Wednesday, October 31, 2012

on a dark and stormy night.

Listening To: Caleb Meyer by Gillian Welch

Happy Halloween Beauties & Beastlies! And hugs to you sweet people on the East Coast. I'm sending lots of thoughts and prayers your way today. If any of you were affected by the storm, will you holler in the comments and let us know how you're doing? 

I'm wrangling with some deadlines today, trying to flatten them before they flatten me. But I couldn't resist dropping in to say hello. And to talk about Halloween! I'm a big fan of Fall and candy and creepy-gorgeous books. Tis the season! 

I'm sure most of you have thrilling Halloween plans already. But if you, like me, are staying home tonight and gorging on candy, I thought I'd share some of my other favorite Halloween treats: 

First, some of my favorite Spooktastic Halloween Reads:

For Kids: 
- Only a Witch Can Fly by Alison McGhee. 
Sparse prose and beautiful illustrations; a lovely book for a windy night. 

- The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda D. Williams. 
I adore this book. It's written in such a way that early readers could a.) read it on their own without much help or b.) still enjoy having it read to them. But my favorite thing about it is the actual message, which isn't overdone at all. When I was little (and even now), I went through long seasons of very intense nightmares. I think lots of people with overactive imaginations probably do. As a kid, frequent nightmares are tough to deal with. 

So my mom (she's brilliant) would always ask me to tell her about my bad dream, and then we'd imagine it ending a new way, a better way that was usually something funny. And it always worked. This book is similar to that; faced with all manner of scary-crazy (like a floating pumpkin head, for example), the little old lady pretty much just shrugs her shoulders and makes something funny or good out of her scary situation. She picks her own outcome, and proves that just because you battle little moments of fear doesn't mean you have to live in fear. It's a very little book with a very powerful little message. 

For Middle Grade Readers: 

- Coraline by Neil Gaiman. 
You can read it easily in one night and, true to Mr. Gaiman's style, the prose is gorgeous and the story is wonderful. I think The Other Mother is one of the best villians in children's literature. Fact: I had a dream the other night - that I got an email saying Neil Gaiman had donated $15,000 to my Kickstarter campaign. And I called my BFF freaking out like, "But I don't have a kickstarter campaign!!!" And she was like, "...think of one quick!" That was a bizarrely funny dream in retrospect. Anyway! 

- The Witches by Roald Dahl. 
The movie version is okay, but don't judge the book by the movie. If the film is all you know of this, erase the movie from your mind, and go find the book. Because Roald Dahl's books are artforms. I have been enchanted by his writing since I was a little girl, but I don't think I appreciated his mastery of craft until I read his stories as a grown-up. He's fearless with his writing. And he never hesitates to bring his characters face-to-face with some seriously scary monsters, effortlessly transforming very ordinary kids into extraordinary heroes. All the while, his language is whimsical, playful and bright. He's a fascinating man to read about too, if you enjoy reading about authors. (I highly recommend this.) 

The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell. 
This is a gorgeous, gothic murder-mystery set in an old mansion. Not so scary that kids will have nightmares over it, but just creepy enough to keep you (or.. uh..them ;) up late guessing the outcome. Great twists, strange riddles, fun discoveries, a wonderful, smart little hero named Clara, and a lot of magic. The writing is so lovely. 

Line Obsession: "I am going to give you a chance to prove yourself, heart." she declared, tapping herself on the chest. "you survived an outing among the living, and you'll do it again."

- The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Lofitn. 
A modern update of Hansel and Gretel (though I would compare the vibe/writing-style more to stories like Coraline and The Witches) that's charming, sad, delightful, scary and so beautifully written. Definitely one of my favorite books this year. I've already recommended it so many times. (Keep a bowl of candy at your disposal when you read this one ;)

For Kids at Heart ;):

- The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab. 
The "witchy" part is what made me stick it on my Halloween list, but this book is a great book for any cold, dark, scary night. It's fantasy; a fairy-tale about a brave girl and a beautiful boy and a dangerous old legend. And without being too heavy-handed, the book subtly picks away at small town infrastructures; how people crutch on rumors and fear so easily. And how they hold so tightly to old traditions that they're blinded by them. It's a lovely read. 

