And then there's Time Magazine's completely arbitrary--and sometimes bizarre--list of the 100 best novels since 1923. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret? Seriously? Okay, fine, yes, "We must, we must, we must increase our bust" was very influential for me. But of all the 20th-century YA novels in all the world, that's the one they picked? Really? It's like they realized at the last minute that less than a quarter of the authors on their list were women, and they thought that if they tossed us a book about menstruation, we wouldn't notice. So forget the Time list.
But still, that's a lot of reading. What's a girl with three jobs and a steady knitting habit to do?
Chuck it, that's what, and in honor of October, dive into some deliciously terrifying ghost stories.
|My bedside table is temporarily haunted.|
Let's talk for just a moment about how I have never, ever enjoyed even the most highbrow vampire literature--we're talking The Historian, not Twilight--for the very simple reason that I don't believe in vampires. And yet ghosts are not a problem for me. I'm not saying that I believe in ghosts. But, yes, I absolutely believe in ghosts. I mean not really. But, yes, really.
So The Big Book came home with me, Gabriel Garcia Marquez got temporarily relocated to the coffee table to-read pile (catch you in November, Gabe), and, except for that first night when I kept waking up and thinking my robe was a navy-blue ghost hovering at the foot of my bed, I haven't regretted it.
With the crazy that is my life right now, what with copyediting and grading (Did I really need to assign so many essays? No. No, I did not.), short stories are the perfect format for my frazzled mind. And the selection in this book is wide, and, what's even better, obscure. Of the 80 stories, the only one I've already read is "The Monkey's Paw," and the stories range from at least the 19th century through contemporary authors like Joyce Carol Oates. They're arranged not by date but by theme, so stories about love are grouped, as are stories about kids, stories about dreams, and stories that are supposedly funny.
That last is the category I was most looking forward to, but of the three I've read, Mark Twain's "A Ghost's Story" is the only tale that doesn't disappoint. Oscar Wilde's "The Canterville Ghost" starts out funny, but edges into melancholia in the final pages, as if he didn't know how to finish it. And "In at the Death" by Donald Westlake, "the funniest mystery writer who ever lived," according to editor Otto Penzler, is flat-out tragic and demoralizing. I'd someday like the chance to explain to Mr. Penzler that "irony" and "funny" are not automatically the same thing.
But other than that, I've enjoyed every moment of my ghostly detour, and with the number of stories in this anthology, I'm guessing I'll be enjoying them for two or three more Octobers to come. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to gather my furry protectors around me and sample Ellen Glasgow's "The Shadowy Third." Luckily, I live near my mommy, and I can be huddled under her bed covers in 7 minutes flat if need be. So, Mom, leave the deadbolt off just in case, okay? All month. Thanks!
Update: "The Shadowy Third" was excellent. Even though Glasgow never explains exactly how the ghost became a ghost, the payoff at the end is both surprising and satisfying.