October 1998

So many great Halloween books, it’s scary

By Donata Magginpinto
By Laura Dover Doran
By Hanz Holzer
By Rynn Williams
Review by
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There are some who lock their doors on Halloween, shut off the porch light, and scoff at the events that take place on the high holy day for witches. Who wants to party with ghosts and goblins? It seems most Americans do. Only for Christmas do consumers spend more. And it's not just for kids. All ages are getting in on dressing up their yards, homes, and selves to make light of a holiday that can be as much about harvest happiness as house hauntings. Several new books help hard-core Halloweeners indulge with frightening abandon.

It's as if Martha Stewart meets Elvira in Donata Magginpinto's Halloween Treats: Recipes and Crafts for the Whole Family. Magginpinto, food and entertaining director at Williams-Sonoma, presents party fare that's tasty and fun when the theme is a scream. Her food from the cauldron, features cold-season favorites, like curried soup and custard, that take advantage of October's trove of squash, pumpkin, and sweet potato. There are also old-fashioned delights caramel apples and popcorn balls that don't require toil and trouble. Halloween Treats is full of clever and creepy concoctions. Cookie-cut marshmallows become ghosts in the cocoa; peeled grapes and shredded carrots are easily mistaken for witch's hair and goblin's eyeballs; thin black licorice strings double as spider legs when placed between chocolate cream sandwich cookies. You'll also find ideas for decorations that little hands can help make. Children can collect colorful autumn leaves for leaf lanterns, decorate mittens for Halloween hand warmers, and go wild with a glitter pen for personalized trick-or-treat bags.

The Big Book of Halloween: Creative and Creepy Projects for Revellers of All Ages is the ultimate reference if you want to turn your house into trick-or-treaters' most popular haunt. Pieces of polystyrene board turned into gravestones in your yard, white sheeted ghosts on your front stoop, ghoulish gourds in your window and a papier-mache tarantula over your shoulder may hinder the kids from ever making it to your candy bowl. Author Laura Dover Doran suggests far more festive treats than bite-sized chocolate bars. She provides a how-to for the ickiest edibles: spaghetti squash brains, pumpkin pulp slime, peanut butter and flour shaped into your favorite internal organs. If you ever thought a Christmas gingerbread house looked dreamy, wait till you see Doran's nightmarish haunted house cake. Sitting in a Vienna wafer cemetery, this sweetly spooked spot has windows boarded up with sugar wafers and a cookie crumb landscape that's a dead-ringer for dirt.

The Big Book of Halloween features fabulous costumes for children and adults, luminaries, topiaries, and table decorations that take the spirit of the eerie eve and fly with it. Many of the projects require a trip to the craft shop and tools like hot-glue guns or craft knives. But Doran's precise and comprehensive directions should take the fear out of the do-it-yourself Halloween. The Big Book of Halloween is chock full of facts, historic tidbits, and safety tips. Herein you can learn of the holiday's roots in Celtic tradition, read about the increasing popularity of vintage Halloween collections, and acquire ten top excuses to tell the kids what happened to their candy when your adult hands started wandering.

But if you're going to blame a ghost, better first get your facts straight. Hanz Holzer's Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond will furnish you with more information that you probably knew existed about the high-spirited apparitions. Holzer is a parapsychologist whose interest in ghosts has taken him around the world to compile this fascinating assortment of haunting tales. Holzer distinguishes between several types of ghosts and tries to clear up common misconceptions. Ghosts do not travel, he explains. They haunt in one place, usually where their death tragically occurred. This is good news, no doubt, for those of us who would choose to run away if confronted by one. Holzer personally documents his own visits to haunted spots as diverse as castles and trailer parks, and details his interviews with the hundreds of people who claim to have experienced a presence that they cannot explain in terms of material reality.

From the start, he acknowledges cynics and non-believers. But those who best understand that ghosts exist, according to Holzer, are psychics, those who have used their extra sensory perception to experience an apparition first-hand. You needn't be psychic to enjoy Ghosts. The number of ghostly testaments is intriguing. The stories themselves are downright scary. But beware: reading this alone at night, especially in a creaky house, could be a health hazard.

Llewellyn's 1999 Magical Almanac allows you to take the spirits into your own hands. Pagans, witches, shaman, astrologers, and herbalists contribute to this collection of pieces that show you how to bring a little magic into your life. You'll find advice for dealing with depression, connecting with your spiritual self, and increasing your energy. But there are even more down-to-earth, practical tips about banishing mildew with herbs, healing with honey, and relaxing with aromatherapy, plus lunar, sunrise, and sunset charts. Llewellyn's Magical Almanac features a love spell and an incantation for acing a job interview. Witchcraft never seemed so benign. Banish all images of pallid, wart-nosed hags, this book advocates the power of looking good, even providing a spell for glamour.

The true charm of this multi-cultural exploration of all things magical, mystical, and divine lies in its gentle reminders to embrace each day, celebrate the natural world, and take your fate into your own hands in October and all year long. If the too-much-candy stomach ache is in full effect, plastic spiders have lost their appeal, and you've conjured up a good year's worth of scariness, Pumpkins may be just the thing to ease you gently out of Halloween. True to it's name, this coffee table book delivers photograph after photograph of the fleshy orange fellows.

Pumpkins displays all shapes, sizes, and types, au naturel in fields, for sale at country farm stands, or piled high alongside their gourd brethren in romantic country settings. The pictures highlight all the subtle differences that make October's favorite fruit entertaining characters even before their faces are carved. Rynn Williams's introduction to Pumpkins reflects on the fruits' tendency to summon childhood memories. In that way, they are akin to Halloween itself, with all of the holiday's food, fun, and frights.

Emily Abedon is a writer in Charleston, South Carolina.

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