Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (Avon, $8). No book frightened me more as a boy, because it told a chilling truth: Our parents can't protect us from the evils of the world. A haunting, beautiful tale everyone should read while they're young and then reread when they're withered, old, and full of regret.
It by Stephen King (Signet, $10). All the chilling truths and coming-of-age poignancy you'll find in Something Wicked, only cranked up to 11 and doused in blood and battery acid. Fun fact: This book is the No. 1 cause of coulrophobia (fear of clowns). Seriously. That's a real thing. Google it.
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (Beacon, $10). Man is the worst monster of all. No one captures that better than Frankl, who takes his true story as a prisoner in Auschwitz and improbably wills it into a message of hope. If you ever feel as if life's been unfair to you, read this book and then promptly smack yourself in the face for being such a baby.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (Vintage, $16). Some monsters wear scaly skin and dark cloaks. Others wear pastel sweaters and perfect smiles. This book did for yuppies what Jaws did for great white sharks. The fact that we find ourselves rooting for Patrick Bateman says more about us than it does about him.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (Vintage, $16). Part engaging American history, part thrilling mystery, part brutal portrait of a serial killer — and every word of it true. One of the most engaging books of the millennium (along with Larson's more recent In the Garden of Beasts), and almost impossible not to read in one sitting.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Vintage, $14). A good old-fashioned ghost story: Gothic in style and unflinchingly English with its foggy moors, crumbling estates, and creepy children staring at things that aren't there. Not recommended for fans of happy endings.