Last week we gave you our staff picks for what to read while you’re at home, self-isolating. This week, we asked our writers to do the same – from an academic cult to a dear friend who’s been replaced by an impostor, this selection of books will encourage you to stay home, because, after all, hell is other people. Stay safe, friends.
And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
While it’s not normally considered horror, I found Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None to be awash with an almost suffocating amount of dread. I don’t know why I had the bright idea to read a novel right now about people trapped in a house together and being slowly picked off one by one but all I can say is that mistakes were made. Trust me when I say this book is a horror novel on par with works by Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe. I wish Christie got more respect in the horror community. While her novels are beloved mystery classics the inventive and downright gory way she murders people would make Eli Roth ill. I know she isn’t a standard answer when suggesting horror novels but I have lost more sleep reading her books than I’m proud to admit. Nobody can do a creeping sense of foreboding and dread the way she could. Fingers crossed we one day get the horror movie treatment some of her works deserve.
The Secret Books of Paradys, Tanith Lee
I picked this up when I hit up my library’s bag sale a few months back, but I kind of overextended myself on my TBR pile, so five hundred pages of lavish gothic fantasy didn’t seem like something I’d have the time to do. But now that I’m kinda locked down for a spell, it’s fascinating to get into Lee’s dark and gorgeous version of alternate Paris, a world of strange rings, reincarnated loves, murderous thieves, and terrifying bouts of insanity. Lee has a talent for making the lavish and unusual feel sinister, and Paradys is a perfect setting for that, a city that feels vibrant and dangerous while also seeming exciting and vaguely like a place worth living, even if artifacts of doom, a city full of the mad, and what must be astronomical rent for all those lavish apartments and manors people seem to have give me pause. So a story about sisters, ghosts, friendship, and creepy woods? This book is like a buffet of all my favorite horror tropes. Very, very excited to be finally digging in!
The Night Country, Melissa Albert
The sequel to dark and spooky The Hazel Wood hits a unique balance: it’s an escapist portal fantasy that opens the doors to a grim and terrifying story-world. That intertwining of dread and wonder feels appropriate for this time of uneasy isolation. I need to be comforted, uplifted, but I also need a book that recognizes the world’s darkness. So, with my own anxiety kicking into high gear, I return to the Hinterland, the nightmare fairyland Alice Proserpine thought she had escaped. But even as Alice tries to claw her way into a “normal” life in New York City, the Hinterland stalks her and other escapees. I can’t wait to be spellbound and scared and, more importantly, transported far from here.
And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe, Gwendolyn Kiste
During this time of isolation, I have found that some days are harder than others. My attention span and ability to focus have been all over the place. One day I was able to sit for long stretches of time to read, finishing a whole book! Yesterday, I was too distracted by the news and desire to be in community. I couldn’t settle into the rhythm of reading. And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste is a short story collection. I have found that short bursts of reading can help my mind to rest. A short story is easy to finish in one sitting. This is one of the best author collections I have ever read. It would be impossible to pick just one favorite. They range in style and substance but all of them are dark, twisty tales that evoke emotion and spark the imagination. Truly, I can’t think of a better way to lose yourself in the pages of a book.
The Return, Rachel Harrison
As a reviewer, I usually must wait months for gems like this to finally be released so I can scream from the rooftops “GO BUY THIS BOOK.” Of course, I wanted to read The Return for its electric pink cover, but once in my hands, I devoured it. The story is on the light side of the horror genre, but the body horror aspect makes up for it. Julie went missing two years ago and was presumed dead, but now she has returned with no memory of what happened. When four best friends, Julie, Elise, Molly, and Mae reunite, they head out for a girls’ weekend in the Catskills to get reacquainted, staying at a garishly themed hotel called the Red Honey Hill. Doesn’t that sound delightful? Only Julie is anything but delightful with her gauntly new appearance and unappealing body odor. Elise is our narrator and the person closest to Julie, so we get an in-depth look at the dynamic relationships in this snarky foursome. An edgy and atmospheric story that focuses on friendship and grief, this horror debut can easily be read in one sitting.
Bunny, Mona Awad
As a writer who went to an (excellent! Not creepy or culty at all!) MFA program, I love any chance to read about writing cohorts and artist retreats. My latest read has the added benefit of being spooky. When Bunny begins, Samantha Heather Mackey is just starting her second year in the prestigious Warren MFA program, a pariah with writer’s block, rumored to be coming off an affair with the impossibly hot visiting author from Scotland, and content to hide in the corners of department parties with her townie best friend Ava. They spend their time coming up with outlandish theories about the four women Samantha calls “the Bunnies”—the other four members of her writing cohort. Each of them is gorgeous, privileged, and rich, and they cling to each other with such insular devotion Ava swears they must be in a cult.
But… what if they actually are a cult? When Samantha gets invited to collaborate with them on one of the projects they call a “hybrid,” she starts to figure out that her worst fears about the Bunnies weren’t nearly scary enough, and I started to realize I was reading the best take on academic horror this side of The Secret History.
Tell us what you’re reading, watching, and playing in the comments!