- Jane by April Lindner. 
This is an update of Jane Eyre with one of my favorite YA covers ever. The stuff between the covers is the best part though. If you like Jane Eyre, you'll probably like this book. If you think Rochester is a crazy old cry-baby, you won't like it. (And, as always, just assume books that are classified as YA might have mature language and make-out moments and etc. Those elements only stand out to me if they don't fit with the story. But I'm a big believer that you shouldn't have to defend why you don't want to read something, regardless of the reason. That said, there is absolutely no way I can know if your parents are okay with certain books.) One of my favorite things about this book is the love for music that permeates every page. Even the prose even has a rock-song edge to it. Punchy in some places, dreamy and slow in other parts. 

- Wuthering Heights by Miss Bronte. 
Have we ever talked about Wuthering Heights? Heathcliff is a tool, truly.
He's crazy and possessive and kind of a jerk and, if he were real, I can't imagine any girl who would be into him. Because he is justifiably nuts. 

SighAnd yet ... in written form ... I think he's entirely captivating. The fact that Catherine, essentially, takes care of him from the time they're kids ... that he was horribly mistreated by everybody but her ... that nobody loved him but her ... that she brings out both kindness and tenderness and the-crazy-go-nuts in him ... it makes for an amazing story. The characters do it for me. Heathcliff is wild, and I think he would have been wild even if he hadn't been treated so horribly. In a society and culture where "well-mannered" and "well-bread" were everything, Heathcliff had shaggy hair and dirty fingernails and a passionate, volatile temper. He thrashed against society's conventions until they shattered. He's kind an unheroic hero, maybe? The landscape is almost another character in this story; howling winds and storms and an unforgiving, rocky earth that almost constantly call out to him, compelling him to BE the wild thing he occasionally tries to fight down. Eventually, he gives in to it. And in the end, he's more of a monster than a handsome prince. Do you love him? Have sympathy for him? Hate him? All of the above? Is he desperately in love with Catherine or just obsessed with her? Or are love and obsession the same, inevitably? 

(Thought: As much as he's stereotyped for being some Byronic female ideal, I think Hethcliff is also kinda similar to type of character Jack London liked to write ... men who feel drawn to nature, who feel shackled by society's attempts to tame them, who absolutely crumble when they're confined: by walls, by ceilings, by expectations. Just a little? Maybe?) 

Wuthering Heights never claims to be a manual for how to have a healthy relationship. It's a novel, and it requires some suspension of believability. I can give it that. The characters are fascinating. And even though my BFF-Sarah will forever make fun of me, the MTV remake is still my favorite update so far. I think you can watch the whole MTV version on YouTube now, but I'll warn you that it's WAY cheesy and, also, way awesome

Film adaptations err on Wuthering Heights, I think, with their Heathcliff casting/styling. Lots of great actors have played Heathcliff - including Voldemort and BANE, for crying out loud. But I think it's hard for lots of guys to look creepy and, simultaneously, look attractive. Understandable. This is why Mike Vogel is my clear champion of all things Heathcliffery. His crazy-eyes are more subtle. This is especially cool to see in a movie/story where things are typically very dramatically overblown (because it's not just the movies that are melodramatic; the book is very heavy-handed with the angst). In this version, Heathcliff seems more genuinely wounded. There's even an endearing sweetness that surfaces sometimes and - my favorite part - is that he's also brilliantly socially awkward. In the MTV version, unlike any other version I've seen, you feel awkward for Heathcliff when he's trying to interact with a world he absolutely has no clue how to be part of. It's like he's in pain when he tries to socialize people, like he loves Catherine (or "Kate" in this) not just because she's "the one" but also because there's absolutely nobody else he understands how to connect with. That's a very cool interpretation of that character. 

Also, he's gorgeous. In other movies, Heathcliff always has a mullet. Or some derivative thereof. It did nothing for gents in the olden days, just as it does nothing for them now. 

Fastforward to the 5:37 mark and see my favorite Heathcliff. The six minute mark, when he's on the motorcycle, is also fab. Happy Halloween, right? That's how it's done. Well played, MTV. (I'll repeat: this is not Oscar-worthy acting or storytelling. It's just fun. Like, if you like CW shows ... you'll have fun with this one.) 

My friend Ruth tells me that April Lindner, who wrote Jane, is also writing a remake of Wuthering Heights called Catherine. It releases in 2013. I can't wait to read it!

