All Hallow’s Read is a celebration of literature proposed by author Neil Gaiman, who suggested Halloween as an opportunity to gift a friend or stranger with a scary book. Given that it’s the week of the the holiday, we’ve got some new releases and classics worth sharing.
Back in 2010, author Neil Gaiman invented a holiday tradition on a whim. Somewhat wistfully reflecting that there weren’t enough traditions that involved giving books specifically, he threw up a blog post suggesting that people should consider gifting each other a scary book for Halloween, and All Hallow’s Read was born.
In the 11 years since the first All Hallow’s Read, the custom is still regularly supported by the book community. The celebration of All Hallow’s Read is marked by a variety of authors, booksellers, librarians, publishers, book bloggers and schools each year, often inspiring donation drives and live events at libraries and schools.
Gaiman’s “modest proposal” on his popular blog has inspired booklovers to note All Hallow’s Read as an important date on the calendar and here at Subjectify Media, we are doing our bit to keep the tradition alive.
Hear more from Neil Gaiman about All Hallow’s Read in the video below:
Most holidays suffer from gross commercialization these days, and books can be expensive, so with times being unprecedented and all, it’s important to note that All Hallow’s Read is not really a bid to boost book sales or anything like that. It’s not marketed by or tied to any one publisher. Many of the book-lovers who most actively celebrate the event do so via schools and library programs. All Hallow’s Read encourages the gifting of second-hand books, library recommendations, or even loaning your personal copies.
And it’s equally important to note that this is also not an attempt to “healthify” Halloween either! Neil Gaiman himself does not recommend replacing your neighborhood’s normal trick-or-treater candy offerings with books. The All Hallow’s Read book-gifting project is meant to enhance, not eclipse, the traditional Halloween experience. It’s just a suggestion to share a specific sort of book with someone you love or someone you want to get to know over the course of the spooky season.
If you want to get involved in this year’s All Hallow’s Read, here are some of our top picks to buy, recommend or loan to the people (both kids and adults) whom you may wish to inflict literary creepiness upon, or generally unsettle. This suggested list of All Hallow’s Read titles includes a mix of new releases as well as some rather older reads, as well as a very special collection of short stories selected by Neil himself that spans tales from the 1800s through to the 2010s.
What these 11 titles all share is an element of mystery, magic, monsters or the general macabre, making them perfect for Halloween gifting.
Books to give on All Hallow’s Read
‘The Woods Are Always Watching’ (2021)
You may know Stephanie Perkins from her cute romance novels like Anna and the French Kiss, but did you know she also writes horror? Her first thriller, There’s Someone Inside Your House, was recently turned into a spectacular movie. Both the novel and its adaptation give you a serious Scream vibe, so if that’s your friend’s jam, then you might consider that one, too.
This year, however, Stephanie Perkins wrote The Woods Are Always Watching, which takes place in North Carolina in the middle of—you guessed it—the woods. My first piece of advice is to avoid giving this book to someone if they’re about to go on a hiking or camping trip. Trust me, they’ll be thinking every crunch of a leaf is someone just outside their tent, ready to snap them up at any given moment.
My second piece of advice (pass it on, will you?) is to find time to sit down and read this in one sitting, if possible. It’s not a long book, and while the first third sets up the two main characters, their relationship, and their current situation, the rest of the novel is spent turning the suspense dial up bit by bit until you’re itching to find out what’s going on and who survives the ordeal. -Karen Rought
Suitable for mature children around the same age as the protagonist, Skelling tells the story of a 10 year old boy, Michael, who finds himself often left isolated due to the life-threatening condition of his new baby sister. Exploring the rambling old property his parents have just moved into, he finds an old, arthritic creature hidden away, and decides to care for it. Seeming, in nature, to be part human and part owl, the implication is, in fact, that Skelling is actually an angel.
The Carnegie Medal-winning Skelling is a very beautiful and enlightened story — and ultimately an affirming one — but it has always held a distinctly unsettling place in my heart. Part of it is the imagery and setting — it’s a classic creepy old house book. When I think of Skellig, I picture dust, and the looming darkness of evening, moonlight entering the cobwebby cavern of an old garage in jagged shafts. It’s a musty, quiet book.
Part of it is also the tone — it has a haunting and poignant feel through and through, and an urgent sense of distress. Philosophical and almost existential — this book features a lot of William Blake references, for a start — in a way it’s really about the frozen space people find themselves in when awaiting a potential loss. -Natalie Fisher
‘My Heart Is a Chainsaw’ (2021)
Stephen Graham Jones
Maybe you’re looking to give your friend a book inspired by the slashers of old. If that’s the case, then you absolutely must read My Heart Is a Chainsaw. It’s a love letter to the genre, and you’ll find a bunch of historical filmic facts within its pages. Unlike The Woods Are Always Watching, this one isn’t exactly a quick read, but your friend will undoubtedly appreciate the time and effort that went into building this mystery.
