My feelings about reading horror stories are similar to my feelings about eating four slices of pizza in one sitting: in the moment, it seems like a great idea. I'm really enjoying myself. But later, in the dead of night, when it's time to lie alone with my thoughts and wait for sleep to come, I deeply regret my earlier decision. I've had to accept that some of the best horror out there is just too scary for me (and also that two and a half slices is my limit, especially if I had a big lunch). So here are some brilliant, creepy books that are scary but not too scary, for those readers who just like to dip their toes in the horror genre.
Horror is not for everyone, after all. You might like the occasional suspense story, but be turned off by gore. You might like thrills, but only if everything works out OK in the end. Or you might like ghosts and vampire, but only when they're sexy, only kind of scary love interests for the main character. Whatever your hang up with horror, you should know that there are plenty of books out there to get you in the Halloween spirit without scaring the pants off of you.
Here are some spooky books for those of us who spook too easily:
1. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Don't get me wrong, Coraline is scary. It's a creepfest from page one, even before little Coraline wanders through a door in the wall a finds a strange, mirror-version of her own home. But it's a creepy adventure story more than a horror story. There's also no gore or overly grotesque imagery... just a lot of buttons for eyes.
2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
A lot of people forget that Wuthering Heights has an actual ghost in it. Sure, Catherine's ghost could easily be a figment of Lockwood's imagination... but leaving it vague actually makes it even spookier. Plus, Heathcliff's whole domestic set up is pretty creepy. Wuthering Heights definitely doesn't belong in the horror section, but it is a Gothic novel with plenty of eerie (but not scary) elements to it.
3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
If an eccentric millionaire ever invites you to a remote island retreat with nine other strangers, just say no. Chances are, your host will be nowhere to be found, and you'll all be murdered one by one in inventive ways. Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None has a whole slew of murders, to be sure, but it's more of a locked-room mystery story than a piece of survival horror. Think the board game Clue, but with a little more bite.
4. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Let the Right One In is a vampire story, so expect to see some bloodshed (a lot of bloodshed). But it's also about a bullied little boy becoming friends with a strange, pale little girl who only seems to come out at night. Is it creepy? Yes. Very creepy. But the lonely children at the heart of the novel are ultimately more sympathetic than terrifying, and Let the Right One In has more on its mind than sheer horror.
5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Do you hate jump-scares and monsters, but love an indefinable sense of unease? Never Let Me Go might be for you. It's a dystopia novel that only barely touches on the elements of dystopia: the big scary difference between this world and our own is barely discussed. The story focuses on the friendship and love between three characters, and not on the horrific world they live in.
6. Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson
Skin Folk is more like fantasy tinged with horror. It's a collection of eerie short stories, jumping from realism to science fiction to adaptations of fairy tales and folklore. Hopkinson draws from European and West Indian mythology to craft her stories about monsters, heroes, and weird futuristic sex suits. Perfect if you're looking for a little bit of creepiness and a whole lot of wild creativity.
7. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Yes, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children involves an abandoned orphanage but no, it's not really a horror story. It's a very strange, somewhat creepy adventure, accompanied by some rather curious photographs. But in terms of horror, it's closer to a fun, quirky take on the X-Men than anything gory or nightmarish.
8. Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Fans of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast will already know what to expect: absurdist tales of the downright weird. There are some scares, a lot of laughs, and a pervasive sense of creepiness running through every page. But Night Vale veers more towards the absurd and bizarre than towards the horrific, and every strange mystery has some kind of an equally strange resolution.
9. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
Spookiness, adventure, and learning about the history of various world cultures?! What's not to love about The Halloween Tree? Eight trick-or-treaters pursue their missing friend through time and space, learning about the creepy practices of Ancient Egypt, France, Mexico, and more along the way. There are plenty of eerie moments, but mostly it's a rip-roaring fantasy adventure, tailor made for Halloween.
10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
And then of course, there's Frankenstein. Frankenstein is technically a Gothic horror story, and it often gets lumped in with modern horror because we're so used to the bolt-necked movie monster. But the original text of Frankenstein is far more nuanced and philosophical than it is scary. Frankenstein's monster is not really so monstrous, after all. As the saying goes: knowledge is knowing that Frankenstein is not the monster... but wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein IS the monster.