Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Old and New Horror

At work recently we had a discussion about where someone might jump into Stephen King’s work if they hadn’t read him before. This led to a conversation about favorite horror novels, old and new.  So for this week’s Halloween “freebie” at Top Ten Tuesday, here are some of my favorites.

I grew up on Stephen King’s early books, and by that I mean I was probably reading him way younger than I should have been, but he’s an amazing storyteller. I’m curious if his early works feel dated today. What I remember most was his vivid imagery and the very realness of his characters’ thoughts and conversations, and the way he often built stories around things you encounter all the time, like school dances, cars, dogs.

There’s a point in King’s writing where I mostly stopped reading (somewhere around Misery and Dolores Claiborne in the mid-90s). For me the characters stopped being interesting and the stories just felt violent. Or maybe it was just that time in my life.

Here are my favorites, with the covers I remember from the 80s.

The Stand: This story may have needed some editing, but it remains one of the most vivid stories about a pandemic I’ve ever read.  I love the way the characters cross the country looking for other people and have to rebuild their social structures. And Stu, Larry, Frannie, Harold, and Nadine remain some of the most memorable characters I’ve read.

Salem’s Lot: It’s been a long time since I’ve read this one, but I remember it being one of the scariest.  And who doesn’t like a good vampire story?

It: There are storytelling flaws in this one, namely the anticlimactic last battle — but don’t read it for that.  Read it for the really creepy imagery that will haunt your dreams.  Clowns, sewers, birds, creepy houses.  King knows what scares us. 

The novellas: Some of King’s books may be way too long, but he excels at the novella.  Different Seasons gives you three that have been made into movies: The Body, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and Apt Pupil.  The novellas show you that King can be at his creepiest when he’s not writing about anything supernatural at all. The Bachman Books have a more dystopian tone and are some of my favorite. They include The Long Walk and Running Man.

Worth noting: Some of my favorites when I was young are not known as King’s best, so I may just be sentimental about them.  Christine hit home in a big way for me (and the movie is campy fun); The Dead Zone will feel very relevant today (and check out a very young Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen); and Firestarter was made into one of Drew Barrymore’s earliest movies and also features George C. Scott.  Carrie, of course, is iconic, as is The Shining.  But those have been done so many times they probably won’t feel new, and they aren’t my favorites. A newer read, 11/22/63 wasn’t one of my favorites but I do love the idea of a man who can go back in time and stop JFK’s assassination.  It’s completely different from his other books.

Those are some of King’s classic works.  Here are some newer books that are recommended Halloween reads.

Slade House by David Mitchell: This very short novel is a brilliant haunted house read. Mitchell is a master.

Anything by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: for vampires, read Certain Dark Things.  For a creepy house, read Mexican Gothic.  For Mayan gods, read The Gods of Jade and Shadow (more fantasy than horror, but still recommended).

Ordinary Monsters by J. M. Miro: Published this year, this book recalls the epic battles of some of Stephen King’s works, with powerful creatures hunting children with supernatural gifts, a mysterious Institute and a thin border between the living and the dead. It’s long and meandering but a gripping read. 

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant: I loved this audiobook about a ship full of scientists and reporters looking to prove whether a rumor of mysterious mermaids is a hoax – of course they turn out to be very real and absolutely terrifying. You’ll also appreciate the diversity of the characters. It’s not great literature but this book will stay with you. 

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker: this isn’t horror but I couldn’t resist mentioning this book based on two mythological creatures who meet in turn of the century New York. Wecker’s brilliant novel brings these two characters to life. 

Those are some of my favorite old and new horror books. Do you have a Stephen King favorite? What are you reading this Halloween?

  17 comments for “Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Old and New Horror

  1. October 25, 2022 at 8:47 am

    I read Slade House earlier this year and thought it was great. Super spooky and atomospheric with a great mystery. I’m a bit of a wuss so that was just the right level of creepy for me 😀
    My Halloween-themed TTT

    • October 25, 2022 at 12:11 pm

      It’s nice to find really well-written horror/fantasy that isn’t violent. I know I appreciate that! I’m glad you liked it.

  2. October 25, 2022 at 9:23 am

    Into the Drowning Deep must be my favourite “mermaid book” 🤣. I’d like to read Ordinary Monsters at some point.

    • October 25, 2022 at 12:14 pm

      I listened to Drowning Deep on audio, and it was such a fun read! I think it would make a great movie – I loved the spin on mermaids being scary instead of cute or sexy. And there’s something about ships and water that add to the creepiness, I suppose because just drowning scares me.

  3. Poinsettia
    October 25, 2022 at 9:48 am

    I have a really hard time reading horror, but I’m glad you enjoy it! Here is our Top Ten Tuesday.

    • October 25, 2022 at 6:20 pm

      Thanks for visiting, and happy Halloween!

  4. lydiaschoch
    October 25, 2022 at 11:25 am

    I’ve heard great things about Into the Drowning Deep.

    And I agree that King’s novellas are often better than his novels.

    My post:

    • October 25, 2022 at 6:20 pm

      Yes, even though it’s been years many of his novellas have stuck with me, particularly Apt Pupil and the one with the walking competition. Drowning Deep is a lot of fun with a great mix of horror, thrills and interesting characters.

  5. October 25, 2022 at 12:57 pm

    I think there’s something to be said for your early Kings being the ones that can scare you the most. For me, that was Cujo, a story that just unnerved me no end reading as a teen and was equally unnerving when I listened to the audiobook a few years ago. I’ve never watched the movie because I’m convinced it will either a)be as scary as my imagination made it out to be reading it or b)no where near as scary as my imagination made it out to be.

    Word of caution: So, if you’re thinking of watching the new Firestarter, go in with low expectations. It veers so far away from the source material….

    • October 25, 2022 at 6:17 pm

      I forgot there was a new Firestarter! I stay away from updates because I know I’ll prefer the first one, and I think that was pretty close to the book. King’s movies rarely do his books justice. I agree Cujo was terrifying, because dogs can be pretty scary already. Christine scared the pants off me because I’d actually been hit by a car. King’s big monsters, like in IT, were rarely as scary.

  6. masterspj
    October 25, 2022 at 7:50 pm

    I’m not a King fan, mainly because I’m not a horror fan. And this year, no spooky or creepy reads for me. :/

    Pam @ Read! Bake! Create!

  7. October 26, 2022 at 10:22 am

    Same! I was reading King way before I should have been and it was mostly because those were the only kinds of books that were considered “cool” to be seen reading in public when I was in high school. Ha ha. My favorites are NEEDFUL THINGS and MISERY. I read tons of King when I was a teen and a young adult, but I stopped somewhere in the mid-2000s when they just got to be too much for me. I still like a spooky read, but I’m not into terrifying ones these days. Too wimpy 🙂

    Happy TTT (on a Wednesday)!


  8. October 26, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    Totally agree re: anything by Silvia Moreno-Garcia! Great list!

  9. October 28, 2022 at 8:18 am

    I’ve read all those Stephen King books! I was obsessed with his books when I was a teenager, but I haven’t read much of his newer stuff. Someday I’ll catch up and read everything he’s written.

  10. Adam Burgess
    October 28, 2022 at 11:26 pm

    I’ve actually really enjoyed King’s recent stuff. The Outsider, The Institute, Fairy Tale. It’s like he’s pulling together all the best parts of his many interests and talents into new stories.

    • October 29, 2022 at 10:15 am

      Thanks for the recommendations! I haven’t read any of his recent books, my only recent one was Doctor Sleep.

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