10 Books That Made Me Squirm

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There’s a difference between being afraid and feeling uncomfortable. Funnily enough, the typical run-of-the-mill horror works rarely make me squirm. Sure, they scare me sometimes, but they don’t leave me with stomach-turning discomfort or sense of unease.  Instead, it’s the stuff that goes a little darker, a little more personal, and deeper left field that has a lasting effect.

As I’ve said in previous posts, it’s not always about selecting books that are the greatest works out there (anyone can mindlessly pick an unoriginal top ten of the usual suspects). It’s about the impact certain books have on you personally, good, bad, and everything in between.

Some of the following titles do both, while others might make you writhe and wriggle for different reasons.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk‘HAUNTED’ by Chuck Palahniuk

This short story collection from Palahniuk is a shocker, one that reads like a late-night police line-up of creeps, freaks, perverts and perpetrators.

Seventeen strangers, all aspiring writers trying to escape their own lives, attend a mysterious last-minute writer’s retreat in an abandoned theater. They quickly find themselves locked inside, cut off from the world, made to live in squalor and subsist on little as they create their most important works. Each is forced to recount a story (possibly fact, maybe fictitious) inspired by their own haunted pasts.  Most tales will have you worming around in no time. Try reading the short story ‘Guts’ for starters. If you don’t end up squirming, or fainting, I’ll wager that you’re not actually human.

Nbody Problem by Tony BurgessTHE N-BODY PROBLEM by Tony Burgess

It’s safe to say that almost any book written by Burgess will have you wriggling at some point. His most popular book ‘Pontypool Changes Everything’ certainly had its moments, but this new offering kicks the author’s usual penchant for giving you the willies into high gear.

‘The N-Body Problem’ is an incredibly fresh take on the zombie genre, one that’s literally out of this world.  Burgess takes his story of the undead to places never thought possible. While there, he tells you about horrible things you could have never imagined on your own, things that make you twitch with revulsion and turn your eyes away from the pages. This book gives ‘The Walking Dead’ a run for its money.

American Psycho Bret Easton EllisAMERICAN PSYCHO by Brett Easton Ellis

Undoubtedly a modern classic, you could say ‘American Psycho’ takes things too far with a fair bit of regularity. The novel is a running commentary on rabid capitalism and the excesses of consumer culture in the 1980s, resulting in an equally excessive show of human depravity. Told from the perspective of a yuppie-come-serial-killer prowling Manhattan, we descend into the mind and fantasies of a psychopath whose grip on reality is shaky at best.

Anyone who’s read the book will know that the movie version left out the worst of Patrick Bateman’s sadistic acts, and for good reason. Let’s just say I’ve never regarded rats and cheese the same way since I read about what Bateman did with them.

Child Of God By Cormac McCarthyCHILD OF GOD by Cormac McCarthy

Take a southern degenerate raised in an abysmal state of affairs and trace his downward spiral into serial murder and necrophilia… that’s what McCarthy did in ‘Child of God’, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Lester Ballad is quite possibly one of the most reprehensible characters in modern literature, yet it is impossible to hate him completely. What made me squirm was Cormac’s ability to actually get me to relate to the lonely outcast and feel some sympathy for him, showing me the human side to a character we would all regard as subhuman.

Rust And Bone by Craig DavidsonRUST & BONE by Craig Davidson

A collection of short stories, I like to think of ‘Rust & Bone’ as an assortment of small situational squirms that cover a wide spectrum. The book is mostly tales of tough folks in trouble: a sea-world trainer being mauled by a killer whale, a couple involved in the brutal underground world of dog-fighting, an alcoholic father inadvertently ruining his kid’s prospects in life, and the stresses of being a sex addict among others.

Davidson’s writing is raw and visceral, giving you every bit of the grit and discomfort he intends. It isn’t necessarily the gore that gets you (although there is some of that), rather it’s the predicaments the characters find themselves in (two pitiful amputees trying to feel each other out, for instance). Incidentally, the author has a new book out called ‘The Troop’ (written under his pseudonym ‘Nick Cutter’) an outright horror novel that I have yet to read, but apparently is a total trip to Squirmville.

