Tag Archives: horror

It’s Alive!

It is a famous line most commonly associated with Frankenstein. This line, however, never actually appears in Mary Shelley’s ground-breaking novel. It does appear in the 1931 film version of the novel and has been associated with the story of Frankenstein ever since. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and with National Frankenstein Day fast approaching (it’s October 26th FYI) I thought it would be appropriate to showcase books exploring the impact Shelley’s novel has had on horror, science and female horror writers.

frankenstein Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

A Titan from Greek Mythology, Prometheus created man from clay and stole fire from the gods to give to man. This mythological being is an appropriate comparison to Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the “Monster”, and an apt alternate title to the novel. The original text still haunts readers today, and has never been out of print for the last 200 years. If you haven’t read the original, do so, not only will it frighten and horrify you, but it will also have you thinking and questioning the possibilities and ramifications of science today.

frankenstein2 Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years by Christopher Frayling

In his incredible book (the pictures alone are amazing), Frayling explores the origins of Frankenstein and the lasting impact the novel has had on popular culture. He has included movie stills and posters from the many film versions of the novel as well as photos of Shelley’s original manuscript. It is truly a work of art.

frankenstein3 Frankenstein: How a monster became an icon: the science and enduring allure of Mary Shelley’s creation edited by Sidney Perkowitz and Eddy Von Mueller

As a physicist and as a filmmaker, Sidney Perkowitz and Eddy Von Mueller have compiled essays from scientists, directors, artists and scholars who speak to and dissect the lasting impact of Shelley’s work on the world as well as explore what the future may hold for the legacy of Frankenstein.

frankenstein4 Frankenstein by Dean Koontz

In his five-book series Koontz takes inspiration from Shelley’s original novel and sets his in modern-day New Orleans. The first book in the series, Prodigal Son, follows Deucalian, a mysterious man who teams up with two detectives to solve a string of murders that leads back to a race of killers and their mysterious maker.

Shelley’s novel has inspired many film versions as well as TV series that include the characters from the novel. You can find many of these in our catalogue here.

Frankenstein not only has had a huge impact on popular culture but also on female writers, especially female horror writers. Many of the fantastically frightening horror writers today are women, and we owe many thanks to Mary Shelley for helping pave their way. Some of these award-winning writers are: Carmen Maria Machado, Shirley Jackson, Octavia Butler, Angela Carter, and Anne Rice, just to name a few. You can find all these women in our library catalogue. If you would like more suggestions, and a longer list of female horror writers, this article by Lithub gives you even more names to explore.

Happy Reading!

-Aileen

Scary stories to read in the dark

It’s October and cold, dark days with dreary skies have arrived…  you know what that means—the countdown to Hallowe’en has officially begun.

Short stories are one of the best ways to experience the thrill of horror fiction. Like the bite-size chocolate bars in our trick or treat bags, they deliver just the right amount of delightfully tasty fright.

If you’re new to short, terrifying fiction, start with the classics: Edwardian Englishman M.R. James and mid-century American Shirley Jackson couldn’t be more different in style or tone, but they’re both experts at grounding uncanny weirdness in the ordinary and mundane world.

 

If you like Shirley Jackson but haven’t tried Kelly Link yet, what are you waiting for? Magic for Beginners is a great place to start if you haven’t gotten the chance to sample her whimsical but deeply unsettling prose before.

 

Everyone knows Stephen King for his doorstopper-thick horror novels like The Shining and It. But I find his short stories even more frightening as they leave more unspoken, like shadows hovering in the corner of your eye. Whether you choose one of his more recent collections, like Everything’s Eventual and The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, or an earlier selection like Skeleton Crew, you’re sure to sleep with a light on that night.

Not surprisingly, King’s son Joe Hill is a master storyteller as well; check out 20th Century Ghosts for a selection of his early work.

