Help me find the perfect book to read this summer!
July 3, 2007 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Help me find the perfect book(s) to make my summer complete. I've got a strong preference for almost realistic horror and things that might creep me out. Bonus points for books that involve old school sanitariums. Of course you'll find more specifications in the

First & foremost, I have read this thread, but it doesn't do it for me. Why?
  1. I hated House of Leaves. I wanted to like it, but it was neither scary nor engaging.
  2. I've read most of the common suggestions in that thread already.
However, I'm really desperate to find something new & exciting to sink my teeth into this summer. It's been a long year and now all I want is a sunny spot, a glass of iced tea, and a good book. Unfortunately, all my friends either like cheese (Anita Blake!), historical fiction, or stories that are more about people than an exciting plot.

Here is what I do like:
  • Suspense! and/or dread.
  • At least one character who is interesting.
  • A short leap away from reality.
  • Zombies, but only if done sort of believably.
  • Bonus Point Settings: Hospitals or Mental Hospitals. I don't know why.
  • Medical or biology related stuff.
  • Psychology related stuff.
  • Stephen King, especially The Shining, Pet Semetary & Cell*.
  • Some fantasy, e.g. George R. R. Martin.
  • Some sci-fi, e.g. 1984, Never Let Me Go, Brave New World, Ender's Game
  • Smooth but long reads - I read for fun, not to get my eyes crossed trying to read spiraling footnotes.
Here is what I do not like:
  • Chick Lit.
  • Vampires.
  • Vampire-themed chick lit.
  • Other stupid monsters including werewolves, mystery beasts, aliens, etc.
  • Flat, yawn-inducing characters.
  • All character, no plot.
  • An extremely long leap away from reality.
  • Totally reality-based and/or non-fiction.
  • Murder mysteries, government/military thrillers, etc.
  • House of Leaves**.
  • Historical fiction.
  • Oprah book club fodder
Thanks for any suggestions!

* Zombies!
** I have to reiterate that I hated House of Leaves, because I picked it up expecting to love it. Unfortunately, it seemed to me that the author was more concerned with playing with formats and voices, leaving the story, when you break it down, pretty bland and yawn-inducing. IMHO. Also, I know it's everyone's favoritest book ever and I'm probably just an idiot who doesn't "get" it. But that doesn't make me like it. ;-)
posted by tastybrains to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
This is more a kind of creepy book, not scary in any way, but really well-written and engaging: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. You may also like some of Jackson's other fiction, she wrote The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House and The Sundial, all vaguely horrific. Everything is pretty short, though.
posted by OmieWise at 11:50 AM on July 3, 2007

Best answer: Blindness by Jose Saramago.
posted by fire&wings at 11:50 AM on July 3, 2007

Best answer: Another creepy book (it's old-school-esque, but not set in a sanitarium) that I really enjoyed was John Harwood's Ghost Writer.
posted by leesh at 11:57 AM on July 3, 2007

John Connolly's books are pretty creepy. I couldn't get into The Black Angel.
posted by auntbunny at 11:59 AM on July 3, 2007

I highly recommend just about anything by Brian Keene.

His book The Rising is a top notch zombie tale following a father trekking cross-country to rescue his son. The sequel City of the Dead is also pretty good, but I didn't like it quite as much. His more recent novel Ghoul is zombie-ish, in that Romero's zombies are really more ghouls than traditional zombies. The Conqueror Worms is a great book that has an odd kind of tie-in to The Rising, but which can be read completely separately with no loss of enjoyment. Plus it's got giant killer worms. And a kraken.
posted by Lokheed at 12:09 PM on July 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Clive Barker seems to fit most of your requirements. Creepy, full of tension and dread. Some of his books are more fantasy, and some more grotesque, but you may find something you like.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:13 PM on July 3, 2007

You would delight in Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child collaborations, especially those involving Special Agent Pendergast, whose old money family tree suffers from root-rot: several generations of maniacal geniuses with the most gruesome hobbies imaginable.

One book to definitely try is "The Cabinet of Curiousities":...groundbreaking for an apartment tower in downtown Manhattan reveals a charnel house of murder victims from the late 19th century. Enter Pendergast...
The city is struck by killings that duplicate the earlier murders, with the victims' spinal cords ripped away and clues pointing to a 19th-century scientist who sought the secret of immortality. (via
posted by misha at 12:23 PM on July 3, 2007

World War Z (zombies vs. humans in the style of D-Day). The Wellington Zombie books are fun too. I've been reading Matheson's short stories in prep for the "I Am Legend" movie coming out later in the year.
posted by longdaysjourney at 12:29 PM on July 3, 2007

Best answer: You might like Four and Twenty Blackbirds and Wings to the Kingdom by Cherie Priest. They're effectively creepy ghost stories set in the modern South, and they feature a few mental hospitals (one abandoned, one still in use.) They're a nice short leap away from reality.
posted by runtina at 12:36 PM on July 3, 2007

I remember reading John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles when they came out - he's pretty creepy, and it takes place around the asylum. OTOH, that was ten years ago and it might be too cheese-inducing. I think some of his other books have some related themes.

