In Cold Blood
Truman Capote spent six years writing In Cold Blood, one of the earliest “true crime” stories, after reading about the gruesome murders of a Kansas farmer and his entire family in the New York Times. The fact that it’s rooted in truth is what makes it so scary; as one RIFer puts it: “It’s chilling to know that something like that actually happened.”
House of Leaves
Mark Z. Danielewski
In this story within a story within a story, a family returns home from a trip to find a closet where there was none before. The house continues to grow upon itself, creating an endless series of hallways and rooms and a low, never-explained growl plays soundtrack to the whole thing. The phenomenon drives the family living inside insane, as it does the reader of the tale. And it will likely do the same to you.
The Haunting of Hill House
Highly regarded as one of the best literary ghost stories of the 20th century, The Haunting of Hill House tells of four characters that stay at the ominous mansion to explore the paranormal phenomena going on inside. The house’s spirits eventually possess one of its visitors, a quiet, reserved woman named Eleanor. Warning: this gripping gothic novel will have you convinced that every creak of your stairs is a poltergeist coming to haunt you.
Imagine a post-apocalyptic world, a bleak and burned landscape. Ok good. Now imagine you’re alone in this desolate landscape with only your father, very little food and a pistol to protect you from cannibals. Now imagine losing everything you have. One RIFer says of the novel, “Its descriptions of the world post-apocalypse take one’s imagination to a very dark place. And the feeling of loss that permeates the end of the book leave the reader feeling utterly fearful about the end times.”
Scary books have immense power over their readers. They build in that slow, suspenseful way that has you sitting on the edge of your chair, furiously flipping pages to see what happens next. They produce physical sensations in the body, like impending dread in the pit of your stomach, or the hair on the back of your neck standing on end. They take your imagination along for the ride, as you can’t help but picture every gruesome detail as you read. They can make us permanently frightened of their subject matter—be it bloodthirsty dogs (Cujo, anyone?), Ebola (The Hot Zone), or even, yes, clowns. But, as readers, we love the sensation of being scared—it is adrenaline-inducing and addictive. If you’re in the mood for a fright, here are some of the scariest books ever written. And if they get to be a little too much, just do what I do: throw it in the freezer.
Featured Image by Zacarias Pereira da Mata/Shutterstock