20 Scariest Books To Read When You Want To Freak Yourself Out

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20 Scariest Books For When You Want To Freak Yourself Out

Give yourself the creeps.

I love reading and I love all things scary. As a nerd, it isn't surprising to learn that reading is one of my big passions. Though sometimes people are confused as to why me, a person, is out and proud about her intense generalized anxiety disorder, would love scary stuff so much.

The truth is, there's actually research that indicates that if you HAVE anxiety, you're more likely to enjoy horror movies and horror books because they provide you a natural release.

I could talk about scary movies all day long, but it's scary books I'm here to talk about today. You can probably rattle off a list of your favorite scary movies, but how many scary books can you name?


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Chances are, not that many, and if you're a fan of horror, that's just unacceptable. If you're desperate to get a literary thrill (or 5), this list is the one for you. I've compiled a list of the scariest books of all time. These 20 books make The Shining look like child's play. 

1. Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff 

I. Love. Matt. Ruff. And it brings me great joy to begin by sharing this story of a young black man and his family in the era of Jim Crow. Just when you thought racism couldn't get any worse, it does. To give you a taste of how dark it gets, Jordan Peele of Get Out is actually adapting it for HBO! 

2. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer 

The first in a trilogy, a female scientist is sent into a part of the world overtaken with dangerous mutated spores. Is it an alien takeover, a natural disaster, or something more sinister? She is desperate to find out since whatever it was ultimately killed her husband. 

3. Ring by Koji Suzuki 

You've seen the movie, and if you began screaming and rocking in place because you found it so terrifying, now read the book. This masterful horror tale follows a cursed VHS tape that causes the death of anyone who happens to watch it. 

4. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty 

When the daughter of a famous actress starts acting strangely, her mother hopes it's just growing pains. It becomes painfully clear that's not the case and her daughter is possessed and her only hope is an exorcism. The story follows Regan, the daughter, and the two priests charged with this grueling task. 

5. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis 

Sometimes reality can be scarier than anything else. This classic is a send-up of the dark side of the Yuppy culture of the 1980s. Patrick Bateman, a wealthy man obsessed with his status and personal appearance, can only find true release and freedom in the gleeful murder of almost anyone he can get his hands on. 

6. Hell House by Richard Matheson 

A dying magnate recruits a team of researchers and psychics to visit an infamously haunted house in Maine to examine just how likely life is after death. Of course, the spirits who allegedly haunt Hell House aren't exactly friendly, and they are less than psyched to have people poking and prodding at the mansion where they reside. 

7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The scariest thing about this legendary horror classic isn't the stuff that happens when the team of investigators arrive at Hill House... it's everything that DOESN'T happen. This horror book is a study in creating dramatic tension. 

8. Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark by Alvin Schwartz 

I don't care how old you are: this is the ultimate collection of short, scary stories, and all of them are guaranteed to keep you up at night. Did I mention that the illustrations are positively harrowing? Because umm, yeah, they are! 

9. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters 

If you're a fan of Gothic literature or you can't get enough of Jane Eyre, you'll swoon for this scary tale of a wealthy family whose fortunes aren't what they once were. To make matters worse, the county estate where they live seems to be the center of a curse sure to lead them all to ruin! Spooky! 

10. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris 

From the mind that created Hannibal Lector comes a sort of prequel, if you will. A troubled man with a slight deformity has taken on a dark persona to help him cope, and that dark persona is murdering entire families. It's dark, y'all. 

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11. The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe 

Jealousy is a vicious thing and it can make people do truly evil things. Though it's not a book, this story by Poe is legendary in its examination of the green-eyed devil. One man invites another to his basement to show him a fine bottle of alcohol. He has no idea he will never be walking upstairs ever again. 


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12. The Ritual by Adam Nevill

A group of college friends decides to go on an epic weekend hiking trip to pay homage to a deceased friend who loved the outdoors. When they decide to go home early they take a short cut that sends them down a dark and ominous path from which they might never emerge. 

13. It by Stephen King 

A group of friends come back together 30 years after they silenced a malevolent force killing the children of Derry, Maine. But now, the evil is back and it's up to them to put a stop to it like they did once before. This one is a classic for a reason, and if you aren't scared of clowns when you start reading, you will be when you're done. 

14. Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

When Rosemary's husband, a struggling actor, starts befriending the neighbors, suddenly a rival in the business falls away and he becomes successful, but at what price? When Rosemary learns she is pregnant, she discovers just what her husband was willing to offer up to get his dream job. 

15. Deerskin by Robin McKinley 

This is technically a fantasy novel ,but if you don't find it terrifying, you need to check your pulse. When Princess Lissar's mother dies, her father, the King, goes mad with grief... until he notices the daughter he previously ignored is starting to look a lot like her mother. Lissar's escape from her father is a gripping, engrossing, and horrifying tale. 

16. Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Oskar is a 12-year-old boy who shares a close connection with his mother. Their bond is the only thing that gives him happiness in a life where he is bullied by other kids almost daily. Then Oskar makes a friend of the same age... or so it appears. Little does he know, Eli has a dark secret. 

17. Room by Emma Donoghue 

This novel is told from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy named Jack. Everything seems normal at first until you begin to realize that Jack's life isn't that of a normal growing boy: he and his mother and kept locked in a small shed, visited only by the man who keeps them locked there. 

18. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver 

This novel is written as a series of letters from Eva, a woman whose teenage son has murdered seven of his classmates and two of his teachers. The story isn't just about a young psychopath making a big kill, it's about how the mother of this killer has to grapple with the reality of what her son has become. 

19. People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Perry 

The true story of the murder of Lucie Blackman, who vanished while living in Japan. Her remains were found deep in a cave, and her death led the Japanese police on a hunt for a serial killer the likes of which they'd never seen before. 

20. Brain On Fire: My Month Of Madness by Susannah Calahan 

This isn't strictly a genre horror novel, it's a memoir. But, I don't know, if you ask me, the true story of a woman who woke up in a hospital unable to speak or move with no idea of how she got there is pretty damn terrifying stuff. 


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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. Her work focuses on relationships, pop culture and news. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.

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