Sunday, October 24, 2010

The giving of the books

Neil Gaiman had what I think is a truly wonderful idea: we celebrate Hallowe'en by giving each other scary books. I pretty much like any excuse to share my favorite books with people, and I am exceedingly fond of occasions whereon books are given to me. And I love Hallowe'en. 

So I am going to celebrate this confluence of wondrous things by giving away a book. And there's going to be a contest.

Perhaps some of you remember when I wrote this post, wondering about whether what I was writing was horror (I decided that what I write generally falls in the dark/ creepy/ weird spectrum, and I'd let the reader decide precisely where, and I would stop worrying about what sort of thing I was writing, and just write it) and I mentioned the time I almost killed my sister with a fireplace poker as a result of reading Pet Sematary.

Here's the story: I was babysitting for my brothers, and my sister was, I thought, spending the night at a friend's. I was finishing Pet Sematary. Honestly, this is not the sort of book I recommend reading at night when everyone else in the house is in bed, but I'd gotten far enough along that even though I was literally shaking as I read, I had to finish. Finishing would put the worst of the terror to rest.

I turned the last page, and set the book down. And there was a thud at the front door. Then a rattle, like someone trying to get in.

In that moment, I did not think, "call the police" I thought, "holy shit! Dead things!" so I grabbed the fireplace poker, and ran to the front door. I raised the poker over my head so I could brain whatever was on the porch, and opened the door. 

And nearly brained my sister. I screamed, she screamed, and the friend's mom who had given her a ride home from gymnastics peeled out of the driveway as if she had just seen a demon. At which point Liz and I stopped screaming, and stared after her. "Who leaves a kid to be killed by the poker-wielding crazy person?" I asked.

So that's my best story about a scary book.

Here's the contest: You tell me yours. The best story you have that involves reading a scary book. Leave it in the comments. Also, in the comments, tell me the scary book that you want me to send you if you win. On Hallowe'en, I'll pick my favorite story (yes, that's highly objective and unscientific) and I will send the winner the requested scary book (in print, paperback or e-format, because seriously, I am a writer, not an independently wealthy book collector). If you win, and want me to pick a book for you, I will, although you should tell me the level of terror you wish to experience, otherwise you risk my sending you Heart-Shaped Box, aka, The Scariest Book Ever.

Regardless of whether you participate, I highly encourage you to give someone a scary book for Hallowe'en.  Because giving people books is awesome, and if enough people are encouraged to do this, maybe someone will send me one.


  1. There is a book called "House of Leaves" and it is honestly the most confusing and difficult novel I have ever read - almost every page has footnotes either on the page or elsewhere in the book, and most of the footnotes have footnotes. The whole book becomes a never-ending tunnel of confusing clues and dead ends and cross-references that make no sense... and it is also the most terrifying book I have ever picked up. One of the many threads of stories deals with the actual 'House of Leaves' in which a documentary filmmaker becomes trapped inside a labyrinth within his own house, which is larger on the inside than on the outside.

    It's hard to convey the terror this book inspired in me. I have very clear memories of sitting in class reading it and trying to decipher a code while my knees were bouncing from fear, because god only knew what might come out of the book if I did figure it out. I had recurring dreams about the book while I was reading it and for about a week after, and I still hate long dark hallways.

    Awesome, awesome book. :)


  2. When I was younger, I heard an interview with Stephen King on Larry King's radio show. The interview charmed me that I decided to read through as many of King's books as I could find. This wasn't hard since, at the time, I was working as the night shift clerk at a combo Gas Station/Convenience Store.

    One evening I was reading through "The Stand" and had gotten to the scene where two of the characters were going through the dark, dank, body-choked Holland Tunnel. If you know King, then you know he does creepy atmosphere as well as anyone and I was really into it.

    Then...BANG!! The door to the store slammed open and two guys rushed in, both in ski masks and one of them pointed a gun at me. They demanded the money out of the register, which I gave them with hands shaking as much from being startled right in the middle of the scariest passage of the scariest book I had read to that point in my life as anything else.

    I think it took me a half-hour to get my heart rate back to normal. And that's the story of the scariest scare I've ever gotten (mostly) from a book.

    If I win (and I'm I'd love a collection of Richard Matheson stories, especially if "Hell House" is part of it. I imagine a good used book store will have bazillions. Thank you for doing this!

