Author Neil Gaiman suggests a new Halloween tradition: give a scary book. I'm a sucker for book gifts, so even though I wonder how much this new holiday tradition will benefit this author of the scary books I love, I will promote it and possibly even hit the used book shop tomorrow (payday ain't 'till Monday, folks, and we've had an expensive month, not that I'm complaining as I type happily on my shiny, red laptop).
So here are some of my favorite literary creepies.
First, "Satan and Sam Shay," a 1940s short story by Robert Arthur. I don't know of any instances of this story currently in print. I grew up with it in an anthology called The Looking Glass Book of Short Stories. I found a copy in another anthology called Out of This World, edited by Julius Fast. It has been published in other anthologies as well. I actually entered my 11-year-old's pit of a bedroom to find our copy and get the title and editor. That tells you three things: (1) I love you enough to get this information for you; (2) I love this story enough to get that information for you; (3) It appeals to an 11-year-old enough that he squirrels it away in his pit of a bedroom. (It's not that terrible. The main problem is the LEGOs on the floor. Like a minefield.) The story tells how the clever Sam Shay outwits the devil after a deal that seems certain to lose him his soul. Naturally, the man who can cheat Lucifer starts up an insurance agency in the end. I don't think that's a spoiler. Hat tip to my dad for selling me on this story in my youth.
For out-of-this-world sci-fi creepiness and disturb-o factor, along with another level that makes you think about being human and religious and cultural judgments, The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell. The plot involves a Catholic missionary expedition to an alien world with (maybe this is too obvious) completely different mores than those of Earth - and all the aftermath of that contact.
These two were mind-changing books for me, with the added benefit of being total page-turners. That meant I had to read them twice each to absorb the ideas after my initial plot binge, and I almost never do that unless the second round is a read-aloud to my kids. These books are not for kids. For real.
But if you are an Orson Scott Card fan ready to go a new place, consider this trip. (There were some parallels with, for example, Children of the Mind.)
For a chilling dose of what's creepy in the type of people you meet on a daily basis, try Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. At first you won't see what's creepy about it. If I tell you much more, it will be a spoiler. But it's not a horror book. It's a oh-man-is-the-human-race-in-trouble book. Sometimes that's far scarier than ghosts and ghouls.
There is a movie coming up with a lot of stylish young stars in it. So if you want to read the book first (and if you see these kinds of movies), hustle. It is worth it. As for me, I see grown-ups' films so infrequently that it's probably more realistic to say I'll flip through the book again for my human-nature shivers.
Finally, ok, pretty much anything by Neil Gaiman. My friend Miriam is to blame for recommending his books. I've talked about them before. Coraline, The Graveyard Book, Anansi Boys, American Gods (which made me wonder if Rick Riordan read it before he wrote Percy Jackson) Good Omens ... you can start where you like. Make sure there's someplace you can get some sunshine when you've finished. Otherwise ... ooooh, creepy.
Happy All Hallow's Read.