rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 2: p. 160
Sources: The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2nd edition
Liorah Golomb

Humanities Librarian, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma

Horror has been a popular genre in literature at least since the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto in 1765, and there are no signs that it will ever fall out of readers’ favor. Becky Siegel Spratford’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror should help the public services librarian feed her horror-loving users’ appetites. This second edition updates The Horror Readers’ Advisory: The Librarian’s Guide to Vampires, Killer Tomatoes, and Haunted Houses, co-authored by Spratford and published in 2004.

Spratford’s definition of horror requires a story to introduce “situations in which unexplainable phenomena and unearthly creatures threaten the protagonists and provoke terror in the reader.” She cautions that some readers themselves do not adhere to this definition, so a bit of initial reconnaissance might be required to determine that, for example, the patron really wants a frightening zombie novel and not merely a story that happens to feature zombies.

Spratford provides a brief history of the genre, dividing the 250 years’ worth of writing into six clearly delineated eras and providing examples of major works from each. She also puts forth some theories on why readers crave novels that scare them silly, including the opportunity to let us safely explore our darker natures, the desire for escapism, and the validation of belief in the supernatural.

To assist librarians in conducting an effective readers’ advisory interview, Spratford dissects the horror genre into several subgenres: the classics, ghosts and haunted houses, vampires, zombies, shape-shifters, monsters and ancient evil, witches and the occult, Satan and demonic possession, and comic horror. She devotes a chapter to each of these subgenres, opening with some background information, followed by a list briefly summarizing specific titles, and finally offering her three picks. A subsequent chapter on whole collection readers’ advisory offers suggestions for introducing horror aficionados to other genres such as supernatural thrillers or dark fantasy. Finally, Spratford provides resources for finding book reviews and core lists, and offers suggestions for marketing a library’s horror collection.

Spratford’s writing is clear and engaging. The book is nicely organized and the plot summaries are not only useful, they may even convert librarians who do not think they are horror fans. This reviewer circled several titles to read on some future dark and stormy night.

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