Recently, I had one of the most fitting reading experiences of my life. I was sitting on my bed, reading How To Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix, which is about scary dolls and puppets. And right in the middle of a tense scene, my Baby Yoda doll fell from my bookshelf (thank you, cats) and landed on my ankle. To say I screamed would be an understatement. I also launched myself several inches straight up off the bed. I was so startled! And then I laughed a lot. What an absolutely perfect time for that to happen. This is all to say: Hello, my name is Liberty, and I like books that scare me. It is fun to read books that scare us, because it’s a controlled burn. We have control over the situation. That’s why I’ve made this list of 11 of the Best Horror Short Story Collections.
This list is comprised of mostly recent collections. You don’t need me to recommend Shirley Jackson or Stephen King to you. That’s like trying to find out about different flavors of ice cream and being pitched vanilla and chocolate — they’re good, but you already know about them. These are some of the most wonderful, unusual, and frightening collections I have read in recent years. And with collections of stories, it’s fun, because you get all kinds of different flavors of scary in one book. So please sit back, secure your tray tables and Baby Yoda dolls, and enjoy this list. I’ll meet you at the bottom to recommend more lists of scary books to check out.
North American Lake Monsters: Stories by Nathan Ballingrud
This is Ballingrud’s debut collection, which won a Shirley Jackson Award. Like horror stories throughout history, he uses monsters as a metaphor for things both real and imagined in many forms. There are stories with familiar monsters such as vampires, werewolves; and white supremacists, and a few you may not recognize. And if these stories seem familiar, you might know the series adaptation Monsterland.
Mestiza Blood by V. Castro
This is subtitled “a short story collection of nightmares, dreams, desire and visions focused on the Chicana experience.” Castro explores horror based in the folklore and legends of Mexican culture — some supernatural, like demons and monsters, and some very human. Castro is quickly becoming one of the best writers putting out horror today. If you enjoy this, you should also check out Goddess of Filth and The Queen of the Cicadas.
Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due
This award-winning collection is centered around the town of Gracetown, Florida. Some incorporate the racism and hardships experienced by Black people in America. Though published over a decade ago, there’s a hauntingly familiar story about a pandemic. There’s a woman who is cursed with knowing when people will die. And the first story is the reason I won’t swim in anything but a pool. Pro tip: For anyone who is looking for a Stephen King read-alike, I think Due’s novel The Good House is the closest I’ve read.
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell
I cannot wait for everyone to read Enríquez’s horror novel Our Share of Night, coming in February 2023. But in the meantime, you can get several small tastes of her brilliance in this collection (and the follow-up The Dangers of Smoking in Bed.) These are all set in present day Argentina and make up an unsettling collection about real violence and protest in the country, as well as supernatural horrors.
The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell by Brian Evenson
Once again, humans are the biggest terror in this collection (as it should be — we’re menaces) as are the things we create. Evenson is an expert at combining mankind’s fractured, faulty selves with creeping dread and horror. My favorite story involves a vengeful prosthetic arm. (Related: There’s another amazing story involving a prosthetic arm in Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea: Stories by Sarah Pinsker.)
After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones
By now you are probably familiar with Book Riot fave SGJ’s horror novels Mongrels, The Only Good Indians, and My Heart Is a Chainsaw, since we talk about them a LOT. But he’s also a very prolific writer of short stories, many of which have won awards. This is a great, award-winning collection of terrors real and imagined, in which even the titles are scary: “The Spindly Man,” “The Spiderbox,” “Uncle.” Just…gah.
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado
This is a National Book Award-nominated collection! Not every book is a horror story, but it’s such a great mix of dread and unusualness incorporated into a look at how we view women’s agency, that it belongs on every list that mentions short stories. The cover illustration is in reference to Machado’s retelling of The Green Ribbon story, which takes on a much more sinister tone in this book.
Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda, translated by Polly Barton
And these are Japanese folk tales with feminist twists! Like so many of the other collections on this list, they do an excellent job combining real world issues with otherworldly instances. This collection is especially spirit-heavy, so heads up, all you ghost fans out there.
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder
Holy cats, I have been recommending this book since January of 2013, which seems impossible. This is a great pick to read during the Halloween season. It’s eleven connected, disturbing stories of people who are seeking, or are the subject of — you guessed it — revenge. Ogawa is like Danny Boyle and Colson Whitehead in that she seems to visit a different genre with each work, but I am holding out hope that she’ll return to horror one day.
Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
If you have read Schweblin before, you know that everything she writes ranges from unsettling to terrifying. I have read her novel Fever Dream a dozen times and it still upsets me! (I have yet to watch the adaptation, though.) This new collection just made the 2022 National Book Award longlist for a work of translation. It’s seven stories about seven different ways that seven different houses are unusual, to say the least.
Never Have I Ever: Stories by Isabel Yap
And lastly (but only because I alphabetized by author), this is a very surreal selection of stories. I will reiterate that you don’t need a man in a hockey mask with a giant knife in every story for it to be scary. These are stories of urban legends, spirits, and spells. But like most things in life, they will shock and surprise you. Nothing is what it seems.
If you enjoy being scared out of your socks by books, you should also check out 20 Must-Read Horror Books You’ve Never Heard Of, We Scare You To Read This: Exciting 2022 Horror Books, and be sure to sign up for our horror newsletter The Fright Stuff!