Top 5 Creepy Stephen King Books to Pick Up This Halloween

“But, Emma,” you say. “Nobody reads anymore. When you have Netflix at your fingertips, why in the world would you pick up a book by an old white guy?” Well, I certainly won’t make you read any more books by old white guys if you don’t want to, but if your premiere experience with the horror genre is watching The Conjuring on Netflix, then I highly recommend you tap into what I find to be the scariest thing of all: your own imagination. The beauty of horror books is that they keep you up at night with mental images of your own creation, and since I was twelve I’ve been completely obsessed with the Stephen King canon. King has a way of mimicking reality in his writing and integrating your imagination with the gruesome description in his books. So, without further ado, here are five Stephen King books to pick up this Halloween. Also, I really hope books are not dead. I’m a creative writing major.

1. Carrie

I wish I could find this edition of Carrie or congratulate the artist who painted that.

This is a classic. If you thought your high school prom was bad, man, Carrie White’s was so much worse. But really, this book is terrifying because it’s not really about a monster or gore, it’s about the cruelty of sheltered teenagers and the horrific ills our patriarchal society forces on women. I could launch into a proto-feminist reading of Carrie, but I’m not going to do that. The plot follows Carrie White, a high school senior raised by a repressive, abusive, evangelical mother. Carrie discovers she has psychic powers and begins to assert herself in her own life, but also doles out some frightening punishments to her bullies. It sounds like a small thing, but this book honestly meant a lot to me growing up. Carrie White was the first female protagonist I read who was allowed to be ugly, visceral, and to visibly struggle in the narrative. When I was in high school, I was a lonely, rage-filled mess – I wasn’t Hazel Grace, I was Carrie White. When you read enough wispy John Green heroines, you start to wonder where the reality of being a teenage girl is hiding in the literary scene. Despite Carrie being a horror novel and having aged since its publication in the 70's, it still has the blood, sweat, and tears of adolescent girlhood ingrained in it.

2. Needful Things

Gives a whole new meaning to "retail therapy." 

Suburbia is scary enough without anything supernatural involved, but Needful Things takes it to a new level. If “slow burn” psychological horror freaks you out, Needful Things is not a book you should be reading by yourself. Think The Babadook except it’s happening to like, twenty people and some of them are children and the elderly. Basically what goes down in Needful Things is this stranger named Leland Gaunt puts up a shop in the town of Castle Rock, Maine (if you’re in the Stephen King world, you’re in Maine) that works essentially on a barter system; you buy an item, and instead of paying for it you just have to perform a low-grade prank on somebody else in town. Because Gaunt knows all of the grudges and feuds in Castle Rock, these seemingly innocuous pranks add up to disastrous consequences. Needful Things is great because it’s not just scary, it’s flat out unsettling and disturbing. There’s a good old slow burn romance woven in, too, to keep you from completely feeling like throwing up at some of the violence in Castle Rock.

3) Rose Madder

"Rose madder" refers to a color that comes from a type of dye. I have no idea if this book cover is actual rose madder. 

People have conflicting opinions about Rose Madder, and King himself called it a “stiff, trying too hard” book, but look, I liked it, and it’s one of the few King books with a female narrator. It is a weird book – Rose Daniels, the heroine, escapes her abusive marriage and when pawning her wedding ring stumbles on a painting of a woman in a rose madder gown, and gains the ability to travel back and forth between the painting. The sort of nightmarish other world she steps into draws from the myth of the Minotaur, and involves her having to save the “Rose Madder” character’s baby from a labyrinth. It’s weird, ok? But the thing that really struck me about Rose Madder is that the stalking, abusive, terrible husband is so goddamn terrifying and awful that the supernatural elements seem almost comforting, and it’s somewhat surprising for a King book to draw on concepts like the sacred feminine and performed femininity. Like I said, some people hate this book. But if you like a lot of discussion of menstruation and a graphic scene of a guy turning into a bull, then this could be the book for you.

4) Misery

This was back when cover designs went the incredibly literal route but look at this, it's terrifying.

If you’re reading this article and you've never read a Stephen King book, you don’t want to start with Rose Madder, you want to start with Misery. Just trust me. Also, this is one of the cases when the book is so much scarier than the movie. Just trust me. If you’ve only seen the movie Misery and the word “hobbling” gives you the don’t know the half of it, my friend. You’ve probably heard of this book. Famous author gets in a car wreck, is picked up by a woman who’s his “number one fan,” she starts to nurse him back to health, and he starts to realize she is batsh*t insane and will not help him unless he writes his book series the exact way she wants him to. This is another one of those suspense, slow burn books that is genuinely disconcerting to read. Most of that suspense is thanks to Annie Wilkes, the villain, being so iconic and well thought out. If you’re a writer, it’s law that you have to read Misery and reconsider whether you actually want anyone to read your manuscript and identify with your characters and oh my god if I have fans is my work even mine anymore. If you’re not a writer, when you read Misery you’re just going to make sure your car’s all right next time you’re driving through Colorado in the winter.

5) The Long Walk

It says Richard Bachman and not Stephen King because Stephen King used to write under a pseudonym. It's a long story. 

I debated not putting this one in because it is so esoteric, but it’s going to be on this list because it is legitimately my favorite book of all time. I have read this book so many times I can practically recite parts of it. The Long Walk is the story of a dystopian America where each year a macabre sports competition is broadcast on live television. A hundred American boys participate in “The Long Walk” which is…well, just what it sounds like. The one hundred boys under eighteen walk down the east coast, starting at the Canadian border in Maine, until only one of them is left – if you slow below a certain pace, you get a “ticket,” which in this case is a synonym for getting shot. So it’s sort of a predecessor to The Hunger Games. But while The Hunger Games is a story about the extraordinary people and heroes of a dystopia, The Long Walk is a story about the ordinary people of a dystopia, and what stays the same when the world around you changes. This is a book about adolescence, heartbreak, sexuality, and ultimately what it means to be human when your body is breaking down to its absolute limit. The characters are really what make this book, their names and personalities stick with you forever. You tell yourself you know all but one is going to die so you're not going to get attached, but it's impossible not to. Also, King wrote it when he was a freshman in college, which means there may yet be hope for the rest of us. And for the people looking for horror and gore, well, because of The Long Walk I know what color intestines are, so…enjoy.

Seriously. It’s October, Halloween is coming, if you've never read Stephen King - now is the time. Find more creative ways to freak yourself out than watching The Nun.