This time of year always revives the same old questions: When’s it gonna snow? What are you gonna be for Halloween? Will anyone remember to vote when presidential candidates aren’t on the ballot? Will Halloween finally fall on Friday the 13th this year? Why has that still never happened? All great questions if you ask me. This year is unique however, in that we can all agree that no scary story or movie comes anywhere near the daily reality we live in. Horror has become an escape–a reminder of a more comfortable time when these stories actually did scare us. How naive we were. But which stories to read? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered, so turn off the news and get ready to reacclimate your brain to regular horror with these great stories of
House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
This is likely the preeminent horror novel of our modern era, and that doesn’t seem unfair to assert as it is a staggering story… with some qualifications. As someone who works in a bookstore, I can say this is an easy sell, but pitching this book to someone does require a certain amount of transparency, lest the person come back and hurl the book at your head. Danielewski is an author insistent on redefining what the ‘novel’ is, and pushing the limits of what it can be. As such, it hardly adheres to the traditional format of a novel, but there’s nothing else to call it since since no one’s made an effort to name whatever the hell Danielewski is doing. House of Leaves is, at its core, about a house that’s bigger on the inside than the outside. Pretty simple. Except that the story of the exploration of the house is packed inside a meta-narrative about a guy who’s going crazy trying to unravel the mystery of the house. And that story is itself packed into yet another meta-narrative of someone who found all the research the crazy guy left behind after dying and begins trying to piece things together himself. In a surprise twist, that guy starts to go crazy too! The result is a story that gives a comedic gratuitous flair to the concept of the unreliable narrator, and has you questioning your own sanity as you delve further and further into the horrors of the abyss of the house of leaves. Neat book!
The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe
Where would horror be without Poe? It’s impossible to overstate his influence upon American literature, let alone upon spooky scary stories, and The Fall of the House ofUsher is incomparable. If there’s one lesson to take away from this story, it’s that if things appear creepy, they are. If an old friend asks you to visit his home in rural nowhere, and it looks like the house is splitting in half, just turn around. If your friend asks you to entomb his suddenly deceased sister and she still looks vaguely alive, call a Lyft, then the police. In that order. If the lake outside is maybe glowing, you were given ample warning, fool. If your friend and his sister end up dead on the floor of your room, you don’t have much time! Start running! It’s a classic horror trope for the protagonist to ignore all the gargantuan red flags waving in their face and this story reminds us that people have been writing moronic protagonists for the sake of our entertainment an awful long time.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
Hey if you haven’t read this spooky classic then you need to seriously reevaluate your life. In fact, just go read everything Shirley Jackson wrote. There’s a wealth of glowing praise to lavish upon this story, but if there’s one thing this book does better than everything else on this list, it’s the title. Very few books utilize their title to tease a concept or evoke curiosity the way this one does. This is a story wherein two sisters lose most of what they have, then through unfortunate circumstance, lose everything else as well. An unsettling whodunit, and yet so much more. I’ll say no more. Read it, experience it, love it.
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Okay, this story isn’t strictly speaking “scary” today. It’s more unsettling, perturbing, but most of all, relentlessly depressing. Common knowledge of this story is that Frankenstein was created, and the village people came to kill him because he was a horrifying offense upon creation. Well first off, that’s not his name–he’s Frankenstein’s monster. But most importantly, he’s given life, then promptly abandoned and shunned by everyone, including his creator. He then makes it his life’s purpose to ruin everything his creator has ever known. Exploring ideas of the soul, life, and what truly makes his human, this story is eminently timeless, and wields incredible influence over so much of sci-fi today. And she was nineteen (19) when she wrote it. This is a watershed novel. It’s also my personal favorite on this list. Read it.
As a big bonus, check out this newly released annotated version edited by Leslie S. Klinger!
IT – Stephen King
IT is so in right now, the new movie is great, and is now the highest grossing horror film of all time! Having said that, you know, maybe you should just watch the new movie. Who even has time for this book? I suppose 1,000 pages is really where I tend to draw the line. But then again, who doesn’t want to read a classic about a killer clown-alien from outer space? Tim Curry walked into a relentlessly cheesy film production of this story, and through sheer finely honed talent, managed to make an entire generation terrified of clowns–a huge service to Stephen King whose own effort at this was going to take considerably more time. Have your child read this if they’ve started taking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a little too seriously and are starting to get curious around storm drains.
This Darkness Mine – Mindy Mcginnis
This is actually some seriously twisted shit. This is a list of some of the finest horror there is to read, but I can say without doubt, that this one has me most concerned for the author’s sanity. Poor Sasha Stone is falling for a guy at school and she can’t understand why she’s experiencing such a sudden, deep connection to him. Of course the reason is so obvious–she finds out that she consumed her twin sister while in the womb and a piece of her sister is inside her, manipulating her. It’s not long before Sasha begins losing control of herself and there’s only one way to regain it–get rid of the sister within her. Just your typical teenage romance, check it out!
Dreamland – Garfield Reeves-Stevens
This was recommended by a fellow co-worker as one of her favorite horror stories, but she couldn’t remember much about it, and it’s surprisingly hard to find a decent summary of this book online, so we’re gonna have to be creative here. What we do know is that Dreamland is the greatest theme park of them all, it’s run by vaguely lifelike robots, and guests of the park are about to find out that it’s the home of a some evil force that brings one’s worst childhood fears to life. Or something like that. Really though, did that description give you anything you couldn’t divine from the cover? This is a classic shape-shifting kind of story–petrifying when you’re twelve, and probably a work of comedic genius when you’re thirty. Truly a timeless novel that demands revisiting again and again. Move over, Poe.
The Nameless City – H.P. Lovecraft
This is a horror list, so like Poe, including Lovecraft is more or less obligatory. If Poe is the chief inspiration of horror today, Lovecraft practically has one arm in the same jacket of Poe’s influence. At the very least, his name is a lot more relevant in horror and sci-fi today–for whatever reason, Lovecraft-style stories are having a big moment right now. Which is fine by me as I’m such a sucker for a solid Lovecraft story. The Nameless City is by no means his most popular or best story, but it’s one of my favorites. It features nearly everything that makes Lovecraft compelling into just a handful of pages, and lets today’s reader peek into what exactly modern authors are borrowing from him with incredible frequency. Revel as a dumb overconfident protagonist nearly suffers some terrible fate surely worse than death, all thanks to a little hubris. Of course he leaves a bit of his sanity behind, but at least he’s got his life, right? There’s no winning in Lovecraft’s bleak visions, only surviving.
Hey, if you’re lucky, one of these stories might scare you badly enough that you’ll forget about reality entirely! Doubtful, but dreaming never hurt anyone. We’ve got a lot more than this at BookBar so come on over, get a glass of booze, ask for some recommendations, and let’s all try to forget reality together.