  3. Great story and I love the idea of swapping scary book stories. Love the blog keep it up.


  4. This is a great idea! I will do my best to promote it.

  5. I read The Shinning when I was a kid. I still remember it because I thought The Shinning was pretty damn scary at that age so I decided to only read it outside, in the sunlight where I would feel safe. This was a good plan until I started reading the part in the book about the shrubs coming after him. I started to eye the nearby bushes with new fear, every time a twig snapped or a leaf fell I wanted to inch away from all the nature around me in case it decided to have me for lunch. I told myself I was being silly and tried to ignore it all.

    A few minutes later the bush behind me rustled, but I ignored it. More rustles. Sounds of something coming towards me. I didn't turn around (that would make it real) so I just sat there hoping whatever it was would make my demise quick and painless. At that moment, my little sister shot out of the yard straight onto my back, tackling me and effectively scaring the living daylights out of me. I was screaming, she was laughing.

    Normally I probably would have been mad at her for scaring me, but I was just secretly relieved it wasn't a bush coming to eat me.

  6. I'm not sure this applies as a scary story I've read but have you heard of the Slenderman? He was created as part of a "make your own paranormal picture" thread on forums. One picture by a poster named Victor and the idea grew. More pictures to follow and then stories. There's a couple of youtube series on him that are quite creepy. My fiance and I had been following the youtube videos and reading the stories. We got to the point of being pretty creeped out.

    One story was about a little girl who disappeared. Her sister said they had told their parents about the skinny man who kept tapping at their window and making faces at them. Since they were on the 2nd story, their parents told them to quit making things up and go to bed. One morning, her sister was gone. When they asked the girl about her sister. She said the skinny man had tapped on the window again but this time her sister opened it and was gone. She looked out the window and saw her sister hugging the man while he beckoned her to join them. She hid under her bed til morning.

    Not seemingly so scary, right? Tell that to yourself at 3am when you hear the insistent tapping that stops and starts while the wind howls. I woke up my fiance one night because of this and we were up for an hour before he finally got the guts to look out the window and see...

    a branch. Blowing in the wind and scaring us. LOL There have been other scares caused by the Slenderman tales. It's the first idea that has scared me in awhile, even though I KNOW it's not real. I know how it started. Reguardless, it frightens me at times.

    And since you say Heart-Shaped Box is the scariest book ever, I'd like to read it if I win. I enjoy scary.

  7. Well, I can't say I have any super terrifying stories about books. I've read every single Stephen King book, but I don't get scared too easily. The scariest concepts to me are in his books that deal with realistic horror - an abusive husband in Rose Madder, an out-of-control pandemic in The Stand - because those sort of things ACTUALLY HAPPEN.

    That said, every time I read The Stand, I get the sniffles and trick my brain into thinking I have Captain Tripps. Every time. :)

    I doubt my story is terrifying enough to win, but if I do, I'd love for you to pick a book for me. As scary as you can find! But I already own Heart-Shaped Box. ^.~

  8. ha ha. I love spooky, dark and scary books. The contest is a GREAT idea, but I will not be partaking in it, there isn't any interesting stories revolving around scary books that come to mind. I will on the other hand add heart-shaped box to my reading list ;P any other suggestions?

  9. The Holy Bible is the scariest book I've ever read. It's pages reveal reality where few follow the narrow path and enter the gate to life, while many pass from life to death and the torments of Hell and eternal damnation. This is scary because I believe it to be true. It is very convincing when read objectively. My days and nights are driven by the dread of the multitude of lost souls surrounding me. While the pit is easy to avoid, most deny it. My actions to snatch my fellows from deaths horrible grip are mostly unsuccessful. I live in a seemingly unending horror story where my friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family are devoured by the evil within and without.

    Send me the scariest thing you've got; I will shrug it off.

  10. Oh wow, what a great idea!The scariest book I remember reading was Stephen King's The Shining. I was about 11 years old, and couldn't sleep for weeks after that, but I never EVER told my mother, for fear I wouldn't be allowed to read scary books anymore. The movie was actually insanely disappointing to me and not scary at all compared to the book.

