April 22, 2020
The world has been plunged into a new and scary situation over the past few months (I think. What day is it?). All of us are (or should be) self-isolating apart from “essential” work tasks in the interest of minimizing the spread of a deadly virus sweeping across the globe.
During this strange time, many people are turning more to books, movies, and TV for an escape. As someone who frequently enjoys darker stories in any form of media, I’ve often asked myself and been asked by others a simple question: “why do you like to be scared?”
Particularly now this seems like an interesting time to explore this question and possible answers. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has me on edge just like everyone else, I’m turning to darker stories for an escape even though this seems counter-intuitive. At the same time, I’ve heard several literary agents and other readers state their preference for lighter reads during this time.
For the purposes of this list, I’m mostly referring to self-help or autobiographies rather than true crime.
A lot of people might be drawn to this genre right now when we’ve all been forced to slow down and take account of our daily routines and life priorities. Typically, these books not only provide insights into how we can change our lives, but they are also pretty uplifting. If you’re rereading You Are a Badass or DIY MFA (no? That’s just me, I guess), you’re probably trying to be overly productive during lockdown. This might mean you’re trying to juggle your remote work, learn a new language, and baking up a ton of sourdough.
Horror / Thrillers
As mentioned above, I am one of those people who enjoys a good scary story or movie. Personally, I enjoy reading about characters going through and surviving a terrifying situation because it’s distracting. In scary stories, the stakes are usually higher and provide a welcome and engrossing diversion from any boring, real-life problems I’m facing. Another reason I enjoy these stories is that I feel relieved and confident at the end because, to a lesser extent, my mind believes it survived the same craziness as the character did.
From my research, it turns out these are the most common reasons weirdos like me turn to and enjoy darker subjects. Allegra Ringo discusses these reasons in more depth in her article for The Atlantic: “First, the natural high from the fight or flight response can feel great. There is strong evidence that this isn’t just about personal choice, but our brain chemistry.” She goes on to analyze how new research has discovered that while this change in chemistry occurs in everyone exposed to a stressful situation, the actual response varies widely. In response to getting scared, everyone receives a spike of dopamine, but the levels are different from person to person.
Another article by Rachel Ross written for LiveScience.com discusses how horror geeks probably share a few key traits, such as susceptibility to boredom and a desire to be spontaneous and exposed to new things. Ross goes on to state that these individuals are more likely to enjoy simulated scary situations rather than experiencing stress.
For people who have the opposite (and arguably more normal) reaction to scary things, it can be due to brain chemistry or past traumas. If you have experienced something terrifying in real life, your body is more likely to trigger the same stressed response to a simulated similar trauma down the road.
For those less inclined to enjoy horror, you might be reaching for a romance novel in-between sourdough baking sessions. The romance genre is known for its lighter and quicker reads. For this reason, the sale of romance books is likely soaring right now. I was surprised to learn that there are already several new books that have come out in the “COVID-19 quarantine romance” subgenre (check out Caleb Joseph’s hilarious video analyzing one of these books if you need a good laugh).
If romance is your genre, you’re probably having a rough time in quarantine due to the lack of meaningful human inaction. Let’s face it, Zoom is fine (I guess), but even without the hackers, it’s not the same as going on a real date.
Science Fiction / Fantasy
If you are a Sci-Fi / Fantasy book lover, you might be faring slightly better than the rest of us right now. As a natural daydreamer, you might not struggle with missing the outside world as much since you have all manner of different universes to explore within your books, both old and new. When it comes to friends, you can just chill out with Bilbo or Harry while holed up in your house.