Editor Ellen Datlow discovers and collects some of the best short horror. You won’t go wrong checking out any of the anthologies she’s put together, but my favourites are two excellent collections of modern ghost stories: The Dark and Hauntings.

Are you looking over your shoulder yet?

Danielle

Can you tell me where your Horror section is?

Multiple times a day I receive a question similar to this. If it isn’t about horror it might be about short stories or historical romance or thrillers. I would love to say to our customers “it is just right here, follow me”, however unlike book stores we do not have a section devoted specifically to horror or these other subgenres for many reasons. This is of course not to say that you can’t search for books that are horror novels, you just may have to go about it in a different way. First, you can ask our fabulous library staff who would be more than happy to find books that will scare the pants off you, or, you can browse our online catalogue at the library, on the bus or in the comfort of your own home (as long as it is not haunted).

From our online catalogue you have the power to search for these subgenres that aren’t always on display at the library, and I will show you just how to do so.

I recently finished the excellent horror novel Kill Creek by Scott Thomas. This novel was of a “haunted house” variety and I am interested in books that take place in haunted houses, or books in where a haunted house is an important aspect of the novel. How do I find more books that have haunted houses? Well there are a few ways to find them in our catalogue. One way would be to go into the record of the novel Kill Creek. From that record we see the following information: Title, Author (you can select the author’s name to find more books written by them), Publication Information and finally Subject Term. Beside and underneath “Subject Term” we have the following: Authors – Fiction. Haunted houses – Fiction. Halloween – Fiction.

killcreek2

What is so wonderful about this feature is that the books that fall under these subjects are grouped together by these subject terms. If you select “Haunted houses – Fiction.” you will be taken to a list of books that have been given this subject term.

Now this list is by no means exhaustive. Some older books don’t have these detailed records and sometimes only “Genre” is listed, but it is certainly a start. Following this, you can also look under “Genre” and go to the listing of “Horror fiction.” and find all sorts of different books under the genre horror fiction, for a much broader search result. Or, simply search “horror fiction” in the general search bar, you will get over 1800 items but you can narrow them down using the limiters on the left-hand as is shown in figure 2 below, especially if you wanted further subgenres of horror like vampires, occultism etc. Your choices are endless, but it helps seeing what subject terms we use in our catalogue to be able to find exactly what you are looking for.

killcreek4

General search bar

killcreek5

Fig. 2

 

Finally, if you really enjoyed a particular book and would like further suggestions of read-alikes, look no further than the book’s record page. Scroll down to the bottom and where the tab says “Novelist Content” simply click on it and voilà, there will be read-alike titles, authors, reviews, etc. Just like having your very own librarian at your fingertips! If you haven’t checked out NoveList, a database we subscribe to and you have free with your library card, do so! There are tons of reading suggestions that will help you find exactly what you are looking for, and with links to our catalogue it makes it easy to find and place a hold on your book.

killcreek3

Of course with anything like this, don’t hesitate to ask staff at your local library, we love to help!

-Aileen

Frightfully Good Reads

darkandstormy

October is such a wonderful time to come to the library. Not only is it Canadian Library Month and filled with programs for those of all ages, but October is the prime month where all you horror fans (or closet horror fans) receive the attention you deserve! Halloween allows us to promote some of our less-advertised collection of thriller and horror books. Reader Services staff at the Millennium library have created a wonderful display, as can be seen in the picture above and offer plenty of creepy books that will frighten, unsettle and give goosebumps to many readers. Therefore, in honour of the creepiest month of the year, here are just some authors whose books you can sink your teeth into, just be sure to leave the lights on…

Stephen King

doctorsleep

What horror list would be complete without the horror master who has written many, many (long) but amazingly creepy and unsettling books. With a recent adaptation of part 1 of his novel IT in theatres and receiving rave reviews (you should go see it, it is fantastic!), check out the source material which is just as good, though clocking in at over a thousand pages, leave yourself some time to read it. There are a few holds on this title so you may have to be patient, but if you are wanting a King fix right away, here are some more excellent and creepy books by him: Salem’s Lot, Mr. Mercedes, Doctor Sleep, Pet Sematary, Cujo, The Mist… and the list goes on. For all King titles, check here.

