Here at I Love Halloween, we love a good scary story. As our season is coming up, it's time to get buried under the covers (or crank on the AC, because this damned summer will never end), make yourself something cinnamon flavored to drink, and enjoy a good scary book.
Recently Paste Magazine did their "50 Best Horror Books OF ALL TIME" list. I want to pick ten that I've personally read and bounce off that. Everyone likes finding a new book to read, right? Well here are some of my picks.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (2015)
We read this one for my book club about a year or so back. I'm generally not a big fan of exorcism horror - not Catholic enough, I suppose - but I really enjoyed this book. The author is very good at keeping the true nature of what's going on a mystery while never making it feel like the reader is being conned out of getting real answers. The family dynamic is very strong, especially between the two sisters, and it has some unsettling things to say about both reality TV and religious fanaticism.
The Damnation Game by Clive Barker (1985)
Though Cliver Barker is mostly known for richly textured (and very long) dark fantastique novels, he made his bones by writing artfully gruesome and sexually transgressive stories like The Hellbound Heart, The Books of Blood, and The Damnation Game. There's a lot about this book that feels very similar to Neil Gaiman's American Gods, but this one is more about a damned but still pitiable monster known as The Last European, an ex-convict who becomes a bodyguard, and a whole lot of very gross death scenes. I revisit this book from time to time and it's still a treasured read.
World War Z by Max Brooks (2006)
World War Z is a comfort book for me. Written like a Ken Burns documentary about the fictitious zombie war, it's divided into a series of "interviews" with survivors, military officers, city planners, and politicians all around the world. The book is brilliantly researched and the effort that writer Max Brooks puts into figuring out EXACTLY how humanity would react to a zombie outbreak makes every page of this book a treasure. It's so good that I've long opined that writing anything set in the George Romero-themed zombie universe is kind of a waste of time. I keep a copy on my phone for boring subway rides and I have the audiobook ready for car trips. It's a well acted book that works really well as an oral history. Go read it.
Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)
So much of the modern interpretation of vampires comes directly from this book and I love it dearly with all of my dark gothic heart. Personally I think it works best read as a trilogy with Queen of the Damned, but Anne Rice captures a story of the romance and decadence of immortality, as well as the horror of living a life based around murder. When I was a younger and much nicer kid, I genuinely sympathized with Louis's struggle to remain decent even as his vampire nature forced him down a darker path, while the older me appreciates Lestat's monstrous joy in his vampire condition. This is another book I come back to often, and the filmed version is a sumptuous treasure.
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (1975)
It's really hard to pick a Best Of when it comes to Stephen King because his work is so good, such an integral part of the horror landscape, and so often associated with the films that follow in their wake. My pick (at least until more people hear about The Long Walk) is 'Salem's Lot. Stephen King wrote it as a modernization of Dracula and it succeeds in making the vampire less of a sympathetic antihero in a ruffled shirt and more of a pestilence that seeps into the town. There are some great, scary passages in the book and it avoids the tendency in King's later books for going too long. It's a taut and terrifying tale and definitely worth a read.
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (2013)
Joe Hill's weird reimagining of the vampire myth - get the joke with the title? - Nos4a2 is a very strange Gaiman-esque dark fantasy about a demonic car, a creepy driver, a serial killer who favors gingerbread-smelling knockout gas, and a distraught mother trying to save her son. The book does suffer from a bit of bloat, but it also has an incredibly creepy premise. You'll never look at Christmas the same way again, and Hill's sympathetic portrayal of damaged characters will stick around with you long after you close the book.
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
This book was the last story my book club read and I really enjoyed the hell out of it. It's basically a SyFy movie about a team of scientists looking for the truth behind a so-called siren attack that had claimed the lives of a reality TV crew a year before. It's the kind of high concept premise that could be turned into a pretty bad novel but Mira Grant creates a compelling and well thought out story that goes deep into the passions of sciences against the dangers of the unknown.
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
This book has one of the greatest scary monsters of the last few years in the deadly but also pitiable Katherine Van Wyler. This undead witch, with her eyes and mouth sewn shut, haunts a small town in upstate New York. The townsfolk make do as best they can and discourage outsiders from visiting and sharing the curse, but a band of rebellious youth want to share her existence with social media apps. There's a lot of great scary stuff in this book and it remains a personal favorite of mine.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
I can write some long winded intro trying to sell this book to you, but if you're not already in love with it thanks to that package then nothing will work. It's a classic for a reason.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1962)
We gotta close this list out with the American master of imaginative fiction. Ray Bradbury often worked with themes about childhood, the loss of innocence, mortality, and small town corruption, all presented in his gorgeous lyrical prose. This story of a sinister circus coming into town and the appealing corruption in offers will make this a perennial favorite for the ages.
Got any favorites we missed? Let us know in the comments.