It’s not always easy to find the bright spots in our current situation. Let’s be real together for a minute. It’s shit...
...Everything is scary and sad. The only certainty we have is that we’ll all be stuck in our houses for a while. But there are bright spots. People everywhere are coming together, sharing what they love, baking in unprecedented numbers. A scroll through social media on any given day shows watch parties, recipe exchanges, and people lifting each other in the midst of massive life turmoil. We’re all looking for an escape from the stress, and if there’s anything I’ve learned about horror—and art in general—it’s one of the best stress relievers out there.
So, in the spirit of escapism and relief, here are some books so absorbing you’ll forget you’re stuck at home.
House of Leaves
By: Mark Z. Danielewski
True haunted house horror where the house does the haunting. One of the most disorienting books out there, it’ll pull you in and throw your equilibrium to the flames with its off-kilter form. Danielewski balances several stories precariously and intimately within one another with what feels like no effort at all. If Hill House could move and shapeshift, it’d probably behave something like this. Best experienced through the full-color physical copy, it’ll seep into your brain and have you looking askance at every corner where your house comes together.
Her Body and Other Parties
By: Carmen Maria Machado
I’ve recommended Machado before, in my 2019 book wrap up, but she’s brilliant enough to deserve a spot in every list, and Her Body and Other Parties is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. It’s queer, fractured, and sharply beautiful. She doesn’t confine herself to one visual format for the whole book, preferring instead to find a form that fits each story individually. Unflinchingly honest and at times so intimate it feels like intruding on a scene not meant for our eyes, Parties peeks behind the curtain of relationship idealism to reveal its seedy underbelly.
The Dread of Difference
Edited by: Barry Keith Grant
I love academic analytical texts. They offer a window into the minds of their authors and, when done right, fresh perspectives on areas previously believed to be exhausted or ignored. Some of my personal favorite explorations deal with gender and/or disability in horror. Dread is one of the best gender analysis collections I’ve found not just for its range of topics, but the way it positions the essays in conversation with each other.
Other notable favorites include Monstrous Feminine by Barbara Creed and Hideous Progeny by A.M. Smith.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism
By: Grady Hendrix
I’m pretty sure everything Grady Hendrix writes is brilliant, and I’m using the quarantine to prove my theory. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is another champion of immersive unconventional formatting that aids in the telling of the story. Friendship and belief dipped in ‘80s love and sandwiched in a yearbook style, Hendrix tells an exorcism tale unlike any other. Hilarious and terrifying all at once, it romps in the field of its tropes and twists them inside out to reveal the roots. What if a teenage girl had to perform an exorcism?
In This Way I was Saved/Daniel Isn’t Real
By: Brian Deleeuw
Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019, and when it finally came to Shudder, it more than delivered. Discovering it was an adaptation of a novel made it all the more enticing. Everyone is unlikeable, everything is messy, uncomfortable, dark. Told from Daniel’s perspective from the time they meet as kids through young adulthood, it doesn’t shy away from the narcissism and manipulation. Revels in it a little, in fact. As seductively written as anything Patrick Schwarzenegger could do onscreen, Daniel may not be real, but he is one insecure codependent bitch. Warning: dog death.
By: Octavia Butler
Okay. This isn’t horror. This is a masterwork from horror’s cousin, speculative sci-fi. Lilith’s Brood is the title given to the full Xenogenesis trilogy in one collection. It’s been on my personal read list for a while, and I invoked the monkey’s paw scenario by telling my best friend to lock me in a room ‘til I read more Octavia Butler (sorry universe). An extraterrestrial race saves some of humanity for research and rehabilitation following an Earth-shattering disaster. The prose is smooth and absorbing, and the story itself seems to be a sharp critique of humanity and our responses to things we don’t understand. While I never meant to challenge the universe about it, I’m more than happy to be living in Octavia Butler’s world now.
The Discworld series
By: Terry Pratchett
Another pull from horror’s cousin fantasy. Everyone on Earth should read Terry Pratchett. Master weaver of satire, humor, and magic, he’s not afraid to highlight the unconventional heroes: the cowards, challenging women, and everyone else society pushes to the side or overlooks. It’s my go-to anxiety relief series and has gotten me through some serious emotional strife. Discworld analyzes life, death, and everything in between with wit and care. Plus, with over 40 books in a series that doesn’t need to be read in any particular order, there’s bound to be something in it for everyone.
I’m always looking to help people out of a book-funk, so if you’ve read one of these and loved it (or have another book that’s really helped you) tell me about it!
By Katelyn Nelson
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