Saturday, October 3, 2009

An Introduction to October

Ray Bradbury called it "The October Country," and I call it home.

October is my favorite month of the year for a few reasons. First and foremost, I love the autumn and in my neck of the woods the leaves start to change the first week of the tenth month. The temperature drops and the days get shorter. There's a distinct feeling in the air, a distinct smell in the air. And it's not just the burning leaves.

October just smells differently than any other time of year.

I really can't describe it any better than that. An October afternoon smells and feels and looks differently than a June afternoon, and it's that smell and feel and look that I love. The burnt reds and browns and the crunching of dead leaves on the sidewalk. The baseball playoffs and the start of football season. The horror movie marathons and the little, seasonal store fronts that pop up here and there, adorned with spooky decorations and witches and vampires and costumes.

Speaking of Halloween.

If not for Christmas and my family's (some would say over-the-top) enthusiasm for the holiday, Halloween would most certainly be my favorite day of the year. I haven't enjoyed a birthday since I turned 19, and I could care less about the blue and white and gold streamers on New Year's Eve or Day, or the dark reds of Valentine's chocolates, or the greens of St. Patty's Day.

I'll stick to the orange and black, thanks.

Halloween is the perfect holiday for people like me. It's an excuse to watch those stupid "documentaries" about ghosts and werewolves, or to sit down with friends and laugh through an afternoon's worth of bad horror "movies." Halloween is a season unto itself, really. Starting on the first of the month, and stretching out for thirty one consecutive days, it surrounds you.

Every store in town has some sort of commercial tie-in to the holiday, which is fine since I typically dig even the most mainstream hoopla that Halloween has to offer. You can turn your TV to any channel and there will be something scary on it. Ghost Hunters marathons, or the 100 Scariest Movie Moments, or a History Channel doc on Bram Stoker. And don't forget those local haunted house set-ups that pop up this time of year, or the hayrides, or the pumpkin patches. Those are all great, too. It's all wonderful, really.

But the Main Event itself. You can't beat that. Halloween is a day/night that allows kids and grown-ups alike to dress up and run around and go to parties and scare the heck out of each other. Not to mention the candy.

Oh, sweet Galactus, the candy.

I eat Reese's Peanut Butter Cups one day (well, night, really) out of the year. Yep. The thirty-first of October. Sure, I eat enough of them on that night to last me for the 365 days ahead, but still. It's tradition.

Speaking of tradition.

I have one, personal and wonderful October tradition that I look forward to more than anything else this time of year. And, of course, it involves a book. It's called October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween, and every October first I walk to my bookshelf, reach up and pull it from its place somewhere near the top, dust it off (literally), and smell its worn and browning pages.

I've had the book for years, now, and I've read it cover-to-cover more times than I can count. But every year, on the First, I rifle my way through the pages to find my two favorite selections and I read them. One story involves Alice Cooper makeup and the other the Wolfman...well, kinda.

And then I'm officially in The October Country.

I can't recommend October Dreams enough. I can't tell you how much joy it's given me over the years, and I can't express how sincere I am when I say that this book will never not be on my shelf.

If Halloween is your holiday, then I urge you to find a copy of this anthology collection. It's been re-printed many times, and I think it's currently being published by ROC, but a quick look at Amazon and I see it's sold out, and only available from other (non-Amazon) sellers. And it's not cheap. But it has its own Wiki page, so you can at least check out some of the contributors.

The short stories inside may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the Halloween remembrances from some of horror's best writers will strike a chord with most readers. It's the genre's best authors talking about their love of the holiday that in many ways inspired their careers.

Some of the content is scary, some is funny, some is sad, and some is downright disturbing. But there's something for everyone, and it's the best horror anthology I've ever read. And I've read a few. Sure, there are scarier collections, but none as endearing as Dreams. There's also a (ridiculously comprehensive) Halloween movie guide, and that alone makes the book worth the price tag.

So, whatever your October traditions may be--watching one scary movie a night until the thirty-first, or dressing up like Michael Myers and scaring the little kids in your neighborhood--I encourage you to add this book to your tradition.

Because, for me, it's just not October until its spine is cracked.

"...That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain..."
--Ray Bradbury, October Country

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