The Six Most Disturbing Books I Have Ever Read
I was lucky enough to be raised by a Mom who owned an absolutely beautiful used book store, and much of the joy of my childhood came from finding and reading books I probably shouldn’t have.
Whether it was about serial killers (I am still all messed up by Albert Fish) or was some Stephen King book I had no place reading in the fourth grade, books were the gasoline that got my mind burning, and I loved it. And thankfully, now that I have a rather amazing published author as a boss, I can actually take a moment to talk about some of the messed up stuff I read throughout my life, that I have never been able to shake.
Obviously, some of the stuff on this list is going to be pretty messed up, so if you get easily offended, I am sure there is a Pokemon list for you here, somewhere. I recommend going to read that now, because this is some seriously dark stuff henceforth.
1. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Maybe we should talk about the fact that it looks like he is wearing a purse in this pic.
As much as the recent Tilda Swinton movie got it all pretty much spot on, the differences between the book and film are, in the book, we are in the Mother’s subconscious with her. In the film, we simply take the ride with her,
so as much as the film is harrowing, the book itself is heart breaking. A scary book in the most realistic sense, We Need To Talk About Kevin is the journey of one Mother, slowly discovering that her son is way more messed up than she could have ever been prepared for, and the fallout she experiences from not being aggressive enough with that information.
But, I do need to say, maybe if your kid is kinda messed up, buying him archery gear is not the best idea. I know, that reflects on the Dad, but still, just a thought. But really, though some of the entries on the list may be wholly unsettling books full of messed up stuff, We Need To Talk About Kevin is nothing if not heart breaking, for all involved. An amazingly powerful read, and quite unlike anything you have ever read.
2. Ripper by Michael Slade
Ignore the crappy cover art, and you have a book you will never forget.
First off, this book is f****d, and I read it WAY too young, and was never able to shake some of the imagery of this book from my subconscious. Also, something super interesting about this book that I did not know until years after I had read it.
Michael Slade is the pen name for a criminal lawyer named Jay Clark, who actually takes his story ideas from real life murder cases and trails, centering around the insane. And boy, is Ripper insane.
Ripper is, at its heart, a crime story, though how those crimes unfold and the revelations within is half the draw of this insane world. While I am (per usual) being cryptic and vague, think Silence of the Lambs meets Marquis De Sade meets Fight Club, and you STILL have no idea.
Yes, there are some twists here, but rest assured in knowing you will NOT see them coming, and boy do they come, bukkake style.
And much like me, when you finish this book, you will want to read more of this guy’s stuff, and may I recommend Headhunters and Ghoul as great follow ups.
3. The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks
Nothing you have ever read will prepare you for the insanity in this book.
Of all the books on the list, this is the one I have read most recently, even though it was released in 1984. Imagine, if you would, Catcher in the Rye, if Holden Caulfield was really, truly, bat**** insane and completely detached from reality.
That, my friends, is The Wasp Factory. A literary experience unlike any I had before, or have had since. And trying to explain it and make it sound interesting would be like trying to explain tattered entrails to someone who has been blind since birth. There is, really, no way to do it. I will try, though.
The Wasp Factory is a tale told in the first person from a boy named Frank Cauldhame, who spends his time, alone, isolated on an island with is Father, and we hear about his childhood, with the revelation that Frank may have taken more than one life before he even reached the precious age of ten. That very idea, of kid’s killing kids, is one that is very hard to stomach, and much of what Frank does in this book is very hard to stomach, which is just why the book is on the list.
And to think, I didn’t even need to say anything about the “sacrificial poles” or what the actual wasp factory is. Hell, I didn’t even tell you about his insane brother who is locked up in an asylum, and MAY be getting out, very soon, which throws some real twists in to the perceived reality of this remarkable book. It is slow paced, but gets under the skin of the reader like a burrowing insect. Dare I say, a wasp?
4. Salo or 120 days of Sodom by Marquis De Sade
Yeah, um, don’t read this.
So as much as I truly think you should read all the other books on the list, I really DON’T think you should read this. You see, unlike the other books on the list, there is a real devious joy held in some of the acts of this awful story, and as much as it is disturbing, in this case, that is not a good thing. In my opinion, anyway.
