We’re not just about prize-winners and underappreciated books here at The Literary Man. And since Halloween’s only a few days away, we present you with The Scary Book List. We specifically chose the term ‘scary’ and not ‘horror’, or ‘thriller’, or even ‘paranormal’ because like most good lists, ours is inclusive and written to point our readers in the right direction rather than the last word in this or any subject. Discerning readers will point out glaring omissions, of course. Where are ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’, you ask? Safe and sound in their ancient, seminal places, where they belong. We like Shelley and Stoker as much as you do (possibly more), but we’re not sure if they still have the power to scare us. The countless film adaptations and re-imaginings have rendered those classics impotent in our amygdalas. And after all, the primary task of a scary novel is to scare. So herewith, The Literary Man’s Top Ten Scariest Books of All Time:
10) The Stand – Stephen King
Cold and flu season is the perfect time to read this post-apocalyptic scenario. Someone close to you comes down with the sniffles one day and dies in three. Before you know it, almost everyone you know is dead and you’re wandering around the Midwest barefoot and armed, looking for the Messiah. Scary books don’t get more eschatological than this.
9) Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin
Ordinary (well, extraordinarily beautiful) woman gives birth to the son of Satan. Do we need to explain this more? Besides giving rise to ‘The Mia’ haircut, the story was also responsible for several family planning surgeries in the 70’s (no, not really. But we like to think that it could be true).
8) The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
Word perfect. Go ahead. We dare you to read the entire novel and present us with a single cliché or tired trope. It’s one of the best-written novels (horror or otherwise) out there, and terrifying to boot. David Foster Wallace assigned it to his students. Not to get all acolyte on you guys, but if it’s good enough for DFW, it’s good enough for us.
7) I am Legend – Richard Matheson
Ok, so you’ve all seen Will Smith drive around an eerily empty Manhattan and marveled at the awesomeness of it all, but have you read the book? Do you understand the terrifying agony of loneliness that can only come from living as a human in a world occupied by vampire-like creatures? No? Then you should read ‘I am Legend’.
6) Red Dragon – Thomas Harris
Again, written with perfection. Thomas’s two Hannibal novels showcase the writer’s talent for keeping his readers on edge without sacrificing good writing. This prequel to ‘Silence of the Lambs’ presents Will Graham, FBI profiler extraordinaire who leads us into a haunting psychological hunt for ‘The Tooth Fairy’. Fans of the movie rejoice. The book is different enough in places to warrant a read even if you don’t particularly care for wonderful words.
5) The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
Almost a prize winner. ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ was a national book award finalist in 1959. What’s amazing about the novel is that it not only features unhinged characters, it actually renders the reader a bit off her hinge as well. By the time you finish it, you’re left wondering if you hallucinated it all. We won’t lie to you. It’s quite possible that you did.
4) House of Leaves – Mark Danielewski
Danielewski once said in an interview that a woman came up to him in a bookstore and said, ‘you know, everyone told me it was a horror book, but when I finished it, I realized it was a love story’. It’s true that ‘House of Leaves’ could certainly be a love story. But for the most part, it scares the living bejeezus out of us. We’re not sure if it’s the excessive use of footnotes or the mirror writing, but constantly having to adjust your perception of what the book is, and what’s going on in it, have the effect of fucking with our minds rather beautifully.
3) Ghost Story – Peter Straub
We’re happy to champion this best seller. Where to begin? At the motel where a grown man is debating whether or not to kill a little girl he has just kidnapped? With the formation of the sinister Chowder society? Or the sexy Eva who makes advances towards men and then abandons them? No matter where we start, the story stays the same and recurs in terrifying ways. Great title, too.
2) The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty
Here’s another book that’s hard to pick up if you’ve seen the movie and its ten thousand sequels. But bear with us. Despite our love of literature, we don’t always believe the book is better than the movie, but here’s one that really, truly is. Somehow, Satan dwelling inside the body of a thirteen year old girl is much, much more real when you read lines like, “Friday she made us geflite fish, right? Only all week long, the whole week, no one gets to take a bath on account of my mother has the carp in the bathtub, it’s swimming back and forth, back and forth, the whole week, because my mother said this cleaned out the poison in the system! You’re prepared?” There’s nothing like absurd humor to relieve and escalate tension simultaneously.
1) The Shining – Stephen King
Naturally, we begin and end with the King. But this one’s so good we’re forced to resort to clichés: “It’s a masterpiece.“ “Gripping from cover to cover.” “Read it once and you’ll remember it forever.” If the vision of dead twin girls and stoically evil bartenders don’t haunt you for the rest of your days, the thought of a topiary coming alive certainly will. You will drop everything to finish this book, if you haven’t already. We did. That’s why it took us so long to finish this list.