While pondering the frightening stories I’ve read over the years I realized that scary is not the same thing to all people. Some might find terror in a Stephen King novella, a supernatural thriller or an installment in the Laurell K. Hamilton vampire hunter series. The most chilling read I’ve experienced, however, is a non-fiction account of American politics, Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America by Molly Ivins and Lou DuBose.
You may not want to know that enormous hog farms throughout the U.S. can generate as much sewage as New York City, and that such farms do not include sewage treatment plants, but Bushwhacked will not allow you to remain ignorant. I find this fecal surfeit more spine-chilling than any dung-free haunted mansion. And waste management is just one of the many topics the authors tackle, ranging from the Enron scandal to joblessness, the educational system and American imperialism. It’s not “The killer’s in the house!” scary, but rather scary like “The idiot’s in the White House and his actions affect generations of Americans!” After reading this informative book, it’s impossible to see modern American life in the same light.
A far different kind of scary is found in the ghastly music of The Shaggs. Picture three sisters from a small town coerced by their zealot father (who believed that he was fulfilling a prophecy made by his long-dead mother) to form a band, perform weekly at the town hall, and record an album. All without having a modicum of talent! The sisters could barely play their instruments, could not hold a steady tempo, created odd song structures, and wrote lyrics that were, um, quaint. Yet they recorded an album in 1969, one that is hailed by some as the worst record of all time. In more recent years a loyal fan base has arisen made up of followers who find something charming about the innocence and lack of pretense in the sisters’ music. Sadly, their album is long out of print, so you’re on your own to experience a “Help, my ears are bleeding and I’m very confused!” scary listen. But you can read about The Shaggs in the book The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean.
A truly scary lifestyle is revealed in Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life. In fact, reading this book may even scare you out of your britches (which would make you decidedly similar in an unhaberdashed sort of way to Ms. Handler). Unafraid to reveal embarrassing bits of her life, the author recounts amusing and cringe-worthy episodes involving one-night stands and drunkenness. The sheer volume of stories (and hence volume of partners) overwhelms the senses and, although the writing is hilarious, it becomes disturbing to absorb the existence that Handler reveled in. A genuinely “Save me from myself!” scary read.
If you’re looking for a more traditional scary book, try Allison Hewitt is Trapped: A Zombie Novel by Madeleine Roux. As with any good zombie story, a catastrophe turns most people into zombies who try to kill the few remaining survivors. The story is told as a series of blogs written by one of those survivors, Allison Hewitt. As she attempts to find her mother and a safe living place, we learn of her struggles as well as those of other survivors who comment on her blog. The format is interesting and the story is quite suspenseful in a “Wah, there’s a zombie behind you!” sort of way.
So hold onto your bonnet and read away!