I want this to be a platform for EVERYONE within the horror community; authors, publishers, bloggers, reviewers, actors, directors, artists. I could go on, if you work in the genre then you are more than welcome to apply for the job.
For the sake of Twitter characters and in looking for something a little more punchy, I’ve now decided to call this feature The Graveyard Shift. (#GraveyardShift)
The rules are quite simple…
You are invited to imagine yourselves as warden for an old graveyard, and choose eight books, preferably horror/dark genre, to take with you to cover your shift; here you can discuss why you chose the books.
As well as the books, wardens are allowed one song/album to listen to. Again, an explanation for this choice is required.
You must also discuss one luxury item you can bring, which must be inanimate and not allow communication.
If you’d like to take part in The Graveyard Shift then please submit an application to firstname.lastname@example.org
A new shift is about to begin. The warden is…
THE NEW ANNOTATED DRACULA by Bram Stoker
Everyone needs popcorn fiction – salty, buttery, fattening, just for fun reads. Despite its standing in the horror community, Stoker’s Dracula is just that. It’s a fun story but incommensurability aside, the book is a midnight movie, which for me, makes it one of the best kind. That said, this specific edition includes a vast array of bonus features. It’s the most complete Dracula possible. The annotations by Klinger add to the narrative, especially when illuminating aspects of the story that might be lost on a modern audience, or people simply unfamiliar with London, turn of the century travel, etc. Yet, even more so, the annotations mention ideas put forth by some who seem to be under the impression Dracula may’ve been based on real events. This adds an almost second narrative to the story creating two books in one, while subtracting nothing from the original text.
THE CRYING OF LOT 49 by Thomas Pynchon
This book touches everything important – history, pop culture, music, the postal system, love and how to avoid it, Jacobean revenge plays. Like many Pynchon stories describing the plot would do it a disservice. Suffice it to say an ordinary woman named Oedipa Maas becomes involved in a historical mystery concerning an underground postal network that might not even exist. As the story unfolds, history blends with fiction in such a way that everyday banal existence begins dripping with possibilities. Secret worlds seem to hide in plain sight. The truly insane are those who appear normal, and paranoia is the byproduct of being too well informed. Still, there’s humor aplenty, sometimes in the form of puns and dad jokes that’ll induce extreme eye rolls, but that keeps things from getting too serious in a look at what makes society, particularly American culture, the way that it is.
MOBY DICK by Herman Melville
No, I didn’t pick this to please my high school English teacher. First off, I’ll admit this book is a hard read. The trick is one chapter a day and even then, it’s still a mountain climb. Yet therein lies a sense of purpose. In that regard, many people fail to appreciate what this novel offers. Beyond the Sparknote shallows regarding humanity versus nature and the destructiveness of obsession lies a vast ocean of potential interpretation. As such, Moby Dick is about suicide and depression. Two things I’m overly familiar with for various reasons, not least of which is a struggle with the latter. The story opens with Ishmael openly stating that he gets a job as a sailor whenever he contemplates killing himself; that his time at sea always pulls him out of the depths of depression. Something everyone desires at some point.
NIGHTWOOD by Djuna Barnes
Nightwood is a piece of prose that borders on becoming poetry. This flirtation with another form, which it perhaps should’ve dove into, parallels the struggles of its main characters. A collection of outcasts and misfits in Europe find themselves drawn together even as they push one another away. It isn’t that the main characters are cynical, or truly seek isolation. However, they seem estranged from existence, and can’t find what will complete them in another. There’s an emotional honesty to the story, and wherever the prose feels incomplete, it mirrors what’s missing in the main characters. In many ways, Nightwood predates the existential drama associated with Camus. It also shines a light on the social conventions that deny many a chance at happiness.
