October ends with Halloween, favorite dress-up holiday for the young and not-so-young, season of scary movies and frights big and small. Yes, yes, for you purists, Halloween has its roots in the Celtic observance of Samhain, marking the halfway point between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, a liminal time when the unquiet souls of the dead must be appeased. A person could go on and on in this vein. But we’re here today to talk about scary books. At the library, we get asked for them a lot. All year long, but especially right around now.
Are you ready for a scary, scary read? Here’s help.
You could start chronologically. There’s agreement among scholars that Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto was the first gothic novel, precursor to horror, with its exploration of fear and the supernatural.
As gothic morphed into horror, the 19th century brought a cataclysm of scary novels, with such great reads as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, which influenced Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart (or any of his stories), and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.
The 20th century brought even more fright for the reader. H.P. Lovecraft’s eerily terrifying Cthulhu stories first appeared in Weird Tales magazine as “The Call of Cthulhu” in 1928. Ghosts? Try The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. The madly prolific Stephen King could keep you reading forever all by himself. How about his Salem’s Lot? And if you’re afraid of flying, stay away from King’s novella, The Langoliers. Or read John Windham’s The Midwich Cuckoos. Or Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. How about Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter novels to scare you? Other authors to try are Clive Barker, Anne Rice, and Dean Koontz; all have published enough to keep you very, very busy.
Our own century, only eighteen years on, is keeping the pace. Read Colson Whitehead’s Zone One for the zombie-pursuing Mark Spitz, David Mitchell’s Slade House, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In (also translated as Let Me In), Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, David Wong’s John Dies @ the End, or Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls.
Many of the books listed above can be read as ebooks or listened to in audiobook format. Need more? Just plug the word “horror” into the library’s Encore catalog for ideas. Or use our Reader’s Advisory databases Books and Authors and Novelist Plus to customize your fright.
Looking for your next great read? Try our service for readers, Book Me! Fill out an online form and a librarian will send you a personalized list of reading suggestions.