Normally I take the month of October to read something that genuinely scares me, but given the tiny life I'm responsible for these days I didn't even think about it until today. So, instead, and in that same spirit, I'll tell you about some of my all-time favorite scary stories, in no particular order.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Vampires? Check. Blood and gore? Check. Thinly veiled exploration/critique of Victorian sexuality? Double check. Stoker didn't invent the vampire by any means, but he injected them into pop culture, and for that I can never thank him enough. Dracula is a great and genuinely scary read.
Carrie by Stephen King
King's first novel, and one that has endured the test of time. I know I gush a lot about Stephen King, so I won't do that here, other than to say that Carrie is awesome. It's a short read, perfect for a weekend (and, incidentally, the second novel told in epistolary form on my list after Dracula). Oh, and if your kids are bullying others at school, drop Carrie on their lap. It just might change their tune. (Or just have a serious talk about how bullying is terrible, but that's a whole other thing.)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman has written some phenomenal stuff, but my list needed something a bit more light-hearted and The Graveyard Book seemed a perfect fit. (Although for a light-hearted entry, this one still made me feel ALL the feels.) Plus its a retelling of The Jungle Book in a graveyard, so that's pretty cool.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Stoker may have stoked (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) the vampire genre, but Lindqvist helped...lind..qvist...okay that bit won't work (NOTHING, I DID NOTHING THERE), let me start over. In the midst of Twilight-fever, Let the Right One In was both a harkening back to the terrifying nature of vampires and a fascinating twist on the genre. And, while this is a horror list so at least some scary content should be expected, some really messed up stuff happens in this book, so it comes with an extra warning. And it's really really good.
Inferno (Part I of La divina commedia) by Dante Alighieri
Yearning for some classic horror? Look no further than Inferno--definitely not talking about the Dan Brown book, by the way. I'm talking about the epic poem with demons and devils (and if you thought the movie Se7en owned the punishment-fits-the-crime trope, you've got another thing coming) that has influenced how we view hell for the last 700 years. 'Nuff said, right? (Note: I recommend the Mandelbaum translation I've linked above if you're looking for an entertaining read that still maintains the spirit of Dante's brilliant poetic structure.)
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
I read this one just last Halloween, and I can say hands down it's the most terrifying book I've ever read. Like, genuinely messed-with-my-head-and-gave-me-nightmares scary. I'll include a passage from the introduction at the bottom of this post just for good measure*, but trust me. If you really want your skin to crawl and to look-over-your-shoulder-terrified-of-what-you-might-see as you read, check out House of Leaves. Extra content warning for this one, too, by the way.
The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
I've said all I have to say about The Reapers are the Angels in a blog post from last year. It's a zombie novel, it's beautiful, and it's one of my all-time favorite books.
Check out any of these books this (or any subsequent) Halloween--you won't be disappointed. I love scary movies as much as the next guy, but there's something about reading a scary story that gets under my skin in ways the film medium can't do. I highly recommend it. Happy reading!
Oh, and for good measure, some honorable mentions:
Looking for more of a classic approach? Try the works of Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft.
Looking for a more modern take on zombies? Try Feed by Mira Grant.
More ghosts and demons? Try The Keeper by Sarah Langan.
Want to experience a YA horror/thriller novel? Residue by Steve Diamond.
Horror in comic/graphic novel form? Try From Hell by Alan Moore or The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman (which is actually quite different story-wise from the television series, and equally well-written).
*From House of Leaves xxii-xxiii:
Yeah...read that on a dark night around Halloween and try not totally having a freak-out.This much I'm certain of: it doesn't happen immediately. You'll finish and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You'll be sick of feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It won't matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you'll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You'll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you'll realize it's always been shifting, like a glimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won't understand why or how. You'll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place.Old shelters--television, magazines, movies--won't protect you anymore. You might try scribbling in a journal, on a napkin, maybe even in the margins of this book. That's when you'll discover you no longer trust the very walls you always took for granted. Even the hallways you've walked a hundred times will feel longer, much longer, and the shadows, any shadow at all, will suddenly seem deeper, much, much, deeper.You might try then, as I did, to find a sky so full of stars it will blind you again. Only no sky can blind you now. Even with all that iridescent magic up there, your eye will no longer linger on the light, it will no longer trace constellations. You'll care only about the darkness and you'll watch it for hours, for days, maybe even for years, trying in vain to believe you're some kind of indispensable, universe-appointed sentinel, as if just by looking you could actually keep it all at bay. It will get so bad you'll be afraid to look away, you'll be afraid to sleep.Then no matter where you are, in a crowded restaurant or on some desolate street or even in the comforts of your own home, you'll watch yourself dismantle every assurance you ever lived by. You'll stand aside as a great complexity intrudes, tearing apart, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or unconscious. and then for better or worse you'll turn, unable to resist, though try to resist you still will, fighting with everything you've got not to face the thing you most dread, what is now, what will be, what has always come before, the creature you truly are, the creature we all are, buried in the nameless black of a name.And then the nightmares will begin.