To be clear, I really dislike book lists. You’ve probably seen them. Lists with titles like, The 100 books you should read before you die (no pressure here), Books of the well-educated mind, (This is my least favorite. I often say, “It’s not what you read, but how you read that counts), The best novels of all time (according to who?) and The 100 books everyone should read (why?).
Yet each time I see a new list I am suckered into looking at it if for no other reason than to try to figure out why the author felt these are must reads and what makes him or her an expert. A about a week ago a list titled 10 novels that will scare the hell out of you appeared on The Huffington Post and then, the internet being the internet, made its round on Twitter. I love scary books, though it has been years since one scared the hell out me. Ever since I sat in a hospital room waiting while surgeons performed open heart on my 2 ½ month old son, no written word has truly terrified me. But, still I hope.
I’ve read many of the books on this list, and while I agree The Shining is one scary book, the others are mere exercises in psychological thrills. While The Little Stranger by Sarah Water is well written, everyone I know who has read it saw the end coming.
I don’t think anyone one person can say what are the best or scariest books to read. It is up to the individual reader to determine that for his or her self. Oh sure book lists can be useful guides and are great for finding new authors, but no one should dictate what you read.
Yet, as I sat looking at the list of scary novels an idea emerged. What if we posted lists of reads we found scary? After all, Halloween is upon us. What if we shared our favorite scares? Not as personal propaganda ploys to get us to like what you like, but as a way of sharing our ideas on what scary means to us. I’ll start
I give you Sari’s scariest reads:
The Exorcist Peter Blatty
To be fair, I was way too young to read this. I think I was 11 or 12. As I mentioned in an earlier post about Dr. Sleep, my parents did not keep a lot of books in the house. This is one I sneaked into my room after my mom said, “This might not be a book you want to read”. If you know me, you will know her words made this the book I had to read.
The Exorcist scared me so badly, I slept with the light on for two full weeks! To this day I cannot watch the movie. It wasn’t so much as what happened, but to my immature mind, but that it could happen. That at any moment someone or something could take over my body and there wasn’t a damn thing anyone could about it. I bugged and bugged my mother to explain to me why she was so sure this would never happen. We had a theological debate of sorts for months after I read it. She ended up throwing the book in the fireplace as a type of exorcism.
Sybil Flora Rheta Schreiber
This is the book my mother should have burned after she read it. Bloody hell, this was a scary read. Once again I was far too young to read it and only did because my mother forbid me to do so.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this “true” story, it is about a woman who seeks therapy due to her constant loss of time (in some cases, years). What starts out as a story of a woman’s desperate attempt for help, quickly turns into a story of multiple personalities and pornographic child abuse. I can’t say what scared me more, Sybil’s mental instability or her mother’s psychotic personality.
I too experienced trauma as a child, though nothing on the scale of Sybil’s, and I wondered how much a person could take before their mind broke? I became scared that I would start missing time, or worse yet, have my friends look at me and say, “What’s wrong with you? You’re not yourself these days”.
Last year, after Sybil’s psychiatrist passed away, the truth came out. None of the story was true. Her mother did not sexually abuse her, and her various personalities were fabricated to please the doctor who was looking for someone to treat for split personalities. Turns out Sybil was sick, but not in the way we all thought. Come to think of it, this is just as scary.
The Shining Stephen King
This is the first Stephen King I read. I think it is one of his best. It’s not the story that scared me, but King’s imagery. How King is able to take everyday objects and turn them into stuff of nightmares is a wonder to me. His use of topiaries as demonic guardians had me running in the house mentally screaming, “Redum, redum!” when my mother innocently mentioned we should trim the hedges. I’ve mentioned this before, but fire hoses still creep me out. Whenever I’m around our fire trucks I walk far from the hoses lest they get any ideas about attacking me.
It Stephen King
I loved this book! When I read it in the fall of 1987 I could not put it down. Luckily for me I worked as a desk clerk at a small motel. Once all 35 rooms were sold for the night, I had hours to kill. I loved the characters and the story was just creepy enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. But I had no idea just how creepy and scary Pennywise the clown was until I almost killed a man.
I was living in Sebastopol California, a place of long quite farm roads. At the time Sebastopol was known for growing apples, melons and squash. In the spring and fall the roads were dotted with small roadside stands selling the freshest produce possible. This particular fall one industrious man decided to open a large roadside stand selling pumpkins, apples and fall vegetables. The man enlisted the help of his teen son, who was assigned the dubious task of encouraging drivers to stop. The man wanted his son to dress as a scarecrow or goofy farmer. The son, not happy to spend his weekends flagging cars down, decided to dress like a clown, and not just any clown. Oh, no, he dressed as Pennywise.
