If these at least one of these books doesn’t give you the creeps, we’ll give you a box of Milk Duds or something. Scratch that. We’re so sure they’ll scare you, we’re not even going to buy any Milk Duds. Tricks only here—gorgeous, night-sweats-inducing tricks.
As life makes it increasingly difficult to read every book I want, I’ve started relying more on audiobooks to help me get through my to-read pile. I especially love reading thrillers in this format, the most recent being The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware. A modern retelling of Henry James’ classic, The Turn of the Screw, Ware’s winding, atmospheric prose is given a sinister edge through Imogen Church’s masterful narration. Some of the novel’s most chilling sequences occur at night, as live-in nanny Rowan lies bone-still in bed, convinced she can hear the “creak…creak…creak” of someone shuffling in the boarded-up attic above her. I often read the novel in this same manner: my room in total darkness, covers coiled tight around me as Church’s croaky delivery of “creak…creak…creak” dug into my ears. It’s been months since I’ve finished the book and yet there are times when, as my body fights sleep, those creaks seem to emerge in the darkness, faint memories I’m sometimes certain aren’t memories at all.
— Dustin Vann (M.A. ’20)
Over the past couple of years I’ve developed an appetite for hungry house stories. Two highlights were 2009’s White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi and 1978’s The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons, which express the dread of xenophobia and conformist suburbia, respectively, through a house determined to possess its occupants. White is for Witching is about a fashionable young woman in the U.K. who has pica and is wasting away in an angry old mansion. The House Next Door concerns itself with new development. An appearance-obsessed couple are fascinated by an architecturally ambitious project going up on the lot next to them in their sleepy bucolic Atlanta suburb. Several people die before they realize something is wrong, and by the time they figure out the malice behind the beautiful facade, it’s already too late. Though the books offer different literary pleasures — Oyeyemi’s writing is challenging, experimental, and political, while Siddons delivers midcentury satire with a pulsating, captivating sense of doom — they are both super creepy.
— Rachel McCarthy James, co-author of the true crime book The Man from the Train
In Jan L. Waldron’s picture book John Pig’s Halloween, “Trick-or-treat piggies got ready to step out,” but their housemate and scaredy-pig John is to afraid to join them. He quails inside his home until, with a loud “kaboom,” a witch and her familiar land on his doorstep. She spurns the candy he fearfully offers, and the next thing he knows, he’s in the middle of a baking frenzy that leads to the best Halloween party ever. With delightful illustrations by David McPhail, John Pig’s Halloween teaches us to overcome our fear, welcome new friends, and find our groove. A great read-aloud and a great excuse to snuggle with our favorite kids.
— Anne Phillips, Professor
For readers who prefer subtle psychological thrills and family drama, I recommend Cristina García’s The Agüero Sisters. Brilliantly uncanny and full of unexpected oddities. The story follows two Cuban sisters who are estranged for thirty years following the unexplainable death of their mother. They live an ocean apart, Reina in Cuba and Constancia in Miami. One morning, Constancia wakes up, looks in the mirror, and sees her mother Blanca staring back at her. At first, she thinks she’s dreaming, but when she touches her face, she pinches her mother’s cheeks. Told from a multigenerational perspective of their parents, their daughters, and themselves, The Agüero Sisters reveals just how far the power of myth can go as the two women must come face to face to solve the mystery and redefine what it means to be family.
— Anna Meyer (M.A. ’19)
Victor LaValle’s The Changeling puts a bicycle lock around your neck and traps you against a blistering steam pipe. Well, not you, but it happens to the book’s protagonist, a young father dealing with visceral and emotional horror, and as you read, you’ll feel the heat coming off the page too. This book contains trolls and magic and the stark parental fear of a missing child. It’s a beautiful book, too, if you can stand an intense case of the creeps and that strange burning sensation pressing on the back of your neck.
— Dan Hoyt, Professor