There’s been a lot going on this summer, but I’m never too busy to plan out my spooky books for October. I scanned through my StoryGraph TBR list, filtering to horror/thriller/mystery books that I’ve previously marked but not yet read—love that feature of StoryGraph. =) And I put together this list to read this month:
I started The Whispering House last night. So far it’s not too scary, but it is mysterious, and I’ll take that for now. (But I am hoping that I get another chilling haunted house story this month.)
I liked Bird Box a lot, and I’ve been wanting to check out this sequel. I’m going to do this one on audio, which should be appropriate given the subject matter.
I don’t know anything about Cackle, other than that I must have liked it at some point enough to add it to my TBR. I’m gonna guess this is about a witch.
Just one child can’t be too scary, right? Wrong.
I want to read Coraline to the kids this year for Halloween—they haven’t seen the movie yet so I figured then we could watch it. I just have to find the copy of Coraline that I bought last year…
My money is on The Toll for my truly scary haunted house book this year. Just look at that cover. Chef’s kiss.
Recently, while putting kids to bed, I felt the need to spend a little extra time with B, who is 9 1/2 now and gets less of the small child cuddle time that he used to, so we try to still make room for that when he lets us. So I laid on his floor for a little bit and we chatted. At one point, H (who is 6 1/2 now and demands plenty of small child cuddle time) came in to see what was taking so long, and I sent her back to her room.
So then eventually I went in to say goodnight to her, and she said, “Will you lay with me like you laid with B?” and I was like, “Sure,” and tried to lie down next to her in her bed.
H: No, on the floor.
Me: I can’t lie in your bed with you?
H: No, you laid on B’s floor.
Me: Okay, well…your floor is kind of messy. [Floor is covered in LOL Dolls]
H: Hmm…you better clean it up then.
Me: [Properly shamed] [Clears space for self] [Lies down on floor]
H: [Lies in comfortable bed surrounded by stuffed animals and plush blankets]
H: [Sings softly to herself]
Me: [Smiles…aww, she’s singing the song I sing to her]
Me: [Sticks my head up and smiles lovingly at her] Bless you!
H: Oh. I totally forgot you were in here.
Flawless. Great timing. And while this story doesn’t really support this, she is also the sweetest and most empathetic kid. But mostly on this night, I was just impressed by the deadpan nature and sheer level of roast she delivered. It just went on and on. 10/10. I mean, I did leave her room right after that.
There should be a word for the thing that happens when you’re reading two books, and something about them happens to line up in a way that clicks and makes them blur together.
I’m currently reading While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. Both books (for at least a section in the middle) involve one character, a young woman in each case, speaking repeatedly with a lawyer, trying to waive a legal privilege that has been bestowed upon them.
Last fall, I read You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, on top of Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé. Both books were giving me main characters of color working against the odds to triumph in their schools by the end of the year—although one of them is much darker than the other.
A few years ago I was reading Naomi Alderman’s The Power for a book club, and Stephen King’s Sleeping Beauties because I always used to read the new Stephen King, and all I could think of the whole time was how both books divided people very specifically along a gender binary, into one or the other—you’re either a woman and you experience this, or you’re a man and you experience this—and it felt so outdated.
I’m behind on my Book Riot Read Harder challenge for this year, so I feel less carefree about Halloween reads this year. I’m slogging through Middlemarch (“a book you’ve been intimidated to read”) and I’m afraid to put that down for the entire month and lose my momentum.
That said, here’s a list of scary books m putting on my TBR list, and I’ll see how many I get through this month. Here you’ll find multiple haunted houses, a Dracula origin story, killer mermaids, and the Donner party.
We spent all of yesterday (July 4th) in the pool at our friends’ house, which was wonderful. All four of us are exhausted and a little bit sunburnt and made up of 90% watermelon at this point—basically exactly what you expect from a July 4th celebration.
H is the only girl out of the four kids, and the youngest, and she used to kind of sit off to the side and make confused faces at the three boys while they ran around and made a lot of noise. Now she’s more likely to be leading the running-and-noise-making charges.
I took her into the bedroom to change into her swimsuit, and she took off her shirt—laid it neatly on a chair. Took off her skirt—laid it neatly on the shirt. Took off her underwear—and carefully tucked them in between the shirt and skirt. Then put on her swimsuit.
I said, “Did you just hide your underwear in between your other clothes?” And she said, “Yes.” I said, “Why?” And she said, “…I don’t know.” I’ve never consciously hidden her underwear or told her to do that. (I mean, other than when they’re on her body.) It was just such a classic doctor’s appointment move? Where you hide your underwear in the middle of your other clothes? Even though you’re about to have, like, a pap smear?