    Nothing much lately has scared me, so I actually would love to check out that book Heart-Shaped Box, somehow I've never heard of it, and it intrigues me. ;)

  11. I wont take part in this contest, because I hate scarry books, and I don't read them, if I have possibility to make a choice, and mostly I have. But I just wanted to say, that Your's storry was great, and funny, a lot.

  12. Ok, so um. I wasn't actually reading a scary story when this happened. I was reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I was so engrossed by it, that I couldn't be persuaded to go to the folk dancing I usually go to with my parents, so they left me at home. I'm happily reading away when my dog starts barking. Now usually that's just fine, because my dog is deaf and barked at weird things. I look up, blink, and keep reading.

    Well, then she does it again, and I decide to investigate. Not finding anything except a happy wagging dog ended up *not* making me feel any better. So I decided to secure the house. I checked the doors: still locked. But that wasn't enough. I got a large stick in my house, the bat under my bed, and a frying pan and began to patrol the house. After ten minutes of not seeing anyone tamper with the locks I remembered the windows, and how I hadn't been checking them. So panic escalated and I wrote a goodbye note, and spent the rest of the night huddled on my parents' bed, too afraid to read.

    Of course, nothing happened. Maybe this isn't a scary book story, and it's more of a "I'm paranoid" story. Nine years after I watched 'The Ring,' I occasionally get scared by my blank tv at night. I can't have one in my room, I tried and it FREAKED ME OUT.

    Ok. So if I somehow managed to win, I'd really like 'The Graveyard Book,' Because I don't have it, and does that count as scary? I hope so...

  13. I, like baileythebookworm, Also read House of Leaves. I also had the pleasure of listening to the music CD by Poe (the author's sister)that went with it. This made it extra creepy because you had this background of this haunting voice mixed with Halloween type sound affects, a little girl's voice, and recordings of their father who had passed away (and inspired both the book and CD). I also tried to decipher it's code staying up all night with Google open to research various names, places and occurrence mentioned in the book. This drew me even more into the book, as one of the main characters was doing the exact same thing with an account of the documentary filmmaker. Also staying up until I finished the 709 paged book, began to make me get a little loopy.

    I made other people in my family read it, just so I wouldn't feel like the only crazy one. Unfortunately, they didn't get so caught up in it as I did. I'm still thoroughly creeped out by spiral staircases.

  14. My sister was babysitting me one blustery night when, sitting in the den reading, we both put down our books because we'd heard a baby crying. We lived on a built-up street in a suburb, so a baby wasn't completely out of the question, but we knew our neighbors well, and there weren't any children under 7.

    The sound was brief, and we just looked at each other and went back to our reading.

    Til it happened again.

    At this point, we set our books down and went to the front door to see if we could figure out where it was coming from. The light from the hallway spilled past us onto the porch, just barely illuminating the walkway down to the street. All was quiet. Then we heard rustling, and it sounded like it was just off to the side of the steps! We huddled closer. The rustling continued, and then...

    a large, black & white skunk waddled out from the bushes at the left of the steps, followed by her two pups. They crossed the walk and disappeared into the bushes on the right. Thankfully, for all concerned, they didn't see us and we were allowed to return to our reading unsprayed.

    Who knew skunk babies sounded like human babies?


  15. Oddly enough, my scary story also involves Pet Sematary... only I STOPPED reading it and went to sleep, on account of I could barely keep my eyes open anymore.

    Big mistake. Biiiiiiiiig mistake. I had put it down just before the climactic section, and every dream I had that night was my brain's attempt to finish the book. Like the world's worst Choose Your Own Adventure experience, I played through every possible conclusion (at least, all the ones my addled mind could construct), and then replayed and replayed them again with "me" as different characters, killing and then being killed, chasing and running away, over and over.

    When my alarm went off the next morning, I was 1) EXHAUSTED, and 2) sore all over, like I'd been beat with sticks all night long. My best guess is that as I slept, I was also trying to fight and run, but couldn't overcome the usual sleep paralysis so just lay there with all my muscles tensed. Rolling out of bed in the middle of the night would've been preferable, at least then I'd have had the option to give in and read the rest of the book already!

  16. (Oh, and I haven't read House of Leaves yet, but it sounds right up my alley!)

