Books That Will Make You Sleep With the Lights On (And A Crucifix Handy)

I’ve been silently bitching about all the fantabulous horror/thriller stories that are NOT on the scariest books ever written lists that have been floating around this week, to the point, that I’ve been getting on my own nerves.

In an effort to stop annoying myself and in honor of Halloween (not to mention some incredibly gifted writers), here’s my own top 10, balls-to-the-wall, scariest books I’ve ever read list. If you disagree or have another one you think is a contender, please, jump in. Nothing beats a scary story in my book (no pun intended, sort of). So chances are, if I haven’t read your suggestion yet, I will.


The Shining, by Stephen King. Come on, y’all. Although every one of Stephen King’s novels rank as some of the best books I’ve ever read, this one tops them all as far as sheer waking up in the middle of the night sweaty and twisted in the bed sheets because you’ve had another nightmare about the Overlook Hotel. Here’s why: Stephen King oh so masterfully doesn’t give us characters that are paper cutouts that go from zero to crazy halfway through (like the movie does, in my opinion). We feel Jack Torrance’s white knuckle torment to beat the bottle and his battle against devolving into the violent, sadistic (and probably a whole lot of crazy) man his father was. That’s why when the terror of the Overlook Hotel is unleashed, the horror is that much more horrifying.


The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston. I read this book on a flight from San Francisco to Boston and it was the first time I wasn’t afraid to fly because I had much graver concerns: catching Ebola and having my internal organs melt into jelly and seep out of my nose. This book scared the living crap out of me. Even scarier because it’s non-fiction.

IT cover

It, by Stephen King. I still have a lifelong fear of sewer grates because of Pennywise. Seriously, what’s scarier than an evil clown (really a massive and hungry alien spider) that lures children down into the sewers of Derry and can transform into what they fear the most? “Want your boat, Georgie?” Lordy. I just got the chills.

heart-shaped box

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill. Judas Coyne is an aging, metal rocker with a taste for all things macabre. When he buys a ghost online, get ready to be haunted by a malignant, suit-wearing spirit who brandishes a shiny razor and can make you cut off your own fingers through his beyond the grave still gift of mind control. The ghost, Craddock McDermott, is wicked and relentless. But don’t discount Judas or his rockin’ dogs Angus and Bon.


The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson. I read this book when I was 12. It was the first novel that truly terrified me in a horrifyingly/I’ve got to read more of this wonderful stuff kind of way. Flies huddled and buzzing on windowsills. Priests busting out with stigmata. Satantic voices warning, “Get out.” During a college summer break on Long Island, I shuddered every time I passed the Amityville exit.

silence of the lambs

Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris. Buffalo Bill is capturing and skinning plus-sized gals while Hannibal Lector is slicing off the face of his prison guard to use as a mask for his jailbreak. Talk about a scary Halloween costume.

the excorcistbookcover

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. Clutch your crucifix, people. A demon-possessed young girl who can spin her head around 360-degrees and spew green slime? Holy Mother, Mary, Joseph. Makes me want to do ten Hail Mary’s just because.


Pet Sematary, by Stephen King. Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Grieve the dead. Don’t hope for their resurrection, because they won’t come back the same. They’ll be wielding a scalpel and ready to slice your achiles tendon and then your throat.

the haunting of hill house

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson . Talk about the most haunted of haunted houses. Things truly go bump in the night in this classic of horror stories. “God God – whose hand was I holding?” That line still gives me the willies. Another great Shirley Jackson story: The Lottery. Not about a haunted house, but I guarantee the surprise ending will disturb you for a good long while.

rosemary's baby

Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin. You think pregnancy is hard? Try going nine months with Satan in your belly and not even knowing it. Poor Rosemary. I hope she told her husband Guy to stick it after he let her get knocked up by Beezelbub in exchange for Broadway stardom.

Thanks to all the horror and thriller writers for continuing to give us all a great scare.

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