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Originally published October 28, 2009 at 12:16 PM | Page modified October 30, 2009 at 4:18 PM

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A Halloween reader: Spooky books for fireside nights

Settle in with one of these spine-tingling books to await your trick-or-treaters: "The Vampire Archives," "On Monsters," "Morbid Curiosity" and more.

Seattle Times book editor

Halloween falls on Saturday night this year — a scary thought in itself. To creep yourself out as you wait for trick-or-treaters, here's a list of recommended reading that may well keep you spellbound through the New Year's. Safety tip: Leave on the lights. All the lights.

"The Vampire Archives: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published," edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime, $25). Sip a garlic martini as you ingest this 1,083-page bible of vampire tales, which starts with 19th-century, pre-Dracula stories and poetry and marches forward into the 21st, with selections by horror heavy-hitters Stephen King, Anne Rice, Dan Simmons and Ray Bradbury. Some are silly, some are gruesome and many are eerily disturbing, such as "Duty" by Ed Gorman, the 1991 story of a Midwestern farmer with a heartbreakingly awful job. With informative capsule bios of each author — many are stories in themselves.

"American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny" edited by Peter Straub (Library of America, two volumes, $35 each). Edited by the author of the novel "Ghost Story," this superb collection divides itself into two, and both volumes are enthralling. The first, "From Poe to the Pulps," includes works published from 1839 to 1939, including Henry James' haunted-house tale "The Jolly Corner" and stories by Nathaniel "Scarlet Letter" Hawthorne and his son, Julian Hawthorne. Volume II, "From the 1940s to Now," includes well-known genre authors such as John Crowley, Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, along with literary lions Vladimir Nabokov, John Cheever, Joyce Carol Oates and Michael Chabon, whose masterful "The God of Dark Laughter" is a grimly funny take on "coulrophobia: morbid, irrational fear of or aversion to clowns."

"Morbid Curiosity: The Disturbing Demises of the Famous and Infamous" by Alan W. Petrucelli (Perigee, $13.95). A dishy and explicit compendium of facts about deaths of celebrities, from Napoleon to rock god Gram Parsons to blond bombshell Jayne Mansfield. I learned that Mansfield was not really decapitated (tabloid rumor), and that the strong steel "underride bar" mandated for tractor trailers after her car crash is called a "Mansfield bar." Perfect party-chatter fodder.

"On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears" by Stephen T. Asma (Oxford University Press, $27.95). A wide-ranging, well-written book by a Columbia College (Chicago) professor that surveys the origins of monsters in the human psyche, as well as their history, biology and psychology. The last chapter explores what we have to look forward to in the age of robotics and biotechnology. I'm reserving my cave in the hills.

"Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, $16). Just rereleased with a new introduction by Neil Gaiman, this, my favorite spooky novel, is the story of two dueling 19th-century English magicians who reluctantly join forces to save England in the war against France. Think Jane Austen collaborating with Arthur Conan Doyle, infused with a wickedly modern sense of humor.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com

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