The Sacred Arts

A Halloween To-Read List, Courtesy of Your Local English Major

Have I mentioned before that Halloween is my favorite holiday? Probably not more than once or four times…

We have Halloween rituals in our family that have carried on through the years well into adulthood. Or at least what reasonably passes for adulthood in my case.

Every year we bake and decorate pumpkin cookies to look like jack o’lanterns.

Yum. Theirs is a world in which candy, cookies and frosting meet together in delicious harmony.

Every year we watch a twenty year-old compilation VHS – taped from TV of course – of the Bugs Bunny Halloween special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and the first ever Simpsons Halloween special.

 Every year we decorate the house and carve pumpkins, too.

Yes, I am twelve years old.

And every year, I try and read at least one scary book. This is where my two favorite worlds merge: horror and reading. Together at last.

A million years ago, when I was an editor of my high school’s puny monthly newspaper, I would take charge of compiling entertaining seasonal movie lists; “Seven Movies to Scare You this Halloween,” “Five Unexpected Christmas Movies to See This Season” and “10 Movies to Make You Feel Less Alone on Valentine’s Day” were some of the classics. I always took extra care with the Halloween list, seeing as it was a holiday near to my heart and I take my scary-movie recommendations seriously, yo! I saw it as my duty to educate my peers on the history of horror cinema at a time when The Blair Witch Project was cutting-edge and most kids hadn’t heard of The Changeling (not the one with Angelina Jolie, the one with George C. Scott. Completely different movie).

It never occurred to me to make a Halloween reading list for the Newstorch though, partially because when I was in high school no one except me read books. Also, most of the books I had read up to that point were written by Stephen King, so that list would have just been titled “My Twelve Favorite Stephen King Novels.”

Having broadened my horizons a bit in the decade+ since high school, I have expanded my repertoire of reading material, and have a few different suggestions to bring to the table.

I will, however, throw in a little King because…well, you know, Master-of-Terror and all.

The below list are just my favorites – I realize some of them are well-known and well-loved (and hated). Additionally, my definition of horror is looser than many’s – I prefer a disturbing atmosphere and an sinister psychological/supernatural story to typical blood-and-guts conceptions of “scary ” favored by the kids these days. Saw never would’ve made any of my top-ten lists in high school.

  • Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, Stefan Kiesbye

This year’s read for me was originally in German, translated into English. Granted, I’m no expert on German literature, but every time I’ve read a horror story by a German author, it’s usually based on the creepiest of simple premises, made more terrifying by the subjective tone and aided by eerily effective pacing. Kiesbye’s story is no different, and definitely did not disappoint in its unsettling effect. In a nutshell, children come of age in a small village that hides terrible secrets of human depravity and supernatural evil – and none of them escape the fate of those doomed to live there. The cover is creepy, too, in a Children of the Corn kind of way, so this book is the whole package.

Would I lie to you?
  • The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
Not scary in the traditional sense, The Historian is one of those darkly captivating books telling a story that only grows more foreboding as it progresses. Taking place in all over Europe and the Eastern Bloc during the cold war, which sets a real-world atmosphere of danger and fear, a young girl guided by her father’s tales of her mother uncovers a centuries-old secret of an even more ancient evil. What I love about this book is the tension between truth and fiction, history and folklore, fear and fantasy, and how the author pits these conceptions against each other.


  • Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
It would’ve been remiss of me to skip this classic, so I’m not. I’m betting you’ve all seen the movie, so I’ll just tell you up front – Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise are vampires. The non-glittery kind. In all seriousness though, it’s dark and full of vampire folklore that I can get on board with (no “vampires with a soul” or other such bullshit), and a hauntingly lonely tale. Part of what makes this novel a classic is its ability to be both chilling and beautiful. Beautiful and scary? Sign me up.


  • The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty
The movie version of Blatty’s novel is amazing and horrifying. If you don’t believe me, believe the Academy Awards it won. The book is pretty much exactly like the movie, with only slightly more depth (history of the demon that possesses the little girl, etc.). Basically if you liked the movie, you’ll like the book. Unless you just want to be pretentious. By the way, that was the lazy woman’s way of reviewing books, if you couldn’t tell.


  • It, Stephen King

I don’t think a book has ever given me more sleepless nights. Every child’s worst nightmare – a shape shifting clown (clown! CLOWN!) turns children’s fantasies into their worst nightmares. I just wrote a sentence of why this book is so terrifying, but realized what a spoiler it was so just TRUST ME. Scary business going on. Although overly long and a bit overheated at parts, for sheer terror It has no rival. And I still have residual fear of sewer-systems and bathtub drains after having read it.

Oh Holy Mother of Terror…

Yes I know these images are from the movie, but my fear of the book is inextricably linked to my phobia of Tim Curry…

So there you have it; assigned reading from your favorite blogger. You know, in case you end up having nothing better to do on the scariest night of the year.

What are some of your favorites?


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