So I don’t know. When I’m making lists of things I hope I ingrain in my kids, it’s like, 1. Kindness. 2. A healthy relationship to their bodies. 3. A healthy relationship to food. Etc. So hiding your underwear is fine, as long as it doesn’t imply anything else. (It definitely stood out against the other kids, who were all basically changing into their swim trunks in the foyer.)
There’s a lot to say about distance learning, and a lot of that can be negative. But as I gaze peacefully glare at my children learning calmly and effectively as best they possibly can at their chromebooks, I’m struck by the fact that there are a few things that I absolutely do not miss about sending them to school.
Packing lunches. Historically these kids have been picky eaters, and packing lunches is hard when you can’t send anything with nuts, it has to be healthy so teachers won’t judge you, and ideally really shelf-stable so when they bring it home at the end of the day, you can send it out again. (I see you, bananas.) Packing lunches was one of my nemeses.
Dressing them appropriately. Long gone are the days of selecting an outfit and putting it on my child’s body, which is great, except they pick out the weirdest clothes. We often had to tell H that she couldn’t wear a sundress in January, or tell B that that was a pajama shirt and he had to change it. But now…H puts together weird outfits every day and I’m just like, you do you! B wore a long-sleeved shirt and pj pants today…basically the outfit I’ve been rocking every day for the last 10 months.
Drop off. H was at a preschool that offered drive-through drop-off for most of the year, which is GENIUS. But dropping off B could get hectic, especially if we were one minute after 8pm and the parking lot was full and then I couldn’t make a left turn out onto the street afterward…this year he would have technically been old enough to get dropped off at the entrance and walk himself into the school, but H would have been at that school with him, so we would have been walking in regardless. I don’t miss drop off.
Ten months, y’all. With no immediate end in sight. Whew.
So what had happened was, for B’s eighth birthday, my bff asked if they could give him a fish. It would be his first pet, and something he would remember, and we were all home all the time anyway, so we figured, why not. I got the equipment from Petco so we would be ready, Drew and I assembled it and hid it under a towel on the kitchen counter (good things our kids can be totally unobservant), and then that afternoon, Liz came by with her boys to surprise my boy with a fish and some fun tank accessories.
It was an angelfish, said to be a hardy breed, and B named it Professor Fishey. We called him The Professor, and he seemed happy for a bit. Then he started getting slower and just hanging out in the corner of the tank. I got worried and pinned a lot of pressure to keeping The Professor alive. So I went back to Petco and talked to a guy there, and came back with a bunch of other stuff: a heater, a couple different water cleansers, some test strips, a new appreciation of the nitrogen cycle, and two more fish to be The Professor’s friends—the Petco guy said angelfish are social fish and so maybe he was lonely.
So that maybe worked for a couple days? But then one day Drew and I saw The Professor swimming and then he flipped upside down, and we were like, that’s not a good sign. And shortly after he had passed on. We took him out of the tank and told B the truth, and he seemed like, bummed, but not traumatized, which is probably the best you can hope for.
A couple days later fish #2 (Fifi, a moonrise pink tetra) also died, and we were like, Wow, fish really don’t last that long. I thought we had goldfish the whole time I was a kid, but when I asked my mom, she said they lasted like, a week or two each. So okay, I guess this is what we signed up for. Again, the kids were bummed about Fifi but not super traumatized.
So then we pinned all our hopes on Tiger, a tiger barb, to see how he would do. He was speedy, darting around the tank, but seemed friendly. One day, H noticed he had turned red on his nose and fins, and Drew and I nodded like fish experts, like, Okay, here comes the end. And then I googled tiger barbs, and it’s just what happens to them when they come into maturity.
What’s kind of funny is that when I got Tiger and Fifi, as I was leaving the Petco parking lot, they were in their bags on the passenger seat next to me, and then a car in front of me in the parking lot stopped inexplicably, and I slammed on my brakes, and both fish bags went flying into the footwell. (Oops…) And then when we were putting them into the tank, Tiger escaped and jumped into the back part of the tank where the filter is, and I had to scoop him out with my hand, and I almost crushed him against the filter. So like, maybe this fish is invincible. Three months later, he’s still going strong. So strong, in fact, that we sometimes wonder if he might have bullied the other two into dying. Tiger barbs are aggressive…
Anyway, while dealing with The Professor’s death (but NOT in the way described below), I had this super intense flashback to college, when my roommate had a betta fish that she kept in a vase on our kitchen table, and to this piece I wrote sometime that year. I’m pretty sure this was published in one of the campus lit mags, because college lit mags love a meandering piece that pretends to have a deeper meaning.
