Storyville: 10 of the Scariest Books I've Ever Read


So obviously this is a personal list, not any sort of final say on what the “best” scary books are. Unfortunately, even though I’ve read a LOT of books, there are still some classic horror novels, and contemporary masterpieces, that I haven’t gotten to. Because there are so many great titles, I’ll even add a few “honorable mentions” at the end of this column, in three categories: Stephen King, all other authors, and “Still To Read.” Hopefully you’ll see a few of your favorites on here and maybe even find a few new titles to read. I should also clarify that I’m not just focusing on scary books, but also disturbing books, upsetting narratives, books that were disgusting, emotional, and hard to get through. There are all kinds of ways to create tension, to unhinge your reader, so here are ten of my favorites, in no particular order.  


1: "The Shining" by Stephen King

This is not only one of my favorite books ever, but also a book that scared the life out of me when I first read it, many years ago. I’m sure you’re all familiar with this story—the Torrence family: Jack the alcoholic dad, Wendy the fragile mother, and Danny, the little boy, have been hired to be caretakers of a hotel in the mountains one winter. Bad things happen, and Jack goes insane. I’m not sure what aspects of this novel worked on me, but I can remember picking up The Bible to feel safe. I imagine part of it was the ghosts, the ways that they appeared in bathtubs, the twin girls, and the hedges—oh those animal hedges coming to life. Pair that with the slow slide into insanity of Jack Torrence (“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”) and the gifted, but barely controlled “shining” that Danny has (“REDRUM! REDRUM!”) and there is so much tension in this novel that it just cannot be put down. The ending, the questions about reality, all of it adds up to one of Stephen King’s best books. I also loved the movie, but I know King hated it. But I’m a fan of Kubrick. (SIDE NOTE: I’m currently reading Doctor Sleep, the sequel, and will review it here at LitReactor in October. So far, 100 pages in, it’s GOOD.)

2: "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis

I think this is the best work Ellis has ever done, but when this novel came out, there was quite a controversy. He’s been called misogynistic and misanthropic, but you can’t confuse the author and his protagonist, Patrick Bateman. The story is a very unique mix of the Manhattan social society, with long passages devoted to fashion, and all things elite, paired with some of the most brutal and horrific instances of violence I’ve ever read. This is the only book that ever made me gag. There is a scene involving a rat, that I think you will remember, and it really set me off. But I think that’s exactly what makes this novel so upsetting and unnerving—one minute we’ll be discussing the color of Patrick’s business card, and the next minute he’s slaughtering an innocent woman, in graphic detail. That cold-blooded, detached manner in which Bateman exists is a fascinating study of the human psyche and I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s not for everyone, I struggled with Glamorama for similar reasons, all of the name dropping and fashion references often went over my head, but if you let those bits of information wash over you, and just enjoy it in the context of each scene, you can still enjoy this book. It’s dark, sexy, and one hell of a wild ride. I know you’re running out to get your new business cards in eggshell with Romalian type or bone with Silian Braille, maybe. I won’t say a word—it’ll be our little secret. Oh, and by the way, I hated the movie. I never saw this book as a satire. As much as I love Christian Bale, the film was a joke, in my opinion. I can remember handing this book back to a friend of mine that loaned it to me, and I thought to myself, you’re a bad person, there’s something dark about you. And now you’ve transferred that stain to me.

3: "Come Closer" by Sara Gran

If you haven’t read Sara Gran yet, this title is a bit of a departure from her usual writing, which leans closer to noir and crime. But this is one creepy novel from start to finish. This is the story of Amanda, a promising architect, who starts acting out—writing obscene notes to her boss, shoplifting, moments of random cruelty and intense sexual fantasies. Do you get echoes of American Psycho? I did. In her dreams there is a woman, Namaah, a demon that has pursued Amanda since her childhood. We are never sure exactly what is happening, the mixture of paranormal and psychological, and the blend of insanity and possession, keeping us guessing the entire time. This is a hypnotic narration, horrific for sure, that lures you in with its poetic, lyrical unhinging, an air of authority that forces you to believe everything that is happening. This is a slim volume (168 pages) but one that shouldn’t be missed. In addition to the Ellis reference, it always had a bit of that Japanese horror about it, the mundane mixed in with the surreal, which is a great way to keep you on your toes.

