10 Frightening Books

  1. Inferno, Dante Alighieri
    • What’s scarier than Hell? Here, you have the honor of being led by Virgil on a tour of the nine circles and, in the end, you make the acquaintance of Lucifer. Find a version with Gustave Doré’s engravings—they’re beautiful. 
  2. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
    • Read it for Father Arnall’s sermon on Hell (chapter three), which is almost as scary as Hell itself.
  3. Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
    • Like a good horror movie, half of the scares come from not knowing what’s going on. The other half of the scares come from the extent to which obsession dominates the characters in this book. Bonus points for a final scene of hazy parallelism (possession?) between a woman and a dog.
  4. A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro
    • Ishiguro’s is a subtle horror, which navigates the terrain between the psychological and the philosophical fluidly. Ishiguro is sparing in his clues, leaving only enough to tantalize the reader in the not-knowing.
  5. Steps, Jerzy Kosinski
    • Steps is bizarre and sure to unsettle. At times, it seems that this slim volume is only a collection of perversion and violence, though to the discerning eye, it is always, if improbably, more.
  6. Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre
    • The weight of meaninglessness impinges to claustrophobic effect in Nausea, which, after 200 pages, lingers like the void that surrounds us. 
  7. The Book of Revelation, John of Patmos
    • The final book of the Bible features a cast of characters of immense mythological significance—such as the Dragon and the Beast 666, and, of course, God—doing immensely scary things. 
  8. The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
    • This short novel relies on tenuous causal links to question the range of human agency. Did I cause this to happen, or is it just a coincidence? The not-knowing is consuming and a source of epistemological dread. 
  9. 1984, George Orwell
    • An unlikely choice, but: Rats! Additionally, the vision of totalitarianism that the novel presents is as relevant today as it was in 1949 (the year of publication), what with contemporary concerns of surveillance and negationism. 
  10. 2666, Roberto Bolaño
    • I’ve mentioned 2666 before, but it bears inclusion on this list, for it details one of the worst sprees of crime in recent memory, with an intentional dispassion that heightens the horribleness of the acts. Read it.