This is a constant question I get working at a bookstore. People are really specific about it, they want a book that will actually scare them. Answers usually range from the humorous (Noam Chomsky, Derrick Jensen) to the utilitarian ("The horror section is to your left."). But it's a good question, and a seasonally appropriate one, so here are some books to curl your toes.
(I'm cheating a little by using ones from my childhood and teen years.)
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
and More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
by Alvin Schwartz
These are some fucked up books
. The two stories I remember best involve spider nest that hatches in a person's cheek and the one about the bride who gets locked in a trunk during a game of hide and seek on her wedding day, where she is forgotten and left to die. (That is really sad, right!) What resonated the most was the macabre illustrations that came with these stories. I could barely glance at the images of the hollow cheeked corpse or the face wound dripping with spiders and pus. Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury and The Thief of Always
by Clive Barker
Two novels about young boys that deal heavily in themes of maturity and mortality, which are horrifying to this very day. Something Wicked This Way Comes
is a great autumn book. Bradbury's florid prose makes everything about being a teenage boy seem dire and important. On the other hand, Clive Barker's book focuses on the futility of boredom and the consequences of wasted youth. The Stand
by Stephen King
I'm not the biggest Stephen King fan, but at age fourteen he represented a doorway into adulthood. Violence! Sex! Swearing! The Stand
was my 1,000 page introduction to his work and it has a little something for everyone's fears. For the hypochondriac, there's a rampaging world wide plague. For the religious fanatics, there's a clash of good and evil in the post-plague world. The deus ex machina
ending is horrible, even by Stephen King standards. (Did he ever learn how to end a novel? I haven't read one since 1995.) But King's strength as a writer is that he speaks straight to our basest fears. Never have coughs in a movie theater seemed so ominous.