Required Reading for Halloween

This essay was written by Amarie Fox. 

Every October, I stand and look out over my street. The leaves on the trees are as green as in summer, as if dipped in wax, glistening in the sun; the air, damp and muggy, suffocating in its heavy humidity; a single trace of autumn, if there is one, is invisible or else hidden. The season-less, static south!

To siphon a spirit of the fall, I tend to compile a list of books that will fit or change my mood for the month. Set the scene, so to speak, because it won’t set itself. I make my own magic.

In the weeks leading up to Halloween, especially, I gather the treasures from my childhood along with a few physiologically-chilling stories. Unlike December – a real busy time for everyone, when I tend to get less reading done – I usually have more time to read and why not fill thirty-one days full of the spookiest reading possible?

This year, I thought I’d share some of my selections. Keep in mind, I have tried to veer away from adding the typical choices like Poe’s The Raven, Stocker’s Dracula, or Shelley’s Frankenstein. Here are some fresher, perhaps unheard of options. I hope you enjoy some of them:

  • The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury: As a child, I had a VHS cassette of the television film adaptation. Being so small, I had no idea the film was based on an actual story. Since this is a child’s novel, it is very fast-paced – there are trips to ancient Egypt and even the Middle Ages. By high school, I discovered Bradbury wrote this! (And don’t tell anyone, but I cherish this little story over Fahrenheit 451.)
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: If you’re not familiar with one of America’s best horror writers, or have only read her most famous short story The Lottery, shame on you! Jackson is not only one of my favorite writers, but she’s the queen of siphoning dark atmospheres and some of the most unforgettable scenes ever. Her characters are always fantastic. This novel is no different. (And just in time for October, Penguin is releasing a special new edition, which belongs to a series of other volumes selected by award-winning director Guillermo del Toro.)
  • Doctor Sleep by Stephen King: How could I not include a King novel on this list? This is the follow up to 1977’s The Shining and follows Dan Torrance (the boy narrator of The Shining, now middle aged). I feel like this will be a good push to a whole new generation to check out The Shining, more than anything, which is one of the reasons I am adding it to this list. After all, the movie never did the novel justice.
  • Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories by Roald Dahl: Most known for his children’s work – Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach – this small collection is not written by Dahl, but a collection that he put together after reading through 749 tales at the British Museum Library. The 14 here were his obvious favorites. Like Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures, this is a good primer of scary stories.
  • My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales: Kate Bernheimer edited this novel of 40 tremendously dark fairy tales from everyone from Joyce Carol Oates to Joy Williams to Aimee Bender. The title enough should convince you, but even if it doesn’t,  I can assure you this is a great volume to dip into from time to time.
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter: Within this collection of short stories there are re-tellings of Bluebeard, Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and even Snow White. However, I wouldn’t say you have to necessarily be familiar with any of the traditional fairy tales. Carter literally lifts each one from its origins and enchants it with such gorgeous language and unforgettable imagery.
  • Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier: I could not end this without including a proper, albeit over the top Gothic tale – Orphans! A murder mystery! A moor! I was slightly tempted to choose Rebecca over this, but Jamaica Inn is lesser known and deserves a proper read. Written in 1935, this isn’t your traditional Gothic novel. So, even if you hated Wuthering Heights, I have a feeling you will love this, since it is a bit more modern.

Do you base your reading around seasons? Occasions? Holidays? If not, what are you planning to read in October?

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Amarie Fox is a writer and artist. She recently graduated with a BA in English Literature. She plans of making an origami swan out of her diploma. Her recent fiction work has been published by Little Fiction, NIB, and Literary Orphans. Find more information at amariefoxart.wordpress.com.

For more suggestions of scary tales consider: On Going Dark: Why We Read Scary Things by Chris Ciolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Windell Oskay

4 Replies to “Required Reading for Halloween”

  1. My favorite Halloween story is also a childhood book: Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg. I just may have to place an Amazon order! Thanks for the memories — and the suggestions…

  2. I was traveling through half of October so have been extending my Halloween celebration. It is usually a month long celebration. I just finished The Haunting of Hill House and I love The Halloween Tree. I am currently reading The Shining Girls by Lauren Buekes, which was on another Halloween list. I’m a hundred pages in a so far it is enjoyable.

  3. I’m way late to this, but The Master and Margarita is a good Halloween read. It has devils and talking black cats and witches and red-headed people we all assume are vampires of some kind.

    I was thinking about this idea the other day–about how we should do something to mark the change of seasons to take the place of the old rituals that we no longer follow. I like your idea of developing reading rituals at the change of the season very much.

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