Can Books Still Scare Us?

Spooky Tales by Croonstreet

Spooky Tales by Austin Hillebrecht

October has always been one of my favourite months! From the gorgeous scenery and crisp autumn air to visits to the pumpkin patch and haunted hayrides, there are so many fun things to see and do outside before winter finally strikes.Besides carving pumpkins and going on fall hikes, one of my annual Autumn traditions is cozying up with a scary read. With Halloween just around the corner, what better time is there to read a book that will frighten the heck out of you?

Over the past few years I’ve curled up with Horns by Joe Hill, The Shining by Stephen King, and The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis. This year’s choice was ‘Salem’s Lot, another Stephen King novel that I teamed up with Chelsey from Chels and a Book to do as a buddy read. As Chelsey and I messaged each other back and forth each night after reading our allotted pages, a shocking revelation occurred: neither one of use was scared.

Despite Stephen King being known for his terrifying books, ‘Salem’s Lot failed to give me even a single goosebump, let alone a nightmare or a fear of getting out of bed to turn off the lights. While some of the scenes in the book were a bit gruesome, and I did from time to time feel scared for some of my favourite characters in the story, I never once feared for myself as the reader.

Thinking back on the past horror books that I had read, I realized that none of them had scared me either! While many of the scenes in both Horns and The Monk repulsed me, neither one of them had caused me to feel frightened at all. Not even an inkling of terror!

Both Chelsey and I began to hypothesize where our lack of fear might stem from. Is it because our generation is so desensitized? In a world of scary movies and frightening television scenes, has it become harder to scare our imagination through words alone? While a scene from movies like The Amityville Horror or The Grudge have kept me up terrified late at night, I’ve always managed to sleep like a baby after reading a supposedly “scary” book.

Perhaps our lack of fear is also due to the fact that books like ‘Salem’s Lot and The Monk were written to evoke the fears that plagued past generations. For example, English Lit scholars have written at length about the connection between the spike in vampire horror stories and the hysteria over AIDS in the 1980s. Similarly, The Monk was written in a time when people legitimately feared the temptation of the devil and demonic pacts. If that’s the case, then what sorts of things do our generation fear? The only things that seems to keep me up at night is the fear of unemployment and rising house costs, but I don’t think either one of those topics would make for a very scary book.

So what do you think? Has a book ever frightened you? Despite the fact that a book has yet to terrify me, I plan on continuing my tradition of reading a horror novel every October….because you never know…. next year I might just come across one that will scare my pants off!


6 thoughts on “Can Books Still Scare Us?

  1. Love your tradition of reading a horror/scary novel every October and may look into doing something like this myself in the future.

    I think that you raise an excellent point regarding our seeming desensitized nature to what would be called more traditional horrors because we live in a time period where we have seen some truly horrific things not just as objects of pretend, but also as facets of reality and the every day human experience.

    I wish you luck in the future with finding a good scary novel!

  2. I have been thinking about this a lot since we finished ‘Salem’s Lot! My coworker, who was following our progress, was so surprised that neither of us were disturbed by anything. He had read the book when he was younger, and then re-read it as an adult, and still found it unsettling. We both WANTED it to be scary and sadly, didn’t get there!
    I started going through all my horror to-read books on Goodreads and reading reviews. So many reviews start with “I loved this, though it wasn’t nearly as scary as I was expecting!” Joe Hill, Stephen King, you name it.
    I remember being horrified as a kid when Mrs. Norris met her temporary fate in the second Harry Potter book, and I can’t remember being terrified of anything in a book since. (Disturbed, yes! Terrified, no.)
    This is going to be the begin of a slow search to find something actually scary lol. Love this post :).

  3. Pingback: I Am Here to Report That There is Nothing to Report | Chels & a Book

  4. Pingback: Mini Reviews: Oct/Nov Edition! | Browsing Bookshelves

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