39 Books That Are Actually Scary
Um... maybe don't read these if you're home alone.
1. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski will suck you in with a unique narrative flow told by three different "authors," footnotes, upside down text, and more. It has all the feel of a "found footage" film, but in novel form.
2. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is a nonfiction book about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the serial killer who used it to find and kill more victims.
3. The Last Days Of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp tells the somehow both funny and frightening story of the titular Jack Sparks, who dies while writing a book on the occult... and the mysterious 4-second YouTube video posted to his account.
4. In The Woods by Tana French is set in an Irish town where, in 1984, three children fail to come home from the woods one night. One is found holding a tree, with sneakers filled with blood and no memory of the day — the other two still missing. Twenty years later, that kid becomes a detective, investigating a case eerily similar to his own childhood mystery.
5. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill centers on a woman who escaped as a child from Charles Manx, a supernatural killer who takes children away in his Rolls-Royce (with the titular vanity plate) to a terrifying playground called "Christmasland" — and she must save her son from him, too.
6. Songs of a Dead Dreamer/Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti combines both Ligotti's first and second collections of horror stories. Rather than being super gory or graphic, Ligotti's fiction is more "existentially shocking."
7. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston tells the true story of the first Ebola outbreak and how the disease shockingly appeared in the D.C. suburbs, killing 90% of people infected.
8. False Memory by Dean Koontz is a psychological thriller where fear of yourself — and your own mind — is the scariest thing of all.
9. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie centers on 10 strangers, who are lured to a remote mansion on an island.... on the first night, one dies. Then the rest keep getting picked off, one by one. But who among them is the killer?
10. Salem's Lot by Stephen King is a modern vampire story in which a small England town is being overrun by the demons — and it's up to a writer who has recently moved back to the town to try to stop them.
11. Coraline by Neil Gaiman follows a little girl who moves to a new home with her family and discovers another world on the other side of one of the doors — the food is better, the toys are better, and the other mother and father want her to stay. But not everything is as it seems.
12. Penpal by Dathan Auerbach is about a man who tries to piece together the horrible and strange events that have popped up throughout this childhood and adult life — but what he discovers turns into a single, terrifying thread.
13. I Remember You: A Ghost Story by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir won the Icelandic Crime Fiction Award and is partly based on a true story: the intertwining lives of three friends who are renovating an isolated house (where *something* wants them to leave) and a doctor who's investigating the suicide of an elderly woman obsessed with the doctor's son.
14. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh begins as a mysterious and tragic hit and run... but has a chilling twist that will set you reeling. (P.S. It was one of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Crime Novels of 2016.
15. You by Caroline Kepnes is told from the point of view of a stalker, who insinuates himself into the life of his victim — a terrifying tale easily imaginable in the age of social media.
16. The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule describes her astonishing relationship with her coworker...TED BUNDY...and her slow realization of his true, murderous nature.
17. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty is better known as the fan-favorite 1973 film, but you might be *even* more scared by the original novel.
18. Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix reimagines a traditional haunted house story... but places it in Ikea. But don't let that confuse you — the result is terrifying.
19. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is set in West Hall, Vermont, a town known for many mysterious and supernatural disappearances. So when 19-year-old Ruthie's mother goes missing (in the very same house Sara Harrison was found dead behind in 1908), Ruthie discovers Sara's diary... and a loaded gun.
20. The Diviners by Libba Bray takes place in 1920s New York, where Evie O'Neill has just moved in with her occult-obsessed uncle... and finds herself trying to catch a serial killer.
21. Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt centers on a town where the residents are cursed and haunted by a 17th-century witch, whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut so she can't harm anyone. But when a generation of teens decides they don't want to be trapped in the town, the witch might not stay harmless for long.
22. Afraid by Jack Kilborn is set in a small Wisconin town called Safe Haven, where a helicopter crashes carrying a special weapon programmed to terrorize, torture, and kill anything that gets in its way.
23. The Troop by Nick Cutter tells the story of a boy scout troop that goes camping on a deserted Canadian island, but when a starving man shows up at their campsite, the boys are *exposed* to a bioengineered horror they didn't expect.
24. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill follows an aging rock star who collects morbid and dark objects. But when he buys a dead man's suit (with the ghost attached), it turns out the spirit is out to kill him.
25. The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson is set in a remote mansion with a beautiful garden overseen by the Gardener, a disturbed man who captures young woman and tattoos them to make them look like butterflies.
26. Pet Sematary by Stephen King centers on a family who moves from Chicago to rural Ludlow, Maine, and whose new house sits near a pet cemetery and an old Indian burial ground — where some things just might not stay buried.
27. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling's pseudonym) is the third in the crime fiction series that follows private detective Comoran Strike and his assistant Ribin Ellacott — this time, the events that unfurl after Ellacott receives a package containing a woman's severed leg.
28. Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman follows Frank Nichols, who arrives in Whitbrow, Georgia to write the history of his family's old plantation and the terrible things that happened there. But the townspeople are afraid of the woods across the river, where the ruins of the plantation are located.
29. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay details the struggles of a family when their 14-year-old daughter, Marjorie displays signs of mental illness, and the family members become the stars of a reality show called The Possession. It's told by Marjorie's 8-year-old sister looking back at the tragic and horrific events that have since become an urban legend.
30. The Call by Peadar O'Guilin is a YA read that combines folklore and horror, set in an alternate Ireland where at any moment, a teen can be called to the "Grey Land," among the fairies, having to run for their life.
31. Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón has been a cult classic in Spain and follows 15-year-old Oscar, who suddenly vanishes from his Barcelona boarding school and encounters the titular Marina, who leads him to a ritual in a cemetery.
32. Helter Skelter tells the true and horrifying story of the Manson murders — and is the bestselling true crime book of all time.
33. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is a classic novel and was one of the first true mystery novels — it features all the classics of the genre like mistaken identities, asylums, amnesia, and family secrets.
34. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson tells the controversial story of the paranormal events experienced by the Lutz family at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York — the Lutz family having moved in a year after Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed six of his family members there.
35. Everything's Eventual by Stephen King is a collection of short stories that will keep you up all night... and not just because you want to read "just one more."
36. Bird Box by Josh Malerman is set in apocalyptic world, where something is out there that, if you look at it, will make you violent. It centers on a woman who must guide herself and her children to safety, even if that means being blindfolded.
37. The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren by Gerald Brittle reveals the stories of the Warrens who claim to be experts on demonology and exorcism (and were featured in The Conjuring).
38. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist details the friendship between a bullied boy and his mysterious new neighbor, who has a connection to a series of recent and bloody local murders.
39. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood might cause some existential political anxiety, set in a near-future dystopia where women have no reproductive autonomy, cannot have jobs, have money, or read, and women who *are* able to have children are given to upper-class couples who cannot.
Fair warning: you might just need a new nightlight before digging in to any of these.
Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.