And Now for Some Different Terrors
If you are a reader and a Gen-Xer like me, Stephen King and Anne Rice probably played pivotal roles in your adolescence. And even though my adult reading doesn’t include a lot of horror titles, I fully understand their appeal. So do many others, it seems.
Horror has been experiencing a bit of renaissance. After declining sales in the 1990s, the genre is back. In 2021, horror was the fifth most popular fiction genre, and sales for 2023 are up over 30%. While it may seem counterintuitive, uncertain and frightening times (i.e. global pandemic) seem to coincide with an uptick in the sales of horror novels. It would appear that readers hoping to escape the terrors of reality enjoy reading about, well, different terrors.
Book Riot contributor Emily Martin speculates that the appeal or horror is in the catharsis is provides: “So much of what makes horror so appealing is how it allows readers to explore what frightens them, standing the ledge between life and death without ever really having to risk falling.”
Novelist editor Yaika Sabat explains that rather than specific content or structure, what marks a book as horror is the emotional response it evokes.
Why do readers like horror? The answers are as varied as the genre, but typically, they want the opportunity to experience deep-seated fears in a low-risk way—by reading a book! Looking for some different terrors? Here are a few of my favorites. I tend to veer toward psychological horror, and I always love a good haunted house.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books, 26-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel is hired until she after a string uncomfortable events, is elevated to Office Darling, leaving Nella in the dust. Aptly described as Devil Wears Prada meets Jordan Peele’s Get Out.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way. Note: I could only listen to this audiobook in the daytime!
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia
A reimagining of the classic gothic suspense novel follows the experiences of a courageous socialite in 1950s Mexico who is drawn into the treacherous secrets of an isolated mansion.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The story unfolds with the arrival of a new governess at a remote country estate, who has been hired by the uncle of two young orphans to take complete charge of the children's lives and upbringing. Her first peaceful weeks are disturbed by the apparition of the ghosts of two evil servants who once served in the house.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Anthropologist and ghost hunter Dr. John Montague invites three strangers to stay in haunted Hill House for the summer. One of the guests is 32-year-old Eleanor, for whom three months in a haunted house is preferable to caring for her invalid mother. Soon, Eleanor begins to see and hear things that the other guests cannot.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
Follows the release of a best-selling book about an early 20th-century New England boarding school where gender-diverse students died under suspicious circumstances.
Leave the World Behind by Alum Rumaan
Sheltering in a New York beach house with a couple that has taken refuge during a massive blackout, a family struggles for information about the power failure while wondering if the cut-off property is actually safe.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
Obsessed by creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, which he shocks into life by electricity. But his botched creature, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy his maker and all that he holds dear. A classic for good reason!
If you’re a super horror fan needing more spooky vibes than my list provides, I strongly recommend the RA for All: Horror. This is the online version of the Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, which is an American Library Association publication and is a resource I use frequently to help horror readers find books they might enjoy.