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Why You Should Read Horror (Even If It Scares You)

by  | October 28

“Why do you like horror so much?”

It’s a question I get a lot. And I do mean a lot. Many people I encounter can’t fathom why someone like me would spend so much time reading, watching, and listening to stories where supernatural forces or sickening characters strike out against innocent victims. And it is a question I have thought about

a lot too. 

But maybe the more important question is this: Why don’t you read horror?

Let me make the case for the genre.

That horror has a lot to say for itself became incredibly apparent to me during a book challenge I was doing last year. One of the entries was to be a book set around Halloween, which was perfect for me. Surfing through different message boards for book recommendations, however, I saw that lots of readers were unhappy with the choice of the challenge. Most decried scary stories, saying that they didn’t get why they were being forced to partake in what they saw as a poor reading choice. That definitely got under my skin. I’m not a fan of romance or spy thrillers, but I read them anyway with as open a mind as possible because that’s what reading challenges are supposed to do—open you up to great books you might otherwise overlook.

So I am going to implore you, and hopefully guide you, to explore horror a little more, because there’s no reason that one whole genre should be so maligned.

The biggest misconception is that all horror is scary and designed to make you feel unsettled or to leave you wide awake at night, fearing every creak and groan and flickering light. In fact, horror is as broad a genre as any other. Want to laugh at spooky things? Horror-comedy is a real subgenre, such as the John Dies at the End series by David Wong. Prefer things to be more grounded? Thrillers often use horror elements to make the “real” world more palpable, such as Caroline Kepnes’s You. Don’t want to be on this planet anymore? Cosmic horror and sci-fi horror are just two styles that will get you looking to the stars where no one can hear you scream: consider Dahlia Black by Keith Thomas and The Tommyknockers by Stephen King.

Sometimes books are categorized in the horror genre just because they feature typical horror creatures such as vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and other ghouls. Other styles of horror, like Gothic, are less about blood and guts and more about atmosphere and mood, such as The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, both enduring stories. Some are more concrete with what it is to fear, as in I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, while others are more mysterious and subtle: think Michael McDowell’s classic The Elementals.

But enough about the breadth of the field. Let’s talk about what you might get out of it.

I think the most important thing that I take away from reading horror is that everything is surmountable and survivable. Sure, there are plenty of horror stories where the protagonists die, but there are just as many, if not more, where they make it through. Life is hard, no one is going to tell you otherwise, but horror doesn’t present escapism that comes easy. It asks you to follow the emotional and physical journeys of characters, often to feel what they are going through, or otherwise to stand juxtaposed to the horrible things they are doing or seeing. By the end, it can feel like you have been to hell and back, which might not be “fun,” but is still fulfilling, enriching, and thought-provoking.

Horror can also be a space for readers and authors alike to work through fear, trauma, and anxiety in a safe and controlled environment. You can always choose to put a book down, skip pages, come back to a story later, or avoid (or seek out) stories altogether that deal with specific topics. Do you really think I haven’t thrown a book across a room when things got too intense? There is a dent in my bedroom wall from A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, and yet I still count it among my absolute favorite books.

Do I enjoy feeling scared? Sometimes. As I said, life is hard and fear often plays a part in that. But things don’t get less scary just because you don’t engage with them—often, it is just the opposite. Horror, too, has a depreciating value. Once you understand why something is scary, once the monster comes into the light, once you see it for what it truly is, it’s a lot easier to not be afraid. Scary reads can peel back the mask on the monster to reveal what it is we’re really afraid of, whether that be external forces or our own potential for evil or something else. And sure, maybe you just want to read something airy and fluffy like a fine soufflé, but there’s nothing wrong with going in for the dense and dark chocolate cake sometimes too.

But let’s be real here, no matter what my reasons are for reading horror, lots of readers have their own reasons for delving into the dark. Maybe they love that adrenaline rush, or maybe they were born fearless and nothing shakes them. Maybe it’s therapeutic, or maybe it is their definition of fun. Whatever your reason ends up being, I hope my highly passionate, maybe slightly too nerdy rant has convinced you to give horror a real try, even if you’re scared. Who knows, you might be braver (or less spooked) than you thought you would be.

