💬 Thursday Thoughts & Opinions: The Spook Effect

Are spooky stories more tolerable in the audiobook format?

Growing up, I always knew I was a “baby” when it came to scary stories. I learned to lean in to my low tolerance for them. It was never really something I was ashamed of; It was just part of my personality. I didn’t seek out scary movies or shows like Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark?.

Believe it or not, I never exactly grew out of it. I’m still not fond of unnecessarily frightening or gory television, and yet, I love Stephen King. After finishing my first Stephen King novel on audiobook, I was incredibly proud of myself. I felt like I had just taken on this big, bad monster and found out that it wasn’t so big or bad after all. Sure, it was pretty spooky, but something about the audiobook format made it tolerable. Was it a fluke?  Maybe 11/22/63 was King’s equivalent of “Mild” hot sauce. Since it was my first King novel, I had nothing with which to compare it.

The next October, I strapped on my big girl boots and dove into The Shining. I knew from having seen trailers of the movie adaptation that it was one of Stephen King’s most notable works and I was out to test my resolve. Surprisingly to me, I loved it! Not as much as 11/22/63, but enough to think that maybe I had overcome my fear of fear.

Not so fast. Watching the movie was a completely different experience. Maybe I got too cocky,  but the movie adaptation (and Jack Nicholson’s compelling performance) made the story seem all too real.

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Warning: Minor Psychobabble Ahead

The psychology student in me had to know why two different formats of the same story affected me so differently. I think it comes down to two things: Sensory stimulation and control. We know that everyone processes stimuli differently and therefore will be affected in varying degrees by different forms of sensory input. In other words, some people are more affected by things they see and others are more affected by things they hear.

As an avid audiobook listener, it stands to reason that I would be an auditory learner. My years in school confirm that. I process information better by hearing it. That’s not he case with everyone, however, so I’m sure plenty of you are shaking your heads in disagreement.

But I think the second point is the more important one. Control. With an audiobook, I feel more in control of the story. I’m able to pause it if things get too intense or I can change my physical location, allowing me to feel more in control of my listening experience and therefore my reaction to it. If a story begins to get to me, I take a break from it and come back later when I’m in a different frame of mind. That makes an unbelievable difference.

I’m learning to enjoy being mildly spooked, as long as I don’t feel that I’m losing control of the situation. Scary stories are supposed to be fun, after all. Although, I think it’s important to know how certain things impact you. Everyone has sensitivities, even if they are aware of them. For example, I have an extremely low tolerance for child and animal abuse. The presence of either of those almost certainly means I won’t be finishing a story. It simply raises my anxiety to an unacceptable level, so I refuse to put myself through it for the sake of “fun”.

My [unsolicited] advice to you is to know what you can handle and in what format you best handle it. It’s also important to monitor your own reactions to things. Different things bother different people, depending on personality and past experiences. Avoid things that raise your anxiety level and drain the enjoyment from an experience. That’s why I’m avoiding The Handmaiden’s Tale like the plague. I know it’s a literary classic and part of me really wants to hear it (or at least watch the television adaptation), but I know myself well enough to know that it would affect me in a negative way.

Spooky vs. Spoopy

For those hell-bent on avoiding anything too spooky, but who still want to participate in Halloween themed reading, I suggest finding a “spoopy” alternative. Spoopy is the cute, light, and fun cousin of Spooky. Spoopy is too spooky as a cozy mystery novel is to a regular mystery novel. Make sense?

My mom is the ultimate spoopster. She loves watching the adorable Halloween movies that come on the Disney Channel this time of year (Halloweentown, anyone?). A quick search online comes up with several lists of spoopy Halloween movies. And a scan of the Paranormal genre finds several literary equivalents.

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A perfect example is A Spell of Trouble. It’s a cozy mystery about a witch, her cousins and their animal familiars. Having just finished it, I can tell you it’s heavy on the cozy, but will still put you in the Halloween mood.  

Personally, I float between spooky and spoopy as I please. Last year, I was feeling the spook. I listened to Doctor Sleep, sequel to The Shining. This year is feeling more spoopy. I’m planning on hearing more of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic and Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic.

What are your Halloween listening plans? And which end of the Spooky/Spoopy spectrum do they lean toward?

Let me know what you think!