Book Club Nominees

6 Novels Spider-Walking Backwards Down our Stairs

by @Joyrock, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for January’s “Exorcisms!” category

Exorcisms are one of the staples of horror, and one of my absolute favorites. Everyone can name The Exorcist, which we’ve done previously, but there’s so much more of value to be had in the genre, I wanted to bring out some other great suggestions for the genre, pulling from both some of my favorites, and ones that I’ve been excited to read since I heard of them!

Cover of The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp. Cover shows a simple image of a shovel stuck into the ground, as if someone walked away in the middle of digging. The ground where the shovel is stuck is at eye level, as if we are looking at a cross section of a hill. Some of the works in the book title sit upon the ground, and some are buried.

The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

Jack Sparks died while writing this book. It was no secret that journalist Jack Sparks had been researching the occult for his new book. No stranger to controversy, he’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed. Then there was that video: forty seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account. Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed — until now. (Amazon)

I read Jack Sparks years ago, and absolutely adored it. I love books that put in a lot of modern society to an old trope, which is exactly what this does, giving a quick, fun story with plenty of twists, tensions, and legitimate scares.

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Cover of A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Cover shows a hallway and the top of the banister of a staircase, but the image is sideways. The image is in tones of dark wood, and red or orange wallpaper. There is a large arched window facing the staircase, on the wall above where a landing would be.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia. To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. (Goodreads)

This is a modern classic for me, and what I largely give credit for opening my eyes to the greater world of horror, through a heaping of references, both obvious and not, in the book as well as a fantastic selection of recommendations. But more than that, it’s a genuinely terrifying story about a family whose struggles are spread to the world through a reality show, and the very possibly real possession of their daughter.

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Cover of My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. Cover is design to look like a VHS cassette sleeve and includes a bright pink border, rainbow colored stripes, a VHS logo, and a collage featuring a main illustration of two young girls holding hands and walking alongside a river, with a school in the background. In the sky, the collage also includes an illustration of another girl being attacked by red eyed owls, and an image of another girl with bright red eyes. The moon hangs in the sky.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act….different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil? (Goodreads)

Another modern classic, this time matching the tried and true possession and exorcism story with a heaping helping of 80s nostalgia, along with legitimately great characters and writing. I can’t recommend this book enough.

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Cover of Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory. Cover shows a painted image of a distant barn. In the foreground is a field with brown grass. Nearest us in the painting, we see a hand holding a paintbrush. There are black scribbles on the bottom of the painting.

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

It is a world like our own in every respect . . . save one. In the 1950s, random acts of possession begin to occur. Ordinary men, women, and children are the targets of entities that seem to spring from the depths of the collective unconscious, pop-cultural avatars some call demons. There’s the Truth, implacable avenger of falsehood. The Captain, brave and self-sacrificing soldier. The Little Angel, whose kiss brings death, whether desired or not. And a string of others, ranging from the bizarre to the benign to the horrific. (Goodreads)

I’ve had this one on my TBR ever since it was suggested by Paul Tremblay at the end of A Head Full of Ghosts. It’s such a unique and fun sounding concept, possessions happening on a nationwide scale, that I can’t wait to dive into it.

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Cover of Come Closer by Sara Gran. Cover shows a woman wearing a white dress floating against a black background. Her face is cut out of the image, off the edge of the book.

Come Closer by Sara Gran

If everything in Amanda’s life is so perfect, then why the mood swings, the obscene thoughts, the urge to harm the people she loves? What are those tapping sounds in the walls? And who’s that woman following her? The mystery behind what’s happening to Amanda in Come Closer is so frightening that it “ought to carry a warning to…readers.” (Goodreads)

I’ve heard this book suggested for ages on twitter, so when it came up as a possession story I was happy to hop on it. I’m not familiar with the book or author, but I’m more than happy to find a good new one 🙂

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Cover of The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcism by Matt Baglio. Cover shows a cross on a wall. Part of the wall is in shadow, and part is in light.

The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcism by Matt Baglio

In “The Rite,” journalist Matt Baglio uses the astonishing story of one American priest’s training as an exorcist to reveal that the phenomena of possession, demons, the Devil, and exorcism are not merely a remnant of the archaic past, but remain a fearsome power in many people’s lives even today. “The Rite” provides fascinating vignettes from the lives of exorcists and people possessed by demons, including firsthand accounts of exorcists at work casting out demons, culminating in Father Gary’s own confrontations with the Devil. Baglio also traces the history of exorcism, revealing its rites and rituals, explaining what the Catholic Church really teaches about demonic possession, and delving into such related topics as the hierarchy of angels and demons, satanic cults, black masses, curses, and the various theories used by modern scientists and anthropologists who seek to quantify such phenomena.

Written with an investigative eye that will captivate both skeptics and believers alike, “The Rite ” shows that the truth about demonic possession is not only stranger than fiction, but also far more chilling. (Goodreads)

How could I pass up nonfiction about the reality of exorcisms? I’d never heard of this until doing some searching for this list, but it seemed so amazing and relevant I had to add it.

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And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Join HOWL Society on Monday, January 3, 2022 to begin discussion!

*The HOWLS affiliate storefront pays a 10% commission to HOWL Society and gives a matching 10% to independent bookstores

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