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Under our Skin. Literature's 10 Most Disturbing Books as Chosen by The Bookwitty Community

Books hold a lot of power. They have the power to make us laugh and cry, the power to evoke memories, the power to thrill our imaginations. They also have the power to burrow under our skin and profoundly disturb us.

When asked to choose the books that disturbed them the most, the Bookwitty community provided a plethora of selections that kept them up at night.

We Need to Talk about Kevin

You may have seen the movie adapted from this 2003 novel. Even if you have, you won’t want to miss this examination of the banality of evil framed around the aftermath of a mass killing, the teenager who committed the crime, and his complex relationship with his mother. Get to know Kevin, one of literature's most deeply unsettling characters.

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American Psycho

Make no mistake, this notorious novel of 1980s excess, exploring the murderous urges of Wall Street player Patrick Bateman, has some of the most gruesome and grotesque scenes ever put to paper. But look beyond the almost unrelenting carnage and stomach-churning gore and you’ll find a pitch black satire that delights in slicing up our notions of greed, the power of violence and the violence of power.

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Flowers in the Attic

This 1979 bestseller, about four young children, their captivity in the titular attic, and one very twisted family dynamic revels in its Gothic sensibilities and almost ghoulish characters, and still has the power to set teeth on edge.

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House of Leaves

The Shining by way of Chuck Palahniuk, this book is almost indescribable. Structured as a fictional report, and featuring multiple footnotes, asides of poetry, and polaroids, it's essentially the chronicle of a mysterious documentary capturing a family’s experience living in a house that appears to be, at the very least, haunted. It’s terrifying, boldly experimental, and utterly unique.

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The Road

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy takes post-apocalyptic literature to a new, almost mythic level with this 2006 novel. As we chart the journey of a nameless man and his son through an irradiated wasteland, they encounter starvation, cannibals, the elements, and perhaps most disturbingly of all, crushing loneliness.

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Sorry

Adrift in their personal and professional lives, four friends decide to start their own business. Remaking themselves as apologists for hire, they provide their services to corporations, making amends to those who have been unjustly accused, unfairly dismissed, or wronged in some way. When one of their jobs takes a sinister turn, apology transforms into revenge, and the book transforms into something truly terrifying.

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On The Beach

World War III has been fought. Nuclear devastation ravages the world. In Southern Australia, a group of survivors wait for a lethal cloud of radiation to reach their shores. Bleak and uncompromising in its depiction of an irradiated world, it’s also a melancholy and emotionally satisfying read.

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Johnny Got His Gun

From blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, this anti-war book follows Joe Bonham, an American soldier fighting in World War I who suffers horrific injuries after an artillery attack. With some extremely graphic descriptions of his injuries and the brutality of war, this 1938 novel earns it’s spot as one of literature's most disturbing reads.

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The Wasp Factory

Meet Frank, age sixteen, curious, intelligent, homicidal. This peek inside the mind of a burgeoning serial killer was highly controversial upon it’s release, and it’s not hard to see why. Visceral and fascinating, it's emotionally exhausting, but altogether worthwhile.

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It

This is the granddaddy of them all. Maybe the best pure horror novel ever written, this tale of an ancient evil and the group of kids (and later adults) who do battle with it reads as a greatest hits of everything that has ever scared you, from giant spiders to zombies to (of course) clowns. Welcome to your new life of never sleeping again.

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Book lover, movie buff. Marketing copywriter for Bookwitty. A cat-person, a dog-person, and a person-person.

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