The next list may shock and upset some of you. It’s about the scariest writing I personally have had the misfortune of reading, but which was not published as horror fiction, per se (although it should have been.) Apologies in advance if I’m about to rip your favorite book, frighten or offend you.
(A word about content: genocide of the Native Americans of North America is discussed below, as is Scientology, its homophobia, and topics such as alleged alien abduction phenomena.)
1) Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown. I first read this book on recommendation from my eighth grade English teacher. He described it as an essential classic of American history. My impression was that it would be a dry, historical text filled with anecdotes, diary entries and historical reports on the dissolution of Native American culture in the U.S. Instead, I found it to be a deeply emotional examination of the extermination of Native people in the name of “westward expansion,” including graphic descriptions of the oppression and poverty Native Americans live with in its wake.
To quote a great American, also known as my dad, “We were never going to stop until we had their land. This should be required reading in every U.S. public school. The reason it isn’t is that the state knows it would change people, if they knew the truth.”
2) Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. I once heard someone say that this novel, famously billed as a ‘tragic love story,’ is neither. The only reason it’s reviewed, referenced and studied that way is because far too many readers chose this tact for their interpretation during the book’s first public reception that it was impossible to undo. My take on this book is that it is neither romance nor tragedy, but horror. The horror of obsession, madness, hatred and abandonment—it’s all in here. I guess one could say Wuthering Heights is not horror because it’s missing an ostensible supernatural element, but I think the setting supplies that just fine.
3) Dianetics, by L. Ron Hubbard. Ever wonder what the inside of a truly batshit crazy megalomaniac’s mind looks like? Here you go. A hodgepodge of (according to the author himself) “Western technology and ‘Oriental’ philosophy,” Dianetics was one of the first places I learned anything about the beliefs of the cult of Scientology. This book actually classifies gay identity as a form of ‘sexual deviation’ and tells people this ‘disease’ should be cured. And it’s still advertised on late night television here and there. Will curl your hair. Don’t read it alone. (Seriously, don’t. Scientology has claimed enough victims.)
4) Communion, by Whitley Striber. I first read this in 1993, and at the time, thought it was simply too outrageous to be believed. True confession: I still think that. I just can’t bring myself to believe that anyone on planet earth is really getting abducted by extra-terrestrials or that an entire family, like the Stribers, could be subjected to repeated abductions over the course of their whole lives and, er, not notice for thirty some odd years.
One thing I noticed on a recent reread, however, and no, this is not to be construed as an endorsement of Whitley Striber’s books, (Communion was the first in a series) is that a couple of the predictions Striber and other abductees made about the future of the planet feel eerily prescient. Communion’s copyright date is 1985, and in it Striber predicted that climate change would start accelerating rapidly circa 1993 due to an erosion of the ozone over the Antarctic ice shelf. Other supposed survivors state that the 21st century is a place where only the young and the strong can survive. I don’t know to what degree I think either of these assertions are objectively true, but…sounds right to me. Weird.
5) The Secret, by Esther and Jerry Hicks. I should acknowledge that as someone formerly quite sympathetic to New Age philosophies and spirituality, I loathe and despise this book. I don’t want to give it any real play on this website, except to tell people to steer clear. The Secret, as popularized on t.v. shows like Oprah Winfrey’s, actually claims that if people with financial difficulties think about “needing money,” they will “attract more need.” Because it’s possible to “think” (oh, excuse me, manifest) your way out of debt and poverty! And yes, I’ve met people who live by this philosophy. In my city, there were people giving lectures on this book to try to encourage this twisted way of life.
I’m not opposed to the idea that positive thinking is better than perpetual negativity, but positive mental energy doesn’t cure economic dysfunction, nor do positivity, “patterns of attraction” or simple thought, magically protect people from real danger. Plus, people who use the Old and/or New Testaments in their religious practices may not appreciate the way the authors of The Secret co-opt Bible verses to couch their brainwashing ‘teachings’ in the language of established faith traditions. This book scares me more than almost any other you will ever find on this blog.