TaconesToddKlinckTACONES: HIGH HEELS by Todd Klinck

I included this in my list of 10 Books That Stuck With Me, but let’s just say there are many reasons I’m listing it here too. There’s so much to squirm over in this book, it is impossible to cover it all.

At first ‘Tacones‘ seems like a bunch of short stories cobbled together, almost like vignettes, but as you go deeper you discover the threads and themes connecting them. We’re reading about damaged characters and what makes them tick, people whose life experiences, mentalities, desires and addictions are considered abnormal by the status quo. What makes Klincks work more unnerving is that the stories are taken right out of the dark side of everyday life, based on actuality. It’s like taking a peek into Hell’s peepshow. There are so many extreme personalities with odd behaviors that your eyes are guaranteed to widen as you progress through the pages.

Old Flames Jack KetchumOLD FLAMES by Jack Ketchum

There are far better works by Ketchum out there, but this one book featuring two novellas doubled the squirm factor for me. The first novella ‘Old Flames’ is one of those ‘Fatal Attraction’ kind of stories, and any tale about a psycho chick trying to weasel her way into a man’s settled life makes me squirm (something in my own past, maybe?).

The second novella, ‘Right to Life’, is a gratuitous bit of torture porn about a pregnant woman headed for the abortion clinic who ends up being kidnapped and held by a couple of deranged pro-lifers. While I dislike the ‘torture porn’ sub-genre, there were moments in that story that certainly had me fidgeting in my seat.

Zombie by Joyce Carol OatesZOMBIE by Joyce Carol Oates

A short novel loosely based on the life and crimes of Jeffery Dahmer, ‘Zombie’ puts you in the mind of a disturbed, and not very bright, young man named Quentin P as he begins to slip further into his strange tastes and sadistic daydreams. The character’s greatest desire is to create a mindless ‘sex slave’ he can keep indefinitely around his apartment to do his bidding. How he goes about it will send shivers coursing through your body. When his efforts fail him, he takes things a step further and begins to experiment with cannibalism and necrophilia. The squirms increase until you find yourself downright horrified by his actions.

Poison Shy by Stacey MaddenPOISON SHY by Stacey Madden

An oddball little novel about a miserable and mentally unstable exterminator working in a small dead-end town, ‘Poison Shy’ coats your mouth with distaste more than once.

Like the narrator of the book, the story feels bleak and awkward; his words and actions left me just as uncomfortable as he was when meeting his love interest (I use that term very loosely) and an array of other strange characters.

The scene where the main character has desperate and messy sex with the female lead during her time of the month had me really squirming. Those pages put a wince on my face that stayed for a good while. I know this isn’t a big deal for some, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

50 Shades of GreyFIFTY SHADES OF GREY by E.L. James

Why put this book on the list? No, it wasn’t the BDSM that made me squirm, nor the gender stereotyping, misogyny, or trite love affair bullshit between two cardboard cutout characters. Shit, the connection between Pants and Werepig was more believable.

What made me squirm was E.L. James God awful writing. To be fair, I didn’t actually read the whole book. I got about thirty pages in before I just had to put it down because I felt so embarrassed that a steaming piece of shit like this got published. After that, I just skipped to the sex everyone was squawking about and discovered the piss poor execution made me squirm even more. If you’re an avid reader and you want something downright uncomfortable to read, you can’t get much better than this.

10 Books That Stuck With Me

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It’s safe to say I’ve read a lot of books. Some are great, some are less than, but invariably there are stories that stick with me long after I’ve put them down. It’s not always about being the best, but the following ten titles are works that left a lasting impression on me over the years.

scarystoriestotellinthedarkScary Stories To Tell In The Dark’ by Alvin Schwartz

        This was the first book to ever have such a notable effect me. Simply put, I was absolutely terrified by these tales. My grade three teacher read it to us in class, showing us the illustrations in between stories (the unbelievably creepy art of Stephen Gammell). Never in my young life had I been read anything that was so frightening and unnerving. I could feel fear eating at me, the discomfort creeping up my spine as I tried to digest horrors I’d never been presented before. This was the first time I’d ever experienced a book that made me sweat and squirm and hold my breath.

