I have always loved horror. The poorly-written mass market paperbacks I pulled from my father’s shelves. The B-horror flicks I watched in dark basements. The books and movies that suggested that true horror lived within everyday people.
But lately, I’ve been particularly transfixed by horror that focuses on feelings of claustrophobia and unseen menace. As a grownass adult whose day-to-day fears revolve around being trapped by the consequences of my terrible decisions (schedule shift; career move; poor spending choice; ill-advised parenting tactic), this seems apt. And perhaps no book has embodied these fears as perfectly as Josh Malerman’s Bird Box.
When I first read Bird Box, a work of literary horror that has since been adapted (and quite well) by Netflix, it was just a few months before my daughter was born, a life change that would shrink my world, leave me feeling at times constricted. Even four years later, she is so needy it often seems as if she’s trying to crawl back inside my body. So when I read Malerman’s book, there was something in me that connected to the story.
For those who haven’t read the book or seen the Netflix adaptation, here’s the gist: An unseen menace causes people to become violent and suicidal. After a time, it is determined that victims go crazy when they look upon these creatures. As a result, survivors remain in boarded-up houses, with papered-up windows. They go on supply runs with blindfolds over their eyes. Their world shrinks and, in this miniaturized life they are forced to live, they don’t even know what it is they fear.They don’t know what their monster looks like.
It’s a delicious mix of claustrophobia, blindness, and a fear of the unknown. Are there other books like Bird Box? Which ones bring that same brand of terror?
THE BEST BOOKS LIKE BIRD BOX
THE MIST BY STEPHEN KING
Let me just get this one out of the way. King has a number of titles beneath his belt in which the main protagonist finds himself trapped in an untenable situation. The one that reminds me most of what went down in Bird Box is The Mist, a novella about a small town enveloped by a strange mist, in which terrible creatures seem to be skulking about. Most of the action takes place in a supermarket in which a number of townspeople find themselves trapped. As these people, thrust together by circumstance, grapple with what’s going on—and what they should do next—tensions explode. Will anyone make it out alive?
THE GREAT ALONE BY KRISTIN HANNAH
When I received an ARC of this book in the mail, I was unfamiliar with Hannah’s work. I had no clue she was a New York Times bestselling author with approximately eleventy-billion published novels on her résumé. But I was immediately bewitched by this story of this coming-of-age story in which a small family moves to the wilds of Alaska in order to start anew. Unfortunately, there’s no leaving behind the inner demons of the family’s patriarch, a former POW. In this book-length fight for survival, the barren landscape isn’t the most dangerous thing the young protagonist needs to fear. This isn’t a horror novel, but it is horrifying.
BLINDNESS BY JOSÉ SARAMAGO
Where in Bird Box, characters were forced to blindfold themselves when outside so as to avoid glimpsing the thing that drove others mad, Saramago’s book is about literal blindness. A city is hit by an epidemic of blindness. Those afflicted are confined to an empty mental hospital, but the conditions there are brutal. Meanwhile, one woman who has miraculously retained her sight struggles to guide a group of strangers through this terrible new wilderness, made even more terrible by how it has empowered others to embrace the worst in themselves.
BLIND DESCENT BY JAMES M. TABOR
Before Bird Box, I lost my shit over The Descent (the British horror film; not the book by Jeff Long upon which it is very loosely based). When I saw the film, I spent the entire one-hour-40-minute run time gasping for air as a group of female spelunkers—trapped in an uncharted, underground cave system—fought and strained to find a way out. There were monsters and jump scares in the film. But what was most terrifying was, again that sense of claustrophobia. Which is why Blind Descent, a work of narrative nonfiction on two scientist-explorers who find themselves trapped within the depths of massive cave systems, freaks me out so much.
THE HOLE BY HYE-YOUNG PYUN
A man wakes up from a coma after causing a car accident that takes his wife’s life and leaves him paralyzed and badly disfigured. He is left in the care of his mother-in-law, who is bereft at the loss of her only child. Confined to his bed and neglected by his reluctant and resentful caretaker, he is left only with memories of his troubled marriage. “Yellow Wallpaper” much?
