Monday, May 11, 2015

Philosophical Horror

I finally figured out my favorite genre. I used to think it was post-apocalyptic fiction, since I loved The Road, but post-apocalyptic fiction is often science fiction, and that genre rarely keeps my attention for long. For a nanosecond I thought it was about angels, since I adore the Angelfall series (the last and 3rd book comes out Wednesday!!), but I quickly disabused myself of that idea. It's definitely not horror. I've never read stories about possession or ghosts and have no desire to do so.

Some of the most interesting books to me explore our humanity in the face of the odd or the unimaginable. I suspect that's why I enjoy The Walking Dead so much. I don't care about zombies, and the violence makes me uncomfortable, but I love debating the moral boundaries the show explores. How far would you go to survive? How far would you go so your child survives?

The other type of book I love centers on the theme of redemption. For me, a great character-centered book doesn't have a purely evil antagonist (in plot-centered books, yes, I expect a "bad guy"). I don't expect to empathize, but I expect at one point I can twist my head, squint my eyes, and maybe-sort-of understand why this guy is hell-bent on destroying the earth.

I never knew what to call this sort of book.

The other day I went to my local indie bookstore to buy All the Light We Cannot See. While I was there, I asked to see Bones and All based solely on the incredible review they gave in their monthly newsletter. Then I asked them if they still carried a copy of a book they reviewed in a newsletter at least a year ago.

"I can't remember the name, but it had a creepy doll's head on the cover."

"Suffer the Children!" the owner said. It was her son who wrote the review. "He also read and reviewed I, Lucifer." I read the back, and his review, and put it in my buy pile.

"I swear I'm not a serial killer," I said, eyeballing my macabre stack of books. She laughed.

We agreed that her son and I have very similar tastes in books, and that the problem with tastes like ours is that people try to give us horror books or gratuitously violent books. Then, she said something that changed my book-life.

"I call what you and my son enjoy 'Philosophical Horror'. You don't want to be scared just to be scared. You want to be scared because it pushes you to think."


So that's what I like. But that's not all I like. I still read ridiculously campy awesomeness anytime I can get it. I recently finished Brown Girl Dreaming (recommend!) and am also reading another book on parenting. All in all, I'm a proud page trollop.

p.s. In re All the Light We Cannot See: tell me it gets better. I'm stuck on, like, page 12.


  1. Oh I just finished All the Light We Cannot See this weekend (I read it in less than a week - it was that good!) and YES, it absolutely gets better. It doesn't tie up its loose ends in any neat package, but wow, it really did make me think and wonder about what I would do in those situations. I didn't particularly like one part in the end having to do with rape, I felt it wasn't explored well enough to be included, but that's my only complaint.

    What a great post this was, thank you, because I've always struggled to define what I like too. I hate, absolutely abhor, horror, but I love when I'm not quite sure what's going to happen next.

  2. It gets better.....keep going!

  3. I'm on about page 110 of All the Light and understand your feeling. I am not feeling it's the page turner eveyrone is claiming. My book club read it so I am catching up, and they all loved it. The author graduated from a neighborhood all boys school, so there is that local angle that is fun, but I am not finding that I can't put it down. I think the writing is good, but something is not doing it for me. At least not yet and now that I know there is a rape to look forward to, I am feeling less enthusiastic. Re a prior blog about your book purge. . . .I am a big John Irving fan too, but not the recent stuff either. I just read A Prayer for Owen Meaney for the frst time and LOVED it. Now I want to re-read Garp.

  4. Are you looking for/open to book suggestions? What you said about humanity in the face of the odd/unimaginable and somewhat ambiguous villains makes me think of the books of Jonathan Carroll, particularly The Land of Laughs. It's an amazing story, complete with odd/unimaginable and ambiguous choices. And oh, how I wish the book-within-a-book "Land of Laughs" actually existed. I don't love every one of Carroll's books, but some of them, such as TLoL and Bones of the Moon, are unforgettable.


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