The Gift of Terror

¿Cuándo despertaré?It is just about October, Halloween is around the corner, the creepy time of year. It’s that time of year that a good – a great – scary story just tastes better. There’s something about October twilight, the Philadelphia Eagles, and leaves dying that makes a creepy tale all the more enjoyable.

In celebration of October, I suggest reading a scary book. Do it for a small change in your routine, or to try something new. Last October I read Ellen DeGeneres’ autobiography – oh, the horror!

Oh, and why a scary book and not a scary movie?

Because movies are too easy. It’s so much easier to scare a person with a movie. There’s a whole range of input available to work with: visuals, a passing face in the window, whispering, eerie music, the breeze that creeps along the trees, and, of course, something jumping out at and eviscerating a Japanese teenager.

When it comes to a good scary book, nothing matters – not the author, its ‘classic’ status, its cover – the only thing that matters is whether it scares you or not. That’s part of why spooky fiction is so hard to pull off. It’s also why I love it.

However, as a connoisseur of horror, speculative, and creepy fiction, I find that most horror leaves me as disappointed as the last time I ordered a filet mignon in a truck stop.

This post is dedicated to making a list of scary books for us to read. Below are my four recommendations, four books that truly spooked me. They were not researched, not found on websites, and I didn’t put them there so I’d seem more well-read or worldly.

They scared me.

5. Cycle of the Werewolf

One of Stephen King’s possibly lesser known works, this novella was made into a movie called Silver Bullet. This is the story of a werewolf terrorizing a small town.

One of my favorite things about Stephen King is his disinterest in social mores when it comes to killing people. That means he will kill dogs, happy parents, grandparents. He will kill a child in his book, feed its corpse to a thresher as the parents are forced to watch and sing songs.

This book is full of those moments where you can’t sit down because you’re hoping the poor schmuck can get away from that thing that’s stalking him.

And they almost never do.

4. 20th Century Ghosts

In a genre where many books and collections of stories fall short, this one stands out.

Joe Hill tells some damn scary stories. Standouts in this collection are ‘Voluntary Committal,’ ‘My Father’s Mask,’ and ‘The Last Breath.’

I think Hill’s best ability is to scare you in the periphery. To allow a glimpse at that thing that’s terrorizing you without letting you get that full, satisfying, debunking look at it. Oh yeah, and his dad is Stephen King, so you know he suffers from prolonged bedtime story induced trauma.

Read this book!

3. Nocturnes

This is another book of stories – and one novella – that in no way disappoints. John Connolly knows how to write a tale that will creep your pants off, even if you’re not wearing pants. That’s right, he’s that good.

Stories such as ‘The New Daughter,’ ‘The Furnace Room,’ and ‘Some Children Wander by Mistake,’ take fantastic, terrifying spins on otherwise tired motifs seen in dozens of spooky stories. This book finishes with a novella featuring Charlie Parker, his protagonist and the often supernatural world he must fight.

Damn good stories.

2 The Complete Stories of M.R. James

Honestly, this man is the grandfather of the modern-day ghost story. And boy, did he know how to write them. He even wrote a set of rules that to this day is the barometer to which a ghost tale is judged.

This collection of stories is chock full of those disturbing moments that you pass over while reading, but which revisit you later while you are not sleeping. M.R. James was one of the first writers to break out of the timely standard of horror stories and, along with H.P Lovecraft, really let people have it. He knew how to scare in so many ways, he was clearly ahead of his time.

1. You

Recommend a scary book! Anything that’s horror, speculative, or creepy. Suggest one that kept you up at night, reading and sweating, hiding under your covers, too afraid to keep reading and too afraid to shut off the lights.

There are two prerequisites to recommending.

  1. You have actually read the book you are suggesting. I don’t want recommendations about books you’ve heard were scary. These are always exaggerated and almost always lead to disappointment.
  2. The book you are recommending scared you. Bigtime.
  1. #1 by Tiffany N. York on September 30, 2013 - 5:18 pm

    Sorry to say I’m a huge FAIL in this dept. I can’t say I’ve ever read a truly scary book–creepy or suspenseful, yes, but not scary. So I’ll have to take one of your suggestions.

    But first,
    1. I did not know King had a son who was a writer.
    2. Shame on you for writing smack about Ellen! (Was it really that scary?)

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on October 3, 2013 - 1:51 pm

      Sorry about the smack. Deserved! T – check out 20th Century Ghosts – solid, solid collection of stories. Even a few non-horror ones that are wonderful. I can’t say enough about how good it is.

  2. #3 by Emma on September 30, 2013 - 5:21 pm

    I would recommend IT. But due to prerequisite number one, I can’t. I have started reading it, but I can only get the first hundred and fifty pages or so down before I pee my pants and need to hide in my closet.

