The following is a short list of the best horror books that I’ve read over the years. I think all of the books on this list are extremely enjoyable and you should definitely check them out.
The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft: Lovecraft is one of the most influential horror writers of all time. Not much needs to be said about him, his work or cosmic horror. I chose to include Lovecraft mostly for his influence on horror literature, but also because his brand of horror is a personal favorite of mine, both in reading and in writing. This edition of the book has the most complete selection of his tale and comes at an affordable price.
Some things should be said though. I tend to enjoy many of his earlier works, that weren’t part of his typical style of cosmic horror yet. I think most of them were inspired by the works of Lord Dunsany or Edgar Allan Poe. They are in my opinion very enjoyable as short scares or twisted tales.
One share of his works I didn’t enjoy were his ‘Dream Cycle’ writings. Most of the time they seemed to be nothing more but short glimpses into a dream world and not stories. The longest of these works ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ was quite tedious to read. The story was together quite boring, repetitive and forgettable. It mostly consisted of descriptions of fabulous places with strange names that weren’t important to the story.
What I enjoyed most were his longer works and the popular novellas he wrote in his later life, which are his most iconic works. A short list of the stories that anyone interested in Lovecraft should read are the following:
- The Outsider
- The Rats in the Walls
- The Music of Erich Zann
- The Lurking Fear
- The Whisperer in Darkness
- At the Mountains of Madness
- The Shadow Out of Time
- The Dunwich Horror
- The Call of Cthulhu
- The Color Out of Space
House of Leaves is one of those books that everyone talked about after it first came out. The reason is simply that the book is completely weird. The formatting, the story telling as well as the structure itself are unconventional.
The book is set up as a non-fiction book written by an old man named Zampanó. The topic of this nonfiction book is the so-called Navidson Record, a fake documentary. The topic of it is a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside. Accompanying this are the notes of Johnny Truant, who found Zamapnó’s manuscript and is more and more getting lost, while trying to find out more about it.
The book is filled with footnotes referencing both existing as well as fictional literature and academic works. The formatting of the book gets weirder the weirder the content of the book gets. There are parts in which only a single words is shown on a page. On other occasions the text can be found upside down or even mirrored. It all adds to the effect of the book.
I really enjoyed the book and at times it was generally unsettling by including talk about agoraphobic and claustrophobic events. What also added to it was the ‘Nothing Is Scarier‘ element of Johnny Truants story, who slowly descends into madness due to his involvement with Zampanós manuscript.
I can really recommend this book if alone for the unconventional way it is presented to readers.
Robert W. Chambers book was one of the first attempts to write stories about a nameless and unimaginable horror. It is one of the first books in the genre and is generally named as one of the clear inspirations for later writers, such as H. P. Lovecraft and others. The book is a short story collection, which I’d recommend to anyone who is interested in works of fiction similar to Lovecraft’s. In this collection of Chamber’s stories are also included his attempts at speculative fiction as well as science-fiction. It is a quick, but very enjoyable and interesting read.
This is another short and enjoyable read by Arthur Machen. The book is another example of earlier horror and Machen’s works were another prime inspiration for Lovecraft. One of Machen’s stories,
“The Great God Pan” for example is an absolute classic of a weird tale. The story is absolutely amazing in itself, but it was also one of Lovecraft’s favorites and a model on which he based the structure of “The Call of Cthullhu”.
In the end, there is not as much cosmic horror or weird horror to be found in this collection as in Lovecraft’s works, but the titular story in itself is worth a look at. I really enjoyed the book back when I read it and finished it in only a few days.
Wayne Barlow is a name I will always remember. I first found out about him because of his haunting images and artworks of hell. If you are interested in can view all of them here, on his website. They are absolutely amazing. Ever since I read Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost, was I fascinated with the depiction of hell
I first found out about this book years ago, but never got to actually reading it. I recently finished it and I have to say the world building and the sheer creativity that went into the book is fantastic. The depiction of the demons, their appearance, their conduct, what they do and especially how the wage war was great. What was also great was how Barlow presented the Hell as a pseudo-organic, volcanic wasteland as well as all of its natural inhabitants.
The story of the book is told rather quickly. Sargatanas, one of the major demons of hell, can’t continue his existence the way he did until now. He starts a rebellion against Beelzebub the Ruler of Hell to prove himself worthy to go back to Heaven.
The book kept me engaged till the end, but I have to admit that some of the characterization, as well as the story at times, weren’t all too good. The book is worth reading though, if only for the world building alone. It is just that good.
The Japanese Horror manga artist Junji Ito is one of my favorite creator of horror. It should not be too surprising that I am drawn to his works, since most of Ito’s works focus on cosmic horror or the fear of the unknown.
Uzumaki is probably his most known and also one of his best works. It is a very Lovecraftian work that focuses on the small town of Kurouzo-Cho. The people in this town start being obsessed by spirals. As the story progresses more and more weird things keep happening and people as well as other things in town start to transform and mutate into weird and strange forms.
The Tomie series which focuses on a beautiful, yet terrible woman. She is able to seduce any man who lays eyes on and drive them to commit all sorts of atrocities including murder. The titular character Tomi can best be described as a terrible, immortal succubus.
Gyo is probably Ito’s strangest work. It all starts with the appearance of strange legged fish. Soon all of Japan is invaded by similar monstrosities and bring with them a repugnant smell, described as the “stench of death”. From here on the story grows more and more grotesque and weird and turns into a surreal nightmare without any escape.
There are various other works by Junji Ito which are highly enjoyable. Most of those are in short story form, which can at times be even better than his longer works. Who would forget works such as “The Enigma of Amigara Falls”, “Hanging Ballons” or “My Dear Ancestors”. If you want to get a great collection of Ito’s works, I can highly recommend his collection Shiver, which includes some of his best works.