Top Ten Tuesday: Books to Get In the Halloween Spirit

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, the site posts a new Top Ten list topic that everyone is welcome to answer.

Although I don’t usually (read: never) participate in blog memes, I thought this topic seemed like a lot of fun. I really like the idea of Top Ten Tuesday, and I’m excited to check out the suggestions that others have generated for this week’s list. Maybe this will be a new thing for me! (Please do not check the status of past “new things for me,” including knitting, exercising, and cooking vegetables.) Regardless, please enjoy my painstakingly-crafted list, which I hope is sufficiently scary, atmospheric, and/or just plain weird. Keep in mind that I’m not exactly a horror connoisseur—the only Stephen King book I’ve read is the one he wrote about writing!

10. Chime — Franny Billingsley

Do you like witches, bog creatures, dead people and self-hating narrators? Striking, florid prose and magical scenarios? What about dreamy landscapes just on the edge of the Industrial Revolution? Chime is one of the most original YA books I have recently read, precisely because it combines all of those elements so weirdly and so wonderfully. It tells the story of a guilt-ridden young girl unable to come to terms with her magical powers, and the evil influences in her life who have poisoned her against her gifts. It’s a strange story, an acquired taste, but one that is wholly enchanting and memorable.

9. Black Hole — Charles Burns

Looking for a graphic novel that will haunt your dreams? Look no further than Black Hole, a visually-stunning (and nightmare-inducing) story about a sexually transmitted disease that turns its victims into literal monsters. The artwork for this comic is amazing, evoking the classic horror movies you like to watch every Halloween, but the story itself is quite dark and bizarre. Characters develop lesions, boils, and even tails, becoming horrifying mutants who must live as outcasts. The whole comic is disturbing, to say the least, but it makes for an unforgettable experience.

8. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children — Ransom Riggs

Old photographs can be spooky in general, but the pictures included in this YA book take that creepiness to a whole new level. Combining found photographs of magical children who hover, harness balls of energy, or simply aren’t there at all, with a story about a modern day teenager who travels back to the 1940s to meet these strange beings, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children offers a reading experience unlike any other. It is eerie, mysterious, and a lot of fun—just the right mix of light-hearted and terrifying to get in the Halloween spirit.

7. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife — Mary Roach

It’s easy to get lost in a good horror story, but there’s no reason why Halloween has to be all about fiction. In Spook, science writer (and skeptic) Mary Roach takes a look at the afterlife, from ghostly apparitions and séances to reincarnation and soul-weighing, to find out whether claims of such occurrences could be for real. Along the way, she enrolls in medium school, travels to India to interview the family of a supposedly reincarnated child, and voluntarily subjects herself to electromagnetic fields in an attempt to see whether they can cause her to perceive (or hallucinate) ghosts. The book is great fun, and an amazing journey, but it also has a lot of interesting insights into our belief—or our desire to believe—in the supernatural.

6. A Monster’s Notes — Laurie Sheck 

There are a lot of Frankenstein stories out there, and relatively few of them have anything that touches upon the brilliance of the original. If you’ve read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, however, and are looking for a new take on the story, consider A Monster’s Notes by Laurie Sheck. Let me be upfront: this is certainly the most avant-garde book on the list. It has variously been described as being “bold,” “baroque,” and “oddly compelling.” (Yeah, oddly.) Nonetheless, it is one of the most moving and original works of contemporary literature I have recently read, and it is completely worth exploring if you are an adventurous reader. While you may not necessarily get scared, you will be enchanted; this is a poetic book that works a magic all its own.

5. The Historian — Elizabeth Kostova

I’m just assuming you’ve already read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but if you haven’t, start there first. Done yet?  Then you’re ready for this academic Dracula story, which makes research a thrill (and will have you thinking twice about digging too deep into the life of Vlad the Impaler). The Historian has all the elements of a good, creepy mystery: strange clues hidden in ancient books, secret tombs and old churches, and even an evil librarian! It’s the kind of book that will make you believe that Dracula is real, and still alive in the present day. Just try going to sleep with that worry weighing on you.

4. Northanger Abbey — Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey is technically a gothic novel parody, I guess, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in atmosphere. In satirizing popular books like Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, Austen conjures up a pretty good haunted house story, even if you know all the spookiness will have a reasonable explanation. It’s a good choice for anyone who eschews horror, prefers the lighthearted side of Halloween, or has just joined a Jane Austen book club. If you’re really adventurous, try reading it alongside the Radcliffe book.

