Message in a Bottle
Kingsley Amis: Past, Present, and Future

imageIf Kingsley Amis is remembered today, it’s probably as one of the UK’s original Angry Young Men (thanks to his 1954 debut novel Lucky Jim) or as the aged, dissipated shadow of his former self (thanks to a lifelong drinking habit). Between that initial success and his death in 1995, though, Amis displayed wide-ranging writing talents, and New York Review Books has been doing an admirable job of bringing them back to light. They’ve recently re-released a pair of his mid-career novels that are as fresh and provocative as anything newly written for 2014.

The first of these was originally published in 1969 at the leading edge of a fictional wave that would dominate the next decade. The Green Man helped launch a fad for supernatural horror that was carried on through the 1970s by the likes of Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Dean Koontz and continues today. The setting for Amis’s story is a country inn outside of Cambridge that gives the book its title; the innkeeper of the Green Man is Maurice Allington, who’s trying to juggle the demands of a business, a new younger wife, an uncommunicative teenage daughter, and his crotchety 79-year-old father. To Allington, the old legends about ghosts who occupy the inn have always been mere titillation for travelers, but during four stressful days, the long-dormant spirits start to awaken dangerously. Farce veers swiftly into dread (the comedy is actually funny and the spookiness is legitimately hair-raising—a combination that’s unique in my experience). image

Allington is at the center of all the action and makes a charmingly reprehensible protagonist. He lubricates the creaky machinery of his life with enough booze to float a battleship, and during a family funeral is mostly preoccupied with seducing his wife into a threesome with his new mistress, but he does these things with great panache. His flaws are essential, really. The book would be far less interesting if it pitched a perfect saint against the forces of darkness. As critic Michael Dirda points out in the introduction, “A ghost story initially needs to convince the reader not in the existence of ghosts but in the existence of the normal, the familiar, the ordinary routine into which the ghost obtrudes.” It’s at this that Amis excels. He creates a convincingly human hero and a reality that’s wholly satisfying even before he introduces a single otherworldly element.

The second re-release is The Alteration, which first appeared in 1976. It posits a world in which the Protestant Reformation never happened and the papacy never lost its hold on the reins of government.* Modern society is imagetherefore a Christian theocracy; scientific development is severely retarded, but the arts, at least those that glorify religion, are ascendant. Into this milieu steps Hubert Anvil, a ten-year-old chorister with an angelic voice the likes of which hasn’t been heard for generations. Luckily, the Pope wants to bring him from England to Rome to become a singing celebrity. Unluckily, the Pope insists that such a heaven-sent voice must not be deepened by the onset of puberty, so he schedules Hubert for a minor surgical—gulp—alteration.

If the boy declines this opportunity to become a heralded castrato, he’ll be defying all social conventions as well as political authority, which doesn’t leave many avenues for escape. (American readers will be pleased that an imaginative version of England’s New World colonies factors into Hubert’s plans.) The counterfactual realm Amis builds is meticulously arranged and described, but as in The Green Man, it’s his traditional storytelling skills that make it all pay off. Expert pacing, sharp dialogue, and fully-fleshed characters—whatever attributes one might hope for in a realistic novel are present in spades.

It may seem strange to some that a distinguished literary novelist would dabble in science fiction and fantasy, but Amis had great respect for those genres. Employing their tropes added considerably to his arsenal of expression and enabled him to write works that function on multiple levels, novels of ideas as well as entertainment. Few so-called serious writers of his time shared this attitude, and even now some barricades remain standing between literary artistes and their pulpier peers. Amis still has a trick or two to teach his descendants, and his fiction will stay contemporary for years to come.


* Before I picked up a copy of The Alteration, I was ready to tar Amis as a plagiarist—the scenario of a modern-day England trapped in a kind of ecclesiastic medievalism was pioneered by a lesser-known writer named Keith Roberts in his excellent 1969 novel Pavane. All was forgiven by the time I finished The Alteration, though. Roberts makes something of a mystery out of his alternate world, allowing the true nature of it to sneak up on the reader, while Amis makes everything clear at once. The two books couldn’t be more different in tone and purpose. More to the point, Amis acknowledges Pavane's precedence by having one of his characters read a secular, scientific alternative history by an author named … Keith Roberts.

