Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

The Horror and Speculative Fiction I’ve Been Reading To Distract Myself from IRL Horrors

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Steph Auteri

Senior Contributor

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more creative work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, under the gum tree, Poets & Writers, and other publications, and she is the Essays Editor for Hippocampus Magazine. Her essay, "The Fear That Lives Next to My Heart," published in Southwest Review, was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2021. She also writes bookish stuff here and at the Feminist Book Club, is the author of A Dirty Word, and is the founder of Guerrilla Sex Ed. When not working, she enjoys yoga, embroidery, singing, cat snuggling, and staring at the birds in her backyard feeder. You can learn more at and follow her on Insta/Threads at @stephauteri.

My parents think I’m morbid. My friends think I’m a masochist. But the truth of the matter is that I’m just neurotic. And the best way to distract myself from my various neuroses is to bury myself in fictional horror.

Since the global pandemic has led to ever-more-restrictive social distancing measures, I must admit that I’ve lost my taste for feminist manifestas and cultural critiques. In fact, the only books that have been able to hold my interest for any significant length of time have been works of horror and speculative fiction.

As this time of isolation is likely to continue for quite some time, I wanted to share with you some of the books I’ve been enjoying, and others that I’m looking forward to reading as a bulwark against overwhelming anxiety and utter boredom.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

I know this book came out nearly a year ago, but I only just discovered it recently. Possibly because it’s labeled as sci-fi and I don’t read a lot of sci-fi unless it plays around with time travel and the multiverse. This collection of nine speculative short stories is a delight, offering up to readers time travel and alternate universes, yes, but also questions around second chances, free will, and other complicated conundrums.

The Return by Rachel HarrisonThe Return by Rachel Harrison

This book—about a woman who goes missing and then returns two years later somehow changed—super creeped me out. Harrison does an amazing job of slow-motion upping the tension in a way that has me questioning the authenticity of the horrors she hints at. Is there something supernatural going on? Am I jumping to conclusions? It’s brilliant because my own uncertainty mirrors the mental gymnastics performed by the characters themselves. In addition to the horror themes, you can also look forward to the uncomfortably authentic commentary on female friendships.

The Twisted Ones by T. KingfisherThe Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

I recently read an egalley of Kingfisher’s The Hollow Places, and it was so! much! fun! But it’s not out until October and I don’t want to torture you. BUT! Reading The Hollow Places led me to seek out her other horror novel, The Twisted Ones, which came out late last year, and it was also a pretty good time. In The Twisted Ones, a young woman agrees to clean out her late grandmother’s cabin in the middle of nowhere, and what she finds is more than she bargained for. In addition to the supernatural delights in her books, I enjoy Kingfisher’s characters. They always seem to have a great sense of humor and, even when faced with the sorts of things that should make their minds snap, it is this sensibility that keeps them together, and also helps cut the tension for readers.

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires coverThe Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Speaking of comic horror, no one does it better than Grady Hendrix. Both Horrorstor and We Sold Our Souls were a good time, but I absolutely fell in love with My Best Friend’s Exorcism. So I’m looking forward to reading his latest, which just came out this month. It’s about a women’s book club that is forced to go up against a mysterious newcomer in town…who may or may not be more than just your average terrible, monstrous human.

Catherine House by Elisabeth ThomasCatherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

I assume I’ll still be stuck homeschooling my 5-year-old in May, so I’ll really need this debut from Thomas, a gothic thriller about a special school in the middle of the woods that may or may not be harboring a dangerous secret and a questionable agenda. I am so very much here for this.

I hope you’re all enjoying our new dystopian reality, as much as you possibly can. At least we have our books, right?