As our readers are well aware, Maine Crime Writers love our Maine librarians, so it’s fun for us to turn to them from time to time with questions. This month’s question, in honor of Halloween, was to ask them what was their scariest book.
You will not be surprised to find that Maine’s own Stephen King tops the list. Dogs and cars have never been the same since King got his pen on them, and he was onto the risks of bullying long before it became a topic of general conversation. Of course, King is not the only choice, so read on, to see what our librarians had to say.
Peggy O’Kane, Coordinator of Public Services, Maine State Library:
In 1974, when Helter Skelter: The True story of the Manson Murders was published I was a junior in high school. My home was across the Ohio River from Moundsville, WV site of the West Virginia State Penitentiary a location mentioned more than once in the book describing Charles Manson’s youth. My social studies class toured the prison. Its castle like stone walls painted a perfect picture of a gothic castle in decay.
The night I read the book I was, naturally, home alone. Yes, there was a torrent of wind and rain. Yes, my old house creaked and yes, prison breaks were not uncommon. There followed many sleepless nights waiting for knives, ritual murder and blood.
Peggy adds: Much as I enjoy your writing, Kate, I no longer read true crime…
Steve Norman from the Belfast Library is also in the nonfiction camp with this book:
A Need to Kill, by Mark Pettit (c 1990).
A serial killer with roots in Maine. I read it right after moving to Maine. His mother worked in the same room where I was working. Too close to home!!!
Katie Connor, director of the Brewer Library, offered a very interesting book and some insights about why she chose it:
I am not a huge fan of horror, suspense, etc, so I tend to veer away from those books. I can say that Cujo by Stephen King was terrifying enough in the first two chapters that I closed it and never picked it up again. Dark nights and things lurking in closets are already nightmares, and I found myself not being able to sleep at night, waiting for a voice to call me from my closet. Silly, I know, but like I said– not really my thing.
The scariest book I read and finished was The People of Forever are not Afraid, by Shani Boianjiu. It is the coming-of-age story of three best friends who grew up in the same Israeli village, begin their mandatory military service the same year and receive vastly different assignments. From guarding Palestinian checkpoints, to checking trucks on the Egyptian border, to patrolling small village areas, from “safe” service to active duty, the girls are assaulted, again and again, by the violence both of their inner lives and the world they live in. Forced to enact decisions they hate, and enabled to become things they’d always hated, each girl makes choices that slowly drive them closer to insane violence . . . or will their choices veer toward salvation in the end?
I think this book terrified me because of the inner changes the reader witnesses in each protagonist. The entire structure of how our environment can wreck or redeem us, how each person’s inner turmoil is generally about a hundred times worse than the outward chaos of their worlds, was sobering. I also found it horrific how, though each girl cried for justice in different areas of her life, her hopes were slammed into the earth over and over. The smashing of their hopes led the girls, in different ways, to become the sort of monsters that they had abhorred. It was a striking reminder that, though each human being has a choice in whether they will join or defy the violence of the world, all too often it is the easier road of violence that we choose– especially if violence has been inflicted upon us.
As readers and writers, we appreciate these kinds of insights. Not simply books that make us worry about monsters under the bed, but about the monsters we might become and how the monstrous people we write about have been shaped.
In a similar vein, Gretchen Asam from SAD1 offers this:
It has to be Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, not because of what it says but because of what it doesn’t. It’s like a catalyst between the page and the imagination. She doesn’t scare you as much as you terrify yourself. Winner hands down.
Perrin Joel Lumbert, from the Bates College, Ladd Library has suggestions for both fiction and nonfiction:
Fiction: The Alienist, by Caleb Carr (1994)
Nonfiction: The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, by Laurie Garrett (1995)
Harold writes: when I think of scary literature, “Blood Music” is what comes to mind. Greg Bear is a science fiction writer with a flair for biological science. His stuff tends to be apocalyptic and cerebral.
Also tossing both fiction and non-fiction into the ring is Dina McKelvey, librarian at Maine Medical Center, who chose:
Communion by Whitley Strieber
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Saying: Could be because I read them both straight through and into the middle of the night!
Susan Taylor from Hampden’s Edythe Dyer Library says her scariest books was “Secret Smile” by Nicci French. “It was psychologically suspenseful, hard to put down, and totally creeped me out.”
Karen Westerberg, librarian at the Wells Elementary School, is in the Stephen King camp, choosing Cujo by Stephen King
As is Cathy Perkins at the Waterville Public Library:
Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot! Couldn’t put in down, finished it at 2 in the morning – didn’t sleep a wink afterwards while I watched every shadow on the wall with great trepidation!
And Becky Ames:
Here at Simpson Memorial Library in Carmel, it would have to be Stephen King’s books. When someone asks for horror the next word out of their mouth’s is usually Stephen King. OF his books, Salem’s Lot, for me, takes the cake. When it came out I was pregnant with my first child, didn’t realize what it really was about. I started reading it at 10:00 at night, hubby was working. I’m alone in a 200+ year old house with big… windows. Scared myself silly.