Our Reading Lives

How Television Influenced My Reading Life

Matt Grant

Staff Writer

Matt Grant is a Brooklyn-based writer, reader, and pop culture enthusiast. In addition to BookRiot, he is a staff writer at LitHub, where he writes about book news. Matt's work has appeared in Longreads, The Brooklyn Rail, Tor.com, Huffpost, and more. You can follow him online at www.mattgrantwriter.com or on Twitter: @mattgrantwriter

stranger things

I have never been a fan of horror. I do like the occasional scary movie or thriller, as long as it’s done well and not much worse than PG-13. But true horror—with its macabre themes and violence and gore—has never appealed to me very much. When I have limited time to consume entertainment, I prefer not to spend it watching someone get gruesomely dismembered.

That is, until 2016, when a little television show called Stranger Things came along. Like most people of the world, I fell in love with everything about the show. The characters, the town of Hawkins, the supernatural conflict with interdimensional beings. It felt like horror lite; just enough that I could get properly spooked, but not enough that I felt sick to my stomach.

Of course, I also fell in the love with Stranger Things’ homages to the nerdom that was my childhood. I did not grow up in the 1980s, but as a child of the ’90s, the decade’s influence was everywhere. After finishing season one, I grew increasingly intrigued by the comparisons to the work of Stephen King. I have never read Stephen King. I know that he is much more than a horror writer, but since that was his primary classification for much of his career, I stayed away. But after Stranger Things, I felt that if reading some of King’s work would feel similarI considered giving it a try.

Then the trailer for 2017’s It, the adaptation of King’s 1986 horror masterpiece, came out. I couldn’t shake the obvious similarities between It and Stranger Things. Sure, the presence of Finn Wolfhard in both helped. But more than that, I was drawn to the idea of young outcast middle school kids grappling with unseen forces of evil in their small town.

Prior to this, I would have never dreamed of seeing It, much less working through a 1,000+ page book about a demonic clown. But the more I saw and heard about the story, the more I wanted to experience it. The perennial question of “book or movie” plagued me for awhile, but I wound up seeing the film. It had many of the things I don’t like about the genre. It was violent and gory. But it was also just what I wanted, in that it did evoke the same sense of appeal that Stranger Things did in me. I loved witnessing the Losers’ Club battle their demons, both metaphysical and physical.

To my surprise and relief, I only found out after the film was done that it was the first of a two-part story. Turns out the book is so long that they decided to break it up. I only had half of the story. So, I made the next logical step and ordered the book. I kept walking past it whenever I went into the bookstore, hedging on whether I really wanted to take the total dive and find out what happens in Derry, Maine.

It will be my first true experience reading a horror novel, but I’m actually…excited about it. I wonder what other great stories and books I’ve missed out on in my life because I’ve refused to open myself up to the idea that, while there might be many things I don’t like about the genre, there might be many things I do like, too. More than that, I’m just excited that my reading tastes and preferences have the ability to be flexible and change as I get older.

Perhaps romance, another genre that has just never appealed to me, will be next.