Halloween is a time for spooky reads, and it’s also one of those days when we feel fine with letting our standards go out the window and reading some terrible-but-amazing fright tales. But what if you want to smarten up your Halloween reading list? Can zombies, werewolves and monsters go highbrow? Why yes they can, and for those of you who prefer your chills to come in a loftier package, we’ve got you covered. After the jump, find ten highbrow Halloween reads, from everyone’s favorite Shakespearean ghost story to poetry about zombies — and since we’re already mourning the ghosts of the books we had to cut from this list, resurrect any of your favorites we missed in the comments.
The Last Werewolf , Glen Duncan
Duncan’s re-interpretation of the werewolf legend, which he added to this year with Talulla Rising , stars a wry, sexy, self-aware werewolf who’s over the whole eternal life thing and wants to end it — not that anyone will let him. Smart and thrilling, or as Nick Cave called it, “a brutal, indignant, lunatic howl,” this novel will keep you up at night. Just hopefully not on a full moon.
Hamlet , William Shakespeare
You didn’t think of Hamlet as a Halloween story? What, with a vengeful ghost wandering around with blood coming out of his ear, plus people hiding in curtains and talking to skulls and pretending to be things they’re not? Note: we would also accept Macbeth in this category if you happen to prefer witches to ghosts.
Zone One , Colson Whitehead
This was the book that sparked an interest in highbrow zombie fiction around this time last year (in fact, we looked into it ourselves) and for good reason. It is violent and exciting and scary, as any zombie story should be, but subtle and precise. Somehow that only makes it more chilling.
Aim For the Head: An Anthology of Zombie Poetry , edited by Rob Sturma
Maybe it’s just us, but we always consider poetry as a form (barring, you know, limericks) to be naturally a little more highbrow than prose. Which balances out the fact that zombies are probably the most lowbrow of popular monsters. So if you’re a poetry buff looking for a little excitement on a cold October night, or just someone who’s felt the incomprehensible urge to compose a poetic ode to The Walking Dead, we suggest this anthology, which takes itself seriously, but not too seriously.
The Fifth Child , Doris Lessing
If you’re worried about maintaining your literary sensibility this Halloween, why not read a monster novel by a Nobel Prize winner? In this bizarre little book, a happy couple, secure and smug in their domestic bliss, gives birth to their fifth child — and finds it something a little less (or a little more) than human.
Frankenstein , Mary Shelley
When in doubt, go for the original. The green-faced, blockheaded stumblers you see every season have little to do with Shelley’s tormented, introspective monster, and we find it refreshing to remind ourselves of that every once in a while.
Child of God , Cormac McCarthy
We always find McCarthy sort of terrifying, but say, in Blood Meridian, the terror sit mockingly on your tanned skin, and here it sinks into your stomach and jabs at your soft insides. It’s also the only book on our list that doesn’t feature any supernatural creatures, only Lester Ballard, who descends from the dregs of humanity to something below even that, progressing from cave-dwelling outcast to serial killer to necrophile. And if you’re disappointed at the lack of ghouls and goblins, consider this line: “Scuttling down the mountain with the thing on his back he looked like a man beset by some ghast succubus, the dead girl riding him with legs bowed akimbo like a monstrous frog.” That’s what we thought.
Sharp Teeth , Toby Barlow
In Barlow’s debut, competing packs of lycanthropes have the run of East LA, and Anthony, a loner dogcatcher, gets a little more mixed up than is good for him. Wry humor, violence, and sexy lady werewolves abound in this dark and satisfying tale — oh yes, and it’s all written in verse in epic poem style. No, don’t run! It’s amazing.
Beloved , Toni Morrison
Sometimes we forget that Beloved is one of the most terrifying ghost stories we’ve ever read. But though it’s not played for chills, and rather treated as seriously as the rest of the book warrants, what’s more frightening than a vengeful baby in your house? Plus, you feel good about reading this book at any time of year, considering the fact that in 2006 The New York Times dubbed it the absolute best book of the last 25 years. Not too shabby for a ghost story.
Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy: New Life for the Undead , William S. Larkin
You know what’s highbrow? Books on philosophy. Even if they’re about zombies and vampires, creatures that, Larkin posits, raise the central philosophical question of humanity: what is it to be a person? Something to think about while you’re stumbling around in your fake-blood-heavy zombie Halloween costume this year.