Photo: Philippe Halsman/Magnum
Every second Friday was mobile library day. At ten to four, I would run down the street to the local co-op store where the giant black library truck always parked, next to a small power generator with its electric hum, rushing to be first in line, waiting for the librarian to lower the steps and squeeze open the vehicle’s accordion door. Inside were tightly crammed wooden shelves of dreams and adventures and endless pleasures. I always made straight for the horror and ghost stories, the monsters and creatures from some dark beyond lurking inside their covers. I liked Poe, I liked Blackwood, I liked James, I liked Bradbury, I liked Bloch, I liked Hitchcock. The librarian always scanned the covers with her cool blue eyes, fin-tailed spectacles tied to a chain around her neck. “Isn’t this book a little old for you?” she would ask tapping a finger on the cover of the latest Alfred Hitchcock compendium of tales. I didn’t think so, and protested, saying I’d read all the others she had, so what could possibly be wrong with this one? “But he’s so macabre,” the librarian replied, taking out the stamp, dampening it on the ink pad and punching out a return date. “I hope you don’t get nightmares, now,” the librarian said as I ran down the stairs and back home through swirling autumn leaves.
Of course I wanted nightmares, that was the whole point—why else would I read Alfred Hitchcock’s “tales to make my skin crawl” or “tales to make my heart stop”? That was the whole idea. I knew Hitchcock didn’t write the stories, but knew he had chosen each story because they were supposedly so terrifying, so gob-smackingly horrific, and I always hope that they were. In my innocence, I believed that in facing up to the worst terrors an imagination could conjure up would only make me stronger.
The covers may be different from the books I borrowed from the mobile library, but the titles and the tales were the same. The trick of thrilling suspense, as Hitchcock once said in an interview in 1966, was to make the reader or viewer identify with a central character and bring in the unexpected—like a man who sees a road accident, sees the dead body and moves on, only on a second look does he suddenly recognise the dead man. And then we’re hooked, like I was once hooked on these Alfred Hitchcock books.