5 Nonfiction Books to Get Spooky with This Fall
If there’s anything I like more than disappearing into a good horror novel, it’s diving into the history of things that go bump in the night. And sure, I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for research and history, but when that first chill of autumn air hits my face, I suddenly feel reinvigorated to learn about all things witchy, occult, and monstrous. In fact, just this week, I had a fantastic autumnal visitor in the shape of Lisa Morton’s book Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween show up on my doorstep, and between that and Cassandra Peterson’s memoir, Yours Cruelly, Elvira, you can count me as one very happy lady as I dance into my favorite time of year.
For those of you who share a similar delight in learning about the odd, the strange, and the macabre, I have a handful of books I’d like to recommend to satiate your darkest curiosities.
1. "Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin" by Megan Rosenbloom
This is a scholarly study into the history and continued study of anthropodermic bibliopegy, the practice of binding books in human skin. Not only is this a book filled with anecdotes about old medical practices and oddities (which I’m always down for), but it’s perfect for those of you interested in weird, dark history. Plus, this pairs well with a screening of Hocus Pocus (Winifred Sanderson’s The Manual of Witchcraft and Alchemy) and The Evil Dead (The Necronomicon), so honestly, you can’t go wrong!
2. "Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear" by Margee Keer
A few years ago, I was at an Irish pub telling ghost stories for this Halloween contest and I struck up a conversation with a sociologist, Margee Keer, author of Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear. We bonded over our love of traveling to haunted places, and so when she told me about her book, I knew I had no choice but to dive in. This is a fantastic read for those of you, who like me, are dying to get back out into the world and galivant to some of the scariest places on the planet. Not only will you add countless locations to your bucket list of dark tourism, but you’ll also learn about the science behind fear and what it does do to us and our psyche when that adrenaline starts pumping and we move into flight or fight mode. Definitely not one to be missed!
3. "From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death" by Caitlin Doughty
Now I have to admit that I am a huge fan of Doughty and won’t hesitate to say she’s my favorite funeral director working in the industry right now (we all have one of those, right?). I’ve read everything she’s penned from her book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory to Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals. I also regularly listen to her podcast Death in the Afternoon and have spent hours listening to her YouTube channel Ask a Mortician. And while you can’t go wrong with any of the above, From Here to Eternity was truly something special in my eyes. It taught me about all the different types of death practices and rituals from cultures around the world, and it opened my eyes to how stiff and wizened our western views about death can be (and often are). Not only is this a great way to challenge your bias and complicated outlook on death, but it’s great research for writers looking to be more diverse in their writing.
4. "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach
Stiff was probably the book that started my fascination with medical history and practice as an adolescent. I’ve always been deeply intrigued by funerary practices—I even mummified a cat for my high school graduation project, but that’s a story for another day—and so when I saw this book about the history and ethical practice and context of cadavers, I knew I had to check it out…and it did not disappoint. Roach has another book out there, too, titled Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, that is also worth reading, and if you really want to get down and dirty with some wild medical history, I also recommend The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris.
5. "Medusa’s Gaze and Vampire’s Bite: The Science of Monsters" by Matt Kaplan
Nothing makes me happier than snuggling up with some folklore and learning about the science behind the mythology of some of my favorite creatures, and this book is a great introduction to all things winged, deadly, and/or covered in scales. From chimera, to vampires, to dragons and minotaurs, Kaplan walks us through fact and fiction and shows us how maybe there is some truth to our favorite beasts after all. If this sounds like your cup of tea, I also would be remiss if I didn’t recommend any and all of Aaron Mahnke books in his The World of Lore series.
There you have it. Something for everyone. Spooky reading!
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