As soon as I see leaves changing color, I begin to crave a certain type of novel. You know — the ones that match the aura of the gray, foggy mornings and delve into darker themes.
When I was a poor college student, I often ended up digging out my favorite ones and using them as Halloween decorations in the windowsill, all lined up in a row. I much preferred these as opposed to monster-themed window clings (not to bash those, they’re adorable and wonderful). Scary tales also could be used to spruce up an end or coffee table for Halloween.
Here are my top ten favorites. Kick back with a nice cup of tea on a chilly autumn morning with one of these, and perhaps revisit an old tale. For the short stories, many can be found inside of larger anthologies that often have quite interesting covers.
1. “The Birth-Mark,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
This is probably my favorite Hawthorne tale, and it’s delightfully eeire. I’ve never been able to look at science in the same way. All of Hawthorne’s (author of The Scarlet Letter) stories are perfect for fall with their explorations of some of the most fundamental themes in literature. (Bonus, check out Rappaccini’s Daughter for a similar vibe.)
2. “Frankenstein,” by Mary Shelley
I know this is the most stereotypical thing to be on this list, but I promise you’ll notice new things when you read it again. I’ve had to write probably ten essays on this book, and I still never get tired of it. Shelley is an amazing mastermind. Also, I’m going to take a moment to post my favorite thing ever:
3. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” by Robert Louis Stevenson
A London lawyer investigates the mysterious situation between his friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and Edward Hyde, who has been committing evil acts all over town. The story itself is about the evil that exists within us all, and the dark, London-y setting is perfect for October. This story has stuck with me for a long time, and I read it every year.
4. “Pickman’s Model,” by H.P. Lovecraft
Lovecraft has always been a master at dark diction that makes the reader uncomfortable—when reading “Pickman’s Model,” the imagery lingers, constantly haunting thoughts. When the narrator tries to recount the tale of his encounter with Pickman, an artist known for creating grotesque, dark paintings, his extreme fear and anxiety is still present.
5. “The Doll,” by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates’ “The Doll” retains a disturbing tone throughout. Florence Parr, now in her forties, is drawn to a house by a sort of paranormal force that she can’t explain. What she does know, though, is that the house is identical to the dollhouse of her childhood: Oates makes a point of describing it, and the dolls, in length, with disturbing diction. A perfect spooky tale.
6. “Good Country People,” by Flannery O’Connor
OK so this may be Southern Gothic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not super disturbing and great for Halloween time. In “Good Country People,” O’Connor uses the Southern stereotype of “good country people” to display the motif of reality versus illusion, with her iconic Southern Gothic style. I’ll put any O’Connor story up against some horror novel, and it will freak me out more every time.
7. “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” by Edgar Allan Poe
If you know Poe, you know his writing is some of the most chilling ever. He touches on motifs of darkness, despair, addiction, evil and much, much more. I’m in love with every story he’s written. The best one, though? The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. Poe’s story fits in with the same ranks of other Gothic classics like Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” and even Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” However, while those stories explore the consequences of taking strictly scientific study too far, Poe’s story instead shows the grim ramifications of taking more pseudo-scientific exploration too far. Poe’s resolution to this story is one of his most gruesome uses of imagery in his repertoire, and he uses it to represent how awful the consequences can be when we meddle into dark practices that disturb nature.
8. “Dracula,” by Brahm Stoker
Here’s the thing. When I read Dracula, I get majorly weird vibes from Stoker, like he wasn’t a fan of women’s equality. I could go on and on about this topic, how he uses the darkness of vampirism to symbolize the Victorian fear of the liberation and independence of women from the clutches of societal normality, but that’s not quite fun. The story itself is still a classic, and for good reason.
9 . “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte
This story is another great Victorian classic, filled with all of the gray English countryside and drama — and of course, the haunting Thornfield manor. What’s in store for young Jane? Find out!
10. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” by J.K. Rowling
You’re never too old to revisit this series, and fall is the perfect time to hop into Hogwarts. After all, that’s when students begin school, and wizardry goes with October like flowers go with May. Grab some butterbeer and get warm.
Do you have favorite October reads? I’d love to hear about them. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.