Joe Hill

heartbox

As the son of the horror legend Stephen King, Joe Hill had some big expectations

 

for his writing career, and he did not disappoint. Check out The Fireman about an epidemic which leads people to internally combust, and Heart-Shaped Box the story of a rockstar who purchases morbid items and finds himself owning a suit containing an old man’s spirit that will do his bidding, the suit arrives in…a heart-shaped box. Naturally, chaos ensues.

Richard Matheson

hellhouse

Did you enjoy the film I Am Legend with Will Smith? No, well you will most definitely enjoy the source material then (remember to take “based on….” With a grain of salt in movies). With all its twist and turns, you’ll be sure to keep the pages turning of this book by the venerable Richard Matheson. The author that brought us the haunted house tale Hell House and many excellent short horror stories will be sure to have you staying up late and listening to every creak you hear from your home, terrified to get out of bed.

Josh Malerman

birdbox

Josh Malerman does not have many novels out, however his novel Bird Box  which I just finished is a fantastic read! I read the review on a blog I frequent and thought the premise, just as the reviewer did, was incredibly unique. Something is causing people all over the world to go crazy; the catch though, is no one knows what this thing looks like because all who have seen it end up dead. The solution, block all the windows, bar the doors and when going outside do so blindfolded. Intrigued? I certainly was. The terror and suspense are excellent and it will have you turning pages, anxious to know what happens.

 

Scott Smith

ruins

A classic horror beginning to a surprising and unconventional novel, Smith’s The Ruins is an excellent read. University students vacationing in the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula come across Mayan ruins covered in vines, once they venture to these ruins, however, villagers block their way back and prevent them from leaving. The reason? Well, you will have to read this book to find out. Those who are squeamish may have to skip certain parts of the book as it can be a bit gory, but if you can get past that, this is an excellent horror novel that had me rapidly turning pages, and itching to finish it.

If you are wanting a collection of supernatural/haunted houses/monster stories, Ellen Datlow has edited fantastic horror compilations which can be found here.   nightmares

If these authors don’t strike your fancy, and you like something more traditional and classic, we have Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to fit your bill. (Interestingly these are all “creatures” from Universal Monsters which starred Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr., now revamped with the most recent The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, which you can place a hold on.)

Happy Reading!

Aileen

Summer Spooktacle

Summer is a time of sunshine, sand, ice cream, and s’mores around the campfire. There is nothing quite like sitting around a toasty fire while staring up at the stars, listening to the rustling of the wind in the trees while someone tells a scary story.

If you want to keep the spooky times rolling even after your summer vacation is over (if you ask me, it’s never too early to start getting ready for Halloween!), check out items in the list below, guaranteed to bring that campfire feeling into your home! Maybe leave the fire outside, though.

 The Curse of the Wendigo by Nick Yancey

In book 2 of the Monstrumologist series, Dr. Warthrop is asked by his former fiancée to rescue her husband from the Wendigo, a creature that starves even as it gorges itself on human flesh, which has snatched him in the Canadian wilderness. Although Warthrop considers the Wendigo to be fictitious, he relents and rescues her husband from death and starvation, and then sees the man transform into a Wendigo. Can the doctor and Will Henry hunt down the ultimate predator, who, like the legendary vampire, is neither living nor dead, whose hunger for human flesh is never satisfied?

If you’ve never encountered the Wendigo in your reading, it’s well worth checking this one out. It’s one of the creepiest folkloric creatures I’ve run into in my reading adventures!

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Speaking as someone who recently missed a turn and then found herself driving on a deserted highway surrounded by marsh, and then on a lonely dirt road through endless cornfields, all under a partially cloud-covered full moon, it’s no stretch of the imagination to think that you might see a ghostly figure along the side of the road.

