Sarah writes in …

How do you know how much horror you can handle? I don’t want to rev up my anxiety too much, but I also love the psychological thriller/monster thing. Any suggestions for inching forward without jumping straight to terrorville? Should I start with old-school classics that created the genre? Short stories? YA horror? R.L. Stine?

Mallory: The big question you need to ask yourself is not how much horror you can handle, it’s how much horror you want to handle! There are lots of psychological thrillers and monster books that won’t make you sleep with the lights on. No need to get anxious over a really scary story when all you want is some monster goodness or a compelling murder plot. Literary fiction and urban fantasy are both genres that have excellent monster books with none of the terror. Try Teeth by Toby Barlow or Maplecroft by Cherie Priest! For a psychological thriller that isn’t too scary, try The Fever by Megan Abbott. For added safety, try getting the book from the library or borrowing it from a friend. That way, if it’s too scary, you don’t own it and can banish it from your home without guilt!

Brea: I understand this fear of … well, fear. My number one nighttime activity is waking up to check the locks on my doors, just in case the apocalypse did happen while I was sleeping. I agree that the best thing to do is figure out the genre-within-the-genre you love best. Best place to start is by asking friends. A recommendation from someone who is willing to forge the road ahead of you by reading a scary book is the best move.

Mallory: If you do want to inch forward into the realm of fear, Brea’s right. The best place to start is by asking friends about books that they’ve read. Just remember that horror is very subjective! I love being scared and actively seek out books that are terrifying, so my threshold for scary books is higher than average and I try to remember that when I suggest them to people. Some great ones to start with are Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes and Ghost Summer, a collection of short stories by Tananarive Due. Once you’ve picked a book, start by reading in a non-scary setting. Read in the daylight and around people! Everyone knows that you can’t get eaten while the sun is out.

Brea: Also, maybe you should come up with your own list of No-Nos. I don’t read books about dog deaths. Maybe you don’t read books with gore or with robot uprisings. And if it’s on your list of “too scary,” don’t read it. My suggestion is to look for some YA that is compelling. There are a lot of great YA monster plots and, that way, you get a monster fix, but maybe get some teen angst or a steamy romance as well! I dare you to find a person who doesn’t love a vampire sex scene! If that sounds interesting, try A Discovery of Witches. It has paranormal elements but won’t keep you up at night.