4: "The Silence of the Lambs" by Thomas Harris

We’re all probably familiar with the characters in this novel, FBI trainee Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter (who is briefly introduced in Red Dragon, also by Harris, and a great read as well). Searching for a serial killer dubbed, “ Buffalo Bill,” Clarice utilized the brilliance of Lecter to try and catch this man who is kidnapping, slaying, and skinning young women. This probably isn’t even considered a horror novel, but that’s okay—call it a thriller or a suspense novel, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read on serial killers, hypnotic from the opening lines, twists and turns, that uneasy feeling and tension washing over you one scene after another. This book, and the film, are a part of our culture now and Lecter, while immensely likeable, is a violent and dangerous man: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." So many lines: “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.” And whether you prefer the book or the film, you will never get all of the subtle details in the film. Somehow reading the book feels so much more personal, up close and tense.

5: "The Girl Next Door" by Jack Ketchum

This was the first book of Ketchum’s that I read. I’d never seen anything like it. When it came to horror, most of what I’d enjoyed was of the traditional variety—vampires and werewolves, demons and ghosts. The idea that evil could be lurking next door, suburbia in the 1960s (or 1980s) was a new idea to me. We follow the narrator, David, as he tells us the story of an adult, Ruth, his neighbor, and the kids that hang out at her house, her three sons included. She’s very permissive, so when she adopts two girls, her nieces, Meg, and her crippled sister, Susan, after their parents die unexpectedly, things quickly descend into madness. I’m sure many of us have some strange memories from our childhood, those secret games of playing doctor or post office. Reading this novel, there are moments where you wonder where the line is going to be drawn. You keep telling yourself that things will be okay, that these games are normal, a part of growing up, and then Ketchum crosses that line, and the next one, and the next one, until you are now part of something horrible, and much like David, feel the need to expose the situation, to tell somebody what is happening. King has called him the scariest guy in America, and I have to agree. And this may not even be his darkest, most violent book—be sure to read more of his novels, such as Offspring, Red and Off Season. His short story collection, Peaceable Kingdom, is really good, too.

6: "Ghost Story" by Peter Straub

Hard to believe that this came out in 1979, but this was the novel that pushed Peter Straub over the top and onto the national stage. It’s been a long time since I read this book, but it tells the story of several members of a group called the Chowder Society. They like to get together and tell ghost stories. Over time, the members start to die off. As more and more of their secrets bubble to the surface, we have to contend with many different supernatural elements, including a possibly shape-shifting woman. One aspect that makes this such a compelling novel is that the truth keeps shifting. Is a young girl kidnapped, or is she there of her own free will? Is the victim of an accident alive, or dead—and how many different entities has she inhabited? We jump back in time to find out the horrors of the Chowder Society’s childhood, and are then brought back to present-day to see how their actions have resulted in consequences—hauntings if you will, members dying off one after another. Some have said that Straub is a boring author, but I prefer to think of his work as a slow burn—and this novel owes as much to Salem’s Lot, as it does to The Turn of the Screw. If you take your time with this novel, which I think is probably his best, it will not disappoint you.  Sometimes nightmares do come true.

