All Hallow’s Read: Give a Scary Book for Hallowe’en!

“I can make you scared, if you want me to…” The Tragically Hip

Have you heard of “All Hallow’s Read”? It’s this thing started by Neil Gaiman couple of years ago. Actually he was just musing aloud on his blog that it would be fun to start a new tradition at Hallowe’en. In addition to handing out candy and collecting for Unicef, why don’t we give each other scary books on October 31st? It’s a simple enough idea, and it’s starting to take off. Stephen King and his son Joe Hill have taken up the cause, (you’d expect that, wouldn’t you?) and now there is a website  From the site, you can print out posters, bookmarks, and book inserts explaining why you’re giving out scary books.  You can even follow the “All Hallow’s Read” progress on Twitter with the hashtag #allhallowsread.

So it started me thinking, “What is the scariest book I’ve ever read?” I asked one coworker and she was no help. She said she never read anything scary. I pressed her: “You mean you never read anything scary as a kid?” Her response: “I was scared of EVERYTHING as a kid, that’s why I never read anything scary.”

She raises a good point. “Scariness” is subjective, isn’t it? What’s scary for one person may not be for another. When you think of “scary writers,” who do you come up with? Stephen King? Clive Barker? Dean Koontz? All good choices, surely, but what is it about them that makes them scary? Often the blood and guts “gross out” factor can be shocking, but is it scary? Sometimes the subtle sense of dread that grows throughout a story can stay with the reader much longer than any cheap thrill.

Your first fright is often the worst. Growing up, my favourite scary writer was John Bellairs. His stories, heavily influenced by British writer M.R. James, had the perfect combination of thrills and chills, wizards and spells,  but tempered with humour and warm family moments. John Bellairs was my gateway drug to adult scares. I would give The House with a Clock in its Walls to a child for All Hallow’s Read, especially one who has already read all the Harry Potters.

My first “adult” scary book was Weaveworld by Clive Barker. I felt like I was getting away with something when I read it in Jr. High. I’ve never gone back and reread it, because I’m a little afraid that the spell that was cast would be broken if I did. This would be my adult pick for All Hallow’s Read this year.

Here are some other “scariest books ever,” as picked by the staff at the Louis Riel Library.

Syndrome E by Franck Thalliez. The story involves a disturbingly violent black and white film from the 1950s, and anyone who watches it ends up DEAD. Originally published in France, now translated into English, parts of this book take place in Canada and it comes highly recommended for horror, thriller and mystery lovers.

The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen. Arthur Machen is known as “the father of weird fiction” and one look at this collection of short stories will soon let you know why. That’s all I’m sayin’.

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. The unsettling thing about this book isn’t just the storyline, but also the way the book is laid out. Each narrator is given a different font and type-face, and as the story progresses, the reader is forced to really work at figuring out what’s going on. Some pages only have one or two words on them, sometimes the text is backwards or mirrored, and sometimes the text is spiral. The copious footnotes throughout add to the disorientation.

Inside the House of Leaves

The House on the Borderland  by William Hope Hodgson. Considered a “classic” in the sub-genre of “weird supernaturalism,” this book was an early influence on H.P. Lovecraft’s writings. Told through a diary found in a run-down mansion in Ireland, we learn the sad story of Bryon Gault, his sister and their dog, who over the course of the novel are besieged by various hideous creatures in the mansion (or ARE THEY?). You’ve got to appreciate that it is the only book in our system with the subject heading “Insanity (Law)-Fiction.” Author T.E.D. Klein says this about this book: “Never has a book so hauntingly conveyed a sense of loneliness of isolation”.

Speaking of H.P. Lovecraft, another staff member said that At the Mountains of Madness would be his pick. Describing an expedition to Antarctica, this novella is a good introduction for anyone who wants to get into Lovecraft. His stories are scary, “because you tend to dream about the stories afterwards.”

And because you can’t put a list of scary books together WITHOUT choosing Stephen King, one staff member kindly chose IT as her “scariest book ever”.

Well, there you have it: the “scariest books ever” as picked by my co-workers. I’ve got my reading cut out for me, but I think I’ll need a night light.

Happy All Hallow’s Read everybody!

What’s your scariest book ever? You’ve got a month to think about it.


2 responses to “All Hallow’s Read: Give a Scary Book for Hallowe’en!

  1. Thinner, by Richard Bachman (Stephen King) I crouched in bed screaming, at the book, not the movie!

  2. Great suggestions. I already put the Arthur Machen book on request.

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