Haunted highways are a classic amongst urban legends. You might recognize some of these popular titles: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown.

In fact, in Sparrow Hill Road, she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom.

If you’re feeling brave, feel free to bring this along as your next road trip read!

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

Killer mermaids and ghost ships, anyone?

When the Imagine Network commissioned a documentary on mermaids, they expected what they had always received before: an assortment of eyewitness reports that proved nothing, some footage that proved even less, and the kind of ratings that only came from peddling imaginary creatures to the masses. They didn’t expect actual mermaids. They certainly didn’t expect those mermaids to have teeth.

As a novella, this book is a nice, quick read, perfect for the beach!

And if you enjoy this one, keep an eye out for the next book in the series, Into the Drowning Deep.

Gravity Falls by Alex Hirsch

Twelve year-old twins Dipper and Mabel Pines are off to spend the summer with their gruff Great Uncle (‘Grunkle’) Stan who runs the tacky tourist trap, ‘Mystery Shack.’ The kids uncover mysterious surprises, unsurpassed silliness, and supernatural shenanigans lurking around every corner of the deceptively sleepy little town.

This is a fun series for younger fans of things that go bump in the night, and you just can’t go wrong with shenanigans!

Supernatural

This television series got its start in the folklore and myths that created all of the really great campfire tales. The main characters, brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, seek out and fight supernatural forces in an attempt to find their mysteriously missing father and the person or force responsible for their mother’s death. In the process, you’ll meet recognizable characters, some of whom have already appeared on this list, such as the Phantom Traveler and the Wendigo.

These are just a few of the spooky stories we have at the library, so don’t worry horror fans, you won’t run out!

Maybe you’ve got some other favourite tales that you like to share with friends. If so, leave a comment below, I’d love to know what they are!

Happy reading,

Megan

The “IT” Villain

In the small town of Derry, people are disappearing, children are being murdered. The police believe it’s some sadistic killer who’s turned their sight on the young and vulnerable. In this climate of fear the police impose a curfew, hoping that it will keep kids safe. Parents remind their children not to talk to strangers. Don’t stay out late. It’s only a matter of time before this lunatic will be caught – and eventually life will return to normal. As summer vacation begins, kids are looking forward to a well deserved break. Baseball, firecrackers, horror movies, playing with your friends – this is what it’s all about. But it’s not easy being a kid. Even though school is over, local bully Henry Bowers and his friends continue to hassle their classmates. Unfortunately, there’s a bigger problem and it’s lurking in the sewers. ‘IT’ written by Stephen King, is the story of the Loser Club, a group of kids who band together to defeat a monster and stop its killing spree.

A good antagonist isn’t necessarily evil, it’s more than that. A well written villain, has a plan, they torment, taunt, and manipulate their prey. If they aren’t careful they let their guard down and become its next victim. Stephen King brings us Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a monster who appears as a clown, which allows IT to lure children into a false sense of security, until it’s too late. This novel is responsible for introducing the scary clown, which has become part of pop culture. But why a clown? I think it’s because people either like or hate clowns – there’s no middle ground. Clowns are supposed to entertain us, they make jokes and slip on banana peels. They’re supposed to be silly not scary. You might not think anything is out of the ordinary if you see a clown handing out balloons. But it’s another thing altogether when that clown is hanging out in sewers, offering balloons to children. Once again, Stephen King takes something that’s completely normal and twists it into something horrible.

Even if you’ve never read ‘IT’ you’ve probably seen a picture of Pennywise. If an evil clown isn’t your thing, no problem – there are other reasons you should read ‘IT’. The 80s cult-classic ‘The Goonies’ and Netflix’s hit series ‘Stranger Things’, are heavily influenced by Stephen King and this novel. First of all, it features a group of kids who are the main protagonists. Second, these characters embark on an adventure to defeat a terrible antagonist. It is their camaraderie and love for one another forges a powerful bond which is vital to their success and their survival. The fact that these kids, against all odds, would band together to kill a monster is unbelievable. But it’s also awesome. Is there anyone else, other than a group of childhood best friends, that would set out to kill a monster? (Apparently all the adults are busy.)