I had to track it down on a backup external hard drive, in a folder called “old computer stuff > transfer > writing > old computer.” Just a fantastic filing method. So intuitive. Also I had to take out all the double spaces between sentences, that’s how old this is. Also, yes, I did remove a few phrases that made me wince. But I left in others that also make me wince. So. Enjoy!
Are stars really clearer when it’s cold?
Warmth seems to blur them into submissive lines, but in the cold they’re sharper, crisper. It’s the same feeling as when I get new contact lens subscriptions, and I realize that things have been getting progressively less distinct for the last four months.
It’s fifty-two degrees Fahrenheit, and they want to go in the hot tub.
“Yeah, so I can die of hypothermia? I don’t think that’s what I want to do tonight.”
“It’ll be warm in the water! And then you get out, wrap yourself in a towel, and walk back to the apartment. You’ll be cold for a total of 45 seconds…Will you at least come sit with us? You can bring a book.”
“I’ll come sit with you, yeah, but I’m not getting in the water.”
Outside, the house lights from the apartments and townhouses positioned around the pool area made little skating figures on the surface of the water. Steam rose out of the hot tub, making it look like something meant for cooking.
I’d gone upstairs to change into pj pants so that when peer pressure got the better of me, I could roll up the legs and put my feet in the water. This delay meant that by the time I got outside everyone else was already in, and looking at me with that semi-uncomfortable-I-know-I’m-going-to-get-used-to-this-water-really-soon-any-time-now look on his or her face.
Sitting cross-legged on the deck of the hot tub, I pulled my sleeves down around my hands and stuffed them in my jacket pockets. Their skin looked shiny and warm, glistening from the chlorine in the water, steam rising from their hair, and when the jets broke off after fifteen minutes, they asked me to run over to the controls and twist the knob to send more bubbles into the tub. When they started splashing each other, I moved back on the cement, leaving behind the patch of warmth I’d created, trying to stay out of the way of the drops of water that they sent through the air.
One by one, the three boys dared each other to swim a lap in the pool. The first one stood on the edge of the pool, contemplating the water, plié-ing to dip his toe in, fingering the drawstring on his swim trunks. The other two watched, knowing he held the power in this situation…if he didn’t do it, they wouldn’t either.
I was looking away when I heard the splash. He surfaced and began swimming, pausing every so often to swear. I knew he was probably dying in the water, but it was a matter of masculinity now, and of dignity, and of being able to look the other two in the eye. K and I laughed, and the other two boys also dove into the pool, unable to resist the call of competition.
They swam like huge shivering fish, across the surface of the pool, breaking up the moonlight into slivers that floated away in their wakes. K and I paced the side of the pool, laughing, sympathizing.
The huge boyfish, having proven their ruggedness and strength, sank down once more into the hot tub, leaving only their wet footprints on the deck, and the dying waves in the surface of the water in the pool. The steam rose over everything and turned the darkness white. The ghost traces of the boys in the water reminded me of Jynx.
When Jynx died, I think H put him down the garbage disposal instead of employing the conventional flush down the toilet, or—the suggestion made vehemently (albeit insensitively) by K and me—leaving him on one of our neighbor’s front doorsteps. She had his vase in the kitchen, and then suddenly it was empty and she was throwing the rocks out into our tiny back patio, which consisted of half torn-up cement and half torn-up rocky lawn. K looked at me and mouthed:
I looked at H, emptying rocks into rocks.
“It sounds like jingle bells!” K called, but her mortified eyes were on me. “Did she put him down the garbage disposal?”
I had to use the disposal tonight to shred potato peels before they backed up our pipes. (It’s happened once before.) When I flipped the switch, the heavy blades that lived beneath the sink roared into life and ground up whatever was down there. Potato peels…orange rinds…Jynx the fish….
I couldn’t think about it. I kept worrying that tiny fish bones would explode out of the drain and into my face.
For some reason, our culture teaches us that burial at sea is the appropriate method of disposal for Siamese fighting fish.
Halloween for me is half about escapism and half about loving that downward slope that is Halloween into Thanksgiving into Christmas into New Year’s Eve. I want an even split in October between snuggling under fuzzy blankets and also reading about haunted houses where there’s something thumping down the hallway.
