The first time I picked up Dean Koontz‘s novel, The Voice of the Night, I was still in high school. And I finished the book in one sitting after reading it for the entirety of an afternoon, one winter, in my grandfathers small convenience store, sitting by an old coal fired stove, used to heat the place.
I have actually longed to reread it, but I fear I might hate it this time around. It’s a legitimate fear of mine. I think if I was to reread it, I would be a lot more hardened towards it, simply because I’ve read a lot of books over the years since then. But I will always remember and cherish this one as one of the first, and certainly among the few, novels that have left a lifelong impact.
I also remember the first time I read, what would later become my all-time favorite novel, Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. I was again still in high school and it was fall or winter. Some of the best reading I’ve done has been during those dreary winter months. This time however, I was at home by myself reclining on the couch in our family room.
I remember reading the description Judd Crandall gave about the first person to ever be buried in the Pet Sematary, Timmy Baterman. As I read this section of the book I imagined the road that he shuffles up and down on at all hours of the day, as being the same road we used to get to our house. A real road that ran through the neighborhood.
Not long after I had finished reading this passage I received a call from my grandmother asking me to come over to collect some leftovers she wanted us to have for dinner. So I ventured out into the night. A cold chill still in the air. Nothing to light the way except one or two street lights that seemed to work capriciously.
Upon reaching the middle of the road I stood and looked down it as far as the light would allow and was suddenly overcome with the sensation that Timmy Baterman was shuffling towards me in the dark.
This is the only book that has ever truly scared me and I’ve reread it several times and it’s always had the same effect.
Once I was reading a short story collection, Queen of Cold-Blooded Tales, by Roberta Simpson Brown. Brown was a Kentucky native born in Russell Springs, at the edge of the Appalachia mountains, and our school librarian had read a few of her stories out loud to our class in preparation for our Halloween festivities. I liked the stories, so I decided to read the rest in her collection and checked the book out that very same day.
The story that I remember most vividly from that collection is, The Handle. The title referring to the handles that can be found running along the outside of a casket. Chills shot down my spine as my closet door slowly began to open right at the exact moment in the story when one of the handles turns up in Ernie’s room. The latch on the closet door was broken and would occasionally open on its own. It was nothing unusual, but it was always unnerving whenever it happened, made more so this time by the story I was reading. A story about a boy who comes back from the grave to claim his friend.
Then there’s Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. I was around eleven when I first read this one, an especially vulnerable age for tales of well-dressed self-loathing vampires wrestling with existentialism.
Everyone knows by now about the tragic child vampire Claudia, trapped forever in the body of a child, never to be independent, never able to live or to be treated like an adult. But what was so interesting about her was the fact that, for all intents and purposes, she didn’t have a human life before becoming a vampire. She was only five years old, so, unlike others, Claudia didn’t have a humanity to remember and to influence her. She was turned before she understood the difference between right and wrong, before she understood the value of life. And because of this she was cold, cruel, and vicious in her own unique ways, but she also suffered in her own unique ways too.
I have a lot of memories reading these books and whenever I think back on my adolescence, these are some of the books that come to mind. They all helped to shape me as a reader, and maybe even in some ways, as a person. Which is also what makes books so powerful. They allow us to reach back in time and, in a way, transcend it. Even now whenever I’m reading a book that I’m really enjoying, it feels as if I'm a child again, peering in through the crack in the door and spying on the adults in the other room. But, ordinarily, I’m always a little sad after reading a book I really enjoyed. I’ll never have that same feeling or experience again. It’s that same thrill that I’m forever chasing. I may enjoy rereading it, but that first initial experience of unmitigated enjoyment will be, as Roy Batty in Blade Runner said, “lost forever, like tears in rain.”