Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Few Treats for Halloween

Halloween's less than a week away.  Turner Classic Movies has been running a nice selection of horror films on Mondays this month, and on Halloween the channel will run a day of Hammer horror films and top off the evening with the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, THE HAUNTING, and THE INNOCENTS, as well as an hour with Stephen King talking about horror films.

But there's plenty of horror to be found on the printed page too.  In case you've missed them, you might want to check out some of the following short story collections.  Why short stories?  Well, we drop bite-size treats into the kids' Halloween bags when they come to the door -- same principle. 

There's no real need to remind anyone to check out the work of Stephen King or Ray Bradbury or Shirley Jackson this time of year.  If you've missed King's collection NIGHT SHIFT or Bradbury's THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, or Jackson's THE LOTTERY, you're cheating yourself.  But unless you're a devoted fan of horror year-round and not just on Halloween, you may have missed some of the following.

NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS, by Fritz Leiber.  The first collection by the writer who brought the tale of supernatural horror into the modern urban setting.  Try for one of the later editions that includes the classic chiller "The Girl with Hungry Eyes."  The later collections SMOKE GHOST and THE BLACK GONDOLIER include several of the stories from NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS as well as newer and equally chilling pieces.

DUEL, and NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET, by Richard Matheson; and THE HOWLING MAN, by Charles Beaumont.  You know their work even if you don't recognize their names.  Matheson is the author of I AM LEGEND, SOMEWHERE IN TIME, THE SHRINKING MAN and others.  Beaumont and Matheson were responsible for many of the original TWILIGHT ZONE's most memorable episodes, and these three collections are perfect Halloween reading for any fan of that series.

Classic supernatural fiction can be found free in ebook form these days.  M. R. James's GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY, for instance, or stories by E. F. Benson, Oliver Onions, Algernon Blackwood and others are available at the Kindle store or at sites like

There are several excellent treasuries of horror stories available; anyone looking for terrific Halloween reading should find a copy of the Modern Library collection GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL, and David Hartwell's THE DARK DESCENT.  Both are nice survey collections, spanning the history of short horror fiction from its early days through modern times, and Hartwell's (the newer of the two) offers work by contemporary writers such as Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, and Charles Grant. 

I've mentioned Kealan Patrick Burke and James Everington in this space before; their collections THE 121 TO PENNSYLVANIA and THE OTHER ROOM (by Burke & Everington respectively) are highly recommended for the season as well.  In particular, Burke's "Empathy" is one of the most frightening short stories I've read in years. 


Brief commercial:
I've put five short stories into a collection called FIVE OF THE HAUNTED.  The stories ("The Point," "The Old Neighborhood," "The Back Row of the Balcony," "Passenger," and "Anonymity") are all available separately at Amazon's Kindle store, Smashwords, and other retailers at 99 cents each.  FIVE OF THE HAUNTED gathers them into one ebook at the bargain price of $1.50.  Give it a look if you get a chance.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Digital Divide Just Got a Bit Narrower

    Much of the buzz surrounding the announcements of Amazon's new Kindle devices is understandably focused on the tablet device, the $199 Kindle Fire.  Overlooked a bit is the low-end model, a bare-bones wi-fi ready, e-ink screen Kindle that can be had for as little as $79.  A decent pair of Nikes will set you back more than that.
    For as little as that, you get an electronic bookcase that can hold more than a thousand ebooks.
    Of course, there's still the matter of content.  Getting the books to put in the bookcase will cost plenty, though, right?  Well, that's true if the content you want consists of new books.  But think for a minute about content that isn't current.
    One of the country's premier liberal arts colleges is St. John's, with campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe.  It's known as The Great Books College -- every student goes through the same curriculum, and the reading list is a demanding one.  For a look at the list go to
    The education you'd get at a college like St. John's will come from class discussion of the readings as well as from the books themselves, but the readings form the heart of it.
    Just for fun, pick some titles from the reading list and search for them in the Amazon Kindle store; sort the results of your searches by price-low-to-high.  You'll find that there are free editions available for quite a few of these titles.  If you search for the contents of the Encyclopaedia Britannica's Great Books of the Western World set (54 volumes in its earlier edition, and 60 volumes in the more recent incarnation; for a list of titles included go to, you'll find a number of the titles included in that set also have free editions available in the Kindle store.  A search for many of the books listed in titles like How to Read a Book or The Lifetime Reading Plan, or included in sets like the Harvard Classics, will also show a number of free editions.
    Not that long ago, building a home library of the classics would mean shelling out for sets like the Great Books, or purchasing a large number of paperbacks from the Penguin Classics (or Signet, or Bantam, or Modern Library), or scrounging for the titles you wanted in used book shops and library sale tables.  The process would still set you back hundreds of dollars, and maybe a thousand or more, or cost you a long time searching for your books in second-hand sources.  It's possible now to gather a lot of that material in a weekend with an under-$100 ebook reader.
    We've hit the point where almost anyone who really wants to can have available for study at his own pace most of the core titles of western civilization, for about what you'd pay for a pair of running shoes.  That's not the same as actually getting the reading done, of course, but the material just became even more widely accessible than it already was.  A few weeks back, I posted some comments about Cornelius Hirschberg's book on independent learning The Priceless Gift; Hirschberg's account of his own self-education is must reading for the lifelong learner, and the methods he used (as well as quite a few of the books he used) are still appropriate for use today.  If memory serves, Hirschberg died in 1995 so he didn't live to see the ebook revolution really get under way, but I'd bet he would have loved it.

Brief commercial: I've put another short story, "Passenger," up at Amazon and Smashwords (from where it should find its way to Sony, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble some time soon).  Give it a look if you get a chance.