3 Creepy Books to Read to Put You in the Halloween Spirit
Halloween is here! With the horrors of real life constantly encroaching, some might say that it’s strange how dear we hold our ghastly traditions of dressing up, imagining the worst and delightedly scaring the hell out of ourselves. Pretend monsters, though, are a lot less anxiety-producing than real ones, and even if they do sometimes remind us of reality, these Halloween tricks tend to come with treats. So sit in with this week’s book club, and read these creepy and not-so-creepy tales of deaths, disappearances, and witchery.
1. The Book of Extraordinary Deaths: True Accounts of Ill-Fated Lives by Cecilia Ruiz ($17): Not exactly an illustrated Darwin Awards, Ruiz’s book treats with gentle dark humor the strange, unlikely, and totally bizarre demises throughout history of both celebrities and those notable only for the way they left this world. Primarily an unsettling picture book in the manner of Edward Gorey, The Book of Extraordinary Deaths features short, pithy commentary on the role of the deceased figures and how they met their end. It’s perfect for your Halloween coffee table (or should we say coffin table?).
Read about “Milo of Croton, the notable Greek wrestler,” who “encountered his death in the forest. As he comes upon a broken tree trunk split with wedges, he decided to test his strength by tearing the stump in two. The wedges fell and trapped his hands in the tree trunk, leaving him defenseless against hungry wolves.” Or, if death by wolves isn’t your thing, how about an eagle? One dropped a tortoise on the head of the writer Aeschylus, likely because his bald head reminded the eagle of a tortoise-crushing rock.
Leaving the animal kingdom and the ground entirely, there’s the aptly named Monsieur Le Pique, who died when he and his rival, fighting over a woman, decided they were too above the rest of society to duel on the ground, and fought from two hot air balloons. Le Pique’s pride took him down to earth: He wasn’t shot, but his balloon was. There’s also a composer who conducted himself to death, a king who ate himself to death (dying from a particularly lavish meal), and a lawmaker who suffocated under the presents tossed his way by admirers. Interspersed throughout are quotations about the nature of death, from Khalil Gibran to T.S. Eliot. If nothing else, these creepy, funny, odd tales will give you ideas for fantastic ghost stories — though many might say your source material is too weird to be real.
2. Find Me Gone by Sarah Meuleman ($27):Vogue Amsterdam columnist Meuleman’s first novel, already published in Dutch and nominated for the Bronzen Uil best literary debut prize, features at its heart a host of spooky disappearances that hit a little close to home. In 1996, Hannah and Sophie are best friends growing up in a small village in Belgium where very little happens… until young girls begin to go missing. The adults are deeply upset and terrified, even after the killer is supposedly caught. Sophie deeply identifies with this fear, as it’s been with her long before the disappearances started. Her fear grows in high school, when her sole support Hannah starts drifting apart from her. Before she can confide in Hannah, Sophie is gone too; she never comes home from a school dance.
In 2014, Hannah has moved to New York, where she seems to have it all — a great man, a high-profile job as a party columnist, and an apartment that screams “Quality. Luxury. Style.” When Hannah has a miscarriage, she quits everything, relocating suddenly to Bushwick and beginning a biography based on the lives and mysterious disappearances of authors Virginia Woolf, Barbara Follett, and Agatha Christie. Thinking about these disappearances has her dwelling on what happened almost 20 years ago. Moving back and forth between Hannah’s life in Belgium and her research in Brooklyn, the book delves into Sophie’s vanishing and asks, how can a person just disappear?
“A rustling behind me. I glance back I cannot see him but I can almost feel his hands on me. He must be somewhere among the tree trunks, every one the same. Where is the house? Shouldn’t there be a house somewhere with a door that swings open, a friendly face, someone who can help? I don’t know which way to turn. Branches clutch at my party dress, claw at tattered lace. Shreds heavy with dirt, water, blood. I think of warm rooms, beds piles with cushions, the pink blanket we snuggled under. Our little nest, safe from all the others. Far from any danger. A trickle of blood on her delicate skin. I trip and slam facedown into the dirt. A throbbing cheek, a bloody tooth. Footsteps thud closer. Keep still, stay small, don’t breathe. If only I could disappear. Dive beneath the leaves and never come up. Climb the highest tree and never come down. Sink into the waves and never come back.”
3. The Blue Witch by Alane Adams ($13): “My witch’s heart is made of stone/Cold as winter, I cut to the bone/My witch’s soul is black as tar/Forged in darkness to leave a scar/My witch’s blood, it burns with power///Cross me not or you will cower/My witch’s hands will conjure evil/I plot and plan. I’m quite deceitful/My witch’s tongue will speak a curse/To bring you misery and so much worse.” If you prefer your Halloween spirits more magical than murderous, take a look at Adams’ prequel to her Legends of Orkney books and start to her new YA series, The Witches of Orkney.
Abigail is a nine-year-old orphaned witchling with a mysterious, prophesied past. At nine, witchlings are plucked from the nurturing Creche and sent to the imposing Tarkana Witch Academy for their training. At Tarkana, no one is allowed to run (it’s unbecoming of a witch), wander outside, or head into the dungeons, where dark beasts are afoot. Potteresque courses include the History of Witchery, Positively Potent Potions, Spectacular Spells, and the ABCs: Animals, Beasts, and Creatures. If you succeed, you might ascend to the position of Head Witchling. Fail, and you’ll be out entirely. Abigail is afraid she’s going to be the Worst Witch. She’s the odd one out, snubbed by her former friends and living alone in the attic. Her magic hasn’t even come in yet, so she starts to lag in her important classes.
When it finally does show up in a desperate bid to save a new friend’s life, Abigail finds her magic is different from everyone else’s — it’s blue. What does it mean? Abigail discovers that the color of her magic may link her to a notorious coven traitor named Lissandra; in fact, this might be the mother she never knew. Meanwhile, Endera, the daughter of High Witch Melistra, is a constant magical thorn in Abigail’s side, casting spells her way and doing her best to make sure Abigail flunks out of witch school. Abigail now has to do her best to fight back, while resisting the increasing calls to the dark side that she feels when using her magic. All this would be hard enough for a nine-year-old without the threat of war on the horizon — and the sense that she may have something to do with it. Drawing on Norse mythology and featuring a host of mythical beasts, this series is for the little witch in all of us.
What books make you shiver and shriek? Tag us in your next spooky read @BritandCo.
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