‘IT’ by Stephen King

When I was thirteen, IT was the first book I ever bought for myself with my own money. I took my allowance to a local church sale and found a used copy in a pile of paperbacks. Something about it called to me. Much to my surprise, my mother let me buy it. Looking back, I can see the book’s magnetism was an invitation to start down the path I’m on now. The novel was so adult, so scary, so beyond what I was used to reading. I’m a slow reader, and was even slower at that age. IT took me over six months to read, and all the while I felt like I was slipping into a long relationship with the characters and story. When it finally ended, I felt empty inside and was upset to see it all go. I began filling the void with more books.

blood meridian‘Blood Meridian’ by Cormac McCarthy

I discovered Cormac McCarthy in a creative writing class during my first year of university, and was undoubtedly the best thing I got out of the entire course. Up until that point, I’d never read a writer like Cormac. I found his prose an absolute nightmare to navigate, but I simply could not put the book down. The imagery and bleakness was as fresh as it was disconcerting. It was the one of very few books I read as an adult that actually shocked and moved me in equal amounts. The character of The Judge was unlike anything I’d ever come across.

‘City of Thieves’ by David Benioff

This is a damn-near perfect book and Benioff is a damn-near perfect storyteller. That’s pretty much all you need to know. Set in Leningrad during WWII, the novel is a hard look at the best and worst of humanity, often hilarious and harrowing at the same time. To say any more would be to give it away, but City Of Thieves should be required reading for every fan of fiction. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

specimen‘Specimen Days’ by Michael Cunningham

I don’t know what it is about this novel, but there must be some kind of magic weaved into the pages. The book is made up of three different novellas (past, present, and future) that are separated by time. They stand alone as individual stories, but are also connected through plot devices and the poetic works of Walt Whitman. Part literary, part thriller, and part history, Specimen Days covers a lot of ground. I’ve reread this book several times now and found it just as engaging and transformative as the first time. Cunningham’s prose and ideas play on my mind long after I put the book down.

‘The Silence of the Lambs’ by Thomas Harris

Hannibal Lecter will stand as one of the greatest villains of all time, and it is all thanks to this book. This most recognizable novel from Harris is a modern commercial classic, and for good reason. The Silence of the Lambs is a thriller done all kinds of right, setting the bar high for other authors of the genre. A hard novel to forget.

‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’ by Mitch Albom

I’m going to get some eye-rolls for this one, no doubt, but I found this to be a sweet little story that was the complete opposite of the usual gritty kinds of material I generally seek out and enjoy. The heart and soul present within the pages really moved me at times, and I’ve always had a soft spot for love and loss and the mysteries of life. Albom’s book definitely had its moments, and those moments stuck with me for a good long while. I don’t have to be a tough guy all the time, and this book proved that.

emergencyneilstrauss‘Emergency’ by Neil Strauss

Strauss is probably best known for writing The Game, but this is the book that comes up in conversations rather frequently. With the tagline “This book will save your life”, the very least it will do is get you thinking how you better prepare yourself against a statistically probable premature death during a catastrophe of some kind. A tough look at survivability during breakdowns of civility and society, this book opens your eyes to just how easily things might fall apart at any given time. The vast majority of us won’t be ready or equipped to handle a world gone wrong, but Strauss aims to change that. The things I learned from this book I still recount to others today.

‘The Delivery Man’ by Joe McGinniss Jr.

I stumbled upon this gem completely by accident in a bookstore. I’d never heard of the book or the author before, but I was completely hooked upon reading the first few pages. The sharp, visceral story is set in Las Vegas and focuses on a character trapped between who he once was and who he wants to become. Disturbing and heartbreaking at times, McGinniss’s style and story are exactly what I want to get out of a novel. Whenever someone asks me to recommend a fantastic book written by a talented author that I personally love, I inevitably tell them about this one.

TaconesToddKlinck‘Tacones: High Heels’ by Todd Klinck

Winner of the 19th annual ‘3-Day Novel Contest’, Klinck’s Tacones is no horror novel, yet it might be one of the most frightening and effective things you’ll ever read. This short, but ambitious, book covers a wide spectrum of characters that come out to play long after the average person has gone to bed. It is dark, depressing, disconnected and delicious. Each of the stories has the ability to shock and awe you in different ways. They get you thinking, and probably about things you’d rather not want to consider. The most terrifying thing is when you eventually realize that this kind of so-called ‘fiction’ might just be happening a lot closer to home.