A few weeks ago, I shared some highly anticipated fall reads on Patreon (the video is still available). It was a LOT of fun, but it was still 90 degrees in Louisville. I joked about it being fall on the page and in our hearts, if not in our actual, physical world.
But finally, last weekend, I felt a chill in the air. I even pulled out a sweatshirt (for more than 5 minutes at 6am!). Fall is here, readers. And I am ready to cozy up with books that match my October mood.
Seasonal reading looks different for everyone. I’ve seen quite a few Stephen King novels and similarly scary read on #bookstagram lately, but as a highly sensitive person (HSP) and all-around scaredy-cat, I stay far away from the truly frightening stuff. Instead, my penchant for mystery and suspense leads me to spooky but not scary stories that give me just a taste of the season, nightmare-free.
Short story collections are perfect for readers like me because they are short. You can fulfill your curiosity and read all the way to the end and then set the book aside until your heart rate slows down. With Daisy at my feet, and a cup of tea by my side, I can handle a few goosebumps or a chill down my spine. (And then recover from a light scare with a more comfortable book.)
Today I’m sharing seven short story collections that will get you in the mood for spooky October reading without keeping you awake all night. These collections range from old school classics to ultra-modern, and they vary on the scary scale.
I’d love to hear what you’re reading this season! And please share your recommendations for not-too-scary stories in the comments.
You might remember reading Edgar Allan Poe’s delightfully creepy tales in middle school, and perhaps the eerie pounding of “The Tell-Tale Heart” haunts you to this day. His stories perfectly capture the moody, gothic atmosphere of a gloomy October evening. Dahlia Adler and a team of 12 other popular YA authors teamed up to modernize Poe’s 150-year-old horror stories, taking fresh perspectives on the classics. A modern retelling of “The Oval Portrait” by Lamar Giles peaked my interest, and the original tales are included in the book for comparison. With a different audio narrator for each tale, this collection is worth listening to as you crunch through piles of leaves on a walk or prep ingredients for a warm pot of chili. More info →
Thanks to recent film adaptations of We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson's fiction is more popular than ever. Her famous short stories like "The Lottery" are just as entertaining, and perhaps more HSP-friendly, than her adapted novels. Jackson expertly turns the seemingly mundane into deeply unsettling events, revealing the darker side of humanity in the process. The first story in this collection stars "Miss Adela Strangeworth" who hates sloppiness and loves her home. Of course, nothing is as it seems, and Miss Strangeworth's stroll around town takes a sinister turn. More info →
Tana French says that "reading a perfectly plotted Agatha Christie is like crunching into a perfect apple: that pure, crisp, absolute satisfaction." Christie’s short stories are especially crisp, tightly plotted, and thoroughly mind-bending. This collection features mysteries with supernatural elements: ghosts, haunted houses, and ancient curses. Our favorite detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, make appearances, and you can count on Christie to include a puzzle in each bite-sized suspense. More info →
A novelist deals with heartache. A fiancé has bad news for his beloved. A warship gets rescued by another ship. At face value, these plots don’t sound particularly suspenseful, but fans of Daphne du Maurier's novels know better. Her protagonists are ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary, even dangerous, situations. The suspense unfolds slowly, building to a crescendo as secrets are revealed. Atmosphere hangs heavy over well-drawn characters. If you enjoyed Rebecca for its quiet, romantic mystery, don't miss out on this short story collection. More info →
Science fiction might be the eeriest genre of all. Think of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror (neither of which you'll catch me watching before bed). In this genre, otherworldly elements often highlight real human themes, and Octavia Butler is a master of the craft. Her only collection of short stories includes the Hugo award-winning title story "Bloodchild," which examines a strange bond between tic-like aliens and the humans who have colonized their planet. Other stories are more realistic, but every tale exposes a new truth about the human condition. More info →
Sometimes a title is sheer perfection. Covering everything from weird family folklore to classic monster horror stories, The October Country is truly meant to be read in October. Bradbury opens this classic collection: "October Country . . . that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and mid-nights stay…" His stories reflect this mystical, gloomy time of year, and despite being written in the 50's and 60's, their themes remain poignant. More info →
This collection makes me think of Anne’s Story Club, the one in which she and her friends write about "love and murder and elopement and mysteries." Anne would simply devour a book full of romantic ghost stories. Though somber and brooding, these 19 tales of heartache, secrets, and hauntings showcase Montgomery’s eloquent style and vivid imagination. It might be a little tricky to track down (try Thriftbooks or your local used bookstore), but it’s worth hunting for Montgomery’s unique and fascinating collection. More info →
How do you feel about scary stories? What spooky-but-not-scary titles would you add to this list?
And finally, when I was picking up my library books the other night, a conversation broke out about the movie A Quiet Place. I’d love to see it …. but I’m afraid it will be too scary. (See what I did there?) If you have advice on this question, please share in comments!