[Editor's note: Here's a fun article we shared last year ... #TBT Halloween edition!] Readers Beware: not all these novels appear spooky at first: but as we’ve learned, it’s not fair to judge a book by its cover—much less its synopsis.
As Halloween fast approaches, we RIFers spend a great deal of time discussing possible costumes and what kind of candy to offer trick-or-treaters.
Less time is spent considering other, less stereotypical, ways of celebrating . . . such as reading a good ol’ scary story.
So let me suggest these books for a strange—yet nonetheless terrifying—Halloween.
Readers Beware: not all these novels appear spooky at first: but as we’ve learned, it’s not fair to judge a book by its cover—much less its synopsis.
In no particular order:
1. It by Stephen King
While most people recommend The Shining in terms of a good read, I have to go with It. No novel more than It has kept me up reading far past midnight, afraid to close your eyes. And I’m not even afraid of clowns.
2. The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
This novel got a lot of press due to its bizarre post-modern writing style. While I found some of the more . . . eccentric . . . page layouts of this ergodic novel incredibly distracting, I have to give credit where credit is due: the basic story of this house that keeps growing inside but not on the out terrified me. It didn’t help that the power in my apartment went out right at a key moment. I highly recommend this for the more “literary-leaning” scarers out there.
3. World War Z by Max Brooks
Whether or not you’ve seen the movie, the book is worth a read. Unlike the Brad Pitt film, the novel is an “oral history of the zombie war” told from a variety of point of views. Author Max Brooks (son of legendary comedic filmmaker Mel Brooks) takes us all over the globe, where we can read a frighteningly realistic recounting of what very well could (and, in the book’s universe, did) happen in a zombie apocalypse. Suffice it to say—it’s a darker look at humanity, but unlike novels like The Road, there’s a more upbeat outlook found at the end. I couldn’t put this book down.
4. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan is perhaps best known for Atonement, but for this writer it’s Enduring Love that still haunts my more quiet moments. Enduring Love tells the tale of two men, one of whom suffers from de Clerembault’s syndrome, and the destructive and unwelcome force love—obsession—can cause to an entire group of friends and family. Jed’s enduring love for Joe is not a thing of beauty, but rather a force of horror and, in the end, deep despair. There are no physical demons in this novel, but there sure are metaphorical ones.
5. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
A modern-day ghost story in the form of a gothic novel, never before has the location of furniture terrified me so much. Sarah Waters is a respected writer in her own right, and there’s nothing more pleasurable to read in Halloween than a spectacularly written—albeit disturbing—ghost story. Another must-read for our more literary heathens, and you could win yourself extra cred by mentioning this “ghost story” was short listed for the Man Booker Prize. Cred or not, prepare to be scared.
6. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
As you’re likely noticing, not all my suggestions are typical “horror” novels. Many books were written in the wake of September 11th, 2001. But none have haunted me as much as Jonathan Safran Foer’s beautifully-written, heartbreaking novel. (The movie did it poor justice.) Told from the point-of-view of young Oskar Schell, we witness 9/11 from the POV of a child. This includes the death of his father, as only a child can feel—and more importantly, recount—it. This novel made me cry. And it reminded me just how terrifying it was to be a young child in a world of chaos.
7. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The description of Lisbeth Salander’s brutal rape at the hands of her legal care guardian Nils Bjurman is far more disturbing than any tale Larsson could have written up involving a ghost. The facts Larsson peppers throughout his novels regarding sexual abuse and the misuse of women in Swedish society are all the more terrifying because they are not fiction—they are true.
8. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
I can’t think of a fiction writer more than Ellis whose personality and morals are more closely entwined with his novels. So many believe Ellis a monster due to works such as American Psycho and Less Than Zero, a fact I don’t necessarily find fair. Fiction is fiction. That said, don’t get me wrong: those novels are incredibly disturbing. Reading Ellis’ vivid descriptions of the way Patrick Bateman tortured his female victims literally caused me to vomit up my Cheerios. So if you want to read a novel and be disturbed, but perhaps not scared, American Psycho (followed closely by Less Than Zero) is the novel for you. Here’s hoping the adult men we meet at cocktail parties don’t actually think like that.
9. Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
As I’ve written before, I’m a sucker for Mary Stewart gothic novels. While I read them for the romance, Nine Coaches Waiting actually caused me to hold my breath. Unlike some of the novels written about, I wasn’t terrified, but I was definitely tense. This is a great gothic romance for anyone looking for a lighter—yet still fairly literary—read.
10. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Much of American literature has discussed the destruction of the American Dream—White Noise, Death of a Salesman, just to name a few—but I have yet to read a novel that is half as heart-wrenchingly effective as American Pastoral. Reading it was a punch in the gut that I am still recovering from. The novel is impeccably written, and beautiful, but desperately, horribly sad. American Pastoral speaks to the scared adult in all of us who worries that, no matter how hard we try, we might not achieve our dreams. Nothing, we all know, is more terrifying than the disappointment we can have for ourselves.
Do you have a favorite not-your-typical-Halloween-book spooky read? Share it in a comment!
About the Author
EMILY ANSARA BAINES is the author of The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook and The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook. Her short stories have appeared in Narrative literary magazine and AngeLingo. She graduated with honors from USC, where she studied creative writing under Aimee Bender and T.C. Boyle. One day Emily will live in Paris and speak French while wearing a beret, but these days she makes do with hiding out in the bookstores of Los Angeles. Her favorite word is murmur. Visit Emily online on Twitter @LiteraryQueen.