I’ve always loved spooky books. I recently re-read one of Ruth Chew’s magical chapter books and was transported back—young Kim reading in a corner of my third-grade classroom, the steamy windows decorated with tissue paper bats and jack-o’-lanterns, the smell of chili and cinnamon rolls wafting in from the gymnasium lunchroom.
When fall arrives I have a need for spooky books, but they need to be the right spooky books. Old eerie mansions, family curses, maybe something witchy. Gothic horror yes, but light on the horror. Less Stephen King and more Shirley Jackson. So, starting with Shirley, here are some of my favorites.
Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson
Calling all my dark academia friends. I had the privilege of reading this book in a small online reading group with writer and critic Francine Prose (who wrote the forward for the latest edition), and I’ll admit that her passion for the book and smart insights are part of why I love this book so. So strange, so weird, such a brilliant experience of psychological suspense.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Gothic suspense, check. Romantic thriller, check. 1945 Barcelona, check. At the heart of this big and intricate story is a mysterious library. Dark, secretive, and a little magical, this is the kind of book that, if you let your mind do its tricks, smells of dust and candle smoke.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
After decades of hearing about this book, I finally read it. I’ll admit I did, at times, find our protagonist to be exasperating. But mostly I deeply enjoyed this slow burn of a novel. Although it’s not paranormal, the creepy mansion in this book is indeed haunted by a ghost. The eerie housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, is one of my favorite villains. Definitely read the book before you try one of the movie versions.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
This book sat unread on my shelf (I didn’t even know what it was about) until a couple of writers I stalk on social media said they were fans. Well, this big ol’ sweeping book is about Dracula! Dusty libraries and monasteries, European locales, a vampire-hunting quest. Everything I need in a fall read.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
The Amazon description mentions the “hypnotic power of dark poetry” and that dark poetry is what I adored about this book. This book brought me back to the magic of my childhood Halloweens but with the addition of a murderous Mr. Dark. This might be the lyrical sinister-carnival book you’ve been looking for. An October classic.
The October Country by Ray Bradbury
To me, the ideal form of a spooky tale is the short story. They’re meant to be read around a campfire or by someone holding a flashlight under their chin. The back cover says, “The October Country is Ray Bradbury’s own netherworld of the soul, inhabited by the horrors and demons that lurk within all of us.” Another Bradbury classic.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
This crumbling mansion ghost story might not be scary enough for some of you, but I feel like I left a bit of my heart with the unfortunate inhabitants of Hundreds Hall. Also, like The Historian, 100 pages could be cut without losing anything—except the long wonderful experience of reading it! This book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the writing is so evocative I keep a copy by my desk so I can grab it when I need to channel the spirit of a confident prose writer.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
I knew there’d been a TV show and movie but I’m not sure why I didn’t know this book was written in 1983. I looked this info. up mid-read and was shocked because I felt like I was reading something written in the 1800s. This hit all the right atmospheric notes for me—a haunted village, an isolated house on a marsh, a creepy lady in black, and suspense that creeps in like fog.
I plan to update this list from time to time, so if you have ideas of spooky books I need to read, do share!