I’ve found that one of the crummy things about being an adult, in addition to the obvious ones like having to pay for everything and the loss of the social acceptability of playing in the Chuck E. Cheese’s ball pit, is that I no longer get as naturally excited about holidays. I now have to take measures to psyche myself up for the occasion. No longer in possession of a kid’s innate powers of effortless excitability, I’m forced to turn to performance enhancing drugs. The librarian’s PEDs of choice, of course, are books.
In order to get stoked for Halloween, I instituted an “only scary books in October” reading policy. I’m not a big reader of the horror genre, but ’tis the season. I read three terrifying tomes throughout the month, and I’m serving up my mini-review of each.
Night Shift by Stephen King
I kicked things off with something by the Titan of Terror himself, Stephen King. I figured it was a safe choice, the literary equivalent of someone with little-to-no exposure to rock ‘n’ roll picking up a Beatles album. I had read a few of King’s books before (The Shining, Misery, and Carrie), but hadn’t ever read any of his short stories. Night Shift features twenty stories, and as a whole, they’re highly impressive and entertaining. King knows how to creep you out while avoiding being hacky or cheesy, and he deftly structures and paces his stories so that each one hooks you, pulls you along in suspense, and leaves you feeling appropriately skeeved out. Clunkers are few and far between, and even those will keep you engaged just to see where King’s twisted noggin may take things. My personal favorites are “The Mangler” (a possessed laundry press machine wants to ruin your whites and your life), “Trucks” (cars come to life, but they don’t have that Larry the Cable Guy charm), “Sometimes They Come Back” (some undead street tuffs engage in hijinks that would very much upset Officer Leroy), and “Quitters, Inc.” (a man experiences a smoking cessation program that’s way more effective than that goofy patch).
Rating: 4 out of 5 Jack Skellingtons
The Walking Dead: The Fall of The Governor, Part I by Robert Kirkman and Jay Boninsinga
The third book in a quadrilogy (or tetralogy, for you Greek lovers), this book continues the story arc of the Governor, one of coolest villains ever created. I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead comics and an underwhelmed tolerator of the TV show of the same name, so I wasn’t able to resist reading the first two books, the first of which was decent and the second of which was “meh,” in this series. As the title lays out for us, the Gov’Nuh is now in the downward trajectory portion of his inevitable demise, and we get to find out how that all goes down, which is arguably simultaneously the best and worst thing about the book: readers of the comics already know how this movie ends, so much of the book is a rehash of stuff we already experienced. In some ways, this is a very bad thing, as a little over half of the book is just a less enjoyable presentation of a story that was done better in the comics. Sure, there are some new tidbits thrown in, but they’re hardly earth shattering, save for a grisly torture scene. On the other hand, the familiar portion of the story, which includes comic faves Rick, Glenn, and Michonne, is packed with excitement and is fun to revisit. I actually prefer the second half of the book, the comic redux portion, to the first half, which is much slower and ironically contains the only extensive new content to be found. I realize it’s a bit unfair to judge the book in the shadow of the comic, but as someone who has read both, it’s hard for me to evaluate them separately. My feeling is that the book will only be read by Walking Dead completionists, which is a shame, because those who aren’t familiar with the Walking Dead universe and thus would find the book’s material novel would likely get more enjoyment out of it.
Rating: 6 out of 10 severed zombie thumbs
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I capped things off with this Newbery Award winner from fantasy/horror maestro Gaiman. I know, I know, it’s a children’s book, but there’s a wealth of great novels out there for children and teens, and I think us grown-ups would be remiss to dismiss them as purely “kids’ stuff.” Coming into this reading, I had previously read Gaiman’s American Gods and the first of his Sandman graphic novels and decided I like the cut of his jib, so I was eager to dive into what promised to be a well-written, ghoulish story. I was not disappointed. Without spoiling too much, the book is about a boy who escapes disaster as an infant and is raised in a graveyard. As you might expect, occult escapades ensue, but as you might not expect, aside from some tension-packed scenes, the book isn’t really scary, which is just fine. For me, when I read “scary” books, I’m not necessarily looking to be scared; rather, I’m looking to have my mind immersed in all the fun elements of the paranormal, eerie, and generally off-putting that I rarely consider in my normal day-to-day existence. The Graveyard Book did just that for me, which is why I consider both it and my mission to achieve the Halloween spirit a success.
Rating: 80 out of 100 fun size candy bars