RISKY READING: 5 DANGEROUS BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS

It may be common knowledge that reading is dangerous. There’s a reason so many exceptional works of writing end up on banned books lists. Plus, novels like 1984Fahrenheit 451, or The Handmaid’s Tale remind us of how crucial the written word is for obtaining power. However, did you ever consider how dangerous the act of reading could actually be? Earlier this summer, a group of researchers at the University of Southern Denmark uncovered a killer fact about three Renaissance-era manuscripts from their library: the manuscripts were all coated in toxic green arsenic. Well, the paint used to apply the arsenic was green, but the color sure does lend to its fright value.

The poisonous outerwear was most likely intended as an insect repellent (or so they say). Still, it got me thinking about the risky road of reading made more hazardous by tomes with a questionable character. Specifically, those fictional books we find in literature that bring the protagonist no small amount of danger. The most notorious of such books would undoubtedly be the Necronomicon, H.P. Lovecraft’s infamous fictional grimoire of black magic. Having never ventured deeply into Lovecraft territory myself, I’m more interested in books I’ve encountered in my own reading. So, I’ve compiled a list of the most dangerous fictional books within books I can attest to (and a few honorable mentions thrown in as well).

Promo art of Tom Riddle's DiaryTOM RIDDLE’S DIARY FROM HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, BY J.K. ROWLING
Hogwarts is chock full of sinister reading material, thanks to the school library’s Restricted Section. The students also have to keep their wits (and fingers) around their course books, like The Monster Book of Monsters (thanks so much, Hagrid). However, it’s Riddle’s diary that threatens the actual livelihood of any who dare to write in it. Just ask Ginny Weasley, who strangled a bunch of roosters under Voldemort’s spell, and that was the least of her problems.

THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS FROM “THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS,” BY JORGE LUIS BORGES
This short story by the incomparable Argentinian author features a indecipherable novel, until a Chinese spy for Germany in World War II pays a visit to a professor. I’ve read this story so many times, and I come away feeling something different every time. But I am sure I wouldn’t want the novel-turned-time-labyrinth to exist. It would frighten me to the core to imagine a life where all possibilities exist, especially those where a friend-or-foe arrives to shoot me.

discovery of witches coverASHMOLE 782 FROM A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, BY DEBORAH HARKNESS
What could possibly be more dangerous than a book that literally sets off all fantastical factions to hunt you down? Sure, it’s my dream to research at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and even more so to discover hidden treasures. But if Ashmole 782 did exist, and a world-altering alchemical manuscript rested beneath its pages, I would prefer not to know about it. Let the witches, daemons, and vampires circle around someone else.

ANY ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT IN THE EYRE AFFAIR, BY JASPER FFORDE
What fun when a book can become a portal. The opportunities that await! But then you go and choose Jane Eyre as your focus. And then bring Rochester to life. And then mishaps occur that alter the course of the book and any book that gets chosen as a portal…The conundrums are limitless in this novel, but using original manuscripts to capture or even kill people within sure does make them hazardous books. It makes you reconsider the allure of jumping into book worlds.

THE LIBRARY FROM THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY, BY GENEVIEVE COGMAN
You might consider every single book dangerous here, because the way the titular library acquires books is nothing but treacherous. This novel and ensuing series depicts librarians with (much deserved) tangible power and impressive skills at espionage. Instead of jumping into the worlds of books, the librarians have to access alternate universes—from magical to mundane—to retrieve alternate versions of books that reside within. The kind of conflict that librarians must venture into day after day (rich with thievery, dragons, vampires, and toppling super villain plots) is enough to make one’s bones tremble.
HONORABLE MENTIONS:
I have an on-again-off-again relationship with The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Every time I start to read it, I am either pulled away or distracted from it. So I have not yet completed this book, but it still deserves a mention. Whenever holding a book puts you in danger of the forces trying to destroy it, well, it doesn’t get more dangerous than that. But also, Zafón’s depiction of post-war Barcelona is lyrical and riveting (from what I’ve read, at least).

