31 Spooky Books to Read This Halloween
American Ghost, Hannah Nordhaus
It’s one thing to hunt for a ghost that’s an absolute stranger, but it’s another when the ghost is actually connected to you: When Nordhaus finds out that her great-great-grandmother famously haunts a Santa Fe hotel, she embarks on a quest with psychics and diviners to meet her spectral relative, find out why she died — and why she’s been sticking around.
The Witches of Eastwick, John Updike
Throughout history, “witch” has often been deployed as a derogatory stereotype meant to demonize powerful women. Here, Updike’s trio of divorcees reclaim female strength by injecting some magic into a place that badly needs it: the postwar American suburbs.
Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, Stefan Kiesbye
Four childhood friends reunite in a tiny town in rural Germany to pay tribute to Anka, the fifth member of their group. Throughout the creepy book, we hear stories from all five of the characters as they weave horrifying tales of life in the village, which has its own rules and is essentially cut off from the world. Here, murder and folklore intertwined.
Haunted, Dorah Williams
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. The Williams family moves into a house in which no one has stayed for too long, and soon they find out why. The house is absolutely haunted. As the family works to stop the freakish occurrences, they also seek to learn why the haunting started.
The Amityville Horror, Jay Anson
You’ve seen the movie: Now read the book! While the veracity of some of the events in the book has been called into question, Anson’s telling still terrifies. The Lutz family moves into a steal of a home in 1975, in which a year earlier, Ronald DeFeo had murdered his family: parents, brothers, and sisters. The haunting that follows the Lutz family’s arrival is so vicious, they stay in the house less than a month.
The Haunted, Robert Curran
Written by a priest, The Haunted details the chilling haunting of the devoutly religious Smurf family’s home from all sides: They hear phantom pigs squealing in the night, smell foul odors, feel they’re being watched while in the bathroom, and see floating people. Don’t read this one at night, folks.
Grave's End, Elaine Mercado
In 1982, Mercado, her husband, and their two daughters moved into a new house in Brooklyn. Little did they know, they'd spend the next 13 years enduring traumas like suffocating dreams and phantom maniacal laughter that undeniably haunted house. As they attempt to cope with their environment, a medium and a parapsychologist help them find out the tragic truths at the root of the terror.
The Uninvited, Steven A. LaChance
When the house in question is literally called "The Union Screaming House," you know this one's going to be good: LaChance and his three children finally leave their home after the demons within kill pets and cause inhabitants to be institutionalized. The story doesn't end when the family escapes — LaChance ends up trying to save the next homeowner from madness, too.
The Secret of Crickley Hall, James Herbert
In James Herbert’s disturbing 2006 novel, after the tragic disappearance of one of their three children, a couple decides to leave London for Crickley Hall, on the English coast. Once there, however, the family finds that the house holds many secrets and has a dark history dating back to World War II, when it was a home for children evacuees. In 2012, The Secret of Crickley Hall was adapted into a BBC miniseries starring Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams.
The Terror, Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons’ 2007 novel takes readers through a fictionalized version of Sir John Franklin’s 1840s trip to the Arctic, and things go dark as Franklin and his crew travel further and further into the hostile climate. There’s rebellion, cannibalism, and one lingering polar bear-like monster. A non-linear narrative told from diary entries and third person exposition, The Terror shows the Northwest Passage may be more dangerous than we ever expected.
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel is one of the most celebrated haunted house fiction books of all time, and provided the basis for Robert Wise’s 1963 film The Haunting. When a paranormal investigator invites a small group of people, including a psychic and a troubled young woman, to the potentially haunted Hill House, they end up wishing they had never sought out the supernatural in the first place. You may find yourself going to sleep with the lights on after reading this one.
The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty
Sure, the film version is scary, but imagine reading the actual narrative without the pea soup vomit image in your head. For the uninitiated, 12-year-old Regan MacNeil is possessed by a demon spirit, and her famous mother enlists a priest to perform an exorcism. Inspired by rumors and partially true events, The Exorcist is a classic portrayal of the demonic possession.
Wicked, Gregory Maguire
With a simple shift of perspective from doe-eyed Dorothy to her nemesis, the supposedly Wicked Witch of the West, this novel imbues Oz with danger, sex, politics, and (most of all) magic.
Get In Trouble, Kelly Link
The short story collection Get In Trouble took Kelly Link 10 years to produce, and tells tales of fairy-like “summer people,” superhero boyfriends, and wealthy families who put microchips in their children. It’s absurdist, surrealist fantasy fiction made to creep you out.
I'm Looking Through You, Jennifer Finney Boylan
Boylan’s 2008 memoir deals with two hauntings: One, the actual haunted house she grew up in during the '70s, which she explores with a team of ghostbusters; and two, the “haunting” of her own body. Born James, Jennifer transitioned to female in 2000 (and made occasional appearances on Caitlyn Jenner’s show I Am Cait).