That said, here’s what I’ve got on the list this year. (This may be ambitious, seeing how much my reading pace has slowed down this summer, but let’s see what happens.)
HANGSAMAN A Shirley Jackson novel I haven’t heard of before! And it’s a gothic novel from the 50s. I’m in. The Haunting of Hill House remains one of the scariest books I’ve ever read, and I think about the Netflix adaptation of it probably weekly. It was surprisingly good. Shirley Jackson is amazing.
SEED Seed is for my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge—this is “a horror book originally published by an indie press.” It’s a little bit of a cheat, since Ania Ahlborn is a pretty established writer now, but this was her first book. And she’s a new writer to me, so I’m counting it. I’ve had this one on my list all year but I’ve been saving it up for October.
SECURITY The StoryGraph description of this book says it’s “in the tradition of Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King, and with a deep bow to Daphne du Maurier”—this book takes place at Manderley Resort, and you know how much I loved Rebecca. Honestly, I found this because I was clicking through recommendations on The StoryGraph and had filtered down to horror books under 300 pages that are fast-paced, mysterious, and tense, or something like that—and I basically clicked “want to read” on most of the recs.
Have I not already pitched The StoryGraph to you? It’s my favorite replacement for Goodreads, if you’re interested in that. It’s a new site, but has a super clean interface, gives AMAZING recommendations, and they just added content warnings as an option. It’s also not owned by Amazon, for what that’s worth. You can transport your entire Goodreads library so you don’t lose anything. They don’t have an app yet, but they have a Progressive Web App, where you save the safari page to your homescreen, and it’s basically an app. Okay. They’re amazing. I’m finishing up the year in both Goodreads and The StoryGraph, but next year I’m jumping ship.
Back to Halloween reads.
REVENGE Scary short stories, a “secret garden of dark, glorious flowers” (says Joe Hill). Another StoryGraph find. I’m down!
GHOST WALL It pains me a little to break with my single-word titles for this one, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I love this cover and the description is giving me a version of haunted house. The ebook is also available for immediate download to my kindle through the library, so I’ll probably be starting with this one.
THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE: STORIES A few short story collections this time around. Maybe that’s how I’m reading these days—in shorter bursts. That’s just fine by me. These take place in and around contemporary Argentina, and Enriquez is compared to Shirley Jackson and Julio Cortázar. (The translator for this book is Megan McDowell, who also translated Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream, which was great.)
IF IT BLEEDS The latest Stephen King collection of four novellas—I’m looking forward to making this a part of this year’s Halloween festivities. I haven’t read any King lately and haven’t actually unpacked those boxes yet. Two of my bookshelves didn’t make the move with us and so I’ve been having to unpack books based on where they’re going, and I just haven’t figure out where Stephen King books live here. So maybe I’ll see where I set this one down when I finish with it, and then I’ll just put everything else there too.
A KISS BEFORE DYING My Ira Levin re-read for the year. This remains, weirdly, a comfort book to me.
That brings my total ambition to…eight? Is eight too many? Probably. But there’s no harm in trying!
I am not a plant person. I have accidentally and/or neglectfully killed multiple plants, which makes me sad but it’s true. My mom has this extremely green thumb and I just didn’t get it.
But I guess I’ve been nesting, because I went to Lowe’s and bought some succulents for my zoom background space, and a calathea for my bedroom, because I thought it was pretty. I didn’t even know what it was. I had to send a picture to my sister-in-law (also green thumbed) and say, “What is this?”
She responded quickly and thoroughly with the name and some details about what it likes, and also what kind of plants I would be less likely to harm. She said this one is a prayer plant, because it will open its leaves for the sun and then fold them up at night.
So I spent the next day staring at this plant, trying to see it move. And when it didn’t look like it was moving, I started wondering if I had bought a plastic plant thinking it was real. Those pieces along the base of the stems—they kind of look like they were made in a plastic mold, right? The leaves feel real…or do they feel like fabric? But I mean, you wouldn’t craft fabric leaves and then put a hole in one of them, right? So a vote for real. But then why do the stems feel so rigid?
Also, do I even deserve a plant if I literally can’t tell the difference between a real one and a fake one?
So the next morning I put it down in the patch of sunlight on the floor, and left it there all day. And when I came back upstairs at the end of the day, as the light was moving out of the room…
THOSE LEAVES HAVE FOLDED UP! Am I right??
What a thrilling moment! I’m not an idiot.
I named this plant Lydia. I’m thinking of getting some more plants.