Spooky Book Shelf: Nonfiction recommendations for when you need a thrill

by Olga Bialasik

October is flying by and Halloween is closing in so fast that we might not even notice it’s on our doorstep until we hear “trick or treat!” This time of year is perfect for cosying up with a spooky novel, whether it’s a bloody slasher or an eerie haunting of a story, but there are plenty of fiction lists to sample from. What about nonfiction? If you’re eager for some real-life tales to creep you out or want to explore the histories behind witchcraft and monsters, you’re sure to find your next read from our recommendations below!

#1. Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

In this book, Colin Dickey takes us on a road trip of the most haunted places in the US. From old houses and abandoned hospitals to infamous prisons and, predictably, graveyards, it is unsurprising that a country with such a turbulent history would birth so many ghosts. With a dual focus on facts that debunk myths and the way lore changes throughout time, Dickey questions how the living deal with the omnipresence of the dead.

#2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

One of the most famous true crime books, In Cold Blood recounts the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, and the following investigation led by Agent Al Dewey, left with little evidence to propel the case forwards. Capote, who spent six years working on the book, learned of the crime before the killers were caught, and interviewed residents and investigators with his friend, author Harper Lee. With its immersive prose and chilling triple narrative, it is considered a pioneering piece of the true crime genre.

#3. A History of Magic, Witchcraft, and the Occult by D.K. Publishing

If you’re searching for a comprehensive account of magic across time and culture, from shamanism and alchemy to Wicca and Japanese folklore, look no further! This gorgeous, illustrated book will draw you under its spell whether you’re a believer or a sceptic, covering superstition and the supernatural from before 400 CE to our contemporary times; it comments on the intersections of divination and religion, dispels harmful myths surrounding beliefs such as Voodoo, explores witchcraft in culturally significant literature, and more.

Spooky Season Shelf blog image 1

#4. Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory by Kimberly L. Craft

Countess Báthory of Hungary was a noblewoman accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls between 1590 and 1610. Her story and alleged crimes became legendary, with tales of vampiric tendencies growing in popularity after her death. Were the testimonies and physical evidence levied against her legitimate or were the charges nothing more than a witch-hunt hoping to ruin her family’s reputation and political influence? Craft reconstructs the life and trial of the world’s worst female serial killer using documents, letters, and transcripts.

#5. The Science of Monsters: The Origins of the Creatures We Love to Fear by Matt Kaplan

Now, we may not see dragons as terrifying, but long ago, stumbling across huge skeletons with sharp teeth and talons would have inspired a realistic fear of what we have come to understand were dinosaur fossils. Kaplan navigates the line between reality and fantasy, blends scientific research with a love of folklore and myth, and explores our fascination with the horrific and monstrous. From beasts like the chimera and the created Golem to spirit hauntings and extra-terrestrial threats, he examines why monsters have intrigued humans throughout history.

#6. Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween by Lisa Morton

A fitting book for the season, Morton investigates the popularity and commercialisation of Halloween, while exploring its misunderstood origins. Trick or Treat offers an in-depth history of the holiday, uncovering how the Celtic Samhain merged with Catholic All Souls’ Day and other festivals and traditions to create the modern Halloween, and contextualising its worldwide reach and lasting effect on popular culture.

Spooky Season Shelf blog image 2

#7. Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s ed. by Paul Corupe and Kier-la Janisse

You may have already been familiar with the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s, or you may have been introduced to it through season 4 of Stranger Things. With a renewed conversation surrounding this widespread moral hysteria, now is the perfect time to learn more about how heavy metal music, Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, and other media inspired a fear of a Satanic conspiracy that many thought would indoctrinate people to perform ritualistic abuse. With essays, interviews, and case studies, contributors detail the cultural fears of the decade, including its many serious consequences.

#8. Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Kathryn Harkup

Shelley’s 1818 classic Frankenstein is one of the most influential novels of all time, expertly marrying the science fiction and gothic genres despite their apparent differences. This half-biographical book questions whether there is any possibility of Frankenstein’s experiments succeeding nowadays; many of our modern achievements—resuscitation, blood transfusions, organ transplants that prolong life—are the result of 19th century scientists experimenting on the dead. Harkup explores stories of body-snatching and the scientific advances that inspired teenage Shelley to conjure this culturally significant creature.

Take your pick! We hope you enjoy these uncanny, haunting, and informative recommendations. Follow our socials to keep seeing our recommendations and reader guides.

Happy reading!