Though I am sure a great deal of you know about this book and the super f***ed up film adaptation, sexual (and brutally violent) acts against children perpetuated by adults is just not something anyone should take any kind of joy in.
I know, I know, I am a weirdo who likes dark, f****d up things, so who am I to cast stones on people who may like dark, f****d up things? But honestly, it is the question of sex crimes versus regular crimes.
And De Sade was truly pushing buttons and boundaries with this book exploring the sickening past times of some Fascists who indulge their most sickest of whims, regardless of the ramifications of those actions.
Yes, I keep using different variations of the word “sick” here, and am doing that on purpose. Honestly, if De Sade intrigues you like he did me, this is NOT the book to introduce yourself to his work with. Just a warning.
5. Deranged: The Shocking True Story of America’s Most Fiendish Serial Killer by Harold Schechter
That, my friends, is truly the face of the devil.
The mind of the serial killer is always something that has intrigued me, probably way beyond any level that is healthy. Just wondering how they work, why they do what they do, what happened earlier in their lives that set the tone for it.
All that stuff truly captivates me. And I really know way more than I should for someone not involved with that life, but that is because I read every true crime novel I ever found as a kid.
Honestly, from Manson to Dahmer, I probably know some things most don’t about those crimes, killers, and victims, but you know what book put an end to my fascination? This one. Why? Because seeing Albert Fish, reading his words, and knowing what he did took a part of my soul I will never get back.
No, I am not kidding you. If you don’t believe that the devil is real, I bet you Fish’s story will utterly convince you. This book fucked me up (not the book itself, but the details of his crimes) to such an extent, I had to actually throw the book away. Honestly.
If that is not a mark of honor for a disturbing book, I don’t know what is. Just the letter he wrote to the parents of one his victims (and wait until you hear how he met up with that victim) is the single most chilling and disturbing thing I have ever read. Ever. So much so, I no longer want to know how or why. I just want to erase it all from my mind.
This will be your expression the entire time while you read this book.
6. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
Definitely one of of my favorite contemporary authors, and half the reason I write stuff as twisted as I do is the influence his work has had on me, and no book he’s written messes with people quite like Haunted. I would dare to say the opening story (within the story) about the kid who has his intestines sucked out while he is rubbing one out in the pool is a story that will have you gagging in between belly laughs. And it only gets more twisted from there.
And to make it even weirder, I read it in one sitting, while working an overnight at a group home. Trust me, an environment like that only adds to the taboo moments you encounter while reading Chuck. And Haunted is littered with them. The story about the doll at the police office will also have you questioning your faith in humanity and questioning your intestinal fortitude.
Okay, your turn. What is the most disturbing book YOU ever read?
I loved the Wasp Factory. Randomly bought it because I liked the cover.
It sucked me right in. Delightfully weird, scary sometimes. Yet sometimes still recognizable.
And then you start to get the bigger picture…
American Psycho has what I consider the 4 worst pages of anything that I have ever read (The chapter titled Girl). The book makes the movie look like a Disney flick.
I’m interested in a couple of those now, but after reading some of the plot of 120 days of Sodom and Deranged, I’m thoroughly creeped out now. Now I’m going to have images in my head for the rest of the day.
Can you mail these to me please?
I have to recommend One Foot Wrong by Sophie Laguna. A truly amazing look into the mind of the insane. Some parts are really beautiful while others dive deep into the void. I totally recommend it.
Also, fuck Albert Fish. I haven’t read the book but I know some of the details you touched upon. Fuck that guy.
Fuck Ottis Toole and his BBQ sauce recipe too.
I like the list, Remy!! I’ve read about half of them, and yeah, twisted stuff in them. Haunted is actually the impetus for my email, weird as that may sound. And deranged seriously frakked my brain a bit. Other books may be creepy and slightly twisted, but to know a true human being is capable of such acts is just…deranged is seriously the only word I can think that describes it. Always appreciate your point of views, keep ’em coming!
Crap in a hat, I forgot something. Sorry! If you haven’t before, check out “House of Leaves” by Mark Danielewski. That book is jacked in a way I’ve never seen.
I started Haunted but, at the time, wasn’t ready for that type of novel (re: i was on the toilet and wanted something breezy) so I switched to Harry Potter.
