I have always loved a good scare. Horror movies, eerie shows, haunted hayrides at Halloween-time featuring random rednecks jumping out of a cornfield dressed up as real, actual zombies and being all, “Yar! Brains!”: these are a few of my favorite things. But my favorite favorite thing, as an avid reader and a nerd through-and-through, has always been and will always be scary books.
Ghost stories, zombie novels, tales of sea monsters, demonic cars, flesh-eating diseases: ever since childhood, if it made my guts tie into granny knots and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end, I would love it unabashedly and read it over and over. And my parents, always encouraging of my nascent book obsession, were happy to hook me up with everything from the urban-legend-lore of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” to an ancient hard-bound volume of Victorian creepery called “A Book of Ghosts and Goblins” that contained such classics as “The Leg of Gold” (Moral: Do not steal precious metal body parts that don’t belong to you) and “The Ribbon” (Moral: Women who wear unconventional jewelry are actually walking corpses).
But these books, though I loved them, were not the source of the life-altering reading experience that brings me here today. Nope: that came when I was eleven years old, casting about for something new in the creepy-book department, and my mother decided—for reasons I still cannot understand—to hand me a copy of Stephen King’s “The Shining.”
And you guys, it changed my life.
And by “changed my life,” I mean, “gave me a host of paralyzing lifelong terrors from which I will never recover” including, but not limited to: hotels, bathrooms, hotel bathrooms, twins in matching outfits, walk-in pantries, pantries in general, typewriters, aspirin, decorative topiary, words spelled backwards, words spelled forwards, stains on the carpet, and prunes that come in a can.
It's not that I haven't read book that moved me, made me laugh, made me cry. But "The Shining" is the book that scared me into a year-long state of unadulterated terror at the mere thought of entering a bathroom, let alone actually bathing in one, that's stuck with me through the years. Am I sorry I read it? Nope. (Although my parents probably were, particularly after they got the electric bill for the three months or so I spent sleeping with all the lights on.) “The Shining” is the book that introduced me to an author whose work I still read in a mixed state of elation and terror (<3 you, Stevie!), and it still gives me the heebie-jeebies like no other book before or since. And I’m grateful! Because now I know: a good book can make you so scared that you pee in your pants... but a great book can make you so scared that you never want to pee again.
At least not in a bathroom.
Because they are full of monsters.
Have you read "The Shining"? Has any book ever truly freaked you out?
Related post: The Best Stephen King Books