Beginner's Guide to Horror: Staff-Favorite Classics

By Skokie Staff Advisory Services

Staff recommend their favorite classic horror novels.

  • Misery

    2016 by King, Stephen

    Initially, I read Stephen King because a college friend told me he was a good writer. I doubted that I would like his books because I wasn't a fan of horror movies. I started with the psychological thriller Misery. King's vivid, detailed descriptions and well-developed characters hooked me. Main characters Paul and Annie are complicated and drowning in anger, obsession, and addiction; King carefully unfolds their trauma in gruesome and terrifying passages. Suggested by Michelle.

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  • The House Next Door

    1995 by Siddons, Anne Rivers

    Anne River Siddons has a long and prolific literary career. This is the only horror novel she wrote, but it’s a doozy! Stephen King himself called this haunted house story one of the best genre novels of the 20th century. It's creepy and haunting, and 20 years after reading it, I still get shivers thinking about it. Suggested by Lynnanne.

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  • The Turn of the Screw: Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism

    1999 by James, Henry

    One of the most iconic--and most adapted--of all haunted house stories is also the most divisive. 124 years later, people are still arguing about whether the "depraved" supernatural force menacing two children exists outside the mind of their unnamed governess, whose perspective is the only one the reader has. Intentionally or not, James created a distorted mirror where every generation sees its own ideas and preoccupations reflected. And if that isn't horror, what is? Suggested by Andrew.

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  • The Amityville Horror

    2019 by Anson, Jay

    I read this one when I was younger and it really stuck with me. I think it especially stuck because it was based on alleged actual events. I started reading it one evening and was quick to discover that I could only finish it if I read it in the daylight! Suggested by Cheryl.

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  • The Haunting of Hill House

    1984 by Jackson, Shirley

    This book has the best opening paragraph in the history of the genre. But what has made The Haunting of Hill House withstand the test of time is the sustained dread that builds up as it becomes clear that everything from the architecture of the title mansion to the behavior of the characters sojourning there is Every adaptation has tried to clarify what Jackson left in shadow, and been poorer for it. Suggested by Andrew.

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  • Wait Till Helen Comes

    1986 by Hahn, Mary Downing

    Alongside Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Goosebumps was Wait Till Helen Comes. I read this book more than 30 years ago, and I still think about it sometimes. It is the quintessential ghost book for me and was (probably) the first horror I ever read. Try not to judge this book by its truly terrible 1986 cover. Suggested by Becca.

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  • Something Wicked This Way Comes

    2017 by Bradbury, Ray

    Bradbury spawned whole subgenres of horror with this 1962 novel about two boys who see through the Faustian bargains a traveling carnival offers their town's adults. A classic of young adult literature that everyone from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman to R.L. Stine has acknowledged as a major influence on their work. Suggested by Andrew.

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  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Collected from Folklore

    2010 by Schwartz, Alvin

    I started reading horror in elementary school when we would all take turns checking out Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories series with spooktastic illustrations by Stephen Gammell. "The Viper" remains a favorite to tell over the campfire. Suggested by Liz.

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  • Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

    2010 by James, M. R. (Montague Rhodes)

    I first encountered M.R. James when "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" was on the syllabus for a college course on Edwardian literature. James pretty much defined the "classic" English ghost story. He was a master of wrapping the genuinely unsettling in twee packaging. The supernatural creatures that haunt his work lose none of their shudder-inducing power for being only vaguely described. The eight tales collected here are well worth any horror lover's time--though those with arachnophobia might want to avoid "The Witch-elm". Suggested by Andrew.

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  • The Picture of Dorian Gray

    2017 by Wilde, Oscar

    There are those who will try to exclude this classic from the horror genre merely because it is not just a horror story. They are wrong. Dorian Gray offers up his soul in exchange for keeping his youth and beauty through a lifetime of cruel pleasure seeking, with his portrait showing the advancing physical and spiritual rot. An "uncensored" edition released in 2011 restored much of the queer subtext that Wilde's publisher had forced him to remove 120 years earlier. Suggested by Andrew.

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  • The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story

    1986 by Hill, Susan

    Fears increase when a person is alone. Susan Hill makes excellent use of this truism by isolating the Victorian protagonist of her traditional ghost story in a spooky mansion that’s regularly cut off by the tide. What follows is a triumph of the less-is-more school of slowly building terror. Suggested by Steven.

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