3. Jane Eyre — Charlotte Brontë

I would argue that Jane Eyre is the perfect book to read at any time of the year, but it does seem to be a particularly good choice for Halloween, thanks to its gothic DNA. Thornfield Hall might as well be a haunted house, for all its things that go bump in the night. Many of the situations are quite harrowing, and, of course, the atmosphere is sufficiently spooky. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s about time. And, actually, I think it might be time for me to revisit it.

2. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — Susanna Clarke

Okay, so there are shorter books to get you ready for Halloween. But this is one of my favorites, precisely because it is so sprawling, so imaginative, and, to put it simply, so magical. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is the story of two feuding magicians, but it also brings together a number of equally enchanting characters and subplots. Villains like the gentleman with thistle-down hair are as memorable as the main protagonists themselves, and the numerous footnotes may just contain some of the best fairy tales I have ever read. Worth the time, if you have it; worth making time for, if you don’t.

1. The Monk — Matthew Gregory Lewis

I’m guessing that if you’re not specifically into late eighteenth century literature, the gothic novel, or really, really weird literary curios, then you’ve never read this book. Probably you’ve never even heard of it. Well, The Monk defies any sort of tidy summarization, but suffice it to say that it takes every gothic trope popular in its day and magnifies it by a thousand. It features family secrets, a lusty monk, and, oh yeah, SATAN, who just shows up because…why not? It’s a wild ride, and one you won’t soon forget. Basically, this book is the Halloween spirit, and if you haven’t read it yet, you must.

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14 Comments

  1. Wow, you have some great titles on your list. I love that you included Black Hole and Spook. You can check out my Top Ten here.

    Reply
    • Thanks! I realized as I was putting together this list that I don’t read a lot of horror/thrillers so I started to think a little more broadly. I’m actually really pleased with the way it turned out because I got to include nonfiction and a graphic novel along with some more traditional picks.

      Reply
  2. GREAT choices here! I loved Black Hole when I read it a few years ago. I’m also keen to read The Historian, Northanger Abbey, and A Monster’s Notes. Great Top Ten! 😀

    Reply
    • Thank you! I hope you do get a chance to read those books. I think they’re all fantastic. (And, obviously, Northanger Abbey is a classic, although it doesn’t get nearly as much love as almost every other Jane Austen book. A shame.) I’m especially excited to recommend A Monster’s Notes—it doesn’t seem to be very widely read, but I just found it mesmerizing.

      Reply
  3. stuckinva

     /  October 23, 2012

    I really enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but I think it was the footnotes that got me. I love footnotes employed in fiction books for some reason. LOVE THEM!
    I sent that book to someone after I finished it, and I swear it cost me like $5 to mail that thing MEDIA MAIL! So heavy!

    Reply
    • Yeah, that book is enormous. I worry that the size turns some people off from reading it, but somehow all that text is essential. Especially the footnotes!

      Reply
  4. Jane Eyre is perfect any time of year! But it is a wonderfully gothic novel (and possibly one of my favorite books of all time). I bought The Historian, but I haven’t read it – I had no idea it even had a connection to Dracula (I bought it at a used book sale for .50 cents, so I guess I didn’t pay much attention).

    Reply
    • Yeah, I could probably include Jane Eyre on almost any list. I’d find a way. Although it’s not the most obvious Halloween pick, it definitely has a mood that particularly appeals to me this time of year.

      I do wonder how many people would know what The Historian is about just at a glance. The title gives nothing away, and, actually, makes it sound like an entirely different sort of book. It was really fascinating, though, and so different from a lot of vampire/Dracula stories I’ve read. Highly recommended.

      Reply
  5. Great list! I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Historian and Jane Eyre. I say the longer the book is the better 🙂

    Miss Peregrine’s .. is on my tbr list, and I’m definitely going to check some of your suggestions out! The Monk sounds especially interesting. I like weird, gothic stuff (The Master and Margarita etc.)

    Reply
    • Thanks! I really hope you check out The Monk (and like it). It’s a lot of fun. It’s one of those books that I had never heard of until I was assigned to read it for a class; after I had read it, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t more well-known. Maybe it’s not a classic like Jane Eyre is a classic, but it’s so enjoyable and memorable.

      Reply
  6. Lovely list! I really must finish NORTHANGER ABBEY!

    Reply
  7. Ooo – Jane Eyre! One of my faves and I totally forgot about adding it! It IS creepy! And, I have Miss Peregrine on my bookshelf – it’s the perfect time for me to read it! Thanks for reminding me! GREAT list!

    Reply
    • Thanks! What I really loved about this topic was that when I checked out other blogger’s lists, I was reminded of so many books I wanted to read. Even in creating my own list, I realized that there were a lot of great, spooky books I had read that I hadn’t thought about in a while.

      Reply

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