7: "The End of Alice" by A.M. Homes

This may be one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. Homes is known for being a literary author, albeit one that isn’t afraid to take chances with her writing. Ever since I had my own I’ve been extra sensitive about stories that involve children. I had to stop watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, because I couldn’t take all of the raping and killing of kids. I can remember Pela Via talking about this novel, and in fact, I think she sent me her copy. She warned me, and spoke of how terrible this experience was, but I didn’t listen. It’s the story of a young girl, who writes letters to a convicted murderer and rapist, a pedophile that delights in telling her about his exploits, and how to succeed at her own molestations of young boys. I know, why bother reading this, right? I put it down several times, and had to really struggle to keep going. So in the end, why did I stay with it? Well, first of all, it’s very well written. Homes is a talented author. In lesser hands this would have simply descended into kiddie porn of the darkest variety. But she is able to not only place us in the minds of two very dysfunctional people, but to even garner them, against all odds, some sympathy. By the end, much like in American Psycho, I felt dirty, soiled, tainted by even bearing witness to such crimes against humanity and nature. This is the closest that I ever want to get to understanding why somebody would do these things, abuse children, and commit such horrible crimes, knowing they are damaging someone forever. I cannot even say that I “recommend” this novel, because you have to have a strong heart and stomach to endure it. But, if you are the kind of person that can’t help wanting to know what motivates such dark pursuits, then this is one of the most upsetting and horrifying books I’ve ever read. You have been warned.

8: "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson

Whether you want to call this a vampire story or a zombie tale, what ultimately got to me about this novel was the sense of loneliness. Robert Neville is the last man on Earth, and the creatures that surround him—they are hungry for his death. Written in 1954, it was ahead of its time, perhaps. The almost documentary tone of the book, the way that Robert goes about his tasks, it’s reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode. When he discovers Ruth, the logical conclusion is that he can now save the human race, there is hope. But when it turns out that Ruth is infected, and that the creatures are evolving, able to stand small amounts of sunlight, changing from what they once were, we come to understand that Robert is the outsider, he is the one that is different, and he must die so the planet can change. He is the enemy, he is the vampire hunter, the zombie killer. I can remember reading the final words and thinking that the ending was not satisfying at all. I was very frustrated with Matheson, but maybe I was just frustrated with the human race, and all of our mistakes, the ways we continue to fight, to fracture, instead of embrace. These final words nearly brought tears to my eyes: "[I am] a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend." This novel is a different kind of fear—the fear of not mattering, of not being remembered, of being inconsequential.

9: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

I have to admit that Cormac McCarthy is one of the hardest authors to pigeonhole. Is he a literary author, does he write westerns, is The Road a post-apocalyptic horror novel, a thriller—what? It doesn’t help to look at his other work, either. Blood Meridian is one of the most lyrical and haunting books I’ve ever read, with some extremely violent moments. And isn’t No Country For Old Men essentially a story about a serial killer? With The Road, what makes it my choice here are a handful of scenes, and I think you know the ones I’m talking about—the baby roasting on a spit, the basement filled with corpses, those still alive reduced to cannibalism. When you pair the lyrical beauty of McCarthy with the sad, gray landscape of this novel, and then add in a handful of shocking, violent moments, what you have is a powerful story that is horrifying and heartbreaking but ultimately still echoing with a ray of hope. We’ve read enough post-apocalyptic novels, and seen enough of these films to know the horrors of what might be. Much of this novel will stay with me forever, haunting me with visuals of my worst nightmares come true.

10: "Haunted" by Chuck Palahniuk

This was a tough choice, and I almost went with Lullaby, but what makes Haunted so unique and powerful is the way that Palahniuk wove multiple narratives, told many different stories, wrapping his audience in a blanket of violence, disgust, and fear. I loved this concept of 17 authors headed off for a retreat, a thin disguise for a collection of short stories. There is so much darkness here, so many unexpected surprises. The host, Brandon Whittier, seems to be a very old man, but in reality is a thirteen-year-old boy who suffers from progeria. He convinces old ladies to sleep with him and then blackmails them with the truth. And of course you’re all familiar with the story “Guts,” and how distressing that tale of masturbation is. There are porn stars and prostitutes, murderers and rapists, models and psychics. Palahniuk touches on just about every taboo subject imaginable, and in the end, leaves us with a shocking and memorable collection of tales. Because the framework of this book is one larger arc, all of the characters collected under one roof, I’m going to call this a novel, even if it was probably built to house Palahniuk’s stories. I think together, they are larger than the sum of its parts—if they were separate, it would be less of a cohesive experience. I know a lot of people dislike this book, claiming it to be one of Palahniuk’s weaker books, but I loved every dysfunctional minute of it, even the poetry.


