Oct 9, 2011

The Sunday Salon – All Hallow’s Read

Gothic Tree
Photo Credit

As many of you will no doubt already know, All Hallow’s Read is a tradition started by Neil Gaiman last year, and it consists of simply giving someone a scary book for Halloween. As the website's FAQ explains, the books are not meant to replace Trick or Treating, but to complement it. Also, the recipients don't necessarily have to be children, though they certainly can be. Neil Gaiman did a very cool video explaining the whole thing recently, which you can see below:

I thought I'd highlight some of the best scary or atmospheric books I've posted about over the years, in case anyone is looking for ideas of recommendations:
  • The Halloween Tree and From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury (and also Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I read pre-blogging): I have yet to come across any books that surpass these as the perfect Halloween read.

  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: Some readers find this book terrifying; others (like myself) subtly creepy. But whatever the case, Sarah Waters has written a perfect haunted house story, in the tradition of Shirley Jackson or Henry James.

  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: This classic short story is one of the best examples of psychological horror I can think of.

  • The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski: This novella can be read as horror in the exact same sense as the Gilman story. Both do an excellent job of conveying what being a trapped, powerless Victorian woman who is completely at the mercy of others feels like. The result is as gripping as it is suffocating. (And on that note, you could also read Sarah Waters' brilliant Affinity.)

  • Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James: Subtle, cosy, and very English. Ghost stories don't get much better than this.

  • John Bellairs' Lewis Barnavelt series: How scary you actually find these will depend on your sensibility. But even less susceptible readers are bound to enjoy at least the charmingly old-fashioned Gothic atmosphere, as well as Bellairs' wonderful sense of fun.

  • The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier: du Maurier is a master of suspense, and this is one of my favourite short story collections. The story “The Birds” may actually surpass the Hitchcock film in creepiness.

  • The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers: Byron, Keats and the Shelleys plus vampire-like creatures from Greek mythology could have led to disaster, but for me it worked. Powers writes extremely convoluted plots, but if you go along for the ride there's plenty to enjoy here.

  • Lola: A Ghost Story by J. Torres and Ernest Or: A quiet, gentle ghost story inspired by Filipino folklore.

  • Bayou by Jeremy Love: I didn't think of this book as horror initially, but once Jenny pointed it out I saw it. This story, about a girl trying to save her father from a lynching in the segregated South, is horrific in all the ways history is often horrific.

  • From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell: Alan Moore's take on Jack the Ripper is not for the squeamish, but if you can deal with the graphic violence there's plenty to love here, namely all the historical detail.

  • Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon: Again, more atmospheric and suspenseful than actually scary, but nevertheless a perfect Halloween read.

  • Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu: Le Fanu's take on Victorian sensation is as close as it gets to actual horror. This build up is slow, but once the story gets going it's an absolute page-turner.

  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: The perfect ambiguous ending.

  • Come Closer by Sara Gran: One of the strangest and most unsettling books I have ever read. This is one of those stories that can be read as either supernatural or as psychological horror, and readers are likely to go with whichever option disturbs them the most.

  • Half-Minute Horrors edited by Susan Rich: I could have sworn I reviewed this last year, but apparently I never got around to it. Half-Minute Horrors is a collection of short-short horror stories, and it includes authors such as Lemony Snicket, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, M.T. Anderson, Melissa Marr, Holly Black, Gregory Maguire and Joyce Carol Oates. Perfect to read aloud on a stormy night.
There's also the RIP Challenge, which I sadly didn't get to join this year: the RIP review site is a wonderful source of further recommendations. There's also a recommendations section on the All Hallow’s Read website.

Unfortunately I can't afford to do a proper All Hallow’s Read giveaway this year, but I'm still hoping to be able to take part: my plan is to carefully search all charity shops near me for gently used copies of appropriately scary books. Then, inspired by the Guardian Book Swap, I plan to leave them in public places with a little note inside explaining all about All Hallow’s Read. I know finding something like that would absolutely make my day, so hopefully the same will happen to other book lovers out there.

Are you planning to celebrate All Hallow’s Read? If so, how? And what are some of your favourite scary books?

The Sunday Salon.com


  1. This is a great idea! I'll have to do this for a few of our neighbors.

  2. In order to celebrate, I'm giving away a copy of The Graveyard Book, which I still haven't read, oddly enough. I love your list, though—those books sound great.

  3. I just finished Affinity--the perfect autumn read! Very atmospheric. I'm a couple hundred pages into Drood at the moment, and so far it seems to be a good follow-up. This is such a great time of year for reading! :)

  4. Kathy: Let us know how it goes!

    Clare: Gah, I meant to link to your giveaway and then completely forgot. I'm glad you mentioned it!

    Laura: I've been meaning to read Drood for years! I have a copy, but it's currently in storage and I won't have access to it until after Halloween. Ah well, I'm sure it would also be a perfect November read.