  17. I think the scariest book incident was when I read the Amityville Horror. I remember being about 14 and I was home alone in bed. The book gave me the shakes and every little noise I heard made me feel as if the evil spirit came right out of the pages to mess with me. I had to keep the book downstairs when I slept. At the time I didn't know what was suppose to be a true story was deemed a hoax. I still wonder because of how the book affected me if the story may have been true to some degree. Great scare either way. The were some bad movies mad about it that were just silly. The book however written in the 70s was disturbing. 70s horror rocks my world.

  18. My favorite experience involving a scary book revolves around the scary book exchange's creator, Neil Gaiman. In 2000, the World Horror Convention (an annual meeting of horror and weird fiction writers and their fans) came to my hometown of Denver. Lots of great writers were there, like Peter Straub and the highly entertaining Harlan Ellison. Gaiman wasn't supposed to be there, but he managed to show up at the last minute. He got squished into the schedule to do a reading and book-signing late at night.

    For his reading, Gaiman explained that he had just finished drafting a novel for children--for his daughters, really--and wanted to know what we thought of it. So he read "Coraline" to us--the whole thing! It took about four hours, but I don't think anyone in the audience (there were 15 or 20 of us) minded spending the time. Gaiman had a different voice for each character, and even specific faces for a few. (The cat's deadpan look was priceless.) At 4am, after reading an entire novel aloud, Gaiman still hung out and signed books for us. I was a fan before, but I became a rabid Neil Gaiman fan after seeing how well he treats his fans.

    As for what book I'd like to have sent to me: I've already got every Neil Gaiman book I've ever heard of, of course, so as a gift, I'd like Isabel Allende's *House of the Spirits.*

  19. I love Neil and his Amazing Ideas! This giveaway + story sharing is also an Amazing Idea, so here we go.

    In my first semester of college, my English class revolved around "mysteries." We were reading The Shining. I should note that it was towards the end of the Fall semester and I live in upstate NY, so it was 1) dark out very early, and 2) cold and snowy. At the time, by bed was pushed against the window. My room was on the first floor, and there was a hill right outside my window which would have been a perfect escape route for Boogeymen, if the screens weren't bolted in.

    So, there I am, alone, at night, reading The Shining. I am almost done with the book, so it is of course at it's scariest. I have the book to my nose and a bowl of popcorn in my lap. Little did I know that a friend from down the hall was sneaking up the hill outside my window. I didn't hear her footsteps crunching in the snow, and suddenly she bangs on the window and screams at me.

    I jump into the air screaming, the book goes flying, and better yet, the popcorn is now airborn. Meanwhile my friend is outside the window laughing her head off.

    "Very funny," I yelled through the glass. "Get your butt in here and help me pick up all this popcorn!"

    The end.

  20. Reading all the comments on this post is just as good as getting a scary book!

    I love horror novels, but the book that still haunts me sometimes is THE PAINTED BIRD, by Jerzy Koczinski. I was reading it for class and found it more and more difficult to keep reading alone. Finally, I got all my friends to come out for a study party at our local 24-hour hang out.

    There we were, chowing down french fries and conjugating verbs, me desperately wading through horror after horror until finally one terrible scene (if you've read this book, you too will never look at a wine bottle the same way) and I burst into tears in the middle of the restaurant! Our waitress ran over and threw her arms around me! My friends did too. We were a great big dog pile of love for a few minutes, and then the manager gave me a slice of pie so I could keep going.

    I did finish that book but I will never read it again.

  21. It wasn't a scary book, it was a scary story. Stephen King's "The Boogeyman" is still the only story I remember from the short story collection, the Night Shift - and only because it took me a year to get over it.

    I was always a little afraid of under my bed (things grabbing ankles), so I would take flying leaps into bed after turning out the light. I positioned mirrors so I wouldn't have to see them from bed in the dark (Bloody Mary). But I was never afraid of closets until I read King's story. Afterward any time a closet door was open even a crack I would wonder, wasn't it shut before? What's waiting just inside?

    One night I was feeling my way down the hallway and my hand slid from the wall into the closet door's slightly open crack. The closet swallowed my arm up to my elbow. Terrifying! After that, I resolved to overcome my fear of closets. I started out sitting in my room with the light on and closet door open. Then I moved to the light off but the hall light on...and so on.

    It took me much longer to get over the fear of mirrors at night, but that's a whole other story.

