Kathe Koja, author of many novels including the classic award-winning, THE CIPHER, which is back in paperback this month after almost 30 years from Meerkat Press, shared with us her top five Halloween Book recommendations. Be sure to finish as there is an exciting giveaway at the end along with details on THE CIPHER reissue.
Along with the books, I’ve included ambience suggestions that may, like a wine pairing, enhance the experience of your reading, I create and produce immersive experiences as well as write fiction, so I wanted to offer the full package. Happy Halloween! – Kathe Koja
Interview with the Vampire
The vampire is a Halloween trope (and perennial costume choice) for a reason. And no one has ever done it better than Rice: the blood lust, the lush despairing ennui, the flashes of incredible black humor, the insects and silk and decadence. And her child vampire, Claudia, is a heartbreakingly audacious, and wholly original, creation.
Best enjoyed with: A bottle of excellent red wine, and a crystal glass, or black chicory coffee. Candlelight, while seated on something comfy and velveteen; a chaise lounge would be perfect but a sofa is fine. If you want to be extra, prop a mirror slantwise, so you can almost, but not quite, see behind you.
It’s amazing that this ferocious novel is not considered one of the greatest ghost stories of all time. It begins with a ghost trying to force her way back into a home she never meant to leave, and ends with two ghosts having a wonderfully eerie ramble through the moors they both adored. In between there’s passion, death (hardly anyone gets out of this book alive), grave robbing, and tons of DGAF repartee.
Best enjoyed with: The windows open; if there’s a breeze, or better yet a high wind, open them wider. Tasty ale or black stout or robust black tea, preferably in a mug. A yellow camping lantern or two, for shadows. To be extra, scatter some crackling leaves across the floor and shed your shoes.
The set-up alone qualifies it for a Halloween read: a ragtag group of medieval actors stop to bury their dead friend, but another death, the murder of a child, takes over their lives and livelihood. Strange plays of God and the Devil, fantastical tales that turn out not to be as terrible as the truth, snow and mud and class rage: this novel is about sterling morals the way Wuthering Heights is about romance.
Best enjoyed with: Monk’s chants or madrigals to set the mood, a deep armchair or a bed heaped with coverlets and faux fur throws, and the most over-the-top Halloween masks you can find, displayed and arrayed almost too close for comfort, until you start to feel that maybe that can see you, too. Drink mead or red wine; if the glass isn’t totally clean, that’s extra.
“Don’t Look Now,” from Not After Midnight
Daphne du Maurier
Venice in the fog, a bewildering, creeping, inexorable fate that remains just out of sight until it’s much too late to run: this is technically short fiction but it’s definitely long enough to leave a mark (and Not After Midnight contains four more du Maurier tales, to be enjoyed later). Two grieving parents and two inexplicable adult sisters traffic with the dead, in the sound of lapping water, in streets without corners that turn upon themselves, then end as abruptly as a scream.
Best enjoyed with: If you can, get by the water to read this: river, lake, pond, hot tub, just make sure you can hear it splash. Sit in the dark, use the light of your e-reader, or a book light if it’s print; drink something as dark and faintly sour, or just a little too sticky-sweet. Extra here is wearing a red hoodie.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Alvin Shwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Think you’re too grown-up for a kids’ illustrated book of spooky stories? You’re not. Thanks to the unforgettable and brilliantly disturbing art of Stephen Gammell, these quick weird tales will bring back your childhood Halloweens, when you could still be reassured by adults that the monsters under your bed were make-believe. Now that you’re an adult, though, you know how often adults are just plain wrong. Look at those illustrations one more time. Then look under the bed.
Best enjoyed with: Candy, candy, and more candy, from fun-sized Hershey bars to Twizzlers to Smarties to whatever. Extra is eating it out of a pillowcase. Enjoy!
THE CIPHER by Kathe Koja
Winner of the Bram Stoker Award and Locus Awards, finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award, and named one of io9.com’s “Top 10 Debut Science Fiction Novels That Took the World By Storm.” With a new afterword by Maryse Meijer, author of Heartbreaker and Rag.
“Black. Pure black and the sense of pulsation, especially when you look at it too closely, the sense of something not living but alive.” When a strange hole materializes in a storage room, would-be poet Nicholas and his feral lover Nakota allow their curiosity to lead them into the depths of terror. “Wouldn’t it be wild to go down there?” says Nakota. Nicholas says, “We’re not.” But no one is in control, and their experiments lead to obsession, violence, and a very final transformation for everyone who gets too close to the Funhole.