Scary books for someone who's new to the "reading" thing...
November 20, 2013 11:42 AM   Subscribe

What would be a good scary "intro" book for someone who normally isn't into reading but loves scary movies and has recently decided he is open to reading scary fiction?

I'm looking for a good scary book to give my mid-20's brother for Christmas. He loves scary movies but has never been too into reading for fun. Despite this, I took a chance last year and got him Stefan Kiesbye's Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone (I'd read a review and it sounded good and creepy) and to my delighted surprise, he really liked it and said he'd be open to more.

I've seen plenty of questions here about horror/thriller book recommendations but I am specifically looking for something that wouldn't overwhelm a "new-ish" reader (and to clarify, he's perfectly intelligent, but he'd be the first to tell you he has a short attention span, which is probably why he doesn't like reading most of the time). For example, something like Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian would probably be way too much at this point. I asked him for his favorite scary movies and he said it was hard to pick but that Event Horizon, The Descent, and Insidious were way up on his list. I realize those are all pretty different as far as types of horror, but thought it might help hone the suggestions a bit.
posted by lovableiago to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Stephen King is perfect for this. You might pick one of his slimmer novels, but they're all eminently readable, and King has hooked a great number of non-readers on his stuff.
posted by xingcat at 11:44 AM on November 20, 2013 [14 favorites]

2nd King, specifically Christine, Firestarter or Pet Semetary. Not too heavy and well-paced
posted by Gorgik at 11:46 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Stephen King but if he's still trying to gauge his attention span for sitting & reading, then why not start with short stories? Poe is excellent for this.
posted by headnsouth at 11:46 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nth'ing King, particularly his story collections, which also often feature his non-horror stuff, which might help expand your brother's field.
posted by Etrigan at 11:47 AM on November 20, 2013

I really enjoyed NOS4A2 by King's son Joe Hill. It hits a climax about 20% in and just. keeps. going. and it's pretty scary too.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:49 AM on November 20, 2013

For a quick and fun read, check out The Ruins--he may have seen the recent movie as well.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:50 AM on November 20, 2013

Short attention span? Likes scary fiction? Sounds like a job for one Edgar Allan Poe, especially his short stories.
posted by General Malaise at 11:54 AM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Try Ammaniti's I'm Not Scared. I believe it was made into a movie.
posted by vacapinta at 11:56 AM on November 20, 2013

This is why the Elder Gods gave us H. P. Lovecraft!

Also, a lot of Kafka will scare the pants off you, but it's a different kind of "scare".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:15 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't start with Poe. I would start with more modern stuff, and then they can work their way back into history.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:28 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: stoneandstar touched on what I came back in to say: H.P. Lovecraft and Poe would not be good for him to start--I am a pretty avid reader and I've gotten bored with that stuff pretty quickly (granted I don't really like scary stuff but it's the style more than anything. More importantly, he's never showed much interest in historical or historically-set entertainment so I can't see him getting to into that stuff, regardless of how much he may end up liking it). Thanks for all the ideas so far. King is good and additional modern suggestions are very welcome!
posted by lovableiago at 12:35 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Given that he liked The Descent, I'm inclined to think that he would love Clive Barker's short stories, many of which have been made into movies. I'm also told that Dean Koontz' horror books tend to be pretty fast and fun reads.
posted by jbickers at 12:41 PM on November 20, 2013

I was coming in to mentiion Stephen King, since he really seems to be your go-to guy for this.

I'd like to add Jeffrey Deaver to the mix. I've enjoyed what I've read of his Lincoln Rhyme novels and his stand-alone works, though I wasn't to keen on anything else I've read by him.

If he's into medical thrillers at all, Robin Cook might be another option to look into, though I haven't read any of his more recent work.

And, come to think of it, how about Tales of the unexpected and its sequel by Roald Dahl? To be honest I haven't read either, but Dahl is a great writer and the TV series based on these stories scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.
posted by rjs at 12:59 PM on November 20, 2013

The Books of Blood, by Clive Barker.
Weaveworld, by Clive Barker.
The Unblemished, by Conrad Williams.
Wetbones, by John Shirley.
The Cipher, by Kathe Koja.
The Tenant, by Roland Topor.
The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:00 PM on November 20, 2013

Seconding Dean Koontz... he's no literary stylist but his books tend to be very grabby easy reads
Also King... I think his short stories are where he shines so are great for short attention spans
There's also Christopher Farnsworth's vampire series... he's a screen writer and his books read like film adaptations but again they are easy reads
There was also an original novel The Descent by Jeff Long which is quite a lot different from the film and is, you've gussed it, an easy read
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:11 PM on November 20, 2013

algernon blackwood's "the willows". it's in the public domain and consequently available on the web.
posted by bruce at 1:24 PM on November 20, 2013

Nthing King and Joe Hill, but also anything by Adam Nevill, especially The Ritual.