The Unwritten by Mike Carey (also known as M.R. Carey, of The Girl with all the Gifts acclaim) also needs mentioning. The comic book series truly captures the horror of fiction coming to life, where a book series actually affects the life and livelihood of the protagonist of the series. Most likely because the fantasy books within the comic series may have actually been about him, literally. I haven’t yet read these, but I’m intrigued enough to want to see the Tommy Taylor fantasy series.

By , August 
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Happy Valentine’s Day from the Moline Library!

10 BOOKISH VALENTINES FOR YOUR FAVORITE NON-FICTIONAL CHARACTER

Valentine’s Day is here, and whether you’re romantically involved or not, I think we can all agree that bookish Valentines make the best Valentines. Here are ten great cards and greetings (some downloadable for you procrastinators out there!) to give to your favorite non-fictional character. Or fictional character. We don’t judge.

I Love You Almost As Much As I Love Books

I Love You Almost as Much as I Love Books Valentine's Day Card

The Valentine that expresses your affection while also being open and honest about your feelings!

 

Dewey Belong Together?

Dewey Belong Together? Valentine's Day Card

For the library pun lover! The answer is HECK YES.

 

Meet Me at the Library

Meet Me at the Library Card

This is a great one to express your priorities and also kick off the perfect (imo) date night!

 

If Life is a Book, Then Our Love is the Story

If Life is a Book Then Our Love is the Story Valentine's Day Card

It may be sappy, but it’s bound to melt a few hearts.

 

You Have Bewitched Me, Body and Soul

You Have Bewitched Me Body and Soul Jane Austen Valentine's Day Card

For the Pride & Prejudice fan, this Darcy quote is unbeatable.

 

Nothing Beats the Smell of Old Books…Except You

Nothing Beats the Smell of Old Books Valentine

And I mean, books smell AMAZING.

 

You’re the Rhysand to My Feyre

For the partner who loves A Court of Thorns and Roses as much as you do…

 

You’re the Best Thing to Happen to Me Since Books

You're the Best thing to Happen to Me Since Books Valentine's Day Card

Is there any higher compliment that you could pay someone than this?

 

I Like Long, Romantic Walks Through the Bookstore With You

I Like Long Romantic Walks in the Bookstore With You Card

Because why go to the beach when you could go to the bookstore?

 

Thank You for Being My Bookish Friend

Thank You for Being My Bookish Friend Valentine's Day Card

Because sometimes having a true book friend can be just as valuable, if not more so, than having a romantic partner, and that deserves to be celebrated!

By , February 

11 Delightfully Delicious Book-Themed Restaurants

If you’ve ever wanted to try Butterbeer or meet a friend for a Jane Austen–inspired high tea, we recommend checking out these delightfully delicious book themed restaurants. Each place on this list features bookish elements in both design and menu, from dishes named after characters to foods actually described in your favorite books. These dining establishments are perfect for readers who have been tempted by literary cookbooks in the past, but aren’t quite confident enough to make these dishes themselves!

1. The Jane Austen Tea Room in Essendon, Melbourne, Australia

As one of the world’s most beloved authors, it’s no wonder that Jane Austen has an entire restaurant dedicated to her novels. This tea room, situated in Melbourne, Australia, offers an elegant high tea with sandwiches and sweets as well as dishes like “Mrs. Bennet’s Raisin Toast,” named for Elizabeth’s meddling mother in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Just looking to grab dessert? No problem! The menu also offers a nice little selection for Emma fans with “Lady Emma Woodhouse’s Desserts and Treats.” Charming and sophisticated, you’ll feel like you’re having tea with Mr. Darcy!

2. Hogsmeade in Orlando, Florida, USA

This one is a little tricky as you can only get access with a ticket to Universal Studios’s Islands of Adventure, but if you’re headed to the theme park anyway, then Hogsmeade is definitely worth your time! Detailed and elaborate, Universal’s Hogsmeade is designed to look like the village in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It includes all kinds of treats sure to please the wizard in your life. You can swing by Hog’s Head for a Butterbeer or stop at the Three Broomsticks for a feast. (There’s also a Three Broomsticks at Universal Studios’s Hollywood location.)

