Written by: Charles Schmidt
I started reading Stephen King way too young and my dad let me watch slasher flicks long before I should have. I was doomed to be a horror/crime writer from a young age. After 20+ years of a steady IV drip of disturbing content I am far too desensitized to be easily scared by books or movies. I’m sure many of my fellow horror fans are the same way. There are, however, a handful of books that broke through the calloused matter that surrounds my fear receptors; these books have stayed with me since the day I finished them.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I don’t care what genre this book is categorized under. It is horrifying. The post-apocalyptic world that McCarthy created in The Road scared me so much that I ended up spending $1,000 on a year’s worth of emergency food after reading it. Not my proudest or most sensible moment. If you don’t find baby eating, starvation, and a world covered by gray toxic dust scary, there is no hope for you.
Duma Key by Stephen King
Duma Key might not particularly stick out amongst the 10,000 books that King has written, but it scared the shit out of me nonetheless. A number of the events in this book are eerily similar to real events in my own life; I’m not talking about supernatural stuff by the way. The only logical explanation for this is that Stephen King has had my family under surveillance for some time. King’s ability to use simple stuff—like the sound of the tide rolling over dead shells underneath a beach house—to frame the atmosphere of the novel is simply masterful.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
House of Leaves has a rambling and occasionally incoherent plot, pretentious formatting, and all sorts of general weirdness. At first glance it has all the ingredients of a disaster, but Danielewski pulls it off. If you’ve never read this book or paged through it, the format is a bizarre mix of extensive footnotes, pages that feature a single word, backwards text, random colors, and other pretentious crap. Danielewski pulls off the unthinkable, somehow blending the above components with a fascinating story to create an unsettling page turner—even if you have to flip the book around to read some pages. Great book.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
I still can’t figure out how a book that features stories about a woman driving with a knife wielding maniac hiding behind her is intended for ages nine and up. The stories featured in this “children’s” book and it’s follow up vary from goofy to troubling to terrifying, emboldened by the nightmare inducing drawings of Stephen Gammell. These are a must read/have for any horror fan.
Flesh Gothic by Edward Lee
Edward Lee is the literary king of depraved violence, sex, gore, and all around disgusting stuff. Lee’s books are hit or miss in terms of actually having a quality plot, but they always deliver the aforementioned material. Seriously, think about the most vile and disturbing thing possible and I guarantee Lee has you beat somewhere in his large body of work. Flesh Gothic is a fantastic book for those who can stomach it. It involves a haunted house and a bunch of satanic orgies, drug use, horrific violence, and other uplifting stuff.
I suppose if I really wanted to be scared I could just read non-fiction or pick up a newspaper now and then…but what fun is that?
Charles Schmidt, author of World of Vacancy from Lucky Bat Books.
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