Cindy Scares Me…


The days have been growing shorter, and now it’s dark by the time the kids go to bed. There’s a brisk chill in the air too. Fall is announcing itself.

Late the other night, I sat up working on our monthly newsletter. I was grasping for time in between my one-year-old daughter’s separation anxiety screaming fits. Her twin brother hasn’t exhibited her recent behavior, thank goodness, but she virtually howls.

Roger had asked Cindy to help me compile the Halloween booklist for adults. I love a good thriller and and have read far too many of them, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read a full-fledged horror novel. I was sifting through new titles to include when I opened Cindy’s email.

Cindy, as you know, has rung up hordes of titles at the front counter and always has her finger on the pulse of what customers like. She took Roger’s charge seriously, and her suggestions went above and beyond the scope of the list I was trying to cultivate. So I felt it was only appropriate to share her deeper thoughts on the blog as to what you should be reading for Halloween. Her list was so good that I nearly woke my peacefully sleeping husband just so I didn’t feel so alone in the house. With my daughter finally silent, I felt like shrieking myself. The very names of some of Cindy’s books sent chills up my spine, as I began to picture ghosts, murderers, and vampires roaming in my backyard.

First Cindy gave me this list of authors:
H.P. Lovecraft
H.G. Wells
Edgar Allen Poe
Bram Stoker
Mary Shelley
Ray Bradbury (The Halloween Tree)
Whitley Streiber
Peter Straub
Clive Barker
Ira Levin
Robert McCammon
Tanith Lee
Joe Hill (20th Century Ghosts, Horns, Heart-Shaped Box, NOS4ATU)
Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book)
Stephen King (Dr. Sleep)
Peter Stenson (Fiend)
Adam Mansbach (The Dead Run)

Then she went more specific with these titles:
The Historian
The Turn of the Screw
Woman in Black
Interview with the Vampire
Haunting of Hill House 
Haunted Washington
Bad Seeds
Ghosts: Recent Hauntings
Poe’s Children
(ed., Peter Straub)
The Big Book of Ghost Stories (ed. Otto Penzler)

I’ll add Tana French, Jo Nesbo, and Sophie Hannah to Cindy’s list of authors and Every Last One, Before I Go to Sleep, and Sister to her list of specific books.

I used to read horror novels under the covers with a flashlight when I was a teenager, long after I was supposed to be asleep. I read all the early Stephen King and Flowers in the Attic like that and scared myself sick. It may have been a long time ago, but just thinking about reading some of the books on Cindy’s list brought back those memories. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. And when my daughter started a fresh round of screaming, I nearly screamed with her.

Halloween is coming. Lock your doors and read yourself into a tizzy. It’s kind of fun.


In Search Of ?

We’ve been doing some sophisticated computer-aided analysis here at Message in a Bottle headquarters, and we’ve determined that—wait, let me examine the precise figures…yes, they all check out—many people are reading our posts. We could even say many, many people. If we were number crunchers instead of word fiends, we might be able to tell you exactly how many, but as it is, we’re pretty satisfied with our results.

Not only do we know that we have readers, we also know how they’re finding us. Somewhat surprisingly, most of you are subscribers. That is, you regularly receive our posts via email. This is really good news as far as we’re concerned, because it means that you like what you’ve read in the past and want to read more of it, whatever it turns out to be. Insider secret: We don’t always know what kind of post you’ll be reading until a couple of hours before you read it. The deadline muse can be very inspiring.

The next largest group of readers visits the blog itself, and many of those are sent to it by the links we put on Facebook each time we make an update. Others follow the permanent link on our store’s website, and still others know that they can always go directly to to see what’s new.

Now, some of you are forgetful, and you have to do a little searching to find us. We can tell, because records indicate that quite a few of you come to us only after plugging a phrase like “island books message bottle” into Google. Or into Bing, although that’s so far just a hypothetical. This is the equivalent of not knowing a street address but navigating by landmarks. “Turn left at the drugstore and look on the right for the blue house with the weather vane.” Works perfectly well, especially when you’re in your own neighborhood. We’ll leave the porch light on all night, just in case.

