Here’s a list of literary masterpieces to help you celebrate autumn’s arrival.
By Ashley Wertz, University of Pittsburgh
October is arguably the best time of the year to read.
The days are shorter, the air is crisp and leaves are beginning to change. The skies may be grayer, but you won’t feel guilty staying inside and drinking quarts of hot apple cider while bundled up in a blanket. Not only is the weather accommodating, but Halloween is just around the corner as well. This atmosphere has inspired some amazing and harrowing works of literature, ranging from gory and chilling to mysterious and just plain befuddling. This list is not limited to the horror genre itself, but rather works that “feel” like October.
1. “Pet Sematary” by Stephen King
If an article about October books doesn’t include at least one Stephen King novel, does the article even count? There are about a million books to choose from when it comes to the “King” of horror’s resume, but for me this books sticks out from the rest. “Pet Sematary” is just gory enough to turn your stomach, but also plays with a more nostalgic kind of horror: The death of a childhood pet. When Louis Creed moves to Maine with his family, he believes his life might be looking up. Of course, this is a Stephen King novel, and nothing can go right. Long story short, the family cat gets hit by a truck and buried in the “pet cemetery,” only to show up mysteriously unharmed. But the cat has become strange and hostile, which is honestly the least of Louis’s concerns. His neighbor, Jud Crandall, is constantly being cryptic and shady as hell about the restorative properties of the “pet cemetery.” This book keeps you on the edge of your seat, escalating into bleaker territory as it progresses. It’s best read on a rainy, windy night.
2. “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski
This is the “Inception” of the book world: A story within a story. It’s definitely a “You gotta read it because I can’t explain it at all” kind of book. But even after you’ve read, it might be just as confusing as the moment you picked it up. This is what makes it so brilliant. The framing story focuses on Johnny Truant, a tattoo shop worker who finds a manuscript in the apartment of a deceased blind man by the name of Zampanó. The manuscript is full of strange writings about a documentary movie that doesn’t actually exist. The rest of the book is composed of interweaving documents, including Zampanó’s writings on the imaginary film, Truant’s replies to said writings, a load of footnotes and letters from unnamed editors. The book also plays with formatting the pages in interesting ways. For example, there could be a page with one word or words running off the edges. This stylistic choice lends to the overall feeling of descending into insanity. If you’re looking for a straightforward, chronological story, this is probably not the book for you.
3. “Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion
If horror and confusing tales of insanity aren’t really your cup of tea, you might find “Warm Bodies” more appealing. It falls into the “zombie” genre, but it isn’t anything like “The Walking Dead.” Instead, the story is told through the eyes of one of the zombies. The protagonist, R, is constantly pondering his own existence, angry at the fact that he literally can’t speak anymore due to his disease. It’s not often that you see a zombie story in which the undead are aware of what they’ve become and actually feel pretty shitty about it (though they still have to eat). You might have seen the movie adaptation, which ultimately reduces the story to a “ZomRomCom,” but the book has a lot more meat on its bones than a simple love story between human and zombie. It considers what it means to be human and generally leaves the reader with an existential crisis on their hands. It’s not meant to scare you like most of the other books on this list, but make you think a little and maybe even cry.
4. “The October Country” by Ray Bradbury
The title of this one alone is reason enough to be added to the list. “The October Country” is a collection of short stories which is ideal for those strapped for time. Ray Bradbury is best known for his book “Fahrenheit-451,” but this collection focuses on the macabre and strange, not banning books and censoring society. The October spirit is wonderfully captured in nineteen unsettling tales, the kind you’d read around a crackling fire with the full moon overhead.
There’s something for everyone, no matter what gets you creeped out.
“The Emissary” focuses on the relationship between a bedridden boy and his trusty dog, but quickly takes a dark turn after the death of a local woman. “Skeleton” is literally about a man fighting with his own skeleton, which is just as weird and amazing as it sounds. “The Jar” seems mundane, but focuses on the idea of people seeing what they wish to see and making them go mad. These examples only scratch the surface, so I suggest you see the rest for yourself.
5. “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman
Much like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman is well known for his affinity for the strange. “The Graveyard Book” follows the life of a boy who wanders into a graveyard after the murder of his family. He’s raised by the ghosts that inhabit the graveyard and learns that if he leaves, he’ll be hunted down by the same man who had killed his family years before. As Bod, short for “Nobody,” begins to grow and realize he’s different from the ghosts and ghouls of the graveyard, he understandably feels out of place. Similar to “Warm Bodies,” this book takes a look at the limbo between life and death as Bod tries to find his place in a world he’s never known. While “The Graveyard Book” falls into the young adult category, it can be enjoyed by all ages nonetheless.