Books that keep the spooks coming

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Just two of the A&C editor’s favourite books surrounded by some fake plants (because she can’t keep real ones alive...) Hannah Eiserman

Five book recommendations to keep the Halloween spirit going through November

If you’re anything like me, October is your favourite month. It’s not just a month: it’s extended Hallowe’en! I remarked in my pitch list last week that once Halloween is over, I have no idea what I’m going to count down to. I love Christmas, but sometimes it’s sad trying to celebrate on a student budget; not being able to treat your loved ones to all the fancy things they deserve. And November is always incredibly bleak as the weather changes for the worst, pumpkin spice gets booted off the menu until next year, and term paper deadlines loom. This is why I’ve decided to put together a diverse list of books – that also happen to be some all-time favourites – to help keep the spooks going a little while longer. My list includes classic and contemporary works: two short story collections, young adult fiction, and a novella. I hope everyone can find something to keep their Halloween spirit brewing!

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (2012 – 2016)

This young adult series comes first because it’s simply the best. When I recommend this series and am asked what it’s about, I make sure to ask how long the person has because it’s so hard to do the story justice unless I take a full hour to explain it! But really, what you need to know is this: the series focuses on a girl, Blue Sargent, and the group of boys she befriends named Richard Campbell Gansey III (he knows his name is pretentious and goes solely by “Gansey”), Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch, and Noah Czerny. Blue has grown up in a multi-generational house of full psychics but has no psychic powers. Every psychic she has ever met, however, including her own mother, has predicted that if she kisses her true love, he will die.

As a result, Blue has grown up just avoiding boys in general because it’s easier and safer, and the boys that go to the town’s all-boys, prestigious preparatory school Aglionby Academy “are bastards.” She has to put aside her prejudice when a group of the so-called Raven Boys from Aglionby come to get their tarot cards read by her family. The head of the group, Gansey, is leading the other boys in a mission to find the Welsh king Owain Glyndŵr (anglicized to Owen Glendower), who he believes is buried in Virginia and sleeping, but not dead. He also believes whoever wakes him will get a favour, and each of the characters have their own reasons for wanting that favour.

That’s just the simplest way I can describe it, but no description can accurately wrangle together how magical, fun, heart-wrenching, beautiful, and real this story is, despite also containing dead Welsh kings, ghosts, supernatural beings, tarot cards, dowsing rods, and more. It’s not a horror series, per say, but focuses on the occult, and Stiefvater is an expert at writing creepy, suspenseful, and uncanny moments that will chill you for a long time. The most important part of the books, however, is the characters, who will immediately feel like lifelong friends.

Hauntings by Vernon Lee (1890)

I’m so excited to recommend this short story collection, because I’m hoping to write my master’s thesis on it. Lee is the late 19th century’s most criminally underrated Gothic horror writer. Despite being extremely prolific, scholars often only remember her for her essays and writings on aesthetics. She was friends with and influenced popular writers such as Henry James (who is forthcoming on this list) and Oscar Wilde. She was also very well known in her time. And yet, until just a few weeks ago, I had no idea she existed! I stumbled on a story of hers in a copy of Late Victorian Gothic Tales from Oxford Press (another good spooky recommendation) and it felt like coming home.

Hauntings just contains everything I love in stories: unhinged women seducing weak men, ghosts, and art! There’s also the occasional ritual sacrifice – and lots of murder. Lee’s work is known for being weird and creepy, but it’s also beautiful. She has a vivid and detailed prose style, and her work is heavily imagistic. The collection is available for free on the Project Gutenberg website.

Dust by Arthur Slade (2001)

This is another book that I will recommend to anyone who will listen to me. Slade is one of my favourite authors and was incredibly formative to my own writing practice and style. He’s also from Tompkins, a small town in Southern Saskatchewan about 45 minutes from where I grew up! This book is set very lovingly in that corner of the province during the Great Depression, and it’s partially that setting that makes it so spectacular.

Like The Raven Cycle, explaining this book is really hard. Basically, the novel begins with a young boy being picked up by a stranger on the side of the road while walking into a nearby town, Horshoe, to get some sweets. He’s just the first of the many children to disappear in the town with no explanation. Missing children are just one of the town’s worries; the drought has threatened to financially ruin all the family farms. Luckily, a man moves to town who has discovered a way to create rain – for a price. The book is absolutely unlike anything I’ve ever read – and in four years of an English degree, I’ve read a lot. It’s aimed at middle grade to young teen kids, but actually, it reads to me more like an adult-geared novella.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (2017)

This recent and debut short story collection made Machado one of the biggest names in literary horror. The collection is quite possibly the oddest thing I’ve ever read and is very experimental in both its formatting and content. “Real Women Have Bodies,” a short story about a plague where women fade into incorporeality is equal parts disturbing and devastating – it will haunt me for a lifetime. The only story I didn’t love in this collection was a rather long one called “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU” that was short re-writes of the synopses of the show’s episodes. But, if you’re an SVU fan, this may be a stand out!

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)

You might have heard of this one, not only because it’s one of the most popular ghost stories of all time, but because it has recently been (loosely) adapted into a popular Netflix TV series, The Haunting of Bly Manor. The novellafirst appeared in serial format in Collier’s Weekly and has been the subject of much criticism in the field of Gothic studies. It’s not super scary by our modern sensibilities, but it’s very atmospheric, which helps build the tension. It’s a short, afternoon read that is also available on the Project Gutenberg website.

Hopefully one of these recommendations will tickle your fancy, and if not, I have more!

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