Discomfort Reads

Posted October 27, 2021 10:22 a.m. EDT
Updated October 27, 2021 10:36 a.m. EDT

As a long-time advocate of horror literature, I recognize that readers are drawn to it for a variety of reasons--that each reader seeks something different and has different reactions when those expectations are satisfied or subverted, or both. Horror, like any other genre, has endless sub-genres, interpretations, and a diversity of authors. But why are so many presumably sane people attracted to troubling stories?

In trying to defend horror against skeptics, I've before said that horror inspires empathy. It focuses on alienation, and "the other." Consider Frankenstein, which fairly defines Horror. The creature, at first intelligent and kind, becomes a "monster" only after it is treated as one repeatedly—a relatable concept for anyone who ever wanted to be something other than how they appear.

There are about as many readers that crave happy endings as there are who are repelled by them. And, yes, there is "Cozy Horror." Generally, however, one doesn't close a good horror book with a dreamy sigh. Horror often doesn't offer closure. It leaves readers off-balance. Personally, I never really close a good horror book. It has a way of staying with me.

Consider these other books this Spooky Season that may not be comfort reads, per se, but are compulsive and infective reads, and certainly leave their mark:

The Cipher

The Cipher by Kathe Koja
It's kind of like an inverted "portal fantasy." Some not-very sympathetic characters discover "The Funhole" in a supply room. It pretty much is a gate to Hell but it is never really used as such. Hell seemingly rises up to meet them, warping them literally and figuratively.

American Psycho

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
I was planning on rereading this early in the last presidential administration, then suddenly I didn't feel like it anymore. Ellis is a moralist and a satirist, even though his messages often get muddled by his own weird ego. But American Psycho rests at the pinnacle of cringy horror.


The works of Junji Ito
Apparently exist in contrast to the man himself—some of the most unsettling graphic literature, and it's made by a sincerely jubilant and grateful artist. For an introduction to his work, check out his anthology, Shiver.

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