HUNT COLUMN: Let them read (scary books)

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, October 27, 2021

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By Cathy Hunt
Troup County School Board Chairwoman

I love to celebrate books, and with the spooky season upon us, I’d like to give a shout out to scary ones.

Contrary to the stereotypical image of the English major/teacher, I am not married to the classics. My favorite pleasure reads are often thrillers or mysteries. This goes back to when I would rush home from elementary school to watch Dark Shadows, and soon I was devouring the pulp paperbacks based on the campy series. My parents were not appalled; they were always happy to see me reading.

As a high school teacher, I felt the same when I saw students bring books to read when they finished their work, because not many actually did. So, I never wanted to judge their selections. When I noticed upticks in this positive behavior, it was invariably due to buzzworthy books in the supernatural, fantasy or horror mode. First there was the Harry Potter phenomenon (J.K. Rowling), with witches and warlocks showing how good can overcome evil. Then came the Twilight books (Stephenie Meyer), about vampires and werewolves (and teenage love) and the apocalyptic Hunger Games trilogy (Suzanne Collins). The high school librarians had to keep the Stephen King books behind the circulation desk, because King’s books had a tendency to walk out of the library “on their own.”

Writing this has caused me to ponder what I would call the three scariest books I’ve ever read. Something they have in common is that I can remember exactly when and where I read them. In high school, I read William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist after the film came out, in my bedroom when everyone else was home and within shouting distance. On a college road trip with some sorority sisters, they laughed at my wide eyes as I read King’s The Shining in the back seat. While on maternity leave, when the baby was napping and I should have been, instead I was curled up in the recliner with Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, before the movie came out.

The only book that creeped me out so badly that I couldn’t finish it was Pet Sematary, probably because I had a child of about the same age as the little boy in the novel and because I was reading it in a hotel room alone. I could see what was coming and said, “Nope!” And hid the book from sight under the clothes in my suitcase.

Runners up would include Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, In the Woods by Tana French, The Passage by Justin Cronin, The Alienist by Caleb Carr, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

What I also realize about these books is that not only are they page-turners, but they also make the reader pull oh-so-hard for the good guys to defeat the bad guys. It’s that good versus evil thing again.