Stephen King has written fifty four novels as well as almost two hundred short stories; however, ‘IT’ is one of his best known novels. For more than thirty years ‘IT’ has terrified readers, and coming this September the movie will be released. Come see what the fuss is about and remember, “We all float down here.”

 

Long Live the King

Books are a uniquely portable magic.

Stephen King

If you were to walk into almost any library or bookstore, odds are you’ll find most of the shelf space for the K authors is given over to books written by Stephen King. Not only does he tend to write long books, he has written a lot of books. For better or worse, Stephen King has ruled the realm of popular fiction for decades, and he shows no signs of stepping down from his throne anytime soon.

Stephen Kingcarrie officially started his writing career in the late 1960’s, submitting short stories to magazines to supplement his salary as a worker in an industrial laundry. His first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974. It was a runaway success, so much so that Stephen was able to write full time for a living, and he hasn’t looked back since. Although a lot about his life has changed since his first book was published, King still lives in Maine most of the year, he’s still an avid baseball fan, and he’s still giving a lot of people nightmares.

standOne of my favourite bits of King trivia is that he met his wife while they were both working in a university library. Coincidentally, I too first encountered him in a library, although in my case it was my school library, while I was skipping out on an inter-mural floor hockey tournament. Up until then, my only exposure to Stephen King was through the television ad for the movie version of The Shining, which scared the pants off me. To this day I don’t know why I picked up that copy of The Stand, but I did, and I’ve been hooked every since.

itI’m the first to admit that his books aren’t the greatest literature, and I don’t enjoy everything he’s written. But there’s something about the vast stories he’s able to create, and the basic humanity of his characters, that keeps me coming back for more. I prefer his ridiculously long books – It, Under the Dome, and my all-time favourite, The Talisman, to his short story collections.

There’s something about his writing that reminds me of the really gruesome original versions of classic fairy tales, where the world is a dark and scary place filled with wolves that eat grandmothers alive, and wicked queens that demand the hearts of children. In those stories, even though terrible things happened, the characters who were clever, strong and brave came through in the end. These stories were originally told as morality tales, to introduce children to the concept of good and evil. talismanIn that regard, there are a lot of similarities between the stories told by the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Stephen King. The monsters in Stephen King’s books are sometimes supernatural, sometimes human, and horrible things happen to good people, but at the end of the day evil is defeated by the powers of good. Ultimately, I have to turn to Stephen King’s own words to explain why his books appeal to me and to so many other readers: “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”

-Lori

 

 

 

Top Spooky Picks of 2016

“I could make you scared, if you want me to.” The Tragically Hip

Halloween is just around the corner, so maybe you’re in the mood for something a little creepy or spooky to curl up with this evening?

Here are some of the most popular HORROR novels published in 2016.

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

disappearance-devils-rock1

You know you’ve made it as a horror novelist when Stephen King says your book “scared the living hell” out of him. Even though this book’s title sounds like it belongs in the Hardy Boys series, it is a dark tale about the disappearance of 13 year old Tommy Sanderson and the ensuing search to find him. Steeped in the history and lore of New England, this book would satisfy those of us who binge-watched Stranger Things on Netflix over the summer and tide us over until season 2 of that series is released.

the-fireman[1]The Fireman by Joe Hill

I already wrote a separate blog post about this great thriller back in June, so I won’t say too much more here. If a post-apocalyptic world resulting from an epidemic of spontaneous combustion is your thing, I highly recommend this read. Also, it’s written by Stephen King’s son, who is rapidly emerging as a force of nature in his own right.

