Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Reading to be Scared

Anytime you pick up a horror tale, short story or a novel, you are presumably reading to be scared.  And since it is Halloween season, I was doing some thinking recently about the horror stories I've read and found the most frightening.  Some of a story's effect depends on where you read it, naturally; it's harder to be frightened reading a novel on the subway (unless there's something happening on the subway that is itself frightening, always a possibility) than it is, say, alone at night in an empty house or apartment.  But if you do enjoy being scared while reading, you will go out of your way, when possible and when the mood suits you, to read in a place or at a time that will be conducive to maximum tension in your reading experience.

Thinking back over many years, I can't think of a book that scared me more than Pet Sematary, and while the book is frightening in its own right, part of the experience had to do with where I read it.  This was quite a while ago, when I was taking what turned out to be a seven-month trip through Belize, Mexico, and Guatemala.  At this point in the trip, I had rented a small house, a very simple house, in the town of San Pedro along Lake Atitlan, an absolutely beautiful spot.  Here for about a month and a half I lived by myself, in relative isolation, with the main part of the town a fifteen minute walk away, woods immediately around me, and nobody else living nearby.  There was a small general goods store not far from the house, but that was closed at night and the woman who ran it lived in town.  The house's owner, who I'd rented it from, came to visit me every morning with fresh bottled milk, but he never swung by at night and he lived in town also.  I'd decided to stay here for a while in the midst of this trip to relax instead of moving around. In long hand, I got plenty of writing done. I'd been reading a lot on the trip as one does while traveling, but here I had a chance to just sink into a few things without any distractions at all. I remember calling my house and asking my mother if she could mail me down a few books I'd had on ice, so to speak, for years, waiting for the right time to read them.  I can't remember all the books I asked her to send me, but I know that two of them were Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Pet Sematary.  They came fast enough to the post office across the lake in the town of Panajachel, and sometime after that, figuring I had the perfect setting, alone, far off from others, in semi-woods, in a house surrounded by utter quiet at night, I started to read King's novel.

Mission accomplished. I'd gone out of my way to read the book in a place (and I did limit myself to reading the book at night there), that would make the reading as scary as possible, and the book delivered. For the few nights I took to read it, I'd close the book after a couple of hours, turn out my light, and then lay in that utter silence and darkness trying to get to sleep. I'd be eager to fall asleep, though it wasn't easy to do that, so I could wake up to sunshine and the return of general human activity.  And all day, until I finished it, I'd be thinking about the novel, looking forward to a night of intense reading ahead. It's a great horror novel, Pet Sematary, and I couldn't have had a more thoroughly enjoyable scary time reading it. 

What would you say is the best horror reading experience, all things considered -- the book, where you read it, what was going on in your life -- that you've had?

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