DAVID GREENE, host:
For most of us, traveling offers a relaxing break - but not for writer Benjamin Percy. For our books series "My Guilty Pleasure," where authors talk about a book theyre embarrassed to love, Percy admits that he spends his vacations poring over a haunted travel guide, seeking out the spooky.
BENJAMIN PERCY: In the far corner of my office, on the bottom shelf of a bookcase, hides a rather embarrassing collection of paperbacks. Their covers bear images of a ghost in an alleyway, a sonar reading of the Loch Ness monster, a grainy photograph of Sasquatch. Their titles - "Ghostly Tales and Sinister Stories of Old Edinburgh," "Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America" - appear slashed by claws.
My favorite among them is "Haunted Wisconsin" by Michael Norman and Beth Scott, less for its literary excellence, and more for the places described in its dog-eared pages, as I have visited nearly every location listed in the book: a collection of stories I have transformed into a cobwebbed travel guide.
Its tales are drawn from archives, newspaper articles and personal interviews. They range from historical tales of terror to modern-day hauntings. There is a bothersome poltergeist, an Ojibwe ghost, a lady in brown, a horse of death, a psychic set of sisters.
There is also a strange, touristic impulse to the way I consult these books; I read them the way others might highlight a Fodor's or Lonely Planet guide. I'll be hiking the same, crowded trail as the rest of the backpackers, and I'll be snapping photos of the waterfall along with the crush of tourists, but I'll also be alone in the abandoned cabin or collapsed mine shaft - my eyes wide, my ears pricked.
I go places others do not, and it is like I own a map that no one knows about, its roads and legends written in invisible ink.
I keep the books in my backpack or the glove-box of my car - like a flask, something I can sneak out and draw from when no one is looking. Hold up, I'll tell my wife. I want to take a little detour, which once translated to a six-hour trek to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I sought out the mystery light of Paulding.
As the sun set and the owls called all around us, and the world grew inky around the edges, we stood in the woods, waiting. Sadly, the mystery light turned out to be nothing more mysterious than headlights glowing through the trees from a far-off highway. This was a familiar disappointment. I can't tell you how many times I have stood in dark places, waiting for something to happen.
I'm still waiting. And after reading so many of these collections over so many years, I cannot help but wonder when I'm exploring the underground tunnels of Edinburgh or a haunted attic in a Vermont B&B, when a board creaks or a shadow shifts or an owl screeches, if I might find my way into a future chapter.
GREENE: That is the voice of Benjamin Percy. He teaches at Iowa State University. His forthcoming novel, "The Wilding," will be published later this month. His guilty pleasure is the book "Haunted Wisconsin," and for more guilty pleasures, both delicious or naughty, you can go to npr.org.
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