So there I was, speeding down this country lane, when I noticed a clown holding balloons standing at the edge of a dirt driveway. At first I thought it was odd that there was a clown standing on the road, but as I got closer I noticed his blue jumper, white shirt and red hair. It was Pennywise! My first and only thought was “kill the clown!” and so I turned the car into the driveway. Thank god for the both of us, he jumped into the ditch and I slammed on my brakes. When we both caught our breath we couldn’t apologize enough; he for scaring me, and I for almost running him down. I try not to run clowns down anymore, but man do I hate them!
Twilight Stephanie Meyer
No, don’t role your eyes. Let me explain. Two things about Twilight scare me; that it is a best seller and that many young female readers don’t find Edward’s “affection” abusive.
It’s scary enough to hear young girls declare this dribble to be the best book ever! But I even have co-workers who think Meyer is a genius. My IQ drops just holding the book. And can someone tell me what’s sexy about having a man push you down the stairs and disable your car just so you don’t go into town and “hurt yourself”? Since when is this a turn on? Oh and did you know in one of the books, Edward and Jacob engage in a penis comparison? Apparently vampires got all the charm while werewolves got everything else. This may be one of the scariest books I have ever read.
The comment section of the Huffington Post.
Who knew there was so much anger and vitriol in modern society? Pick any article from the Huffington Post and scroll down to the comment section. I promise you will be scared witless! The Post brings out the worst in people. Between the snarky comments, horrid grammar, straw man arguments and wild accusations nothing is sacred, nothing is off limits. It’s high school on steroids. Under an article in which a disabled Girl Scout risks her life to save drowning kittens will be wild Obama claims and stories about how the Girl Scouts is nothing more than a Nazi like terrorist group bent on world domination one badge at a time. If this is how our society acts while engaging in public discourse then I am truly horrified.
These are my 7 scares. What are yours?
4 thoughts on “Sari’s Scariest Reads”
Glad you have stopped running over clowns. LOL! They are scary. I’ve never liked them either. I think I saw a television version of Sybil when I was way too young and I’m still slightly warped from that.
Regarding Twilight. Yes! That scares me too. Exactly what you said. Abuse by men is not sexy! What century are we living in? When are women going to wake up? Ugh.
I need to read more Stephen King. I started reading The Stand and got only half way through it because it was scaring me too bad. I loved the Shining, but have only seen the movie. I love Jack Nicolas in it.
Happy Halloween Eve!
I agree with you on why Twilight is scary, but I don’t think I’ve read a truly terrifying book (other people’s responses to the books aside) in about ten years. I can’t remember the last time a book really scared me. Now all vampires are sensitive and misunderstood….
Nice post, again Sari. While I don’t have anything to add as far as scary books go, I don’t generally like or see the point of scaring oneself through fiction. I do feel that Twilight has ruined the vampire genre for younger generations, turning them into superficially glamorous and sexy characters rather than the monsters they were intended to be. Hell, even John Carpenter and James Woods didn’t cause this much damage with their pathetic attempt.
I do agree with your comments regarding public discourse. YouTube comments are another example (never read YouTube comments). Al Gore spoke about this years ago in his book The Assault on Reason, wherein he explained that television was responsible for quelling public conversations, since the medium is decidedly one-way. He predicted that the internet would counteract this, though his assessment was somewhat optimistic, in that he thought it would allow for more effective political discourse. I’m not sure that’s happened, but clearly he didn’t foresee the issue of every racist, misogynistic, ignorant asshead being able to voice their inane and often abusive opinions in a global forum. Present company excepted, of course.
People seem to confuse the ubiquitous right to speak freely with a right to be a jerk, and in certain situations that might be a correct equivalence, nut manners and respect seem to go out the window when anonymity grants the opportunity to speak out of turn.
As always, a great pleasure to read your work Sari, thank you for doing it.
LOLOLOL. What you’ve said here about Meyer is hilarious. Shhh. Please don’t say any of this around a pre-teen. They will eat you. LOL. Penis comparison?! REALLY??? OMG. Um, er, have critics read through the entire book? Whoa. Considering her target audience, I’m not sure how I feel about that.
But you’re right about the Huffington post comment section. I’ve been trying to figure out WHY there is so much venom on there. Come up with several answers, but it is scary. It can’t mean good things, as a picture of society at large.