What is the Scariest Book You’ve Ever Read?
For some, Halloween is an excuse to get dressed up and party, and for others it’s as good a reason as any to spend the day indulging in sweet treats. But the holiday is also an excellent time to scare yourself silly with a spooky read, especially if Hurricane Sandy forced you to cancel your Halloween plans.We asked a variety of authors, agents, and other book industry professionals for the scariest books they’ve ever read. Here are their top picks:
“Absolutely without a doubt it’s Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. I heard it read aloud in a high school speech contest and it disturbed me so greatly that once I had graduated and moved up to judge the contests rather than compete, I told entrants that this one story was an automatic disqualification. I simply could not listen to it ever again. In fact, I may have heard it just that one time. Perhaps I read it once in print, but I’m not sure. Yet it’s as clear
to me now, this (mumble mumble) number of years later, that it is the first thing that came to mind when asked this question. And if we exclude royalty statements, it doesn’t even have a close competitor.”
“The scariest novel I’ve ever read was Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King. What made it quite frightening is the fact that everything in the novel is well
within the realm of reality—it could actually happen. Gerald and his wife Jessie are on vacation in their cabin deep in the Maine woods. Gerald convinces Jessie to let him handcuff her to their bed and she reluctantly concedes. Once she’s handcuffed, Jessie changes her mind and tells Gerald to stop his fetishistic game-playing. But Gerald ignores her, and keeps going. Filled with rage over Gerald’s antics, Jessie struggles and manages to kick Gerald in his chest. He falls from the end of the bed, suffers a heart attack, and ends up dead. Jessie struggles, trying to free herself from the bondage, and spends a horrific night re-living various events from her past. The next day, parched and exhausted, she lies there and hears the wind blow the cabin door open. A stray dog enters, approaches the bed, sniffs around, and eventually begins devouring Gerald. Will Jessie be next? Will she ever free herself from this bondage? Will she die of dehydration in this desolate backwoods cabin? And what does she hear (and see) in the night? What thoughts go through her head as she lies helpless, exposed, manacled, and waiting? This novel is expertly crafted by the master of horror. And it’s especially horrifying because there’s nothing supernatural. After all, the scariest things are those that can really occur.”
“The scariest book I’ve ever read is Intensity by Dean Koontz, about a girl and a serial killer—a gripping and terrifying tale of survival that I found
impossible to put down. I actually don’t remember all that much about the plot, since I read it probably 20 years ago, but was the first book I thought of when asked this question so it definitely left a lasting impression. Now I want to read it again!”
“The scariest book I’ve ever read is The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. I was a teenager, home alone, and started reading around 7pm. I couldn’t put it down. By midnight I was totally freaked out. Kept hearing sounds, turned on all the lights. But couldn’t stop reading until the end. I re-read a lot of books, but I’ve never re-read this one.”
“The scariest book I ever read was Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. I am a very empathetic reader and get lost in the world of the books I read—especially when they are good. For instance, I could swear my bed was rocking when I was reading Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm before going to sleep. So as
a young man who grew up in an Irish neighborhood in Queens, NY, who was also drinking epically at the time, reading about the spiral of misery in
McCourt’s family was just hitting way too close to home. I felt like with each drink I was killing my unborn children and sentencing myself to a life of suffering and destitution. I could actually see myself in that scene in the pub with the pints resting on the dead baby’s coffin. I never finished the book, but I did soon cut down on my drinking. And I never want to go back to that dark place again.”
“When I was about twelve, I sneak-read my brother’s copy of Salem’s Lot. For weeks, every bat or tree branch that tip-tapped or scraped against my
window was Danny Glick. In another scene, a boy named Mark is tied up in a closet at the Marsden house, knowing he will die at sunset. He’s trying to channel Houdini and slip his bonds while the light sinks lower and lower. Fight or flight kicked in; I literally got out of bed and ran in tiny circles while reading it. I was too scared to be still. I think it will be hard to find a person from my generation who doesn’t list a Stephen King book, but what can we do? He does it best.”
“My scariest book: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells. It’s a classic that some people might not think of, but I think it’s creepy, compelling, and not at all what I expected when I picked it up. The scenes with the Speaker of the Law? Pretty much unlike anything else in print. And if that doesn’t convince you: if you think you know the story because of the various movie versions, keep in mind that those only cover the first two thirds of the book, and that in the book, Prendick is stuck on the island for almost a year after that, having to survive through the chaos and devolution of Moreau’s creatures. Now, you want me to turn that light off while you’re trying to fall asleep?”
“I have never been scared by a book like I was scared by Michel Faber’s Under the Skin which features pathetic earthlings who are picked up by grotesque creatures and used as culinary delicacies. Scottish hitchhikers, beefy ones especially, are drugged, castrated and blinded, before being prepared as a
meal for aliens about whom we know very little. I might read it again and I might not. I was scared when I read it and I’m scared just talking about it now. Faber (author of The Crimson Petal and the White) is truly an extraordinary writer. If he wants to scare you, he will scare you.”
“Night Shift, the story collection by Stephen King, contains what remains for me the single most terrifying story of all time: “Children of the Corn.” I have a pretty high tolerance for both terror and gore, but come on – bloodthirsty *children* with *sharp farm implements*? I never looked at a field of corn the same way again.”
Do you agree with the above picks? What is the scariest book you’ve ever read? Tell us in the comments!
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