- "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allen Poe. My granny used to quote this poem to me when I was little. I'd ask her to tell me a story and she'd sit on the edge of the bed and quote Annabel Lee from memory. I love the way her voice rasped around words.  

- "Instructions" by Neil Gaiman. 
My Creepy-Lovely Playlist: 
The Curse (Josh Ritter) (When he introduced this song in his live show, he called it "a love song about New York"), 
Caleb Meyer (Gillian Welch), 
Thriller (Ben Gibbard), 
20 Years (The Civil Wars), 
Barton Hollow (The Civil Wars), 
The Scientist (Coldplay), 
I See Monsters (Ryan Adams), 
Good Night, Travel Well (The Killers), 
Breath of Life (Florence + the Machine), 
Lifetime (Better than Ezra), 
Whisky Lullaby (Brad Paisley & Alison Krauss)

My favorite spooky movie: Wait Until Dark, featuring Audrey Hepburn. This is one of the few movies that actually made me nearly-scream OUT LOUD. It's that awesome. It's not gory at all (I rarely find "gore" scary ... I just think it's gory). But it's suspenseful and intense and so, so smart. I didn't even want to blink. And, of course, Hocus Pocus is classic. 

And then there's this. Which is lovely too:

If you feel like playing along in the comments, I'd love to know: 
What's your favorite spooky read? Song? Movie? 
Also, if you could dress up like any literary character, who would it be? I'll leave my answer in the comments too. 

I'm off to eat more candy do some more work. Have a lovely Halloween! Be safe!


  1. I love Halloween! One of my most favorite holidays for sure. What a great idea for a festive post! I have already done all my dressing up for this year (as none other than Lady Sybil Crawley) at parties and such. Tonight I will watch "spooky" tv and eat lots of candy. And prepare myself for the hundreds of trick or treaters! (Seriously, we average about 400 every year.) Annabel Lee is my most favorite poem of all time. I always try to make time for Poe when it becomes October. And I love Coraline as well. I personally adore dumb Halloween episodes. They've always been my favorite. Happy Halloween!

  2. I just read The Witches the other day and loved it. :) Especially the first half or so. Roald Dahl is amazing! And by the way, I had no idea there was even a movie adaptation until I was scanning reviews on Goodreads and people kept mentioning it. I don't know how I missed that, but I'm going to see it soon.

    I also read The Aviary this year and really liked it. I *need* to read Coraline!

    I am one of those people who doesn't like Heathcliff. At all. I love Jane Eyre, and even though Mr. Rochester makes some bad decisions and is a bit wild himself, he has redeeming qualities. And I've got to have that in a character. So when I read Wuthering Heights, I was somehow expecting it to be a bit Jane Eyreish (I know Charlotte and Emily are two different people, but you know...). I read it once and I don't think I'll ever read it again. I think it's depressing and full of unlikable characters (a bit like The Casual Vacancy *cough* :). I've seen the '98 version but mostly because of Matthew Macfadyen. I love him. :)

    As far as spooky movies, nothing creeps me out more than Hitchcock films. Rear Window, Psycho, and The Birds are the scariest in my opinion.


  3. Halloween books:

    Wuthering Heights, definitely. At first, when I read this nook, I just felt severely irritated with both Cathy and Heathcliff. They drove me nuts! But after finishing the novel, I actually found myself sympathizing with Heathcliff. Like you said, no one, besides Cathy, ever loved him or treated him with care. And for him to have that one person he loved so much, who was just as confused and misguided as he was, turn to someone else for love, had to have driven him out of his mind.

    The Near Witch, also a fabulous one.

    Harry Potter, numero one. So magical, so adventurous.

    Jane sounds fantastic!! I really need to read that! :)


    The Nightmare Before Christmas
    The Corpse Bride
    Hocus Pocus
    Jane Eyre (with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender)

  4. What a fun post :) I absolutely love reading your book recommendations, you have a talent for writing reviews!

    I'm a big fan of Wuthering Heights, even with its broken characters. I think you're exactly right: "Wuthering Heights never claims to be a manual for how to have a healthy relationship. It's a novel, and it requires some suspension of believability." Once I realized that the book never celebrated Heathcliff as the ideal man, I was able to sympathize with the characters. The characters are captivating when you take that perspective!

    I recently saw someone dressed up as "Pinkalicious" for Halloween and I LOVED it. As an early childhood education major, I love any excuse to celebrate children's books :)