I love autumn. If asked what my favorite season is, I’ll more than likely say spring because of my birthday. Or summer because of the Ren Faire. But honestly I adore fall. I love layering up, I love comfy stuff, I love dumb Instagram-perfect leaves and pumpkins and hot chocolate. I love cozy socks and sick boots and leather jackets and a feeling of anticipation in the air – for parties, for the weekends, for Halloween, for whatever.
It being the season and all I thought I’d present a thoughtful yet utterly non-comprehensive list of my personal favorite thematic books for your Halloween and/or autumnal enjoyment. Don’t let the fact that Halloween is this weekend prevent you from enjoying these gems year round!
Make some tea or hot chocolate in a big, stupid mug, swathe yourself in your fluffiest blanket, and enjoy one of these books at Maximum Autumnal Introvert levels today!
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn (1986)
Published in 1986, this book won the 1989 Reader’s Choice Award and has been on and off school reading lists ever since. It is a middle grade novel which deals with heavy topics: lying, family issues, adolescence, death, and even suicide. Young Heather moves to a new house in the country with her father, stepmother, and stepsiblings. Heather is super against her stepfamily and lies at every chance she gets about what the kids are up to to try to divide her father from her stepmother. At their new home, which used to be a church, Heather meets a ghost named Helen, who is just as lonely and miserable as she is. The two become friends, and plot against Heather’s stepfamily together. The stepsister, Molly, begins to realize that something is not quite right about Heather’s imaginary friend, and the mystery unfolds…
My Thoughts: I read this book when I was in elementary school and it scared the crap out of me. It’s definitely scary to a younger reader.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz (1981)
This is the first in a series of books which collect urban legends, myths, folk tales, and generally spooky stuff into one compact place. Some of the tales and poems are funny, and some of them are horrifying. The first book came out in 1981, followed by More Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark in 1984 and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones in 1991. They were mind-scarringly illustrated by Stephen Gammell and were scrutinized in the 1990s as to their appropriateness for children by the American Library Association. The violence in some of the stories, and the chilling illustrations were both considered to be too intense for most younger age groups.
My Thoughts: These books are the proto-Creepypasta of the 1990’s. These books were ALWAYS checked out at the library and if you had one in your possession, everyone wanted to be your friend that week. Actual nightmare fuel to a young mind.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)
This middle grade novella (short novel!) by Neil Gaiman is a sweet and unsettling tale of a lonely girl whose parents are just too busy to spend time with her after moving into their new home. Coraline, the girl, meets a talking cat, some friendly but ominous neighbors, and her button-eyed Other Mother, who wants nothing more than to spend all her time with Coraline and make her happy so that she will stay with her forever. Seems like a good deal, until the Other Mother reveals what Coraline has to do in order to stay there forever… Coraline was made into a stop-motion film by Laika studios in 2009, and the book won the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novella, and the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Young Readers.
My Thoughts: A delightfully eerie, sweetly creepy young adult story. Have you noticed how intense things happen after children move to a new home? I moved a few times as a kid. Let me tell you, this trope is not wrong.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)
Okay, I know, another Neil Gaiman book but for real. This is a good one. Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, this story follows the tale of Bod, a young boy abandoned in a cemetery while he is only a baby, and who ends up being raised by the ghosts in the cemetery. Bod (short for Nobody) love his ghost parents and neighbors, but there are greater mysteries at hand: what lies beyond the cemetery in the world of the living, and what happened to Bod’s parents?
My Thoughts: Like several of Neil Gaiman’s books, Graveyard Book appears to be aimed at middle grade readers but has deeper things lying in wait for those readers who have surpassed the middle grade level. I found it lovely and confidently spooky– without being terribly scary to me personally. There are some lovely adventures and twists along the way and I enjoyed it thoroughly. “Come and dance the macabray!”
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury (1972)
A group of boys gather on Halloween to go trick-or-treating, but one of their friends is missing. Pipkin is nowhere to be found, and together the boys along with a strange man called Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud must seek him across time and space, experiencing different versions and origins of the autumnal celebration, kind of like A Christmas Carol for Halloween. Author Ray Bradbury also did the screenplay for the 1992 animated feature film adaptation of the same story, for which he won an Emmy Award. Also in 1997, Disneyland added a Halloween Tree to their annual decorations.
