In the News: Reading & Resisting

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Our Monsters, Ourselves

A review of W. Scott Poole’s Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting (Baylor University Press, 2011).

By S. Brent Plate

My first monster was a repeating nightmare of a headless man named “Johan” who lived in our hallway closet on Mayfield Street, San Bernardino, CA. I was about eight years old and, as far as I can remember, Johan was nicely dressed in a suit and tie. But he had no head. In its stead, there was a single flame that shot up from his collar like a Bunsen burner.

He scared me. He was spooky. Creepy. Other. (Who doesn’t have a head?!). But then I got used to him and I began to feel sorry for him, all shut in that closet and all and seemingly without many friends. In my remembered dreams I began to take him out of the closet and play with him, head or no. We played board games together. I think I even let Johan win.

We’ve all got our own “first monsters,” primal visions of the hideous and haunting. Scott Poole knows this, and that is the initial attraction of his recent book, Monsters in America. He challenges readers to confront their monsters, to call them up from the crypt of remembrance. They may be nightmares, or movies, or television shows, or ghost stories told around a campfire on a Girl Scout trip. Poole also challenges readers to review other people’s monsters, ones that might unsettle us a little. After all, we can get used to our own and need a little shaking up. Continue Reading →