 

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

51txibafxxl-_sx327_bo1204203200_1

This is the English language debut of the best-selling Dutch novelist, Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Here’s the premise: a picturesque town in the Hudson Valley, Black Spring, is ACTUALLY HAUNTED by the Black Rock Witch, a 17th century woman who has her eyes and mouth sewn shut. The witch moves among the townspeople, and has become almost accepted as a part of life there. The power of the hex is that no one is ever allowed to leave the town, and legend has it if the stitches are ever cut open, everyone in the town will die. The town elders have quarantined the town to prevent the spread of the hex, but some teens are starting to question the legend. It’s a great mix of the supernatural intermingled with every day small town life.

End of Watch by Stephen King

end_of_watch_rev_lr1

Okay, so technically this one isn’t a HORROR novel, but it’s Stephen King so I felt like I should include it. It’s actually the third book in a trilogy with retired police detective Bill Hodges, so if I were you I’d go back and read the first two, Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, before tackling this one. And yes, elements of the supernatural weave their way into this third book so I feel okay recommending it.

Happy reading and Happy Halloween, everybody!

Trevor

Enough Clowning Around

I was inspired to write a blog about the recent clown sightings. That is, until the weird clowns started popping up in Winnipeg. What started off as a prank in the U.S. has sadly escalated into a continent-wide-frenzy.

Even Stephen King himself, creator of one of the scariest clowns ever, has taken to Twitter, telling people it’s ‘time to cool the clown hysteria’.

I agree. Why are we so afraid of clowns? Is it the makeup that hides their emotions? Is it the unnaturally bright orange hair? Is it because a slew of famous fictional clowns  have been scaring people for years?

Let me be clear: Dressing up as a clown to scare people is NOT COOL, especially if weapons are involved. Instead of dressing up as a scary copycat clown this Halloween, why not introduce yourself to some of the scariest clowns around, at the library? We house some of the creepiest clown characters in history and they’re much more frightening than any costume someone might be cooking up in their basement.

It by Stephen King

As I mentioned before, likely the most famous clown-horror-story around is Stephen King’s It. The story follows seven children who are terrorized by the creature.  Usually appearing in the form of the clown Pennywise (in order to attract young kids), “It” exploits the fears and phobias of its victims in order to disguise itself while hunting its prey. You might want to leave the lights on after reading this one…

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore & Brian Bolland

The Joker is one of the most memorable villains not only in the Batman series, but possibly of all time. In his comic book appearances, he is shown as a psychotic criminal mastermind with a twisted, sadistic sense of humor. Although he does not possess any superpowers, he uses his expertise in chemical engineering to develop weapons like razor-tipped playing cards, or acid-spraying lapel flowers and play deadly pranks on his enemies. Come check out our graphic novel section and read one that features him, such as The Killing Joke.

polterPoltergeist

Nothing says creepy like a ghost talking to a little girl through a TV set. At first playful and friendly, Carol Anne’s ghost friends become unexpectedly menacing, and an exorcist must be called in once she goes missing. Starring Craig T. Nelson and written by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist is a 1980s horror classic. And who can forget that clown scene?

Clown Girl by Monica Drake

‘Sniffles the Clown’ isn’t a scary clown, but she’s certainly an endearing one. She struggles to live out her dreams in Baloneytown, surrounded by petty crime, balloon animals and rubber chickens. In an effort to support herself and her lazy boyfriend, she finds herself turning into a ‘corporate clown’, trapped in a cycle of meaningless, high-paid gigs. Monica Drake manages to raise questions of gender, class and prejudice while incorporating the bizarre, humorous and gritty.

For more scary fiction, check out our “On a Dark and Stormy Night” display at Millennium!

Brittany

Morbid Curiosity

Like many reading aficionados, I never have fewer than three or four books sitting on my nightstand, waiting to be read. Recently, my boyfriend looked through the stack of titles and asked me, not entirely joking, “Should I be concerned?” That was when I realized the books I was eagerly looking forward to covered a rather disturbing array of topics: from cannibalism to medical oddities to adventures in the American funeral industry.