3. The Lovecraft Bar in Portland, Oregon, USA

The Lovecraft Bar might be named after famed science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft, but general horror fans will also get a kick out of this spooky spot! The bar and nightclub embraces the macabre, drawing inspiration from classic books and movies. It’s definitely not a sit-down place, but the bar’s got a great bizarre-o vibe. It also features some fun cocktails like “Los Vampiros” and the “Sleepy Hollow” (named after Washington Irving‘s iconic short story of the same name).

4. Alice in a Labyrinth in Tokyo, Japan

This restaurant, inspired by Lewis Caroll‘s Alice in Wonderland, is perhaps one of the most visually stunning places on our list. The decor is incredibly lush, complete with teacup booths and playing card tables. The hostess is even dressed like the Mad Hatter! While Alice in a Labyrinth does charge an entry fee just for going inside, we think it’s worth it for the decor alone!

5. Wilde Bar & Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois, USA

If you’re looking for more of a library feel, we recommend this Irish pub. Not only is the restaurant named after Oscar Wilde, but the layout is also designed to give guests the sense of sitting by the fireplace in a comfortable library. The menus feature select quotes from the maestro himself and there is a portrait of Wilde framed above the fireplace.

6. KonyvBar & Restaurant in Budapest, Hungary

The KonvyBar & Restaurant boasts some lovely bookshelves, but stopping in for a bite does require some planning ahead of time. The menu here is designed around a different book each week. Previous themes include Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireThe Pillars of the Earth, and The Jungle Book. To find out the title of the book currently featured, visit the restaurant’s website.

7. Action Burger in Brooklyn, New York, USA

There’s plenty to do at Brooklyn’s comic book-themed restaurant and bar, where you can eat like a “hero” or a “villain.” Board games are available for visitors to rent, plus the bar has videogames set up near the tables and a number of impressive pinball machines.

8. Gulliver’s Restaurant in Irvine, California, USA

Established in 1970, Gulliver’s Restaurant is set up to feel much older. The interior is styled to mirror 18th-century England, the time period in which Jonathan Swift first published Gulliver’s Travels. The dishes are quintessentially British too, with “Gulliver’s Prime Cut” slow-roasted beef, Yorkshire Pudding, and a scrumptious English trifle complete with berries and Devonshire cream. Cozy and classic, Gulliver’s is definitely one to check out if you’re in the area!

9. Onegin Restaurant in New York, New York, USA

Decorated in the spirit of 19th-century elegance, Onegin is a culinary tribute to Alexander Pushkin. In fact, the name of the restaurant comes from the novel, Eugene Onegin. The Russian cuisine here is served in a setting reminiscent of old St. Petersburg. With such a rich design and decadent menus, Onegin is perhaps the fanciest establishment on our list.

10. The Shire in Killarney, Ireland

The Shire is a cool visit for anyone who loves J.R.R. Tolkein. This Lord of the Ringsinspired pub features live music every Sunday and drinks named after some of Tolkein’s most popular characters. The Shire has a fun Middle Earth vibe — the passageway to the bar area is even a hobbit hole!  If you need a place to stay nearby, you can check into The Sugan Hostel located within the pub.

11. The Westeros in New Dehli, India

Ever since HBO adapted George R.R. Martin‘s Song of Ice and Fire series for the small screen, it’s hard to find someone who isn’t obsessed with Game of Thrones. Finding a Game of Thrones eatery, however, is another matter. Fortunately, there’s The Westeros in New Dehli. The walls are adorned with all kinds of Game of Thrones paraphernalia, including the Iron Throne, and the bar even hosts viewing parties!

By Emily Verona

We Asked, You Answered: Is Listening to Audiobooks ‘Reading’?

In recent years, more and more bibliophiles are turning to audiobooks as a way to discover new stories (and re-discover old favorites). We know that books can be experienced in many different ways … But as their popularity grows, there’s still the occasional debate as to whether listening to audiobooks can be considered the same as “reading.”

