Horrifying Tales: A Reading List from Open Book Night
October’s Open Book Night took place on one of the most bone-chilling days we have had this year. As the darkness descended and the leaves swirled along the sidewalk, we sat in a circle with our books in our hands, too nervous to disturb the silence in the dimly lit Corner Room.
Our conversation started slowly but surely, as we gave nods to classic horror writers, acknowledged modern horror tales, and debated the merits behind the horror film genre. We also peeled back the layers beyond short stories, and discussed the correlation (but not causation!) between the authors and their horrifying tales.
Cry for the Strangers by John Saul
Melissa recalled reading this pulp paperback as a child and vividly recounted a scene where a young boy dreamt he was on the beach during a storm and saw dancers burying two people in the sand. When she picked up the book the second time around to search for the scene, she found it in the prologue. This powerfully disturbing scene is only the start of the strange tales of Clark’s Harbor—the eerie coastal village and its population of overprotective townspeople. When outsiders start to settle in the little town, bodies begin to pop up, but never those of the locals.
The Fireman by Joe Hill
Susen finally got around to reading Joe Hill’s latest book after renewing the title six times. She thought the novel was gorgeously written, menacingly dark, and intensely realistic—for a tale about an apocalyptic plague and the survivors who attempt to recreate some semblance of their former life. Not for the faint hearted, Hill’s novel takes the reader to some perilously dark places. Best read away from fire and by the phone.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Alice found Jackson’s short story to be a mix of horror and psychology, related to “group think.” She also thought the tale of a long-running tradition with insidious results highlights the perils of community and cruelty. We held a discussion on Jackson's life and wondered how her difficult upbringing and wayward husband infuenced her writing.
Carrie by Stephen King
Liz read this in one sitting spanning two hours. She found the story of a teenage girl with psychic abilities who uses her powers for revenge gory, horrifying, and mesmerizing. She enjoys stories with a strong female protagonist, much like Ginger in Gingersnaps and Sarah in The Craft.
Authors known for their thrilling tales, both classic and modern, were also discussed and it was a general consensus that the classic tales are scarier than modern ones.
- The works of Algernon Blackwood are usually set in the Appalachians or the Canadian West.
- Oliver Onions and E.F. Benson are prolific authors known for their memorable ghost stories.
- Thomas Peacock's Nightmare Abbey is one for the ages.
- Some 19th century horror writers are M.R. James, H.R. Wakefield, Ambrose Bierce, and Edith Wharton.
- H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth go hand in hand when talking about the Cthulhu Mythos.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Celestial Railroad and House of the Seven Gables were thought to be macabre, while Vladimir Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading was a lesson in psychological torment.
- The vividness of Nikolai Gogol's The Nose and Dead Souls brought to life 19th century Russia and its political intrigue.
- Gothic stories mentioned were Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole.
- Contemporary horror writers that were crowd pleasers were Joyce Carol Oates, Dean Koontz, and Chuck Palahniuk.
Horror is for all ages, and some of us recalled reading Scary Tales to Tell in the Dark and still considered it to be one of the scariest novels we ever read. Last, but certainly not least, this discussion would not be a horrifying tales discussion without admiration for Edgar Allen Poe, creator of such tales such as The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, and The Fall of the House of Usher.
As all good chats about things that go bump in the night goes, we would be remiss to not discuss some foreign horror movies that have terrified and shocked us. The Japanese horror genre was noted for their use of psychological terror to heighten the horror factor of their movies, such as in the 1998 film The Ring and the 1999 film The Audition. Check out the 20 Best Horror Movie Roles by Nicholas Parker for more thrills and chills.
Thanks to all those who joined us for October's Open Book Night. Check out these other reading lists for books recommended at past Open Book Night Sessions. November’s Open Book Night will focus on Food & Celebration. Do you have a favorite book featuring food, family, and friends? Have you read about a real or fictional celebration you’d love to take part in? Because of the Veterans Day holiday on November 11, we’re meeting on the third Friday of the month at Mid-Manhattan Library. Join us for a delicious and joyous talk!