As a child I used to frighten extremely easily, which meant Halloween was a dreaded holiday. On Halloween night, the mere sound of the doorbell was enough to have me scrambling behind the couch and screaming “Go Away!” I wouldn’t even let my parents open the door to give candy to the bewildered trick or treaters. As I grew older, my fear of all things scary stayed with me. I once went to a birthday party late just to avoid the screening of The Ring. Then one day, I just changed. I suddenly wanted to scare myself silly. I wanted the thrill that can only come from a truly scary story. When someone suggested watching a scary movie, I heard myself seconding them. Scrolling through the channels, I found myself lingering over a famously scary scene. I took a couple English courses in college, one on ghost stories and another called Vampires and Other Mystical Creatures (No, I did not go to Hogwarts- I wish). To feed my sadistic need of terrifying myself, I started a tradition every Halloween of reading something scary (because I’m a book lover, reading the stories was obviously my first step, followed by the movie). I’m still not a horror junkie, but here are some of my favorite creepy reads. My choices below reflect only what I would consider scary and are in order of least scary to sleeping with the lights on, if you can sleep at all.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz – I would have to say that this book was my first introduction to the scary books genre and it was a completely unwilling one. Wanting to seem cool in front of my older cousin, I agreed to have him read this book to me. The stories are based on American folklore and are extremely creepy within themselves; however it is the accompanying illustrations by Stephen Gammell that have haunted me long into adulthood.
The Alienist by Caleb Carr – I would consider this book as more of a thriller than downright scary and is perfect for anyone who wants to dip their toes into scary books. The premise is a serial killer who targets young male prostitutes in New York City during the late nineteenth century. While that sounds very scary, the group designated to find the killer offer poignancy and humor that balances the darker undertones.
Jaws by Peter Benchley – Whether you have seen the movie or not, everyone is familiar with the premise of Jaws, the giant shark that develops an unquenchable taste for human flesh. What many people don’t realize is that it was first a novel. While the movie was great, but the book delves deeper into the character’s lives, creating a richer narrative.
Turn of the Screw by Henry James – This short story was written in 1898 and is a masterpiece of subtlety combined with psychological thrills. A naive young woman takes on the role of governess to two orphaned children in an isolated manor house. The story is a very quick read, filled with creepiness and a conclusion guaranteed to spark debate.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – Again, with this work, we see the premise revolve around the house. The title pretty much sums up the story: a group of people come to Hill House for tangible proof that it is haunted, yet they have no idea what they are unearthing.
Dracula by Bram Stoker – I’m all about the classics and Dracula is by far one of my most favorite scary stories. Despite it being the oldest on this list (written in 1897), I had to read this book during the day and found myself making sure that my windows were closed at night. This book spawned the entire vampire genre, with its fascination and the idea of vampires being viewed as seductive. If you have any interest in vampires at all, I highly recommend that you read this book, because it is a foundation for everything vampire-related.
The Shining by Stephen King – Ok, if you have made it this far in the list, this is your last chance to leave because it is with this title that I start to get into the really scary stuff. You have been warned. The story opens with Jack Torrance, struggling writer and recovering alcoholic, signing on as the innkeeper at the Overlook Hotel during the winter season. His wife and young son are the only ones to accompany him, or so it seems.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris – Again, this is a novel made famous by the movie adaptation. Unlike the works above, this story does not contain any supernatural influences and is purely based on the deranged psychology of the human mind. I think that is what scared me the most, the fact that this could possibly happen. FBI rookie Clarice Starling becomes involved in solving the case of Buffalo Bill, a serial killer targeting young women. However, the task takes on an unusual turn when Clarice must rely on information provided by the incarcerated Dr. Hannibel Lecter, aka Hannibal the Cannibal (guess how he got that name?)
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris – Harris is the author of some very deranged characters. This book is related to Silence of the Lambs and chronologically takes place before it. FBI agent Will Graham gained fame as the man who captured Dr. Hannibal Lector. Despite Graham’s efforts to remain retired, he is pulled into a case with a serial killer named the “Tooth Fairy.” As Graham gets deeper into the case, he finds himself relying on Dr Lector for help.
Pet Semetary by Stephen King – I know that there is a lot of debate over which is King’s best novel. However, Pet Semetary was the one story that I read and afterwards could not sleep by myself with the lights off (I was 22). A young family moves to a house in Maine, with an ancient Native American burial ground in the woods nearby.
Ok, so that’s my list! What are your scary books?
– Lauren Onorato