1. HOUSE OF LEAVES (Mark Z. Danielewski)
Okay, truthfully, I have to admit that I don’t fully endorse this book. I’ve heard great things about it, but I wasn’t a huge fan of its overall narrative or style. So of course, you must now be wondering: why are you even suggesting this? The reason I’m including this is because of the unsettling feelings it evoked. Even though I wasn’t feeling the writing style, when I closed the book, I stared into the shadows for too long, afraid of what might be looking back at me. What else is good horror if it makes you feel uncomfortable in your own home, your own skin? A story within a story within a story — it was the family and the house that gave me chills. A room appears that was never there before, and the dimensions don’t fit within the house. Eventually it becomes a passageway that no one knows where it leads to, but at some point, there are stairs that lead forever deep — more hollow crevices for things you couldn’t possibly imagine, hiding to devour you. What’s worse — imagining the unknown or actually walking to it?
2. EDGAR ALLAN POE: COMPLETE TALES AND POEMS (Edgar Allan Poe)
A real oldie but always a goodie. The first time I read his stories, I was engrossed and fascinated with his style and the details in his stories. It seems that the best horror comes form the most troubled of minds. He wrote (almost?) perfect portrayals of the descent into madness, and what inhumane actions a man will do. Most of my work is heavily influenced by him. To really get you into the mood, I recommend some of his short stories like, “The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” (Side note: Poe’s death is considered a mystery. He was found incoherent in the streets of Baltimore, wearing clothes that didn’t belong to him. Creepy!)
3. THE HISTORIAN (Elizabeth Kostova)
One of my favorite novels that I have ever read in my entire life. I know it’s not quite outright horror, but it’s truly beautiful with splashes of blood seeping into the pages. Kostova writes of an amazing journey in the search of Dracula that spans generations with twists and turns and fears that they must face. The story spans from the Old World to the New World, from the mid-15th century to the years of the Cold War. I almost don’t know how else to recommend it without gushing. Just please — if you love any kind of vampire lore, do yourself a favor and read this.
4. THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (Shirley Jackson)
There was a movie based off of this featuring Catherine Zeta Jones and Liam Neeson, and trust me, it’s not the same. What’s another staple of horror? Even though we know a character is flawed, we still root for them. Jackson’s main character, Eleanor, has a fragility that we empathize with, and we have a feeling that the house immediately preys upon it. Who hasn’t felt like Eleanor at one point? A dreamer and dissatisfied with the life she was leading, she jumped at the opportunity for a new adventure — anything, anything.
5. THE SHINING (Stephen King)
I’m not sure if you could tell, but I am a total sucker for any kind of haunted house stories. Now, this novel is probably one of my first forays into horror, and I remember vividly how I felt as I read this late at night, in bed, and alone. There was a quiet dread that filled me and made my heart hammer in my throat. As readers know, the Overlook Hotel is just as much of a character as the members of the Torrance family. What makes this so great is not only does King create this architectural entity of evil, but we also see (and some could empathize!) with Jack’s devolution while also hoping Wendy and Danny will save themselves. There are some books that you can’t put down, and others that you have to so that your pulse can go back to normal and you can stop the images from taking over your brain before they leak into your dreams. This book will forever be a classic to me simply because of the fear it instilled in me — so pure, so rich, I had to constantly tell myself that it was only fiction. (Also, Stephen King has just recently come out with a much anticipated sequel: DOCTOR SLEEP.)