THE DEVIL IN SILVER BY VICTOR LAVALLE
And then there’s the book that first introduced me to LaValle’s work. In it, a group of inmates at a mental institution find themselves picked off one by one by a terrifying creature with the body of an old man and the head of a bison. But is the creature real, or just the result of group delusion? This book tackles many tough topics, among them the question of how and why our fears manifest.
If you’ve been paying any attention, you know that Netflix is creating some of the most marathon-worthy original content these days. But once you’ve watched all available episodes of your favorite Netflix show, you can find yourself in a sad slump. What to do now? It’s too soon to start a new series, but you’re not ready to leave your cozy couch cocoon. Lucky for you, we’re here with eight book recommendations based on your favorite Netflix shows! These book and Netflix original series pairings are sure to help you end those last episode blues.
THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA/LABYRINTH LOST
If you enjoy the balance of dark magic and teen drama in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, you’ll love Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova. Much like Sabrina, teenage bruja Alex has a complicated relationship with her family legacy of magic. When she tries to rid herself of her powers at her Deathday celebration, her spell backfires and her whole family disappears. She must team up with Nova, a brujo she doesn’t trust, to save her family and redeem herself.
JESSICA JONES/ZERO SUM GAME
If you’re a fan of badass private eye/superhero Jessica Jones, you’ll definitely appreciate badass mercenary/math genius Cas Russell from S.L. Huang’s Zero Sum Game. The author is a weapons expert and professional stuntwoman with a math degree from MIT. She’s used her expertise to create Cas, a protagonist who can calculate the trajectory of bullets and use her knowledge of physics to jump off of roofs and through windows. When she encounters a secret organization experimenting with mind control, her mastery of numbers gets more complicated. Much like Jessica Jones, Cas faces a lot of ethical questions when her skills, her job, and enemies that can control minds clash.
BLACK MIRROR/FRIDAY BLACK
If you like the experimental sci-fi feel of Black Mirror, you should check out the captivating short story collection Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Adjei-Brenyah examines the everyday racism black people face by putting his characters in heightened, surreal situations. In one story, a young actor struggles with his role in an augmented reality that allows players to hunt “terrorists” or “intruders.” In another, a mall store employee must survive an apocalyptic zombie-like Black Friday sale. These and other haunting tales serve as social commentary in a way fans of Black Mirror will love.
UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT/MR. & MRS. AMERICAN PIE
For fans of the absurd and hilarious Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Mr. & Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel is the perfect fit. Socialite and former beauty queen Maxine is climbing the social ranks in Palm Spring in 1969. That is, until her husband leaves her for his significantly younger secretary and she has a public meltdown. She decides that winning the Mr. & Mrs. American Pie contest is the only way to save her image. But first, she has to find a makeshift family she can sell to the judges as her own. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, led by an outrageous cast of characters and a plucky protagonist who will always find a way.
DEAR WHITE PEOPLE/ELOQUENT RAGE
If you love the razor-sharp social commentary of Dear White People, read Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper. This essay collection is an astute and captivating examination of modern racism, respectability politics, and Black womanhood. Much like Samantha in Dear White People, Brittney Cooper has chosen to use her anger to fight racism and sexism in a powerful, thought-provoking way.
Love the life advice and feel-goodiness of Queer Eye? Then you’re sure to enjoy the charming stories, thoughtful guidance, and beautiful pictures in GuRu, a new book from legendary drag queen RuPaul. Mama Ru is full of memorable one liners and tips for mindfulness. GuRu has a little bit of everything to provide perspective for the mind, body, and spirit. It will leave you feeling joyful and refreshed, much like Queer Eye’s Fab Five.
