Another type of read I like to consider horror adjacent are nonfiction books that incorporate some aspect of the spooky, macabre, occult, weird—whatever floats your creepy red balloon. Everything from taxidermy to true crime fits under this label, and if we’re being honest, who isn’t interested to learn more about severed heads?
Here are some horror adjacent nonfiction reads to spook up your Halloween TBR!
Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween by Lisa Morton
What celebration of All Hallows Eve would be complete without learning about the history behind this mysterious event? From the Halloween queen herself, Trick or Treat takes you on a journey from the ancient origins to the modern day, tracking how this celebration has changed and morphed across the centuries. If you’d like to read more from Morton, she has an excellent story collection all about Halloween called The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats as well as a new nonfiction book titled Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances.
Women Make Horror: Filmmaking, Feminism, Genre edited by Alison Pierce
Of course, October is the time when everyone cozies up with horror movies, and if you’re interested to learn more about the film industry, this should be your pick. The first book-length study of women in horror by women in horror, this collection of essays re-evaluates existing histories of horror film; highlights women directors, writers, cinematographers, and more; and looks at horror throughout the world.
Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson
Don’t let all this spooky stuff go to your head! Let an anthropologist guide you into the fascinating and macabre world of heads—from headhunting to decapitation to graverobbing to art and beyond. This book explores humanity’s strange fascination with heads—from the political to the cultural to the philosophical. Plus, it’s all described in great (sometimes grisly) detail—pictures included!
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
The first of three books by Doughty, this memoir explores her introduction to the world of death when she worked at a crematory. With experiences from bizarre to gross, her writing is always humorous and extremely enlightening. These first experiences with both the dead and the living jumpstarted Doughty’s life’s work as a frontrunner of the death positive movement. Now, she is a “mortician, activist, and funeral industry rabble-rouser.” She is one of my personal heroes, and I can’t recommend all of her books enough.
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife Mary Roach
If you haven’t previously been introduced to Mary Roach, you’re welcome. All of her books are a treat—tricks included. In her irreverent, inquisitive, and always humorous style, Spook is a thoroughly researched exploration of the most existential question of all: what happens after we die? From scientists to mediums to paranormal experts and everything in between, this book might not have all the answers, but it will take you on a great ride. If you’re looking for another book by Roach with a bit more body (honestly, I am so funny), you might try Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power by Sady Doyle
This book “takes readers on a tour of the female dark side. from the biblical Lilith to Dracula’s Lucy Westenra, from the T-Rex in Jurassic Park to the teen witches of The Craft.” The book looks at real women and fictional ones and the ways that these “bad” women have shaped our consciousness with a patriarchal fear of women. Anyone interested in horror and women’s history and feminism will definitely enjoy this book sitting right at that intersection.
Audra helps manage the Ladies of Horror Fiction Instagram page and composes author profiles. She also contributes articles and helps maintain the website.