Goodreads.com turned to its followers on Facebook and Twitter for their opinions and received a wide array of responses on how audiobooks have expanded their horizons. Which ones resonate with you? Let us know in the comments!

1. “I do consider it reading. Reading isn’t just about looking at the words on the page or hearing words as they’re being read. It’s about processing, imagining, and understanding. Science has shown those processes are similar whether reading with your eyes, your ears, or your fingers,” says Buddy.

2. “If you strictly base it on the technical definition of reading, they’re certainly not the same. They’re different language skills. But I think the whole point of both is the consumption of literature. That’s why it doesn’t matter if you read [a book] or listened to it,” says Calvin.

3. “1000% counts as reading. You’re still absorbing the material, just in a different format. And let’s not forget that [they are] extremely helpful, if not completely necessary, for the visually impaired!” says Michal.

4. “I don’t consider it reading, although I understand why some people need audiobooks and prefer them. I think reading an actual book is just a totally different experience then listening to one,” says Jessica.

5. “Audiobooks are great for those those looking to experience a book while walking or exercising, or those with vision problems. But that’s called listening. Reading is with your eyes. Not better. Just different,” says Jeanne.

6. “Yes, I consider it reading. I’m still dedicating time to the story and following along. I’ve ‘re-read’ a couple of books this way and actually picked up on new details I hadn’t before. It was exciting for me,” says Belinda.

7. “I like to listen to audiobooks when I’m hiking or driving long distances. I used to think it was ‘cheating,’ but listening to a story is just an alternative form of enjoying a book,” says Andrea.

8. “They don’t provide the exact same experience, but they both provide incredible stories. I think the coolest part is how audiobooks have modernized the human tradition of telling stories out loud with the spoken word,” says Nick.

9. “By one definition, audiobooks aren’t reading. But by the definition of reading as ‘interpretation,’ I think it fits,” says Raygina.

10. “In the same way that Braille is still ‘reading’ even though it technically does not involve visual processing of written information, audiobooks involve construction of visual interpretations of the information conveyed through symbolic language. Essentially, reading.” says Josh.

By Marie, August 17, 2018, first appearing on Goodreads Blog

H.P. Lovecraft And The Shadow Over Horror

Scary tentacles

Hello Lovely/Getty Images/Blend Images

H.P. Lovecraft’s stories are among the foundations of modern horror. He has an entire subgenre named after him (Lovecraftian horror, also called cosmic horror). His stories can still wring shivers from the modern reader; his gods and monsters are cloned, adapted and mutated by new authors every year (I’m one of them). I don’t actually know how many anthologies include either his name or his iconic creation Cthulhu in their titles — though a sample make up a largish shelf among my books, and then there are the movies, songs, role-playing games and plush abominations (another shelf). During the 2016 election, a Washington Post op-ed claimed Cthulhu’s endorsement for Donald Trump.

But Lovecraft was a bigot. He was a bigot by the standards of our time and his. He hated and feared African-Americans, Jews, poor people and anyone who had the temerity to speak languages other than English in his presence. He once wrote a poem called “On the Creation of [N-words]” and a story in which the horrific punchline was that the femme fatale with monstrous, man-strangling hair was “a negress.” Though sometimes less overt, his terror of humans who were not upper-class Anglo-Saxons pervades his stories. One celebrated classic […] ends by recognizing a strange and alien race as “men” like the reader — men whose civilization collapsed because of a revolt by their monstrous slaves. Those slaves, the shoggoths, appear as boogeymen throughout Lovecraft’s oeuvre.

What to do about the darkness gnawing at horror’s roots? Perhaps Lovecraft’s own metaphors are best: Can this ancestral taint be denied, or does it warp its descendants even today? Could we destroy it, even if we wanted to? If we did, what would remain of our modern branches? Could we instead transform it? Horror excels at making thought-provoking beauty and terror out of the most vile seeds. Can we work such metamorphoses with our own foundations?

