The Readers’ Advisory Guide to HORROR (2nd ed) by Becky Siegel Spratford

I came across this book on the new books display at the LaGrange (IL) Library. As a kid I loved to read, but it was seeing DRACULA in the Scholastic catalog when I was in middle school that really fired up my desire to seek out specific types of books on my own. I’ll never forget seeing that book listed and thinking, “Oh, wow! They made a book out of Dracula!” Bram Stoker rolled over in his grave, but my parents were more than happy to support my interest in reading and bought it for me. Dracula eventually lead me to Stephen King who kept me reading throughout high school. King is the reason my high school algebra teacher, Mr. Parker, called my parents and told them to tell me to stop reading novels while he lectured.

Anyway, horror is what got me into reading and it still has a pull on me although I don’t read it as much as I used to. For one, it’s been hard to sift out the real horror from all the paranormal novels that have exploded on the scene over the last ten years and I was excited to see Spratford tackle this issue. I’ve tried to read some of these paranormal books and while they might be entertaining they didn’t have the bite that I was looking for. I always say I like my vampires to be mean and nasty, rather than caring and romantic.

Chapter One offers a history of horror and Chapter Two is about the appeal of horror. She opens this chapter with a quote from Douglas Winter:

Horror is not a genre like mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries and book stores. Horror is an emotion.

Spratford builds on the idea of horror as an emotion and offers this definition of horror:

Horror is a story in which the author manipulates the reader’s emotions by introducing situations in which unexplainable phenomena and unearthly creatures threaten the protagonists and provoke terror in the reader (14).

I dig this definition. It helps me clarifies why I don’t like slasher films and why novels that go into detail about how serial killers murder their victims have no appeal for me. Serial killers are all too earthly.

Then Spratford gets into what is not horror fiction. In the case of paranormal fiction she takes a distinction made by Neil Hollands that in horror novels the paranormal (other worldly) characters are less sympathetic, they’re the bad guys who threaten the heroes. In paranormal fiction, on the other hand, the other worldly characters are “not only sympathetic, they are quite often the heroes of the story themselves” (16).

All this seems so obvious now, but I made the mistake of thinking paranormal was horror. To be honest, I thought horror was simply going soft. Perhaps having worked at Borders confused me: looking back it seemed we shelved all the paranormal stuff in horror (unless it was heavily romantic) and some of the good horror that came out was shelved in the literature section (like Fangland by John Marks). Maybe it just takes time for the smoke to clear and the dust to settle after an explosion as big as the interest in paranormal fiction has been.

The Readers’ Advisory Guide to HORROR is full of great recommendations.
Each chapter has a list of recommended titles with a brief paragraph description of the book. Just looking at the table of contents will give you an idea of the span of horror that’s covered:

1. A Brief History of Horror: How the Past Haunts the Present

2. The Appeal of Horror: Feel the Fear, Find the Readers
3. Horror 101: A Crash Course in Today’s Tales of Terror (Joe Hill leads the pack)
4. The Classics: Time-Tested Tales of Terror
5. Ghosts and Haunted Houses: Home, Scream Home
6. Vampires: Books with Bite (Fangland is included, which immediately made me trust Spratford, but then she also included Dracula: The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker which gave me pause)
7. Zombies: Follow the Walking Dead
8. Shape-Shifters: Nature Morphs into Something Terrifying
9. Monsters and Ancient Evil: Cthulhu Comes Calling
10. Witches and the Occult: Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
11. Satan and Demonic Possession: The Devil Inside
12. Comic Horror: Laughing in the Face of Fear
13. Moving Beyond the Haunted House: Whole Collection Options for Horror Readers (in this chapter psychological suspense, dark fantasy, supernatural thrillers, nonfiction, graphic novels, and audiobooks, film and TV series titles are recommended. Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger made it into this chapter!)
14. Sowing the Seeds of Fear: Horror Resources and Marketing (an assortment of books & websites to check out. If you’re looking for recommendations for kids/teens check out

Keep in mind that this book is part of a series written for librarians who are Readers Advisers so some of the content won’t be of interest to non-librarians, but I think most general readers looking to dip into horror will find solid recommendations laid out in a well-organized manner. Long-time horror fans will delight in and bicker over some of Spratford’s picks, but they, too, will perhaps find some recommendations that they haven’t yet read. Book sellers would benefit from checking out this book and then perhaps ordering in a few of the titles they don’t currently carry as the Halloween reading season is right around the corner.

Check out Spratford’s blog, RA for All: Horror. In October she’ll be running a special 31 Days of Horror. And don’t forget about Neil Gaiman’s All Hallow’s Read.

Happy reading. BWAHAHA!

The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Horrror, Second Edition
Becky Siegel Spratford
American Library Association, 2012
Source: library

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