My 15 Favorite Spooky Season Reads
For maximum enjoyment, light a candle and crack one of these open while snuggled beneath a comfy blanket with a piping hot beverage in hand.
Nothing builds imaginative atmosphere quite like a book, and the horror genre is rich with nuanced takes on interior and exterior hauntings. These are just a few of the reads I reach for when the air becomes crisp and the spiritual energy grows charged as Samhain approaches. Though I also subscribe to the “spooky knows no season” mentality, so these need not be relegated to October only!
Among the Shadows by L.M. Montgomery
No surprise here, but the author who brought us the Haunted Wood of Anne of Green Gables and the Pink Room of Emily of New Moon (along with a penchant for fanciful, melodramatic heroines) can spin one helluva creepy yarn. This ghostly short story collection also unfailingly brings all the cozy vibes that Montgomery fans love about her work.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
While the titular tale of this short story collection is its most popular, the rest of Carter’s ingenious pieces deserve their fair share of the spotlight. If you’re a fan of dark, feminist fairy tale retellings, she takes on Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and others with her keen observances and gorgeous writing style (it’s something of a Shirley Jackson/Daphne du Maurier/Neil Gaiman hybrid).
The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran
This one skews witchier and is more thriller than horror, and it’s a crazy fun ride. Set against the backdrop of the rare book world, its protagonist is a dealer searching for a 17th-century erotic grimoire that’s rumored to be one of the most powerful occult books ever written. As she follows mysterious leads from LA to Paris, she becomes entangled in the tome’s spell. It’s a gripping, sexy, grimy, human story.
Come Closer by Sara Gran
I devoured this novella in one sitting—it’s a chilling portrait of demonic possession written in such a matter-of-fact tone that it feels like a true confession. Gran is worthy of two spots on this list—her work is eminently readable and deeply fascinating.
The Fourth Island by Sarah Tolmie
This transporting novella boasts gorgeously poetic prose, a haunting plot centered on the mysteriously displaced community of a hidden island, and a sense of setting so lush you can practically smell and feel it. It’s steeped in Irish folklore with a smattering of supernatural and horror elements, intricately weaving timelines and perspectives like the threads of the warding wool sweaters at the heart of its story.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
You cannot prepare for Halloween without picking up a Gaiman, and this is my absolute favorite of his playfully dark and dense oeuvre. The cemetery where it’s set is loosely based on London’s Highgate Cemetery, one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever visited. I even named a fox I often encounter at a local graveyard Bod after the book’s main character; an orphan who’s brought up by kindly ghosts.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
If ever a book was close to perfect, it’s this one. The opening paragraph is an all-timer. I’m forever in awe of Jackson, who’s an economic wizard with words and douses atmosphere with tension like no other. Everything she writes is brimming with barely-contained blood-red seething rage and I am here. for. it.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
This feels a bit like the book of my heart, though I’m aware that Rochester is problematic (he’s a Scorpio, I swear). But it truly is gothic intrigue done pitch-perfectly, and there’s something so deeply romantic about the soul-speak in this. *cue Taylor Swift’s Invisible String* Sigh. I’ll forever identify with Jane the headstrong, well-of-longing loner.
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
This is an incredibly dark, disturbing read (be warned!), but it’s also one of the most empathetic and beautifully written portraits of multiple unreliable narrators (one of which is a cat!) that I’ve ever read. There’s a big twist, so go in cold if you can. Stephen King gave this a glowing review for a reason.
The Me You Love in the Dark by Skottie Young
This graphic novel about an artist who rents a haunted manor house and enters into a curious relationship with its ghost is basically Katie catnip. Even better that folded within Jorge Corona’s gorgeously illustrated pages is a message about the insidious, doomed nature of forced creativity.
Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield
This is a firm new favorite and solidifies Armfield’s status as one of my most beloved literary fiction writers. Internal, haunting, and filled with dread, it delves into the trauma of crumbling relationships through the lens of a slow-burn deep-sea expedition gone awry and some truly gnarly, affecting body horror. The prose is so exquisite, so evocative, I want to slide into it and tread. I also highly recommend her short story collection Salt Slow.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
This is basically THE gothic novel. Du Maurier is similar to Jackson in her expeditiousness and scene-setting—she knows just how and where to twist the knife, and the story is a psychologically thrilling page-turner. Where Hill House wows with its opening paragraph, Rebecca utterly slays with the ruthless efficiency of its final scene. Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn is a very close second in my esteem.
Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt
Where even to begin with Rumfitt’s utterly singular punk trans horror haunted-house-as-fascism homage to my triple-threat favorites Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, and Angela Carter? It incisively, brutally captures our current climate.
There’s A Ghost in This House by Oliver Jeffers
This may be a children’s book, but there’s nothing juvenile about Jeffers’ whimsical spectral illustrations, which are painted on tissue-like overlays atop sepia-toned interior photographs of a historic mansion. I want to live inside of—or at the very least, frame—every page.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Jackson leans into witchy childhood weirdness with this one, and I couldn’t be more on board. Again she graces us with an unforgettable opening paragraph—then throws us into a similar world to her infamous short story The Lottery, plus plenty of botany intrigue and one very overgrown dilapidated mystery-filled home.
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