Anyone who says they don’t love Halloween is a liar. It’s just the best holiday. Candy of all shapes and sizes, the ability to dress up as your favorite characters, and a wide variety of the best reading and movie material (Hocus Pocus, I’m looking at you). You don’t have to love horror or even spooky books or movies to love the holiday but you can admit that the horror selection is killer.
We asked some of our favorite recent authors what books they recommend for Halloween and beyond and came up with a terrifyingly awesome list–grab your favorite candy (I’m partial to pumpkin-shaped Reese’s) and read on!
Shea Ernshaw, author of Winterwood
I happened across a little hardbound book at my local indie bookstore many years ago. The title read: Literary Witches, A Celebration of Magical Women Writers. I wasn’t exactly sure what the book was . . . it wasn’t fiction (not entirely) but it wasn’t non-fiction either (not wholly.)
So I bought it—a peculiar book filled with enchanted, lore-spun illustrations and the names of bewitching, literary women who have shaped the world of storytelling. And when I cracked open the first page and started reading, I realized it was a book with honest-to-goodness magic. The kind of magic that lives inside women who tell stories. It’s filled with fables and horrors and the beauty of breaking open your soul and writing down a tale onto a blank page.
My copy of this book is highlighted and marked-up with tea stains on the cover. I’ve gifted this perfect book to nearly every woman I know. And I hope you will gift this book to yourself. I can think of no better thing to read on All Hallows’ Eve night. You will find spells and poetry and myth. You just might find yourself.
Rin Chupeco, author of The Ever Cruel King
I always celebrate Halloween with a quick read of one of my favorite books, The Haunting of Hill House. It’s exactly my idea of what a creepy atmosphere should be like when it comes to novels. Shirley Jackson weaves that so wonderfully into her tales.
I still remember reading this for the first time after seeking it out just from the strength of her short story “The Lottery,” which blew my mind, and knowing that I wanted more like it. Gothic horror always comes with a sense of otherness—that feeling that you don’t quite belong. And as someone who was all too aware growing up that they didn’t quite fit anywhere either, reading The Haunting of Hill House and finding someone like Eleanor Vance, who had never felt comfortable in society and instead embraced Hill House as her home because she found more solace in the strange than in the conforming—that especially hit home for me.
I love how the sense of remoteness and loneliness never disappears, even when her books revolve around a larger cast than would be expected in gothic fantasies, and how it’s still very easy to feel alone and lonely in a group of people because isolation is very often a state of mind. I’m not the type of reader who enjoys gore in books, mainly because I feel like it’s too easy a technique to incite disgust and revulsion, and I’ve never been a fan of easy.
I prefer the unseen, the things lurking at the corner of one’s eye, and it makes a bigger impact on the story to me when this is used the right way because what you think lies lurking in the darkness is what fills up the spaces of what the book doesn’t say and makes it even more terrifying. Shirley Jackson is the master of adding something sinister to what should normally be the ordinary and the mundane, and The Haunting of Hill House is the closest I’ve ever read to perfecting that.
Kendare Blake, author of All These Bodies
When it comes to Halloween reading, I tend to go all out. Why stop at one frightening read when you can have five? Why stop at five when you can have ten? And why enjoy just one kind of Halloween read when there are SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM?
So here is my recommendation: read something from every horror category you can think of. Read a summer camp slasher, like Teen Killers Club by Lily Sparks. Hankering for Japanese folklore? Grab Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw. And always, always squeeze in something by Stephen King. He’s mandatory now.
But that’s just my way of sneaking in extra recs, so I’ll do a real write-up for folks in the mood for a New England haunting: The Red Tree by Caitlin R Kiernan. Do not be fooled by its somewhat terrible cover. The story inside is full of dread, about a troubled, reclusive writer who moves into an old house in Rhode Island to work on her new novel and instead becomes obsessed with a mysterious manuscript she finds there.
It was written by one of the house’s previous tenants, who later committed suicide, and focuses on the lore surrounding a particular red oak that sits on the property. Is the tree haunted? Is the whole house? Will it drive her out of her mind, or was she there already?
The writing is excellent, and Kiernan delves into the history of the house and the red oak in a way that feels entirely real. And if, like me, you are a sucker for writers writing about writers, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Erin A. Craig, author of Small Favors
As a fan of all things eerie, I love scary books all year long but there is something deliciously satisfying about reading a truly horrific masterpiece during Spooky Season. If you feel the same way, run—don’t walk!—to your favorite indie bookstore and grab Marisha Pessl’s Night Film. It starts with a bang—Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a reclusive film director is found dead of an apparent suicide—but when investigative journalist Scott McGrath starts to dig deeper, he’s drawn into an increasingly tangled web of dark conspiracies and macabre secrets.
This book features all of my favorite things: horror films, cults, an isolated and mysterious estate, and so many plot twists you will literally be guessing what’s going on right up to the final sentence and beyond. It’s a book I revisit at least once a year, trying to figure out where the truths lie, and one that I dearly wish I could reread for the first time all over again.
Kiersten White, author of Chosen
One of the best books I’ve ever read, horror or otherwise, is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I do this thing where I take photos of passages or sentences I particularly like so I can examine them later. A third of the way through this book I realized I was photographing every single page. Jackson is that good, and this book will wriggle under your skin and next to your heart forever. There’s something wrong with Hill House, but there’s nothing wrong with this perfect October read.
Rory Power, author of Burn Our Bodies Down
I can think of no better October read than Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indians. It follows a quartet of childhood friends who are still troubled by a hunting trip gone wrong many years prior—haunted by guilt, and by something else, too. Jones gives us the full range of scares and spookiness, from jump scares to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flickers. And while there’s plenty to keep you on the edge of your seat, there’s a bit of wryness and humor throughout to give you a break now and then. One of my favorite reads year-round, but particularly for the lead-up to Halloween.
For more recommendations, visit our Books section!