  22. Wow! I am so excited to read all of your stories. Thank you for sharing them. I can already tell it will be difficult to pick my favorite.

    I'm not at all surprised that King's work has been mentioned so often, and for those of you who haven't read Heart-Shaped Box yet, it is by Joe Hill, who is one of my very favorite writers.

    I'm also glad to know I'm not the only one who has been scared silly by something I've read.

  23. In March, while living in Rwanda as part of a volunteer program, my best friend and I went up to a remote village called Gisenye, which borders the Congo. The area is haunted by extensive violence, electricity is off-and-on, and hardly anyone speaks English.

    We were staying at the Presbyterian hostel, where we had stayed twice before. As far as we knew there were three buildings: the main one consisting of the dorms, the office, and a large meeting space, the one immediately next to it containing a few private rooms on each side and the dining hall, and a small one of just private rooms about a stone's throw away from the others. Our previous room
    had been in the building with the dining hall. This time, after we checked in, the woman led us down a dark, volcanic-rock strewn path, down an even darker set of stairs, past the seventh circle of hell, and around a blind corner to a building we had never even realized was there, which contained our room and, across from it, a dorm-style set up with a sitting room and 4 bedrooms off of it had been rented for the week to missionaries from Tennesse. We couldn't find our way out to dinner or even see the dining hall lights from where we were, and my flashlight naturally proved, when tested, to be broken.

    It was there, in a remote village in northern Rwanda with limited access to technology and emergency supplies, in a small, heretofor unseen guest room that looked like the place the main characters meet their doom in a horror movie and was accessible only by an unlit,
    volcanic-rock lined path, that I had unfortunately elected to read, for the first time, Stephen King's "It".

    The first night I read it, I got to about page 50 and found I couldn't sleep, listening to the sounds at the door and window. Like a little kid, I was afraid to
    throw my arm over the bed for fear of what would reach up to grab me. I slept curled in a little ball. The next day I jumped every time I saw a machete, which was about every ten minutes in a farming community. I briefly became convinced a possessed three-year-old was attempting to stalk me through the fields and kill me. The second night I realized that our window was back-lit, so if anyone came to peek in - actually a pretty common occurrence - I would see a dark, back-lit figure and probably have a heart attack and die. The third night I awakened to the sound of voices from the other set of rooms and had visions of a "clowns have come to eat you" party, complete with hats and goody bags. By night seven I was sleeping in a ball, in the middle of the bed, under all my covers, with the pillow OVER my head, eyes tightly closed, and the vague thought that when IT came through the window it would eat my roommate first and then maybe get bored, and if IT came from under one of the beds, I had a fifty-fifty shot at making a break for it.


    If I win, I would like The Graveyard Book, please, since NeilHimself started this, and I haven't read that one :)

  24. Sara Gran's "Come Closer" took me just 2 hours to read since it's short, and my friends were seriously creeped out by the book. The main character starts hearing knocking inside the walls of her home and thinks she's being tormented by a demon. I loved the book, but I wasn't scared. Until I turned off the lights and went to bed...and suddenly I heard a knocking on the wall next to my bed! I almost cried, it was so scary!

    Turns out the fan I'd turned on was blowing my small corkboard and making it knock against the wall. Phew!

    I've already read (and loved) "Heart-Shaped Box." And I own "The Birthing House" (seriously creepy!) Anything else is welcome! :)

  25. I had just started the 7th grade and on a Friday night I finished Stephen King's "Salem's Lot" at about midnight. Laying in bed I started thinking about just how fast my small rural town could be taken over by vampires.

    I ended up gluing all the windows closed. Made crucifixes out of popsickle sticks and taped them up on all the windows and the glass in the doors.

    Parents really did not have a sense of humor about the windows. Don't think I slept for several nights after finishing that book. I took naps when I got home from school because I wanted to be ready when the vampires came for us.

  26. When I was in Grade 10, I had four impacted wisdom teeth removed, including taking out part of my jaw because of how deeply one tooth had plunged into the woodwork, so to speak.

    This involved drugs. Valium, to be precise, leaving me awake but... happy. Reciting "Kubla Khan," because that's apparently what I do when on valium.

