Here, for your horrifying pleasure, are 40 of the scariest books ever written in the English language, whether horror, nonfiction, or speculative futures you never want to see. One caveat: the list is limited to one book per author, so Stephen King fans will have to expand their horizons a little bit.

IT, Stephen King


All right, let’s get this out of the way up front: Stephen King is the you-know-what of horror, and if there wasn’t this pesky rule about keeping it to one book per author, this list could almost be wholly populated by his terrifying reads. This book might be the scariest of the lot, and has the added bonus of being about fear itself — the scariest thing of all. There’s also a murderous, shapeshifting clown.

Piercing, Ryu Murakami


This novel isn’t “boo” scary; it’s more like “set your teeth on edge for days and make you never want to be close to anyone for the rest of your life” scary. The protagonist, overcome by an urge to pierce the flesh of his newborn child, decides to do the right thing by capturing a prostitute and taking his issues out on her. There is much talk of cutting Achilles tendons and the horrifying things that can build up in a ostensibly normal person’s soul.

The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty


The phenomenal bestseller that inspired the classic motion picture–newly re-released in a version you’ve never seen before! When originally published in 1971, The Exorcist became not only a bestselling literary phenomenon, but one of the most frightening and controversial novels ever written.

Ghost Story, Peter Straub


Straub is another master of contemporary literary horror, and Ghost Story, which was his breakout book, remains one of his best. The Chowder Society, a group of old men who gather to tell each other ghost stories, are set upon by the horrors of their past — and some other horrors as well. Plus, Straub pays homage to the entire genre, something that could have been hokey in lesser hands but turns out to be fairly devastating in his.

American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis


This book is one of the most disturbing modern classics around, so upsetting that in some countries it still has to be sold shrink-wrapped. Sure, there’s all the violence and upsetting sex, but what’s really terrifying is that the inside of Patrick Bateman’s head might be the inside of anybody’s.

Hell House, Richard Matheson


It was tough to put Hell House above I Am Legend, but hey, the world is full of choices, and this writer finds haunted houses scarier than vampires. And, as Stephen King commented, “Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills.”

Dracula, Bram Stoker


Sure, you’ve seen every iteration of vampire there is by now, but the original still has the potential to keep you up at night.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood


Many speculative novels could have made this list, but Atwood’s vision is one of the scariest of all, perhaps because it just feels so possible — in it, the world is run by a religious, misogynistic society that keeps women as breeders and laborers. It’s fundamentalism taken to its furthest point, something that should terrify everyone down to their not-yet-uniform-issue boots.

The Best of H. P. Lovecraft, H.P. Lovecraft


Or really any Lovecraft, who is the Captain of the heebie-jeebies (At the Mountains of Madness would be a solid choice, but “Best of” covers all the bases). This is a man whose guiding principle was “cosmic horror,” so you’d better believe he’ll chill you to your bones.

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James


A classic ghost story. Henry James knows what he’s about.

House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski


Not only is this book a mind-blowing haunted house story, it’s also the only one on this list to actually give the reader the feeling of claustrophobia via the very act of reading. A singular, expansively existentialist horror story that will invade your mind for years to come.

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson


First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers-and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris


Here’s another example of a film so famous it outshines the book in the public imagination. But here’s some news: the book’s way scarier.

The Trial, Franz Kafka


The fear Kafka produces is an existential kind of fear, but it’s fear nonetheless. What’s scarier than a lifetime of isolation, misunderstanding, and relentless pursuit by forces that you can’t understand but who have complete power over you? Not much.

Books of Blood, Clive Barker


With the 1984 publication of Books of Blood, Clive Barker became an overnight literary sensation. He was hailed by Stephen King as "the future of horror," and won both the British and World Fantasy Awards. Now, with his numerous bestsellers, graphic novels, and hit movies like the Hellraiser films, Clive Barker has become an industry unto himself. But it all started here, with this tour de force collection that rivals the dark masterpieces of Edgar Allan Poe. Read him. And rediscover the true meaning of fear.

Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill


No, not Courtney Love’s nether regions (although…), but rather the debut novel of contemporary horror great Joe Hill. The premise is a little hokey — an aging rock star buys a poltergeist-infected suit that turns on him — but the story will keep you up all night.

Carrion Comfort, Dan Simmons


Simmons has a number of strong contenders, but this one might just be the scariest. In this world, a tiny cadre of humans have The Ability — that is, they can psychically control anyone, even from a distance. Don’t buy it? The novel won the Bram Stoker Award, The Locus Poll Award for Best Horror Novel, The World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and The August Derleth Award for Best Novel. Just saying.

The Complete Tales and Poems, Edgar Allan Poe


You just can’t have a list of creepy, mind-melding horror stories without a little Poe, who knows just how to catch you with your heart in your throat. Or under the floorboards. Either way.

Dawn, Octavia Butler


Butler’s science fiction and horror tends to be terrifying and beautiful at the same time — not an easy feat — in which a tentacle-covered alien race saves the last members of humanity, but demand a steep price. Junot Díaz called this one the scariest book he’d ever read, writing, “This book still gives me nightmares and teaches you right quick that no trade is ever free.”

