While we love getting scary book recommendations from our friends, there’s something extra special about filling our to-be-read lists with books approved by the horror masters. Every year, these experts give their seals of approval by handing out literary trophies—like the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson Awards—to authors whose stories made even them sleep with their lights on.
Of course, there are hundreds of award-winning horror books out there, but we’ve narrowed our list down to eight that we think you need to read ASAP. And should you find yourself unable to sleep for a few nights, take heart in knowing that folks like Stephen King experienced the exact same thing.
Award: 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novella
The Wylding Hall estate has quite a legacy: Not only is it the birthplace of Windhollow Fayre’s sophomore album, it’s also where the band’s frontman, Julian Barnes, vanished without a trace. Years have passed since that summer in ‘72, but the event weighs heavily on the remaining bandmates’ minds. When an aspiring filmmaker pitches them her new project—a documentary centering on Julian’s disappearance—they agree to participate, and return to the scene in hopes of solving the mystery once and for all. But while their singer-slash-guitarist is still nowhere to be found, Wylding Hall is far from uninhabited...
Elizabeth Hand is a multi-Nebula Award winner, though this novella—a haunting mash-up of 70s folk-rock, classic gothics, and American Horror Story: Roanoke—won Hand her first Shirley Jackson Award. Her Tiptree Award-winning novel, Waking the Moon, is another worthwhile read for horror fans.
The Resurrection Man's Legacy
Award: 2002 International Horror Guild Award for Intermediate Form (for "Death and Suffrage")
It’s easy to see why Dale Bailey is compared to horror staples like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. At the crux of his fiction is an understanding of humanity’s darkest corners—a knowledge that, when bolstered by supernatural and paranormal elements, can’t help but send chills down your spine. His award-winning story collection The Resurrection Man’s Legacy is no exception. One story sees an assassin possess the friend of his next hit, while another follows a bayou town frozen in time. Of course, the standout is the award-winning and politically-charged “Death and Suffrage,” in which members of the undead turnout in the voters' booths for the presidential election.
Our Lady of Darkness
Award: 1977 World Fantasy Award — Novel
A well-known figure in the fantasy community, Fritz Leiber also tried his hand at horror. One of his most successful forays into the genre was this 1978 award-winner, about a supernatural mystery with connections to famous authors. The protagonist, Franz Westen, is loosely based on Leiber himself: a widowed horror writer grappling with alcoholism in 1970s. Westen is convinced that two of his drunken discoveries—a book by a cultist and the journal of a Lovecraft contemporary—could help him understand the entity that stalks him. But was the strange man he spotted in his home a ghost, his doppelganger, or something else entirely?
Awards: 1991 World Fantasy Award—Novel; Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel
With his writer's imagination, 12-year-old Cory has always been attuned to the strange goings-on of Zephyr, Alabama. Even so, his sixth sense never prepared him for his tragic discovery one winter morning: A car crash victim, rescued by Cory's father from a lake, who is naked, strangled, and handcuffed. As this vision of death haunts Cory’s father, Zephyr’s dark secrets come into the light—exposing Cory to an evil right out of his most nightmarish fantasies. Arguably McCammon’s most famous work, Boy’s Life earned not just one but two major literary awards in 1991: a World Fantasy Award and and a Bram Stoker Award.
Song of Kali
Award: 1986 World Fantasy Award—Novel
Robert is a journalist who travels to Calcutta, a violent city in India, to find the manuscript of an allegedly dead poet. His search brings him face-to-face with a death-worshipping cult whose head deity, Kali, is the subject of the poetry collection Robert seeks. As Simmon’s terrifying debut, Song of Kali was the world’s first introduction to the author’s artful blend of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror—a trait that would earn him countless literary distinctions throughout his career. Beyond his 1986 World Fantasy Award, he also received 11 Locus Awards, four Bram Stoker Awards, and one Hugo Award.
Award: 1995 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel
Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most prolific authors today, having written over 40 novels since her 1963 debut. As with much of her work, this Bram Stoker Award winner studies the psychological workings of the human mind—specifically the lasting, driving power of our darkest obsessions. Zombie’s narrator, Quentin P., is a serial killer who lobotomizes young men for an 'army' that will fulfill his deviant sexual desires. Adding to the book’s chill-factor is Oates’ assertion that Quentin is based on one of the most notorious human monsters in history: Jeffrey Dahmer.
A Head Full of Ghosts
Award: 2015 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel
If you’re a fan of the The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby, then Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts is set to be your next fix. We open with the Barrett family just as one of their own, 14-year-old Marjorie, begins to exhibit signs of schizophrenia. When professional treatment fails to improve Marjorie’s condition, the Barretts enlist the help of a Catholic priest who suspects demonic possession. The family’s increasing anxiety, combined with their financial woes, propels them to travel great lengths for money—namely, becoming the stars of a Marjorie-focused reality show. So begins their journey of psychological scares and disturbing deceptions that will make the youngest Barrett—and you—question what it means to be evil.
The Drowning Girl
Award: 2012 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel
When schizophrenic India picks up a hitchhiker, her mind becomes more twisted than ever. Suddenly, she cannot trust herself, believing that something is toying with her memories. As Indian descends deeper into her delusions, Kiernan weaves fantastical elements into the plot—from sirens to wolves to ghosts—and creates a frightening tale of magical realism that gets under the skin. What makes Kiernan’s 2015 novel so compelling is the very fact of India’s unreliability, which blurs even readers’ perception of reality and fiction. The Drowning Girl won a Bram Stoker and James Tiptree, Jr. Award, in addition to receiving Nebula, Locus, and Shirley Jackson Award nominations.
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