With October creeping along, the time has come to dim the lights, find the cheapest possible pumpkins for our dorms and decide between a funny or a sexy costume. What could be a better way to prepare for our incoming spooky season than with some fantastic book recommendations? With our collective thousands of hours of reading a week, I'm sure what Northwestern students want even more is to read. So, without further ado, here is a list of four of the best horror novels – roughly in order of least to most terrifying – to help lead us into the season.
Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allen Poe:
Time Estimation: A single afternoon of procrastinating your class readings
Perhaps the ultimate consolidation of “spook” into a single book, Fall of the House of Usher is easily one of Edgar Allen Poe’s best works. We follow an unnamed narrator as he travels deep into the autumnal wilderness of New England to pursue a letter he received from an old friend, Roderick Usher. Usher lives alone in a vast, unkempt manor upon an eerie lake.
The short story explores genuine themes of family, legacy and madness, alongside being the perfect spooky book. His many works all provide a nice blanket of creep while exploring genuine themes of humanity. Fall of the House of Usher acts as a perfect, brief introduction into spooky season that will get you into the autumnal mood immediately.
Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson:
Time Estimation: Roughly a week of afternoons reading by the Lakefill
In Haunting of Hill House by great American author Shirley Jackson, readers follow four characters as they travel to the eponymous Hill House as a scientific exploration into haunting allegations. At face value, it seems like the most generic condensation of modern horror tropes ever put to pen. But these tropes are so ubiquitous because they originate from this book. Jackson dives deep into main character Eleanor's psyche and explores the dark reaches of a woman who resents her recently deceased mother and a house that viscerally hates.
The novel recently had a Netflix adaptation that had a fairly positive reception, but that mini-series has virtually nothing to do with the novel; their stories could not be more different. As a fascinating deep dive into the psychological terror of a tormented soul, Haunting of Hill House really is a perfect halloween read.
Uzumaki – Junji Ito:
Time Estimation: About four readings before bed to keep you up at night
Though body horror is often maligned as merely an easy, cheap scare, at its best this method of terror can serve as a deep dive into the limits of humanity. In Junji Ito’s self-described most complete work, Uzumaki, he pushes body horror to its limits, producing a work that, through black-and-white drawings, explores the very edges of the human experience. His highly contrasting etchings, using only line-work, create haunting images that stick with a reader, long after completion.
We follow a small town as its residents gradually become obsessed with spirals. The premise sounds like a quirky Dr. Seuss book, but it is the unassuming nature of the shape that drives the true horror. If you want to never be able to sit comfortably around spiral patterns again, look no further than Uzumaki.
House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski:
Time Estimation: Possibly a two-week-long endeavor to avoid any and all responsibilities for classes
House of Leaves is the most horrifying piece of work that I have ever read. It is a work of metafiction – meaning a book is constructed from a jumbled mass of unfinished manuscripts, stories in the margins, random images, letters from an asylum and more. We follow Johnny Truant as he annotates his dead neighbor’s academic paper on a movie that may or may not exist. As you read, multiple narratives unfold: the text of the movie being described, the life of this mysterious academic neighbor and the tale of our protagonist – which unfolds in annotations to the paper.
Though my description may seem muddled and confused, the effect is electrifying. At the end of one chapter, a book simply falls from a bookshelf, and I have literally never been so scared from a novel. The book takes a while to get into and is a slow burn, but the existential horror and dread provided by House of Leaves is unmatched by any other work I have read, watched, or played.
This list barely scratches the surface of all of the great works of horror literature out there, but hopefully I have provided a jumping off point into the world of spooky books. There are other great unmentioned authors like Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King and many more.