Lately, I’ve had some interesting conversations about reading. It’s hard for me to imagine, but some people just don’t read. Some only read magazines and others only read for information. They get zero pleasure from books — electronic or otherwise. I come from a family of readers. I always knew that my father’s mother enjoyed books, but it wasn’t until the other day that I learned the extent and depth of interest in literature.
She was born in 1898 and read many of the books I studied in school, and think of as classics, as they came out. My dad said that she was a big fan of Theodore Dreiser and that Edith Wharton was her all-time favorite author. Her favorite book was “Ethan Frome.” (I remember that one as torture, but I was a teenager and wanted to read mysteries, fantasy, gothic horror and romance at that time.) She enjoyed F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis, but she did not care for Hemmingway.
I am deep into the MONSTROUS peeks and valleys of Edgar Allan Poe and contemplating a little H.P. Lovecraft next. It’s too late to ask grandma what she thought of Poe and Lovecraft, but the idea of reading classic horror novels as they came out — the way we read Stephen King, Peter Straub and other contemporary writers — is something worth contemplating.
Imagine being one of the first Poe readers, cracking open the pages of “The Pit and the Pendulum.” It must have been overwhelming, outrageous, amazing and completely monstrous!
Poe was not terribly successful in his lifetime. His prose and his subject matter were controversial and provocative. His work still makes readers feel edgy and we live in a time when we are overexposed to violence — both real and fictional — through media only dreamt of when Poe was writing.
The characters in POE stories are monstrous human beings fueled by revenge, greed and other uncontrolled passions (plus a generous helping of booze and drugs). They are not so far off from today’s MONSTERS.
Is Poe still relevant? Yes, I believe so. Pondering a midnight dreary is something we all do — but not necessarily in rhyme.