This Meeting Scares Me
Posted by: Neil Hollands
Horror isn’t frequently explored by book groups. I suspect that most readers would be happy to experience the occasional chill, tremble, or terror, but a vocal minority present in many groups just doesn’t relish a trip into the frightening or the gory or the profane.
If your group might like to try this genre, where to begin? We all know about Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, and Peter Straub. They’ve been frightening people for years. But traditional horror has morphed, often combining with other genres now–fantasy, romance, apocalyptic fiction–and new household names in horror have been slow to develop.
So what’s a book group to do if it wants to raise a few hairs for a Halloween meeting? For starters, consider approaching horror as a theme instead of reading the same book. That’s a good idea for two reasons: First, this genre isn’t well known these days, so it will be useful to have a meeting where your readers share a range of horror books instead of exploring one writer in detail. Second, approaching horror as a theme will allow squeamish readers a chance to pick something a little safer: an older volume of ghost stories, a comic horror novel, or a genre crossover that isn’t quite so scary.
To help you in selecting horror fiction, I highly recommend two works. Becky Siegel Spratford’s The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, Second Edition is just published through ALA Editions. It’s a smart and opinionated look at the genre that draws clear lines between true horror and related crossover works. It identifies the genre’s major writers, provides chapters on various horror themes, and first rate annotations of many novels and story collections, most of them quite recent. The author also maintains RA for All: Horror, a great blog on the genre.
Slightly older but also superb, June Michelle Pulliam and Anthony J. Fonseca’s Read On… Horror Fiction has short lists to help meet the needs of readers of many stripes. The annotated lists in this volume cover works with many story elements, character types, settings, and approaches to language or mood.
Both of these volumes can help a reader find a horror novel that is right for them, and both have information about horror genre crossovers, films, and other resources. Track one down and you’ll be on your way to giving yourself a good fright.