Halloween is coming… time for scary books!

In 2010, we asked Shelf Renewal readers to share their favorite scary books.  The responses are below, but I thought it might be time to ask again and get some new suggestions!  Leave a comment and let us know what books have scared the bejeebus out of you.  We’ll post them on Halloween.


From October, 2010:

David says, “By Reason of Insanity, by Shane Stevens.  A novel about a serial killer that is as disturbing as novels about serial killers ought to be, but seldom are.” (hm, I love me some serial killer books, have to check out this one!)

Becky narrowed it down to “probably The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. It feels so real, like it could actually happen, and even though I do not believe in possession, I can’t shake the feeling that it could be true. That is terrifying. A close second would be Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. This one is scary because of the sense of dread that permeates the book from the start. The tension never lifts and you are in a permanent state of fear and anxiety while reading it, and even long after you finish.”

Kaite says, “Gotta be Suffer the Children by John Saul.  Sick. Twisted. Maniacally homicidal kids. Sand pits of doom & terror. Gross. Fascinating.”

An says, “The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Scary, desperate, lonely, hopeless.”  (Personally,since I have a thing for post-apocalyptic fiction, I’ve been wanting to read The Road.  However,  I was freaked out just by reading the Wikipedia entry for it, so  I’m pretty sure it’s too much for me.)

Patty tells us, “Anything by Dean Koontz usually freaks me out!”

Stephen King got the most votes—

From Jessica:  “When I was in high school I tried reading  The Tommyknockers. I couldn’t sleep with it in the same room with me and haven’t finished it to this day”.

Kim writes, “Oh god…The Stand. Yeah, Stephen King scares the hell outta me.”  Shalisa agrees.

Another nod to Stephen King from Carol, “Pet Sematary…it downright gave me the creeps. Now that may be different than spooky but it is the book that still gives me shivers and is the one that comes to mind when asked this question. It bothered me so that I wouldn’t read King for awhile. I’ve always been far more spooked by stories that about the evil than men do vs. evils I can’t conceive like machines gone mad.”  Heather and Sally agree.  So does Magan, who also adds that it “scared the bejeezus out of me.  Close runner up is Misery.”

Jeanne says, “It. So, so creepy.”

Megan writes, “The book that personally scared me the most is The Shining. Few books have matched it since for the almost unbearable building dread it inspires. Reading it as a teen I remember alternately racing through it and having to put it down because I was seriously freaked out.”

Ken says, “Salem’s Lot, because something scratching at your window at midnight just might be a vampire and not a stray tree branch; Night Shift, mainly thanks to the story The Boogeyman, and Orwell’s 1984, thanks to the rat scene.” (ooooooeeeee, The Boogeyman STILL creeps me out just recalling it.  Very, very creepy story indeed. Gah.)

Apparently, vampires keep us up at night!

Aaron writes: “Dracula. Because it’s written in the form of collected documents, the author vanishes and it takes on a startling immediacy. I was an atheist when I read it but I went and got my father’s old Bible and kept it on my night stand when I slept, just in case.  Or The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakefield, particularly the short story Blind Man’s Bluff”.”

Madeline says : “The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I read this before the vampire craze. Granted, I am not the bravest reader ( I am actually pretty wimpy) but even though I was terrified throughout this book I couldn’t put it down. I have recommended this book to many friends and they all have found it quite scary too. Vampires are always scary.”

Emily’s pick is I am Legend.  “Not because of the vampires, but the thought of maybe being the only human left. Very dark book for me.”

Vicki prefers ghosts over vampires, she offers up “The Haunting of Hill House or Turn of the Screw” as her scariest picks.

From Sean: “I like the books that make you feel mentally stained, and disturbed. Off top of my head Haunted by Palahniuk, Minions of the Moon by Bowes, and Damnation Game by Barker.”

William really got freaked out: “Without question Ramsey Campbell’s The Hungry Moon. It frightened me so much I couldn’t finish it, and I haven’t read any horror since.”

Sally and Heather both vote for  The Amityville Horror.

Barb says, “Something Wicked This Way Comes. I read it as a preteen under the covers with a flashlight, and was almost as scared when I reread it as an adult. Bradbury’s prose captures the fascination and fear of impending adulthood. When I was 12 the Dust Witch who marked the houses with phosphorescence, and the woman in the ice block terrified me. I used to read it aloud every year in October to my freshmen. Maybe it’s time to take it up again…”  (This has been on my to-read list forever, I need to get to it!)

B. claims “The scariest book I ever read was John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing.  After reading it I felt smudged by the fear it invoked. It was VERY dark and VERY scary.”  (“smudged”.  Love it!)

Thom initially picked his calculus textbook, haha, but then decided on “Many of the short stories within the Cthulhu Mythos. Although the H.P. Lovecraft stories kicked off this sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre, it is the later authors who have taken this shared fictional horror-verse t to the next level.”

The Effing Librarian says, “Not a novel, but I always say, Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories That Scared Even Me.  That story with the two guys stranded in a room on a capsized ship: Aaaahhh! And “It” by Theodore Sturgeon!!  Some scary stuff.”  (I can’t get enough scary short stories!  I have all the Hitchcock collections and will now pull that one out to re-read these 2 stories…)

Tess tells us, “Usher’s Passing by Robert McCammon is the most terrifying book I have ever read. It is one of those books that you are afraid to turn the next page—but you just can’t help yourself.The book scared me so much I couldn’t stand to see its cover image, so I had to slip it between my other books. One day I may work up the courage to read it again.”  (I’ve never heard of this one, but after reading her description, I really want to!)

Bobbie chose “Dance of the Dwarfs, Geoffrey Household.Very dull until halfway thru, then you won’t be able to step outside after dark.”

Jennifer says, “Know how a scary book stays with you and even though you may not remember the entire plot–exactly, but you remember the shivery parts? That is what Lupe by Gene Thompson did to me and I read it a good 20 years ago. The uneasiness begins when two friends visit a Hispanic fortune teller boy called Lupe. He is not who he seems and you can’t seem to get rid of him by any earthly means. Yup, scary. As for non-fiction, it is The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. It involves a viral outbreak (and we’re not talking spam) that really, really happened just outside of Washington, D.C. How easily they multiply and go on their merry way, leaving death tracks in their wake.”

Meredith enjoyed “20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill—especially the story Best New Horror“.

And Angie and Lars made me LOL by choosing… “Going Rogue” and “Bridges of Madison County. Hands down.“, respectively.

Karen’s is Due Preparations for the Plague, saying,”Not paranormal spooky, more what human beings are capable of spooky.”

My pick?  The master storyteller gets me every time—it’s Salem’s Lot all the way.  Let’s even get past the vampires for a moment – this book is an allegory of society and  a fine one at that. Everyone has a dark side, a secret,  and here’s the catch – honing in on that dark side is how the vampires get you.  Suburbia is filled with adulterers, child abusers, cheaters, and not very nice people after all.  Scary enough indeed!  But back to the vampires—as Ken said, these particular vamps come in by tapping at your windows.  Well,  I read this book over the course of a very warm summer week, when my husband was out of town.  Picture me running across the entire house at 2 am, slamming every window shut despite the heat, then literally leaping back into bed because I was so scared!

OK, now that you’ve read the list, tell us your picks!



About the Author:

Rebecca Vnuk is the editor for Collection Management and Library Outreach at Booklist. She is also the author of 3 reader’s-advisory nonfiction books: Read On…Women’s Fiction (2009), Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (2014), and Women’s Fiction Authors: A Research Guide (2009). Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_RVnuk.

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