the right one in ,all the best stu

Andi said...

Fantastic recommendations! Thanks for bringing these together, Ana!

Steph said...

Great recommendations! The two movie adaptations of Let the Right One In (the Swedish version: Let the Right One On and the U.S. version: Let Me In) are also good.

Melanie said...

considering how stellar the first several picks are, i have got to read Sredni Vashtar! Thanks for the recommendation.

Ana @ things mean a lot said...

Chris: I think so too! Must read/watch the ones I haven't yet.

Melody: Thank you! *hugs* I hope you had a great Halloween too.

Jill: It's pretty much why I read blogs :P

Wendy: I need to reread Dracula! I read it in my teens, but I bet I'd get a lot more out of it now.

Alex: I can't believe I've yet to read any Saki! Must fix that.

Jeane: Yes, I've been told that before. And I tend to prefer ominous/atmospheric stories to outright horror.

Aarti: Ha - I know the feeling. We definitely stretch the definition of "soon" :P

Tasha: lol! I like your approach.

Geranium Cat: I definitely need to read them! *adds to list*

Debi: I've never actually watched The Lost Boys myself, but knowing you love it is extra motivation :D

Jenny: Don't worry at all! I completely understand.

Stu: I really need to pick it up one of these days.

Andi: The credit goes to my lovely blogging friends, of course :D

Steph: Yes, so I've heard! Maybe I could watch that next Halloween.

Melanie: I thought the same myself!