Summer Scares 2019 Resources

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Thursday, October 3, 2019

31 Days of Horror: Day 3- Why I Love Horror by Collection Development Librarian Karen Toonen

Yesterday I highlighted my mission and aims with this blog, reminding you how to use this resource all year long to help you find sure bet reading suggestions. However, I did leave out one asset of this resource, on purpose, so I could talk about it separately today.

Each year, specifically for this 31 day series, I reach out to a variety of people in the horror book world and ask them to submit a piece with this title, "Why I Love Horror." The goal of these posts is for the author to share their experience with the genre-- however they want to-- and provide you, the library worker who, chances are, is not a horror fan, with an example of the appeal of horror from a specific fan's perspective.

I purposely allow each participant the room to explore the "Why I Love Horror" theme in their own style. Over the years I have had many participants from a variety of experiences and this year will be no different. But no matter how they each tackle the prompt, the result is that I now have an archive of over 4 dozen [and counting] examples of how horror appeals to different readers. Each post is an exploration of what horror means to an individual. Each post then becomes a resource for you to better understand why some people love to feel the fear in the books they read. And, bonus, in every post the participants also write about specific books and authors; thus creating another book suggestion resource for you, but this one has articulated appeal as part of the deal.

To pull up every Why I love Horror post, click here.

To begin, I invited my friend and colleague, Karen Toonen, who is the Adult Collection Development Librarian at Naperville [IL] Public Library and a nationally known expert in weeding to kick off the 2019 series. She knows RA and understand how to help patrons. Below is her exploration into her experience surrounding why readers love horror.

And Karen is just the start. There are many more to come.


In October library’s staff thoughts turn apprehensively to horror. The very idea of horror stories strikes terror in many hearts – librarians and readers alike.  It’s all too easy to hate what we fear. Additionally, since its appeal is based on emotion, literary critics often denigrate horror as inferior storytelling.   

Pennywise. Say only that name and the listener is flooded with emotion.  The novel was released 33-years-ago, before a quarter of the US population was even born.  Yet in 2017, the movie It grossed over $700 million world-wide with a sequel out now. Such enduring popularity makes it impossible to say, “My community doesn’t like horror”.  Your community likes good stories that connect with their emotions, including fear. Neither Stephen King nor It transcended the Horror genre. Stephen King is actually the epitome of horror in many minds, and he is also a master storyteller!   

Excellent stories have multiple doorways that allow different readers to enter and form the basis of the adage “no two people read the same book”.  They can’t because everyone takes different paths through the book! Looking past genre labels allows readers to love stories – without shame or guilt. 

Genre definitions are teaching tools, not boxes that confine.  Don’t let labels limit your thinking! Effective readers advisory and collection development hinge on asking yourself the broader questions, “How many different doorways can be used to showcase this story to my entire community?”  We must step outside the narrow confines of, “Will this appeal to my community’s horror fans?” or worse the gut impulse “No one reads horror at my library, so I don’t need to even look at these stories.” Too often we judge a story by the genre labels instead of by the vast avenues of appeal.   

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay features creeping tension against a family backdrop paired with the hostage-taking crime element, all perfectly culminating in a through-provokingly ambiguous ending.  Those elements form the basis of the hottest trend in crime stories today! Likewise, Sarah Pinborough’s works appeal to fans of feminist, domestic centered thrillers with enigmatic endings. They should be included on displays with Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, and Paula Hawkins.   

The Good Place entrances audiences with laugh out loud fun paired with menacing undertones and an insidious mystery to be solved.  With puzzles to engage the intellect, friendships that warm the heart, and sharp plot turns, Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero equally enchants while keeping you off balance.  Focusing on the appeal elements of young main characters, nostalgic environment, and supernatural undertones can help connet with fans of Stranger Things.

Hidden pasts and mythology combine on a battle ground between good and evil in The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco as well as in Neil Gaiman’s book and mini-series American Gods.  Nature turned deadly provides thrills and menaces in The Ruins by Scott Smith and the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer just as those elements did in the Jurassic Park movie franchise and Michael Crichton’s book. Each will make you look at the living world in a different light.
These stories share appeal elements regardless of genre labels.  The doorway you see first isn’t the only doorway, or the one another will enter.  It is true that everyone reads a different story, and your experiences shapes what you take away from it. Becky will tell you to start reading Stephen King with The Shining.  It took me four attempts over eight years to finish The Shining. The “problem” wasn’t the book or the writing. If anything, I believe that King is “too good” of a storyteller.  I experienced a story of domestic abuse and alcohol, driving a father first to madness then to act on his most violent impulses. The references to the supernatural were so oblique, I had to constantly remind myself The Shining was meant to be a horror story, and not realistic fiction.     
If you fear or disdain horror, go back to the basics.  Connect with yourself as a reader by creating a reader profile just relating to horror stories. Assess your personal feelings towards stories labeled as horror and what you label as horror.  Acknowledge what appeal elements limit your enjoyment. Remember these limits are yours, and never ask others to apologize for not matching your tastes. Intentionally investigate to find stories that will change your preconceptions of horror.  Investigate movies, television, and podcasts as well as books. Use an open mind when talking to fans so they can teach you what draws them in, inspires chills, and captures their imagination. Don’t let fear of a label keep you from making connections between stories.   

Don’t forget how vast the world of horror truly is.  We respect as “classics” Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories.  We know who Norman Bates is, remember the iconic “shower scene”, and nominated Get Out for four Academy Awards. We thrill at ghost stories around campfires as children.  As adults we listen to podcasts like Lore, The NoSleep Podcast, and Ghost Town. Too often we ignore, that appeals of each are based on the definition of horror: an unexplainable phenomenon threatens the main characters and the storyteller’s goal is to make us feel fear. 

Horror is part of the current zeitgeist!  Realize you and your patrons can (and already are!) consuming the scary, paranormal, and the terrifying.  While the horror label may scare, the stories appeal. Forget your assumptions. Look beyond the genre sticker when building displays, making recommendations, or building your library’s collection.  Move beyond the teaching tool of labels and focus on appeal. By going back to the basics of appeal and connecting people to the story, we allow ourselves to truly “transcend the genre”.  

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