Halloween is a great time of year. It’s a time to revel in the spooky and the weird, to make daring plans to become someone or something else for a finite amount of time, and to indulge in creating a temporary collection of candy that would make Willy Wonka go weak at the knees. Of course, not everyone enjoys being scared or thinks a little fright is harmless, but they may still really like to celebrate the odd.
Not everyone wants to inundate the celebrants with candy and there are those who can’t indulge in sweets. There are always alternatives, and one of my favorites is Neil Gaiman’s idea of doing “All Hallow’s Read”, where, instead of candy, you give books to kids, friends, loved ones, basically whomever you feel should be gifted with a book. They don’t have to be scary, though it’s nice if you can tie the book to the occasion.
I can’t really afford to give everyone that I would like to a book, even though I am very close to a fantastic used bookstore. But, I can point you to a free book or two currently available on the internet. If you want to go for straight, classic horror Project Gutenberg has several works by Edgar Allan Poe available, you can also check out Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Doing a simple search of “ghost stories” on the site yields several results.
Be sure to be aware of what you’re getting though. These aren’t the edited for kids versions of these stories. They’re the real deal, so you’ll want to do your homework about story content. One of my favorites that’s readily available, for those that might like a story about monsters without too many scares, is The Book of Dragons by E. Nesbit. This book is full of fairy tales featuring that most magnificent of all mythical creatures, dragons. It’s got evil sorcerers and a wicked queen or two, and a whole lot of dragons both good and bad. The book was originally intended for children, and Nesbit is the author of books like Five Children and It (also available on the site), though, to be fair, Roald Dahl wrote an awful lot of classic books for children and his bibliography includes books that most definitely are not and were never intended for kids.
My favorite find for this year, though, involves one of my favorite authors. I was thrilled to find out that on Daniel Pinkwater’s website http://www.pinkwater.com, there’s a whole section of free audiobooks http://www.pinkwater.com/podcast/audioarchive.php, read by the author himself.
And why would I recommend Daniel Pinkwater books for All Hallow’s Read? I think the better question is why wouldn’t I recommend Daniel Pinkwater books for All Hallow’s Read. Mr. Pinkwater doesn’t really deal with monsters, well, there are the Wempires and the Moosepire, but I don’t really count them as monsters.
I first discovered Daniel Pinkwater when I was in grade school. There was a program on our local public television station that involved a guy reading books and drawing illustrations from them while he read. One of the books featured was The Blue Moose. A quick trip to the library soon revealed a wealth of other books by Mr. Pinkwater, and I gleefully immersed myself in his odd and singularly interesting world.
A Pinkwater book has fantastical elements. The uncanny happens to seemingly very ordinary characters as a matter of course. They would be very short books otherwise. I should note, though, that most of Mr. Pinkwater’s cannon is relatively short. There are no doorstoppers here, but they don’t need to be. The worlds he creates are perfectly encapsulated between the covers and they don’t feel either too long or too short. His books are gently odd, and that’s probably the thing that I love most about them.
When you’re a weird kid, it’s hard not to realize that you’re a weird kid. People feel perfectly justified in telling you that you’re weird all the time. Sometimes, they aren’t even trying to be mean about it. In Daniel Pinkwater books, I found an author who had an offbeat sense of humor that was smart and still incredibly funny. I also found characters that I could relate to.
His books are filled with an assortment of gentle, perfectly decent, thoroughly odd characters. A good portion of them are fully aware that they’re weird. The thing is, they aren’t bad people. They have no reason to be ashamed of their strangeness, they certainly aren’t hurting anyone, especially not themselves, and they don’t change fundamentally over the course of the story. Make no mistake, things happen to the characters and they learn from those events, but they don’t usually make any sustained effort to fit in because it just isn’t necessary. In Daniel Pinkwater’s books, it’s just fine for a weird character to continue to be weird, it’s up to the rest of the world to see that character in a new light.
It’s like a nicer, more hospitable “Twilight Zone” for those of us who know we’re strange, but also know we’re just strange in a good way. There are nineteen audiobooks available, and they’re well worth checking out. A few of them are books that I’ve found to be prohibitively expensive in the used book market. Instead, I’ve found them free and, not only that, read by the author himself.
Happy All Hallow’s Read. May you find just the book you hoped you would.