I hope that you can find a few new books on here that you've never heard of, and that they haunt you as much as they did me. As we approach Halloween, and seek out these dark thrills, I'm sure there is at least one book on my list that will keep you up at night. What did I miss? Which novels would you add to this list? Also, see below for a few more suggestions.


Stephen King: It, The Stand, Pet Sematary, Salem’s Lot, The Long Walk, The Dead Zone.

Others: The Exorcist, Amityville Horror, The Omen, Swan Song, Phantoms, Whispers, Red Moon, All the Beautiful Sinners, and The Ruins.

Still To Read: House of Leaves, Books of Blood, Damnation Game, Hell House, Sharp Objects, Let the Right One In, The Passage, The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. (See, I still have a lot of books to read.)

Richard Thomas

Column by Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of eight books—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), Transubstantiate, Staring Into the Abyss, Herniated Roots, Tribulations, Spontaneous Human Combustion (Turner Publishing), and The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). His over 175 stories in print include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), Lightspeed, PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Shallow Creek, The Seven Deadliest, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), PRISMS, Pantheon, and Shivers VI. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker (twice), Shirley Jackson, Thriller, and Audie awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor. He was the Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press and Gamut Magazine. For more information visit or contact Paula Munier at Talcott Notch.

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Zachveg's picture
Zachveg October 4, 2013 - 12:40pm

"I hated the movie. I never saw this book as a satire."  


Isn't American Psycho being a satire generally the ONLY thing people agree upon about that book?

Regan's picture
Regan from Seattle, WA is reading Crash by J.G. Ballard October 4, 2013 - 12:44pm

I'm not sure you understand the word: scary. 

I just reread the Shining, it's not scary. It's a character development piece. I wasn't scared once. 'IT' was scarier. For Palahniuk, 'Lullaby' and 'Diary' were scarier than 'Haunted'. Disturbing does not scary make. 


Michael Wehunt's picture
Michael Wehunt October 4, 2013 - 12:52pm

Fantastic list, though you lost me at the end with #10. Not a fan of Haunted. I actually was a big fan of Palahniuk up until this book, when I began to realize that his novels are mostly interchangeable, with more and more emphasis on shock value. He had a great early run, though.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 4, 2013 - 1:12pm

I don't know, Zachveg. I think AP is unsettling becuase of the humor and lightness put right next to the murder and rape. To me, it isn't a satire. But to many, I suppose it is!

Regan, well, it's all subjective, right? I think the hardest genres to write are horror and humor, because one scary film or book might terrify a person, while making another laugh (e.g., BLAIR WITCH). What's funny to one person, isn't to another. I don't think you can say that "Guts" isn't disturbing, upsetting. That's why I prefaced this column with the idea that some of these selections are not necessarily scary, but disturbing. 

I should also clarify that I’m not just focusing on scary books, but also disturbing books, upsetting narratives, books that were disgusting, emotional, and hard to get through. There are all kinds of ways to create tension, to unhinge your reader

I thought The Shining was very scary. I also mentioned several of King's other books in the "honorable mentions" sections, including IT. I agree that LULLABY and DIARY were scary, upsetting, etc. I almost picked one of those.

Yeah, Michael, I know not everyone liked Haunted. Something about it just got to me. 

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin October 4, 2013 - 1:15pm

I have house of leaves and let the right one in in my waiting to be read pile :)

Fear is a funny thing, being that what scares one person is nothing to someone else. Sometimes its just the idea that is frightening.

