Halloween traditions include of course listening to ghost stories. And who better to listen to than M.R. James? His stories are conveniently compact – mostly coming in at under an hour when read aloud. They’re also classics whose subtleties come across peculiarly well when read aloud. After all, many of them were first written to be read aloud – at fireside gatherings in King’s College or at the Chitchat Society and elsewhere. And James’s emphasis on “the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo” make for great listening.
There happen to be a great many well-read stories by M.R. James available on YouTube and elsewhere. David Collings does particularly fine readings, but there are plenty more on LibriVox. I’ve been playing quite a few in the runup to Halloween, and it’s remarkable how listening to a story you know well can reveal subtleties you missed while reading it. A detail can suddenly jump out of a recording playing in the background, and there are few better ways to appreciate the tempo and pacing that James handled with such mastery. I envy anyone listening to these for the first time, but for everyone, it’s an indispensable Halloween experience.