I’m definitely going to heck the rest out, as well as the commentor recs.
I second American Psycho. Most of Bret Easton Ellis’s books contain some story elements that made me kind of sick, but American Psycho gave me flat out nightmares.
Thanks for the supportive words for my decidedly twisted choices. I am also beyond stoked you guys gave some recommendations, because I have, and I kid you not, not been misled by one Unreality recommendation, be it movie or book, thus far.
Hell, will read your suggestions and maybe a few of them will make it into the inevitable follow up.
Also, JapJay, from Haunted to Potter on the toilet, I think you made the better “light reading” choice.
Waiting Period or The Roomby Hubert Shelby, Jr.
He wrote Requiem for a Dream and these two make that look tame (especially The Room).
Great article! I picked up my first King novel at age 7 and never looked back.
I don’t know if you’ve explored splatterpunk novels but i was blown away by Wrath James White, Carlton Mellick and almost anything by Jack Ketchum. Not much makes me uncomfortable/nauseous when reading but these authors managed it on a regular basis. If you want really twisted, try Cows by Matthew Stokoe.
And Jeez, thanks for the reminder about Haunted. A guy once tried to pick me up by reading “Guts” in its entirety to me. How romantic -_-
I was going thru the list, and thought… Where is Haunted?… ah, there it is. The “intro story” is the prologue for all the messed up stuff we get to read after that.
Solid article… will check out The Wasp Factory… with that title and argument it has to be a winner.
I would definitely recommend Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. Twisted goodness
Glad to see someone else show love for We Need to Talk About Kevin. I love Lionel Shriver’s writing in general, but that one was really the most unsettling of her books. I really loved the reveal at the end regarding what really happened to Eva’s husband. If there’s one thing the movie couldn’t deliver, unlike the book, it was that. Nonetheless, Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller embodied both Eva and Kevin’s characters really well.
Being an avid fiction reader, I’ve come across a few disturbing books in my time. Just to name a few:
* Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite – Part of it was probably due to the homosexuality of almost all of the book’s characters (and the correspondingly graphic sexual scenes), but mostly it was the sheer amount of detail that went into describing the killer’s… unseemly predilections.
* The End of Alice by A.M. Homes – I haven’t read Lolita, so I didn’t have much of an idea how pedophilia came across in writing, but reading this book really unnerved me. And the first-person perspective didn’t help. Not to mention how an eighteen-year-old girl manages to have almost the same… um… tastes as a fifty-year-old pedophile.
I’m going to go ahead and say Flowers in the Attic left a weird taste in my mouth… a very good book, but one that had me wide-eyed and lemon-faced by the end.
There is a book by a Danish author whose name I forget, but the book is called Nothing. I had to read it for a project in my Young Adult Literature class. All the other books on the list were made up of the normal things kids read these days, and some classics. But Nothing is a book about a group of kids in a Danish town that end up creating this pile of stuff they believe has meaning to it because one of the kids in their class has climbed up a tree and shouts at passersby that life has no meaning. They try to prove them wrong, but the way they go about it is VERY disturbing. For example, one of the young girls gets raped (it isn’t shown but you hear about it before and after the deed is done), and her “innocence,” a bloodstained handkerchief is added to the pile. The ending is very twisted as well. It is a very existentialist novel, but I found it really good and couldn’t put it down for very long. It was disturbing, but in an entrancing way.
I would have said Haunted, but you sort of beat me to it.
‘Let the Right One In’ by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It has pretty much everything in it that made me go: “Well, that was just too far.” And then some. And acid. MY GOD, the acid.
Cows by Matthew Stokoe is probably one of the sickest book I’ve ever read
I agree it could be in there. However the same author’s “High Life” reaches similar levels of depravity and while “Cows”: is a kind of weird balletic stroll through insanity High LIfe is more of a noir thriller so in a way the nasty bits are nastier because more real.
Kisscut …Karin Slaughter….deeply disturbing.
Also, Notes on a Scandal for insights into a sick mind.
Dude! I love the way you think!
Final Truth: the autobiography of a serial killer. Its about the serial killer Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins. It was a really hard book to read, he didn’t hold back telling about every horrible thing that he did to all of his victims. It was extremely disturbing and I have read a lot of disturbing thing, but this book really got to me.