As a grown-ass woman in my 30s, I can finally admit that I cannot read Stephen King, because I find him too frightening. I also won’t read American Psycho or Hell House or most things from the ‘Horror’ section, all for reasons two: First of all, there is no premise so outlandish that part of my brain won’t be like, Seems legit. And second, I just cannot when there are gobbets of brains or ropes of guts or ANYTHING to do with eyes (pins in, the bursting thereof).
But my weak, weak stomach shouldn’t exclude me from doing seasonally appropriate atmospheric reading. Here are my favorite ‘spooky’ reads that don’t give me horrifying, Guillermo el Toro-esque nightmares.
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
ATMOSPHERRRRRE. And tension. And then joviality and BANTER and then more tension. An unlikely group of people hang out at an allegedly haunted house, FOR SCIENCE, and nothing happens and nothing happens and you’d be so bored (except for the witty dialogue and shit) only none of the doors stay propped open, and the walls don’t quite meet at right angles, and you are like
And then BANG the ending, it is like a ton of bricks in your face.
In the Woods – Tana French
Another one with pleasant chatter and winsome character interactions but also suspense because books don’t have soundtracks to let you know which part is going to be scary. ANYTHING SCARY COULD HAPPEN AT ANY TIME. In the Woods follows murder detective Rob Ryan as he investigates a child-killing in his old neighborhood where once he frolicked with two playmates who DISAPPEARED IN AN EVENT THAT LEFT ROB CATATONIC AND COVERED IN BLOOD. So, have that squirrelled away in your subconscious.
I will admit that the ending left me a little cold, and the mystical shit (which is totally what gets my heebies up) was left kind of unaddressed. But the rest of the book is SO GOOD that it’s still worth a read.
And Then There Were None– Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie! Remote location! PEOPLE KEEP DYING.
The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
This is the ONLY Neil Gaiman I have ever liked (yes, I have read American Gods, and Neverwhere, and Anansi Boys. Keep your pitchforks on lockdown, I have done my due diligence) and it’s about a child of murdered parents living in a graveyard and being raised by ghosts! Plus there are illustrations! FUN, RIGHT? Actually, it kind of is, until the parent-murderers come back for the boy. But it’s a book for children, so you, grown-ass adult that you are, should be able to handle it.
The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
People are pretty divided on this book being Scary or Not Scary, but either the house is alive (scary) or everyone in it is slowly going mad (very scary). It. is. engrossing.
The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
Maybe you aren’t into super Victorian fiction or governesses maybe going insane or maybe not going insane (in which case the children actually are evil AND NO ONE WILL BELIEVE HER), but I totally am. You kind of have to work at being scared with this one, but the bones are there.
We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
This is a very good book THAT I NEVER WANT TO READ AGAIN OMG. A mother suspects that her child might be evil, everyone is just like, maybe mothering isn’t your jam, her child turns out to be super fucking psychopathic. That is not really a spoiler. What makes this book a masterpiece and also TRULY AWFUL is the claustrophobic horror you get to experience along with Eva.
Well. When you put them all in one place like this, it becomes obvious I have a Type. Houses being haunted! People being maybe a little bit mad! Creepy children! But no gobbets of brains.
What about you? What are your best non-terrifying scary reads?