The Austin Chronicle

The Haunted Bookshelf

Heavens, this series of reprints of vintage ghost stories may unsettle the composure of the steadiest reader

Reviewed by Robert Faires and Wayne Alan Brenner, December 2, 2016, Arts

"My dear Mr. B., how fortunate to cross paths with you on this gloom-laden December eve. I trust you will forgive my uncommonly pale aspect and furtive demeanor, but I am rather shaken from an encounter that I find myself almost unable to describe!"

"And a pleasure to meet you as well within this damnable wintry murk, Mr. F! But the encounter you speak of being almost unable to describe ... might I hope that, after all, you will endeavor to provide what description your faculties render possible? For I must admit, sir, my curiosity is no less enjoined than my sympathies for your plight."

"Sir, I fear you will consider me to have taken leave of my faculties when I tell you that the thing which has driven the blood from my cheeks and shaken my nerves was nothing more than a set of books – and small books at that! Little more than pamphlets!"

"The devil you say, man! That such objects – mere books? Pamphlets putting on airs? – would undo a gentleman of your renowned composure, surely there was something out of the ordinary to them? Something of their contents, perhaps? Or ... their design? Pray, share this with your old friend!"

"They are the product of a publishing concern in Windsor, Ontario, known as Biblioasis and distributed under the collective heading 'The Haunted Bookshelf.' And haunted they assuredly are, for each diminutive volume – measuring a mere four inches by six inches! – is devoted to a single tale of an encounter with a spirit from beyond the grave!"

"Why, old fellow, what a coincidence: I am passingly familiar with the lilliputian library myself! It was only a fortnight ago that I chanced upon that 'Haunted Bookshelf' while paying a visit to our mutual friend Ruggles. Old Ruggles, ever an ardent aficionado of works by the artist Seth, was glad to expound on the elegance of design which that cartooning worthy had visited upon the volumes' production. Sadly, although I was delighted to peruse the many fine illustrations Seth has provided throughout those tidy pages – noting how well his typical style, now more deeply shadowed and at times almost sepulchral in its evocations, matched what I took to be the tone of the series – yet I had no chance, between Ruggles' exhortations, to avail myself of the accompanying prose. Am I to understand, sir, that the stories themselves are wrought in such a way as to disturb your constitution to this extent?"

"By way of answer to that, gallant chum, allow me to note that the five tales comprising the Haunted Bookshelf were authored by Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, Marjorie Bowen, A.M. Burrage, and M.R. James – all masters of short fiction and all sharing a keen appreciation of the uncanny, which reveals itself in the adroitness with which they provoke disquieting chills in the reader. They conjure dread, sir – and not in the gratuitous gore of the penny dreadfuls, but in the slow and steady build of one odd, unsettling detail upon another, in the manner of a master mason erecting a wall, stone by stone. These stories move slowly, sir, rather as we imagine life did in the Victorian and Edwardian eras when these narratives were produced, but they are all the more unnerving for it. I perused – nay, let me say devoured – four of the booklets in a night, and although I was in the security of my own domicile, ensconced in a favorite chair, these 'ghost stories for Christmas,' as they are advertised, left me in quite the state of perturbation. Had I any hair remaining upon my pate, I daresay it would have been standing on end."

"Ha! Well, then, sir – well, then! Being the sort of fellow who enjoys an occasional thrill of the supernatural sort – a purely vicarious thrill, I take pains to note – I believe that, thanks to the recommendation proffered by your own delighted discomfiture, I will seek to acquire a set of the Haunted Bookshelf for myself. From Biblioasis, did you say? In fact, now I think of it – 'ghost stories for Christ­mas' – I should do well to dispatch my gifting duties for the upcoming holidays by purchasing multiple copies of the set for distribution among those loved ones who might enjoy such works. A bit of the old eldritch in each hearth-warmed stocking, eh? Just the thing!"

The Haunted Bookshelf

Biblioasis, $6.95 each/$35 for set of five

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