MUMBO JUMBO by Ishmael Reed
This is a hallucinatory journey through the 1920s. Reed crafted a seamless blend of history and fiction that brings magic into the world. Something the book insists is the result of culture and its creative outlets. In it, African-American culture and the art it inspires is conjuring a mystical virus called “Jes Grew” which though it’s changing things for the better is despised by the establishment, particularly a shadowy organization hoping to stop the spread of polytheistic thinking, jazz music, and freedom. Employing various conventions to tell the tale, the text is never just plain words on a page. It’s almost multiple formats simultaneously telling one story (e.g. movie script, academic review, etc.). Mumbo Jumbo is a thought-provoking read with a surreal aspect that sinks a syringe full of Je Grew into any reader’s eye.
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS by Hunter S. Thompson
Madness never looked like so much fun. Yet, there’s a cautionary aspect to this gonzo narrative. What seems at first a celebration of excess soon proves to be a story about how such things are really an attempt to numb a deep pain. Comical at times, the portraits painted in these pages depict the death of the American dream, the failure of the counterculture movement, and an almost inevitable ennui haunting most Americans. Though the book does suggest an escape from such realities is to dive into the fountain of excess and swim for the bottom. At least, that’s what everyone’s already doing to more easily accept reality. This is a scathingly honest book that inflicts its wounds so kindly a reader takes each with a smile. It’s beautiful in its oddity. Reading it is like meeting that person who doesn’t consider you weird because (insert personal weirdness).
PACO’S STORY by Larry Heinemann
Full disclosure, I got the pleasure of learning how to write from Larry Heinemann. So, naturally, I gave his book a chance. This is a ghost story unlike any other. It concerns the lone survivor of a disastrous battle in Vietnam. The subsequent events of his life are recounted by the ghosts of his dead compatriots. Anything anyone ever needed to know about writing is in this book. Even more important is the way it creeps up on a reader. The read delivers swift and sudden insights into the human condition that can be haunting or heartwarming. It encapsulates the struggle to find peace after something horrific changes a person at the core, while seemingly offering the idea solace is found in returning to the mundane. There’s peace in a quiet life, and many don’t realize how good they have it until something like war rips it away.
THE CALL OF CTHULU AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES by H. P. Lovecraft
Horror will always be a love of mine. It was the first thing my parents denied me access to which I managed to get at behind their back. Essentially, my first successful acts of rebellion involved seeing horror movies. As such, when my father gave me this book it suggested the boundaries might be shifting. The tales inside constituted an attempt to bridge the gap between us, and though it didn’t succeed, I appreciated the effort. Nostalgia aside, it proved an excellent choice. As a trained historian, there’s something about the clunky prose of Lovecraft that always gave it an unsettling realism. The stories come across like historical documents not fiction. Furthermore, cosmic horror is an easy thing for any nihilistically inclined person to enjoy. Here are tales of worlds, knowledge, and creatures most avoid and where safety is found in the strange bliss of delirious madness.
RAIN DOGS by Tom Waits
This album speaks to the pulp fiction lover in me. Every song is a story. Images painted by lyrics some would never compose in a lifetime of genius – “Rain Dogs” never fails to inspire feelings. It provides the perfect soundtrack to any dive bar as well as the songs needed to fall in or out of love, and into a life of giddy failure; that expatriate life of excess and depravity waiting for a femme fatale to invite away to the grave. The bluesy elements get sung in celebration, while the wine lasts, and the musical tongues seem descended from Babel, a buffet guaranteed to leave every ear satisfied. A song for every mood even if that means burning down a lover’s garage, tossing a bomb in the boss’s home, or holding hands in the dark.
Antibiotics may be more beneficial to society, but nothing beats the ability to channel water into a private waterfall. Temperature controlled at the twist of a dial – only people who’ve lived without such a convenience can truly appreciate the significance. I once lived in a Chicago apartment with no hot water in the winter, so being able to produce a steaming column forever feels like a blessing. Plus, pardon the prosaic poetics, but one can truly wash off a day. Miserable moments at work, bad dates, pointless arguments rinse away down the drain. Additionally, as a performer of spoken word, poetry, and a singer, nothing beats rehearsing in the shower, especially as warm water, with its almost amniotic quality, relaxes muscles aching from carrying a meat sack through a long day – watch it vanish down the drain.
J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog www.honestyisnotcontagious.com and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.