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Freaks of Color: 6 Haunting Reads for Halloween

Welcome once more, fellow Freaks, to another spooky list to celebrate one of the best holidays of the year!

We’ve given you just a fiendish taste of the scariest comic book characters to whet your palates, and we’ve shared the perfect TV shows to distract you from all the ghouls that go bump in the night. Now, we’re gonna get a bit literary and recommend some creepy fictional treats to sink your fangs into.

(I’m totally done with the puns now. Promise).

In honor of our week-long Halloween celebration, check out this (mostly) diverse list of book recommendations!

Octavia Butler
Seven Stories Press, September 2005

A seemingly young girl wakes up in the ruins of a home with amnesia, inhuman abilities, and an all-consuming thirst for blood. She soon discovers that she is a half-century years old vampire whose people have been viciously attacked and killed. Now, she must try to discover the secrets of her past, embrace her true nature, and run from the mysterious forces that want her dead.

Why You Should Read It:
Y’all know I gotta start this list with the Queen Mother of black speculative literature. While all of Butler’s novels are thrilling horror stories in their own right, Fledgling is particularly appropriate for the Halloween season. Pick this book up if you want to read one of the few good black vampire stories out there today, and find yourself captivated by Butler’s stunning writing style and skin-crawling interrogations of life, death, sex, and morality. And if you want more, check out Wild Seed, Lilith’s Brood, Bloodchild, The Evening and the Morning and the Night… actually, just read everything Butler’s ever written. You won’t regret it.

The Ballad of Black Tom
Victor LaValle, February 2016

A down-on-his-luck street musician struggles to take care of his ill father and survive the unforgiving streets of New York City. He takes on a series of side hustles to pay his way through life, which one day includes playing delivery boy for a strange recluse in Queens. But the package he’s carrying is an ancient occult tome that unlocks powerful magic, and he soon finds himself entangled in a conspiracy led by some dark forces too close to home.

Why You Should Read It:
Acclaimed novelist H.P. Lovecraft is known for two things: his iconic horror fiction, which gave us the terrifying Cthulhu Mythos, and the vicious racism that colors his iconic canon. So, it’s always great to see black and brown authors subvert these racist narratives in order to reclaim power. With The Ballad of Black Tom, LaValle provides a more compelling reimagining of Lovecraft’s short story The Horror at Red Hook by juxtaposing Lovecraft’s cosmic horror with the everyday horrors of being black in turn-of-the-century America. The result is an incredibly satisfying read. And honestly, this novel definitely should inspire y’all to take your favorite examples of morally awful literature and make it better and browner.

Her Body and Other Parties
Carmen Maria Machado
Graywolf Press, October 2017

This anthology offers readers several unique narratives dissecting the messy realities of women’s lives and personhood. Stories in this collection concern characters such as a wife who refuses to let her husband remove the green ribbon tied around her neck, a woman who takes on multiple lovers as a plague destroys humanity, and a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit inspired team with ghouls, ghosts, and scary women finding themselves.

Why You Should Read It:
Publishing deals are hard enough to come by these days, and a new author debuting an anthology of short stories is almost unheard of. But once you get a taste of Machado’s writing, you’ll see why she deserves this distinguished honor and the acclaim Her Body and Other Parties has received. What makes this anthology particularly exciting to read are the interesting ways in which gendered violence is represented by speculative symbolism. Rather than distance readers from this violence, the horror of these situations is enhanced by Machado’s reinterpretations. Whether downright creepy or surprisingly heartfelt, these stories are sure to burrow themselves deep in your mind and chill your spine long after you turn the last page.

Stephen Graham Jones
William Morrow, May 2016

Growing up, a young boy always knew there was something different about his family. A legacy of lycanthropy is passed down to each generation in his little pack, but his family isn’t sure whether he will join them and finally transform into a werewolf because he is of mixed blood. On a personal level, the boy doesn’t know what he wants to become either, especially when the outside world – despite all its evil and hatred – seems so tempting because of its normalcy.

Why You Should Read It:
Mongrels is a rare example of a great modern werewolf story. It’s funny and exciting without being campy. It’s innovative in its mythology in ways that feel authentic, unlike certain other sparkly vampire series. And, most important of all, this book is so wondrously gross. These werewolves spring off the page in all their bloody gory, dripping with brutal family histories and painfully raw relationships with the outside world that mesh perfectly with the book’s social justice themes of poverty and racism. Werewolves have always been my favorite kind of monster, and as an indigenous author Jones shows just how powerful a good werewolf tale can be for people with marginalized identities.

Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef
Cassandra Khaw
Abaddon Books, October 2015

After a lifetime of magic and adventure, a man now spends his days as a meager chef for a band of mystical creatures. But, like any millennial these days, he’s still struggling to save enough money for a new car, a better apartment, and to pay for his flesh-eating ghost girlfriend’s reincarnation. Luckily, a murder mystery falls into his lap with the promise of power, fame, and fortune should he discover the truth. And if he doesn’t, a war between the pantheons could destroy the world.

Why You Should Read It:
Because sometimes you need a bit of levity while you’re being scared shitless, and Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef is such a fun ride. On one hand, the plot has the cool noir atmosphere of The Maltese Falcon, the beautifully described cannibalism of NBC’s Hannibal, and all the suspense of Food Network’s Chopped. At the same time, this book also consciously weaves in Malaysian and Chinese cultural norms, mythologies, and religious practices in vivid detail. Khaw achieves an urban fantasy that feels as realistic as any downtown district, with the kind of hidden magic that I haven’t felt so drawn to since Harry Potter. Plus, the descriptions of food are pretty yummy – but let me warn you, this entrée may not be for the faint of heart.

House of Leaves
Mark Z. Danielewski
Pantheon Books, March 2000

How the hell do you describe this book? I know it definitely starts with a novice tattoo artist finding the remains of a strange manuscript one strange night. This manuscript is, in actuality, a critical analysis written by a recently deceased blind man about an even stranger film. This film was made by an amateur photographer about his family and their new home, both of which are haunted by a malevolent force that seems to be twisting the very fabric of reality. Of course, this might all be a lie concocted by a woman previously locked in a mental institution. But then again, the tattoo artist is a suspicious character with unusual demons of his own…

Why You Should Read It:
While it technically is the least diverse option on this list, House of Leaves is a fan favorite among the GOC staff. From their recommendation, this book is the surreal, nightmare plunge into lunacy that American Horror Story has been trying to master since 2011. Its strongest selling point is its presentation which, while beginning with the typical book layout, quickly descends into words slipping their sentences and sliding off the page, strange symbols scribbled in the margins, and entire pages seemingly left blank or ripped from their bindings. This says nothing about the actual content itself, which veers into territories both too disturbing to casually review without missing key details about the plot – or not, maybe, which is disorienting. I can’t review the actual payoff of this novel, however, as I’m still struggling to read it in its entirety. It freaks me out way too much. Of course, that is only a good thing.

And these recommendations are just enough to get you through your next graveyard shift! (Sorry, more puns). I’m sure there’s more novels that keep you up at night, so sound off and tell us your favorite scary fiction choices in the comments! We’ll be watching you…


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