Why I Like Scary Books

Today I was making a list of the books I like most, which proved to be an impossible task. My taste tends to evolve and there are so many books waiting to be discovered. I’m currently researching science fiction for a conference paper and keep adding titles to my to-read-list. There are too many books, and too little time.

But  there are some titles I keep going back to:

  • Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
  • Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting
  • Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho
  • Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
  • Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
  • J.G. Ballard, Crash
  • Amelie Nothomb, Attentat
  • Herman Brusselmans, Pitface
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
  • Charles Bukowski, Pulp

None of these novels are particularly easy reads. In fact, they’re quite scary. They’re full of violence, explicit sex, substance abuse, cannibalism, and so on and so forth. Yet, I’m not a violent person. My life is actually quite boring. I don’t do drugs. I hardly drink, and I’m never drunk. Why, then, do I love these books so much?

It’s a question which keeps popping up in my project, which is on Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis. How on earth can I write about books, and like them, while they depict behaviour I’m opposed to in real life? Am I such a hypocrite?

Well, no. I never like violence and other forms of abuse, be it fictional or not. The truth is: I don’t like the books because of the violence, the sex, the drugs. I like them because they make me think. They ask me questions. A Clockwork Orange makes me wonder: can you be a truly good person, if acting otherwise makes you physically sick? Fight Club asks me: is starting a terrorist army really the way to freedom? Attentat: what do words like beautiful and ugly actually mean?

And I like that. The books don’t give me answers, but that’s okay. When I first encountered most of them as a high school student I was sick and tired of all the people telling me what to think, and how. These novels didn’t do that. Yes, they were scary and repulsive. But they made me an independent thinker. That’s why I still love them.

Apart from that, they’re beautifully written. Sure, Trainspotting and A Clockwork Orange are difficult reads but once you get used to their language they are hard to resist. Pitface is deeply disturbing, but made me laugh out loud on a crowded train. I’ve never tried acid (nor do I intend to) but Fear and Loathing reads like I imagine a good trip to be.

I know many people hate these books, and that’s fine. They’re disgusting, frightening, and offensive. But if you bother to read them carefully, maybe more than once, you may discover that there’s more to them. These books will freak you out, but they may change the way you see the world.

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