Some people love to be scared. They’re the kids begging for a ghost story by the campfire, and the adults who like Halloween better than Christmas. Quite frequently, they also love horror books and movies.
What is the horror genre, exactly? According to the library’s book recommendation resource NoveList, horror is “written to scare, haunt, or repulse the reader.” Whether hinting at an unseen supernatural threat or explicitly aiming for violent shock value, “the underlying goal is to send a shiver down the reader’s spine.” In other words, “horror is defined by the emotional response it’s meant to evoke rather than its specific content or structure.” The genre often plays on our fears of the unknown or our own helplessness in the face of a threat.
You may wonder, why would anyone want to read something that scares them? Some people love the adrenaline rush. For others, it’s therapeutic to explore a theme much darker than you’ll find in reality. Life may not be a bed of roses, but at least it’s not as bad as the book describes! Horror also plays on our curiosity and the temptation to pursue it. It’s that same urge that compels children to explore places forbidden by their parents, and adults to try things they know aren’t a good idea. By reading horror, one can “scratch the itch” in a safe environment.
If you want to give horror a try, where do you start? For kids, the series Goosebumps by R.L. Stine is perfect. In these books, children encounter supernatural elements like monsters and ghosts. They’re spooky, but not too scary. There’s no violence, no serious threats, and quite a few funny moments. They’re not for everyone, but if you have a child who sleeps like a log after a ghost story, they’d probably enjoy Goosebumps.
What about adults? You’ve undoubtedly heard of Stephen King, one of the most popular horror writers and a frequent inspiration for horror films. Start with The Shining to get a good feel for King’s compelling characters and plot-twisting style.
Recently released as a popular film, Josh Malerman’s Bird Box is a great example of a blend of horror, thriller, and post-apocalyptic genres all in one. With a nonlinear storyline that covers three time periods and an unseen threat that drives characters to violence if they look at it, this book is hard to put down.
Looking for something less violent and more subtle? Try classic horror books like Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. They’re creepy but not too intense or violent, and they’re perfect for Halloween.
Horror encompasses many subgenres, so it can be a spine-tingling add-on for a genre you already enjoy. Read book reviews and summaries first to see if the story might be a good fit for your tastes (and limitations).
If you try a horror book and really don’t like it, then just close the book and read something more lighthearted instead. What’s the worst that can happen?
– Botetourt County Libraries