When I was eight years old, the electricity went off in my dad’s flat; my sister and I sat with him in a dark room and he told us scary stories. I loved it. Scary stories used to excite, intrigue, and disgust me and I lived for them. Recently, my interest in horror novels has significantly decreased. I no longer seem to get that rush of terror, the sleepless nights, that I got from reading horror novels as a teenager. I have found myself getting more and more scared by non-fiction that simply holds up a mirror to the existing darkness in the world, dystopian fiction that tackles serious questions about the future of humanity, and psychological novels that explore troubled minds. I mention this because I am self-conscious that the following books do not just reflect my current reading habits: they tell you a lot about what scares me.
Frances Ryan – Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People (2019)
Frances Ryan forces the reader to face the actual realities and consequences of austerity by telling the true stories of disabled people who are unable to afford food, heating, electricity, equipment and even medicine that are deemed necessary for their health. She supports these stories with statistics and a history of the welfare state that maps a depressing decline in services and financial aid for those who most need it. What I loved the most about this book is that it does not condescend: it empowers disabled people by giving them a voice and an enduring strength. In other words, this is not just a book about fear: it is a book about fighting through it.
Ian McEwan – Machines Like Me (2019)
This book examines what it means to be human – what it means to love, desire, suffer – and questions the extent to which ‘human’ is transferable. It portrays us as emotionally complex and moral beings whilst simultaneously exploring the potentially cruel consequences of our curiosity with creating human-like subordinate systems. Although it is not my favourite by McEwan, it is a brilliant novel that engages in contemporary debates and fears about the future role of AI in our everyday lives and relationships. McEwan also wrote a 100-page novel in 2019 called Cockroach about Brexit – I really look forward to seeing how his writing reflects on society in 2020.
Will Eaves – Murmur (2018)
This book depicts the unconscious, and often scared, mind and delusions of a chemically castrated Alan Turing. This was not an easy read for me – at times it felt like I was trapped in his memories and thought patterns with him, desperately trying to decipher the meaning of everything that was happening. It is both desperately beautiful and fantastically sad, and you should read it.
This is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook (2019)
Let’s be honest: not much is scarier than a real-life climate crisis that threatens to destroy the entire human population. I feel so strongly about everyone reading this book that I have written a longer piece about this for this issue, so I won’t ramble on about it now. Read the book.
On Anxiety: An Anthology, published by 3 of Cups Press. (2017)
Although this was published a couple of years ago now, I still wanted to include it on this list, in part because I am very fond of 3 Cups of Press. I love it when a publisher invites new and emerging writers to offer their unique perspective on an issue: this little book focuses on anxiety and it showcases a variety of essays, art, short fiction and poetry on the subject. The multitude of voices is reflective of the fact that anxiety affects people in different ways, whilst also highlighting that anxiety can affect pretty much anyone. As an anxious poet myself, I found it impossible to feel alone when reading this book.
If you would like to read any of these books but do not have a copy yourself, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will give you mine to borrow, as long as I still have it! Also, if you have any suggestions for books that are similar to the ones above, or drastically different but still great, let me know. I’d be particularly interested if you’ve read any brilliant horror novels lately that you think might convert me back to the genre!
Image: Carla Jane