Happy Halloween (almost!), my fellow bibliophiles!
In case you missed it, we hosted two excellent pieces here on BTMU last week:
We’re also recommending three more brilliant substacks this week:
Now onto this week’s discussion question, which is of course in honour of the spooky time of year:
What’s the most scared you’ve ever been reading a book?
Pet Sematary by Stephen King seriously fucked me up. It’s an encounter with death, disease, and grief that somehow got deep under my skin -- more than any other horror novel.
The book that scares me the most isn't horror, but it gives me the terrors. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. It's about the French Revolution, and the way she writes you are immersed in it. The book feels alive, and you can feel your cortisol levels rising and the adrenaline pumping as the "place" of safety within the novel gets smaller and smaller. Read it several times, always scares the hell out of me.
I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I made the mistake of finishing King's "The Mist" in the middle of the night. I was in high school, it was probably a school night, HA.
I had every stuffed animal plus my two live cats in bed with me, and my bathroom light on before I could fall asleep.
H.. Lovecraft. At 11 it was truly frightening.
Addendum: I have a number of Doré illustrations from Dover. Excellent work.
Cujo. Because it could really happen.
I don't usually read horror, but I love mystery and Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" was positively chilling. Sooooo well done with the suspense. Right off the bat you know you are in for a creepy read.
House of Leaves. It's been a long time since I read it so I can't remember what it was, but I do know that that book gave me the heebie-jeebies something fierce.
When I was young I was always rooting around for something salacious ... I was about 11 or 12, maybe 13, when I read 'The Fog' by James Herbert. I remember being scared and pretty aghast at the depths humans could stoop to!
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
the Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I love a good mystery or suspense, but I'm a big scaredy cat when it comes to horror. The most scared I've been was actually because I knew a character in a novel that I loved was going to die and I REALLY didn't want him to. I kept imagining a happy ending for this character, that I knew he would never have. I guess I was more sad, but the way he died was so unexpected and realistic that it made me scared too.
For me it’s both Pet Semetary and Cujo. I read them in early high school under the covers with a flashlight as I shared a room with my little sister and lights had to be out. Sounds funny now but it was so terrifying! I read a bunch more Stephen King books after those. I guess I like to be scared. 😁
Thank you so much for the shoutout! I do think that possibly the most scared I've ever been (but in a good way) while reading a book was when I read 'The Master and Margarita.' I don't believe it's discussed all that often as a horror novel but there are definitely some passages there that are terrifying like the Omen-like events that lead to Berlioz's death or the Satan's Ball in its second half.
Thank you so much for the callout!! :)
This is technically not a scary book and might seem like a strange response, but the scariest book I can recall in recent memory was Colson Whitehead's "Nickle Boys" that I read a few months ago. It was all based on a true story (which makes it even scarier) about an abusive boys reform school. It is a great and powerful book as all of Colson Whitehead's work is but it was very scary and upsetting in parts and not the best choice for a bedtime read!
The relatively unknown short story“The Frolic” by Thomas Ligotti is one of the creepiest works I’ve ever read. It’s available in the “read a sample” portion of the Amazon Kindle preview for his book “Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimescribe”(https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00TY3ZOLE/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1698714737&sr=8-1). I don’t find monsters or the undead as terrifying as criminal psychopaths.
"Principia Mathematica" by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell :)
This three-volume work is known for its rigorous approach to mathematical logic and the foundations of mathematics. It's a highly advanced and challenging text, often considered one of the most complex works in the field of mathematical philosophy. Scary and intimidating.
Hmm 🤔 I don't scare easily reading fiction. And scare very easily reading nonfiction 😄 Like Witness for the Defense is terrifying. But again, not hard to scare me with real life horror.
Fiction-wise … I guess The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. It's the only time I can recall feeling scared while reading fiction.
I haven't really read much horror. Maybe flicking through Goosebumps at primary school or something... Or when I read my old stuff
I don't read horror, but i am scared by reading 2 kinds of books:
1. The ones I don't understand.
2. The ones that mess with my feelings
Jay Anson's The Amityville Horror. Scared the bejesus out of me.
I wrote about this! I wonder, is there such a thing as a TRULY scary book? Mine was, of course, also Stephen King. https://subverse.substack.com/p/the-curator-no-26-is-there-such-thing
And I was also in discussion with Adromeda and Caitlin over at Present Tense on this topic too. So loving the responses here and note Stephen King is laughing all the way to the BANK.
The Color Out of Space, by H.P. Lovecraft
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Thomas Ligotti recommended it somewhere.
It’s not horror or even very scary, but I remember being terrified of the mysterious person in the above floor in Jane Eyre.
'The Rats' by James Herbert, aged maybe 12.
Either Carrie or The Shining. I’ve never gotten over them.
Another vote for Pet Sematary by Stephen King. I can remember reading it as a teen and feeling very unsettling as we lived in the woods also and had dogs.
Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz. Had to stay up to read the ending, but then couldn’t fall asleep.
Cujo. By Stephen King
Flann O’Brien’s ‘The Third Policeman’ isn’t scary in the sense of many other books mentioned in this thread, but is an eerie, surreal novel that I love re-reading around Halloween. It mixes absurdity with a mounting sense of dread, building to a final morbid twist.
When I was in high school I read Creature by John Saul. That book seriously messed with my head.
Just wanted to add In Cold Blood to the list here-- it deeply disturbed me and turned me off forever to the "true crime" genre. Nothing scarier than what people can do to other people imo. And in that book Capote tries so hard to discover why the crime was committed and there's just...no reason. That really horrified me.
The Stand also by Stephen King. And one he wrote that isn't as famous, The Girl who loved Tom Gordon, the build up was constant and realistic. Probably my favorite SK story.
'The Wasp Factory's by Iain Banks
It's not a jump scare or crazy twist kind of novel. More unnerving than anything. I prefer horror that doesn't completely show you the monster, but let's it track through your mind, stalking your nerves, until you're not sure where you're at or how you got there. Alone and without escape.
King's It or Rose Madder for different reasons that intersected at times. I snuck It home from my school library as my mother never would have approved. It was the first and last book to force me to put it down out of sheer terror while I read alone in my room at night.
Rose Madder turned over some bloodied stone within me and revealed the extremity of man's obsession and violence.
About as close as I got to scary books were the Ann Rice novels. Interview with a Vampire and others around New Orleans if I recall correctly. I'm not one for horror, so in my mind, those books were scary to me.