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‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and More Making Netflix Spookier Than Ever

Still from ‘The Haunting of Hill House’: Steve Dietl/Netflix

Editor's Note:

Also in your Signature Need-to-Know: the battle over Drag Queen Story Hour, and a guide to recognizing Neil Gaiman’s real signature.

Netflix is putting us on notice now: October will be horrifying. This week the streaming service released a full list of its spookier offerings in anticipation of the Halloween season, including some exciting literary adaptations – such as their brand new adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which has been reinvented as a series starring Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton. Between this and Gugino’s star turn in last year’s “Gerald’s Game” (also great October viewing), it seems the actress has made a comfy new home for herself in the genre. For those who can’t abide full-bore horror, Netflix has you covered, introducing a category of “slightly spooky” offerings as well.

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The initial impact of the #MeToo movement is undeniable, but it’s the aftershocks reaching into every subculture, every community, that are really shaking things up. New precedents for transparency are being established for the kind of abusive behavior that was only recently accepted as a regrettable, if unavoidable, cost of doing business. Pema Chodron’s letter to the Shambhala Buddhist community is the latest sign of true change: in it, the bestselling author reflects on her past reactions to accusations of wrongdoing within the free-spirited extended family, which she now regrets. Having reconnected with a victim of abuse in order to apologize and seek new guidance for dealing with future misconduct, Chodron writes: “I tell this story to point out the power of speaking openly with each other and apologizing whenever possible for any harm we’ve caused (intentionally or not). It also showed me the importance of honoring the other person‘s view of what happened…not going on the defensive but really listening and trying to stand in the other person’s shoes.” Nearly everyone could benefit from accepting this challenge.

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Drag Queen Story Hour has become the latest battleground in public libraries across the country, where the program – in which performers normally relegated to nightlife and reality television appear in broad daylight to entertain school-aged kids with books promoting creativity and acceptance – is drawing protesters, but also ever-greater crowds of eager kids. This week’s dispatch from a Wichita library event is no exception: “About a half-dozen people stood outside the library, at Second and McLean in downtown Wichita, with signs protesting the event. One sign said, ‘God won’t change your chromosomes.’ Another said, ‘Free will is a satanic lie.'” Meanwhile, one parent in attendance observed: “It’s great for people to realize that this isn’t sensational…It’s fabulous, but it’s not sensational. It’s not abnormal, and it’s just another opportunity to help children learn more about the world.”

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If you’d read any of Marguerite Young’s Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, we’d be surprised — and if you actually finished it, we’d have lots of questions for you. The Paris Review has deemed this 1965 novel “The Most Unread Book Ever Acclaimed,” pointing to some of the amazing critical reviews that managed to hone in on Young’s extremely modern voice and unusual narrative priorities, both of which – combined with its length of more than 1200 pages – probably scared off more readers than they enticed. (The article’s author did manage to finish the book, deeming it “a novel as infinite and mystifying as life itself.”

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Kurt Eichenwald’s book A Mind Unraveled doesn’t come out until October, but the author was moved to share a bit of his story ahead of the release date by recent events in Washington D.C., kicking off a thread on Twitter with the following statement: “It keeps being asked: Why would anyone wait decades to publicly disclose sexual assault? I know why.” What follows are details of Eichenwald gradually opening up to his family about a sexual assault he survived decades ago, and the way their reactions surprised him, contributing to the decision to write about these issues in his upcoming book. He has a timely warning for those too easily batting aside the allegations dogging Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh: “The message being communicated is that all sexual assault victims must immediate [sic] shove aside the emotional trauma, run to the police, or shut up forever.”

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It’s a rare treasure among autograph collectors: Good Omens, signed by both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. While the former has passed away, the latter is still here to help fans authenticate their purchase – with disappointing results, in some cases. This week on Twitter, Gaiman scrutinized scribbles to let people know which ones were definitely him, which ones were definitely Terry, and which ones were probably neither. Consider this your cheat-sheet for spotting authentic Gaiman autographs in the wild – he is known for secretly signing copies in airport bookstores wherever he travels.

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Zora Neale Hurston’s “new” book Barracoon is easily the most overdue release of the year, if not the century. Rejected by publishers, the manuscript – a series of interviews with the last living person who came to America in a slave ship – was shelved and only available to academic researchers for more than sixty years. This NPR profile serves a stunning appetizer for the book, which came out earlier this year; now that the weather’s cooled and your brains aren’t a damp snake-pit, you may want to get this one back on your nightstand.

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Native American tribes have a tremendous amount of information that could be useful to scientific research, but this article in Pacific Standard finds they may ultimately be unwilling to see it published, for reasons as disappointing as they are understandable: “There are fears that knowledge shared with scientists could end up in published reports, which, in turn, could lead to outsiders plundering Native Americans’ environment.” The article cites examples in recent memory when this was exactly the case. Scientists and researchers may not think it’s their job to foster better community relations with Native tribes, but the future of certain scientific developments, particularly in ecology and climate science, may depend on them taking up this cause.

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Having a memory like a sieve is no barrier to becoming a writer, even if your favorite authors seem to retain every detail they observe. This week, Electric Literature’s advice column Blunt Instrument answers a letter from someone looking for support in this area, including one very important statement with the potential to unlock many doors in the reader: “We often assume that other people’s learned skills must be innate talents.” In other words, everything is practice and training – which contains a necessary amount of failure, or at least the perpetual risk of it. Get to work!

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Poe’s in season all year round, but there’s something about the crisp fall air that adds spice to his stories. If you haven’t revisited “The Masque of the Red Death” in a while, you’ll probably find the tale’s themes are more timely than ever – the hubris of tyrants, the excesses of the super-wealthy, and our anxieties about surviving a civilization-ending plague are all catalogued therein. Below is a free audiobook version, narrated by yours truly (I also work for the perfume company that produced it) and featuring original artwork by gothic illustrator Tenebrous Kate. In addition to its other enticements, the story is famous for having one of the best closing lines of all time: “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” Enjoy!