A version of this story first appeared on the West Virginia Book Festival blog (http://blogs.wvgazette.com/wvbookfestival/) in October 2010.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- First, I should say that scary books are not my most well-read area. Noir, sports, classics? I'm your man. Horror? Not so much. But this time of the year puts one in the mood for it. Halloween is just a few days away, and the scary-book season is just beginning. As the days grow colder and the nights grow longer, what better time than late fall or early winter to dive into a book that makes you shiver? Here are some suggestions:
Bram Stoker, "Dracula": I love the old stuff: "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "The Picture of Dorian Gray," the ghost stories of M.R. James. But the Count remains the king.
If there's anything about "Dracula" that hasn't been said, I don't know what it is. But the vampire has become such an archetype, and the film versions of Dracula (including Bela Lugosi, one of the most iconic movie characters ever) are so firmly set in people's minds, the power of the original story may get lost. And it is a powerful story. Stoker's not the greatest writer, and there were plenty of other vampire tales floating around in the late 1800s. But for whatever reason -- almost certainly, those classic film adaptations played a role -- "Dracula" struck a nerve (a vein? an artery?) with readers.
My favorite part of the book might be the first four chapters, which consist of Jonathan Harker's journal as he arrives at Castle Dracula. We know what he's getting into, but Harker only gradually realizes that his host is an undead fiend:
"At first I could not believe my eyes. I thought it was some trick of the moonlight, some weird effect of shadow, but I kept looking, and it could be no delusion. I saw the fingers and toes grasp the corners of the stones, worn clear of the mortar by the stress of years, and by thus using every projection and inequality move downwards with considerable speed, just as a lizard moves along a wall.
"What manner of man is this, or what manner of creature, is it in the semblance of man? I feel the dread of this horrible place overpowering me. I am in fear, in awful fear, and there is no escape for me. I am encompassed about with terrors that I dare not think of."
Stephen King, "It": No list of scary books in 21st-century America is complete without Stephen King. I've had a love-hate relationship with the man ever since I was 13 or so, found a beat-up copy of "Cujo" in my dad's vacation house at the beach and scared the hell out of myself.
As is the case with many authors, I think much of his best stuff came early, including "Salem's Lot" and "The Shining." But the one I put at the top of the scary list is "It," about a sewer-dwelling clown monster that terrorizes generations of children.