Okay, this is actually a roundup of the last two weeks and to avoid an overly epic post, I’ve split it into two parts: reading and watching. I’m going to do an events and recipes post, probably toward the end of the month, just because Halloween events (parties, etc.) tend to happen in the second half of October anyway.

Also, for those of you who entered the All Hallows Read Giveaway, winners will be notified tomorrow, October 23.

SO! Two weeks of deliciously spooky and sometimes outright scary short stories. Week 2 was all about the classics, especially of the Gothic sensibility, from the 18th-20th century. Week 3 was all Stephen King, all the time.

10/8 “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. The original American urban legend — the Headless Horseman. What Tim Burton failed to grasp about this story when he made his gore-tastic but utterly predictable film adaptation is that “Sleepy Hollow,” like any good ghost story, is all about set-up, about the act of telling a tale, and the ways in which stories creep into our brains and set up house there. We have more than an inkling that Ichabod’s fate was a mundane prank gone wrong, but it doesn’t matterWhat matters is whistling in the dark on your way home and thinking: what if.

10/9 “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Man, Poe and Hawthorne, they love their Italians. Not that a story like Rappaccini’s Daughter could work anywhere but the decadent Old World. I adore Hawthorne — he’s all about ambience and the ways in which the environment works on us. Not to mention: garden of bio-engineered toxic plants!

10/10  “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. Technically, a short novel or novella, but you’d never know with how fast it reads. We’ve got a classic setup: a group of friends telling ghost stories. One friend, of course, has the story of all stories, almost too terrible to tell — almost. The resulting narrative is hotly debated by critics, whether it’s a work of psychological horror or an honest-to-goodness supernatural ghost story. We can agree that it’s one of the most masterfully written works of suspense and terror in the Anglo-American canon.

10/11 “The Outsider” by H.P. Lovecraft. I have to confess that although I have a certain fondness for Lovecraft’s mythos, I’m not usually a fan of his stories. (A lot of it’s the overt racism — there’s only so much about sinister “Negros” and “Mongoloids” I can read before I want to chuck a book across the room.) That said, “The Outsider” is one of my few favorites, in which a Grendel-like ghoul escapes from his decaying castle home/prison and seeks out normal society, only to be confronted with his own monstrosity.

10/12 “Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft. And if you are going to delve into the world of the Elder Gods, “Call of Cthulhu” is, of course, the best place to start. It’s full of the mystery and that simultaneous sense of piecing together and unraveling of which Lovecraft is, admittedly, the master.

10/13 “The Lady of the House of Love” by Angela Carter, from The Bloody Chamber. I love Carter and I haven’t read enough of her, so I was delighted to come across this story in an anthology. What’s wonderful about the contemporary Gothic is that it reshapes the archetypal stories and inverts them so as to demand: what is monstrous? This was probably my favorite read so far this month.

10/14 “Secret Observations on the Goat Girl” by Joyce Carol Oates from The Assignation. A short, deceptively simple story from one of horror’s greatest literary champions. As we know, all monsters are at least part human, and Oates explores our fascination and disgust in deceptively quiet terms.

10/15 “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” by Stephen King. From the collection, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, this is King at his absolute best, with our sacrificial lambs getting lost in the woods and finding a small, Bradbury-esque town called “Rock and Roll Heaven.”

10/16 “1408” by Stephen King. Ignore the movie starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, “1408” is one of those stories better read than watched. On the screen, you miss out on the creeping sense of dread and King’s brilliant foreshadowing. From Everything’s Eventual.

10/17 “The Road Virus Heads North” by Stephen King. Also from Everything’s Eventual, what would 31 Days of Halloween be without a homicidally possessed painting story? Beware of yard sales, my friends.

10/18 “1922” by Stephen King. From King’s latest collection, Full Dark, No Stars. I hadn’t read any of these stories before, so every shock and twist was new to me. “1922” is the longest of the group, and King tells it so patiently. Just when you think you’ve come to the worst of it  — a man murdering his wife, the subsequent attempts to cover it up — you sink a little deeper into the worst of humanity. Also, rats. Lots of rats.

10/19 “Big Driver” by Stephen King, from Full Dark, No Stars. So very, very triggery for assault, this story, but with its structure you’re fully aware of what’s coming (unlike the protagonist), so there’s plenty of time to turn back. I didn’t, although at times I wanted to. In the vein of films like The House at the End of the Street and I Spit on Your Grave. But I do think King’s managed to set himself apart from those films, which are so exploitative, in large part because we’re so firmly entrenched in our heroine’s consciousness and POV that there’s no opportunity to feel anything but disgust and horror at what happens to her.

10/20 “Fair Extension” by Stephen King, from Full Dark, No Stars. The way time works in this story, compared to say, “1922” which is about three times as long, is key to its success. Your classic “deal with the devil” trope but with this kicker: you have to pick someone to suffer in your place.

10/21 “A Good Marriage” by Stephen King, from Full Dark, No Stars. Definitely my favorite of the bunch. This story sets out to answer the question: what if the man you married wasn’t who you thought he was? What if he was someone much, much worse? Another different point of view choice for King. It’s interesting what he’s done with women in these stories.


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