Scary Stories to Read on the Beach
We’ve had a few weeks of humid, sultry days. I’ve been enjoying a spooky re-read of The Diviners, preparing to dig into the sequel Lair of Dreams (my biggest must-read from this year’s Book Expo.) Re-reading The Diviners, I’m reminded how much I enjoyed the story. It’s a creepy novel set in the 1920’s. It has the allure of magic and the supernatural, a great ensemble cast that captures New York in the era of the flapper, the enticing chill of a ghost story, and some frankly squeamish gory scenes of menace and murder.
Reading on bright, sunny days, or humid, stormy evenings, I remember the first time I read The Diviners. It was in the summer, two years ago, so I had the same juxtaposition of humid days and horrifying, spooky reading. It got me thinking about how much I enjoy that juxtaposition. I love reading a dark, spooky mystery on a bright, sunny day. I don’t know exactly whether the disconnect between my atmosphere and the book amplifies, or tames the creepy feeling to just the right degree. (Not going to lie, I can be a coward and a wimp when it comes to scary, violent books and movies. I still remember how many lights I had on in the apartment the night I finished The Alienist.) Maybe there’s just enough disconnect between the story and my surroundings to make the thrill satisfying, rather than nightmare inducing.
I still remember the first time I enjoyed a truly scary book on a beach. It was The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and I was on a Caribbean beach. The contrast between the dazzling blue ocean and the slowly building menace of Hill House made the whole reading experience so much better. It was like a piano solo injecting sweetness into a gritty rock ballad, dark chocolate with the kick of sea salt or chili, or wearing bright pink argyle socks with a sharp business suit (those who know me will know just how much I like that last juxtaposition in particular.) The slight disconnect between the two moods makes the overall mood better.
And then there was the beach vacation where I read nothing but murder and crime novels. And it was great. If a bit unplanned. After the fact, I felt slightly ghoulish.
I know Beach Reads can be marketed as their own, relatively narrow genre. Over at Book Riot, Jessi Lewis makes several good points on that score:
But, let’s pause for a moment and think about how utterly distracting the “beach read” term is in a bookstore. It’s interesting to see that it’s not just “light reading” the beach label is working with– you also have an excess of travel lit, a lack of tragic historical, a great and overwhelming fiction theme that includes the sun on covers, and many violent thrillers that end in chase scenes. Not that chase scenes are bad plot elements, but it’s rough when a seasonal formula defines the plot lines of books.
Speaking of the seasonal formula for book genres and marketing, this gets me thinking, also, of my book reviewing days for the Star-Ledger. Fran the editor would send over a wonderful pile of ghostly and ghoulish reads for me to write about for an October publication date. And the timing usually worked perfectly for that sweet spot of a dark, spooky read on a bright, sunny day as summer wound itself down. Stretched out in a hammock to read about vampires looming out of the shadows. Rattling the cubes in my sweating glass of iced tea when the suspense of the story made me jump.
I tend to think of scary stories as Not My Thing, and to avoid reading them unless given a book to review.
But I need to remember just how much a good scare hits the sweet spot for me on a warm, summer day.