Proofrock, Idaho provides the backdrop here, and Jones masterfully creates the perfect atmosphere for the small-town-turned-serial-killer-hunting-ground. Jade is not the most likable main character, but that’s sort of the point—she’s the one people overlook, the one they don’t put much faith in. But she knows slashers, and she knows her hometown is ripe for the killing.
As the reader, you stay privy to Jade’s every thought, her every speculation. You’re guessing alongside her, but it’s smart to pay attention to what she has to say. She can read all the signs, but you have to be patient. The killer isn’t going to unmask themselves right away. A few people must be offered up as blood sacrifices first. Then it’s up to Jade to make sure the Final Girl is prepared to fulfill her role when the time comes. -Karen Rought
’The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes’ (1989)
Of course I’m including one of Neil Gaiman’s books on the list, and after tossing up various options, I could not think of a better one — especially this year — than Preludes and Nocturnes. This trade paperback is the first “book” in the Sandman series, so not only is it obviously the perfect place to start someone’s Sandman journey before the Netflix adaptation — set to be just glorious — premieres, it’s also just a straight-up scary read.
The Sandman is the story of Dream of the Endless, a group of powerful beings that outrank even the divine, personifications of concepts crucial to all sentient life in the universe. We first meet Morpheus, Lord of Dream, as he is taken prisoner for many decades by the leader of an occult society. Upon breaking out, his first quest is to regain his objects of power that have fallen into unsafe hands in his absence.
Preludes and Nocturnes contains some of the most horrific scenes in any Gaiman book. The artwork introduces the reader to the various mind-bending imagery and manipulations that we can expect to see more of from the Sandman power players, but it’s issue 6, “24 Hours,” that you really want to watch out for. Entertainment Weekly went so far as to dub the issue as the scariest horror comic of all time. -Natalie Fisher
‘All These Bodies’ (2021)
The best way I can describe this book is languid, but I mean that as a compliment. Set in the 1950s, All These Bodies is the story of a series of murders that have left the victims bloodless, and the subsequent arrest of a young girl found at the scene of the latest crime. The narrator, a young boy who is immediately drawn to this mesmerizing stranger, tries to unravel the mystery while the nation watches.
Michael wants to be a reporter when he grows up, and he’s suddenly given the chance at the story of a lifetime. Marie Catherine Hale won’t speak to anyone but him, but the tale she tells isn’t for the faint of heart—or the unbelieving. As different forces work against them, with the hopes of seeing Marie hanged, Michael must separate truth from fiction. The problem is that people are rarely prepared for the truth, especially when it’s this strange.
This is the kind of book that’s fun to live in. You care about the small minutia of Michael’s day because each moment helps further set the scene. The way Michael comments on the past from a future in which all of this has already concluded adds an extra dimension to the narrative. A story like this can’t come together quickly, and when it finally does, you’ll be wishing you had more. If you’re trying to find a horror-lite novel to pass around, this one is a good start for All Hallow’s Read. -Karen Rought
Deborah and James Howe
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery is a comedic novel about a baby rabbit with some unusual qualities. Found by the Monroe family at the cinema after a screening of Dracula, the rabbit, with unusual cape-like markings, is brought home as the family’s newest pet. Soon, the Monroes discover that all the vegetables in the house are mysteriously turning white, and Chester, the cat, notices two small puncture holes in each. The book is written from the point of view of the highly educated Monroe family dog, Harold, and is some of the wittiest, cleverest narration I’ve ever read in any story. (“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Harold. I come to writing purely by chance. My full-time occupation is dog.”)
When I was about eight, I read a copy of Bunnicula in the junior library at my school. I never saw the book again anywhere in Australia. In 2019, I chanced upon a copy in a second-hand bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and devoured it immediately. The backstory of how Bunnicula came to be written is rather moving, and the tone of the novel makes all the sense when you realise it was the work of two dynamic young theater actors writing to amuse one another. I can confirm that Bunnicula holds up as both adorable and hilarious at age 33, so would recommend this book to readers of all ages, along with its sequels, including one with the truly inspired title of The Celery Stalks at Midnight. – Natalie Fisher
‘Paola Santiago and the River of Tears’ (2020)
Tehlor Kay Mejia
Maybe you have a young child in need of a new read, or a friend who’s hesitant about jumping into the horror genre. In that case, River of Tears is the perfect gift for them. It’s a middle grade novel from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint with a diverse cast of characters and just enough spookiness to keep life interesting.
