The best books for mucking your way through the brine, slime, and darkness—literally and figuratively

Who am I?

As a fisherman, my travels have taken me to some truly outlandish places and put me in contact with nature’s most dangerous, grotesque denizens. Coming face-to-face with teeth, venomous barbs, and viscous slime has given me a special appreciation for the bizarre, which translated perfectly to horror literature. Horror takes us by the hand and forces it upon the surface of this world’s darkest and weirdest places—the natural world, the human soul, the other side, the beyond—and I am your humble guide to those places. From those places, however? No guarantees. 

I wrote...

Hell's Gulf

By Nick Carlson,

Book cover of Hell's Gulf

What is my book about?

Rowan Vane, a young writer struggling with self-definition (really though, what young person isn’t?), finds himself in the dead center of a salty, sunbleached North Florida beach town for spring break. Emboldened by the lure of inspiration and personal growth, he sets out on a spirit journey, mind ablaze with possibility. But the further he ventures into its depths, the more he comes to realize the extent of the town’s darkness, from its diabolical menagerie of monsters to its corrupt, bloodsoaked history. Can he navigate the wilds of Hell’s Gulf and emerge a better, stronger man? Or will the horrifying truth behind it all end up killing him? 

The books I picked & why

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By Stephen King,

Book cover of It

Why this book?

Despite its biblical length, King’s iconic novel keeps the pages engaging, hilarious, and terrifying—often all at once. While his horror game plays out strong as ever in It, what really makes this story great is its unabashed perspective on childhood, nostalgia, and growing up, all centered in a gilded small-town atmosphere. It is the quintessential coming-of-age tome, tapping deep into the shadowy subconscious of our memories and pasts, while throwing in good old-fashioned blood, guts, and cosmic horror. For some reason I chose this book to give an oral presentation about in seventh grade (while my classmates mostly did The Hunger Games), and I swear I haven’t been the same since. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel,

Book cover of Life of Pi

Why this book?

Probably one of the most unique novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, Life of Pi deftly fuses a plethora of elements that otherwise might seem incongruous: zoo culture, religious exploration, survivalism, and adventure, among others. Its attentiveness to biology, its colorful assault on the senses, and its imaginative elements of fantasy make this book a visceral experience as well as a contemplative one. Of all my assigned reading in high school, this one pulled me in with its enigmatic spell and will live forever in my mind and heart. 

River Monsters: True Stories of the Ones That Didn't Get Away

By Jeremy Wade,

Book cover of River Monsters: True Stories of the Ones That Didn't Get Away

Why this book?

The stories in this book may be nonfiction, but as author and television host Jeremy Wade establishes, reality is often stranger than myth. You don’t have to be an angler to become enraptured by Wade’s detailed, thrilling accounts of tracking down the world’s most dangerous freshwater fish, complete with suspense, peril, and a deadpan sense of humor. Included are Wade's thoughts on the dynamics of different cultures around the world, the importance of spirituality, and philosophical links between fishing and real life. I may be a passionate fisherman myself (and, admittedly, often fantasize about being in Jeremy Wade’s shoes), but this is a must-read for anyone who appreciates the art of storytelling and the thrill of adventure.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

By Max Brooks,

Book cover of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Why this book?

True terror in literature is difficult to pull off in my opinion, but no novel sends chills down my spine like World War Z. Told in a series of interviews a la Studs Terkel, it recounts the darkest period of human history, when the planet was almost overrun by the living dead, and the men and women across the world who suffered through it from its beginning to end. Since the story is entirely relayed through dialogue, the characters’ voices come alive in your mind, bombarding you with accounts of body horror, psychological trauma, and existential dread. The unknown, the implied, and the lingering “what-if” hanging over my head like a knife are what scares me most; the knot in my stomach with each reread is testament to that.

Angels & Demons

By Dan Brown,

Book cover of Angels & Demons

Why this book?

It may not be the most highbrow of novels, but this slick, propulsive thriller is a brilliant exercise in pace, twists, and creativity. Dan Brown’s greatest strength is his ability to craft deliciously convoluted stories and weave the reader through them effortlessly, aided by his colorful characters, sense of humor, and wonderfully wicked scenarios. Of his thriller stock, Angels & Demons is by far his most refined, and it’s a definite recommendation for anyone looking for intensity, charm, and most of all, fun in their next read.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in survival, evil, and war?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about survival, evil, and war.

Survival Explore 112 books about survival
Evil Explore 9 books about evil
War Explore 204 books about war

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Alchemist, Unbroken, and The War of the Worlds if you like this list.