This is a list of my favourite books to read around Halloween and on cold autumn and winter nights with tea and loads of chocolate, big woolly socks and my fleecy blanket. It’s in no particular order and includes a couple of classics and also a couple of children’s books.
Don’t forget to raid your local library for their specially selected seasonal picks! Keep us busy!
The ghost stories of Edith Wharton
(Edith Wharton, 1996, London, Virago Modern Classics)
Love, love, love this collection! I really enjoy a spine-tingling ghost story and Ms Wharton knows how to shiver your timbers! Beautiful writing, well-constructed stories and addictive reading. Perfect for Halloween and dark winter nights.
A Kind of Spark
(Elle McNicoll, 2020, London, Knights Of)
I reviewed this recently and just had to include it because it has witches, autumn walks and an overall warmth that we all need right now. I really love this book and it makes me want to research more things about sharks and witches! A brilliant debut from a fantastic new author.
The Wee Free Men
(Sir Terry Pratchett, 2004, London, Corgi)
I always laugh out loud at Terry Pratchett’s books but this one made me laugh loudest and longest! It’s a cool story about young witch Tiffany, but the absolute best thing about this book is the Nac Mac Feegle clan, known as the Wee Free Men: tiny, blue, warrior pictsies, banished from Fairyland because they like to drink and start fights! This book is hilarious and the Corgi edition is aimed at young readers, but everyone should read it!
My copy is signed by the lovely Terry Pratchett and it was an absolute pleasure to meet him at a book signing when I lived in England. He was so tiny and delightful, and told me The Wee Free Men was launched in Aberdeen: the perfect place to unleash these wild little warriors!
Under the skin
(Michel Faber, 2000, Edinburgh, Canongate)
This book gives me the creeps, it’s so well written. Set in the cold, drizzly, Scottish highlands and following a lone female with a penchant for hitchhikers, the atmosphere is suffocating and made me think I should maybe stop eating meat…
(Daniel Clowes, 2008, Seattle, Fantagraphics)
This is an absolutely tremendous graphic novel charting the friendship of two high school girls. It’s a hilarious, touching and nostalgic view of teen friendship and growing up. It’s on this list because of the title, obviously, and because of a hilarious hat that Enid wears! It’s a total blast to read and worth digging around online for fan blog posts.
We ride upon sticks
(Quan Barry, 2020, New York, Pantheon Books)
This novel was a great surprise! Set in the 1980s, it follows a high school girls’ hockey team whose persistent losing streak leads them to turn to the dark arts to get them winning. But this is not your usual teenage witch story: can you think of any others that involve an Emilio Estevez notebook and a hairdo with a mind of its own? So well written and full of good times and sad, the unusual narrative voice of ‘we’ binds the coven together as we journey through each loss and triumph, discovery and secret. And you don’t need to like hockey to enjoy it!
(Stephen King, 1977, London, Hodder)
Everyone’s seen the film but who’s read the book? The scariest bit in the book for me wasn’t even in the film. This is a sad, gripping and really creepy novel from the master of horror.
(Stephen King, 1983, London, Hodder)
Another amazing, scary book from Mr King, I recommend keeping your teddy under your arm and your blanket just under your eyes for this one. Zombied, reanimated animals and people crawl from graves in an ancient burial ground to scare the B’jesus out of everyone who sees them… or reads about them.
(Bram Stoker, 1897, London, Penguin Classics)
I can’t have a Halloween list without this classic horror tale. Despite its age (and repeated retellings and adaptations) this novel has some seriously scary and disturbing bits even by today’s standards. Told through letters, journals and newspaper reports, we hear from everyone except Dracula himself so we see how his eerie, hypnotic presence affects everyone who crosses his path.
An exploration of Victorian sexuality, and the suppression of female desire in particular, and encroaching fin de siècle fears of many Victorian sensibilities, such as threats to Christianity, foreign invasion and the ‘contamination’ of English economic success, Dracula is as good a read for its thematic prevalence as its scary-as-hell journey from Transylvania to London. I especially love the bits on the ship – brilliant!
I also saw an amazing radio play of Dracula a few years ago and it was superb! Only thing missing was Gary Oldman.
The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
(Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886, Oxford, Oxford World’s Classics)
Another belting classic horror story, RLS also uses the epistolary style to explore the duality of human nature, because we’re neither fully good nor bad (and drunk me is definitely different to sober me). Genuinely creepy at times and beautifully written by one of our best ever authors, I’ll always have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf for this book.
(Charlotte Brontë, 1847, London, Penguin Classics)
While the story of Jane Eyre’s awful treatment at the hands of her aunt and cousins is horrific enough, it’s the spectral appearance of Mr Rochester’s wife before the wedding that really scared me! It was like watching Ring (the Japanese one) all over again!
I think this is a good ‘bad weather’ book, full of roaring fires, twists and turns and a ballsy heroine who knows what she wants. It’s hard not to fall under the spell of the wonderful Jane Eyre.
(Emily Brontë, 1847, London, Penguin)
This is another book that has surprisingly scary scenes. The opening chapters see our narrator Lockwood stranded at his landlord’s house in a storm, where he has a frightening vision of rubbing Cathy’s ghostly wrists across broken glass and soaking the bed in blood. Pretty gruesome. Heathcliff also has spooky encounters with Cathy, and Nelly believes the moors and Wuthering Heights are definitely haunted!
The overarching, oppressive and menacing atmosphere of Wuthering Heights make it an excellent book for Halloween. Get wrapped up and read it by the fire/radiator. It has the story-within-a-story structure, a great device for spooky storytelling, as you feel like you’re sitting on the edge of your seat, listening to Nelly recount this strange family’s history.
(Christopher Marlow, 1604, Essex, Pearson Longman)
This engrossing and masterful play tells the story of Faustus who sells his soul to the Devil so he can practise the dark arts. Full of devils, angels, spirits and Lucifer himself, and loaded with themes about good versus evil, damnation and repentance, this is the ideal Halloween play; there are even reports of spooky goings-on during performances in the17th century.
The text is creepy enough, but if you can get hold of a radio performance you’re onto a winner: I guarantee it will send shivers up your spine as it did to me when I listened to it. In bed. In the dark. Alone.
Further reading and where to get your books:
Inverclyde Libraries on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/InverclydeLibraries/
Inverclyde Libraries on Twitter: https://twitter.com/InverclydeLibs
Ghost stories: why the Victorians were so spookily good at them: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/23/ghost-stories-victorians-spookily-good
11 Scottish independent bookshops: https://www.heraldscotland.com/arts_ents/18652353.11-scottish-independent-bookshops/
The Portobello Bookshop: https://www.theportobellobookshop.com/