Tell Us: What’s the Scariest Book You’ve Ever Read?

Happy Halloween, you fiends! Scary is so subjective – what scares you might not ruffle my feathers at all, and vice versa. Weirdly enough, I have a really hard time with horror on screen, while on the page I can read the foulest, most depraved ideas an author can come up with without batting an eye. Some people can’t deal with jump scares, others, body horror – and a select few people don’t really get scared at all (or so they say). So tell us – what’s the scariest book or story you’ve ever read, and why? Alternately, what’s a book or story that scared you in a way you didn’t expect?

I’ll start: if you didn’t watch Bird Box on Netflix last year, you almost certainly heard about it – the adaptation was wildly successful, buzzed about, and oft-memed. But here’s the thing – it wasn’t scary. Oh, it was tense, and there were one or two jump scares, sure, but as a movie it had the flavor of a thriller more than anything else. But the book, my friends. Oh, the book.

Bird Box, Josh Malerman

You probably know the drill by now: there’s something out there, and if you see it, you’ll die a gruesome death. The only way to survive is to stay inside, and blindfold yourself if you need to venture out. Malerman hits on what I think of as one of horror’s basic truths: the simplest concepts are often the scariest. You can’t see, and there’s something out there that wants you dead. It could be ten feet away from you, or ten miles, and under no circumstances can you look to find out.

The concept is so visceral and claustrophobic that I couldn’t look away from the pages as I was racing through the story, and Malerman is so expert at creating a fear that resonates up through your gut and sets off your fight-or-flight response that it’s hard to believe this was his debut novel. And while the movie did some hand-wavey explanation about how if you looked at the entities, they’d show you your worst fear, the novel never tells you what’s so awful you’ll die if you look at it – which means your imagination can do its absolute worst.

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Okay, you’re next. Scariest book you’ve ever read: go.


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7 thoughts on “Tell Us: What’s the Scariest Book You’ve Ever Read?

  1. Scott Smith’s The Ruins. The film adaption was a let down for me, but man, that book…I stayed up all night and read it in one session because I was too scared to stop and go to sleep. Smith prose is sparse and sharp. A Simple Plan is also brilliantly tense and I really hope he writes another novel one day.

  2. The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay was frightening because, I think, a lot of us are frightened of the idea of a crazed person showing up and harming us. I used to work in the wilderness by myself and sometimes it crossed my mind that a dangerous person could show up and I’d be alone, miles from anybody. There were mountain lions, bears, and rattlesnakes where I worked, but it was seeing a lone person out in the canyons that was most scary.

  3. I was a kid when I attempted to read “Wolfen” by Whitley Streiber. Scared the daylights out of me and I couldn’t finish it, but I recently reread it and it wasn’t good.

    Lesson: be careful with your childhood memories 🙁

  4. The Dark by James Herbert was terrifying. I was so scared afterwards that I couldn’t turn out my light or go to sleep for hours. It’s the only book that properly terrified me.

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