Come Closer, Sara Gran
Sara Gran’s 2011 novel is a haunted story for the modern age. Protagonist Amanda burns her husband with cigarettes, dreams of affairs, and insults her boss after a demon named Naamah takes over her brain, behavior, and life. The pace quickens as Amanda’s happy marriage takes dark, dark plunge.
A Good & Happy Child, Justin Evans
Justin Evans' debut novel solidified his title as a horror author to watch out for. A Good & Happy Child, released in 2007, follows new father George Davies, who can’t stand to hold his newborn son. But as he tries to deal with his issues, George finds repressed memories from his childhood, friendships that may not have existed at all, and supernatural forces he can’t explain.
Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory
The 1950s are ripe for demonic possessions in Daryl Gregory’s 2008 novel. No one is safe and exorcism is sometimes futile.
The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters’ 2009 gothic novel takes place in post-WWII England, where a country doctor strikes up a friendship with the family at nearby Hundreds Hall. As he becomes more intimately acquainted with them, however, the historic estate experiences more and more strange happenings, and the family begins to unravel faster than the doctor can save them.
Hell House, Richard Matheson
Another classic paranormal investigation story, Richard Matheson’s 1971 novel Hell House sees a physicist, his wife, and two mediums temporarily move into the famous Belasco House, an impossibly terrifying haunted mansion, with the goal to determine whether there is life after death. Matheson adapted the book for the screen as The Legend of Hell House in 1973; John Hough directed and Roddy McDowall starred in the film.
Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill
The first novel from Stephen King’s son Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box follows former rock star Judas Coyne after he buys the funeral suit of a dead man to add to his collection of relics of dark magic. The suit, which arrives in a heart-shaped box, is still inhabited by its former wearer’s spirit, and it haunts Judas in this creepy tale of ghosts, black magic, and rock n roll.
Coldheart Canyon, Clive Barker
Clive Barker’s 2001 novel brings ghostly scares, Hollywood satire, and unabashed sexuality in equal measure. When an aging action star’s plastic surgery is botched, he hides out in Coldheart Canyon to escape public scrutiny while he recovers. But his biggest fan seeks him out and is determined to get to the truth of his disappearance. As it turns out, the old Hollywood mansion he’s chosen was once the home of a beautiful and mysterious silent film actress — and she never truly left.
The Bell Witch, Brent Monahan
Monahan’s book, based on a found manuscript written by local teacher Richard Powell, chronicles the story of the Bell Witch, who tortured the Bell family beginning in 1818 — leading to the only documented case in America of a spirit actually killing a human.
The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
James was a master of psychological complexity, and his famous 1898 novella engages the skewed perspective of a young woman, a governess to two small children at an estate in the English countryside. When she moves into the house, she begins seeing two phantom figures, a man and a woman, everywhere she goes, haunting her, going unaddressed by anyone else. Are the ghosts real or is the governess mad? Critics have debated the question since the book’s publication; decide for yourself after reading the story to its chilling, ambiguous conclusion.
The Shining, Stephen King
In one episode of Friends, Joey hides his copy of The Shining in the freezer whenever he gets too scared reading it. It’s an appropriate depository for King’s 1977 novel, which takes place at the claustrophobic and inhospitable — not to mention haunted — Overlook Hotel, where main character Jack Torrance is the winter caretaker. While Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 1980 adaptation is classic Halloween viewing, the book (from which the film deviates significantly) is certainly worth reading if you’re looking for a good scare. You can always stick it in the freezer if it gets too disturbing.
The House Next Door, Anne Rivers Siddons
It’s not ghosts that terrorize the inhabitants of The House Next Door, but the house itself. Anne Rivers Siddons’ 1978 novel, which counts Stephen King among its devoted fans, is written from the perspective of a wealthy Atlanta suburbanite, who observes that every new resident that moves in to the big house next to her own suffers terrible tragedy. She and her husband vow to destroy the house just as its evil influence starts to spread to the rest of the neighborhood — but the house next door fights back.
The Witching Hour, Anne Rice
There is perhaps no place in America more magical than New Orleans, thanks to its iconic jazz, delicious food, and unique multicultural mix. That magic comes alive here when a woman discovers she’s the heir to an ancient line of matriarchal witches, with all the power (and danger) that comes with it.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
The three Hempstock women (maiden, mother, and crone) would tell you they’re not witches, nor do they cast spells. But that's just talk. Sure, these women are kind enough to shelter a scared little boy, but they can also bottle wormholes and summon inter-dimensional demon vultures.
The Witches, Roald Dahl
For a children’s book, Dahl’s tale of the monstrous witches who kill children (or, preferably, turn them into mice so that their parents kill them) sure gets frighteningly dark.
The Magicians, Lev Grossman
Magic can do a lot of things. It can summon beasts, cast illusions, and make objects vanish. But it can’t cure the malaise of young adulthood, as Grossman’s wizards and witches-in-training discover here.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe
For all their publicity, the Salem witch trials didn’t involve any actual magic – just sexism and paranoia. At least that’s how it went in our world. When Howe’s protagonist starts investigating Salem’s past thanks to an enigmatic book, she finds more darkness and magic there than she imagined.