Boo Who: 9 Classic Horror Books, Old and New

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Liberty Hardy

Senior Contributing Editor

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

We are in the heyday of horror books, my friends! The genre has gained more mainstream popularity as this century rolls on, and we are all better for it. A genre that was once mostly released directly in mass market form is now on all the tables at the bookstore. And we have a new wave of horror writer heroes: Alma Katsu, Rachel Harrison, Grady Hendrix, Stephen Graham Jones, Victor LaValle…The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. For those of you horror lovers who have been feasting on all the new horror releases, here is a list of nine classic horror books, new and old, to add to your TBR menu!

We all know the classic horror books, like Dracula by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley or The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. And everyone knows Stephen King. This list aims to introduce you to (or remind you of) a few amazing horror novels. A couple of these were made into classic films, but have you read the frightening books they were based on? One is considered the first American Gothic novel to be published. In this list, you will find vampires, and demons, werewolves and ghosts. A little bit of everything to satiate your horror-loving heart!

cover of The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty; image of a ghostly face in shades of red

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Yes, this is one of the most famous scary movies. And yes, that joke about drenching a copy of this book and hiding it in someone’s closet/desk/car has been around almost as long as the internet. But have you read the book? Blatty based this novel on a case he heard about from the 1940s, in which a young girl was possessed by a demon and an exorcism was performed to try and help her. Blatty let his imagination run wild and turned it into one of the most upsetting tales of terror to cross bookshelves. Even if you think you know the story from the movie, read the book.

cover of Wieland: or, The Transformation: An American Tale by Charles Brockden Brown; photo of a man holding fire in his hands

Wieland: or, The Transformation: An American Tale by Charles Brockden Brown

And this is the book I mentioned that is considered the first American Gothic novel published. It’s about the Wieland family, whose father spontaneously combusts in a temple he made in his yard, and then whose house and family seems to be cursed. If you love horror or literary history, you should definitely read it because it’s a classic. It does have scary, intense parts, but the reveal is very silly at the end. (Although it must have been terrifying for people in 1798, who didn’t understand how it worked back then.)

cover of The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories by Angela Carter; illustration of a wolf door knocker

The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories by Angela Carter

This is an essential collection of adult fairy tales that stay true to the original tellings of fairy tales before they were Disney-fied. Which means that horrible, scary things happen in them. Carter puts a smart, subversive spin on such classics as “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Puss in Boots”, and “Bluebeard”. This is the book your favorite authors read when they were little.

cover of The Good House by Tananarive Due, featuring a scary house with a scary tree behind it

The Good House by Tananarive Due

Due is one of the greatest horror writers of the last several decades, and she deserves a bigger audience. This is a haunted house story, about the Toussaint family in Oregon. Angela Toussaint inherits the family’s house, but shortly after moving in, her world is destroyed by the death of her son. Two years later, she decides to go back to the “Good House” to understand what happened, and uncovers a horrifying story of evil that goes back generations in her family.

cover of Come Closer by Sara Gran; photo of bottom half of a woman's face with top half obscured by red smoke

Come Closer by Sara Gran

And this is a slim classic about a woman who is coming unraveled. Relationships can be hell: Amanda has led a happy, satisfying life as an architect, but then things start going wrong. She doesn’t feel like herself; she starts smoking, getting aggressive and violent with her husband, and sleeping around. And then there’s the weird dreams she keeps having. Is the figure she sees in her dreams a real demon? And can she get rid of it before she loses herself completely? Seriously, all of Gran’s books should be added to your TBR right away.

coverof Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones; illustration of a snarling wolf against a yellow backgroound

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Stephen Graham Jones is essential reading if you want to educate yourself in the best of 21st century horror. He recently published two amazing novels, My Heart Is a Chainsaw and its sequel Don’t Fear the Reaper, that are excellent dissections of the genre. But this is an earlier work that is an amazing take on the werewolf story, with the transformation tied into growing up and family trauma and inheritance. You’ll never look at nylon stockings the same.

cover of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson; illustration of a mob of vampoires

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

And this is another example of a classic that is now known for its movie. It’s about Neville, who might be the last man on the planet who isn’t a vampire. He lives in seclusion, filled with abject loneliness, hiding from the vampires by night and hunting them by day. The book is different in many ways, and since it is possibly the greatest vampire novel of the 20th century (sorry, Anne Rice), you should definitely pick it up. Or any Matheson for that matter. He’s another writer who influenced many of your horror heroes. (Swan Song is also a masterpiece.)

cover of Revenge- Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yōko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder (translator)

You’ve probably heard about this story collection before, because we talk about it at Book Riot all the time. If you like your stories to be weird, smart, and upsetting, then pull up a chair and crack this one open. These are 11 interconnected tales of people doing seriously unusual and alarming things, involving love, murder, surgery, a bakery, and a macabre collection of implements.

cover of The Ring by Koji Suzuki; repeating optical illusion pattern of red lines and blue circles, with a skull in the center

Ring by Koji Suzuki

And for the last pick, another classic whose movie adaptation has overshadowed it. We all know the movie The Ring, about teenagers, a videotape (which is now so dated, lol) and the creepy girl who crawls out of the television and bends herself in weird poses. But you should read the book, too, because it’s tons of scary fun. It’s a horror novel and a mystery, with a race to beat the clock as people struggle to figure out how to keep from dying after they watch the cursed videotape (without having to do the terrible things they are asked.) Can they cheat VHS death?

For more great classic horror books and other reads, check out 20 Horror Books by Authors of Color and 11 Harrowing New Horror Books to Read in March 2023. And be sure to sign up for our weekly horror newsletter The Fright Stuff!