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What to Read Next (No. 144): Halloween edition!
Fall is the best. I won’t hear any arguments otherwise. Part of that is because of a tradition, which I share with many readers, of reading something spooky in October. The falling leaves, the blowing winds, the crispy air that chills your nose and fingers . . . it’s perfect for reading something that sends chills down your spine too. This year I took on a trifecta of tales: one classic, one modern masterpiece, and one short story. (For more short stories, check out the piece I wrote last year: 10 Classic Spooky Short Stories.)
Real quick: The response to my War & Peace book club was even better than I expected. If you were holding out, quit second-guessing and get signed up. The first newsletter goes out on November 1.
Misery by Stephen King
Published: 1987 | Pages: 351
I’ve read plenty of Stephen King over the years but had never picked up one of his classics: 1987’s Misery. In a word, it sort of describes much of 2020, right? I read it in just a few days and came to agree with most King fans who place this story among the top few of his superb canon.
It features a little bit of King’s weirdness, but not so much that you’re turned off (as in Dreamcatcher or Desperation). Rather than going the supernatural route, King delivers a believable story, and its therefore even more unnerving.
You likely know the gist of the plot: Crazed Annie Wilkes—the perfect villain and number one fan—has taken famous writer Paul Sheldon hostage after she rescued him from a car crash. There’s no reason to alert the authorities when you have nursing experience. Paul is confused, at first, but quickly realizes he’s not getting out of his bedroom anytime soon. Annie insists, in the only torturous way she knows how, that her hostage writes a novel that’s to her liking.
Eventually, her dark past comes to light and Paul gets even more desperate to escape her grasp.
King also weaves in a number of sneaky insights on the writing life. Paul wants to write “real” literature—he knows it won’t sell as well as his bestselling historical fiction series, but he doesn’t care. He’s a real writer, dammit! But his life depends on it, so he cranks out his finest bestseller material yet.
Misery is one of my favorite fiction reads of 2020. It’s scary, but in a manageable, thriller-like way, which I appreciate. It’s not the kind of horror that kept me up at night (though there are certainly a few scenes that will stick with me). It’s insightful about fear, adrenaline, writing, psychopathy . . . the human will to live. Along with The Stand, this is Stephen King at his very best.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Published: 2015 | Pages: 284
I’ve featured a lot of Paul’s work in the last few months and knew I wanted even more for my scary October reading. This one seemed the most intriguing to me of his books that I haven’t read, so I gave it a shot, and was blown away.
In the beginning, the reader might think this to be a story of a young woman possessed by a demon. But then Tremblay flips that classic horror sub-genre on its head in a number of ways (including on the cover!). I hate to give away too much of the story, so I’ll just say that we get: a reality show, an exorcism, a book-within-a-book storyline, a (perhaps crazy?) religious zealot, a creeptacular old house, a young woman reflecting back on childhood experiences, and an ending that left me truly shocked.
Throughout the book the reader is trying to suss out what’s real and what’s not, and by the end, whichever way you’ve categorized it will likely be turned right around.
Within the narrative, Paul also gives us a lot of history and criticism of the genre’s classic media (in the form of a delightfully confident and sarcastic blogger): The Exorcist, Paranormal, etc. He clearly respects the history of the genre he’s writing in and, at the same time, gives us an innovate and memorable approach that I’ve not seen elsewhere. It’ll make you think differently about the ideas of possession, exorcism, and definitely reality television.
I’m so glad I read this book and will eagerly continue working my way through Paul’s catalog of writing.
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
In one of the most popular short stories of all time, Connell imagines a big-game hunter who’s become bored with his prey. So, on his private island, he stocks a different kind of game—the most cunning and dangerous animal of all. That’s right: General Zaroff hunts people.
He’ll give them a head start and toy around for a bit before finally dispatching them. But then Sanger Rainsford, a big-game hunter himself, washes ashore after accidentally falling off his boat. At first, him and Zaroff hit it off. The General reveals his secret, though, and asks his guest to hunt with him. Sanger has different plans, but the General isn’t so keen on letting him get off the island and spill the beans about what’s really going on.
And the hunt ensues.
I enjoyed this classic story and truly didn’t know which direction the ending would take until I got there. If you need a quick-hit Halloween read, “The Most Dangerous Game” is perfect; then you can watch any number of movies which are either loosely or directly based on Connell’s plot.
That’s all for me this week. I’d love to hear your favorite scary reads! Thank you for the time and inbox space; I quite appreciate it.