Quarantine’s psychological effects getting to you? I feel the same, but I’ve kept busy by reading and writing. Horror, mostly. Why am I reading horror during a nervous, panicky time? Because horror actually soothes me. Horror is one of my favorite genres (the other being fantasy), and the terror I feel over what I read actually disconnects me from the panic I feel being inside all day. If you’re like me in that regard, or you just feel like a good horror read, here’s a list for you.
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This psychological horror classic follows the protagonist, Eleanor, and two others summoned to Hill House to observe supernatural phenomenon. Under the guidance of Dr. Montague, an occult scholar, the three navigate the dangerous Hill House. Ultimately, the prose is beautiful and the journey to the thrilling end is laced with danger and mistrust. At some points, I had a very difficult time figuring out what was real and what wasn’t. If you prefer a shorter read, try Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People.” It has a similar sort of psychological twist and turn to it without dedicating yourself to another novel. Note: The Haunting of Hill House is nothing like the Netflix show. The book is so, so much better.
2. Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
First of all, if you haven’t listened to the podcast, take a moment to listen before you read the novels. You can find it on Spotify, or go to their website for a list of other places you can listen.
Better? Better. So the novel has all of the quirky, funny musings of the regular Welcome to Night Vale podcast, though it is laden with sinister undertones (also like the podcast). I think it can best be summed up with this line from the novel and podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale…a friendly desert community somewhere in the American Southwest, where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while its citizens pretend to sleep.” “Ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are commonplace parts of everyday life.” Do I have your attention? Perfect. This particular novel follows the characters Jackie and Diane as their lives weave together in a mystery that pervaded Night Vale for quite a few episodes. If you’re looking for horror laced with absurdist humor, you’ve come to the right place.
3. The Passage by Justin Cronin
Feeling like a trilogy? I get that feeling. The Passage–also nothing like the show, in a good way–is a science fiction/horror crossbreed that follows humanity’s desperate attempts to survive the outbreak of a horrible virus that morphs humans into monstrous Virals. It’s a little on the nose, but I recognize some of us need that right now. Follow a whole cast of characters as they search for the way to put an end to the threat of Virals. I won’t say too much on this one for fear of spoilers, but Cronin’s prose is fantastic. While a bit wearisome at times due to what feels like unnecessary description, Cronin has a mastery of characterization that allows you to really get to know and love a large amount of characters in a short time. The book is followed by The Twelve and The City of Mirrors.
4. That Which Grows Wild by Eric J. Guignard
How about a short story collection? Guignard’s sixteen stories are unusual, weird, and horrifying. They are absolutely refreshing! Some stories follow post-apocalyptic worlds, others are based so deeply in realistic settings that it’s hard to separate reality from the world Guignard has masterfully created. If that didn’t convince you, maybe the fact that Guignard won the Bram Stoker Award will. I will admit that none of the stories struck me as “scary,” but they were all very dark and weird. If weird is your thing, go for it. Guignard’s prose is enjoyable and descriptive, but just enough so that you get a clear picture of the worlds contained in the stories. I didn’t feel the need to put down the collection to take a break at all.
5. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
This is a mix of fantasy and thriller that I believe is best listened to on Audible (the performance is incredible!), but will also make a nice read. Follow Carolyn, a woman who was once American a long time ago, but has spent years under the study of the mysterious and cruel “Father.” When Father disappears, his powerful Library stands unguarded, and Carolyn must move quickly before her Father’s enemies or her “siblings” can take its power. The prose is brutal and somewhat vulgar in nature, but the story itself is well-crafted and the world-building is phenomenal. You’ll grow to love some characters, and love to hate the others. Carolyn appears to have forgotten what being human is all about, and her development blossoms on the page because of this loss.
6. Night to Dawn edited by Barbara Custer
This magazine of horror and science fiction is the perfect companion to quarantine. I started reading it for a class, and now I’m hooked. The stories often contain tropes like vampires, werewolves, and mummies, but with refreshing and absolutely beautiful twists (think vampires who need dentists, vampire therapists who help other vampires conquer their fears of religious objects, a zombie apocalypse on Valentine’s Day, etc.). The magazine also contains horrific artwork and poetry, as well as book reviews. The issues I’ve read so far also contain about twenty stories each (that includes a handful of flash fiction). If you’re looking for a fun, well-priced print horror magazine, this is your magazine. You can find it on Amazon (well, that’s just issue 37, but still).