The Fright Stuff

If You Read It, Then You Read It

Hey‌ ‌there‌ horror fans, ‌I’m‌ ‌Jessica‌ ‌Avery‌ ‌and‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌be‌ ‌delivering‌ ‌your‌ ‌weekly‌ ‌brief‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌ghastly‌ ‌and‌ ‌grim‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌of‌ ‌Horror.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌backlist‌ ‌book‌ ‌that‌ ‌will‌ ‌give‌‌ you‌ ‌the‌ ‌willies,‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrifying‌ ‌new‌ ‌release,‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌latest‌ ‌in‌ ‌horror‌ ‌community‌ ‌news,‌ ‌you’ll‌ ‌find‌ ‌it‌ ‌here‌ in‌ ‌The‌ ‌Fright‌ ‌Stuff.

cover of annihilation by jeff vandermeer

Back in September, I read Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation for the first time, and I tweeted about this surprising but fascinating quest I was on to determine why Annihilation, a book that is not explicitly queer horror, was giving me such major queer vibes. I did eventually finish Annihilation, complete with my army of color-coded sticky notes. And while breaking down the entire book is a bit more involved than I can fit in one newsletter, there was something I wanted to talk about in this week’s Fright Stuff that is related to my Annihilation project: the validity of reader interpretations.

There has been a lot of discussion in the horror community lately about authors, readers, textual interpretation, and the experience of reading. And I think the whole situation is symptomatic of a larger issue, a sort of lack of general understanding among some horror readers and authors about the right of a reader to form their own interpretations of and opinions about the books they read. And the fact that those interpretations do not require either the author’s consent or the approval of other readers, because individual reading experiences are unique and extremely personal.

Once an English major, always an English major I guess, but one of the things my teachers always drummed into us was that there is no wrong or right way to read a text. If you can provide textual support for your reading (the gold standard of proof in English academia) then your interpretation is valid. End of story. Hark! I think I hear the existential screaming of some of my more hardnosed professors but I don’t even care.

And I am firmly of the belief that the above doesn’t just apply to so-called “literary” texts. Horror readers know very well how much an author can pack into a single, terrifying book in terms of themes, metaphors, tropes, etc. So the idea that genre fiction doesn’t have the depth needed to support interpretive reading is, frankly, bullshit.

And even if it weren’t, the experience of reading a book isn’t a sola scriptura event. Yes, you use the text to support your interpretation, but at least a portion of how you come to interpret a book has to do with where and when you’re reading it. That’s why you can read the same book at different times in your life and have two completely different experiences with the same work of fiction. Reader interpretations are entirely subjective, and that’s not a bad thing.

For example: I am fully aware that my reading of Annihilation as a queer text was influenced by my own journey of sexual identity. I read the Biologist’s experience of transformation inside Area X as, specifically, a narrative of sexual discovery because that was a huge part of my life at the time. But depending on the reader, her story could easily be read as a trans narrative, as an expression of humanity’s displacement from nature, or any number of possibilities that haven’t even occurred to me because I’m not the right reader for that particular interpretation.

My ability to read that queer narrative within Annihilation was a result of the themes present in the novel – themes of transformation, identity, the intersection of biology and humanity – which are, if not intrinsically, then at least tangentially queer. They’re themes that have invited queer interpretations of literature for years, even of texts that are not overtly queer, and the presence of those themes allows me to support my reading of Annihilation as a queer horror book. But it was my personal experience that allowed me to see the queer narrative that I might have missed if I had read the book at another time in my life.

And, though the impostor syndrome monster living deep in my soul shrieks in agony at the thought, I know that I can put my interpretation out there in the world with confidence, as can any reader, because our experiences as readers are honest, and our own.

Fresh From the Skeleton’s Mouth

Did you see that Kiersten White’s (The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein) forthcoming adult horror novel, Hide, has a stunning new cover? It’s to die for! I didn’t think it was possible to be even more excited about this book but I am. I defy you to think of a creepier setting than an abandoned amusement park.

Speaking of gorgeous covers, Ava Reid (The Wolf and the Woodsman) revealed the cover of her forthcoming baroque gothic novel Juniper and Thorn, and it is pure perfection. And that synopsis? Where’s a chef’s kiss emoji when you need one.

Nightfire is going just determined to ruin my life in the best ways. They’ve just announced a new novella from Cassandra Khaw, slated for May of 2023, about a flesh eating mermaid. The Salt Grows Heavy sounds like everything I could want in a horror novella and more!

We’ve got a brand new podcast over at Book Riot! Adaptation Nation is all about TV and film adaptations of your favorite books! And given this glorious genre renaissance in which we find ourselves, you just know some of those adaptations are going to be horror!

As always, you can catch me on twitter at @JtheBookworm, where I try to keep up on all that’s new and frightening.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!