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13 Scary Books: Guaranteed to Keep You up a Night

13 Scary Books: Guaranteed to Keep You up a Night

So, here’s a thing that’s true about me – I am a giant wimp.

Like turn-off-the-hall-light-and-sprint-up-the-stairs-despite-the-fact-that-I-don’t-have-a-body-built-for-sprinting-but-I-have-to-because-a-zombie-is-going-to-get-me level of wimp.

Despite this, somehow, I delight in a scary book. Clearly masochism is at play here.

IMO, there is really no wrong time to read a scary book

Except when you’re alone at night. Or babysitting…in a house with no curtains…at night <shutter>.

There is, however, a time that is oh-so-right for reading those makes-your-heart-pound-and-palms-sweat novels.

You guessed it – October.


Did you know you are 84% more likely to be murdered with an ax in October?

And ghost sightings go up 75.4% as well.

Yeah, neither of those things are true – but they feel true… very true

Basically, October is a horrifying time to be a human – especially a wimpy human.

If you’re more of a badass than I am – or you, too, just oddly like scaring the shit out of yourself for no fucking reason at all #WhyDoIKeepDoingThis – then check out these novels.

They are the 13 scariest pieces of literature you can pluck off of a bookshelf.

1. The Shining by Stephen King

As someone who works in education, I am predisposed to wish for snow.

Mounds of snow.

Snow that covers the roads and makes going to school impossible.

The Shining
By Stephen King

Because, snow day.

Of the three best days in my life, the first two were the days my sons were born. The last, probably a snow day.

Despite my affinity for slick roads and all the free time that inevitably accompanies them, there is one time when I most-fucking-definitely wouldn’t be wishing for frozen precipitation.

And that time would be if I were in a mountain-top hotel.

Because I’ve read The Shining.

And I know that if we were to get snowed in, someone is pretty much 100% going to go nuts and kill us all. And no day off of school is worth that.

How do I know this?

King taught me, in this book about a winter caretaker who brings his family to live in a huge – and evil – hotel called “The Overlook.”

If you’re going to read this one, do yourself a favor and hide any croquet mallets you may have laying around first.

2. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Due in large part to the aforementioned wimpiness, I absolutely refuse to go anywhere near a house that even vaguely looks like it might be haunted.


Some people, however are total fucking idiots view things differently

The entire plot of The Haunting of Hill House depends upon people being less trepedatious than I.

This Jackson classic, published in 1959, features four people who elect to enter a house that everyone insists is haunted.

Each member of this party of four has his or her own reason for being there. There is Dr. Montague a scholar looking for concrete evidence that the house is haunted, his assistant Theodora (who better be getting hazard pay for this), Eleanor, a woman who knows a lot about ghosts and Luke, a member of a wealthy family who will, one day, inherit Hill House (So, obviously, he wants to take real estate photos for the MLS listing…okay, not really.)

Scary stuff starts happening pretty much right away… and keeps on happening…and, inexplicably, they stay – putting themselves in peril and giving readers quite the scare.

3. Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons

Doing Harm: A Novel
By Kelly Parsons

Think about a place where you feel exceptionally vulnerable.

My guess is, at least a few of you, thought of a hospital.

Of course you feel at risk there. You are wearing a dress that opens in the back despite the fact that they have taken your underwear and you’re pretty much trusting that they aren’t going to put something in your IV that’s gonna kill you. ‘Cause, if they do, áudios, mofos.

Kelly Parsons’ capitalizes off of this vulnerability in her novel, Doing Harm.

In a nutshell, a sociopath who has access to vulnerable patients starts a cat-and-mouse game with Steve Mitchell, a doctor with decidedly less nefarious intentions.

Just this quote alone:

“It's amazing that there are so many different ways to die in a hospital that have nothing to do with being sick…”

Is enough to make me say, “Nah, I’m good. Just gonna give that apple-a-day business a go.”  

4. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

This is theoretically a book for children.

In fact, my mom let me read it when I was a child. Which probably screwed me up for life, TBH.


There’s a tremendous amount to be scared of in this anthology.

Let’s start with “The Babysitter,” a version of the classic urban legend in which a babysitter is terrorized by a mad man who <dun, dun, dun> is calling from inside the house.

This story alone is responsible for me having student loans – because I would have babysat a lot more as a high school student were this horrifying possibility not planted in my head.

I’m sending you the bill, Schwartz-y.

And then there’s “The Hook,” also a classic, about a boy and girl who are parked in a deserted area to do… well… the only thing boys and girls park in deserted areas to do. 

They are about to get down to business when they hear on the radio that a killer, nicknamed “The Hook Man,” because he has a hook for a hand (a bit on the nose, but mkay) has escaped an asylum.

The boy, obvi, wants to continue what they are doing but the girl is all, “Um, yeah, nope. Not fucking happening.”

Nothing creates sandy vagina like hearing that you may be within the grasp of a killer – especially one with a hook for a hand which is, by far, the scariest possible hand replacement.

So the boy takes the girl home. When he gets there he finds, to his horror, that he has that previously pesky sandy vajay to thank for his life, as there is a hook hanging from her door handle.

And, as if these tales themselves weren’t enough, let’s not forget the illustrations

These illustrations basically served as the cinematographer of my nightmares growing up…so, thanks for that.

5. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

What if your child did something unthinkably horrible?

We Need to Talk About Kevin
By Lionel Shriver

That question drives the plot of We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

In this novel, Eva, mother to a son, Kevin, has to deal with the fact that her now sixteen-year-old son went on a murderous rampage at his school.

How did this happen?

Was it her fault?

What could she have done to prevent it?

What is going to happen, now?

Eva works through these questions as she communicates with Franklin, her estranged husband, about their son, Kevin.

The horrific thing about this novel is how real it is.

