What to Read Next (No. 197): Halloween edition!

Obviously, next Friday’s newsletter is actually closer to Halloween, but I wanted to cover these scary books this week so that you have some time to read ‘em. (Don’t worry, neither are long and they can both be read in about a day.)

I always spend some time in October on frightful reads and this year I went with a couple classics.

Let’s jump right in, and please let me know your favorite scary reads!

Carrie by Stephen King

Published: 1974 | Pages: 295

I tried and failed to read a couple other frightful books before returning to the master himself, Stephen King. I’ve read a dozen or so of his books and have loved all of them, so I figured I might as well go back to the beginning of his canon this time.

And once I started Carrie, his first published novel, I couldn’t put it down.

It starts with one of the most memorable scenes you’ll ever read: a teenage girl, Carrie White, gets her first period in the school shower and thinks she’s dying. Her mother, a religious fanatic, has never informed her about the female body. Carrie is cruelly harassed by the other girls in the shower that day—an impulsive teenage reaction which they’ll come to regret soon enough.

It’s a turning point for Carrie, not only because of the realities of her changing body, but because her puberty has also unlocked her powers of telekinesis.

King’s power is in making such a villain (scores are dead by the end of the novel) so sympathetic. It’s obvious that Carrie is his first novel—it’s just not as tight or polished as later books—but all of King’s hallmarks are there.

What I love about his books, all of them, is that they aren’t just about horror for the sake of horror. They’re all ultimately about courage, friendship, innocence, ostracization, and honesty. That’s why they’re so thrilling and why the pages flip so easily: What does human nature do when confronted with the worst the world has to offer? We fight like hell, usually with the help of others.

It doesn’t mean a happy ending is in store (it is still horror after all), but it does mean that you never close a Stephen King book without some sense of hope or at least a better understanding of human nature—even if you have to search for it a bit.

I actually intended to use this space to tell the tale about how King wrote and published Carrie, but I got carried away by the book itself. Read up on it if you have time; it’s a wonderful story in itself.

Carrie is a great read. Whether it’s this October, or next, or something in between, it’s well worth a few hours of your attention.

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I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Published: 1954 | Pages: 176

“On the phonograph, music played, quiet and unhurried. Outside, the vampires waited.” 

We open the book about 5 months into the apocalypse. Vampires have taken over LA; some are dead, some are undead, and some are trying to figure out how to survive. Like Robert Neville.

Neville is a tough guy and he is totally alone, apparently the sole survivor of this apocalypse (at least in LA). He reminds me of someone you’d find in a hard-boiled novel of that mid-century era—a character out of a Hammett or Chandler story. His wife isn’t the picture anymore (you’ll find out why) and he’s slowly adjusting to an existence based more on survival than any sort of fulfillment:

“In a world of monotonous horror there could be no salvation in wild dreaming. Horror he had adjusted to. But monotony was the greater obstacle, and he realized it now, understood it at long last.” 

Eventually, Robert decides to stop wallowing in self-pity and instead become a master of this . . . whatever it is . . . that is turning people into vampires. Over the course of a number of years he figures out the root cause and is working hard on a cure, when, one day, he encounters another human.

I Am Legend was especially hard to put down after this point and the story propels through to an intense ending that’s far different than the movie version.

At just 176 pages, it’s a great story to pick up for an afternoon of reading—or maybe on Halloween if you dare.

Thanks so much for reading—I truly appreciate the time and inbox space.