Sumer is icumen in (lhude sing cuccu), and I am ready for some spooky reading. For me, autumn and winter are the time for light romance and comedy stylings. It’s dark and getting darker. It’s cold and getting colder. When it’s the Fall of the year, I need something light-hearted and gay to stay my restless heart. But now it is light and getting lighter. It’s warm and getting warmer. I must greet the Spring of the Year with the heavy and the gruesome. It’s time for Heather’s Unhealthy Reading List.
First off, let’s talk about Shirley Jackson. I like the everyday settings, the unremarkable people. I like starting off these stories accepting everything at face value and being slowly informed as to the black heart of wickedness existing in every sleepy town, every quiet household. They’re scary because they’re true.
The classic introduction to the world of Shirley Jackson is the short story “The Lottery” about an antique ritual that has lived into the modern day. If you have read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and I certainly hope you have, you may remember the strange workings of Hinzelmann in his little Wisconsin town. This is an earlier manifestation.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a novel with my favorite kind of narrator: unreliable. The youngest orphaned daughter of a poisoned family tells the story of how her life, and that of her elder sister, undergoes an earth-shattering change. A Young Adult Novel with a difference.
The Haunting of Hill House has been made into many movies. As suspenseful haunted house movies go, they are mostly okay. They don’t come anywhere near what the book is like. It’s another example of my dearly beloved unreliable narrator, only this time there isn’t really one narrator describing the events of a weekend spent studying a haunted house. This is just plain what happened, so maybe the house is the narrator? Sure, somebody goes crazy, maybe more than one person. Sure there’s an accidental (maybe?) death. Were they caused by ghosts in the house? Or an atmosphere of menace? Or what? I just love ambiguity. It helps me read a different story every time I reread a book.
Now let’s have a gander at Stephen King’s work. Mr. King might be a little wary of ghosts and monsters, but he’s completely terrified of people. That’s the number one most important thing to know about a Stephen King book, it’s an expertly crafted warning to watch out for the other guy. That other guy does not have your best interests at heart.
Cycle of the Werewolf is an illustrated novella about a werewolf’s predations on a small town. I adore an illustrated novella, and the ones in this book are especially charming. They help the book feel like a homey memoir of a year in the life of a simple New England village. Which is of course nowhere near the truth of any village, either in the real world or in the novel. Each chapter is a self-contained short story. Stephen King is a skilled craftsman in this format, and I recommend you try this book by just choosing a chapter at random. It’s sad, and it’s jolly, and it’s frightening.
Dark Tower is an actual graphic novelization of stories influenced by Stephen King’s series about a strange otherworldly gunslinger and his adversary the sorcerous man in black. I call these graphic novels Stephen King novels advisedly. Although he is not their author, they definitely speak in his voice. He himself has praised them extravagantly. You can trust that man to advise your reading. He knows good work when he reads it.
And now to the master of summertime horror, Ray Bradbury. At the heart of every Ray Bradbury monster is someone who is sad, or forgotten, or in some other way lonely. They are people who are trying to make a place for themselves that is acceptable to themselves in the world with the rest of us. That being said, I am mortally afraid of Mr. Dark.
Something Wicked This Way Comes strangles the sense of wonder in the circus sideshow. You really should not look upon the sideshow with wonder, though I grant you permission to look on it with awe. Those folks are working their hearts out to bring you entertainment, and the feats of physical strength and dexterity are a tribute to the awesome abilities of the human body. But don’t let them get a hold on your wallet or your soul.
Dandelion Wine seems like a tale of a young boy’s idyllic summer in 1920s Illinois. It’s really a long and increasingly depressing collection of stories about loss. Every perfect summer day, full of fun and interest, can be bottled up in your memory to enjoy in the winter of your life. But let’s face it, it’s only memories.
So there’s your start for reading scary stuff in spring and summer. I think you will be pleased with the resulting feelings or hope and uplift. After all, the days are getting longer, so the dark nights have to get shorter.