I think haunted deserves its place on the list because even when you read it a third or forth time it is still disturbing. It didn't scare me but it is dark. I adore diary and lullaby.

As for book making you feel physically ill, its got to be pygmy... Yeah you know why.

Tim Johnson's picture
Tim Johnson from Rockville, MD is reading Notes From a Necrophobe by T.C. Armstrong October 4, 2013 - 1:48pm

I loved The Shining. Can't wait to get to Dr. Sleep. "Disturbing" is a better word for it, I agree. Honestly, I don't know that any novel or story has ever scared me. Fiction's tricky in that sense because you, as the reader, control the pace. There's nothing to pull you along. You can stop or skip ahead. You can zone out. There's nothing that slaps you and makes you pay attention to the moment. You have to force yourself to look, think, and imagine everything. It's all deliberate for the reader. So really, I think "disturbing" is a better word for most horror in fiction. For me, at least, horror affects me more when I put the book down and it continues to stay with me, not in the moment I read it.

I hope this isn't horror heresy, but I was too busy finding fault in I Am Legend to really find it powerful. For all people say it is, it was hard for me to see it as anything more than an alcoholic womanizer with no real direction, nothing to do but wallow. It just beat me over the head so much with Neville sitting in his living room every night, scotch in hand, while the infected yelled for him outside. I feel like it missed a lot of opportunities, and honestly, I think the movie is better in this regard, silly CG infected and disappointing theatrical ending notwithstanding.

You mention The Passage, and while I wouldn't say it's scary or disturbing, I think portions of it are. It's a really interesting read in terms of studying the craft because you might go through 200 pages of Cronin babbling on and being thoroughly uninteresting, but then he totally nails something. Then you have to judge whether it's worth it. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it if/when you get to it.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 4, 2013 - 1:54pm

@em - agree. including the Pygmy comment :-)

@tim - Doctor Sleep is great, reading it now, almost done, Book Shots review coming up soon here at LR. Have a copy of The Passage here at home, need to get to that one. You should try Red Moon by Benjamin Percy from the honorable mentions list. 

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books October 4, 2013 - 2:05pm

House of Leaves is the only book I've read as an adult that made it hard to sleep. It's that unknown horror thing.

And for the record, I HATED Haunted. Hated.

NikKorpon's picture
NikKorpon from Baltimore is reading Book and books and books and October 4, 2013 - 2:12pm

Come Closer is one of the few books that has made me anxious about sleeping. I read it when I lived in the woods in western Massachusetts, the closest house about a half-mile away. I was sure that woman was going to get me. And The Girl Next Door completely repulsed me in some strangely visceral way that books don't really get to me, but I couldn't stop reading it. I think I read the last part in one go from 3-6AM just to get through it.

Lisa Gatzen's picture
Lisa Gatzen from Atlanta is reading Doomed October 4, 2013 - 2:32pm

I loved Haunted, but didn't find it particularly scary.  When I attended a book signing by Chuck P. and told him it was my favorite, he said it was based on his nightmares (which is how he signed it ala Alice Cooper).

The Ketchum book was inspired by the torture/murder of Sylvia Likins which occured around 1965.  It is truly horrifying, particularly knowing it is based on an actual incident.

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago October 4, 2013 - 5:00pm

Silence Of The Lambs gave me the creeps,Haunted is my favorite work by Palahniuk and I've enjoyed everything I've read by Stephen King, but I didn't find these works scary. Good story telling, yes. But not scary.

I never read the exorcist, but the movie did scare me.

One thing for sure, after reading this article Come Closer is on my must read list.

Thanks Richard.

Karen Adams's picture
Karen Adams from Springfield MO is reading The Family Fang October 4, 2013 - 6:36pm

Glad you honorably mentioned Pet Sematary .... That's the one that put me off horror for six months I was so freaked out.

