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Friday, August 27, 2021

Summer Screams

Kayla Martin-Gant
Continuing Education Coordinator

Anyone who speaks to me for more than five minutes comes away with three immutable facts: I love being a librarian, I love my goofy little dog, and I love spooky stuff. This last fact has been true since I was little; I used to watch Dark Shadows and Are You Afraid of the Dark? religiously. I wrote my first story, titled “The Haunted Dollhouse,” when I was seven years old and stuck inside at recess due to rain. I’m certainly not the only one—horror, a genre often maligned for being too low-brow to have any real literary and artistic merit, is immensely popular.

The question, though, is why?

The general scientific consensus seems to be that, for many of us, horror is cathartic in a way that many other genres aren’t. It gives us the illusion of danger without putting us in any actual risk and, once the adrenaline has built and the tension snaps, we get that sweet rush of dopamine as the credits roll.

This isn’t true only of horror movies, but of horror stories in general, and terrifying real-life tales lend themselves to those impulses as well. Whether fictional or not, horror can allow us to experience and process trauma in a safe, controlled environment.

It’s not just the physical effects that keep us coming back, though. At its core, horror also taps directly into our basest emotions in unexpectedly telling ways. We can examine the popular horror trends and titles in a particular decade or region to understand its people’s greatest fears at the time. Sometimes these fears are tangible, such as the explosion of sci-fi horror in the 1950s in reaction to the atomic bomb, or even our ongoing anxieties about climate change and the corresponding rise of apocalyptic narratives. The trappings of horror often have deeper roots, though, using tragedy and monsters as allegories for societal ills rumbling just under the surface.

Some of the best, most memorable examples of the genre have always been subversive in nature. Horror shines a light on some of the darkest parts of our histories and behaviors and, in doing so, calls our cultural mores into question. It holds a mirror up to us and asks, pointedly, if we’re truly happy with what we see. Horror fills us with fear and revulsion because it is, whether directly or through a warped, funhouse-style mirror, a reflection of us.

In that vein, one of the most interesting aspects of the horror genre is how it has, for some of us, become a home. For many marginalized groups, the monsters we grew up with are more relatable than they were probably meant to be. For those of us who feel the constant weight of bigotry, prejudice, racism and misogyny, whose brains and bodies don’t look or operate in expected ways? We empathize with the monsters we were taught to fear, and we know that other people are often more dangerous than any creature.

It’s no wonder then that the horror genre has become increasingly diverse in both the stories being told and those telling them. This has led to some fantastically innovative storytelling, and people are noticing. Not only are more horror films garnering critical acclaim, but the genre has also found a new avenue to explore in podcasts. The rise of the true crime podcast genre is well-documented, but also gaining rapid popularity are the myriad of horror fiction podcasts available for anyone and everyone.

The accessibility of podcasts for both consumer and creator, coupled with the medium’s inherent independence of outside production influence, has allowed for some incredibly complex and inclusive stories to flourish (for more on this, check out an article I wrote for Divination Hollow Reviews on some of my favorite queer horror fiction podcasts here).

Horror fiction podcasts also provide a window into one of my favorite things about horror, which is how easily it overlaps with other genres. Horror is an extraordinarily versatile genre and is therefore somewhat nebulous in how it is defined. What elements, themes, or settings are required to constitute horror over sci-fi and fantasy? What about the crossovers between horror and romance, or even horror and comedy? Horror literature has cheerfully straddled these lines for centuries, now more than ever. While this may frustrate some readers, listeners, and viewers who prefer simpler categorizations, it provides for an ever-changing landscape in which to tell our stories. Certain horror conventions may get stale, but the human imagination is a powerful thing, and fear is the most primal and universal instinct we all share.

One could say that horror, more than any other genre, connects us. We don’t all love being afraid, but if we must be? We’d prefer to be afraid together.

Be on the lookout next month for my webinar on recently released and upcoming horror titles to look forward to! In the meantime, if you want to read more about the psychology of horror, check out some of these resources:

Monday, August 23, 2021

Meet MLC Monday: John Shaman

Elisabeth Scott
Reference Librarian/Social Media Coordinator

Meet John Shaman, Reference Librarian at the Mississippi Library Commission! John has a variety of job duties, including shelving, assisting with reference questions, and taking care of MLC's large print extended loan program. He holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Southern Mississippi. 

John began work at MLC at the beginning of June, and so far really enjoys answering the variety of reference questions that come his way. He says that his coworkers have helped ease the transition into his new position. When asked why he thinks libraries are important, John responds, "Libraries are vital social infrastructure. Everyone deserves free access to books, the internet, and a quiet place outside of home and work." It seems that one of the reasons John got an English degree is his love for reading. He enjoys literary fiction and philosophy, and his favorite books are My √Āntonia by Willa Cather and Dubliners by James Joyce. John also likes to write, watch anime, ride his penny board, and take an occasional road trip.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Meet MLC Monday: Keith Thompson

Elisabeth Scott
Reference Librarian/Social Media Coordinator

Meet Keith Thompson, a Circulation Librarian in the Talking Book Services Department here at the Mississippi Library Commission. Keith does everything from checking in digital books, and cleaning and repairing Talking Book Players to maintaining our braille collection and readying introductory packets for new patrons. He holds a bachelor's degree in Information Technology (Networking) from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Keith started back in June, and says that so far, his favorite part of his job is preparing information for people new to the service. He says, "Libraries are important because they can be a gateway for people to experience new ideas through books. They also provide internet access to their communities, which is key." Keith enjoys reading. His favorite book of all time is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and the last book he read was Anthem by Ayn Rand. When he isn't hard at work or relaxing with a book, you can find Keith exploring one of his favorite hobbies: digital drawing, traditional landscape drawing, and listening to Jazz.

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