September 2022 Leisure Learning

by Melissa Haas
published in Reading

Happy Autumn, word nerds! Fall has officially arrived and in just a few days, we will be entering perhaps the most magical month of the year: October. Can you feel the sparkle in the air? My cat and I certainly can (see bio). While not everyone celebrates Halloween, October is a particularly special month for vivid imaginations and my September 2022 Leisure Learning includes an extra helping of links that lie far beyond the well-beaten path.

50 Greatest Deaths in Fiction (Not Horror)

Attention, authors! Are you struggling with writing a death scene right now? Even if you aren’t, check out Slate’s Top 50 Greatest Death Scenes in Fiction, which covers basically the last 2,500 years of Western culture (i.e., the entire Western canon). This list spans the gamut of media, from Shakespearean plays to novels to video games. There is even a comic strip or two. What is even more impressive is that the majority of scenes come from outside the horror genre.  

This Top 50 list is not a ranking of scenes by their “blood and guts” factor. Rather, this is a far more worthwhile compilation of death scenes proven to hit audiences in the feels, generation after generation. These are the meaningful deaths, the ones that stay with you well after the initial absorption of the work. Even a skim of this list is guaranteed to prompt strong, long buried emotions.

DIY your own masterclass by studying several of the scenes (5-10), both alone and in context, to see what makes these scenes so enduring. I assure you, this list is worth bookmarking, screenshotting, even printing out on actual paper.

7 Spooky Stories from Prestigious Literary Authors

The supernatural tends to get dismissed among works that are considered “serious literature.” Yet, the fact remains that not only do a lot of people simply like a good ghost story, several distinguished authors couldn’t help but pen some themselves. Discover another side to authors often introduced through required reading: Vladimir Nabokov, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Edith Wharton supply just a few of these paranormal tales that get lost among their heavier works.

Cool Story, Poe.

Personally, I have always thought of October as the beginning of Shirley Jackson Season. However, it’s Edgar Allen who has become the patron saint of the grim and gothic – and deservedly so. If you have someone who can handle Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, I suggest you schedule a movie’s worth of time to sit down with them and watch Extraordinary Tales, in which five of Poe’s classics are transformed into animated stories. You can even imbue your protégé with some pop culture history, as you’ll both be treated to a terrifically creepy, scratchy recording of the late Bela Lugosi reading one of the most suspenseful stories ever written. 

If your (PG-13 permitted) kid is wondering where all of the weirdness came from (or you yourself would like to be the ‘cool one’ at the adult dinner party), take 10 minutes to watch this punchy, updated bio of Edgar Allen Poe from Answer in Progress. Find out why his obituary constitutes one of literature’s most memorable backstabs.

Cornell University

It’s the outlier of Ivy Leagues, the one known for its…hmm, <drawing a blank>…not sports teams…<still thinking>…

How could I have forgotten? Cornell’s (seriously prestigious) School of Hotel Administration.

Still just fading into the background of your mind?

Well, here is a detail that shall henceforth be burned into your brain: Cornell University has the largest, most notable collection of witchcraft books in North America. It’s even called The Cornell University Witchcraft Collection. When did this become a thing? How long has this been going on? Surprisingly, since the 1880s.

The university’s co-founder, Andrew Dickinson White, started the collection along with librarian George Lincoln Burr, who often acquired rare manuscripts for White’s personal collection. White had a passion for collecting rare books as well as exploring conflicts between science and religion, which gives us an idea about how the Witchcraft Collection got started.

In 1885, one of the first books ever written against witchcraft, a German tome known as the Loos Manuscript (1592), believed to have been burned as part of the Spanish Inquisition, was acquired and the Witchcraft Collection became a more formal subdivision of Cornell’s holdings. 

Most of the books detail the persecution of witches, beginning in Europe and spreading most familiarly to Salem. I could go on and on about this, but I have a feeling that if you haven’t stopped reading this to embark on your broomstick, you just want to see the goods.

Still, I can’t help but note what a magical thing it is – that with just a click, we can actually read these accounts for ourselves.

A History of Folk Horror

Scrolling through Kanopy, I came across the documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror. Little did I know what a gem this would turn out to be! This darling of SXSW is for everyone who’s ever wanted to take that class on “Horror and Society” but never got around to it.  The film, which has a 100% rating on Rotten tomatoes (and yes, there are more than 3 votes), is a surprisingly in-depth overview of international folk horror, featuring some of the most respected academics studying the subgenre. If you’re an adult who loves Halloween, but has become irritated by the commercialization of a truly great holiday, grab some wine and make an evening of watching Woodlands.  

Should you wish to make a weekend of it, follow-up with Midsommar.

More Spooky Than Scary

Dracula, Frankenstein. Cthulhu. By now, you’re familiar with all of the monsters a person needs to navigate modern-day society. You’ve probably even heard of Slenderman.

But what about Sirenhead?

Or Mapinguari, protector of the Amazon? 

Shape-shifting fireflies, anyone?

Update your knowledge of things that go bump, squeal and hiss in the night with Dr. Emily Zarka through PBS’s Monstrum, short YouTube videos dedicated to shedding light on the beasts lurking in the back of our collective imagination.

Melissa Haas is the author and illustrator of Catula: The Misadventures of Dracula’s Cat and The Night Before Christmas (NOW WITH CATS), among others. Follow Catula’s whereabouts on Instagram @CatulaTheCat. If you’re interested in downloading free coloring pages or seeing Margaret Atwood with a blowtorch, check out more Leisure Learning related content at

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