I'm so scared, you guys! Just compiling this list is scary! What's that noise? Who are you? Why are you holding that candlestick? IF I TELL YOU WHAT ALL THE BEST SCARY BOOKS ARE, WILL YOU LET ME LIVE? Only if I provide a mix of old-time Gothic and new-time eek? Okay. Also, this is not just about me. Let's crowd-source this mother.
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova – This is all you need to know: it's $2.99 for the Kindle, it's 720 pages long (see also "Dracula," by Bram Stoker), basically nothing ever really happens (if you don't like that in small doses, please do not read Gothic fiction, and show yourself out), and you will be transfixed. To be fair, it does that ANNOYING vampire book thing that all vampire books do. You know? "In books, you may have read that vampires eat their lobster like THIS, which is ridiculous, because, in REALITY, vampires eat their lobster essentially the same way in all respects except they also sparkle in direct sunlight." I totally love this book.
The Turn of the Screw, Henry James – I'm not just including this because I feel obliged to, or anything. Shiver! Are you on Team Ghost or Team No Ghost, the Governness is Insane? Edmund Wilson waffled, but is Team No Ghost, the Governness is Insane. I am firmly Team Ghost. As though you could have any doubt. You will like it if you like Henry James? And, I'm sorry, all the earth's children are precious, but if you don't like Henry James ... then you're probably not the jerk who stole MY copy of The Portrait of a Lady. Oh. You know what? That should be on this list, too. Madame Merle! Osmond!!!! Ladieeeees, I can't say this enough: prenups if you've got any money, k? Remember, you already have a prenup, it's just called "The Laws of the State You Live In." If you think you know yourself better than your state lesgislators, write your own damn document. But, also, it'll never come up, because you didn't marry Madame Merle or Osmond. Or a child-molesting ghost from a Henry James novella.
Duma Key, Stephen King – HOLD UP. I know, I know. What about It? What about Pet Sematary? Well, people who like being scared have already read those. Duma Key is an under-appreciated recent King novel which scared the shit out of me. Really! Take it somewhere, but not the beach. Trust.
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson - All the Shirley Jackson. Every single word of Shirley Jackson. All those horrible little short stories. Urban alienation! Fear! Loneliness! Spinsters going quietly insane! But especially this. Always this. OH, IT IS SO SCARY. How I love it. I love you, Shirley Jackson. Have you ever read any actual novels by Ira Levin? He's the guy who wrote "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Stepford Wives," and both of his books are actually grim and serious and about the themes referenced above, and the more successful film adaptations of his work at least echo that. Anyway, he's a gateway Shirley Jackson, who was actually a genius, while he was a very competent stylist.
The Amityville Horror, Jay Anson – True story: when the actual house came on the market a few years back, I tried to convince my husband we should buy it. "You want to live on Long Island?" "I want to throw the greatest parties that town has ever seen! I want to hold a seance! I want to tap on the walls! I want to..." Didn't happen. But now it's BACK on the market, and I kind of hate living in Utah? Unffhfhf, what a Pin Up that would be. Edith would make the disgusting spider eggs! Did you think about them before bed last night? I did. I did. I also never returned the terrible Ryan Reynolds movie to Blockbuster, who eventually just charged me for it. It's 99% abs. If only he'd realized the ghosts exclusively attacked while he was shirtless!
The Book of Revelation, God – What? If it's true, it's EXTREMELY SCARY. I don't even like thinking about it. Maybe if I check under the bed first.
Hell House, Richard Matheson – This one is cheating, for me, because I haven't read it, but people tell me how scary it is on the regular, so let's find out for ourselves, shall we? Who has read it and has opinions? Right off the bat, let me say, it's not the best title. Not very subtle. Might as well call it: "A Demonic Blonde Child Who Stands Over You While You Sleep."
The Wise Woman, Philippa Gregory – THIS FUCKING BOOK, OKAY? Look, you read eighty or ninety fluffy Tudor historical romances by this woman, like a boss, so you think "oh, fun, this one has witches!" Then you read it on a plane. Then the SCARY THING happens. Then you spend the next two and a half hours drinking vodka tonics and wondering if you could ask the stranger sitting next to you to hold your hand and tell you it's going to be okay.
The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein – It's not the creeping menace of socialism that disturbs me, it's the yawning abyss of the Beyond. Do you doubt me? Do you? I thought not. Now, please go and read the one hundred and fifteen one-star reviews on Amazon.
The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne – He is The Best, and this is The Best. Did you know the Pyncheons are actually Thomas Pynchon's ancestors? Did you know New England is terrifying? If you're in Salem, please visit and send us a picture! We don't even know what a gable is, despite having read at least four books which feature them prominently. Is it an old, old wooden ship from the Civil War era?
Bunnicula, Deborah and James Howe – Oh, stop kidding around. You know I'm right. It's practically a Christopher Pike book.
All of Them, Christopher Pike – A malevolent sociopath who feeds on the fear of preteen girls. His thirst was finally slaked as the new century dawned, but he may yet return to prey upon both the living and the dead.