Every time someone raises this topic, traditionalists accuse them of forced amnesia. “You’re trying to bury Lovecraft’s memory. You want us to forget him.” Yet modern horror has repeatedly chosen transformation over suppression. Victor LaValle, Caitlin R. Kiernan, N.K Jemisin and Matt Ruff are only a few of those now penning Lovecraftian stories in which bigotry itself is the horror.

Pervasive in cosmic horror is the conflict between attraction and repulsion. Lovecraft’s narrators stumble into terror because they can’t look away: The only thing worse than knowing things man wasn’t meant to know is putting down the book. I feel the same way about Lovecraft. “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” begins with the town’s amphibious inhabitants being forced into internment camps; my first novel resulted from yelling at the story until I had to put my fury down on paper. Yet “Shadow” also contains moments of strange sympathy for its monsters and a protagonist who ultimately discovers himself to be one of them, and transforms to “dwell amidst wonder and glory” beneath the waves of the Atlantic.

Lovecraft, too, was conflicted — though in his short life he never found the courage to let his attraction to difference overcome his repulsion. Perhaps we keep building on his creations in the hope that we can finally complete that half-hinted transformation.

Lovecraft’s repellent assumptions still make their way into modern work; even beloved modern authors sometimes show hints of that taint. If we know that a story or author [we’re discussing] is problematic, we’ll tell you — and no shame on anyone who doesn’t care to dip their hands into that particular variety of putrescent pool. There are a few I won’t touch myself. But for those who can’t turn away from what glints at the heart of the slime — or who seek imperfect materials to sculpt into strange new forms — we’ll do our best to map the abyss.

By RUTHANNA EMRYS, August 16, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR

Editor’s Note:

Ruthanna Emrys is the author of the Innsmouth Legacy series and co-writes Tor.com’s Lovecraft Reread. She lives in a mysterious manor house on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. with her wife and their large, strange family. You can find her on Twitter as @r_emrys.

 

In honor of the Miniature Book Exhibit currently on display at the Moline Library…

Why we are fascinated by miniature books?

From a tiny copy of the Divine Comedy and a once-illegal birth control guide to a Bible the size of a stamp, these strange artifacts are masterpieces writ small.

 

A miniature book containing The Lord’s Prayer is displayed at London Christie’s in 2006, that measures five by five millimetres. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

It is known as the “fly’s eye Dante”: an 1878 edition of the Divine Comedy which is so small – just 11/4 by 13/4 inches – that it is said to have taken 11 years to print, and to have damaged the eyes of both its compositor and corrector. Bound in red leather embossed with gold, the world’s smallest edition of Dante’s classic poem, which was printed by the Salmin Brothers in Padua, is one of almost 50 officially designated miniature books housed in the London Library. Nomenclature is important here: according to the US-based Miniature Book Society, a miniature book “is no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness”, and while the London Library has some 350-odd “small” books, of less than five inches, it has only 47 true miniatures. The library decided they were being overshadowed by their larger cousins, so now they are gathered together in a glass-fronted cabinet.

The ‘fly’s eye Dante’ in the London Library. Photograph: Alison Flood

Alongside the Dante, there is the smallest AuthorisedVersion of the Bible, first printed by David Bryce of Glasgow in 1896. Bryce said that when he “descended to the miniature, mite and midget size” he had “many a scoff and jeer as to the absurdity of the production”. This edition of the Bible, just an inch across, comes with a tiny magnifying glass tucked into a pocked in its cover (unlike the Dante, which is small but perfectly legible, this book would be impossible to read without one). There is also a miniature edition of Kate Greenaway’s Alphabet from the 1880s, and Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, who looks after the London Library’s collection, points to the 1828 edition of Horace’s odes, the second book to be published using Henri Didot’s microscopic type. In a display of virtuosity, the text also contains a number of ornamental lines, the centre of which is formed by the letters “Henri Didot” printed even smaller than the type of the main text. I peer over the pages attempting to spot these; at last, using the zoom function on my phone, I find them.

“In its quality, it’s unparallelled,” says Garcia-Ontiveros. “He’s showing off. It was published in the 1820s, that’s quite early. I’m not surprised people called it a miracle.”

