Recommendations from arts and life staffers if you want to cozy up with a spooky read on Halloween.
“Little Eyes” by Samanta Schweblin (recommended by Emma Wang ’24)
A prominent voice in Argentinian literary horror, Samanta Schweblin’s “Little Eyes” explores a world where people can buy pet “kentukis,” little fluffy animals with cameras that connect to a viewer. Thus, a two-way connection is established between the person who prefers to be watched and the person who prefers to watch. Springing off this creepily voyeuristic premise, Schweblin successfully weaves a dystopian world full of twists and turns, where the kentukis can be used to save a life, fall in love and even escape oppressive family dynamics.
In one chapter, a character suddenly realizes the concealed being behind her pet crow: “Then it occurred to her that this crow could peck at her private life, would see her whole body, get to know the tone of her voice, her clothes… She, on the other hand, could only ask questions.”
The reality of “Little Eyes” is not too different from today’s world where our online presence is sold to big companies, our words are used to feed large language models, our photos are spread widely and our actions are monitored. These similarities lull the reader into believing the normality of a world filled with kentukis. But, when we least expect it, Schweblin shakes us awake to face the disturbing underbelly of our current complete dissolution of privacy.
“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson (recommended by Leyla Yilmaz ’25)
If I had to choose one haunted house story to beat them all, it would undoubtedly be “The Haunting of Hill House.” Published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s infamous novel is one of the pioneers of the modern horror genre, incorporating elements from gothic horror and psychological thriller. It follows a group of “investigators” staying at Hill House to study paranormal activity.
Jackson’s narrative is aware that there are multiple ways to thoroughly induce fear upon readers, be it through odd comments from the old house’s caretaker, vivid imagery of hauntings or psychological exploration of a lonely protagonist grieving the death of his mother. She leaves the readers wondering if this so-called “scientific investigation” actually revealed entities within a scary mansion or if the ghosts merely resided within the minds of the investigators all along, leaving them in a haunted state of isolation and despair.
“The Frangipani Hotel” by Violet Kupersmith (recommended by Hana Dao ’24)
This spooky season, I’m reading Violet Kupersmith’s debut work and short story collection, “The Frangipani Hotel.” The novel weaves together a mystical yet chilling recollection of Vietnam through ghost stories. Symbolism of ghosts plays a poignant role in Kupersmith’s novel, similarly to many Vietnamese folktales where ghosts abound the cultural landscape of the country. In the novel, these ghost stories reflect a complex attempt to reconcile with the legacy of the war and the scars it left behind. Although the book is a work of fiction, Kupersmith’s compelling narrative feels like a confrontation with the real trauma that continues to haunt Vietnamese refugees.
From Hanoi to Houston, “The Frangipani Hotel” explores Vietnamese identity within both America and Vietnam. With themes including tragedy, intergenerational dissonance and spirits, the stories give readers a new glimpse into the depths of the unconscious realm. Kupersmith further raises the unsettling question “Did we ever really escape?” as the boundaries between prosaic sanity and terrorizing imagination become blurred. This novel is a must-read for horror and non-horror fans alike.
“The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware (recommended by Amistad Vanegas ’27)
Ruth Ware’s haunting psychological thriller set aboard a luxury yacht is subtle in its message yet deeply unsettling. When journalist Lo Blacklock agrees to write an exclusive article on the new luxury vacation yacht “The Aurora,” things begin to take a turn and it is up to her to solve the mysteries. Playing with present and future by interrupting the events of the novel with chilling newspaper clippings from the future, Ware creates a truly frightening journey for Lo and the readers.
“The Woman in Cabin 10” is a spectacular and unique example of psychological torture; amidst the unending waves of the sea and the conceited attitudes of billionaires aboard the yacht, you never know who to trust. With Lo out of her element on this lavish cruise, still bruised by the upheaval in her personal life, she must make a decision: is the story worth her life?
“Misery” by Stephen King (recommended by Cate Burtner, ‘25)
Stephen King is an author who hardly needs introduction. This list would be incomplete without mentioning a book by the author nicknamed the King of Horror. His novels encapsulate you until you lose yourself in his fictional universe, and “Misery” is no exception. The 1987 book follows author Paul Sheldon as he wakes up one day in an unfamiliar room, confused and in excruciating pain. There he meets professional nurse Annie Wilkes, who calls herself his “number-one fan.” She doesn’t approve of the plot of Sheldon’s latest manuscript — and she’s determined to get the ending she wants by holding him hostage.
“Misery” is a fascinating read constructed out of limited resources, hooking readers with just two characters within four walls. The rich yet simple nature speaks to how psychologically thrilling the novel is. Sheldon gives us a glimpse into the horrors of pain, paralysis and addiction, while Annie Wilkes represents how overlooked mental illness can ravage a mind and disrupt the lives of multiple people. What makes Sheldon’s perspective so convincing is the fact that he is based on King himself, and King’s own interactions with his devoted fans over his long career. However, I would be remiss not to mention the novel’s reductive portrayal of mental illness: some scenes used stereotypical characteristics of people diagnosed with mental illnesses to create an archetypal ‘crazy’ villain image and induce fear upon the readers. All that said, it is a horror novel that certainly fulfills its job of being terrifying. “Misery” by Steven King gets an easy five stars from me. Warning: it will make you want to stay up all night reading!
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.