The Scythed One lets his hair down (metaphorically, at least) in his charming new autobiography.

By J. Rentilly

BENJAMIN FRANKLINonce famously noted, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Tired ofletting others speak for him, Death is finally setting the recordstraight (with a little help from author George Pendle) in his newautobiography, which hits bookshelves this month. Call him what youlike -- the Grim Reaper, Anubis, the Destroying Angel, or the DancingSkeleton -- but in Death: A Life (ThreeRivers Press, $14), a surprisingly lighthearted comedy, the originalMan in Black comes clean, spilling millennia of beans about histortured origins, insufferable adolescence, and evergreen career. Topthat, Taxes.

AMERICAN WAY: Why write this book now, after so many millions of years?
DEATH:First, there is the need to set the record straight, to answer some ofmy detractors’ taunts, and to correct the narrow-minded bigotry thathas grown up around my name. Second, I don’t deny that there aretherapeutic benefits to be gained from recanting my travails to anaudience. Talking through one’s problems can undoubtedly help, even ifthey do go back millions of years. (I’m expecting your call, Oprah.)Third, and perhaps most importantly, I see this as the chance toredress the fundamental misconception of creation; it is not I, Death,who should be feared but rather the dreadful possibilities of Life.

AMERICAN WAY: What are some of the most hurtful rumors or misconceptions about you?
DEATH: That I wear black the whole time. It was just a phase.

AMERICAN WAY: Has being Death become easier or more difficult over the years?
DEATH:The number of ways to die has certainly increased. During the ninthcentury, more than 85 percent of people I dealt with died from eatingtoo much mud. Now there is bungee jumping, deepwater diving, and hulahooping (more lethal than you would think).

AMERICAN WAY: If you weren’t Death and doing, uh, Death stuff, what would you be doing? Do you have any hobbies?
DEATH:I enjoy darkness, emptiness, and nothingness; hanging around endlessvoids, bottomless abysses, and black gulfs; and doing, saying, andhearing nothing. Admittedly, there was a time -- a time dealt with inmy memoir -- when I also liked puppies, kittens, and flying kites. Butthat was a long, long time ago.

AMERICAN WAY: Now that you’ve completed this astonishing memoir, what will you do for an encore?
DEATH: I think Broadway. Death: A Life -- The Musical could run and run and run …

AMERICAN WAY: Who should play you in the feature-film version of your life story?
DEATH: Well, they’re always saying that Peter O’Toole “looks like Death,” but I can’t see the similarity.

FRIGHTFUL FICTION

Don’tbother with a manicure -- by the time you finish reading thesetried-and-true nail-biters, you won’t have much left to work with. ByJenna Schnuer

Looking for something spine-tingling to read this Halloween? We’ll be diving into Ghost Stories(Knopf, $15), a collection of spooky tales compiled by Peter Washingtonand crafted by writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Edith Wharton, andPenelope Lively, among others. (Our camp counselors were nowhere nearthis good.)

But if you’d rather seek the opinion of aprofessional -- someone whose livelihood revolves around the world ofthe mystical, the horrific, or the simply creepy -- look no further. Weasked some seasoned veterans of spook to share with us which books maketheir knees shake.

“Having the good fortune to be able to tellstories now -- it all stems from the first books when I was a littlekid that kept me up at night. One was called Tales for the Midnight Hour(Scholastic, $5) by J.B. Stamper. I remember the cover … It was of askeletal man in a suit and a fedora, straightening his tie and staringout at the reader with full, lidless, bloodshot eyes. [The storieswere] an introduction to the classic suspense setup.” -- MarcusDunstan, cowriter of the Saw movies

“It would definitely be The Shining(Pocket, $8) [by Stephen King]. I read it only a few years before Istarted working on the Tower of Terror, [a Disney World attraction].I’m sure that the whole haunted-hotel [theme] had to have crept intoour thinking. [In the book,] the hotel takes on its own character andpersonality, and the idea of a place being so overwhelmingly powerfuland haunted that it can transform the people who are staying there -- Ithink it’s just wonderfully frightening.” -- Cory Sewelson, Walt DisneyImagineer, senior show producer and director

Odd Thomas(Bantam, $27) by Dean Koontz. The character of Odd Thomas presentshimself as a perfectly ordinary kind of person. The only thing is thatOdd can see dead people. They find ways of letting him know they needsomething done. Koontz takes perfectly ordinary situations and thingsand makes them absolutely horrifying.” -- Colleen Johnson, tour guideat the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts

“Grown-ups will enjoy -- well, maybe enjoy is not the word -- The Collector(Back Bay Books, $15) by John Fowles, the story of a shy, lonely, andprudish lepidopterist who falls in love with a beautiful young womanand decides to collect her in just exactly the same way he collectsbutterflies. Soon, he has her locked in his basement, where he plans tokeep her forever so he can … look at her. Whenever he feels like it.And that’s all. The narrative that follows is a grueling and cerebralchess match between the desperate-to-escape girl and her implacable,damp-palmed captor, who is determined never to let her see the light ofday again.” -- Joe Hill, author of 20th Century Ghosts (William Morrow,$14), son of Stephen King

 

Boo-tiful Music
Care for some musical accompaniment to go with your terror tomes? Here, from the newly released The Book of Lists: Horror (Harper, $15), are horror writer and director Karim Hussain’s picks for the top-10 scary-movie soundtracks.

1. Suspiria, Goblin with Dario Argento
2. Angst, Klaus Schulze
3. Prince of Darkness, John Carpenter
4. Near Dark, Tangerine Dream
5. Day of the Dead, John Harrison
6. In a Glass Cage, Javier Navarrete
7. The Beyond, Fabio Frizzi
8. Dust Devil, Simon Boswell
9. Full Circle, Colin Towns
10. Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Chu Ishikawa