The earliest miniature books in the collection date to the 16th century. Books were often made small, according to Garcia-Ontiveros, because they were religious texts – so people wanted to keep them close as they felt emotionally connected to them – or because they were controversial and had “to be secreted about one’s person”, such as Charles Knowlton’s 1832 guide to birth control, The Fruits of Philosophy.

Jagadish Shukla holds miniature copies of a Koran, the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible. Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/EPA

But miniature books have a much longer history. The British Library points to two small cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamia. Both concerned with trading information about animals and provisions, one is dated to around 2325BC and measures 15/8 by 11/2 inches; the other is dated 2200BC and measures 17/8 by 11/4 inches. In AD770, the Japanese empress Shotoku gave orders for the printing of 1m copies of a prayer scroll a mere 23/8 inches tall, the D’harani prayer. These writings were made miniature, writes the British Library’s Annalisa Ricciardi, “so that men and women of faith could easily bring with them their collection of psalms and devotional books, students could carry their small library in a pocket, smugglers of ideas could easily hide tiny booklets in a secret bottom of their cape, merchants could quickly retrieve from their belt a tiny but complete guide on the equivalence of grains prices, scales, measures and conversion, and foreign currencies value meanwhile closing a deal, or sharp businessmen could brilliantly define a legal contract”.

Technological developments in the 1800s made it possible to print text even more. “That’s when you get the truly mind-bogglingly tiny books,” says Garcia-Ontiveros, citing everything from the Horace to Bryce’s Bible to a complete set of Shakespeare’s plays that can be held cupped in two hands.

Simon Garfield, who recently published In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate the World, says his favorite is the Sherlock Holmes story How Watson Learned the Trick, which was written in the 1920s by Arthur Conan Doyle. “It’s bound in red leather, measures under 4cm by 3cm and contains 503 words. That’s about one page of a regular book, but it’s handwritten and extends to 34 pages,” says Garfield. (The original can be found in Queen Mary’s Dolls’’ House in Windsor Castle.) “The title’s ironic: the story, composed almost entirely of dialogue, begins with Watson thinking he’s mastered the art of elementary detection, only to be deflated by Holmes proving him wrong on every count.”

A Note of Explanation by the novelist Vita Sackville-West, written for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Photograph: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty the Queen/PA

Around the world, collectors coo over the Salmin Brothers’ 1896 copy of Galileo’s 1636 letter to his friend Cristina di Lorena, which Louis Bondy writes in his history of miniature books “was considered the smallest printed from movable type” for many years: it is half the size of a postage stamp. A copy is in MIT Libraries, in Massachusetts, alongside a handful of other miniatures: four addresses by Abraham Lincoln and extracts from Calvin Coolidge’s autobiography. Both are as small as the Galileo, but neither were set from movable type. The National Library of Scotland has one of Bryce’s most famous publications, a miniature Koran printed in Arabic around 1900, copies of which, it says, were often given to Muslim soldiers fighting with allied forces during the first world war, the metal locket allowing it “to be easily worn around the neck of the soldier”.

“The 19th century was absolutely the golden age, the heyday of miniature printing,” says Garcia-Ontiveros. “They were saying, we want to push this to the limit and see how far we can go.”

Those limits have gone from inches to millimeters to micrometers. In 1952, a Munich publisher produced a five-by-five millimeter book containing the Lord’s Prayer in Dutch, English, French, German, Spanish and Swedish (it sold for £1,300 in London in 2006). Guinness World Records lists the smallest reproduction of a printed book as Teeny Ted from Turnip Town, which measures 70 micrometers by 100 micrometers and was etched using an ion beam. Russian scientist Vladimir Aniskin believes he has beaten this with Levsha, his 70-by-90 micrometers book. The pages are turned using a sharpened metal needle.

