There are lots of books that scare us, but sometimes books can be just downright terrifying. But, they scare for different reasons. Sometimes it is psychological, sometimes it is body horror. Sometimes it is dystopia or the idea of “what if.” In the end, what scares us is deeply personal.
Here are some of the selections from the BWGB team on the scariest books they have read.
Here Are Our Selections For The Books That Scare Us
By Stephen King
Why Is This Scary?
“Stephen King’s The Shining might seem too obvious, but it’s obvious because it’s a perfect novel (and Kubrick made it into a very different, still perfect film.) King’s best stories invariable end up focusing on his obsessions with writing and addiction, and The Shining is no exception. On top of being an excellent haunting story, it’s much more human than the film. For me, horror works best when it hits the wall of uncanny, where things stop making sense.
The ‘Unmask! Unmask!’ sequence near the end is the only time I’ve ever physically had the hair stand up on end while reading.
“Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.”
Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.
The Tell Tale Heart
By Edgar Allan Poe
Why Is This Scary?
Edgar Allan Poe, where to even begin with this Halloween staple almost? It is rare to find someone who hasn’t heard of the man who championed the short story and, most importantly, made sure it reached all our deepest fears and anxieties. As one of my favorite authors, I own a particularly large leather-bound tome of his complete work and very much enjoy bringing it out each October to go through some of my favorite stories. The Tell Tale Heart of course is one of his most famous/notorious and with good reason! The slow at first but then precipitous fall into utter folly of the narrator that is speaking to the reader is especially harrowing as you can see into the man’s head and feel yourself slowly go mad alongside him. That is why I love Poe so much, his characters are reflections of common people, and as such the terror and horror that comes from realizing how easy it is to understand each of them is what affects the reader the most! I would also recommend The Pit and the Pendulum , as well as The Masque Of The Red Death , and Ligeia. The last two being the more supernatural themed of this mini list and so the more Halloweeny!!
“Now this is the point. You fancy me a mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded…”
Edgar Allan Poe remains the unsurpassed master of works of mystery and madness in this outstanding collection of Poe’s prose and poetry are sixteen of his finest tales, including “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “William Wilson,” “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “Eleonora”. Here too is a major selection of what Poe characterized as the passion of his life, his poems – “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” Ulalume,” “Lenore,” “The Bells,” and more, plus his glorious prose poem “Silence – A Fable” and only full-length novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
By Dean Koontz
Why Is This Scary?
Why is it scary? That is a hard question. I think that anything that steps into the realm of crazy or the bazaar can be unnerving. But, The Taking combined monster horror, existential horror, psychological horror, and supernatural horror into a symphony of terror. What makes this book effective is that not every part is scary. If everything was “go, go, go” then it would be exhausting. But, there are calm parts to this horror that almost give readers a false sense that everything is ok before crashing you into flesh-eating spiders, people floating through the ceiling, or melting through the floor.
“Maybe there’s nothing impossible tonight. We’re down the hole to Wonderland, and no White Rabbit to guide us.” If I remember correctly, the White Rabbit was an unreliable guide, anyway.”
In one of the most dazzling books of his celebrated career, Dean Koontz delivers a masterwork of page-turning suspense that surpasses even his own inimitable reputation as a chronicler of our worst fears-and best dreams. In The Taking he tells the story of a community cut off from a world under siege, and the terrifying battle for survival waged by a young couple and their neighbors as familiar streets become fog-shrouded death traps. Gripping, heartbreaking, and triumphant in the face of mankind’s darkest hour, here is a small-town slice-of-doomsday thriller that strikes to the core of each of us to ask: What would you do in the midst of The Taking.
By Curtis M. Lawson
Why Is This Scary?