EdVaughn's picture
EdVaughn from Louisville, Ky is reading a whole bunch of different stuff October 4, 2013 - 6:58pm

The Girl Next Door was intense. Human horror is the scariest. And I'm in the hated Haunted camp. I couldn't even finish it.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 4, 2013 - 7:39pm

@josh-yeah, i keep picking it up and putting it down. maybe this winter when i have a little extra time. i've really wanted to dig in for some time now.

@nik-you may have beent the one that turned me on to CC. really freaked me out. have you read other Ketchum, Nik? or did that stop you. i bought TGND, and thought he was such a unique voice that i bought a whole box of his first edition paperbacks (did they come OUT in hardcover, or only paperback first?) and read through like 8 of them. i felt really unclean after that. had to pick up books by David Sedaris bewteen then to cleanse my soul's palette.

@lisa-yeah, maybe it's the writer thing, the retreat paired with "Guts" i just remember that book being an upsetting read. TGND was the first book of that nature that i'd ever read. none of the other horror i'd read before had been anything like it.

@tom-so you've never read a book that scared you? try CC and let me know. i think it all comes down to what bothers you. as nik can attest, mirrors and demons really get to me. things i can possibly convince myself COULD be real. ghosts too. i swear my dead friend Martin (RIP, Martin) visited me in my bedroom right after he died (he was only in his 50s) and he was NOT happy. scared me to death. shadows, sometimes water, etc. we all have our different fears, right? SOTL really got tense for me.

@karen-right? man, i picked the book up a few months ago for some research, and it's still really tense.

@ed-lol. try that Homes if you're up for it. i imagine as many people are divided on HOL as well, either love it or hate it.

THANKS FOR CHIMING IN, guys. keep posting up your thoughts!

telegraphkiss's picture
telegraphkiss from joplin, mo is reading microbiology notes, unfortunately October 4, 2013 - 7:55pm

House of leaves gave me such awful nightmares the entire time I was reading it. No book had ever scared me before it, and I'm 25 and I average 2-3 books a week. One night I was staying at my parents house and I woke up so terrified I couldn't catch my breath, I cried, and I almost got in bed with my mum. You should definitely get to it!! 

Zackery Olson's picture
Zackery Olson from Rockford, IL is reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on October 4, 2013 - 9:46pm

I've got six out of ten on the main list under my belt.


Damn do I wish I could forget about that fucking rat from 'American Psycho'.


I also wish I could forget a lot of what I read in 'The Girl Next Door'. That's a novel I don't think I'll ever want to revisit. Luckily, it's well-written and it makes an irremovable mark the first time.


I revisited 'The Shining' last year and I have to admit that it lost some of its scariness for me since I first read it at age sixteen or so. I think the descent into madness aspect of the novel would have been scarier, or at least more disturbing, had it straddled the lines between supernatural and psychological a bit more.


The rest of the main list is already in my list of things to read.


As for the honorable mentions, I've read a lot of the King stuff, and have a lot of the others in my list of to-reads. I hated 'The Ruins' though. By the time the book was halfway finished, I just wanted them all to die already. I'll admit though, the book does a good job of showing how people can fail miserably to deal with their own fear and sabotage themselves as a result.


I can't recommend 'Hill House' enough. Get on that one sooner rather than later.


And thanks for the list.

Banz's picture
Banz from Brisbane is reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman October 5, 2013 - 4:18am

Good list.  I also found The Shining and American Psycho scary.  I enjoyed Haunted but don't remember being scared by it.  The Road I thought was brilliant, moving and unsettling so probably worth its spot on the list given your criteria.

The Exorcist is definitely worth checking out.  I read it all in one go, starting when I went to bed, because I was too scared to stop.

Another one I found scary was The Vanishing.  The whole idea of the randomness of evil, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, really left an impression on me.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 5, 2013 - 8:25am

@zackery-right? right? oh, man. so vivid and horrifying. yeah, TGND broke my heart a bit. i'll admit, i haven't re-read THE SHINING in years, i should do that. yeah, THE RUINS, i think there were some moments that made it overall tense, but not my favorite book ever. HILL HOUSE! I'm on it.

