The temperature is dropping, the days are darkening, and the calls are coming from inside the house! For thrills and chills are an important part of the essential autumnal experience, you know. And if you’re looking to give yourself a fright, there’s nothing like snuggling up with some extraordinary horror…except maybe waking up in the middle of the night convinced that there’s a monster under the bed. Sound like fun? Then feast your literary eyeballs on one of these spooky stories, which you’ll want to read with the lights on, the doors locked, and a clean pair of underoos at the ready. BOO!
The Shining, by Stephen King
Let’s just be honest, we could populate this entire list with nothing but books by the prolific man from Maine—but if we’ve gotta pick one, then the Overlook Hotel and its carnivorous topiary get top billing, hands down.
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
Nothing much happens in The Haunting of Hill House, and holy geez, it’s terrifying. This story of strangers investigating a haunted house contains no gore, and no ghosts are in evidence, yet it manages to utterly unsettle the reader even while never making it fully clear what we’re being unsettled by.
Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin
A posh NYC apartment building becomes the spawning ground for a baby demon in this terrifying classic horror novel. Malevolent paternalism plus midcentury Devil worship equals the scariest book about pregnancy ever written (unless you count the ones full of recipes for cooking and eating your own placenta, eeeeeeuuuuwwww).
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
The summer’s most surprisingly scary novel is the embodiment of a most frightening truth: that monsters are real, that they look just like us, and that when you see one for who she really is, nobody will believe you. Fortunately, its folksy fantasy trappings let us tell ourselves that it’s okay, it’s only a storybook.
The Terror, by Dan Simmons
The titular Terror is a real ship, one half of the doomed Arctic expedition led by Captain Sir John Franklin in 1845, a fruitless search for the Northwest passage that resulted in the death of every man onboard. The Terror is Simmons’ fictionalized—or so we hope, although who can say, really?—account of said expedition’s horrific denouement, as the ships become locked in impenetrable ice and their hapless seamen die off one by one from cold, hunger, disease, gangrene, scurvy, and the general malaise of a hundred dudes confined in crazy-making close quarters before the invention of deodorant. Oh, also, there’s the added problem of a giant abominable snowman grabbing guys off the ship and ripping them to pieces.
Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
What is Haunted about? We have no idea. Why? Because it’s so gross, ghastly, and viscerally horrifying that this writer fainted in the middle of Chapter 1. Enjoy.
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
The nameless protagonist of du Maurier’s famous gothic novel stumbles into every woman’s worst nightmare: not only is her new husband still completely obsessed with his titular ex, and not only was she gorgeous and elegant with outrageously fancy nightgowns, but Rebecca’s best friend and biggest fan is constantly creeping up behind our heroine, like a deranged Gretchen Wieners, whispering, “She was prettier and he still loves her!” OOF. This is a scary, scary story indeed.
What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?