Paola doesn’t believe in anything that science can disprove, but when she thrust into a world full of spirits and alternate dimensions, she learns there’s a lot more out there than she bargained for.
Based on Mexican folklore, River of Tears is the first book in a trilogy that explore deep themes about identity, belief, trust, love, and loss. Oh, and there’s a cute puppy. You really can’t go wrong, can you? -Karen Rought
‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ (1962)
Shirley Jackson is one of the world’s greatest horror and mystery writers. If you’re unfamiliar, Jackson is the author of The Haunting of Hill House, which you may have seen the Netflix adaptation of recently, but in my opinion, this story is her most fucked-up. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of the Blackwood family — sisters Constance and Merricat live with their uncle Julian in a big, isolated house, shunned by the local community. As Julian obsessively pens his memoirs, it’s revealed to the reader the events that got them into this state — six years prior, the girls’ parents, their younger brother, and Julian’s wife all died due to poisoning. Julian was disabled by the poison, and Constance, unaffected, was blamed but acquitted. Merricat, the book’s narrator, was only 12 at the time of the murders, and she grows into a paranoid practitioner of “sympathetic magic.” (There is no actual supernatural element at play.)
This is not a cathartic mystery. It’s a rich gothic psychodrama that will probably upset you, if you’re into that kind of thing. Merricat’s narration is the main reason this book is so disturbing — her mind is dark and violent, yet strangely naive. She’s the least reliable narrator in the world, and as the present-day events unfold — triggered by a visit from a handsome estranged cousin with an eye on the family fortune — the main part of the mystery comes from parsing out the objective truths that lie beneath the lens Merricat sees the world through. – Natalie Fisher
‘The Dead and the Dark’ (2021)
This one is a young adult supernatural thriller with a queer protagonist. I know that’s going to check a lot of boxes for a lot of people, and let me tell you right here and now—this book will not disappoint.
Snakebite, Oregon is harboring a dark secret that lives just below the town’s surface. When Logan arrives with her two dads, she thinks it’s because they’re going to shoot an episode about the town for their ghost hunting show. Little does she know that she has a bigger connection to this place than she thought possible.
The pacing of this book is incredibly satisfying. It draws you deeper into the mystery with every page, answering one question and raising three more. The action continues forward as the death toll raises, but it’s perfectly balanced by a blossoming queer relationship that the main characters didn’t even know they wanted. While The Dead and the Dark certainly has its disquieting moments, it also offers up plenty of hope for the future. -Karen Rought
Maybe you have a friend who’s really into classic. Or maybe they’ve never been able to connect with a book that came out prior to the 20th century. Either way, I think Frankenstein would make a great gift.
It’s true that this story has permeated pop culture in a variety of ways over the years, but how many people actual remember its origins? How many remember the lessons it was trying to teach us? And once you’ve read (or reread) this book, you can go about learning more about the fascinating author herself.
As someone who never quite fell in love with the classics, despite being a voracious reader, there has always been something compelling about Frankenstein. Perhaps it was because the author was a woman, or it had just the right balance of sci-fi and horror that it held my attention. Either way, you can’t go wrong with gifting a book like this for All Hallow’s Read. -Karen Rought
‘Unnatural Creatures’ (2013)
Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman
Honestly, as an adult, I’m not a huge horror person. I don’t like being upset or unsettled or scared by fiction. I don’t really find it enjoyable. But I do appreciate the cleverness and craft of it, and I love all things supernatural and fantastical, so I try to give it a go, especially when the author comes highly recommended.
I’ve found that my preferred way to consume disturbing tales is via the medium of short stories — just enough to engage with, appreciate, and put down again, or move on from. So I knew I had to include one collection of short stories on this list. Neil Gaiman peppers his own short story collections with a variety mixed from dark and twisted hopelessness to charming, bouncy fun, but I decided to instead suggest Unnatural Creatures, a collection of short stories that Gaiman personally curated. Creatures, as the name suggests, are the common theme — each story in the book is about some sort of beast or monster that only exists in the realms of the imagination.
Of Gaiman’s own back catalogue, he’s selected “Sunbird” to include, and you’ll find the works by E. Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones, Saki and Samuel R. Delaney. E. Lily Yu, Nnedi Okorafor and Megan Kurashige add more contemporary tales to the mix. Sales of Unnatural Creatures also benefit 826DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students in creative writing, and helping teachers inspire their students to write. -Natalie Fisher