of halloween and crimson leaves and things that go bump in the night

“The night was sweet with the dust of autumn leaves that smelled as if the fine sands of ancient Egypt were drifting to dunes beyond the town.” Although I first read it when I was very small, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes remains one of my favorite books. I recently gave a copy to a young friend who is reading his way through a lot of Sci-Fi and Fantasy classics (and not so classics). He said he “really liked it” but that it was “too short.” I remember when I used to judge the weight of a book by the number of pages but I’ve learned since that a book can be “short” and still have immense weight. Without turning this into an essay on Jeanette Winterson or Angela Carter or Shirley Jackson, I’ll turn instead to the season: when the door swings open between worlds [to paraphrase Carter] and the leaves start to fall. Today is the first day that’s really dipped below 60 and the air has that specific sharp taste that means summer is gone. The leaves are changing to gold and crimson and most shop windows in my neighborhood are decorated with badly painted zombies, wolfmen, and of course, there are pumpkins everywhere. I’ve lived in this city so long, I’ve forgotten how we carved our pumpkins when I was a kid and what we did with all that pumpkin flesh. Most of the brownstones in the West Village are decorated for Halloween and it’s one of the joys of working in this neighborhood though, really, this time of year always makes me nostalgic for New Orleans where people REALLY know how to dress up and celebrate this best holiday of the year. Reading AO Scott’s predictably snarky review of “Crimson Peak,” I’m reminded why for much of my teen years (and well into the decades after), I lived with the conviction that “normal people don’t get it.” Because they don’t. You can watch zombie dramas on TV and dress up in Day of the Dead masks from Rickys NYC once a year but you still won’t get it. There is a certain slant to the way some of us view life: the way we like to scare ourselves with movies and books and ghost stories, the way we find beauty in dark and shadowed places, and it’s a way of viewing the world that you can’t buy. Certainly, I’m happy that it’s so much easier now to find like minds than it was when I was a quiet, shy kid obsessed with all things gothic and I’m not going to join the ranks of crabby old people complaining about “kids today.” Instead, I want to acknowledge a few of the books and movies that reflect that certain sensibility I mean when I use the word “gothic” and that I will likely be watching and reading and enjoying this time of year. In the days to come, I’ll be posting brief lists or reviews or what-have-you because, for me, Halloween isn’t just one day a year. And for anyone who’s read my fiction, that should be pretty obvious.

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