I have been reading books ever since I could remember. It seems to me that the moment I knew how to string together a couple of words and make sense of sentences and paragraphs, I could not stop myself. I couldn’t help it. I had to read, whether they were snippets from the encyclopedia or a pocketbook like Sweet Valley Kids. But one random plucking of a random book from its shelf in my school library changed me.
I was in fourth grade, maybe fifth, and being in the library made me feel like the sun is shining brightly down on me and the birds are chirping away merrily in the background. It was just such a happy feeling, raw and innocent and simple.
Until I chanced upon a copy of this book, which was a compilation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Intrigued by the artwork on the cover of the book (which I had forgotten by now, really), I curiously and eagerly opened it. After devouring the content of the book, two stories struck me: The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado. It was a momentous event in my life. I guess you could say that I could hold Edgar Allan Poe responsible for my penchant for horror stories.
The Tell-Tale Heart
“TRUE! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily – how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees – very gradually – I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever…”
The Cask of Amontillado
“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length, I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled — but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.
It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation…”
When my dad learned about this years and years later, this was all he had to say to me: “You read Edgar Allan Poe at age 11 or 10?” Pause. Then he said, “It’s not something you should read at that age.” I could only shrug. Once you’ve read a book, you can’t just flush it out of your brain.