  3. #4 by Allison on September 30, 2013 - 7:59 pm

    Damn, I was going to say MR James. He scares the shit out of me. I don’t think I’ve opened my copy in 10 years because I know if I do, I won’t be able to sleep for a week.

    I’ll check the shelves when I get home and see if I can come up with anything else.

  4. #5 by Chris on September 30, 2013 - 10:54 pm

    Ok.. I have reat It and it was indeed scary. But.. I don’t think it’s as scary as Salem’s Lot. When it comes to Stephen King, I think Salem’s is truly the scariest book he has ever written. I agree with your assesment on him as well. What makes that cool is that the reader will think to themselves “Ok how does this adorable teenager get out of this one”. And with King, they don’t. They die. They die hard. And you read about every bone breaking. Every wimper they made. The bosily fluids that seeped out in there dying moments. And you read about the outfit the parents had to pick out for a devastating funeral that you will also read about. He spares nothing. Which can hurt him sometimes but, especially in the case of Salem’s Lot, it often times works.
    I’m a little surprised you didn’t put Heart Shaped Box on this list. I really think it gets the nod over 20th Century Ghosts from Joe Hill. You know those 4 or 5 moments in that books where you stop and cringe and you really can’t believe what you just read.
    The Pink Room is relatively unknown (I know you read it) but truly scary. About a writer following the works of a deranged scientist in tryin to bring his deceased daughter back from ‘the other side’. The results are grisley and wild. Last 5 pages were wild as well.
    Maybe one you haven’t read The Wasp Factory by Eion Banks (I think– off the top of my head)… The thing about this one.. It’s not so much SCARY as it is purely twisted. It’s about a f*cked up little kid who hates everyone but rationalizes his actions quite nobally.

  5. #6 by greg galeone on October 1, 2013 - 12:27 am

    damo-we went to Avalon one summer with the crew and I had forgotten to bring a book to read. went to the local(small) bookstore and bought “it”. reading the damn thing in the middle of the night and going around our rental house turning lights on-brother. as chris mentioned here “salem’s lot” was a keeper also. one book by dean koontz called “hideway” was intense and well written. oh and I forgot the scariest and most depressing book of all-my checkbook.

    • #7 by Damien Galeone on October 3, 2013 - 1:50 pm

      I remember when you read It. That now explains the lights!
      Ah yes, the checkbook. I have found that reading my bank statement every month causes either hysterical laughter or a sobbing fit.

  6. #8 by Allison on October 1, 2013 - 3:41 am

    So, after a look at my shelves, I can’t seem to find anything that rates more than a ‘creepy’ or ‘disturbing’ compared to MR James- including King. Nothing that kept me up at night, anyway. Though I haven’t read most of King, so we’ll see.

    Not terrifying, but definitely creepy:
    Most of the Steven King I’ve read.
    “36 Hours” Anthony Barnhart
    “I Am Legend” Richard Matheson
    “Childhood’s End” Arthur C Clark

    As I was looking through the shelves, I had a bit of a panic because I couldn’t find my copy of MR James and I knew I had it here- which led to thoughts of it creeping off by itself to lie in wait for me somewhere. It scares me enough that I might believe it could actually do this.
    I did find it and now it’s sitting on my desk where I can keep an eye on it o_0

    • #9 by Damien Galeone on October 3, 2013 - 1:48 pm

      I like Mathewson a whole lot, but I was seriously disappointed in Hell House and more so in Stephen King for rating it the most frightening book of all time. Cause it just wasn’t. How is I am Legend?

  7. #10 by Andy on October 1, 2013 - 6:17 pm

    It’s not a book, but your first paragraph does remind me of a recent horror: the look on the Eagles face after both Andy Reid AND Peyton Manning ripped them a new one in back to back weeks! Ha!

    I’ll show myself out…

    • #11 by Damien Galeone on October 3, 2013 - 1:45 pm

      hahaha. Nah, you’re OK with me, it’s my mom you’re now on the outs with. You have thus brought her vengeance upon thee! Hide!

  8. #12 by Kelly on October 7, 2013 - 5:16 pm

    I’m not saying this to be cute but I still feel like the scariest book I ever read was in the fifth grade and it was called Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. They were so creepy! There was one about how your mind could actually summon energy and have things flying off the walls and haunting you. I didn’t sleep for a week after that one. Even as an adult, I find the stories in this book to be pretty terrifying.

    • #13 by Damien Galeone on October 9, 2013 - 2:55 pm

      Did you order that from one of those reader catalogues they used to give us way back when? I think I remember that one, actually…Did you ever read RL Stine’s Goosebumps?

  9. #14 by Kelly on October 9, 2013 - 8:33 pm

    I probably got it at a book fair where they gave out the free book marks. And duh, everyone read Goosebumps. Also, I downloaded 20th Century Ghosts per your recommendation. The first story Buttonboy was awesome. I’ve always loved Stephen King. His son has a very similar style. Thanks! It’s hard finding good reads.

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