That covers almost everybody who visits us virtually, but the most entertaining oddities in the data pile are the singletons, the obscure search terms that directed someone to us just once. These are readers who probably didn’t know exactly what they were looking for and stumbled across one of our posts serendipitously. In some cases, it seems clear that they found something relevant when they arrived, but in others…well, who knows what they were thinking. Let’s look at some examples:

  • drugs jungle central america: I hope this wasn’t someone looking to set up an import/export business. This phrase directed the searcher to Miriam’s fine post about Ann Patchett’s most recent novel State of Wonder.
  • andorrans: I like to imagine that this word was typed into a search engine by a lonely expat from the Pyrenees looking for her kinfolk. If so, I hope she was interested to read a post about vanished nations from the days of yore.
  • fictitious worlds in one scene: Possibly related to the search above, as the natural landing page for this one was this post about realistic imaginary landscapes. Peter Cameron’s Andorra was one of the books mentioned.
  • famous friendships in literature: This led to one of my favorite Message in a Bottle posts, in which Miriam talks about her best friend since childhood and inadvertently calls her a pig. OK, not really. Charlotte and Wilbur from E.B. White’s classic novel do come up, though. 
  • donald barthelme the baby, whats the message: A confused student probably got more (and less) than he bargained for when he ran across part three of my series on books and parenthood
  • ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic: This is a quote from Stephen King that describes the novella, and I used it in this post
  • the north wind and the sun: A Wiccan practitioner? A budding meteorologist? Who knows, but whoever it was found a charming post that’s inspired by a fable from Aesop.
  • how to build a lego hot air balloon instructions: It’s not exactly a how-to, but Miriam did discuss the topic here
  • judas hanged himself: This searcher was undoubtedly surprised to click onto a piece about truthfulness in journalism.
  • how to draw catching fire symbol: One or the other of two posts must have been the destination for this searcher, but neither of them says anything about draftsmanship.

And then there were those searches that will remain forever cryptic:

  • i will have less sader [sic] days ahead: Hopefully true for the person who initiated a brief encounter with us. Feel better, anonymous visitor.
  • cool teen boy picking up something on the ground: Very specific and very strange. Maybe it led here?
  • sweater for book lovers: My mom used to buy patterns from McCall’s, but to my knowledge, I’ve never mentioned it on the blog.
  • french wife swap: Don’t want to dig too deeply here.
  • تالممةعي

Yes, you read that last one correctly. If you read Arabic, that is. And if you do, maybe you can explain what it means and how it led someone to Message in a Bottle. Until we figure that out, I’ll just say marhaban to you, mysterious guest from far away. And the same goes to all of you readers out there.


Elementary, My Dear Readers

Adapting literature into films and TV shows is apparently a trend again. The Twilight series was a great success, The Avengers has been an absolute blockbuster (comic books are at least as literary as Twilight, if not more so), and even the art-house crowd is on the bandwagon. Reports indicate that the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is likely to go to an adaptation for just the third time this millennium. The hottest property of the moment, though, is probably the BBC series Sherlock.

In case you’re not already familiar with it, Sherlock updates the classic Arthur Conan Doyle detective stories and brings them into the present day. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes is as uncannily capable as the original character, but his performance accentuates Holmes’s prickly arrogance and the strain of dealing with the lesser intellects around him—which is to say, everyone else in the world. Contemporary diagnosticians would call his manner pathological, perhaps assigning him a spot on the autism spectrum, and the show is not afraid to mention that issue. Similarly, modern sensibilities find the intense connection between Sherlock and his sidekick John Watson (played by Martin Freeman) difficult to digest, and the duo becomes the subject of jokes and the object of sidelong glances. Hearing about these updates before the series aired, I was afraid that the result would be a descent into gimmickry, with an essentially Victorian figure who would try to juggle a meerschaum pipe and a cell phone for laughs, but that’s not at all the case. Sherlock's Sherlock pays tribute to his predecessors, but he's his own man, which is as it should be. Why remake something if you're going to slavishly copy it or tear it completely apart in the process?

