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Halloween Reads; Seducing a Writer

October 22, 2010 | by

I recently found myself craving some terrifying literature—the idea of reading something frightening feels so seasonally appropriate. That said, I’d like to avoid fiction that panders to generic tropes and also isn’t by Irving or Poe. Could you recommend a work of genuine literary merit that’s also disturbing and Halloween-ish? —Ryan Sheldon

Two spooky writers spring immediately to mind: Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter. Jackson is the more Hallowe’eny of the two. You might begin with her last novel, first published in 1962 (and reissued last year), We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I’m not sure what you mean about generic tropes: This is absolutely pure New England Gothic, but there is no pandering in it. I think the literature of the uncanny depends on genre conventions—and, at its most uncanny, plays with them, so the spooky and the banal get mixed up together.

Readers of The Daily have seen me recommend Angela Carter’s stories, collected in Burning Your Boats. They are favorites of mine. (Burning Your Boats came to me, originally, as a present from kid-lit expert Laura Miller. It is one of those favorite books that I lent out years ago and never got back.) When Carter rewrites a fairytale, she doesn’t make light of it, she finds what is really and truly disturbing in the original and burnishes that until it shines. If you like Bruno Bettelheim, you’ll love Angela Carter.

I’m trying to impress—okay, maybe seduce—an author. I could flatter him with extravagant praise for his books, but that seems too obvious. Might I be able to snag him with an obscure book recommendation, or am I better off just wearing something appealing? —F. B.

It is never wrong to wear something appealing—and there’s no such thing as too-obvious praise!

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  1. Jenny Davidson | October 22, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Two other haunting novels of considerable literary merit: Sara Gran’s Come Closer; James Lasdun’s The Horned Man.

  2. Solid gold creativity | October 22, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Dear Lorin Stein,

    The photo accompanying the interview with Peter Levi looks like it’s a photo of Primo Levi.

    Solid gold creativity

  3. Jo Citron | October 23, 2010 at 10:40 am

    And don’t forget Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860), perhaps the first — and surely one of the best — of the Sensation Novels. Count Fosco. Truly creepy.

  4. Lorin Stein | October 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Dear Solid Gold, thank you for the correction. Duly noted–and fixed! LS

  5. Lilith | October 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Who doesn’t love some Algernon Charles Swinburne. The Leper or Laus Veneris, perhaps? Cadaverous amour, really.

  6. Solid gold creativity | October 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    You’re welcome, Lorin. I love your site and what you provide here.

  7. M.M. | October 25, 2010 at 2:51 am

    The best way to seduce anyone, authors included, is to listen to them.

    And praise is only too obvious when it is insincere.

  8. Nick Antosca | October 26, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Try “Brand New Cherry Flavor” by Todd Grimson, “Teatro Grottesco” by Thomas Ligotti (one of my favorite story collections ever), or “House on the Borderlands”by William Hope Hodgson.

  9. Naomi | October 29, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    I’m so glad you suggested “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” as a “seasonally appropriate” read. I read it for the first time a few months ago, and when I wasn’t intensely uncomfortable (in a good way), I wondered where Jackson has been all my life, and why I only stumbled upon her now (and it wasn’t even the reissue you mention–it was a literal stumble on a beat-up old (great) tattered paperback edition). It’s one of those books you feel in your bones months later. I was about to say that I just may re-read it this Halloween weekend, but I think it may be too soon…I need some distance before going through THAT again.

  10. Rose | October 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Another good witchy author is Isak Dinesen– Seven Gothic Tales!– and there is a charming interview with her in the archives.

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