What Books Say About Us

A while ago, a friend told me that she tries hard not to look closely at people’s book shelves. I asked her what she meant and she explained that she’d worked in a bookstore for about five years and she can tell things about a person based on the books they keep on display. It’s sort of like palm-reading. Or, as she put it, “It’s like looking through someone’s underwear drawer. People usually have no idea what they’re saying about themselves with the books they have out.”

So, of course, I asked her to take a look at my shelf and tell me what she saw. She did so, reluctantly, “You like to be challenged and entertained.”

Another friend, who also possessed this talent, looked at my books and said, “Well, there’s a lot of fiction. German. Nonfiction. Authors from other countries. I see a lot of breadth, but little depth.”

Ironic. Because, if you looked at my playlists and the podcasts I listen to you would see no breadth and nothing but depth. Terrible, eldritch depth.

I like horror. All of the podcasts I listen to and most of the movies I watch are horror. This has not always been the case. When I was a kid, I was terrified of everything and so I avoided the genre. But later in college I started devouring it.

After consuming so much of the stuff, I have come to the conclusion that this says something about me. Mostly that I have something to say about it and now possess some authority. So, here are some thoughts on a few of the popular podcasts out there:

Pseudopod: This is where my obsession started. I have listened to every single episode and can vouch for the craftsmanship in the editing. Typically, they publish re-printed work, which means that you get a pretty thorough snapshot of what is being published in the horror genre these days and whose putting it out. The current host, Alasdair Stuart, and  editor, Sean Garret, are both incredible.

Knifepoint Horror: My favorite sub-genre of horror is found-horror. The kind where you’re really not sure if it’s true or not. Your better sense says, “That couldn’t possibly have happened,” but a part of you wonders. This podcast is that.

I think that horror works best when it seems confessional, as if you’re sitting down with a friend you’ve known for years and, after a few drinks, they start telling you about the worst moment of his/her life.

As far as I can tell, Knifepoint is written and narrated exclusively by Soren Narnia (which I assume is a pseudonym). If that is the case, he’s a freak. A talented, prolific freak.

Every story is a first person narrative and each episode begins with “My name is…” At no point in any episode is there a break from the world of the podcast. No credits, no legal jargon, no updates on the state of the podcast, etc. The only thing that is non-diejetic (there’s a grad school word for you) is the music that you can occasionally hear playing softly.

No Sleep Podcast:  When I ran out of episodes of Pseudopod, I was hunting around iTunes for a horror fix and found this. It wasn’t until after listening to ten or so episdoes that I decided to hunt down the origins of the podcast to the SubReddit No Sleep forum.

No Sleep showcases short stories from the subreddit forum. Each episode typically has between two and five stories, usually from different authors, and so ends up being over an hour long. Very few are great, less are bad, and almost all of them are good.

The podcast began from the generosity of the current editor/narrator/producer, David Cummings. For three seasons, he paid all the costs and shouldered most of the considerable burden of editing and putting the show together. Over the months, and now years, many talented writers and narrators have contributed their talent to the show. During the third season, the show underwent a slight transformation so that episodes are still free, but abridged; with a “season pass” you can get the full episodes. This seems more than reasonable to me.

I have more thoughts on all of these podcasts and specific episodes, but this post is long enough for now. And Philip Seymour Hoffman just died, so I’m sad.

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