There’s something special about the character that makes him endlessly renewable. The Guinness Book of World Records lists him as the most frequently portrayed figure in film, with over 75 actors taking on the role in 211 movies. Writers, too, have felt free to try on the deerstalker cap and solve the crimes that they commit to paper. There are versions of the great detective who must not only cope with the unusual, but also the fantastical, as in the stories collected in The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, and others pit their hero against ghosts, extinct dinosaurs, and even malicious deities—successfully, natch. The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures is an anthology that plays things a little straighter, if you prefer that your investigations remain on more realistic ground. Maybe the most notable incarnation of Holmes in recent years is Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution, in which an aged and misanthropic beekeeper picks up his magnifying glass one last time to unravel the secrets of a young escapee from Nazi Germany, and in so doing, confront the greatest crime of the 20th century. 


Of course, the original tales are the place to start, whether you’re newly introducing yourself to the character or paying him a repeat visit. Almost all of them are in the public domain, so there are dozens, if not hundreds of different options available. The most pleasing might be these beautiful, fully annotated versions of the short stories and the novels. When you think you’re ready to match wits with the master, you can pick up Pierre Bayard’s Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong, which attempts to show how Arthur Conan Doyle himself couldn’t keep up with his creation. None of us can, really, not even the evil genius Professor Moriarty. Sherlock’s been going strong for 125 years now, since long before any of us were born, and he’ll undoubtedly be connecting clues long after we’re gone. 


Short and Sweet

The fact is we all speak in short sentences like “How’s it going?,” “I’ll have a tall nonfat vanilla latte,” or “No, officer, I didn’t know I was speeding.”  In last Wednesday’s post, James set out to conquer the 56-word sentence and posited that the way we speak is a window into our personality. I’m going to follow that magnificent piece (which managed to include a dazzling array of literary feats, including a rework of the Gettysburg address, a haiku about the post itself, and an impressive triumph of achieving exact word counts) by comparing some similar opening sentences. In the three instances below, do you prefer A, B, or C?


Stephen KingA) Stephen King’s The Mist: “This is what happened.”

B) Stephen King’s Cell: The event that came to be known as The Pulse began at 3:03 p.m., eastern standard time, on the afternoon of October 1st.

C) Stephen King’s It: The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years—if it ever did end—began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.


Virginia WoolfA) Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

B) Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: “But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction—what has that got to do with a room of one’s own?

C) Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: “He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.”


E.B. WhiteA) E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web: “Where’s Papa going with that axe?”

B) E.B. White’s Stuart Little: “When Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse.”

C) E.B. White’s “The Practical Farmer” from One Man’s Meat: “Mr. Highstone, being himself a practicing farmer, knows one important truth about country life: he knows that farming is about twenty per cent agriculture and eighty per cent mending something that has got busted.”


As you can see, I put the quotes in order from shortest to longest. Did the wordiness, or lack thereof, have an impact on you? Once you get further along in these books, there are certainly longer sentences, but by then the author has hooked you enough that you’ll put up with them. In general, though, I’m a fan of a shorter sentence, although it’s probably a reflection of my short attention span and the influence of Facebook and Twitter. So, what says you, reader? Short or long?


Many Words About Relatively Few Words

I wrote some time ago about the special pleasures of really fat big-boned books, and it remains true that there’s nothing like sinking deeply into the warm bath that is a long novel. There’s not enough time to indulge in one of those every day, though, so lately I’ve been looking into the bookish equivalent of the brisk shower—the novella. What is that exactly? Well, if it’s longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, it’s probably a novella. Somewhere between 15000 and 50000 words, or 50 to 175 pages, just to give a ballpark definition. Stephen King once called the form “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic,” probably because fiction of that length can be a tough sell, difficult to fit into a magazine or a collection and perhaps too slim to market on its own. But as publishing options expand and daily life grows more distracting, it feels as if more writers and readers are willing to eschew the heavier classes, at least some of the time, and enjoy a bantamweight bout.

Two Island Books favorites of the past year were slender things indeed. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson had a mere 128 pages, while We the Animals by Justin Torres was 144 pages long. For the purposes of off-the-cuff blogging, that would be more than enough evidence for me to start expounding on the Resurgence of the Novella, but this is a serious journal of ideas, so I’m held to stricter standards. Around here, it takes three to make a trend, so let me cast about to find another example.

