In the lead-up to All Hallows' Eve, we asked our Amazon Books Facebook fans to cast their vote (via comments) for the scariest book they'd ever read. Out of nearly 500 votes cast, 38% went to Stephen King. Fans split on which of his books were the freakiest, but there was one clear winner.
1. It by Stephen King: King's story of seven friends from a small Maine town who are drawn back as adults to vanquish the evil they fought as children got twice as many fan votes as any other book. Several said they were too scared to finish it, reported nightmares, and were never able to look at a clown the same way again ("hate those creepy clowns!").
2. The Shining by Stephen King: The Torrance family’s attempt at a fresh start caretaking the off-season Overlook Hotel goes horribly awry as sinister forces gather. Fans recalled being especially unnerved by the woman in the bathtub ("scared the crap out of me") and the playground scene ("Danny in the tube with something else! Terrifying!"). And one cited the Friends episode where Joey was so afraid of this book, he stored it in the freezer.
3. 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King: Senior Editor Jon Foro calls this "King's creepy riff on Dracula, shifting the angst from Victorian repression to the secrets of a small town that come out of the cellars after the sun goes down." One fan reported, "I could only read it during the day so the vampires couldn't get me," while others foiled the fangs by sleeping with a cross or blankets around the neck. Yet another swore off scary books for good after this one: "I haven't read a Stephen King book since. Or any other scary book, really."
4. Pet Sematary by Stephen King: As one of King's characters says of the cemetery's effects, "Heroin makes junkies feel good when they put it in their arms, but all the time it's poisoning their mind and body--this place can be like that and don't you ever forget it!" Fans insist the book's even scarier than the movie, and for those who were able to finish, its necrotic claws have left some scars: "Still can't look at cats!"
5. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty: One of the most terrifying, controversial novels ever published, The Exorcist became a phenomenal best-seller soon after its release in 1971. Several fans who read this book report being unable to watch the movie (out of self-preservation). Another explained simply, "I don't read scary books anymore."
6. The Stand by Stephen King: When a rapidly mutating flu virus escapes a U.S. military facility and wipes out nearly all the world's population, the stage is set for an apocalyptic showdown. For many, this book terrified because it's so plausible: "It just doesn't seem to be out of the realm of possibility." One fan reports, "I think of it every time I pass through a tunnel."
7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: Speaking of real, Capote’s "nonfiction novel" about the brutal murder of the Clutter family by would-be robbers invented a new genre, creative nonfiction, and his scenes of bloody walls and the "thud-snap" of rope-broken necks terrified readers. One fan said, "it bothered me that there are people in the world like that," while another agreed, and noted that "I thought it would be a dull read, but really the creepiest thing out there."
8. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill: Amazon Senior Editor Robin Rothman notes that "while King is clearly supreme, I still can’t stop thinking about N0S4A2 by his son, Joe Hill. The apple doesn’t fall far from the twisted tree." Our Facebook fans favored Hill's creepy Heart-Shaped Box ("scared the bejesus out of me!"). One gave this testimonial: "I've read horror all my life, practically--the only book that gave me nightmares is Heart-Shaped Box."
9. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski: Our reviewer John Ponyicsanyi said, "Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blast at their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like House of Leaves." One of our fans described the experience of reading it: "I felt like if I took my eyes off the page and looked up, the room would suddenly and inexplicably have acquired a new door or unfamiliar hallway. Terrifying."
10. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson: In late 1975, the Lutz family moved into a Long Island house, knowing that a year earlier, Ronald DeFeo had murdered his parents, brothers, and sisters there. Less than a month later, they fled in terror. Whether it’s true or not, the story of a house possessed by evil became a huge best-seller, and it scared the pants off many fans, one of whom called it "absolutely the most frightening book I've ever read!" Another said, it "just made me feel unclean inside."
If you've already read everything on this list and want another jolt of pure literary fear, have you succumbed yet to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House? Jon Foro calls this classic of the genre a "ghost story superbly crafted and unnerving as hell, a book best read alone."
Thanks to all our Facebook fans who shared their scariest reading moments! --Mari