top of page

Suspense! Thrills! Horror!

There have been times when my real life resembled a horror novel and the last thing I needed was to read a genre that would dump even more tension and negativity into my brain. Generally speaking, life goes better if you focus on the positive.

But when I'm sashaying placidly along life's garden path I sometimes like to wander off to the dark side and see what nightmares are playing out in someone else’s mind.

A steady reading diet of these would push me over the edge. (There’s a theme for someone’s next novel: Woman can’t stop reading thrillers even though with each novel she reads she descends further and further into madness.) But if there’s a really good one out there chances are I’ll read it eventually because sometimes I need a bit of cayenne to make sure I don’t doze off in the soup.

I really appreciate them when they’re well written for their ability to evoke emotional and visceral responses with mere squiggles on a page. I mean, settle down, adrenaline, nothing is really going to happen to me.

Many books are creepy page turners, but there are a couple of authors who are really good at putting an image in my head that remains forever.

Dean Koontz is one. I’m going to describe one such image but not tell you which book it’s in because I don’t want to give away any plot points.

A woman is hiding in terror as she watches her pursuer coax a spider down from the ceiling, grab it, and pop it into his mouth.

Ever since I read that, when I see a spider in a web and find myself staring at it, this lovely image tends to skitter into my mind.

An aside about Dean Koontz -- does he keep a thesaurus nearby when he’s writing and flip through it looking for obscure words when he has writer’s block? He appears to collect weird words, and like in a spelling bee, use them in a sentence. I used to think I had a large vocabulary but I bow to the master.

It should come as no surprise that Stephen King has put many indelible images in my mind, although most of them are from the movies based on his books. The Shining alone is packed with images that are now in all our heads, forever and ever and ever.

People who have only seen the movie don’t know that the book is a huge, fat thing in which surprisingly little happens for its size, and yet it fills you with such an unrelenting sense of dread from start to finish that you’re afraid to put it down in case something happens. And afraid to pick it up again in case something happens. It shows how good he is at his craft. I recommend reading this.

Images from Misery, Carrie, It, and many more own condos in my brain. I never saw the movie version of Cujo, but the book alone has prompted me to call my tiny dog, whose real name is Davey, “Cujo” whenever he growls and acts tough.

I understand why I enjoy being taken on a scary literary ride when I’m in the right mood knowing it will all turn out okay in the end. That’s the bit of cayenne pepper in the soup. And I understand why I appreciate an author who writes well in whatever genre.

What I don’t understand is why I pick out as the best authors the ones who put permanent negative imagery in my head. This doesn’t seem like it’s in my best interest.


Thoughts on a half century of omnivorous reading


bottom of page