Mine is Black Pantheons by Curtis M. Lawson. It’s a one author collection of Supernatural and other horrors. It definitely worked as a horror by taking some stuff people deal with in true life and turning them on their head to bring about ruination and chaos for those involved. It deals with everything from elder gods to the dangerous unintended consequences of technology. It takes the commonplace and twists it into the awful unknown. It actually takes the story of Pinocchio and twists it into one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever read. This way leads madness should be stamped on the cover.
“Noontime illumination forced itself in from the space between the shade and the window frame.”
Curtis M. Lawson’s debut collection is a menagerie of supernatural horror and weird fiction that drops imperfect characters into an uncaring universe, inhabited by malevolent deities. In these pages you will find devouring gods of the yawning abyss, Japanese demons who sway mortal souls, and digital hells of man’s own creation. Follow into the darkness and walk among the gods of the Black Pantheons. There is magic where they live, in the emptiness between the stars. Stories: The Obessession of Chloe Chambers Demons of Manzanar Davarion Sinister Swan Song Pinocchio & The Black Pantheon The Carousel Horse Irretrievable Data Loss The Labyrinth of Winter’s End- A Devoured Story Heaven’s a Gamble, Hell’s an Investment I was a Teenage Sex Demon Paramnesia
By Greg Bear
Why Is This Scary?
G.M Nair’s Pick
The book that terrifies me the most is Blood Music by Greg Bear. I’m sure this is a pretty out of left field choice, but I’m not usually scared by typical horror books – reading about scary imagery or monsters doesn’t affect me much. Blood Music, on the other hand, is a sci-fi book that features the human race slowly being infected and controlled by a sentient biological entity which heals and improves the human body to a heightened state, before assimilating it into a growing, throbbing mass of what is essentially grey goo. What really unnerves me about this book is the slow process of conversion of assimilation of humanity, and how the converted sing the praises of the utter feeling of musical euphoria they’ve achieved by giving themselves to the entity. Giving up one’s individuality to some sort of formless, faceless entity is scary enough, but their glowing cult-like descriptions of their ‘ascension’ sends shivers down my spine. I’m sure Blood Music would hit differently now, especially with regards to, well, EVERYTHING, but I haven’t been able to touch that book again in over a decade. But I do think about it from time to time, which is – in a way – even worse.
“They’re trying to understand what space is. That’s tough for them. They break distances down into concentrations of chemicals. For them, space is a range of taste intensities.”
Vergil Ulam has created cellular material that can outperform rats in laboratory tests. When the authorities rule that he has exceeded his authorization, Vergil loses his job, but is determined to take his discovery with him.
By Octavia E. Butler
Why Is This Scary?
My pick would be the novelette, Bloodchild by Octavia E Butler. It’s especially powerful because you can read it in the space of an hour yet it sticks with you for far longer than that. Would-be colonisers from Earth have the tables turned by an alien race called the Tlic, whose only chance of survival is planting their larvae inside living human hosts. It feels a little District 9 meets Alien, with the humans kept in ‘The District’ in a fragile sort of peace after a previous uprising. Whilst the humans and Tlic are capable of friendly relations – even loving ones – the humans are practically kept as cattle in order to be used as hosts for the alien larvae. There’s a moment that rivals the chestburster scene from Alien for shock value and disgust, and just everything in general about the human-Tlic relationship and the nature of the alien larvae just feels sickening and uncomfortable to me. This remains the most thought provoking book I’ve ever read.
“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
A perfect introduction for new readers and a must-have for avid fans, this New York Times Notable Book includes “Bloodchild,” winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula awards and “Speech Sounds,” winner of the Hugo Award. Appearing in print for the first time, “Amnesty” is a story of a woman named Noah who works to negotiate the tense and co-dependent relationship between humans and a species of invaders. Also new to this collection is “The Book of Martha” which asks: What would you do if God granted you the ability—and responsibility—to save humanity from itself?
Like all of Octavia Butler’s best writing, these works of the imagination are parables of the contemporary world. She proves constant in her vigil, an unblinking pessimist hoping to be proven wrong, and one of contemporary literature’s strongest voices.