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Fiction With a Fear Factor!

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It's now Halloween month, so it's time to discuss some of the scariest and spookiest literature around. And I don't mean Mitt Romney's No Apology book, though I've heard it's quite scary and spooky.

I'm talking about literature featuring frightening stuff such as ghosts, haunted houses, cemeteries and things that go bump in the night -- including hardcover horror books that crash from your hands to the floor when you fall asleep.

Of course, the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe immediately comes to mind, but I won't say much about that today because I devoted a whole post to Poe in July. I did subsequently think about what might be his scariest story, and came up with "The Pit and the Pendulum." There are few experiences more terrifying than being strapped to a table in a dungeon as a razor-sharp blade swishes toward your chest -- though that Romney book might be a close second.

Then there's Stephen King, whose huge canon offers readers many a compelling nightmare. Among his novels I've found especially spine-chilling are Misery, The Tommyknockers, and (the low-key by King standards) From a Buick 8. The last book stars an otherworldly car that would have become a "Buick 0" if Romney had been in the White House to let General Motors die.

Occasional King collaborator Peter Straub wrote Ghost Story, which inspired this post because I've nearly finished reading that novel after it was recommended this summer by HuffPost commenters M4dwoman, MontereyDean and Olderandwiser55. Ghost Story chronicles some very alarming events in a small New York town, and readers of Straub's excellent book may find it hard to trust anyone with the initials A.M. again. (The first names of Ann and Mitt Romney also have those initials. Just sayin'... )

Toni Morrison's Beloved, while much more than a "ghost story," does feature the title character of Beloved -- a ghost. But that acclaimed book's horrors are more about slavery and racism than about the supernatural.

The great Daphne du Maurier wrote many scary and spooky works, including "The Birds" story and novels such as Rebecca and The House on the Strand. The last book involves time travel, which is sort of like what happens when people listen to Romney -- suddenly, they're back in the 1950s.

Back in the 19th century, there were a number of writers besides Poe who authored memorable scary novels or short fiction. Among them were Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Henry James (The Turn of the Screw), Alexandre Dumas (Castle Eppstein), Nathaniel Hawthorne (in his stories more than his novels), and Ambrose Bierce (various haunting tales).

Some of Bierce's later work was written in the early 20th century -- a century that also saw Edith Wharton pen some well-regarded ghost stories in addition to her classic novels. In addition, a number of Rod Serling's amazing The Twilight Zone episodes became short stories collected in book form. Which reminds me: "There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to Mitt: The Compassion Zone."

The Twilight Zone was science-fiction in a way, and there's certainly much sci-fi literature that's terrifying. H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers, and a number of Richard Matheson's novels and stories are just a few examples.

Then there are novels that aren't really in the horror genre, but have some (actual or implied) horrific scenes. Who can forget Winston and his terror of Bain Capital ... oops, terror of rats ... in George Orwell's 1984?

And there is literature that plays the specter stuff for laughs, such as Oscar Wilde's story "The Canterville Ghost." Peeves the Poltergeist is also mischievously funny in Harry Potter, even as other elements of J.K. Rowling's series are as dread-inducing as ... a Romney presidency. Not sure we need Lord Voldemort on the Supreme Court.

As always, I've left out more titles than Mitt has had position changes. What are your favorite scary novels and stories?

Dave Astor's memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional has been published. If you'd like to buy a personally inscribed copy (for less than the Amazon price!), contact Dave at dastor@earthlink.net. The Amazon listing can be accessed by clicking on the book cover below.