I'm afraid of a book!
September 7, 2007 1:35 PM   Subscribe

How can I read this scary book without going crazy? This may sound silly, but I swear it's serious....

Right now I'm reading The Historian, which is really awesome, and gripping, and I can't put it down. Every night for the last week, after I get off work (at about 9:00) I've been basically rushing home to read it.

But it's also scaring the crap out of me! I live alone, in a small, old house, and every creak makes me jump while I'm reading. I go upstairs to bed and I'm afraid to open the door to my dark bedroom.

Remember the episode of Friends where Joey reads "the Shining," and gets so scared by it that he puts the book in the freezer? Yeah, that's me with this book.

I want to finish to book, because I've definitely gotten invested in the characters and the mystery and want to know how it ends. But I've always been bad at reading or watching scary books and movies. Any thoughts on how to not get so freaked out?
posted by lunasol to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Might want to ask someone to fix your link.

Is there a nearby cafe open past 9? Reading it in the presence of others should be less frightening.

If you're going to read at home, call someone before you go to bed or watch a funny TV show to derail your train of thought.
posted by desjardins at 1:42 PM on September 7, 2007

Take lots of breaks. Getting immersed in a book is an experience that I greatly enjoy, but if a book is too intense I find that rationing the number of pages I read per day to a more reasonable number allows me to finish without resorting to hard drugs or hypnotherapy.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 1:42 PM on September 7, 2007

Best answer: I am a big fan of scary books and film. Here are some coping strategies:

-Read it in the bathtub. The warm water will calm you. Or make you think of that scene in Psycho, heh. Just keep the shower curtain open.

-Listen to upbeat music or have the TV on in the background to something innocuous like the weather channel.

-Make sure your house is brightly lit and keep the doors and windows securely locked. It helps if the blinds/curtains are closed so you can't see things outside from the corner of your eye.

-Have a beer or glass of wine to relax. Caffeine will make you jittery, so don't have coffee/tea. It will also keep you up late at night saying "what's that noise?"

-If you feel overly scared, put it down and go do something else. Call a friend or look at cute overload. If you're still scared, it's time to call it quits for the night.
posted by SassHat at 1:43 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Read the ending. Sometimes knowing how it ends makes it easier to just enjoy the book and not stress out. YMMV.
posted by GuyZero at 1:45 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, that's a very good book! And I have your same problem at times with anxiety at night after I've read/watched something scary.

Can you delay your gratification and wait till the weekend at daytime to read it? Then you have some time to absorb the book's events before you have to go to bed and walk into a dark room by yourself. And hopefully daytime noises will cover up the moans and groans of the house.
posted by olinerd at 1:50 PM on September 7, 2007

I tried to read Fatal Vision and it scared the shit out of me so bad I put it down, despite being it being a really compelling read. So, I totally feel you. One thing I do when I have just been watching something or reading something that freaks me out is I turn on basically as many lights as I can get away with, turn on some upbeat music (as suggested above) and call a friend. If you are going to read every night, maybe just make sure your house is well lit, read to fun music, and plan a nice long, fun phone call with a friend for right after. It can really help take your mind off it. That, and watch a favorite comedy/light movie. When I'm scared I watch Liar, Liar. It works every time.
posted by sneakin at 1:52 PM on September 7, 2007

Why not take a page from Joey and throw the book in the freezer when it starts to freak you out? It can be your way to take control of the situation. Just run to the refrigerator, throw open the freezer door, and shove that copy in. There, you win.

After you calm down, take the book out and continue. Sure, you might feel stupid at first, which will have the additional benefit of helping you calm down. But I bet over time it stops feeling silly and becomes a simple ritual you can do to easily snap out of a scary mindset when it gets to be too much.
posted by turaho at 1:56 PM on September 7, 2007

Response by poster: Liar, Liar - ha! I love that suggestion. As well as all the others, too. Glad to know I'm not the only one with this issue...
posted by lunasol at 1:59 PM on September 7, 2007

SassHat has some great ideas. I have this problem as well. I just read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, thinking it would be a nice light read (!). I was so depressed (and scared) when I finished it that I couldn't go to sleep in that mindframe. I had to watch some stupid comedy on late night TV. But I also find that a bath, a brightly lit room/house and background noise helps a lot.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:23 PM on September 7, 2007

I had to stop reading The Road before bed, instead getting up a little early to get an hour of reading in before work - in daylight!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:29 PM on September 7, 2007

I'm reading A Thousand Splendid Suns and it makes me want to throw my husband into the freezer.
posted by Joleta at 2:41 PM on September 7, 2007

That is an awesome book. I just coached my mom through her anxiety induced by reading Scott Smith's The Ruins, and my advice to her was just to keep reminding herself that all the characters are just lines on a page. Works for me.
posted by Beckminster at 3:41 PM on September 7, 2007

oh, that happened to me! i was reading "the historian" while i was housesitting a creaky old house on cape cod in the winter, howling wind, crows, and all.

get into a routine for securing your house, so you know all the doors and windows are locked (not a bad idea for a gal living alone in any case). also, some nice, mellow music in the background may help.

finally, if something really startles you, make yourself laugh.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:09 PM on September 7, 2007

Find and read an interview with the author - ideally one with a picture of him - it hopefully won't have terrible spoilers, but it will remind you that the story was just made up by an ordinary fellow. Similarly, when I was little and a Thriller Chiller movie scared me I would just imagine the camera and crew standing there shooting the scene - it always worked.
posted by nicwolff at 4:32 PM on September 7, 2007

Best answer: I actually enjoy that feeling. There's something to be said for being "grown up" and yet lying in bed with the sheets pulled way up terrified that someone is going to come at you with a knife. To me, it's just part of watching (or reading) something really scary. Learn to love that feeling of abject terror.

