Posted 4:25 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, 2022

Skeleton reading a book with heading 5 scary reads by women plus Dracula

English profs share the best books for a horror fix

What’s better on a blustery fall afternoon than a cup of something warm while your blood runs cold?

Let the experts in English facilitate your horror fix with this list of recommended scary reads. Twist!—they’re all authored by women (ahem, except Dracula). 

1. "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" (1818), by Mary Shelley.

While the name “Frankenstein” often conjures in the American imagination a tall sutured dummy with an unfortunate French top and electric temples (see, for example, Frank in "Hotel Transylvania" 1, 2, 3 and 4), the Frankenstein of Shelley is actually Victor Frankenstein, a doctor obsessed with being unnecessarily gloomy, practicing alchemy, his sweetheart Elizabeth…and building a Creature who will answer only to him and hold the secret to eternal life. Spoiler alert: things don’t go as planned, because adult-sized baby humans just don’t work that way. (Want to write your own spooky fiction? Take ENG 416: Seminar in Advanced Fiction Writing in Spring 2023!)

2. "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" (2003) and "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife" (2005), both by Mary Roach.

When it comes to books about forensic science, tales of reincarnation, the nature of decomposition, and body-snatching (Frankenstein, we’re looking at you), we just can’t decide. Roach has it all and writes with a kind of sensitive candor that makes these guilty pleasure reads a meaningful kind of real-life horror. It’s literary Ghostbusters meets CSI meets non-fiction. (We offer upper-level courses in nonfiction writing, like next semester’s ENG 497: Seminar in Writing and Rhetoric Studies: True Story!)

3. "Beloved" (1987) by Toni Morrison.

Morrison’s timeless work captures the irreversible wounds of the Atlantic slave trade, the horror of intergenerational trauma, and how the psychological effects of both can haunt families for centuries. This is a ghost story that will shake you to your core. (Morrison and other authors of color will be the focus of ENG 302: Intermediate Topics in Literature: Women Authors next semester.)

4. "White is for Witching" (2009) by Helen Oyeyemi.

When you’ve misplaced reality and can’t seem to find it, you’re in the Silver House at 29 Barton Road. Let the house tell it to you straight: there is nothing more terrifying than a pair of twins. ("The Shining" comes to immediate mind.) Described as a ghost, vampire and haunted house story all in one, this is an unmissable sort of story. (Oyeyemi loves to play with genre and so do we: check out ENG 313: Writing, Genre, and Style in Spring 2023!)

5. "The Haunting of Hill House" (1959) by Shirley Jackson.

Not sure what it is about creepy old houses and the deliciously horrifying things they do to people’s minds, but this classic American gothic takes the prize when it comes to terrifying: famous writers name this as the scariest book they’ve ever read. Of course, you can skip it and go straight to the Netflix series—but trust us, the book is better. Way, way better. (Like mixing film and fiction? Check out all that English Studies has to offer in ENG 300: Introduction to English Studies.)

Of course, we know how busy October can be, and maybe you just can’t find the time to commit to a whole novel—we got you! Sign up for Dracula Daily, and get each little bit of this epistolary novel—made up of diary entries, letters, newspaper clippings—delivered straight to your inbox every day. Now there’s no excuse to not be out-of-your-mind haunted, all month long.

The UW-La Crosse English Department has five majors and five minors; so, there is literally an English offering for everyone! Join our community to build your writing, reading, and critical thinking skills through engaging courses about complex issues from our past and today.