In the days leading up to, and past, the Halloween holiday, I’ll be taking a look at and recommending all manner of Halloween horrors and spooky treats. These are the
Thirteen Days of Halloween
Day 1 – October 22nd: The October Country
Day 2 – October 23rd: Bone-Chilling Books
Day 3 – October 24th: Terrifying Television
Day 4 – October 25th: Petrifying Podcasts
Day 5 – October 26th: Grisly Games
Day 6 – October 27th: Creepy Comics
Day 7 – October 28th: Frightening Films
Day 8 – October 29th: This Is (A) Halloween (Mixtape)
Day 9 – October 30th: Halloween Horror
Day 10 – October 31st: Why Halloween?
Day 11 – November 1st: All Hallows’ Day
Day 12 – November 2nd: Día de los Muertos
Day 13 – November 3rd: Nightmares before Christmas
Day 2 – October 23rd: Bone-Chilling Books
Is there anything better than curling up on a cold, foggy evening with a creepy new novel? Probably, but I lead a very dull existence. Whether you’re dull or exciting, I’m sure we can all agree that books are great. Now, before we begin, I have a confession to make: I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like to. I love looking at books, talking about books, and buying and owning books, but I very rarely find the time to read them. With that being said, while I’m by no means an authority on horror novels, I’ve done quite a bit of research, so this list is going to be a combination of books I’ve read, books I’m reading, books I plan to read, and authors you should check out. So with that out of the way, let’s begin.
Books I’ve Read:
The Three/Day Four: These first two are probably unconventional picks, but maybe it’s good that I start with these two, because it will allow me to explain a bit more about what I’m really talking about when I use the word “horror”. I’m using the word very broadly, to encompass all manner of things scary, spooky, supernatural, or unsettling. Maybe that’s misleading, but this blog is going to be less about the actual “horror genre” and more about things that feel appropriate to occupy your time in the month of October. The word “horror” is just the shorthand that I’ll be using. I’m sorry if that offends horror buffs, but I’ve been using it that way for so long that even if I tried sticking to pure “horror” books (if I could even identify what those are), I’m sure I’d slip up. So, by that definition, The Three and its quasi-sequel, Day Four, fall into the horror genre, in the sense that there’s something spooky going on in these unsettling thrillers. The Three follows the aftermath of “Black Thursday”, a day when four commercial airliners around the world all crash at the exact same time, leaving three child survivors, all of whom are found alive without a scratch. The story, written by Sarah Lotz, is told via a series of interviews, blog posts, and newspaper articles, similar to something like World War Z. It’s a very intriguing premise, and the ending is suitably crazy, even if it doesn’t really provide any sense of closure. If you decide to read Day Four, you can expect that feeling to increase, as the follow-up refuses to answer any questions while asking even more. It’s too bad, because Day Four actually tells a much more linear story about a potentially haunted cruise liner that’s been lost at sea without powers for four days. The chapters jump around between characters like in the Game of Thrones books but time progresses linearly, with each character getting one chapter per day (I believe the story goes until day seven, at which point, well…). If you’re the kind of person who got really frustrated with Lost for refusing to answer your questions, you may not enjoy these books. But, if you’re like me and can stomach unanswered questions as long as the journey is great, then check these out. Two of my favorite recent reads.
Bird Box: The premise of this novel is both simple and complex: what would the world be like if you couldn’t look outside? Bird Box is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which mysterious creatures have caused people to go crazy and kill themselves just by being seen. People stop going outside. They board up their windows and their doors, not daring to venture outside, and when they do, they must keep their eyes closed. The story follows Malorie, a mother of twins (named only “Boy” and “Girl”), and flashes back and forth between three different time periods: prior to the twins’ birth, when “the problem” first began; after the twins birth, as she teaches them how to survive in this new world; and the present, where she must decide whether or not to venture from the safety of their home in order to search for something better. It’s a complex premise in the sense that “the problem” itself is fairly abstract, with no explanation ever provided for its cause or purpose, but it’s simple in the sense that it preys on one of our biggest fears – that of the unknown. Author Josh Malerman builds the tension through anticipation, as the characters don’t know any more than the reader about what lurks outside. Suitably tense and chilling for this time of year.
The Vanishing: I’d be lying if I said I bought this book for any reason other than the cover. Isn’t it gorgeous? It immediately jumped out at me and I knew I had to have it. What lie inside was what seemed like a fairly traditional tale of a haunted house, which started off very slowly, before taking a couple big turns towards the end. By the time I was done, I felt thoroughly creeped out. Writer Wendy Webb does a good job building the mystery and suffusing the novel with a healthy dose of atmosphere.
