It’s October and Halloween is approaching. We don’t celebrate this holiday here in Austria, but during the last few years, it has become more popular. Kids actually dress up twice a year now (the other occasion being Fasching in February) and I’ve had one Halloween where they rang my bell asking for sweets – as a student, I had lots at home and felt generous, so they got some chocolate. Halloween doesn’t mean anything to me personally, but I always welcome a good excuse to read a particular type of books. And being creeped out by scary books and movies is a pleasure I indulge in way too rarely.
So here are my
top ten favorite creepy, scary, nightmare-inducing books.
10. Sebastian Fitzek – Therapy
German author Sebastian Fitzek writes straight up psychological thrillers. They are pulpy, they have flat characters, but they are such page turners! Every once in a while, I want to sit down with a Fitzek novel and just read it. Most of his books can be read in one sitting – have to, in fact, because they are impossible to put down. Therapy made it on this list because it has the most atmosphere and the most convoluted and scary plot. Also, it’s worth reading just for the twist at the end (there always is one, isn’t there?) and the solution to all the weirdness that is going on in this book.
9. Katherine A. Applegate – Everworld (series)
I don’t know how I would feel about these books now, as a grown-up. But when I first read these 12 books, I was surprised by how creepy they were. Taking place in a parallel universe where all the gods and mythological critters went when humans stopped believing in them, four teenagers are stranded and just try to survive and figure out a way back home. They encounter giant gods, hell hounds, trolls, speaking boar, fairies and all sorts of other folk – almost all of them out to kill them. Book 2 in particular remains in my memory as extremely scary. Action-packed and full of humor, these are a great mix for young adults who want a bit of creepiness in their reading life.
8. Richard Matheson – I Am Legend
I didn’t expect this one to be so scary. There are plenty of creepy creatures in I Am Legend but I don’t get scared by them so much as by things that could actually happen. In this case it was the oppressive loneliness Robert Neville suffers. The thought of being utterly alone in the world – for all we know, at least – really got to me. I was hoping for him to find another human being that is not infected and has turned into a vampire/zombie. At the same time, I knew how hopeless it was. This is a very short book and you can easily read it in one night. I recommended it in my review and I’m recommending it again here.
7. Stephen King – IT
You knew it was going to feature in this list, didn’t you? As I’ve said in my review, it wasn’t necessarily Pennywise or his many manifestations that scared the living daylight out of me. It was the horror that came from humans, without supernatural help. Once scenen in particular stuck to my memory where a child tortures small animals for pleasure. Stephen King’s vivid, dense style makes this even worse. I was horrified and ended up crying. And the worst thing is – this is a horror that is quite possibly really happening in the world.
6. Régis Loisel – Peter Pan
What’s that, you say? A children’s fairy tale on a creepy books list? And didn’t I get the author wrong. No and no. This is the comic book adaptation by French writer and artist Régis Loisel who is a genius in bringing the beloved childhood tale to life in this gritty, very adult version. While Neverland is recognisable in this 6-book series, a lot of things are different. It’s dark, it’s bloody, there is sex and violence and awful things happening. I wouldn’t give this to children to read. But it’s perfect if you want a bit of magic with your horror. Here’s my review.
5. Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere
Any Gaiman would be a great pick for this list. I chose Neverwhere because it features two of the scariest villains I have ever read about. Their cold-hearted approach to reach their own ends was extremely creepy to read. At the same time, it’s so satisfying to have such wonderfully hateable evil guys. Sometimes you just need someone utterly devoid of feelings and mercy. This isn’t my favorite Gaiman by far, but Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar still creep me out.
4. Amélie Nothomb – Cosmétique de l’ennemi
I couldn’t find an English translation of this but a book that contains barely 100 pages and manages to make me want to sleep with the lights on is surely worth mentioning here. A man is stuck on the airport, waiting for a delayed flight, when a stranger comes up and starts talking to him. The stranger will not be shaken off and soon, he tells the protagonist things that will give you nightmares. And the ending offers one of the coolest plot twists I remember. Nicely written and, again, you can read this in one sitting. If you’re new to Belgian author Nothomb, I recommend her older books. They are all bite-sized and have a specific strangeness about them that will either turn you into an instant fan or make you hate her.
3. Chuck Palahniuk – Haunted
In this fix-up novel, there are many scary stories interwoven to fit into one bigger story. Some of them are more disgusting than creepy, others are even funny. But they all have one thing in common, that special kind of weird that Chuck brings to his writing, that shows us a side of humanity we’d really rather not know about. If you like your frightening novels more disturbingly shocking than monster-scare-moment shocking, this is the book for you. Also, if you’ve never read Chuck Palahniuk, do so now! Choke and Fight Club are good starter novels but if you want to go in all the way right now, pick up Haunted. Whether you love it or hate it (I don’t think there’s an in between) you’ll never forget it.
2. George Orwell – 1984
Yup, this one fits right into this list. I said it already in my review, if you haven’t read this book, no matter who you are or where you live or what you believe in, if your teachers haven’t already forced it on you, read it. There is a reason Orwell’s classic is on every Best Books list, every school at least talks about it (if it’s not required reading), and I was surprised myself at how readable it is. The scary factor here is not monsters or a plot reminiscent of thrillers. It is simply the world the story is set in. Reading about it is scary enough but if you think about it and look at where we are now in our own world, it becomes all the scarier – because we’re really not that different from Orwell’s chilling vision of the future.
1. Bret Easton Ellis – American Psycho
By now, you should have figured out the pattern. This book is entirely monster-free, unless you count Patrick Bateman, and he would definitely qualify. A serial killer, yuppy New York stock broker who spends his entire life judging other people’s clothing, hair, and body, banging girls, prostitutes, his girlfriends, and going on the occasional killing spree. This is by far the most disturbing novel I have ever read. Nothing comes close to it and the movie adaptation is cotton candy compared to its literary counterpart. You need a good stomach for this book and you need to plough through a lot of pages of descriptions of clothing and accesories, with labels and brands and the price attached. But it’s worth it. Seriously, what comes out of Ellis’ mind is scary shit!
Also, if you’re interested in winning a bundle of YA Halloween reads, head over to Underwords and enter for a chance to win. There’s also a link to Neil Gaiman’s wonderful explanation of the All Hallow’s Read.