@banz-thanks. THE VANISHING, haven't read that. who wrote it?

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago October 5, 2013 - 8:59am

Just to be clear, because a story didn't scare me, didn't cause me to sleep with the lights on, or avoid going to the basement, doesn't mean it's not a chiiling and horoific tale. For a story, or anything, to scare me it must instill a lingering fear. Non-fiction accounts of the nefarious doings of serial killers scare the bejesus (whatever 'bejesus' is) out of me.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 5, 2013 - 1:51pm

^^@tom-yeah, i get that. for sure.

Banz's picture
Banz from Brisbane is reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman October 6, 2013 - 1:31am

@Richard.  The Vanishing is by Tim Krabbé.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 6, 2013 - 6:12pm

thanks. there were a few books with that title.

pezzygal's picture
pezzygal from Los Angeles is reading My Lobotomy October 14, 2013 - 1:24pm

You have 2 of my favorite books on your list: American Psycho and Haunted. I have also let my friends read my books and think I'm f*cked for underlining some passages. I also got certain looks from them after they gave me the books back. When asked what they thought about them, their answers were usually, "that's some f*cked up shit, but it was goooood."

I have done my job in providing good friends with great reading materials, especially my husband.

Thanks for the list.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 15, 2013 - 2:30pm

lol...yeah, that's basically how i reacted to the guy that loaned me AP. :-) 

Richard Michael Johnson's picture
Richard Michael... from California is reading In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin October 22, 2013 - 10:49am

I think when you get to your "Still To Read" list, this current list will change... Might I also suggest some Ramsey Campbell - "The Darkest Part Of The Woods", per haps?


Peter Wollesen's picture
Peter Wollesen October 22, 2013 - 11:36am

My only disagreement with this piece is the inclusion of AMERICAN PSYCHO. It was NOT scary. Disturbing, disgusting, and grotesque, yes; but not scary. And it ONLY works as a satire; if it's not a satire, it has no redeeming quality whatsoever. 

Matt McAndrews's picture
Matt McAndrews October 22, 2013 - 12:18pm

Ok list, but all pretty contemporary stuff. What about The Turn of the Screw, or We Have Always Lived in the Castle. 

Alex the Cat's picture
Alex the Cat October 22, 2013 - 5:33pm

What about Joe Hill (SK's son)!?! The first half of Heart-Shaped Box was freakier than hell (for the reasons you mentioned to Tom above, Richard). Reading NOS4A2 right now (100 pages in), and it shows a lot of promise. The rest of your list is solid. Haunted is my favorite Palahniuk novel. House of Leaves was pretty freaky.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 22, 2013 - 8:13pm

@richard - probably!

@peter - i said in my intro this was about scary stories, but also disturbing stories, narratives that upset you, that are tense and unsettling. i found AP to be all of those things, and not a satire at all, but that's just my read. feel free to read it as a satire, many do! :-)

@matt - yeah, i said in my comments towards the bottom there were a few titles i haven't read yet, including that Shirley Jackson. some older horror, like Poe, etc. just bores me to death. sorry.

@alex - i like joe hill, Horns and HSB, but they didn't blow me away. HSB i listened to on audio and i remembering it being really good. need to pick up NOS4A2, for sure.

Tim Go West's picture
Tim Go West October 23, 2013 - 8:53am

I would switch American Psycho with Lunar Park when it comes to Ellis...It was genuinely one of the creepiest books I've read...

Angel Colón's picture
Angel Colón from The Bronx now living in New Jersey is reading A Big Ol' Pile of Books October 23, 2013 - 9:07am

When scary is brought up, my mind always goes to House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. I've never found myself so shaken after completing a novel and not truly understand why.

It's the only book I ALWAYS read before Halloween.

I agree with The Road. It left an impression on me for weeks (though it could have been because I had just found out my wife and I were expecting, so it hit a new nerve).

