When’s The Last Time You Were Haunted By a Book?

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Kit Steinkellner

Staff Writer

Kit Steinkellner is a playwright, screenwriter, and creative writing teacher. She also writes about books and reading  at Books Are My Boyfriends. Follow her onTwitter: @BooksAreMyBFs

41KkfSb8MxLAs long as I can remember, we had a copy of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love in our family library. I remember it there as a child, I remember it there as a teenager, I would take it off the shelf and glance at that famous Chip Kidd orange cover with all the weird E’s but for one reason or another I never ended up cracking it open. I don’t know what to tell you, I was really busy reading Oprah Club books in high school, I know, I know, shut up and leave me alone.

Over the years I’ve heard too many good things about this novel, so recently I snagged a copy at my local bookstore, cracked it open, and started reading.

You guys. It is SUCH a good thing I did not read this book as a child or a teenager. I was NOT ready for this novel as a minor. Even as a worldly-ish adult with a worldly-ish reading list, I’m still not sure I was entirely ready for this story, which is, on the surface, a story of a family of circus freaks, and not-so-far-underneath-that-surface a jagged-edged fairytale about the abuse of power, cult mentality, and the darkest side of love. I was entranced and disturbed, at turns obsessed and revolted, and ultimately I was haunted by this book. A week after reading it, I still feel haunted by the dark and gorgeous specter of this story.

What does it mean to be haunted by a book? It means the book not only has a soul (and I’m the hippy-trippy woo woo girl who thinks that every piece of art has a soul) but that the book has a SPIRIT, a presence that can abandon its earthly dwelling to vex, stalk, perhaps even possess you (I’m a complete loon, I get it, I meant that thing about shutting up and leaving me alone).

I felt possessed by Geek Love even as I was reading it. Not in that “I pick up this book every time I have five free minutes and I’m not going to sleep until I get to that very last page where the publishing company gives you a brief history of the novel’s typeface” kind of way (although that is absolutely how I read this book and all books I like). As in even when I wasn’t reading this book I was thinking about it, and when I was reading this book I could  feel it seep into my skin. I actually at one point remember thinking while reading, “This book no longer exists on the surface of my skin. It’s sunk in. I can’t brush it off, scrape it clean, rub it away, you can’t do those things to something that’s managed to worm its way inside of you.”

So at this point we get that I loved Geek Love. Loved it in the most complicated of ways but still unabashedly loved it. But I love a lot of books. I’m usually intellectually and/or emotionally affected by my reading experiences. I think about a lot of books during my read and after I close the cover for the last time. This was different. I felt haunted by this book because I didn’t feel like I was entirely in control of my thinking/feeling experience. I felt harassed by this book, invaded by it, constantly forced by the story itself to deal with it. Which is not an experience I normally have reading, and though my relationship with this book is neither easy nor pleasant, I read to experience new things. Sometimes that new thing is the content of the book. Every once in a while that new thing is the experience itself.

Let’s get some Michael Jackson’s Thriller bumping and some Halloween-even-though-it’s-like-a-million-months-away up in this comments section. When was the last time you were haunted by a book?


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