Novelist and former comics writer Neil Gaiman had a great idea about a week ago — a new Halloween tradition, where people give each other scary books to celebrate the holiday.
I like scary books a lot. I like this idea a lot.
The problem with it is that Gaiman didn’t think it up sooner — I sure didn’t have time to buy books (or send some of my own? You mean give up any books? Man, that’s crazy.), and I definitely didn’t have enough money to buy books for all my friends. Or even all my friends who like scary books.
So though I wasn’t able to buy you a book — and make no mistake, I was going to buy you, yes you, personally, a book — maybe I can recommend a few books you could go read.
So here are some of my favorite scary books and authors, in no particular order. There’s still plenty of time to make it to a bookstore, to the library, or to order them from an online seller.
- Edgar Allan Poe. He has a ridiculous number of awesome stories and poems, and it’s surprising how many people have never read any of them. Collections of his complete stories are pretty common out there and not too expensive.
- H.P. Lovecraft. I know, I go on and on about Lovecraft, but he’s the second most influential horror writer out there, after Poe, so he’s definitely worth reading. The best intro to Lovecraft is a book called “The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre” — it’s got all of his best stories all in one place.
- Ray Bradbury. I can’t pick just one. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is the very best dark fantasy novel ever. “The Halloween Tree” is part fantasy, part meditation on the origins of Halloween from around the world. Both are extremely worth reading.
- Stephen King. I prefer King’s short stories to his novels, and my favorites of his short story collections are “Night Shift” and “Skeleton Crew.” If you love horror and have never read his nonfiction “Danse Macabre,” you really should do so.
- Clive Barker. Like King, I prefer Barker’s short stories. If you can find his “Books of Blood,” get them. “The Hellbound Heart” and “Cabal” are also good.
- M.R. James. “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.” The guy wrote some of the best ghost stories ever. They might have some dated language and style you’d have to dig through, but they’re absolutely worth digging through.
- “The House with a Clock in its Walls” by John Bellairs. All of his books are fun and creepy for young readers, but this one is particularly good. It’s midway between a young adult novel and a gothic horror story — all about a spooky old house, owned by not-so-spooky wizards, and the magical clock hidden inside that’s ticking down the seconds to the end of the world.
- “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. Of all the old gothic horror novels out there, this one holds up the best. It’s still spooky, still scary, still fun to read.
- “The King in Yellow” by Robert W. Chambers. This book was a big influence on Lovecraft. It’s full of weird, surreal, unearthly, psychological horror.
- “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” by Alvin Schwartz, with extremely scary illustrations by Stephen Gammell. If you know much about urban legends or campfire stories, a lot of these will be familiar to you. The illustrations, however, will absolutely scare you out of a year’s growth.
- “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski. The primary story involves a normal suburban house that is slightly larger on the inside than it is on the outside — and it’s gradually growing even larger. I almost hesitate to recommend this one — I loved reading it, but it may not be for everyone. It has multiple stories running at once, characters that may or may not be real even within the narrative itself, and a vast number of wild typographical stunts — sometimes the text is upside down, diagonal, backwards, running in a spiral. It takes a lot of patience to read, but it’s very rewarding and fun.
- “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson. The single best haunted house story ever, and one of the most frightening horror books around.
And one more for a solid Unlucky Thirteen. This is “The Night Wire” by H.F. Arnold. I think it’s my favorite horror story ever. It’s about 84 years old, and I’ve always thought of it as the Official Horror Story for Newspaper Reporters.
That’s what I got, folks. Go hit up the bookstores and treat yourself to some terror this Halloween.