‘in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world.’ – Tim O’Brien, in ‘The Lives of the Dead’
I love a good ghost story. While I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat when it comes to scary movies, I feel like ghost stories are perfect reading material for this time of year (or, really, every time of year). And I think books are the perfect place to encounter ghosts. As the quote above says, stories are a ‘kind of dreaming’. They are like the ghosts of either the writer, or the characters, or some combination of the two coming to life in our minds, even if that writer is long gone. We resurrect them.
And my absolute favorite ghostly anthology would be one that I was lucky enough to go to the launch of back in 2015: Ghost: 100 Stories to Read with the Lights On, edited by Louise Welsh. Welsh is a wonderful Scottish writer that I’m sure many of you will be familiar with and I’ve had the chance to get to know her and her lovely partner-the excellent author Zoe Strachan-through the University of Glasgow during my postgraduate work there. They both teach and lecture on the Creative Writing course. ANYWAYS, they are very kind and talented people but that does not make me biased because this is just hands down an amazing anthology AND an amazing aesthetic object (it’s got such a cool cover!) that I love whipping out every autumn.
There are several things I love about Ghost, which covers stories ranging from the ancient world (it starts with ‘The Haunted House’ by Pliny the Younger, who lived between 61-113 AD in Italy) all the way up through modern literary titans like Ali Smith, Murakami, and many, many more. The 100 stories are arranged chronologically and while many of the authors are very famous, the stories aren’t always as well known. So it’s fun to pick an author that you know-for example, Mark Twain-and then read their story (in the case of Twain, it’s a terrifying and hilarious story of some very unlucky gentlemen stuck on a train during a snow storm who start to get hungry…). Most of the authors I had heard of before (they are mostly British and American), and while sometimes it’s really cool to discover authors that are new to you, in this case I enjoyed having a lot of familiar favorites at my fingertips and exploring stories of theirs that I hadn’t read before.
The other thing that I really enjoy about it is the short bios that Welsh has written to accompany the stories: they are really snappy and fascinating. They aren’t the sort of textbook, ‘when was she born’ sort of bios (although the basic biographical info is there). They also contain little tidbits that (I assume) Welsh herself found interesting about each author’s life, such as the fact that Chekhov’s last words (after drinking a glass of the stuff) were: ‘It’s a long time since I drank champagne.’
I’ve not yet read all of the stories in this book, but I love all the ones I’ve read, particularly The Yellow Wallpaper, a famous story that I read for the first time last year and reviewed here for ‘Madeira Mondays’. Like I mentioned, I pull this out every year and read a couple. It’s an enormous tome and makes me feel very autumnal and epic when I light a candle and choose one for the evening. I would highly recommend this book as a gift if you have a lover of ghostly or gothic tales in your life (or someone, like me, who gets a little too excited each time autumn rolls around).
I hope that you’ve enjoyed the recommendation. I know I’ve mentioned the book before on this blog, but I figured it deserved its own post! Let me know what books you’ve been enjoying (spooky or otherwise). Lots more Friday Finds coming your way in the not too distant future…