Get Your Terror On (Even if You’re a Pansy Like Me)

I don’t do vampires.

I don’t do zombies.

I don’t do horror.

These are the rules.

I am not one of those people who hides from the reality of evil.  I know people suck.  I know bad guys are real.  I know life is full of pain and horror.  I just choose to confront harsh realities in…reality.  I choose to spend my life diving into the pain around me, and I turn to reading mostly for escape.  That’s the kind of reader I am.  I generally want something adventurous to give me a break from the humdrum.  I generally want something light and magical to let me forget the dark and tragic in the real world.  I generally want happy endings to satisfy the part of me that sees to many sad endings.

So I don’t do the dark stuff.

Except sometimes.  Sometimes I do.  Under very strict circumstances.

Here are the requirements:

1.  The book has to come highly recommended by people I respect.  It’s a limited pool of people, but if they tell me I should read it, that means a lot.

2.  It has to be about something.  I mean, something besides the fact that humans can be horrible and twisted or that there is terrible evil out there, possibly in the form of monsters.  I know this is true.  I just only want to read about it if a greater purpose is being served.

3.  It has to be really, really well written, with characters I can care about, at least one of which has to be someone I can root for.  Absolutely no books with no good guys.  I can’t handle it.  They don’t have to be perfect.  They can be very, very flawed.  But I have to be able to want someone to win.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

Want to know which ones have made the cut?  Here are the scary reads I think you should absolutely try:

  • The Stand by Stephen King – If, like me, you mostly avoid King’s stuff because it’s not your cup of tea, you should still read The Stand.  Seriously good end of the world stuff, and yes, there’s some horror, but it’s way more about the characters, almost all of whom are fascinating, and the relationships between them.  There’s some epic good vs. evil here and a healthy dose of “who knows what spiritual nonsense may turn out to be real”, but the part that clenched it for me is the fatalistic streak that runs through the whole thing.  I really dig it. I’ve actually read this more than once.  It’s that good. (And the mini-series is definitely worth watching, but only after you’ve read the book.)
  • World War Z by Max Brooks – If you saw the movie, just disregard all of that, as it’s nowhere near the same thing.  (Though to be fair, I liked the movie.  It did take a few of the great elements from the book and use them wisely.  It also avoided almost all of the potential traps of a zombie movie.)  This is the only zombie novel I have ever consented to read, and the reason I stuck with it was that it read like a history book.  I loved the feel of reading a history of something that never happened.  And I loved the problem-solving, survivalist, how-to-rebuild-the-world elements.  There are some disgusting parts, but that’s not the main point of the book.
  • The Passage  by Justin Cronin – I was quite a long ways into this book before I realized it was about vampires (sort of).  I almost put it down then (because, principles), but I couldn’t.  I was too interested in Amy’s character.  This book is broken into two sections and both have amazing characters.  This is also an end-of-the-world scenario and reads similarly to The Stand, but the horror here is laced through with such sadness that it is somehow even more human.  In a way, that makes it creepier, but it also makes it impossible to put down.  For the record, this book (and its sequel The Twelve) is still the only vampire book I’ve ever read in its entirety.  Because, principles.

Hmm…now that I’ve written this out, I realize that maybe my unspoken requirement all along was that the book has to involve the end of the world as we know it.  I guess that would fit the escapist bill.  Blowing up the world: the ultimate escape.

So what do you say?  Want to watch the world end this Halloween?  You can do it in your pajamas from the comfort of your own bed after one quick trip to the library (or a few clicks on Amazon).

You’ll probably want to leave the lights after, though.  Just saying.



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