    Then they gave me prescription for codeine and one for percocet (no joke) and sent me home with my father, who promptly got both filled, and gave me the pills. No sooner had they entered my system than I decided that I must work or I'd get behind on school, because that's my brain on drugs. So I picked up "1984" and the percocet and got to it.

    NEVER READ "1984" ON PERCOCET. (You may now thank me for that advice.) I was utterly convinced that Big Brother was watching me and I was not allowed to stop reading until I'd finished every last word of that book. And it was all happening around me as I was reading. I kept going to the very last page, not stopping to go to the bathroom or anything, and there were rats and the rats were eating me and it was real. When I closed the book I ran downstairs and hid it in the laundry basket and threw up and washed my hands very thoroughly.

    And, yep, this is my brain on drugs. Don't do drugs, kids... Big Brother is watching you...

    And that is my funniest/weirdest scary book story. (Well, not "horror" book, but "1984" was scary enough to me at that moment!)

  27. I don't even remember what book I was reading when this happened, but it was a book of short horror stories. I was in the middle of a story about zombies that involved a lot of grossness and flesh falling off, when I had to go to bed. I dreamed that I had turned into a zombie and my face had fallen off; the dream really didn't scare me, because I'm a fairly lucid dreamer and I realized I was dreaming. When I woke up, I went into the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. When I turned on the light, I was so terrified I just froze, I couldn't even scream--The face staring back at me from the mirror was a bloody mess. I turned and threw up in the sink as a physical reaction to the fear.
    Then I realized that I had had a nosebleed in my sleep.

    I want the most terrifying book you can think of :-)

  28. I had just watched the movie Poltergeist on cable the night before. I liked it but it didn’t really scare me that much. I was telling this to one of girls who lived nearby and she suggested that if I really wanted to be scared, I should watch The Shining. I figured the next best thing would be to get the book from the library which was within bicycle distance.

    Okay, I’m sitting in the middle of the living room and it is full daylight out so I should be able to handle anything scarey. Now directly across from where I am sitting on the couch is a small closet. It wasn’t really even a closet so much as the space under the stairs, which from the outside, lead up to the apartment above us. Somewhere in the middle of the book, which I was deeply absorbed in, the closet door swings open very very slowly. I mean really, it was opening so slow that it was hard to imagine how it could have the energy to keep opening. I’m transfixed watching this for a full two minutes. Okay, I think, it’s just the door opening. Nobody could even be hiding in there because it is too small a space and besides, it is filled with junk. Then a beach ball bounces out of the closet and rolls all the way across the room to where I am sitting. It is about this time that I notice the entire house is shaking and there is a very loud and constant rumble that just goes on and on. I lose it. I run outside thinking the at the least it is an earthquake and at worse a doorway has opened to the spirit world.

    It turned out to be neither, it was a Titan Rocket being launched from the nearby Vandenberg Air Force base.

    And if that story wins, I'll take the Kindle version of this Heart-Shaped Box story you speak of.

  29. Oddly enough, most books don't scare me. Not fictional prose, anyway. But a book pretending to be an actual non-fiction reference for something deeply scary? Yes, that'll do me.

    I was reading The Zombie Survival Guide late at night. In a marathon bout of insomnia, I finished the whole thing in one sitting, and didn't put the book down until nearly four in the morning. By that point, I was sufficiently terrified of a zombie outbreak occurring at any moment, and had already drawn up lists and contingency plans for surviving such a disaster.

    Paranoid and more than a little crazy from sleep-deprivation, I thought it would be a good idea to check on my sleeping fiance. He was very still, and not snoring, which worried me (he always snored). I touched his neck to find his pulse. My hands were ice-cold from poor circulation due to sitting in one place reading a book for about five hours straight. He groaned and shifted in his sleep.

    It was such a zombie-like groan that I shrieked and scrambled off the bed, grabbing for the baseball bat underneath it. It was too late! He was already a zombie! My screaming finally woke him up all the way, and he leaned over the side of the bed, looking panicked and confused. To me, it was zombie-fiance looming over me to take a bite. He opened his mouth. "What's--" CRACK!

    One emergency room visit, some literature about concussions, and five stitches later, my fiance and I returned home around dawn. He made me promise not to read, watch, or even think about zombies after dark.

    I've broken that promise since then, but I'm pretty sure that's not the only reason we're no longer together. 9_9