Tips for Reading Horror When You’re a Scaredy Cat

Ashley Holstrom

Staff Writer

Ashley Holstrom helps make books at Sourcebooks. She lives near Chicago with her cat named after Hemingway and her bookshelves organized by color. Newsletter: Crooked Reads. Twitter: @alholstrom.

Ashley Holstrom

Staff Writer

Ashley Holstrom helps make books at Sourcebooks. She lives near Chicago with her cat named after Hemingway and her bookshelves organized by color. Newsletter: Crooked Reads. Twitter: @alholstrom.


Bestselling authors Natalie D. Richards and Darcy Coates bring us stories that chill us to the bone and keep us up all night reading—haunting reads perfect for Halloween! A hitched ride home in a snowstorm turns sinister when one of the passengers is plotting for the ride to end in disaster in New York Times bestseller Five Total Strangers. From USA Today bestselling gothic horror author Darcy Coates comes The Haunting of Leigh Harker, a chilling story of a quiet house on a forgotten suburban lane that hides a deadly secret…

If you told me five years ago that I’d be happily planning a (safe, vaccinated, small) Halloween party where we listen to horror movie soundtracks, drink fall sangria (basically cinnamon whiskey, apple juice, and white wine — it is divine), and watch silent horror films when we need something to look at, I’d think you had the wrong gal. I am the scarediest of scaredy cats, and yet I’ve fallen in love with all things spoopy. I’m still a novice to the horror genre, jumping at every jump scare, replaying a handful of scenes in my head, and having regular bad dreams about others. Along the way, I’ve learned some tips for reading horror when you’re a scaredy cat — because this scaredy cat needed all the tips she could get.

My newfound love comes by way of my partner, who loves Halloween and horror in all its forms. He and his dad have seen every major horror movie in theaters since he was a kid — until the last few years, when he’s gone with me instead. I was hesitant at first, because the Saw movies really messed me up in high school (I still have nightmares about some of those kills), but I’ve come to appreciate them. My partner has given me a full horror education in the movie world, and I usually join him for a few movies when he does his 31 days of horror in October. He’s also thrust various horror novels at me, because you have to read Rosemary’s Baby and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark before you see the movies. It’s the law. Or something. 

But that’s enough about my relationship to horror and a horror-loving dude. Let’s get to those tips so you can have a scare-free spoopy reading season.

How to Read Horror When You’re a Scaredy Cat

Ease Into the Genre

Start off with some classics from Mary Shelley, Edgar Alan Poe, Shirley Jackson, or H.P. Lovecraft. They (hopefully) aren’t going to be as terrifying as modern horror, and they can introduce you to some of the tropes without giving you nightmares.

Wait Until the Sun is Out

If it’s bright and happy outside, the horrors within the pages won’t be able to get you. Theoretically. Nighttime is far too quiet, with mysterious house creaks and tree branches tickling windows keeping you distracted from what you’re reading. 

Keep the Lights On

If you’re not able to secure reading time during the day, then ample light — ceiling lights, table lights, flashlight helmets, whatever you have — is a must. Just, um, don’t acknowledge the things in the shadows.

Make a Cozy Reading Nest

Get your blankets, warm beverage, and best snacks at the ready. They are your first line of defense against getting too scared. The blanket also serves as a shield against whatever horrors just burned themselves into your mind forever.

Secure a Friend or Roommate to Protect You

Bonus points if they don’t laugh at you when you scream in response to them asking what you’re up to mid-page turn. 

Don’t Watch the Movie First

You’ll spoil all the best scares and twists for yourself! 

Read Non-Spoiler Reviews

Please do read some reviews if you need to prepare yourself for any content that’s triggering for you.

Put the Book in the Freezer

When all else fails, follow Joey Tribiani’s sage advice: Don’t read a horror novel, like Stephen King’s The Shining, without making sure there’s ample room in the freezer. Because the freezer is the only place to keep the book from attacking you.

Or, you know, if you want to be extra scared, just do the opposite of all these tips. Read at night in a silent, empty house and let your imagination wander to the darkest places it can find.