I'm a massive fan of Clive Barker as well, but most of his novels wouldn't really classify as scary more than gory (I'm talking his output before Abarat). His short stories, on the other hand, have great atmosphere and mood. The Books of Blood have some real gems , "In the Hills, The Cities" and 'Dread" being stand outs.


Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 23, 2013 - 11:37am

@tim - haven't read lunar park, have it on the shelves. i'll keep that in mind!

@gosh - yeah, i'm planning on starting HOL soon, like next week, reading it with a few friends. 

Jacob Rogers's picture
Jacob Rogers October 23, 2013 - 5:09pm

I see that no one has mentioned The Rising by Brian Keene.


Marlow Monday's picture
Marlow Monday October 23, 2013 - 9:14pm

Great list! 

I highly recommend "Aliss" by Patrick Sénecal, a modern and very trashy spin off of Alice in Wonderland (sadly, since he's a French-Canadian author, I have no idea if you can find it in English). This is the only novel scared the shit out of me, that one character just sent shivers down my spine (and I'm not telling which one!) 

I also thought that Coraline was very creepy, but I wouldn't call it scary. Still an excellent read! 


Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 24, 2013 - 7:33am

@jacob - i haven't read much Keene, but i hear nothing but good things about him. i need to read more of his work. is that where you'd start?

@marlow - i'll check that out, sounds cool.

Brian Ingham's picture
Brian Ingham from Stillwater Oklahoma is reading There is No Year by. Blake Butler October 25, 2013 - 8:04am

Richard, you will enjoy Lunar Park. It's still noe of my favorite novels and possible even BEE's best work. I have to read it at least once a year just to enjoy it all over again. Great article!

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 25, 2013 - 7:19pm

if you're looking for MORE scary books, here is a great list at FLAVORWIRE. TOP FIFTY. glad to see that most of my top ten, as well as many of my "honorable mentions" made this list.

Natso's picture
Natso from Mongolia is reading Moby Dick December 13, 2013 - 12:20am

Ah, the Shining. I neither saw the film, nor read the book, I guess that puts me in a niche group. But I heard and saw a lot of pieces. It's lying on my desk at home, and I an anxious of starting it now.

I'd add few short stories/novellas from Stephen King for people who'd enjoy a quick read: Jerusalem's Lot from "Night Shift" (IMHO, epistolary form at its finest), A Good Marriage from "Full Dark, No Stars".

I guess I have avoided scary novels for the most of my life, but got drawn in by Stephen King recently. (Night Shift)

Also, I was sobbing at the end of the Road. :(

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies November 28, 2013 - 9:35pm

Right? The Road, I was, too. Good suggestions on the King stories, as well.

Corey Brown's picture
Corey Brown December 18, 2013 - 4:31pm

I am impressed that Haunted made the list.  It seems a lot of people missed a few things from the book that I took, mainly being that "horror" in literature is the stuff that sticks with you.  After Haunted, I wasn't scared of what was under the bed. I was, however, a bit wary of the other patrons in line with me at the grocery store.  Mainly because everyone around you is capable of the events in Haunted- from the perverse, to the outsider perspective of 'that's just silly', to the memories of past deeds that wake us up in the middle of the night wondering, "How far did I cross the line that time?" and "Was that the one act that cemented my eviction from heaven?"

I obviously love the book.  Especially reaching the conclusion and watching how desperate measures should mean notoriety.

When the Chilean miners were finally rescued, a friend and I eagerly watched and waited to see if Haunted became a reality in a fashion. If a disturbing story faintly mirrors the"cause" reality with tainted edges and off the wall circumstances, but mirrors the "effect" in a crisp and clear reflection of the consequenses, well...

That's horror. 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies December 19, 2013 - 1:48pm

^^thanks, corey. great to hear your thoughts on Haunted, you really nailed what i was going for when talking about how Haunted was a disturbing read.