  5. Ooh lots of new books to add to my TBR list. I love the sound of The Halloween Tree! I loved The Little Stranger - definitely eerie. You might want to try White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick. Very gothic and atmospheric!

  6. I love your idea of finding "gently used books" to give away and am going to steal it for All Hallow's Read. And I will get a copy of Come Closer from my library to read for R.I.P.

  7. Oh I love these kinds of lists, especially when they come from someone like you who knows her stuff! I'd have to agree, Waters' Affinity and The Little Stranger are soooo awesomely creepy. Very subtle. Kate Morton writes like this too.

  8. Vivienne: Ooh, thanks for the reminder! I've been meaning to read Sedgwick for ages, and that was on the Carnegie shortlist so extra appealing.

    Gavin: I look forward to hearing what you think of it! It's a very strange little book, and one I can imagine people reacting to in many different ways. But it's also short and great for breaking a reading slump.

    Sandy: Personally I don't get on with Morton's writing, but yes, her books are very atmospheric!

  9. One of my favorite scary books read in the last few years is Susan Hill's The Woman in Black... very creepy and atmospheric!

  10. I like this idea. I wonder if the Halloween superstores will open up a small book section. It might be a good idea.

  11. I've been toying with possible things to do for All Hallows Read this year, and I have to say I'm liking your idea of leaving books around randomly with a little note inside. Thanks for the idea!

  12. This is a fantastic idea! I can't believe that I didn't know about this before! I love your book recommendations.

  13. Can't believe I haven't heard of this before--or maybe it just never stuck but what a fun idea! I still have nightmares from the From Hell movie. Ha! But I loved reading Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes so maybe I'll seek out The Halloween Tree on audio!

  14. I've just read A Little Stranger and Lady Audley's Secret for the RIP challenge! I've also got a volume of M. R. James' stories, which I was inspired to get from the library after reading Danielle's wonderful review of Count Magnus and Other Stories on her blog A Work In Progress. Of course I had to go back and read your review as well. I agree, his stories are really creepy but best enjoyed in small doses. And I'd never heard of him either.

    It's dark and rainy today, perfect weather for some RIP reading.

  15. All such good choices! I need to get around to reading Turn of the Screw already. I've heard a hundred million good things about it, and I want to like Henry James anyway, so TotS sounds like the perfect in.

  16. Thanks for writing about this, Ana! I tend to read a scary book and watch a scary movie on Halloween. (I can't remember what book I read last year, but I watched Steven Spielberg's 'Duel' which was extremely scary). Your post has inspired me to gift a scary book to friends, this Halloween :)

  17. What a fun idea! It would be so fun to do a blogger "Secret Santa" ("Secret Satan"? ;) ) based around this idea where people send other participants a spooky book! I also wish that books were sufficiently affordable that in lieu of candy I could hand out spooky kids books to trick or treaters!

  18. What a great idea! I love reading AND I have many happy memories of trick or treating. I also think the Secret Satan idea Steph mentioned above sounds pretty great :-)

  19. I have The Yellow Wallpaper downloaded to my kindle! Totally forgot about it.

  20. I bet this would go over really well with a friend of mine who is always hungering for a new read. I think I am going to gift her something scary this Halloween! Great idea, Ana! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  21. I love this idea. I also love your idea of leaving a book somewhere with a note. An awesome way to celebrate. :-)

    Great list too. A few are going to make it on to my TBR. Sadly, I haven't had the chance to read a creepy (I'm kinda hard to scare) book yet this month. Must get to it!

  22. What a great idea! I think your idea to leave a book with a little note in it is fantastic. I would be thrilled if I happened upon something like that. I seem to read a lot of scary books but most of them are non-fiction. I did just finish Salem's Lot by Stephen King and feel it is sufficiently scary and creepy to qualify to giveaway for All Hallow's Read.

  23. Awesome idea! I wonder if I can get inexpensive children's books....

  24. I've never actually heard of All Hallow's Read but sounds like an amazing idea. I must admit I'm not usually one to go all out for halloween, but I do find as winter rolls in that my reading often switches to darker and creepier stories.

    I love so many of the books you have mentioned in your list e.g. Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Victorian Chaise-longue, The Birds and Other Stories, and The Turn of the Screw. The other ones you've listed I will have to keep in mind as possible winter 2011 reads :-)

    I too usually take part in the RIP Reading Challenge but got a bit toom much on at the minute, with my other two challenges I'm taking part in. But that won't stop me enjoying some creepy reads at some point over the winter.

  25. This list is very helpful! I am participating in RIP and wanted a few more recommendations.

  26. Love the list Ana! I don't think I've read most of them although I'm planning to read something suitably spooky to complement a Halloween London walk I'm doing with a friend.

  27. I love this idea! When I told the Huz about it, he said he would have toilet papered someone's house if they gave him a book instead of candy when he was a kid... I told him he didn't get it. I love your list of recommendations too!


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