The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum


Stephen King once called Jack Ketchum “the scariest guy in America.” This book, one of his many greats, is truly terrifying and torturous in every way. It investigates the horror families can inflict on each other, and will have you looking askance at every quiet house in the suburbs.

The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski


In some ways, this list could be populated entirely by Holocaust novels, but this one might just be the most harrowing. In it, a young Jewish boy wanders around a series of small villages in Eastern Europe, encountering cruelty upon cruelty and sexual abuses that will leave you shuddering.

The Cipher, Kathe Koja


Jagged and surreal, Koja’s debut novel is both an existential masterpiece and scary as hell. When a black hole materializes in the storage room down the hall from his apartment, poet and video store clerk Nicholas allows his curiosity to lead him into the depths of terror.

Lord of the Flies, William Golding


Look for no massive, disfigured creatures eager to consume the flesh of innocent children from Lord of the Flies. You won’t find that brand of horror in Golding’s paralyzing classic. No, in this tale, it’s the children to fear. It’s the craving for power, and the rapid loss of reason and humanity. It’s a sudden shift made in an attempt to survive a nightmarish scenario; the primal instincts of desperate youth.

The Ruins, Scott Smith


This novel is insanely frightening. I’m talking lose loads of sleep and adopt a sudden measure of paranoia frightening. Smith’s visuals are stomach turning and the complete certainty that this misfortunate crossing of paths will lead to nothing other than the loss of copious amounts of blood and subsequent life is chilling. Right down to the bone.

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, M.R. James


Another giant of the genre, James is a must-read for any horror fan. His stories, though lacking in horrific details, will creep up behind you and sit on your shoulder, whispering in your ear, for a long, long time.

The Ritual, Adam Nevill


Campers in the woods is a pretty standard horror convention, sure, but this version is guaranteed to give you the creeps. You’ll rush to the finish — in a warm, well-lit place, of course.

Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo


A World War I soldier wakes up in a hospital bed having lost all of his limbs and facial features, trapped in what’s left of his body, unable to move or, at first, communicate, or even kill himself. If that’s not horror, nothing is.

Incarnate, Ramsey Campbell


Campbell has a lot of scary books to choose from, but try this one, a psychological nightmare that stomps all over the line between dreams and reality.

The Woman in Black, Susan Hill


A mysterious, vengeance-filled spirit stalks an English town, appearing wherever children die. Subtle, short, beautiful and moody-scary, this one’s a classic Gothic ghost story.

The Great God Pan, Arthur Machen


If you think Pan is a cute little fellow with a pipe, check yourself. This terrifying novella, of which the great god Lovecraft wrote, “No one could begin to describe the cumulative suspense and ultimate horror with which every paragraph abounds,” features brain surgery and Greek gods and murder. What more could you want?

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Alvin Schwartz


For every kid who grew up in the ‘80s or ‘90s, Schwartz’s series was the pinnacle of scary shit. Or perhaps it was Stephen Gammell’s ultra-disturbing illustrations. Either way, we’ve never forgotten the experience, so for children or not for children, this series makes the list. “The Big Toe,” you guys.

Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist


Vampires have become a little too familiar/sexy to be scary most of the time, but this existential, unusual novel brings them back into the dark, with streaks of pedophilia, bullying, castration, and love. As often, even scarier than the movie.

The Store, Bentley Little


Here’s another book with a hokey premise — an evil, Walmart-esque store comes to consume a small town — that bears it out with a lot of scary.

Penpal, Dathan Auerbach


A truly creepy and unsettling book, Penpal began as a series of short stories posted on Reddit, but ballooned into a novel that asks the question: “How far can you go into the woods?”

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote


Sometimes hailed as the first nonfiction novel, Capote’s masterpiece, which dramatizes the murder of a Kansas family, also elicited a lot of questions, both at the time of its publication and more recently, about how non-fictional it really was. Either way, the book is a terrifying investigation into murder and the unstable minds of killers, its connections to reality, whatever they might be, only deepening the fear.

Swan Song, Robert R. McCammon


An ancient evil roams the desolate landscape of an America ravaged by nuclear war. In a wasteland born of rage, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, the last survivors on earth have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil that will decide the fate of humanity.... Constantly compared to King’s The Stand, but somehow more brutal.

The Wolfen, Whitley Strieber


Maybe the scariest werewolf book of all time.

The Hot Zone, Richard Preston


Yeah, this isn’t even a horror novel, but rather an investigation into infectious viruses, particularly that time Ebola broke out 15 miles from DC, told thriller style. It will scare you into many extra hand-washings to come.

The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson


This novel is a horrifying, blistering, deeply upsetting trip into the mind of a psychopath, hiding in the body of a normal guy. Unlike certain other normal-guy-psychopath books, though, there’s no ambiguity of purpose. Monsters are among us.

1984, George Orwell


Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell is a classic dystopian novel--a eerily prescient of the state of modern society. Written by a liberal and fair-minded socialist soon after the end of the second world war, 1984 describes the future in a totalitarian state where thoughts and actions are minutely monitored and controlled. Orwell gives us a drab, empty, over-politicized world. With the passionate individualism of the central character, revolt is a very real danger.