That said, if you don't like it, I think the biggest thing is to stop reading it alone at night. Go to a park on a sunny afternoon and read it. (Unless the book takes place in a park or something... I haven't read it.) The cafe idea is a good one too. As is calling a friend, although I don't know how well it would work out. I'm not sure how many friends would appreciate getting calls from me panting, "I think someone is in my house trying to kill me" every night.

Don't read the ending ahead of time. It might calm your nerves, but it'll also ruin the whole book. Or at least it does for me.

As convenient a time as it is, I just don't think reading it right before you go to bed is a good idea. Maybe start getting up early and reading it instead. That is, if you can't learn to love being terrified.
posted by fogster at 4:46 PM on September 7, 2007

OK, I went out and bought this book upon reading this question. I'm going to read it with the darkest, scariest music I can find and try to incite extreme terror. I can't wait. Hopefully it will end up in the freezer soon enough.
posted by knowles at 5:28 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: it's just a book, ma'am. when you open your wardrobe closet to get your slippers and hear a rustle, that isn't a starving ghoul hiding behind your spare nightgowns waiting to pounce, because those things only exist in fiction. when your kitchen cabinet opens an inch in defiance of its magnetic lock, no, there isn't a mutant wolverine with four-inch fangs in there, no mutant wolverine has ever killed a householder in real life. and when, late of an evening, you hear a clunking sound in your cellar, you may be sure it's no zombie who dug himself out of his grave, nor is there a new doorway to the underworld, it's just raccoons, or something expanding/contracting due to warming/cooling, or just the wind. i'm going to look for the historian next time i visit the library.
posted by bruce at 5:46 PM on September 7, 2007

I found myself in the same condition earlier this week after reading "The Boogeyman" (from Stephen King's Night Shift collection). My closet was slightly ajar, and I freaked myself out so bad that I ended up putting something in front of the door to keep it from opening during the night. That just wasn't enough for me though. I kept thinking - what if I wake up in the morning and it's open again?!


So, I started reading Fast Food Nation. One could argue that that's a whole different kind of disturbing. But, any residual Boogeyman's-in-the-closet-gonna-get-me feelings were long gone.

This method has worked for me in the past as well. Just keep another book around.

I must thank you all for giving me new ways to freak myself out at night. I gotta head to the library soon!
posted by MsVader at 7:56 PM on September 7, 2007

MsVader (Padme?) is right on. I usually have more than one book running at the same time, and when one of them is scary/troubling, I try and make sure I balance it our with something light and fluffy. Terry Prachett? Douglas Adams? JK Rowling? Bridget Jones? Daniel Pinkwater? David Sedaris?

Also, if lunasol is not already a publicist for Elizabeth Kostova, she may want to send in a resume with a copy of this thread attached -- I'm buying "The Historian" tomorrow, too.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:23 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I absolutely second the 'light comedy' suggestion. Whenever I rent a scary (or sad/depressing) movie, I always get a goofy comedy as a chaser. If a movie is too long for a work night, maybe some tv shows? Twenty minutes of The Office would cheer me right up.

Oh, and The Historian is great.
posted by lovecrafty at 9:53 PM on September 7, 2007

I don't know if this will help or hurt, but nearly all of the interesting locations in The Historian are real, and can be found in Google Images. Many of those obscure monasteries are quite beautiful, and/or in beautiful settings. Of course, some are just plain creepy. Still, it makes for frequent and interesting breaks from reading to contact reality.
posted by spasm at 10:21 PM on September 7, 2007

Scary books are for scaring readers. It appears that this book is successful. If you don't want to be scared, you're doing exactly the wrong thing and you would be defeating the purpose of it if you tried to blunt the effect with happy music and the like.

But try this: go to bed an hour early, wake up an hour early, read an hour in the morning, and then have a nice shower and breakfast and get out into the people-filled day.
posted by pracowity at 6:37 AM on September 8, 2007

I read The Historian before going to bed for a couple of nights at home and was creeped out, even with my husband snoring next to me. Then I took it on a trip to my mother-in-law's, and when I was reading it on the third night, I kid you not, a BAT thumped on our (upstairs) window. After a good bloody-murder scream I decided to read it during broad daylight only. This didn't help if I was up in the bedroom alone, so I read it in daylight and with other people nearby (me: den; them: kitchen). At least I wasn't trembling.
posted by mdiskin at 1:20 PM on September 9, 2007

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