October turns many people’s minds to Halloween, scary stories, psychopaths in masks, demons and ghosts that torment mortals, vampires, and werewolves that feast on human prey. But there are some books that manage to be “haunting” or unsettling without having much to do with the traditional monster stories we think of each October. They aren’t meant to instill the kind of fright that makes you terrified to walk from your bed to the bathroom at 3 a.m., but they definitely deal with ghosts, or something else that haunts you after the pages are closed and you’ve moved on to making dinner or visiting a friend. And this month, I am going to read some of these “haunting” works.
I make no claims about being a lightning fast reader, and this list is not pretending that I am. I may be able to get through some material quickly when I feel the pressure of a deadline, but that isn’t how I’ll go about this reading list. I am no longer a university student, and these books are not connected to mine and Brian’s book group, so I get to read through this list as a goal I give myself. No grades attached. Besides, going at a more relaxed pace won’t cause me to abandon all my other ventures. I still need to work, eat, spend time with my husband, and chip away at other ventures like this blog and prepping for NaNoWriMo.
So here are the four pieces I will read this month, along with some honorable mentions that I won’t be officially adding to my list but perhaps you will pick from. Choose one to read, and shake up your October reading list.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Set in post-Civil War America, Beloved is about former slaves trying to carry on with their new, free lives despite the horrors that are still very much a part of their past. The main character is haunted by the ghost of her infant daughter, Beloved.
I started reading this book once and did not finish it, so I am going to try again. In the book’s defense, I was reading it for class, not something I had selected myself. Maybe this time, along with completing the novel, I’ll be haunted by the pain and experiences of these characters’ lives. Or even just become more well-read and introduce myself better to Toni Morrison’s work.
And just warning: if you’re sensitive to language, sex, or violence, just know that you’ll run into that with this book. But know too that this book won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Morrison has also been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
This book was published in 1952, making it 64 years old. I haven’t read much by O’Connor and this one has been on my shelf for a while now, staring at me and occasionally making me want to read it. It is actually her first novel. Judging from the back cover, it doesn’t have any ghosts in it, but one of the testimonials on the cover says “[O’Connor’s] picture of the world is literally terrifying.” Besides, I recently read O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and she may not need ghosts to make a book dark or unsettling.
“The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
Look at that, I have a science fiction author on my October list.
This short story was a recommendation I got while probing for a-typical haunts to read. This story deals with a haunted house and children running away from their parents, making it sound a little more like a conventional Halloween story. But being written by Bradbury, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be a little different than the places the term “haunted house” brings to mind.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
This Young Adult graphic novel is about a girl being haunted by a ghost who wants to be her best friend forever. It doesn’t look particularly creepy, which makes it a good fit for this “a-typical” haunting list.
It being Young Adult and a graphic novel also set it apart from the rest of the books on my October to-read list and gives my list that much more variety.
“The Black Cat” by Edgar Allen Poe
Okay, so on top of the four less conventional stories, I will add one more traditional Halloween tale to my to-be-read list.
This story is another recommendation I received, and one that I believe was included at a Halloween reading I attended some time ago. But I really don’t remember anything about it except the setting I was in when it was read: a dim school auditorium stage, a live black cat present, a professor dressed as Edgar Allen Poe seated in a high backed chair as he read.
This is also a short story, and Edgar Allen Poe’s work is known for being a bit more of the classic Halloween spirit that people look for when this month rolls around. But that’s okay. I should read at least one short story that fits the traditional mold, right? I will hold off on this one until closer to Halloween.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
This book about English schoolboys stranded on an island reveals the darkness that can come from the human heart. Sometimes we don’t need monsters to scare us. If we’re not careful, we bring our own.
Night by Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel’s memoir tells of his living in a Nazi concentration camp as a youth. Again, the monsters are not always werewolves or vampires. Sometimes they’re human, which may be a different kind of haunting than we encounter in traditional Halloween monster stories.
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Brian recently published a review of Housekeeping. It deals a lot with loss, death, transience, and it has a good amount of ghost imagery, though no real ghosts appear.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This is a retelling of The Jungle Book with ghosts instead of animals. Ghosts take in a mortal the night his parents are killed, and he grows up in a graveyard, making friends and having adventures involving members of the supernatural community. In this book, the ghosts are not necessarily the scary ones.
Take your pick from my list of not-so-typical Halloween reads, and comment below to tell us what you are reading this October.