In honor of this upcoming Halloween, and in case you’ve become a little emotionally acclimated to the types of books you’ve been reading of late, here’s an incomplete but guaranteed list of literature that will leave you sweating. Okay, some may just make you uncomfortable, but there’s at least one here that will get your sympathetic nervous system moving. Promise.
Here they are in no particular order:
Slaughter House Five(Kurt Vonnegut) – This book has it all: war, aliens, time travel, mental institutions, porn stars, and a case of gangrene thanks to a pair of wooden clogs. The narrative structure itself is unsettling, urging you to read on and put the puzzle together. But more than that, it asks the reader to see through Billy Pilgrim’s eyes as he face the things he fears most, which, as it turns out, is the stuff we all fear. A taste:
It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”
American Psycho(Bret Easton Ellis) – This book is a shoe-in because of two things: It’s written in first person and that person is a serial killer. As you read it, you get to be Patrick Bateman, and Patrick (aka as you) is doing things that would make an average man shudder. A taste:
I had all the characteristics of a human being—flesh, blood, skin, hair—but my depersonalization was so intense, had gone so deep, that my normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful erasure. I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning.
Blindness(Jose Saramago) – This is a personal favorite, and in light of recent events, scary as hell. Blindness as a epidemic that the government tries to contain? Sure. Let’s see how that goes. A taste:
Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.
Lord of the Flies(William Golding) – Though many of us read this book as an assignment, perhaps it’s time to give it another whirl. Aside from unchaperoned, bloodthirsty boys stuck on an island, it also features its namesake - a rotting pig head on a stick. This book highlights the baseness of the human race, and fear is at the root. A taste:
Within the diamond haze of the beach something dark was fumbling along. Ralph saw it first, and watched until the intentness of his gaze drew all eyes that way. Then the creature stepped from mirage onto clear sand, and they saw that the darkness was not all shadow but mostly clothing. The creature was a party of boys […].
I Am Legend(Richard Matheson)– There are few things scarier than being alone with the things you fear most, like contagious vampirism that has taken over the entire world. This book pushes our horror hot button so succinctly, Hollywood has used it to make four feature films. Perhaps it’s time to go directly to the source. A taste:
Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.
Dracula(Bram Stoker) – If there is anything scarier than being dead, it’s being undead. Dracula has some dense prose, so it’s not a light summer read. But, how can one turn down the original masterpiece that came before sparkling vampires? A taste:
Oh, the terrible struggle that I have had against sleep so often of late; the pain of the sleeplessness, or the pain of the fear of sleep, and with such unknown horror as it has for me! How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads; to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams.
It(Stephen King)- To be honest, you would do well to pick up any Stephen King book, but IT is the quintessential horror novel. First, it has a clown. Second, this clown actually uses its prey’s phobias to catch them. Aside from this, King’s prose is underappreciated, flying stealthily past the literary community’s radar. A taste:
But there was only that silence, as in the five or ten minutes before a vicious thundersquall strikes, when the purple heads stack up in the sky overhead and the light turns a queer purple-yellow and the wind dies completely.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde(Robert Louis Stevenson) – There is nothing more basic than good versus evil, and the battle is never more destructive than when it’s inside of us. It’s a war that left Mr. Hyde dead, and Dr. Jekyl the killer. Figure that one out. A taste:
With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.
Blood Meridian(Cormac McCarthy) – Cormac McCarthy takes you on a wild ride with scalp hunters who have a healthy appetite for blood. He also introduces you to the “Judge,” one of the most mysterious and menacing characters in literature. Some of his crimes are left to your imagination, and you’ll scare yourself when you discover where your imagination takes you. A taste:
When God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.
Tales and Poems by Edgar Allen Poe – It’s a classic, and there is nothing more to say than this. A taste:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.”