It’s that time of year again – All Hallow’s Read. In case you don’t know, All Hallow’s Read was invented by appropriately spooky-haired Neil Gaiman, when he decided there should be some proper book-giving holidays. On Halloween, he proposed, we should give someone a scary book, because it’s fun.
You can find some of his suggestions on the website, but here are a few ideas from my bookshelf:
Let The Right One In by John Lindqvist I gave this one to a few friends last year. I hadn’t read it beforehand, which probably isn’t the best way to do it as it works better if you choose a book that fits the recipient. But, I’d seen the Swedish film and thought it was suitably dark and weird (in a good way) and wanted to see what the book was all about. (Buying it for others was an excellent excuse to buy it for myself.) This is the story of 12 year old Oskar, a boy who is bored and bullied and just doesn’t fit in. When Eli moves into his housing estate he finally finds a friend, but quickly discovers she’s a 200 year old vampire with a kind of ‘caretaker’ (Hakan) who finds her fresh blood. The main characters are children, but this is definitely not a children’s book. There are also some parts which are pretty gross (much more so than the film), so it’s not for the squeamish either. If you have seen the Swedish film I think it’s worth a read just for all the stuff that was left out (I haven’t seen the English-language version but I imagine it’s largely the same). The end of the film, I thought, was quite sad as it seemed as though Oskar was doomed to become the next Hakan, caring for Eli until he became old and she found a new young boy to find her blood. The relationship dynamics are very different in the book, particularly between Eli and Hakan, so the end has a totally different meaning.
Misery by Stephen King I read this when I was 9ish, and it was the scariest thing I had ever read. Mainly it was the whole chopping off the leg bit – which I read over and over in morbid fascination. I haven’t read it as an adult, I think because I don’t want to ruin it for my 9 year old self when it’s no longer as scary. I probably will at some point, but for now I just enjoy the memory of my first properly scary read. There are a lot of King books to choose from – I suspect at least one will fit who you’re looking for.
There are loads of great, spooky short collections out there (mainly by Victorians). Here are a few:
Ghost Stories by M.R. James James’ stories are of an understated, creeping-dread sort, so best read out loud maybe, by candlelight with a storm raging outside.
Ghost Stories by Edith Wharton Another collection of creeping-dread type stories, so don’t forget to create an appropriate Victorian winter environment to read them in. Apparently, Wharton was terrified of the ghost stories she read as a child, and this led to a fascination with writing them (and a fear of ghosts despite not actually believing in them).
Stories by Edgar Allan Poe Perhaps an obvious choice, but a great one. I think they have to be read with a spooky man’s voice in your head (like Vincent Price or Alan Rickman). So, if you give anyone Poe, add instructions to listen to, say, Price reading The Raven on youtube, and then to keep that voice in mind. Much more scary / fun.
Sometimes, I think one of the best things is when you share a book you loved as a child with another child, and they love it too.
Krabat by Otfried Preußler I only read this for the first time yesterday, though it is a book for children. It’s one of Neil Gaiman’s favourites and the publisher put the ebook on for just 99p in honour of All Hallows Read so I thought it was worth a go. Krabat is a homeless young boy who dreams of a voice telling him to go to the mill. Eventually, he does, and finds himself training in the ‘black arts’ alongside the other journeymen. It’s not long before he discovers there’s something altogether more sinister going on… I wanted it to have a scary, twisty ending, which it didn’t, disappointingly, but I still found it an enjoyable read. You don’t ever find out exactly what was going on at the mill, but I like that kind of vagueness, especially in scary books. I think it would make a great chapter-a-night book for bedtime (I mean for kids but grown-ups too!).
Funny Bones by Janet & Allan Ahlberg It’s for very small children but, seriously, how much fun would this be to read again? “On a dark dark hill, there was a dark dark town. In the dark dark town there was a dark dark street”.