When I was in Junior High, I was preoccupied with the horror genre and attracted to scary stories. At the same time, I was really haunted and disturbed by horror because I was terrified that reading horror stories and watching horror movies made me a lot more attractive to Satan (read more about this: My Tell-Tale Heart).
One day (probably about 1986), I rode my bike to the mall and I went to Waldenbooks. Recently, I had picked up a horror paperback from Waldenbooks, but I only got a few pages into it. The author described some demon-possessed man emerging from the swamp with a gigantic pentagram on his chest. I threw the book into the garbage. I totally believed that the pentagram would draw Satan closer to me. And now I had seen it in my brain, which was really bad.
So I went back to Waldenbooks to find something else; when I went up to the counter, I asked the bookseller if he could recommend a horror novel that didn't have anything to do with Satan.
Over the last twenty years, I have worked as a bookseller for a variety of bookstores (including Waldenbooks), and if a teenage boy came up to me and asked me that question, I would have a bunch of titles to recommend. Unfortunately, this question really stumped that lame bookseller at the counter that day. If he knew anything about young adult books, he could have recommended the wonderful series of books by John Bellairs (for example)--those books were in their heyday at the time of this story.
All he could think to recommend was Dracula, which is a really lame suggestion for a teenage boy; after all, it's an epistolary novel from the Victorian era--not exactly the perfect fit a boy in 1986; however, that book would change my life. Maybe the bookseller knew exactly what he was doing, but probably not.
Of course, I knew about Dracula--he was ubiquitous in American culture, but I had never read the source material before.
When I was a little kid, my mom read me a "chapter book" version of the beginning of the novel when Jonathan Harker is imprisoned in Dracula's castle. My mom and I were both shocked and horrified when Dracula offers up a living baby in a sack to his three vampire wives.
And I remembered that detail about the baby when I read the beginning of the novel. The first section--the letters by Jonathan Harker when he travels to Transylvania and meets Dracula--remains one of my favorite works of horror literature. The growing dread as Harker slowly figures out his true predicament is marvelous and unforgettable.
However, after that opening selection of letters, I started to grow bored with the novel (not a great book recommendation for a thirteen-year-old). I jumped ahead, and I was really annoyed to encounter a scene with Dracula walking around in the daylight; vampires couldn't walk around in the daylight--everyone knew that!
Then I hit upon one of the most disturbing things I have ever read in any book: the scene where Mina is caught drinking blood from Dracula's bare chest. The horrifying details mixed with eroticism was too much for me. I immediately shut the book and didn't open it again for many years.
I had vampire nightmares for years after that (also fueled by a traumatic viewing of Lost Boys).
Thanks for the recommendation, Waldenbooks!