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THE STORY BEHIND THE BOOK

Sampling of creepy reads for Halloween

DAVID WILSON FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Boston is a great Halloween town — though nothing like our neighbor to the north, perpetually haunted Salem — and, according to author Sam Baltrusis’s “Ghost of Boston: Haunts of the Hub,” it’s a year-round “hotbed of paranormal activity.” Baltrusis’s “Ghosts of Cambridge” covers the other side of the river, and is joined by S. E. Schlosser’s “Spooky Massachusetts,” and “Boston’s Haunted History,” by Christopher Forest in the canon of local spooky tour guides.

These days Halloween is mostly a candy-filled celebration for kids, with a few scary things mixed in. But that’s a relatively new way of looking at it, says Lesley Bannatyne, whose “Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night” is her fifth book about the holiday.

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The way we think about Halloween “changes every three or four generations,” Bannatyne told the Globe in a telephone interview. First celebrated as a secular holiday in 16th century Scotland, early Halloween parties were “a way to get everybody together before the winter hit,” and while there were some supernatural elements — fortune-telling games were a popular element — the primary theme of the holiday was romantic. Back then, Bannatyne said, “a Halloween party was a time for young adults to get together and flirt.”

Halloween has inspired dozens of picture books for kids — including Bannatyne’s own “Witches’ Night Before Halloween” and Robert Bright’s 1958 classic, “Georgie’s Halloween” — while the literary bounty for adults ranges from the nonfiction mentioned above to the entire genre of horror writing. Bannatyne, one of whose books is an anthology of literary Halloween, cites everyone from Poe and Lovecraft to Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates among the masters of the creepy read.

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As for how other places stack up to a Boston Halloween, Bannatyne said there are regional differences — a more explicit tie to the Day of the Dead in the American Southwest, for instance — but she doesn’t get to experience them much. “I mostly try to be home on Halloween,” she said, “because I live in a neighborhood with lots of kids and they expect me to decorate the house.”

Bannatyne is reading at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Bestsellers Cafe, 24 High St., Medford.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.
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