My Thoughts: I freaking LOVE Ray Bradbury. This book reminds me of my brother. Actually, most of these books remind me of my brother. Except for the first one. But THIS one for sure. This book is more fun and spoopy than scary.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1962)
Written before The Halloween Tree, this novel chronicles two thirteen year old boys and their peculiar and frightening experiences with a traveling sideshow which visits their small Midwestern town. Mr. Dark, the proprietor of the carnival, seems to have the ability to grant the townspeople’s deepest desires… but at a terrible price. There was a film adaptation of the book produced in 1983 which stars Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark and Pam Grier as the Dust Witch. As if the creepy circus vibe wasn’t enough, the title of this book is taken from one of the Witches’ lines in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Ominous as heck, yo.
My Thoughts: I saw the movie as a kid because my dad loves Ray Bradbury (and subsequently I came to love him as well even though this sh!t is for real terrifying at some points). The book is probably even scarier. This is a legitimately scary one.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)
This debut novel from Erin Morgenstern swept the bestseller lists in 2011 when it was released. An alternate history filled with powerful magic and unsettlingly lovely characters, The Night Circus is many tales woven into one larger story. “The circus arrives without warning…” and brings with it powerful magicians, mysterious contortionists, sentimental clockmakers and more. The circus itself seems to take on a life of its own, its attractions shifting and changing with every performance. Something so miraculous, so beautiful and captivating can’t last forever, though…
My Thoughts: This is one of my top ten favorite books of all time. It reads like a fine French dessert: exquisite, surprising, familiar, transformative, romantic, and so delicious that I wanted to read it again immediately after I finished. It captures the mystery and imagination of autumn perfectly for me, and I recommend it to everyone ever. It is not a spooky story but there is the delightfully unsettling quality of a dream about it, and even though you may have questions about it that go unanswered, it is a very good dream.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)
This book is a mystery wrapped in puzzles and enigmas, some of which reach so far into your own personal subconscious that its pages leave you dizzy and breathless with confusion and fear. It has multiple narrators, multiple plots, and multiple angles from which it must be read. Words tumble and scatter across the pages, sometimes like escaping rats, sometimes like leaves gently falling from trees. The shapes and colors and fonts change, as do the narratives, and you cannot help but experience the ride Mark Z. Danielewski has created. Or has he? In one of the main narratives, a character is studying notes and material academically examining a documentary about a family who moves into a house with peculiar qualities. But as the character notes, no such documentary exists. Some readers have gone so far as to say that Danielewski did not write House of Leaves, he discovered it, arranged it, and published it. The events contained in its pages are no doubt extraordinary, but you must read it yourself to decide what is true and what is fiction.
My Thoughts: First book to give me nightmares since Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Insistently given to me by my brother (surprise, surprise) who refused to elaborate on What It Was About, I read it with a healthy dose of skepticism. This book is mind bending both in execution and in emotional response. I had to stop reading it before bed because, duh, but once I got into the swing of it I read like the wind to find out what happens. This book requires full attention and deep contemplation – once you start reading, it will conquer your thoughts and free time. It is a dazzling read that is unlike anything else out there. And, if you aren’t into horror (neither am I) then remember that the author never bills it as horror fiction. It is not a tale of terror, according to him, but really at its core it is actually a love story.
Mind = blown.
Bonus Round: AUDIO FICTION!
Six Stories, Told At Night by K.T. Bryski
Up and coming Canadian author K.T. Bryski received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council which allowed her to write and produce a six-episode audio story based on Canadian folk tales. Before you roll your eyes, take a second to think. Most of these Canadian tales have French origin, which means some of this stuff is gonna be dark. Six stories are set into an original tale of Bryski’s own design, about a girl named Sam searching for her friend who recently disappeared, and things become even stranger when Sam figures out that Joëlle may have disappeared right into the faerie realm.
You can tune in for free on iTunes or click here to stream it on Podhoster.
My Thoughts: This short form podcast fiction is outrageously good. Excellently performed by Blythe Haynes and edited/produced by Bryski, it is equal parts chilling, imaginative, heartfelt, and captivating. I only wish there were more stories!