Cartoon image of a skeleton in a thoughtful pose.

“Whatcha thinking about?” “Oh, nothing… just skeleton stuff, I guess.”

At this point I should probably reassure you that I am a perfectly happy, well-balanced individual with a largely positive outlook on things – not a closet psychopath. I just happen to be fascinated with things that make humans uncomfortable – the dark, the mysterious, the just plain creepy. Somehow, reading about the macabre from the safety of my own home makes the terrifying a little less so. The scariest things are those which we understand least, and we owe these intrepid authors a debt for exploring the unfamiliar and giving us an opportunity to better know the unknown.

If you’re looking to ease into the world of the squeamish, start with Dr. Mütter’s Cover of Dr. Mutter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe ApowiczMarvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz. Practicing medicine in antebellum America, Dr. Mütter had a deep interest in patients who suffered physical deformities and, more importantly, dedicated his life to alleviating the suffering caused by such maladies. In doing so, he revolutionized modern surgery, patient care, and attitudes in the medical field. I highly recommend this insightful study of early modern medicine to anyone who can tolerate descriptions of cleft-palate surgery performed on a fully conscious patient in front of a live audience (seriously).

If you’re ready to delve straight into the world of death and dying, Dr. Judy Melinek wrote a memoir of her path to becoming a medical examiner – the folks who perform autopsies to determine how an individual died. Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner (also available as an audiobook) details her training in New York City … a two year period that started just days before the 9/11 attacks, resulting in a highly stressful yet wholly unique learning experience.

Whether the circumstances of death were mysterious or not, pretty much all Cover of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin DoughtyNorth American bodies end up in the same place: a mortuary. In her memoir, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, Caitlin Doughty explains – with humour and poignant sympathy – what really happens to dead bodies after we turn them over to the funeral home. Further, she presents a compelling argument for Western society to return to the kinds of rituals which provide closure after the death of a loved one, instead of hiding bodies away like something to be feared. Or, if that’s a little too real for you, try Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy, which looks at the unusual fates of some famous former people.

As fearsome as death is, it always seems worse when people just vanish into thin air – although, few stories are more intriguing. In the mid-1920s, the whole Cover of The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grannworld watched with bated breath as renowned South American explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett entered the Amazonian jungle … and never came back out. Hundreds of search parties have since tried to uncover his fate, and none have been successful – many never returning themselves – in a testament to human fascination with the unexplained. David Grann details Fawcett’s story, and Grann’s own search, in The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (also available as an ebook). For another tragic jungle disappearance, and beautifully researched attempt at solving the mystery, check out Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman.

More disturbing than unknown fates are unknown motives – what could drive someone to commit heinous crimes, let alone commit them repeatedly? Serial Cover of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larsonkillers are well-trod subjects in both fiction and true crime, perhaps because we are desperate for someone to explain to us why these people do the things they do. Even decades, or centuries, after the fact, we still look for answers, despite the fact that the distance of time has made the perpetrators that much more unknowable, the cases that much more unsolvable. And if you think you’re bored with rehashed theories on Jack the Ripper, he wasn’t the only historical serial killer. Consider Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King and The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America  by Erik Larson.

If all this talk of murder and mayhem makes you uneasy, perhaps you’ll find some reassurance with books that look at how we learned to catch these killers, such as The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science by Douglas Starr or The Inheritor’s Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science by Sandra Hempel.

Finally, lest you think you are alone in your morbid curiosity, Bill James and Cover of The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith FlandersJudith Flanders will reassure you that society as a whole has long been intrigued by the dark and deadly, in Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence and The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime, respectively. And of course, don’t forget that people weren’t always as scared of dead bodies as we are today – just take a look at The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses by Paul Koudounaris for proof.

 

-Lauren