I would not start a new reader out with short stories--I don't think they would tend to captivate new readers the same way novels do--and if I did go with short stories, I would not go with classics like Poe or even Blackwood, and I say this as someone who 1. loves short stories and 2. loves classic horror shorts. If he does show an interest in short stories, there are several year's best horror anthologies that have good modern short horror fiction in them. But I'd stick with novel length stuff for now.
posted by tiger tiger at 1:44 PM on November 20, 2013

"The Strain" trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.
posted by hush at 2:41 PM on November 20, 2013

Best answer: Gah, this is like my dream recommendation. Horror is my favorite genre and I love all the movies he's listed. I also definitely second the Stephen King. That said, I have read Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, and

a) it's spooky, as opposed to outright scary

b.) It's actually quite literary, even though it's accessible (it's certainly not a horror novel in the Dean Koontz mode)

c.) It's very short

So with that in mind, here are my top short, spooky, accessible, yet smart books:

1. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. I liked Gone Girl better, and he might, too, but this is an easier pitch to a guy horror fan (axe murders!) and it's spooky and atmospheric as hell.

2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Short, strange, perfect, and creepy as fuck. I'd get him the edition I linked to - it's stylish and cool and packaged in such a way you'd never guess it was A Classic.

3. There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petruveshkaya. Normally I agree with people who say short stories aren't the way to go with new readers, but the fact that he liked Your House Was On Fire, Your Children All Gone, which really does privilege atmosphere over plot, makes me recommend this. Plus, it's super short and it's such a cool thing to be able to say you're reading - it's the riskiest of the three, but going on intuition, I guess it'd make a cool gift.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 2:46 PM on November 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure why everyone thinks We Have Always Lived At The Castle is so scary. I don't think I'd recommend that to a guy looking for scary literature as the scary part is all about the relationships between the people. But who knows...

I'd go for Cujo by Stephen King. Its a quick read, action packed and scary as hell. I couldn't be in the same room with my dog for days after reading it!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:08 PM on November 20, 2013

Of course maybe the scare factor is harder to imagine these days. I can just imagine someone in their twenties reading Cujo and thinking, "Why don't they just call someone on their cell phone?!"
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:10 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to suggest The Passage by Justin Cronin. Its kind of long and it does start off mildly boring but then it gets really good. Reading at 3am with all the lights on and the dogs on the bed scary-good. Its an easy read with a modern sensibility and the plot is not as totally predictable and ridiculous as a lot of horror.

World War Z is also a good easy read. Less terrifying, more solution oriented.
posted by fshgrl at 3:20 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pet Semetary is to this day, the only book to have given me nightmares.

I was probably 15 when I read it? which is pretty old to get nightmares, especially since I read all kinds of creepy crap.

(well, pet semetary and some weird fake cave exploration blog on the internet)
posted by euphoria066 at 4:13 PM on November 20, 2013

Here to nth Stephen King - he's freakishly readable and absorbing. But with regard to Dean Koontz, I have to say - stick with the earlier stuff, because something terrible has happened to his writing in recent years. Something like Phantoms or Lightning might be what you're looking for - they're quick, fun reads. But his later stuff falls off an unexpected cliff of terrible, and lands in worse. It's florid to the point of unintelligible, and I couldn't recommend it to anyone.
posted by kythuen at 4:14 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Out of the many Stephen King stories I've read, I recommend "Joyland".
posted by applesurf at 4:20 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

My least favorite scary author is Stephen King, but I have to admit I love "The Shining" and "Carrie."
posted by fifilaru at 4:21 PM on November 20, 2013

Nthing N0SA42 - sooooooo good!
posted by floweredfish at 4:33 PM on November 20, 2013

The novelization of Alien is, as I remember, very scary.

I was 14 and at my dad's girlfriend's house one evening when everybody was out at something I didn't have to go to. I stayed home instead, reading Alien. Although I started in the afternoon, by the time I got toward the end it was after dark, and the only light in the house was the lamp next to my chair. Suddenly, her cat jumped onto the dining table in the room behind me. I jumped several inches and knocked over the footstool.
posted by Lexica at 8:29 PM on November 20, 2013

Graphic novels might be a good gateway. (Halfway between a movie and a book.) If you agree, try the "Sandman" bound volumes. The comic ran 75 issues, and since has been collected in 10 volumes, which are all in print:

Preludes and Noctures
The Doll's House
Dream Country
Season of Mists
A Game of You
Fables and Reflections
Brief Lives
Worlds' End
The Kindly Ones
The Wake

They're available in Kindle editions, too. (Given that it's in color, you'd want a Kindle Fire HD to read them.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:02 PM on November 20, 2013

Clive Barker would be good, but if he's got an ebook reader, load up with the Poe, Lovecraft, M. R. James and William Hope Hodgson just in case. They're in the public domain, so they're free from sites like

(The two links go to pages where you can buy the paper book or download legal, free PDF editions)

Metafilter's own Charlie Stross' Laundry series is also completely awesome and full of lovecraftian beasties for the iPhone crowd, so maybe your brother would like The Atrocity Archives.
posted by sukeban at 3:38 PM on November 21, 2013

(And some short stories are online: maybe you can direct your brother to Equoid to get a taste of the Laundry and see if he likes it?)
posted by sukeban at 3:40 PM on November 21, 2013

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