Saturday, October 27, 2012

A New Reason to be Afraid of the Dark

I love House of Leaves. It's a horror story with no vampires, no werewolves, no ghosts or demons, but still scary as any other book I've ever read. Even still, I am regretting my decision to pick this for my blog subject. It is one of my favorite books of all time (not to mention perfect for the Halloween season), but it is also one of the hardest to describe. It’s difficult for me to put into words an experience so psychologically horrifying or visually disturbing as reading this book. And now I have to convince you to read it without my usual crutch of being able to simply hand you the thing and watch you flip through the pages with your brow increasingly furrowing and your jaw lolling and drool running off your chin, when I exclaim with unbridled triumph and all-out-manic delight the word, “SEE?”

Anyway, that’s how it normally happens. I suppose I’ll just have to give this way a shot.

For my sake, let’s start off with the easy stuff:
1.       House of Leaves is a horror novel by Mark Danielewski.
2.       The novel is written as a documentary
3.       The documentary is based around a series of video records that may or may not exist
4.       These videos chronicle explorations of dark and physically impossible chambers that grow and move within the House
5.       The study of these videos was written by a blind man, who is now dead
6.       A young man named Johnny Truant finds this manuscript among the dead man’s things.
7.       Johnny Truant frequently interrupts the narrative with his own observations
8.       Johnny may or may not be a pathological liar and, in addition to that, he’s losing his mind.

In summary, it’s a novel written as a documentary which is written by a blind man about videos of a shape-changing House that he obviously couldn’t see, which could also have been completely fabricated to make a great premise for the blind man’s opus, which we’ll never know because he’s deceased and so  we can’t ask him, which is then edited by a complete stranger to the blind man and the project who becomes fanatically obsessed with learning the truth of the matter, but also professes in his increasingly schizophrenic tirades that he tends to lie a lot.

With me so far?

Come along, then. We’ll pick up the stragglers later.

The house of title fame belongs to a Pulitzer-winning photojournalist named Will Navidson who resides in this quaint countryside abode with his wife and two children. Everything seems just fine and dandy until  the hallway appears.

This hallway doesn’t connect two rooms. Rather, it branches off a living room wall and extends into total darkness. It is dark, featureless, and eerily cold. The general consensus is that it’s giving everyone the heebie-jeebies. So of course, Navidson busts out the camera and goes exploring. The walk from the living room entryway to the wall inside takes him five and a half minutes to complete. Sufficiently creeped-out, the family did the only sensible thing they could do: they boarded up the hole and stuck a door on it. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t help. Unable to contain his curiosity, Navidson opens the door for a peek only to find that the hallway has stretched out even farther.

Soon, they discover an entire catacomb of corridors and chambers has manifested behind the living room wall. Navidson hires a team of explorers to investigate the area. When they don’t return, he and his own team move in to rescue them. What they step into is a dark and foreboding place whose architectural make-up alters and moves while they’re inside. Where the darkness had once been utterly silent, now an otherworldly growl begins to draw nearer.

But what Navidson and his team find in the darkness isn’t a growling monster, it’s more terrifying than that. What they find in the darkness is what slowly drives poor Johnny Truant insane, it’s what we can assume made the blind man so obsessed with Navidson’s story, and what probably drove him a bit crazy, too. The madness they uncover  starts being mimicked by the book itself, with strange cross-outs, entire missing sections, incessant and disrupting footnotes, backwards print, and formatting that makes the writing near impossible to read.

Even though you’re positive you’re reading a novel and it’s fiction and you know in your noggin that the Navidson Record doesn’t exist, even though the characters in the book are themselves doubtful anything occurring is real at all, even though it makes no sense that a blind man would review a video documentary, even though there’s that ever-present Johnny Truant who has a penchant for fabricating wild, elaborate stories, what they find there in the darkness will make you keep the night light on. Even more frighteningly, you probably won’t be sure why.

And if that hasn’t convinced you, pick up the book and flip to the middle. Trust me on this one. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Scary Book For The Season

Because Halloween is approaching, we though you may be interested in a few scary reads suggestions.  I'm not entirely sure what fascinates humans so much with frightening themselves, but I would be willing to bet whatever it is is unique to our species.  I just can't see a dog deliberately trying to scare itself.

I have a long fascination with things that are scary and an even longer fascination with Stephen King.  He was the first author that really made me want to read, and I spent a long time devouring most of what he wrote.  For some reason though, most of what he has written lately hasn't quite lived up to his older stuff.  There is just something about the older stuff that is superior.  So my first scary recommendation for Halloween is It.  It is easily one of the scariest books I have ever read.  The sort of, this book is not sleeping in the same bed with me, so it has to sleep under the bed, oh God it's under the bed, sort of scary book.

It also has a great group of characters that complement each other well.  You'll really pull for these kids, and their adult counterparts.  It was also made into a mini-series that I really enjoyed at the time, with Tim Curry doing a great job as Pennywise the clown.  Keep in mind that you are not allowed to watch it until you have read the book.

The book starts out with kidnappings of local children.  It is not long before you realize whatever is taking these kids is decidedly not human.  King has a way of taking the things that instill all people with primal fear, like losing a child, and making them into a supernatural, larger than life fear.  His evil is fear personified.  If you're looking to scare yourself this Halloween, you won't do better than It.  We have several copies, if you dare.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

All Hallow's Read

Happy October book lovers! As some of you may know, I'm a fan of the dark and creepy. The skulls over the stairs for the past year might have been a give away. So, when given the chance to mix books and Halloween, I was all over it.  What presented me with this glorious opportunity?  None other Neil Gaiman introducing The All Hallow's Read several years ago. You may be wondering what this escapade is.  Mr. Gaiman explained it on his blog in the very clever video below.

Neat right?

The All Hallows Read poses an interesting dilemma, with all the scary, creepy or just darkly weird books out there, which one to choose?

I will confess that I don't read scary books. I lean more towards darkly weird.  Allow me to share some great picks that won't actually scare, but will still capture the spirit of the season....

The Graveyard Book

It only seems right to give the event's creator top billing on the list of top picks right?

The Graveyard Book is a great choice for book loving kids all the way up to quirky adults. It's whimsical and fun while still being appropriately macabre.

It's the story of a boy whose family is murdered by a mysterious organization.  He escapes and is subsequently raised by the ghosts residing in the graveyard at the end of his street.

This tale is full of supernatural creatures and mystery. It's a perfect read for any child 11 or up, but be warned there is a vast amount of non- graphic violence (bad thing happen, but they aren't described gruesome detail).

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children 

Miss Peregrine's is a dark fantasy story about a boy who grew up with a grandfather who told him stories about the monsters who lurked in the real world, only to find out that they are all real... or maybe he's just losing his mind?

He and his father take a trip to the source of his grandfather's stories in an attempt to find the grain of truth.

This book is illustrated with truly creepy vintage photos that enrich the story without distracting from the readers imagination.

This story is a great choice for teens and up. It was written as an adult horror story, but got stolen by the young adult set.  It's a great read regardless, but not for little ones.

The Walking Dead Volume One

Season three just aired last weekend and if you haven't read the graphic novel that started it all, now is a great time to start. Standard zombie apocalypse end of the world survival story, but this one is masterfully told.

This read is a great choice for teens and up, especially for those lurking non-readers we all have.

So, there you have it. Three great All Hallows Read picks, with more to come from myself, Vickie and maybe even a guest blogger!

Which titles would you add?