It’s been a long time since I did a top 6 list, and with Halloween just around the corner, what better topic than spooky books? This list is organized slightly different from my others. While they are usually ordered sixth favorite to most favorite, this one is organized by spookiness (in my completely subjective opinion, of course). Also, there’s a lot of Stephen King on here. He’s my favorite modern author, and his books are scary. Sorry not sorry.
6. The Shining by Stephen King
We’ll start off this list with a classic. If you don’t know The Shining, it’s about a family who are the caretakers for a summer hotel during the winter. They’re alone, snowed in, and, of course, the hotel is haunted. Honestly, it’s pretty scary even if you leave the haunting out of it. But the most frightening part isn’t the ghosts; it’s the psychological breakdown of our main character, Jack Torrance, and the suffering it inflicts on his wife and son. I read this in the middle of summer, which is probably why it’s lower on the list. If I’d read it in winter with a snowstorm going outside, I would have been terrified. As it is, I still get creeped out when walking alone through hotel hallways.
5. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
What’s creepier than a portrait whose eyes seem to follow you? A house full of painted wooden figures, one of which looks like you, who constantly pop out of nowhere! No thank you! (But also yes please because I love a good scary book.) This Gothic story brings us to two eras in the same house: the 1800s, where we follow Elsie, who has just moved to her late husband’s estate, and the 1600s, where we follow Anne and learn the origin of all the creepy things happening at The Bridge. The Silent Companions was one of my favorite books of 2019.
4. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Mary Katherine and Constance Blackwood are the only two members of their family unaffected by arsenic somehow ending up in the sugar bowl. Their Uncle Julian was left disabled. Everyone else is dead. We Have Always Lived in the Castle isn’t so much scary as it is unsettling. It’s also the only one on this list with absolutely no paranormal elements. Because who needs ghosts when you have creepy Merricat narrating the book? There’s also a little rhyme the village children sing when Merricat walks by: “Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea? Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me. Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep? Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!” Having that run through your head in the voices of little kids at 2 in the morning is enough to terrify anyone.
3. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
We need to set the scene for this one: I was twenty-one years old, living by myself for the first time in a foreign country, and it was just raining constantly. Great time for a Gothic novel! So I picked up The Little Stranger, set at a Downton Abbey-esque estate in the post-WWII era. Dr. Faraday, whose mother used to work at Hundreds Hall as a maid, befriends the family and witnesses firsthand both the decaying splendor of the house and the eerie occurrences. Sarah Waters is a master of atmosphere, and I was thoroughly spooked to the point of not going to bed because I didn’t want to turn off the light.
2. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
And we’re back to the King of Horror for these last two. I read ‘Salem’s Lot when I was twelve, and it is the only book to date that has given me nightmares. The concept is simple: vampires begin infesting a town. It starts slow, with just a few people being bitten, but by the end the whole town is turned except a handful of characters. There are several scenes that have stuck with me over the years, and I will never forget the nightmare it caused. Though it’s one of King’s earliest works, I would say it’s one of his best. And it held up when I read it as an adult!
1. Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Even King himself is scared by this one. Pet Sematary introduces us to the Creeds, who have just moved to rural Maine. Behind their house is a forest with a ‘Pet Sematary’ where children bury their deceased animals. In front of their house is a highway with trucks constantly speeding by. When their family cat, Church, is hit and killed, a neighbor brings Louis Creed to the ancient burial ground behind the Pet Sematary. Burying Church there brings him back to life, but he’s not quite the same as he was. Then their toddler son wanders onto the highway and gets hit… The final page of this book is so incredibly chilling. I just…there aren’t words. It’s a fantastic book, but I’m not sure I would ever be able to read it again, that’s how scary it is.
What are your spookiest books? Do we share any?