Goosebumps: This one is a bit of a cop-out. I’m including the entire Goosebumps series here. I don’t know about you, but when I was younger, I loved Goosebumps. My mom wanted me to read more, so she went out and bought me all these 4-book boxsets of Goosebumps. I’m sure I had upwards of 30. I’m sure I read less than 10 of them before she decided I was no longer allowed to read Goosebumps. She hid all the books, and when I was alone, I’d sneak to the hiding place (the top shelf of the linen closet) and peak at all of the unread horrors that resided there. Years later she sold them all in a garage sale. I was walking through Costco a few weeks ago and I saw a Goosebumps collectors tin. They were selling 5 of the best-selling Goosebumps books for $19.99 (Welcome to Dead House, Say Cheese and Die!, Night of the Living Dummy, The Haunted Mask, and One Day at Horrorland). I took that bad boy home, popped it open, and started reading Welcome to Dead House (one of my many unread Goosebumps books). Honestly, all these years later? This book that was written for children creeped me out more than most of the “adult” horror novels I was reading.
Books I’m Reading:
These are a few of the books I’m currently reading this month. While I’ve made a sizeable dent in A Discovery of Witches, I’ve just started the other three.
A Discovery of Witches: This is a tough one to recommend, as I know it won’t be for everybody. I picked up all 3 books in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy at Chapters last year for $40. The covers had caught my eye but I didn’t really know all that much about them. Still, 3 books for $40 isn’t bad, right? I only started reading the first book once I learned that it actually takes place in the month of October. Perfect for a Halloween read, right? I was trying to read this book in “real time” by matching up the events in the book with when they supposedly happened in the month of October (there are guides online), but I quickly fell behind. It’s not an overly difficult book to read, but it’s long, and the chapters are long, and when you split up your free time between books, comics, games, TV, movies, podcasts, and sports, well… sometimes long chapters are a real detriment. That being said, this story about witches, vampires, and daemons working in and around Oxford College really grabbed me. I’m worried about the romantic aspects going a bit too far into the realm of Twilight, but so far I’m really enjoying it. Before she was a writer, Harkness was a historian, and it shows in her attention to detail. Everything has been judiciously researched and the world of Oxford feels almost tangible. There’s a great autumnal atmosphere infused throughout. I really wish I could be in a library at Oxford, reading this book this fall.
Horrorstor: I love this book. I’m only one chapter in, but I love it. Haunted IKEA. What an idea! The whole thing is structured to look like an IKEA catalogue, and the book comes equipped with a map, ads, diagrams, instructions, and coupons. Just from a design perspective, the book is a triumph. I can’t speak to the legitimacy of the actual scares contained within, but I can tell you that the sense of place is spot on. Everybody has been inside of an IKEA. This familiarity allows you to immediately picture the locations and its characters in perfect detail. I often struggle with putting together the geography of a setting in my mind – I’ll misread things and end up all turned around inside of a house with impossible rooms and stairwells. Between the included map and my knowledge of IKEA floor plans, I don’t think I’ll have that problem here. Setting is very important for a horror novel, and I can’t wait to explore this one further.
A Head Full of Ghosts: I can’t believe nobody has had the idea of combining a possession with a reality show until now. I mean, I’m sure someone has. They must have, right? But this is the first time I’m reading about it. Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts is told primarily from the perspective of Marry Barrett, whose family becomes the focus of the reality show “The Possession” when her older sister Marjorie begins behaving strangely. Their newly-Catholic father believes that Marjorie must be possessed, and enlists the help of their church’s priest in performing an exorcism. All of this information is being recounted by an adult Merry who, fifteen years later, is being interviewed about the show. These chapters are sporadically intercut with blog postings written by a horror fantastic that is critiquing the show, episode-by-episode as she re-watches it. It’s a compelling premise, and I can’t wait to get further. A Head Full of Ghosts is being developed as a film, but I can’t help but wish that we were getting a TV mini-series to better fit the format of the book.
The Library at Mount Char: I have no idea what to say about this book. I’ve heard good things. I’ve seen it described as both horror and fantasy. What I can tell you is that it’s a complex, high-concept novel that has laid the groundwork for a lot of cool things to come. I don’t know all that much about the Library that is central to the story’s plot; all I know is that it’s some otherworldly receptacle for all of the world’s knowledge, watched over by 12 different librarians, each of whom specialize in a particular line of study. I’m literally only 24 pages in. But I’m excited about it! And you should be too!
Books I Plan to Read:
House of Leaves: This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for years. I can’t even remember when or where I first heard of it, I just remember hearing that it was essential. It’s also incredibly intimidating, which is why I have yet to embark on its twisty, convoluted journey. If you were to ask me what it’s about, I wouldn’t really know what to say. I know that it concerns a documentary film about an impossible house, a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. That’s only one, small facet of this dense novel, which contains multiple stories and narrators that interact with one another in unconventional ways. If you’re familiar with the novel S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is something of a precursor to that. I, quite frankly, don’t understand how Danielewski’s mind works. He also wrote a book called Only Revolutions that has two narratives, one that can be read left-to-right and one that can be read right-to-left, although from what I understand, the stories are cyclical and you can start with either one. He’s also in the midst of a 27 volume story entitled The Familiar, of which three books have already been published. The first one alone is over 800 pages. I’ve begun to come to terms with the fact that I may never actually read House of Leaves. I’m not sure I have the focus or the stamina. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try.
Night Film: Here’s another book that has been compared to House of Leaves. I literally have no idea what Night Film is about, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. In fact, I’ve heard a number of people say that they actually prefer it to House of Leaves. The hook with Night Film is that you download a decode app that interacts with the novel to unlock additional text, video, and audio files that complement the novel.
The Shining Girls/Broken Monsters: I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here, but I’ve heard so many good things about these two Lauren Beukes novels. The Shining Girls concerns a serial killer who travels through time, killing young “shining girls”, girls with the potential to change the future. Not crazy enough for you? Broken Monsters follows a detective who stumbles upon a crime scene in which a dead boy is found fused to a deer. Both of these supernatural crime novels sound right up my alley and I can’t wait to dig into them (if I ever find the time).
The Terror/The Abominable: I have heard that Dan Simmons novels are super scary, although I’ve never actually read one. Still, these two in particular are near the top of my list. If you like some historical fiction mixed up in your horror, these are the books for you. The Terror tells the tale of the HMS Terror, which went missing during the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of the Northwest Passage (it was recently found last year in Nunavut). The Abominable tells the story of a number of climbers who go missing on Mount Everest in 1924 and the doomed expedition that followed to look for them the year after. What caused the disappearances? Who or what is stalking the expeditions? You’ll have to read to find out. I literally don’t know the answers. I haven’t read them.
Authors You Should Read:
If you’re an avid horror reader, or even if you keep up-to-date on the world of genre books, you probably noticed that there are some major authors who weren’t mentioned above. That was intentional. There are certain authors whose works are too good and/or too varied to be slotted into the above categories, so I’m recommending not just one or two books, but their entire oeuvres.
Ray Bradbury: I’ll admit, I’ve read very little of Bradbury myself (although I’m trying to correct that). I have come to understand that nobody gets autumn like Ray Bradbury; indeed, the title of my first blogpost was taken from his short-story collection, The October Country. The other two you want to look at are Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Halloween Tree (although we’ll talk about that one more later).
HP Lovecraft: This is a bit of a controversial one, not because of his works, but because of who he was as a man. It is well known that Lovecraft was a racist, bigoted individual, and that unfortunate side of him often bleeds through in his stories. That being said, the man’s politics aside, he’s undoubtedly one of the most influential horror authors of all time and definitely belongs among the ranks of Stoker, Shelley, Matheson, and Poe. This is the man who brought the likes of Cthulhu and the Necronomicon into the world, the man who influenced the likes of Guillermo Del Toro, John Carpenter, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King. His influence can be felt in all manner of books, comics, games, shows, and movies. You can pick up his entire collected works for quite cheap.
Joe Hill: Hill is a relative newcomer to the scene, but with only 4 novels and a short-story collection (plus a number of comic series’), he’s already made quite a name for himself – and I mean that literally. He could have ridden the coattails of his father, Stephen King, but instead he chose to pave his own way. The DNA is there though. Reading a Joe Hill book is like reading a young Stephen King in his prime. Some even think he may one day surpass his father. I haven’t read A Heart-Shaped Box or 20th Century Ghosts yet, but Horns is a twisted novel and N0S4A2 will make sure you never think of Christmas the same way again.
Stephen King: The Master of Macabre himself. What horror list would be complete with Stephen King? I’ll admit, I haven’t read as much King as I would like to, but I’m convinced I’ll make it through the Dark Tower series before the movie comes out (ha, no). I can tell you that apart from The Dark Tower, my King priorities are Salem’s Lot and Pet Sematary – I’ve heard that they’re the best to read around Halloween.
Neil Gaiman: Neil Gaiman is hands down my favorite author. I have a ton of respect for the man himself and I find him truly inspirational, but beyond that, all of his works are just so… marvelous. He just has a way with words. He spins them into something truly magical. His stories are so clever and funny and creepy – his imagination knows no bounds. I have no clue how he comes up with the things he comes up with, but I hope he keeps doing it. You really can’t go wrong with any of his works but if you want something that really fits with the season, then pick up The Graveyard Book – it’s The Jungle Book, but instead of being raised in a jungle by animals, it’s about a boy being raised in a graveyard by ghosts. It’s also available as a graphic novel or as a full-cast recording if those are more your thing. Also, his short story collections are fantastic. Do yourself a favour and pick them up.