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK/THE MARS ROOM
Fans of Orange is the New Black, a dramedy set in a New York women’s prison, should check out The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, a novel set in a California women’s prison. When single mother and former stripper Romy kills a man who stalked her, she’s sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Upon her arrival in prison, she meets a variety of inmates with their own stories to tell. It’s a look at the harsh realities of incarceration and a flawed justice system told through many perspectives. The diversity of voices and experiences will appeal to Orange is the New Black viewers.
GRACE AND FRANKIE/BINGO LOVE
If you’re obsessed with the late-in-life romances and quirky relationships in Grace and Frankie, you’re bound to adore Bingo Love, a comic by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, and Cardinal Rae. Hazel and Mari fell in love at first sight at church bingo in 1963, but they were forced apart by their families and society. When they meet again decades later, they decide to give their love a chance. It’s heartwarming and sincere, much like the love and friendships in Grace and Frankie.
Netflix and chill with these certified fresh (according to Rotten Tomatoes) book-to-film adaptations.
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (2018)
Five years after the end of World War II, a young London-based writer travels to the Island of Guernsey to interview residents for a book she plans to write about their experiences during the war. Once there, she learns about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and the harrowing trials its members went through during the war.
In 1958 Germany, a teenage boy named Michael Berg has an affair with an older woman named Hanna Schmitz, who then mysteriously disappears. Decades later, Michael, now a lawyer, encounters Hanna in court. She is on trial for war crimes committed when she was a guard at a Nazi concentration camp.
Based On:The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, translated by Carol Brown Janeway
Starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008)
April and Frank Wheeler’s troubled marriage crumbles under the social constraints of their mid-1950s suburban existence.
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Kristen Stewart, Vince Vaughn, Zach Galifianakis
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
Father, widower, and small-town lawyer Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in 1932 Alabama. Meanwhile, his two children, Jem and Scout, become intrigued by their mysterious shut-in neighbor, Boo Radley.
Starring: Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Riley, Margot Robbie, Ruth Wilson
THE IMITATION GAME (2014)
British mathematical genius Alan Turing and a team of gifted mathematicians try to crack the German Enigma code to turn the tide of World War II. But when Alan is outed as a gay man, he is faced with imprisonment or chemical castration.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Allen Leech, Rory Kinnear
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING (2016)
A retired writer named Ben takes a six-week course to become a caregiver, then takes a job caring for Trevor, an eighteen-year-old with muscular dystrophy. Ben takes Trevor on a road trip to see the world’s deepest pit. Along the way, Trevor meets Dot, a kind girl he develops a crush on.
Longtime neighbors Addie Moore and Louis Waters have hardly spoken to each other the whole time they’ve lived side-by-side. But that changes when Addie reaches out and tries to make a connection, sparking a beautiful late-life romance.
Starring: Marco Leonardi, Lumi Cavazos, Regina Torné, Mario Iván Martínez
COLD MOUNTAIN (2003)
During the final days of the Civil War, Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, embarks on a dangerous journey back to Cold Mountain, North Carolina to reunite with his love, Ada. Meanwhile, Ada struggles to survive after her father dies, leaving her destitute.
Starring: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Charlie Hunnam, Eileen Atkins, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Donald Sutherland
OUT OF SIGHT (1998)
Career bank robber Jack Foley and U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco share a steamy moment of mutual attraction while stowed away in a trunk during Foley’s escape from a Florida prison. After the getaway, Sisco chases Foley and his pals to Detroit where they plan to steal a cache of uncut diamonds.
Starring: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen
RED DRAGON (2002)
Will Graham, a retired FBI agent with a gift for understanding disturbed minds, tracks down a brutal serial killer known as “The Tooth Fairy” with the help of imprisoned forensic psychiatrist—and world’s greatest human flesh cook—Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Embeth Davidtz
JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Billionaire philanthropist John Hammond and a team of genetic scientists have created a wildlife park full of cloned dinosaurs. When a power failure knocks out the park’s security system, a small group of visitors there to preview the exhibits before opening day are faced with a hoard of toothy reptiles and one very pissed-off t-rex.
Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard S. Castellano, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001)
A hodgepodge fellowship comprised of four hobbits, two humans, a dwarf, an elf, and a wizard embark on an epic quest to destroy the Ring of Power in the fires of Mount Doom in order to stop the Dark Lord Sauron from taking over Middle-earth with his force of evil orcs.
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis, Sala Baker
THE LITTLE PRINCE (2015)
A little girl whose mother has a strict plan for her life that includes no time for leisure befriends her elderly retired aviator neighbor who tells her the story of a little prince he once met from a faraway planet.
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Paul Giamatti
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)
A shallow and self-centered prince is cursed by a witch to transform into a beast for the rest of his life unless he can make a woman love him before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose. Belle, a bookish girl ahead of her time, saves her father from the clutches of the beast by offering to remain a prisoner in his stead.
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Hattie Morahan
A young anthropomorphic bear with an unusual affinity for marmalade migrates from the wild Peruvian jungle to modern-day London. Lost and alone at Paddington Station, he meets the Brown family, who kindly offer to let him stay with them.
Based On:Paddington by Michael Bond, illustrated by R. W. Alley
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Peter Capaldi, Nicole Kidman
TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE (2018)
Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song Covey keeps love letters she’s written to all the boys she’s ever loved in a hatbox gifted to her by her late mother. One day, Lara finds her hatbox missing and it quickly becomes apparent that someone has mailed the letters to their not-so-intended recipients.
Starring: Mark Williams, Sorcha Cusack, Nancy Carroll, Alex Price
ALIAS GRACE (2017)
Grace Marks is a convicted murderess, having participated in the gruesome slaying of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. Fifteen years into serving a life sentence in Kingston Penitentiary, an alienist named Simon Jordan takes an interest in Grace’s case and begins a series of interviews intended to suss out the motivation behind her crime. But Dr. Jordan’s interest soon grows beyond the detached professional persona he tries so desperately to maintain and it becomes clear that the facts of the case may not align with what truly happened.
Starring: Sarah Gadon, Edward Holcroft, Kerr Logan, Anna Paquin, Paul Gross
ANNE WITH AN “E” (2017- )
Anne Shirley, an eleven-year-old orphan girl, is adopted by brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert and goes to live with them on picturesque Prince Edward Island. There she meets an eclectic cast of characters, including the rambunctious Gilbert Blythe, busybody neighbor Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and kindred spirit Diana Barry. Facing prejudice because of her parentless status, Anne struggles to be accepted and chases her dreams.
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith, K. Todd Freeman
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2013- )
Middle-class WASP Piper Kerman is sentenced to eighteen months in Litchfield Penitentiary after being convicted of smuggling drugs for her ex-girlfriend, Alex Vause. There she copes with the daily hardships and injustices of prison life and meets an eclectic cast of fellow inmates. Things take an interesting turn when Alex is also sent to Litchfield.
Starring: Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips, Cassidy Freeman, Adam Barley, Louanne Stephens, Bailey Chase, A Martinez, Zahn McClarnon
BATES MOTEL (2013-2017)
Norma Bates and her teenage son, Norman, buy a motel after Norman’s father dies. Shortly thereafter, the former owner of the motel breaks in and sexually assaults Norma. Norman knocks him unconscious and Norma stabs him to death. From this point, the series traces Norman’s complicated relationship with his mother and the unraveling of his fragile psyche.
Starring: Jenny Agutter, Laura Main, Venessa Redgrave, Stephen McGann, Judy Parfitt, Helen George, Cliff Parisi
NORTH & SOUTH (2004)
A young middle-class southerner named Margaret Hale comes face-to-face with the brutality of poverty and the industrial revolution when her family moves to the Northern cotton mill town of Milton in the mid-18th century. There she meets John Thornton, a brusque mill owner whose manners and seeming indifference to his worker’s suffering offends her finer sensibilities.