If you're anything like me - and it sounds like it - stay the hell away from 'The Children's Hospital'. I couldn't finish it because it was rambling in a bad way and switched voices arbitrarily and it was too transparent.

If you liked shorter stuff, there's some earlier Ballard that might fit - his short stories, maybe Concrete Island - but it's got a faint thread of dread and creepiness to me, at least.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:37 PM on July 3, 2007

I was once a serious horror reader, devouring whole author's catalogues in the search of a scare. The only two books that have ever given me chills or caused me to lie awake at night were "Ghost Story" by Peter Straub (mentioned in the other thread), and "The Other" by Thomas Tryon. The latter is more of a bad seed psychological thriller and disturbing, and probably out of print.
posted by librarianamy at 12:38 PM on July 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

John Bellairs, noted children's horror fiction author, wrote one book for an older audience: The Face in the Frost.

I was going to describe it as The Hobbit as written by H. P. Lovecraft, so I was gratified to read in the Wikipedia article that he wrote it in response to Lord of the Rings. LeGuin said "The Face in the Frost takes us into pure nightmare before we know it—and out the other side."

But really, it's like nothing else I've ever read. Bellairs not only knew the horror possibilities of the slimy and the stinky inside out, he was a master of the shifting epistemological terror of paranoid delusions from which one cannot escape.

And yet, the book is utterly charming.

It's only drawback is that you will finish it in an afternoon.
posted by jamjam at 12:42 PM on July 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

Seconding Harwood's Ghost Writer.

And I didn't like House of Leaves either.
posted by quoththeraven at 1:04 PM on July 3, 2007

Chris Adrian's The Children's Hospital is phenomenal, long and gripping. It isn't exactly a horror novel, though there are some supernatural elements, and the premise is sort of science-fiction-y. Really incredible book.
posted by judith at 2:01 PM on July 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Phil Rickman has a series about Merrily Watkins, an exorsist for the C of E. Very good.
posted by miss tea at 2:07 PM on July 3, 2007

If you haven't read all of Stephen King, 'Autopsy Room Four' in Everything's Eventual meets a lot of your criteria.
posted by MtDewd at 2:43 PM on July 3, 2007

Seconding arcticwoman. Clive Barker is your man. Early Barker is better for the dread factor. His novels are great, but his early short story collections are phenomenal.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:17 PM on July 3, 2007

Patrick McGrath's Asylum or Port Mungo
posted by youngergirl44 at 4:31 PM on July 3, 2007

Iain Banks' first book, The Wasp Factory.
posted by zadcat at 5:44 PM on July 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! Most of these suggestions look awesome!

Also, jamjam, John Bellairs was my favorite author growing up, and you know I've got a well worn copy of The Face in the Frost. I might have to dig that up again.
posted by tastybrains at 10:46 PM on July 3, 2007


Sounds to me like you might like Observatory Mansions by Edward Carey. The voice is a bit difficult to deal with at first, but trust me and give it about thirty pages. It's a freaking incredible book.

I'm also guessing that you'd like Artist of the Missing by Paul LaFarge.


Can't go wrong with James Ellroy's My Dark Places. It's an aggressively creepy autobiography, and it's one of my favorite books.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:05 AM on July 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was totally underwhelmed by House of Leaves too. Death by boredom in huge labyrinth full of nothing = not scary.

Have you tried reading any Jeff Vandermeer? It is marginal by your criteria (it's more fantasy than horror, and is liberally PACKED with footnotes), but I found Shriek: An Afterword and City of Saints and Madmen to be two of the most compelling books I've read for a while, and not heavy going at all. Both have asylums, medical stuff (fungus colonisation) and dread aplenty.
posted by bifter at 3:41 AM on July 4, 2007

Some Thomas Ligotti, perhaps? A collection like Nightmare Factory would be a good start or my introduction to him, My Work Is Not Yet Done. Links are to Amazon, but after seeing the cost for the used copies the library starts to look a lot better.
posted by safetyfork at 6:52 AM on July 4, 2007

as usual i'm probably behind the ball here...but i really enjoyed jonathan strange and mr norrell. . pleasingly lengthy. dang, ihad another one in mind a moment ago and can't remember now!
posted by Soulbee at 9:46 AM on July 5, 2007

oh yeah, the road by cormac mccarthy. this one freaked me out. i cried. i never do that! think 4-6 yrs post nuclear apocalypse -- a severely malnourished and freezing father + young son team are trying to navigate dangerous roads patrolled by cannibal/perverts (almost zombie-esque in their inhumanity). They are desperately trying to reach the southern coast ahead another nuclear winter -- in hopes that perhaps there may be some sort of salvation and warmth there, though they have no real confirmation that this is true. death is the only likely outcome, from page one forward. this book is frightening and heartbreaking and really really good.
posted by Soulbee at 9:52 AM on July 5, 2007

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