What scares you?
What comes to mind when we ask you that? Maybe your mind turns to the horror tropes. Zombies, serial killers, that sort of thing. Or maybe you’re afraid of things that can’t be explained, like ghosts or the paranormal. Some people might turn to the mundane, everyday things that scare them – climate change, insects, heights.
So, what scares you? This isn’t just a theoretical question. For October, your reading challenge is to read a book that scares you. This is done partly in deference to the spookiest of months. But if you’re not a horror fan, you can still participate in this challenge. Just be honest with yourself about what you’re scared of, and then force yourself to read more about that terrifying topic.
As with last month’s challenge, this is another very subjective topic. So we’ve chosen a few books that we think are pretty scary – but as always, feel free to pick something outside of this that more closely applies to you.
Let’s start with science fiction or fantasy horror – something scary but that won’t hit too close to home, because it doesn’t take place in our world. Dead Silence is set a century in a future when space travel is commonplace. A repair crew set to return to Earth picks up a bizarre distress signal, and upon investigation they discover that it’s a luxury ship that went missing twenty years earlier. Personally, I wouldn’t be investigating any further than that, but the crew boards the ship, intending on turning a profit with all the items they’ll salvage. But the ship went missing for a reason, and they discover writing on the walls with blood, and something appears to still be on the ship… this is a novel sure to creep you out and keep you turning pages long into the night. Also consider Suspicious Minds, a prequel to the horror series Stranger Things, which tells the story of Eleven’s mother. Or Gideon the Ninth, a space fantasy novel taking place in a haunted house in space, with necromancers trying to solve a locked room puzzle before they all get killed off, one by one. And in All of Us Villains, teenagers fight to the death using magic, with a staggering amount of violence, darkness, and monsters.
If you’re ready to venture into a more realistic horror novel, there are lots to choose from. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay uses many horror tropes in the service of scaring you silly. First, the fear of a missing child – a thirteen-year-old boy named Tommy goes missing in a local park and his mother, Elizabeth, is wracked with guilt and worry. But then, even more disturbing things start happening. Elizabeth starts to see what looks like Tommy’s apparition in their house. Is this his ghost? Or a hallucination? And when journal pages of his turn up and hint at an obsession with the occult, does that begin to explain things? This novel employs a creeping sense of dread, keeping you turning pages until the ultimate conclusion. For another horror novel set in our world, try anything by Stephen Graham Jones – specifically here, we’re recommending Night of the Mannequins, a darkly humorous novella about a prank gone wrong. (Also a great read for this challenge if you’re afraid of department store mannequins!).
Some horror novels are retellings of historical events with a supernatural or paranormal lens. In When the Reckoning Comes, Mira returns to her hometown after a decade away for her childhood best friend’s wedding. Her friend has chosen to get married on a plantation, which serves antebellum drinks and includes horrific reenactments – not a welcoming atmosphere for Mira, one of the only black attendees at this wedding. Unbeknownst to the guests, the ghosts of the slaves murdered on that plantation still haunt the grounds and are ready for their revenge. Or try some of the recent horror novels by Alma Katsu, like The Hunger or The Fervor. The Hunger is a retelling of the infamous Donner Party event – already chilling enough, but with a supernatural twist. And The Fervor is set in a Japanese interment camp that existed during WWII – but on top of those horrors, there is also a mysterious contagion that causes fits of violence.
Finally, for those of you who want to participate in the challenge and read something that scares you, but aren’t interested in blood/gore/ghosts – we see you too! If the threat that climate change poses to our Earth wasn’t keeping you up at night already, it might after reading The Uninhabitable Earth. This has been called “the most terrifying book I have ever read” by a reviewer at the New York Times and is a call to action to halt the destruction of our planet. The author gets into some of the terrors that are likely to happen that aren’t often talked about – beyond sea levels rising, there may also be food shortages, climate wars and economic devastation. If you are at all invested in the future of humanity, this book is sure to scare you. On a similar note, you may also wish to read fiction based on real world events that you find frightening. Red Clocks is a dystopia in which abortion and in-vitro fertilization are banned, and explores the ramifications this change has on motherhood, identity and freedom. And Only Dead on the Inside is billed as the ‘Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse’. As you might expect from the title, it offers parenting advice mixed with zombie survival tips – you can decide which of those two topics is scarier.
So, do some soul searching, come up with the scariest topic you can think of, and then confront it in your reading life.