I have a lot of complicated feelings about the horror genre, which can be more or less boiled down to this: I like reading creepy stories... until the sun goes down. When the sun is shining and I'm surrounded by other human beings, I can get behind a good Stephen King novel. But as soon as I'm alone in my apartment at night, all post-industrial science flies out of my head and I fully believe that I am about to be murdered by a clown. I have barricaded my bedroom door while home alone. So if you're anything like me, you're going to want to read these chilling books with the lights on.
Sure, it sounds a little backwards to give yourself the chills in the dead of winter. But there is something sort of satisfying about reading a creepy story while bundled up in a blanket, drinking hot chocolate. You're all safe and warm as you read about people trapped in a house that devours souls. As long as you close that book and occupy your time with something else before bed (and sleep with the lights on to dilute your nightmares), you should be OK.
So here are a few stories to send a chill down your spine... you've been warned:
1. 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' by Shirley Jackson
I will stand by We Have Always Lived in the Castle as one of the most chilling stories ever written. It's a slim little book about Merricat Blackwood, who lives with her sister in a big house. No one in town will go near the house. Everyone else in their family is dead. Shirley Jackson's genius turns that simple premise into a tense, disturbing story that builds to a twisted climax.
2. 'Coraline' by Neil Gaiman
People's reactions to Coraline range from "what a charming children's adventure story!" to "what an absolute horror — who would let children read this nightmare?" My two cents is the Coraline is a delightful, creepy adventure story when read in the daytime... and a visceral carnival of terror when read late at night.
3. 'Pet Sematary' by Stephen King
How do you pick just one Stephen King novel? It's a tough call, but my vote is with Pet Sematary for the most chilling of them all. You've got your King classics, like creepy people living in Maine, but you've also got undead cats. And the occasional undead family member. Actually, this one might freak you out even with the lights on.
4. 'Through the Woods' by Emily Carroll
5. 'The Island of Dr. Moreau' by H.G. Wells
You know what? I maybe hate this book. It's so much creepier than anything written in the 1890s has any right to be. It made me ill. I mean, if H.G. Wells' description of a dog who has been surgically tortured until he kind of looks like a man doesn't send a physical chill down your spine, then I can't help you.
6. 'House of Leaves' by Mark Z. Danielewski
So House of Leaves is about a family that buys a house, and the house turns out to be bigger on the inside than on the outside. That's the whole plot. And yet Mark Z. Danielewski turns the haunted house archetype on its head with this supremely weird and mind-bending story within a story, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. This is a hide-it-in-the-freezer at night kind of book.
7. 'White is for Witching' by Helen Oyeyemi
8. 'Zone One' by Colson Whitehead
If zombies are your nightmare fuel of choice, then you must check out Zone One's take on an apocalypse of the undead. The narrative skips back and forth from the worst of the zombie outbreak to the subsequent aftermath in what's left of lower Manhattan. Colson Whitehead's novel is wry, cerebral, and deeply chilling.
9. 'Horrorstör' by Grady Hendrix
Yes, this book is cleverly crafted to look just like an Ikea catalog and yes, it's totally hilarious. But that doesn't mean it's not intensely creepy, too. Three employees stay late in a closed "Orsk" store, hoping to get to the bottom of the strange phenomena they've been observing. Instead, they find themselves trapped in a labyrinthine horror overnight.
10. 'Scary Stories Treasury' by Alvin Schwartz
You remember Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, that book that haunted every waking moment of your childhood? Well Scary Stories Treasury collects all of Alvin Schwartz's terrifying tales from all the Scary Stories books, with the original illustrations by Stephen Gammell. And they're just as chilling as you remember. (But I wouldn't recommend tell them in the dark.)