Reading new genres is an excellent thing. I've gone on record before as an avid proponent of getting outside of your reading comfort zone. I truly believe that when readers put aside their preconceived notions about the *kind* of books they *should* be reading, they will have a much happier, less pretentious literary experience. However. The people who don't read YA, or who don't read sci-fi or romance or the classics are usually doing so out of judgment. The people who don't read horror are doing it out of fear. I get it. You're scared. But I'm here to say that if you're even a teensy bit curious about dipping your toe into the big, scary world of literary horror, you should go for it. There's a lot more to the genre than blood and guts and creepy dolls. Here are a few great horror books to get you started.
Some of these books are scary, yes. They run the gamut from mildly creepy to truly, horrifically nightmarish. But if you read them during the daylight, with a trusted friend and/or pet in the next room, you might just find that the horror genre has plenty to offer beyond jump scares and monsters hidden under your bed:
'Ghost Summer: Stories' by Tananarive Due
Gracetown, Florida, is haunted by ghosts of both the figurative and the literal kind. Between one stunning novella and fifteen short stories, Ghost Summer takes us on a journey through people touched by the strange and otherworldly. Tananarive Due's horror is nuanced and wonderfully creepy; a great jumping off point if you don't feel quite ready for a festival of gore and slasher fiction yet.
'Coraline' by Neil Gaiman
The thing about Coraline is that most kids seem to experience it as a fun adventure book, and most adults seem to experience as the single most terrifying story ever put to paper. The truth lies somewhere in between, but Coraline makes for a great first horror novel either way. Coraline herself is such a recklessly brave little girl that you'll want to be brave, too... even as you encounter a mirror universe full of sinister doppelgängers with buttons for eyes.
'White is for Witching' by Helen Oyeyemi
The Silver family has retreated into mourning in a large, strange house on the cliffs near Dover. Lily is gone, leaving behind her twins, Miranda and Eliot, and her husband, Luc. All three feel the intense pain of her absence. But Miranda is reacting strangely to her grief: She's eating chalk and slowly, gradually, disappearing into the house itself. White is for Witching is a mesmerizing introduction to the haunted house genre, bringing beautiful new life to a classic horror convention.
'The Perfect Nanny' by Leïla Slimani
Myriam is a brilliant lawyer who's ready to get back to work. That means hiring a nanny to watch her two kiddos, and Louise is almost too good to be true. She's charming and musical. She cleans the apartment and throws incredible, age-appropriate parties. She's almost too perfect. And as the family begins to depend on her for everything, the cracks begin to show. Maybe... don't read this one if you have young kids? You might be too freaked out to hire a babysitter ever again.
'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' by Shirley Jackson
The Blackwood sisters live in a big, old house. Most of the rest of their family is dead. The other people in town stay away from them. For the most part, they like it that way. And then cousin Charles appears to pay them a visit, and only young Merricat can see the danger he brings. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a horror classic that manages to terrorize its readers with atmosphere alone. You'll read it in one afternoon, but it'll stay with you long, long after.
'Through the Woods' by Emily Carroll
Emily Carroll's stories prove that horror can look utterly gorgeous and still scare your pants off. With fairy tale-inspired artwork and nauseating plots, Through the Woods spins strange tales of monsters, love, and murder. I mean, fairy tales were already kind of creepy, but Carroll goes above and beyond with this beautifully morbid collection.
'Lovecraft Country' by Matt Ruff
So H.P. Lovecraft was a renowned horror author, known for his brain-meltingly scary tentacle monsters. He was also known for his white supremacy. Lovecraft Country is a smartly written horror novel that manages to turn Lovecraft's fiction on its head, blending the cosmic horror of tentacle beasts with the real life horror of life in Jim Crow America. It's viscerally scary and brilliantly crafted, giving old school horror a much needed dose of reality.
'Dracula' by Bram Stoker
Yes, that Dracula. Look, if you're new to the whole "horror" thing, then you might as well start with vampires. And if you're new to vampires, then you just have to start with the granddaddy of all sexy, suave, bloodsucking fiends: the Count himself. Dracula still holds up as a creepy, macabre novel, starring one of the greatest literary villains of all time (plus, the likelihood that you'll end up wandering the castles of Transylvania anytime soon is reasonably low).
'Genuine Fraud' by E. Lockhart
Or maybe you're not quite feeling vampires just yet. Maybe you'd like to ease your way into horror horror with some well-written psychological suspense. Genuine Fraud follows Imogen and Julie. One is an heiress and one is a fighter. Both are good at "adapting" to the matter at hand. And both about to be involved in at least one disappearance, two murders, and three bad romances in this gripping, creepy mystery-thriller.
'The Grip of It' by Jac Jemc
Julie and James have left city life behind. They're starting fresh in a house that sits between the forest and the sea. They're going to work on their relationship and forget about James' gambling problem. And that's when the creepy stuff starts happening: hidden rooms appear and then decay, stains keep moving around the walls, Julie's skin is covered in bruises, and the water is full of mold spores. The Grip of It is a creepy haunted house story that gets downright gross (so maybe only read it if you don't have a serious mold problem).
'Bødy' by Asa Nonami
I'll be honest. Body horror might be the one horror that I really, truly, cannot do. But if you find medical drawings and human bodies to be interesting rather than disgusting, then you might like Asa Nonami's Bødy. It's a collection of stories all about bodies, from buttocks to blood to hair. And each one slightly grosser and more disturbing than the one that came before.
'Broken Monsters' by Lauren Beukes
A boy has been fused with the body of a deer. Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies in her time, but this is something different. And it's only the beginning. Broken Monsters is a serial killer story that re-defines the genre, filled horrific and bizarre imagery, dangerous online flirtation, freelance journalists, and one monster with a dream of remaking the world.
'It' by Stephen King
Of course, if you're new to a genre, sometimes you want to start with the ultimate example of that particular genre. Anyone who accidentally read It as a child can tell you that it is truly, transcendentally horrifying. Clowns are scary enough on their own, but in the hands of Stephen King, the scary clown becomes a whole new way to explore the horrors of childhood, growing up, and hanging out with demons in sewers.