My Life as a Horror Fan

I get scared easily. You could call me a wimp, and you wouldn’t be wrong. I approach horror movies with extreme caution. If I’m going to watch one, I’ll do it at home, where I can cover my eyes and keep a light on if I need to.

Still, sometimes it’s fun to be a little scared. I’ve never had the same aversion to horror books that I do to horror movies. It’s easier for me to get past spooky stuff on a page than it is on a screen. Besides, when I read a book over the course of several days, it gives me time to get invested in the world and characters in a way I can’t with a two-hour movie. The thrills, when they come, don’t seem so cheap.

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When I was a pre-teen, I loved authors who wrote about ghosts and hauntings, like Mary Downing Hahn and Betty Ren Wright. John Bellairs was my #1 favorite for years, although I have to admit I shamefully preferred some of his posthumously published, co-written books to the ones that were all Bellairs. (*whispers* sorry John I still love you if you’re a ghost and you’re reading this let’s hang out).

As I got older and started to read more adult fiction, horror often blended with fantasy. I preferred the paranormal to straight-up thrillers. Still true. That’s partly my general “wizards, aliens, or get out” attitude about fiction and partly self-defense. I can get a satisfying shiver from zombies or vampires, but I’m too much of a skeptic to worry about them after I close the book. Actual human monsters have been known to exist, though, and the feelings those stories inspire aren’t as easy to shake.

I remember being fifteen and reading House of Leaves while I lay in the grass outside my high school, waiting for my mom to pick me up. The sun was shining, but I was completely absorbed in this dark, twisty book about a book about a documentary about a house with hidden secrets and a family coming apart. File this one under “things I am afraid to reread because adult perspectives might crush my happy memories.”

I discovered H.P. Lovecraft, like many horror fans do. I also discovered that I prefer other authors’ pastiches of Lovecraft to the real thing. Neil Gaiman and Caitlín R. Keirnan come to mind. I read enough of the genuine article to understand what the fuss was about, though.

I came to Stephen King relatively recently. I can’t explain my reluctance on this front, except I have a giant hipster mental block that makes me assume I will dislike anything that lots of other people like. I’ve read Pet Semetary, The Shining, and ‘Salem’s Lot all within the last year. They’re all really good, good enough to shut up my hipster brain for a bit.

Being a lightweight horror fan is good in the way being a lightweight drinker is—it takes way less effort to get my fear-buzz on. If you have any good books to recommend, I’ll be over here, with the lights on.