I prioritize spooky reads in October for obvious reasons, although I never get through as many as I’d like. Still, the books in this list (with one non-spooky interruption) were worthy of reading during the most haunted month of the year.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (Simon & Schuster)
After seeing Charlie Kaufman’s adaptation on Netflix, I thought it was worth checking out the book that inspired it. A brisk psychological thriller that adds context and layers to some unexplained bits of the film, although this might be one case (but not the only!) where I liked the movie more. As a longtime Kaufman fan, I appreciated some of the extra weirdness and depth he added to the story, particularly in the house with the parents.
Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson (Penguin Classics)
I made the correct decision to begin obsessing over Shirley Jackson’s books a few years ago, and I’ve slowly been working my way through her novels. Hangsaman is high on the list, centering around a college student who feels out of place as she navigates expectations from family and social circles. Eery, unsettling, and pensive, Hangsaman haunts and lingers. The first section is one of the most killer 1/3s of any book, and I found myself returning to certain moments and themes well after I finished. Shirley, Josephine Decker’s 2020 biopic, loosely focuses on Jackson writing Hangsaman couched within a creative and totally fictional surrounding narrative. I highly recommend both book and film because you cannot have enough Shirley Jackson in your life.
Radiant Truths: Essential Dispatches, Reports, Confessions, and Other Essays on American Belief, edited by Jeff Sharlet (Yale University Press)
In my break from spooky reads to fulfill grad school obligations, I read this excellent collection of writings on religion, including essays by James Baldwin, Walt Whitman, Zora Neale Hurston, and more. But it was writers I was not previously familiar with who surprised me here: John Jeremiah Sullivan’s trip to a Christian music festival, Meridel Le Sueur’s first time protesting, and Ellen Willis’s “Arguing with the Pope,” which does just that. This selection, with introductions by Jeff Sharlet, is a stunning examination of the varieties of religious experience in America.
Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña Paris, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Coffeehouse Press)
For this month’s Book Cult, we chose a reflective novel centering around a man who does not leave his bed, thinking back to his mother’s disappearance when he was a boy and all of the experiences that shaped and unmade him. A subtle argument against toxic masculinity, with subtexts of commentary concerning femicide in Mexico, Paris’s novel sneaks up on you, slowly revealing its complexities over the course of the novel. You can hear our playlist of moody tunes here.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Flatiron Books)
As a law student, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich learned about the story of Ricky Langley, who murdered a child and was sentenced to death. His case was up to lessen his sentence to life when Marzano-Lesnevich interned for a Louisiana firm working against the death penalty, and they began to study the details obsessively, seeing connections everywhere between Langley’s story and their own. A fascinating story weaving together the author’s life and that of Langley’s, Marzano-Lesnevich makes a stunning argument for humanity. This memoir will sit with me for a long, long time.
Four by Four by Sara Mesa, translated by the Spanish by Katie Whittemore (Open Letter Books)
In my final spooky read, I turned to Sara Mesa, an author frequently compared to Shirley Jackson. Four by Four follows the silences covering over multiple violences on a campus for troubled teens, changing gears from the perspective of students to that of a substitute teacher who slowly uncovers the secrets the school has worked for years to shroud in unspoken agreements and vague threats. I sometimes found the changes in gear uneven, but I was ultimately wrapped up in learning more about the mysterious campus at the center of the novel.