Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lovecraft and other scares

My worries about October's demands on my time have so far been borne out: between the last days of my marathon training and the first days of baseball playoffs, my writing has suffered. I'm such a creature of habit that, were I to continue writing this blog for the next forty years, October would probably always be a light month for those reasons.

My reading continues, though, if for no other reason than that my commute continues. And today I have for you a bit from Luc Sante's excellent article on H. P. Lovecraft in the October 19th New York Review of Books. Luc Sante is one of my favorite writers; Lovecraft, on the other hand, I find fascinating but can read only in very small doses. Sante has come to the rescue, though, and his article is a splendid example of the joys of letting another, better reader tell me about a writer I don't know well. That article alone is worth the price of the issue.

I’ll excerpt one passage for you. Relying on the Library of America edition of Lovecraft's stories and Michel Houellebecq's recent biography, Sante tells of Lovecraft's fears:
It is clear from all available evidence that sexuality, procreation, and the human body itself were among the things that scared him the most.

He was also frightened of invertebrates, marine life in general, temperatures below freezing, fat people, people of other races, race-mixing, slums, percussion instruments, caves, cellars, old age, great expanses of time, monumental architecture, non-Euclidean geometry, deserts, oceans, rats, dogs, the New England countryside, New York City, fungi and molds, viscous substances, medical experiments, dreams, brittle textures, gelatinous textures, the color gray, plant life of diverse sorts, memory lapses, old books, heredity, mists, gases, whistling, whispering—the things that did not frighten him would probably make a shorter list.

If you’re looking for something scary to read, since it’s that time of year, New York Review of Books Classics has a couple of good collections, one of which, The Colour out of Space, takes its title from a very good Lovecraft story. They also publish Edward Gorey's anthology of his favorite ghost stories, The Haunted Looking Glass. No Lovecraft in there, but it does close with a very scary M. R. James story.

Oxford's collection of M. R. James's ghost stories, Casting the Runes, is also very good, full of stories of cursed artifacts and dangerous scholarship (and the hardcover is great because it's so teeny, with a trim size of only about four by five, a true pocket book).

If you're more interested in repression than the horrors of antiquity, The Ghost Stories of Henry James will do; it's surprisingly creepy and effective. Edith Wharton's ghost stories are a bit staid--more so, even, than James's, but at least a few are extremely gripping.

John Collier's Fancies and Goodnights, which includes several stories that formed the basis for episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents relies for its chills less on the supernatural than on the all-too-natural: plain old human cruelty and evil. It's also published by the NYRB.

If you're just looking for variety and value, it's hard to do better than One Hundred Ghastly Little Ghost Stories, from Sterling Publishing. Not every story is a winner, but at approximately $.13 per story, it's hard to go wrong. And if you sit up all night reading those, you're in luck: Sterling also has volumes of Wicked Little Witch stories and Hair-Raising Little Horror stories.

Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Tartarus Press, a small publisher from the UK specializing in reprints of books by old masters of horror and the macabre. Stacey reads their journal, Wormwood, and while I have yet to buy any of their apparently beautifully produced volumes, now that October has returned I'm trolling their list once again. When we were last in London, we were told by a friend of a friend that there's a particular little bookshop that stocks a lot of Tartarus books. We didn't find it--and until we do, I'm going to assume that it's one of those stores that you might easily enter . . . but never be able to leave.

So what--other than Bush--is keeping you up at night?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:58 PM

    I would suggest that anyone interested in the ghost story should check out the Ash Tree Press, which, like Tarturus, is a small press dedicated to printing the best in both past and contemporary ghostly fiction. In addition I would recomend that you look into the Ghost Story Society, and its fine bi-annual anthology "All Hallows" which is produced by the same fine people who do Ash Tree.