10 Spooky Books and True Crime Longreads to Get You in the Halloween Spirit
‘Tis the season to get spooky, and there’s no better way to get in the Halloween mindset than to dive into a creepy-crawly book or true crime longread. These are some of my favorites to revisit on a dark, eerie October night. And if you’re looking for true crime books, don’t fret — I’m busy rounding up some of my faves for another post, coming soon.
Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis
Unfortunately, Bret Easton Ellis is a trash person, but I cannot deny that his book Lunar Park is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. It not only blurs the lines between fact and fiction (a fictionalized version of Bret is the central figure of the book, making it seem as though this is actually happening to Bret the person), but also between his oeuvre, as his iconic character Patrick Bateman from American Psycho shows up once or twice. The book isn’t gory or violent, but deeply paranoid and dark; you feel like you’re going crazy alongside the fictionalized Bret, and the mounting dread is unnerving. It kept me up at night, and though I read it years ago and haven’t revisited it since then, I think about it constantly.
Remember when you had to read “Our Town” in junior high? This book is like that, but way better. It’s a compendium of Winik’s cult classic books, The Baltimore Book of the Dead and The Glen Rock Book of the Dead, which are thoughtful, simple meditations on people who have passed, written in a witty-yet-reverent tone that reminds me of the stories I heard from people in my small hometown. Think of them as oral obituaries.
One of the best pieces of true crime journalism I’ve ever read is “The Cheerleaders” by Elle magazine advice columnist and writer E. Jean Carroll. (You may know her from her “hideous men” story in New York magazine.)
“The Cheerleaders” was written in 2001 for Spin magazine and centers on the town of Dryden, New York, where tragedy struck again and again over a handful of years, including the fatal car crashes of two brothers one year apart, the brutal murders of two cheerleaders, the murder of a beloved coach and more. It’s one of the saddest stories I’ve read and one of the most carefully, compassionately told, as E. Jean visits with the people of Dryden and learns how the tragedies affected them and how they moved forward, even in the face of such sadness and horror.
Want to hear a ghost story? Want to hear lots of them, and learn what these stories tell us about American history and the regions they sprung from? Ghostland is your required reading for any and all ghost-related information. Why do we fixate on these famous haunted houses, and what do they tell us about ourselves?
In 1989, the bodies of Joan Rogers and her two daughters were found floating in the ocean in Florida. How did this Ohio farm wife and her two teenagers end up dead during what was supposed to be a fun family trip, and how did investigators put the pieces together to solve the case? This piece, originally written for the St. Petersburg Times in 1997, is heart-wrenching and horrifying.
I mean, obviously. Carmen Maria Machado’s retelling of the famous “Green Ribbon” scary story stopped me in my tracks, and the rest of the book is just as stunning.
The Darlie Routier case is one of the most fascinating, frustrating cases I’ve encountered. I stumbled upon it while searching for a new 20/20 episode while home sick and was soon scouring Google for more information. If you’ve never read Texas Monthly’s true crime longform journalism, you’re missing out, and this piece about the case is no exception. Darlie Routier was a wealthy young mother whose two sons were murdered one night; Darlie was sleeping in the living room with them and had her own throat cut, almost fatally, but survived the attack. However, pieces of her story didn’t add up for investigators and a jury, and she was found guilty and sent to Death Row. But did Darlie murder her children? Many believe she’s innocent, and this story sheds light on all angles.
To say I am obsessed with this book is an understatement. I’ve read it about seven times because it’s got everything I love: cheerleaders! Female friendship! Power struggles! Murder! While I love most of Megan Abbott’s noir-esque novels, Dare Me is equal parts scary and sensual, and I can’t wait for the TV version.
GQ is an underrated source for incredible true crime reporting, and this piece from 2012 about the Truck Stop Killer, AKA Robert Ben Rhoades, is one of its best. The author potentially encountered Rhoades as a teenage hitchhiker and travels across the country to revisit that night of horror and shed light on the lives of his victims.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Oh, this wasn’t your favorite sleepover book when you were a kid? Can’t relate. Yes, I’m a grown up, and yes, I still love this collections of spooky and silly scary stories, drawing from urban legends and traditional ghost stories. I saw a girl with the ghost bride tattooed on her shoulder once and I still don’t think anything could possibly be cooler than that. Ever. I was so disheartened to hear that parents complained about the pictures by Stephen Gammell (debatably the creepiest part of the books) and a new version was created, though it seems the originals are back where they belong. This book is a classic and I am so excited to pass it down to my future children, terrifying illustrations and all.