The first that comes to mind is Rebecca Lee’s The City Is a Rising Tide, a book that took ten years to hone into its final form. The result of this obviously painstaking effort is a marvel of concision, with a complex story that deftly hopscotches from China to North Carolina to the plains of middle Canada. Lee’s sympathetic but fundamentally untrustworthy narrator works for a nonprofit organization that’s attempting to build a spiritual retreat along the Yangtze River, but given the impending damming of the river, she knows the project to be a futile effort. These professional troubles are further compounded and paralleled by an unrequited romance with her boss. Drifting along in apparent passivity, she nonetheless becomes the central figure in a series of financial, legal, and even cinematic crises. Even as the settings vary, the emphatic center of the book is New York. The city is lit with a nostalgic 1990s warmth (how much of that nostalgia is intentional and how much is simply inevitable when referencing the period before 9/11?) that makes this melancholic comedy of manners a real love letter to Manhattan. It’s more than that, though. Rising Tide treats an entire network of personal, political, sociological, aesthetic, and even theological topics; it’s surprising how many ingredients are combined into something that initially feels so light. One character says, “A person can carry a whole world of ideas and associations and plotlines, don’t you see?” Rebecca Lee proves you can carry that world conveniently in your pocket. It’s a marvelous read, but it’s just over 200 pages and came out a few years ago, so it’s slightly too long and too old to make a perfect threesome. 

Instead I’ll try The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers by Delia Falconer. It’s only 133 pages, so I’m on safe ground lengthwise. The book speaks in the imagined voice of Captain Frederick Benteen, survivor of the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn, as he reminisces about his experiences with Custer’s army. The narrator was a real participant in the battle whose company escaped the massacre, and he was frustrated in later life to see his name tarnished for an excess of cautiousness while his reckless general became a folk hero. Inspired by a letter that offers him a chance to redeem his reputation, the fictional Benteen relates his version of events with remarkable accuracy, but the story doesn’t focus on military tactics. It’s the personalities that come to the fore, along with the inner landscape of minds at war. The boredom and crass humor of the barracks share stage time with the thrilling danger of combat, rounding out the cardboard cutouts from our textbooks. Falconer’s great achievement is finding poetic language that brings life and significance to every detail, however mundane it might otherwise appear. Pure history buffs may not find exactly what they’re looking for, but lovers of fiction can’t help but be impressed. Fresh as the story is in my mind, though, I realize that it too is a few years past its first publication, so maybe it’s not topical enough to prove my point.

Lucinella by Lore Segal? It’s a remarkably effective satire of a rarefied subculture that simultaneously celebrates it. The titular heroine is one of my favorite fictional characters, a sweet-natured but sharp-tongued poet striving to make her way in the low-stakes but cutthroat world of writer’s retreats and cocktail parties. She’s so multi-faceted she has to appear in more than one incarnation—older and younger visions of herself pop in continually to comment on the action. All three manifestations can be charming or annoying, and Lucinella has (they have?) a quality that’s unusual in fiction, the self-awareness to recognize her imperfections. She and her compatriots are exceedingly bright, and Segal displays that intelligence convincingly instead of just asserting it. Few books are this smart, and fewer still are this witty and playful at the same time. I dare say no others manage the feat in less than 160 pages. It was published more recently than the others I’ve mentioned, but it still doesn’t qualify for my trend-piece because it’s a reprint of the original release, which has been unavailable since the 1970s. 

Wait, I know another novella that came out this past year. It’s called The Duel, and it’s by Heinrich von Kleist. Or is it Giacomo Casanova? Joseph Conrad? Anton Chekhov? Alexander Kuprin? All of the above, actually. Five different authors at different times in different places all chose the same title for their very different stories of romance and rapiers. They’re great tales on their own, but taken together they’re like a mosaic portrait of a cultural phenomenon. The archaic practice of dueling, where honor was purchased in spasms of ritualized violence, is an ideal subject for the narrow turf covered by the novella. Narratives need conflict, and novellas need containment; two antagonists choosing swords or pistols fill the bill quite nicely. OK, all these stories were written over a hundred years ago, but if a hip publishing outfit like Melville House has chosen the present moment to bring them out again, I think we can be sure that we’re seeing a trend. Skinny books, like skinny jeans, are officially part of the zeitgeist.