As more and more incidents of extreme violence rock our society, an ever-growing number of Eva’s are left asking themselves these critical questions.

6. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Originally published in 1971, this novel inspired the hugely popular – and utterly terrifying – movie by the same name.

Like the movie, this novel recounts the possession, and ultimate exorcism, of a young girl named Regan.

As irredeemably scary as the whole concept of being possessed by a demon is, what’s arguably even more horrifying is the fact that this book was reportedly inspired by real life events – or so the story goes.

Though he wouldn’t publish a book on this topic for 21 years, the seed of inspiration was planted in 1950. Blatty, who was, at the time, a student at Georgetown University, heard about a case of demonic possession that occurred a year prior not far from where he was studying.

Obviously, this seed had a long germination period, but when it did sprout, it produced something intensely horrifying.

7. The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

Fictional journalist, Jack Sparks, was researching the occult when he died.

This novel details the events leading up to this death.

In the vein of The Blair Witch Project, the novel is purported to be the compilation of files gathered after Sparks’ death.

These files, when viewed as a whole, answer a lot of questions.

Unnerving and effectively told, this novel ostensibly puts readers in Sparks’ shoes.

And, obviously, it’s terrifying being in the shoes of someone who is about to mysteriously die.

You should also add this one to your read-before-it-becomes-a-movie list, as Imagine Entertainment has a feature film inspired by the book in the works.

8. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Though the second book in a series featuring the same killer, this Thomas Harris novel – and the movie based upon it – are arguably more famous than the one that came before it.

Why so scary? Well, for one, it features a cannibalistic serial killer.

Let’s face it, a serial killer is scary – a cannibalistic serial killer – fucking stuff of nightmares, my friend.

Not that it should matter if you eat me if I’m already dead, but – somehow – it definitely does.

Harris’ ability to weave a tight, compelling plot also contributes to the overall terrifying-ness of this modern classic.

Though we know, as a general convention, good wins out over evil, it’s not entirely clear that it’s going to work out this way as FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling goes up against her formidable foe.

Hell House
By Richard Matheson

9. Hell House by Richard Matheson

Just as in The Haunting of Hill House, there are some people who, when faced with a house that is supposedly haunted, are just fucking stupid adventurous.

A notoriously horrible haunted house is at the center of this Richard Matheson novel.

There have been previous attempts to explore this house of terror, but they all lead to death and/or insanity.

Now four new victims explorers are going to take on the house.

Again, as with Jackson’s work (which clearly inspired this 2004 book), each of these people have a reason to venture into this haunted house – as if any reason could be good enough to make you go in to a house that literally-fucking-kills people.

10. Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

By Dathan Auerbach

I once read a news article about these people who bought this beautiful, relatively expensive house in New Jersey. But they never moved in because, right before moving trucks were to arrive, they started receiving these hella scary letters from someone calling himself “The Watcher”.

Among other ominous things, he thanked the couple (who had two kids) for bringing “young blood” to him.

So, here’s the thing, if that happened to me, I would literally shit my pants.

Not figuratively.

Literal shit in my literal pants.


Well, for one, because these threats came in the form of spooky ass letters.

Somehow, already fear-inducing information delivered in the form of a letter is even more unsettling than it otherwise would have been.

Not surprisingly, a letter plays a central part in Penpal, an originally self-published work by Dathan Auerbach that found a cult following online and has since scared the literal shit out of a sizable crowd of readers. 

11. You by Caroline Kepnes

There are lots of different kinds of scary.

You: A Novel
By Caroline Kepnes

There’s supernatural scary – with ghosts and vampires and the like.

There’s slasher scary – with a crazy (maybe mask wearing) person who just cuts people up for no reason.

Then there’s holy-shit-this-could-really-happen scary.

You by Caroline Kepnes falls into the last category.

This book is written from the perspective of seemingly mild-mannered bookstore worker, Joe Goldberg.

It becomes evident pretty quickly, however, that Goldberg isn’t as innocent as he may seem, as he rather rapidly becomes obsessed with Guinevere, a bookstore customer...and then he starts stalking her – incessantly.

A terrifying cautionary tale perfect for the social media generation, this novel highlights the horror in our everyday lives – and makes you decidedly less confident in your own security while doing so.

12. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2: A Novel
By Joe Hill

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Joe Hill has managed to pen some genuinely terrifying books. He is, after all, Stephen King’s son (his birth name is Joseph Hillstrom King, making Joe Hill an obvious and fitting pseudonym).

NOS4A2 isn’t Hill’s only venture into the horror genre, but it is one of his most terrifying.

What’s the source of horror in this book? A child-murdering man named Charles Talent Manx, who takes children for rides in his car (with a license plate that reads NOS4A2).

Where he takes them, they can never be found.

Unlike most of the iniquitous people that might prey on children, Manx can take those he snatches right out of this world and to “Christmasland,” a terrifying amusement park from which they can never escape.

And now you just ruined Christmas for me, too. Nice.

13. It by Stephen King

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which, now that I mention it, sounds scary) you’ve heard of Stephen King’s It.

For a book that’s been out for over 30 years, it’s certainly become a 2017 cultural phenomenon – and even inspired some clever, but exceptionally mean, people in Pennsylvania to terrorize their local police department. 

It: A Novel
By Stephen King

In case you have been living under that rock I previously talked about, this King work centers around seven children who are terrorized – in, basically, the most horrific ways you could imagine – by a mysterious creature that commonly appears as a clown.

 Honestly, though, if you read It, don’t expect to sleep for at least a month.

I mean, a killer clown hunting children…bubbles of blood exploding from drains… basically the definition of fucking nightmare fuel.

What are your thoughts on the topic of scary books? Are there any that I should have listed, but haven’t? Tell me about it in the comments, below.

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