What is Horror? 10 Books That are Worth the Scare

What is scary?

Horror novels ask that question continuously. Are ghosts scary? How about science fiction aliens? Or is psychological crime horror what gives you goose bumps? Horror is a difficult genre to pinpoint. Horror novels, or thriller novels in general are more than B-movie scares and gore. There is a place for that in the genre, but the horror genre encompasses so much more. Each reader has their thing that gives them chills. For myself as a reader, the good ole’ fashioned scares as a child do me in. The proverbial and unescapable boogie man that is waiting to corner me when I least expect it. Or, child demons or pretty much anything with kids. Yech.

I have put together my top ten horror novels that have given me chills and thrills for years on many a reread. I have included both my favorite book and my favorite horror book. The books are all from different types of horror and represent various styles. I noted different types of horror novels with an asterisk. I also tried to limit the Stephen King books to two. He has written many amazing books and I could do an entire list of his work.

“We mourn the blossoms of May because they are to whither; but we know that May is one day to have its revenge upon November, by the revolution of that solemn circle which never stops—which teaches us in our height of hope, ever to be sober, and in our depth of desolation, never to despair.” 

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

*Religious Horror

Originally published in 1971, The Exorcist is now a major television series on FOX. It remains one of the most controversial novels ever written and went on to become a literary phenomenon: It spent fifty-seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, seventeen consecutively at number one. Inspired by a true story of a child’s demonic possession in the 1940s, William Peter Blatty created an iconic novel that focuses on Regan, the eleven-year-old daughter of a movie actress residing in Washington, D.C. A small group of overwhelmed yet determined individuals must rescue Regan from her unspeakable fate, and the drama that ensues is gripping and unfailingly terrifying.

Two years after its publication, The Exorcist was, of course, turned into a wildly popular motion picture, garnering ten Academy Award nominations. On the opening day of the film, lines of the novel’s fans stretched around city blocks. In Chicago, frustrated moviegoers used a battering ram to gain entry through the double side doors of a theater. In Kansas City, police used tear gas to disperse an impatient crowd who tried to force their way into a cinema. The three major television networks carried footage of these events; CBS’s Walter Cronkite devoted almost ten minutes to the story. The Exorcist was, and is, more than just a novel and a film: it is a true landmark.

Purposefully raw and profane, The Exorcist still has the extraordinary ability to disturb readers and cause them to forget that it is “just a story.” Published here in this beautiful fortieth anniversary edition, it remains an unforgettable reading experience and will continue to shock and frighten a new generation of readers. 

 

Pardon my french, “But, Holy shit is this a scary book.”

“When the Fox hears the Rabbit scream he comes a-runnin’, but not to help.”

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

*Psychological Horror

There’s a killer on the loose who knows that beauty is only skin deep, and a trainee investigator who’s trying to save her own hide. The only man that can help is locked in an asylum. But he’s willing to put a brave face on — if it will help him escape.

Hannibal Lecter is terrifying and elegant. I actually cheered for him just a little bit.e

“Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in.”

The Shining by Stephen King

*Ghost Horror

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 story that spawned an entire generation of horror lovers. Not only that, the iconic Kubrik film defined what a horror film could be. It doesn’t have to be gore and splatter.

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John Dies at the End bu David Wong

*Absurd Horror

“Son, the greatest trick the Devil pulled was convincing the world there was only one of him.”

STOP. You should not have touched this flyer with your bare hands. NO, don’t put it down. It’s too late. They’re watching you. My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours. You may not want to know about the things you’ll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrok, about the invasion, and the future. But it’s too late. You touched the book. You’re in the game. You’re under the eye. The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.

The important thing is this: The drug is called Soy Sauce and it gives users a window into another dimension. John and I never had the chance to say no. You still do. I’m sorry to have involved you in this, I really am. But as you read about these terrible events and the very dark epoch the world is about to enter as a result, it is crucial you keep one thing in mind: None of this was my fault.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Psychological Horror

“People fall so in love with their pain, they can’t leave it behind. The same as the stories they tell. We trap ourselves.”

Haunted is a novel made up of stories: twenty-three of the most horrifying, hilarious, mind-blowing, stomach-churning tales you’ll ever encounter.

The stories are told by people who have all answered an ad headlined ‘Artists Retreat: Abandon your life for three months’. They are led to believe that here they will leave behind all the distractions of ‘real life’ that are keeping them from creating the masterpiece that is in them. 

But ‘here’ turns out to be a cavernous and ornate old theater where they are utterly isolated from the outside world – and where heat and power and, most importantly, food are in increasingly short supply. And the more desperate the circumstances become, the more desperate the stories they tell – and the more devious their machinations to make themselves the hero of the inevitable play/movie/non-fiction blockbuster that will certainly be made from their plight. 

The Long Walk by Stephen King

Society Horror

“They’re animals, all right. But why are you so goddam sure that makes us human beings?”

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The Taking by Dean Koontz

Monster Horror

“Maybe there’s nothing impossible tonight. We’re down the hole to Wonderland, and no White Rabbit to guide us.”

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.

World War Z by Max Brooks

*Zombie Horror

“Lies are neither bad nor good. Like a fire they can either keep you warm or burn you to death, depending on how they’re used.” 

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”

Note: Some of the numerical and factual material contained in this edition was previously published under the auspices of the United Nations Postwar Commission.

Watchers by Dean Koontz

*Psychological/Monster Horror

“You’ve taught me that we’re all needed, even those who sometimes think we’re worthless, plain and dull. If we love and allow ourselves to be loved…well, a person who loves is the most precious thing in the world, worth all the fortunes that ever were. That’s what you’ve taught me, fur face,and because of you I’ll never be the same.”

From a top secret government laboratory come two genetically altered life forms. One is a magnificent dog of astonishing intelligence. The other, a hybrid monster of a brutally violent nature. And both are on the loose…Bestselling author Dean Koontz presents his most terrifying, dramatic and moving novel: The explosive story of a man and a woman, caught in a relentless storm of mankind’s darkest creation… 

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“…to all the monsters in my nursery: May you never leave me alone.”

A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.

In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing.

So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city – a city that includes his wife and son – before it is too late.

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Comments

  1. Amanda Cade

    I think you’re in my brain again. I have read and enjoyed every book on this list. I’m not sure all of them would be in my top ten (I’d have to give some serious thought to that), but they are all great books.

    1. Beth Tabler

      World War Z is pretty polarizing I think. So is The Taking. For some reasoon the struck me. I think for World War Z it was the socialology as well as the zombie stuff that I found so well researched and interesting. What people from different cultures would do. The Taking I found very original.

  2. Oracle

    I have read all but one. My personal favorite is “The Taking.” I prefer Koontz to King. My attention span is too short. My mind wanders when reading Mr. King because he is so detailed.

  3. Gayathri Lakshminarayanan

    I love horror and your list. It has three of my favorites and I read a lot of horror books!

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