Story’s affect us all.
Stories can affect us emotionally; most good stories make us feel something. But they can also affect how we see the world, and help us form our opinions on ‘real world’ issues and problems. They can help us relate to people or situations we might not otherwise have ever experienced. As a 30-something year old, white, English woman there are certain things I will never experience myself and absorbing a wide range of stories, told from different viewpoints and by a diverse range of people can help me understand those experiences better. I often find voracious story consumers to have higher levels of empathy.
Stories can also help us get through difficult times via escapism or by giving us the tools to handle our own challenges. As a massive fan of horror, I sometimes get confused looks when I explain to friends and family that I can take real comfort from stories they might find frightening. But any genre can do all of the above.
Stories come in many mediums, that’s why this website looks at books, films, videogames, online mediums etc. Today I want to talk to you about books. In particular my top five books.
There are some spoilers in today’s letter so make sure you are careful if you don’t want certain stories spoiled for you. I have done my very best to keep spoilers to a minimum though and have put warnings throughout.
So, without further delay and in no particular order…
Thief of Always by Clive Barker
Synopsis: Harvey Swick is a 10-year-old boy who finds himself bored. A Stanger tells him about the Holiday House where there are all the sweets a person could ask for, four seasons in a day, Halloween every evening, Christmas, with whatever gifts you could wish for, every night, and everything else you could dream of. However, when Harvey visits the House he finds out that it is certainly not a children’s paradise.
Why I Love It: My mum read this book to me when I was very little (it was a bad time story, she even did the voices), so I think it will always hold a special place in my heart for that reason. It always takes me back to that feeling when you are very small and warm and safe in your bed.
Even re-reading it as an adult I can say that it is a marvellous story. The imagery is spectacular, Harvey’s night as a vampire especially stays with me due to the vivid imagery. As well as the ‘creatures in the pond’ (trying to not spoil anything to badly here). Overall, it’s a well written, imaginative story that sucks you in and holds you tightly right up to the end.
Pet Cemetery by Steven King
Synopsis: After moving to a new home Louis Creed is shown to a native American burial site by his neighbour. The family cat Churchill, who was killed on the road is buried there and comes back to life, although reborn Churchill is much more aggressive than his previous incarnation. When his youngest son is killed on the same road Louis must decide if Dead is sometimes better.
Why I Love It: I read this book in my early twenties. I was at university and feeling alone despite being in a house full of people. This story gave me an escape and always makes me feel cozy.
I love that characters in this story, my favourite being the old neighbour Jud. All the characters in this story feel well thought out, real and sympathetic. The main character and narrator Louis’ voice rings clear and you really feel for him when his son dies and he has to make his decision, even when he makes a horrible decision you understand why he does it and you really hope it will work for him, even though you know it won’t.
Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite
Synopsis: the story of a teenage vampire and his journey to find his family.
Why I Love It: I was always the odd one out in secondary school, I grew up in a very small town and all my friends were very mainstream aka they thought I was weird because of my tastes in books, music etc and I was teased relentlessly. To say I felt isolated and vulnerable was an understatement. When I went to a slightly larger town for college, I met people with the same interests as me and it was amazing. I always think of that first year at college as one of the happiest years of my life.
During that year, a boy I liked gave me this book. The vampires in Poppy Z Brite’s novel are nothing like traditional vampires, they are not humans who became vampires they are their own sperate species and as they age they become visually more like traditional vampires. Their supernatural powers are thin on the ground beyond healing, strength and sharp senses. It’s a refreshing take on the vampire and I loved it.
At The Mountains of Madness by H P Lovecraft
Synopsis: A group of scholars set out on an expedition to Antarctica, where they discover ancient ruins and a dangerous secret, beyond a range of mountains.
Why I Love It: Who doesn’t love a good Lovecraft tale! But this one has a special place in my heart as it was the first one, I read. I was probably in my late teen’s early twenties; I struggle to remember. But this story was the reason I became obsessed with Lovecraftian horror to the point where I have tattoos and everything 😊. Oh, the existential dread.
I love the atmosphere that Lovecraft creates in his stories, the sense of aww and impending doom that he manages to weave into ever sentence.
Phantoms by Dean Koontz
Synopsis: Jenny and Lisa, two sisters, return to Jenny’s hometown of Snowfield only to find the entire town empty, save for a few mutilated bodies left behind. The manner of the disappearance is unsettling as it seems the town was taken without any warning or struggle on the part of the victims.
Why I Love It: This is another childhood one. My mum was a great inspiration when it came to reading horror. She had shelves upon shelves of books and this was one of the first ‘grown up’ books she gave me to read myself.
I love the set up for this story, the build of suspense and mystery that Koontz crafts is very well done. The sense of overall dread that permeates the story doesn’t dissipate, even when more and more characters arrive in the town. Usually we feel safe in a group but the sense of threat here is so well done that even when there are lots of people, they’ve identified the threat and are trying to find a way to resolve it you still have the same intensity and dread that you had when Jenny and Lisa first arrived.
I’d love to hear what stories hold a special place for you.