John Dies at the End (Volume 1)

John Dies at the End (Volume 1)

by David Wong

STOP.

You should not have touched this book with your bare hands.

NO, don't put it down. It's too late.

They're watching you.

My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours.

You may not want to know about the things you'll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrok, about the invasion, and the future. But it's too late. You touched the book. You're in the game. You're under the eye.

The only defense is knowledge. You need to read John Dies at the End, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.

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You (Media Tie-In Edition)

You (Media Tie-In Edition)

by Caroline Kepnes

NOW A HIT NETFLIX SERIES

“Hypnotic and scary.” —Stephen King

“I am RIVETED, AGHAST, AROUSED, you name it. The rare instance when prose and plot are equally delicious.” —Lena Dunham

From debut author Caroline Kepnes comes You, one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of the Year, and a brilliant and terrifying novel for the social media age.

When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

A terrifying exploration of how vulnerable we all are to stalking and manipulation, debut author Caroline Kepnes delivers a razor-sharp novel for our hyper-connected digital age. You is a compulsively readable page-turner that’s being compared to Gone Girl, American Psycho, and Stephen King’s Misery.

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The Tommyknockers

The Tommyknockers

by Stephen King

Master storyteller Stephen King presents the classic, terrifying #1 New York Times bestseller about a terrifying otherworldly discovery and the effects it has a on a small town.

“Late last night and the night before, Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door…”

On a beautiful June day, while walking deep in the woods on her property in Haven, Maine, Bobbi Anderson quite literally stumbles over her own destiny and that of the entire town. For the dull gray metal protrusion she discovers in the ground is part of a mysterious and massive metal object, one that may have been buried there for millennia. Bobbi can’t help but become obsessed and try to dig it out…the consequences of which will affect and transmute every citizen of Haven, young and old. It means unleashing extraordinary powers beyond those of mere mortals—and certain death for any and all outsiders. An alien hell has now invaded this small New England town…an aggressive and violent malignancy devoid of any mercy or sanity…

“Wonderful creeping terror…a great storyteller!”—The New York Times Book Review

“Brilliant, riveting, marvelous.”—Boston Globe

“King at his best!” —San Francisco Chronicle

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The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw

by Henry James

A chilling ghost story, wrought with tantalising ambiguity, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw is edited with an introduction and notes by David Bromwich in Penguin Classics.

In what Henry James called a 'trap for the unwary', The Turn of the Screw tells of a nameless young governess sent to a country house to take charge of two orphans, Miles and Flora. Unsettled by a dark foreboding of menace within the house, she soon comes to believe that something malevolent is stalking the children in her care. But is the threat to her young charges really a malign and ghostly presence or something else entirely?

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The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House

by Shirley Jackson

The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre. First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting;’ Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

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I Am Legend

I Am Legend

by Richard Matheson

Robert Neville may well be the last living man on Earth . . . but he is not alone.

An incurable plague has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him.

By day, he is a hunter, stalking the infected monstrosities through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn....

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The Elementals

The Elementals

by Michael McDowell

After a bizarre and disturbing incident at the funeral of matriarch Marian Savage, the McCray and Savage families look forward to a restful and relaxing summer at Beldame, on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, where three Victorian houses loom over the shimmering beach. Two of the houses are habitable, while the third is slowly and mysteriously being buried beneath an enormous dune of blindingly white sand. But though long uninhabited, the third house is not empty. Inside, something deadly lies in wait. Something that has terrified Dauphin Savage and Luker McCray since they were boys and which still haunts their nightmares. Something horrific that may be responsible for several terrible and unexplained deaths years earlier — and is now ready to kill again . . .

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A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts

by Paul Tremblay

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface—and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

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Photo Credit // Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

Categories // Bookish Fun

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A reporter by trade, Sara Roncero-Menendez is a lover of horror, sci-fi, and all things pop culture. From indies to classics to even the strangest genre pieces, all movies, TV shows, and books are fair game for a binge-fest. Follow her on Twitter @sararomenen or at her website, www.sara-roncero-menendez.com