Memories of Reading

Those of us that spend a good portion of our lifetime reading grow to have distinct memories of where and when we read particular books. Timing is everything, because where we are in our lives informs what we get out of what we read.

Are You There God? It's Me, MargaretOne of my early memories of reading is that Judy Blume classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. That book was a rite of passage for all 12-year-olds way back when, and it’s still in print 41 years after its initial publication. That’s rare, and speaks volumes for how enduring the themes of becoming a young woman remain. I remember both the main issues of first kisses and maturing bodies as well as random sections, like how Margaret’s mother brushed her hair until it was shiny before a birthday party. Besides what’s between the pages, I also remember where I read it, on a chair in my bedroom, with the sun streaming in through the window on a summer afternoon. I must have been 11.

The Dead ZoneWhen I was 16, I read my first Stephen King novel, The Dead Zone. Many other King novels followed, but that was my first and I read it under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep. My parents may have wondered if I was becoming deranged with all the King books I started reading. If you haven’t read The Dead Zone, I highly recommend it. It’s one of his earlier books and not exactly horror per se, but more a surreal sort of science fiction about a guy who walks away from a terrible accident with the ability to see the future. When he has a vision of a tragedy he knows he can prevent, he has to choose whether to interfere with what’s to come. I was fascinated by the story and also King’s simple and compelling writing style.

Mrs. DallowayIn college, I took a Virginia Woolf seminar and I remember the teacher (who was a famous scholar) telling us there was no way we could really understand Woolf until we read her books in our fifties. I was frustrated by that and read each book with great concentration, determined to comprehend whatever said professor claimed we couldn’t. I doubt I got it, as hard as I tried. I plan to re-read Mrs. Dalloway after my fiftieth birthday, although I suspect that even then I will carry the memory of the first time I read that book and the teacher who told me I wouldn’t be able to understand it. Because of that, I worry I will resent the whole book all over again, which isn’t logical but nevertheless remains in my subconscious.

Those are some of the books that come to mind when I stroll along my memory lane, but what I really want to know is, what are your memories of reading?


Ghost Stories

Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkIt’s October, and that means Halloween is coming. And along with that, creepy stories. Have you heard the one about the kid whose friends dared him to spend a night in a haunted house?

He took the challenge and late one Saturday night, he took his sleeping bag and pushed open the creaking front door. The house was deserted. He made his bed on the floor of the living room, praying he would fall asleep fast so this would be over quickly. A few minutes went by, and then, he heard it. Wrap….Wrap…Wrap. It was a distinctive sound, coming from somewhere inside the house. He figured it was just the wind and turned over. Again it came. Wrap…Wrap…Wrap. “Okay,” he thought. “I better shut that window.”

He heard it again. Wrap…Wrap…Wrap. It sounded like it was coming from upstairs. He followed the noise and with each step it got louder. The noise sounded angry and he was getting scared. His friends better pay up when this was over.

Wrap…Wrap…Wrap. The noise seemed to be coming from a closet down the hall. Wrap…Wrap…Wrap. He walked towards it until the sound was so loud he had to cover his ears. Wrap…Wrap…Wrap.  "This is it," he thought, and with great fanfare, he threw the door open and screamed.

Inside the closet sat some wrapping paper.

Okay, so it wasn’t the best story you’ve ever heard, but it sure freaked me out when my dad told it when I was five. Soon after I was reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark under the covers with a flashlight. There’s no better way to get the most out of Halloween than reading some good old-fashioned horror.

If you aren’t scared yet, here are a few other deliciously creepy tales to read in front of the fire with the lights off. If you dare.

Nightmares  & Dreamscapes

Nightmares & Dreamscapes by Stephen King: Featuring twenty short horror stories, a television script, an essay, and a poem, Nightmares and Dreamscapes contains unique and chilling plots including everything from dead rock star zombies to evil toys seeking murderous revenge.

The Tell-Tale HeartThe Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe: Revisit one of Edgar Allen Poe’s most famous and chilling stories about a man who takes the life of an older man for a really bizarre reason. The nameless man tells the story of the murder in order to prove his sanity.

The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James: A young governess is the only one who can see the ghosts of the previous governess and her lover, and so no one believes her when she insists the ghosts are controlling the two orphaned children for some evil purpose.

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