What is it that makes the world of the miniature so appealing? “It’s the feeling that you can hold the entire works of Shakespeare in your hands,” says Garcia-Ontiveros. “Miniature books were never seen as serious books, they were curiosities, seen as fun objects, not the kind of books that would make it into libraries. They were the books people would have at home, and because they are tiny and often printed on cheap paper they don’t tend to survive, so in any age miniature books are very rare. And they get lost! We ourselves had one fall behind a cabinet and it wasn’t until we had some building work done that one of the builders saw it behind a cabinet. We’d been looking for it for years.”

For Garfield, it is less about content and more about the skill that went into making them at all. “Their size ensures that the reader takes great care in handling and appreciating them. This is the trick of so many miniature objects,” he says. “The smaller they are, the more one looks.”

By , January 

Reading Horror Can Arm Us Against A Horrifying World

Why read horror when the world is already so creepy?
Maree Searle/Getty Images/EyeEm

Tom Lehrer famously said that satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. And yet here we are, still struggling to exaggerate the follies of power until power can’t get around us. Horror has much the same resilience. As terrifying as the world becomes, we still turn to imagined terrors to try and make sense of it. To quote another favorite entertainer, Neil Gaiman, “Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Horror, descended from those tales, tells us about more monsters — and more strategies for beating them.

The banal evils of the world — children shot, neighbors exiled, selves reframed in an instant as inhuman threats — these are horrible, but they aren’t horror. Horror promises that the plot arc will fall after it rises. Horror spins everyday evil to show its fantastical face, literalizing its corroded heart into something more dramatic, something easier to imagine facing down. Horror helps us name the original sins out of which horrible things are born.

Some of my favorite horror stories are those in which real-world terrors grow gradually into something stranger. Mariana Enriquez, recently translated into English in Things We Lost in the Fire, writes a Buenos Aires in which poverty and pollution inevitably swell into risen corpses and sacrificial cults. Stephen King’s Carrie only destroys her town because abuse and bullying feed her frustrated teenage telekinesis. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic “The Yellow Wallpaper” starts from the simple psychological claustrophobia of well-meaning relations and deep-rooted sexism.

All of which gives horror the opportunity to be radically empowering, and to condemn these evils in the starkest of terms. But it doesn’t always do so. In too many stories the Thing That Should Not Happen is simply someone violating the status quo, or outsiders existing visibly. H. P. Lovecraft is a prototypical example — his world-shattering deities are worshipped primarily by those without other means to power: immigrants, rural folk, dark-skinned people trying to summon dreadful entities. His monsters are closely entwined with mental illness and “miscegenation.” His works insist, again and again, that civilization depends on keeping such creatures out of both sight and mind. Nor is Lovecraft (conveniently dead and ostensibly “of his time”) the only one. How much modern horror still draws frissons of fear from disabled villains, or the threat of “madness,” or whatever Other happens to be convenient? How many can only imagine threats as violations of white-picket-fence comfort, overcome when the monster’s defeat allows a return to that comfort for those who had it in the first place?

While it’s tempting to write horror from the perspective of those most easily shocked — those in a position to believe the universe dispenses comfort evenly to all — the best modern work depicts terrors fit for those already intimate with fear. Mira Grant (a.k.a. Seanan McGuire) is brilliant at this. Her Newsflesh trilogy amplifies the perils of political journalism, mindful that authorities’ response to disaster can make the difference between zombie apocalypse and zombie inconvenience. Victor Lavalle, another favorite, finds ways to faze protagonists who already face segregation, police violence, and the cosmic indifference of everyday prejudice.

Horror as a genre is built around one truth: that the world is full of fearful things. But the best horror tells us more. It tells us how to live with being afraid. It tells us how to distinguish real evil from harmless shadows. It tells us how to fight back. It tells us that we can fight the worst evils, whether or not we all survive them — and how to be worthy of having our tales told afterward.

 

Editor’s Note:
Ruthanna Emrys is the author of the Innsmouth Legacy series and co-writes Tor.com’s Lovecraft Reread. She lives in a mysterious manor house on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. with her wife and their large, strange family. You can find her on Twitter as @r_emrys.

By RUTHANNA EMRYS, August 5, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR