Dim the lights, light your favourite scented candle, and make a few cups of your favourite hot drink as you get ready to curl up with a spooky book – or multiple spooky books, for that matter – to get yourself in the halloween spirit (Hah, spirit. Yes, my puns are always intended). While they could not be recommended more, this list will exclude the classic horror authors for the most part, attempting instead to delve into horrors that can be found beyond your Stephen Kings, Mary Shelleys, Shirley Jacksons, and Edgar Alan Poes.
Of Carnivals and Haunted Houses
Carnivals are awesome. Ferris wheels, cotton candy, the looming horror of clowns waiting in the shadows to mutilate your face. Oh, wait. Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes explores one such nightmarish carnival as it rolls into Green Town, Illinois. Although it is the second book in the Green Town series, Dandelion Wine being the first, it’s not necessary to have read the first book since the stories are only vaguely connected in setting. But honestly, if you had the chance to read more Bradbury, why wouldn’t you?
Haunted houses at carnivals can be a fun albeit frightening experience, but that probably can’t be said when it’s your own house that becomes the residence of all things paranormal. Mariko Koike’s The Graveyard Apartment, translated from Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm, follows the story of a young family that moves into an apartment beside a graveyard; mysterious occurrences lead all the other residents to move out one by one until the family is left with something lurking in the basement.
Children of the Night
If you or your kids have grown up loving Thakumar Jhuli or R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, there’s a good chance that scary stories are a household favourite. Luckily for us, Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman, both quintessential children’s authors, have their own horror books in store. The Witches by Roald Dahl is about real, absolutely non-fairytale witches who don’t fly around in brooms or dress up in dark cloaks and hats. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book fit all age ranges, and tell tales of children who wander into alternate planes and haunted graveyards.
Alternatively, if you would rather read about spooky children, Such Small Hands, written by Andrés Barba and translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman, is a short book about a new girl who arrives at an orphanage. Marina, in her attempts to fit in, creates a horrific game “whose rules are dictated by a haunting violence”.
Seeing is Believing
While reading horror books can already be quite scary, having hauntingly beautiful visuals to accompany a story can really take the fright factor to a whole other level. Consider picking up Wytches by Scott Snyder if you’re a fan of the occult, but would like to read a story that delves further into the darker and more ancient aspects of witch mythology. If you would like something with more of a mystery/thriller aspect, Jeph Loeb’s Batman: The Long Halloween follows Batman as he tries to solve the case of the Holiday Killer – a mysterious killer who only kills his victims on holidays. For manga fans, Junji Ito’s Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror tells the tale of a town as it is plagued by a mysterious disease that first manifests through people’s obsessions with spirals, then takes multiple turns for the worse.
For the kids in your life, or if you are a kid, try Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker or The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag – a story about a boy who chooses to be a witch instead of a shapeshifter like his brothers.
Walking Down Old Roads
Every now and then, you come across a writer or a story which was considered to be a pioneer of an entire literary genre or subgenre, but a little more research leads to the uncovering of not-so-palatable facts about them (I’m looking at you, Lovecraft). Whether or not readers should continue supporting the work or the author is really an entirely separate conversation, and comes down to personal preferences more often than not. This is often where retellings and reimaginings come in. Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom revisits H. P. Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook, possibly one of his more racist works. The epigraph reads, “For H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings.”
However, retellings don’t necessarily have to deal with problematic aspects of old works all the time. Mallory Ortberg’s The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror retells classic fairy tales with added elements of psychological horror.
If you would rather pace yourself than sit through one particular horror novel for four to five hours straight, a short story collection might just be what you’re looking for. Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties, and Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell, are both collections of several separate short stories. The former explores various kinds of violence visited upon women’s bodies, while the latter, according to Goodreads, is “a powerful exploration of what happens when our darkest desires are left to roam unchecked”. If you’re looking for something less tied together than a novel but more so than unconnected short stories, Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yōko Ogawa (translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder) might be the perfect pick for you.
For lovers of Creepypasta stories, entries from the SCP Foundation website might be right up your alley. To unjustly summarise, the SCP Foundation is a top-secret fictional organization which documents and tries its best to contain what it calls anomalies – anything that violates natural law. Praised for the academic format and high standard of its writing, the entries detail not only abilities and physical descriptions of said anomalies, but also include elaborate containment procedures, classification levels, and historical records. With over 5000 canon entries, it is mind-boggling to see a collaborative writing project attain such heights and establish what is some of, if not the best, original lore on the internet, and possibly all of sci-fi and horror literature. If you have trouble finding a particular entry to start with, a quick Google search or the YouTube series called Confinement by Lord Bung can catch you up on some of the most interesting anomalies.