Friday, October 22, 2010

13 Days of Halloween - Browsing the Book Table

I live in a two-Kindle household. My husband and I are voracious readers. We have adapted to e-books and electronic media, mostly to combat our storage problem, since we have a great big love for books but an itty bitty living space to store them all. However, there is still something to be said for physical books. I continue to frequent PaperbackSwap for used books and Barnes & Noble for new books. There's just something about the tactile feel of a book, the smell of newly pressed pages, and the illustrations and cover art, that adds to the reading experience. I also get a bit giddy whenever I walk into a bookstore and survey the aisles upon aisles of new worlds just waiting to be explored.

One of my favorite things about going into a bookstore is browsing their seasonal tables, especially around the Halloween season. Sure, Amazon has "If you've read this, you might like this..." recommendations it offers, and you can see recommendation lists from other Amazon shoppers, along with user reviews. I have found a couple of books that way, but I don't think anything can replace just physically browsing through stacks of books and having a title or cover illustration jump out at you. You pick it up and investigate it, read the back cover, open it and scan the first paragraph and either keep it in your hand or set it back down.

Around Halloween, most bookstores have a whole table of books themed around the holiday displayed in a prominent area (usually near the entrance) - one table of non-fiction, costume ideas, party games, etc. and one table of fiction, such as scary stories to tell in the dark, kids picture books about trick or treating, and an assortment of horror-themed fiction. I love this table. Often the display consists of the latest blockbuster offering from Stephen King or Dean Koontz, which I don't mind, but I already know all about them. The good news is, the store's marketers or clerks usually pull some oddball, non-mainstream books to fill up the rest of the table space.

One year I found a little gem called 100 Vicious Little Vampire Stories, a collection of short stories gathered and published by Barnes & Noble themselves. I thought I'd pretty much read everything there was to read on vampires, then I came across this hefty tome. It was only $7 and worth every penny. The stories in it are imaginative and run the gamut from frightening to humorous, exploring all creative aspects of the mythology. I enjoyed it so much, that the following year I went back and purchased 100 Ghastly Little Ghost Stories, which was also a treat. Each story is as yummy as a bit of trick-or-treat candy.

This past year, I scored two books that actually made my "best of 2009" list. One was Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge and the other book (which my husband actually found for me) was The New Vampire's Handbook: A Guide for the Recently Turned Creature of the Night by the Vampire Miles Proctor. The New Vampire's Handbook was one of the funniest books I've read in a long time, but then again, I think I was the target audience (i.e. someone who knows a lot about the vampire mythology and is somewhat disgusted by the modern turn the genre has taken). Written like an instruction manual for a newly made vampire, it is actually a send up modern vampire mythology and what pop culture has done to it. It was witty and smart.

An even better book, which I also found on the holiday table, was Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge. It's more of a novella in size, and I only picked it up because of the intriguing, detailed artwork on the front cover. I purchased it because it looked like a quick read, and because the price was right. I had no idea how much bang I was going to get for my buck when it came to this little novella. Wow. In fact, I delayed on finishing it, simply because I didn't want it to be over. The narrative style is unlike anything I've ever read. It's in your face, and addresses the reader directly, immediately making you a part of the story. The first line starts out: "A Midwestern town. You know its name. You were born there." When I read that, I replied, "I do? I was?" After that line, I was completely hooked. The book is a combination of an ancient fable, a 60s B-movie flick or Twilight Zone episode, and a spooky ghost story. In fact, here's the first paragraph of the novella, (also available on Amazon):

"A Midwestern town. You know its name. You were born there.

It’s Halloween, 1963… and getting on toward dark. Things are the same as they’ve always been. There’s the main street, the old brick church in the town square, the movie theater – this year with a Vincent Price double-bill. And past all that is the road that leads out of town. It’s black as a licorice whip under an October sky, black as the night that’s coming and the long winter nights that will follow, black as the little town it leaves behind."

"Black as a licorice whip" - don't you just love that?

My birthday is in late September and another one of my horror-loving friend's birthday is in October. Consequently, each year, we both know we're going to get books from that Halloween table for birthday gifts. This year he got me Werewolves: An Illustrated Journal of Transformation by Jessup and Haller that is filled with some wonderful free-form pencil illustrations and I got him Werewolf Haiku by Ryan Mecum, which looked like a pretty funny take on the trials of being a shapeshifter. I'm also looking forward to reading the collection Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Fiction. How about you? Do you still frequent bookstores or are you all about the Kindle? Do you ever check out the bookstore specialty tables? What is your favorite campfire ghost story? Or do you hate scary stores? Please leave me a comment and let me know, and to read my other posts about my love of books and bookstores, just click here.


Laura said...

mmm, books.... I completely agree with your detailed description of the love for the physical book. Not only do I enjoy reading, but I love the experience of reading. I can't sit to read a book unless I have a cup of tea or something hot to drink. Then I get myself in a comfy chair with a blanket, even if I don't need it it's still there, and then I get lost. Love it.

I LOVE the bookstore, it is a happy place! I usually purchase books from the displayed tables because I like looking at the cover art, and I too appreciate the effort the staff has put to making my decision easier to purchase something I will like. Of course, that's their goal... to get me to leave with $100 in books/mags/cards etc that I didn't intend to purchase but did anyway because it *looked* good.

As of late, the combination of my bibliophilia and our lack of funds has kept me out of the bookstore altogether and resigned me to the library, but that's okay. I'm finding ways to satisfy the need to read for free and I've even found books in my own collection at home that I haven't read, ie The Hobbit. :)

I'm not a fan of the horror genre but I do enjoy the occasional Stephen King book. Some of his stuff is too gory for me but for the most part I like his suspense and ability to shock me with something I didn't see coming. That may be partly due to my lack of reading other scary books so I don't have much other exposure to spoil the surprise. I never see it coming!

Knowing you and I have similar taste in entertainment, maybe you could suggest some other authors or works I would like that aren't too scary. I can have an over active imagination, if I let myself!

Laurie B said...

I adore ghost stories and could raise the hair on your arms with a few real experiences I have had with ghosts throughout my life. Wooohaaaaah!

D.L. White said...

I suppose this post implies that I buy books every time I go to the bookstore. I should clarify - probably 80% of the time, I go and browse and soak up the atmosphere and sit and read a book I might have brought with me, but rarely do I purchase on every visit. I just like hanging out there.

I follow some librarians on other blogs, and the really good ones put on nice seasonal or topical window displays or table displays similar to the ones I'm talking about in the bookstore. And if they're the good kind of librarians, they'll be just as helpful (or even more so) as store clerks with recommendations!

As far as *me* recommending a book to you, Laura, that's not too scary... hmm... I'll have to think about that.