Like most other book dragons, I enjoy almost everything bookish. So I know that it comes as no surprise that a good bit of my For You Page on TikTok is book-related. I get quite an eclectic mix of genres there. I see Romance, Fantasy, cozies of all kinds, and horror.
That last one is what inspired me to write this piece.
Playground by Aron Beauregard has recently become one of the more popular horror books, thanks to a challenge noting that most readers wouldn’t go past page 40. As often is the case with these types of gauntlets, people rushed to pick up the book to see if they would be in the minority for this challenge.
And, as expected, most people landed in the group that couldn’t do it. This, in part, has to do with the fact that it is splatterpunk, which is a very niche subgenre that is not for everyone. Which, to be clear, is perfectly okay. That’s the whole idea of this article: know thy limits and stick to them.
However, what I take issue with is the backlash that this caused against the author*, fans of splatterpunk, and the horror community as a whole. This TikTok perfectly sums up what happened with some people who picked this up without doing their proper research. While the delivery may be harsh, what she said isn’t wrong. A lot of this pearl-clutching and not-righteous indignation stems from people not even doing the most basic of research to see what all this book was about. All of this ties into people not recognizing or acknowledging their bookish boundaries and sticking to them.
I’m fairly confident that more than a handful of people who engaged in this challenge saw the cover and had squidgy feelings but still persisted because they were afraid of the FOMO. My friends, in cases like that, you need to MO. Not every book is meant for you.
This includes me. I’m not the audience for this book. Luckily, I’m well versed enough in horror to have recognized this based on the cover alone. I figured out long ago which subgenres of horror were a hard pass for me, and splatterpunk is right up at the top of that list.
Comfort Versus Red Zone
There’s a difference between reading outside your comfort zone versus actively reading something that is going to emotionally or mentally harm you. You shouldn’t be doing anything that actively harms you, especially with a pastime like reading. Knowing your boundaries across the board is important to keep that pastime enjoyable.
My advice is to first sit down and really be honest about what your boundaries are. This includes but is not limited to, trigger/content warnings, dealbreakers, tropes, and more. When you pick up something that is completely new to you, always check those to make sure there is not a conflict. Listen to your internal voice as well.
These don’t even have to be grandiose dealbreakers. It can be something as small as not wanting to read a book where one of the main characters shares the name of your childhood bully. That’s fine! It’s your personal trigger, so you don’t have to justify being like, “Eff Heather** and eff this book!” and not finishing it.
I’ll give an example of one of my own. As someone who lost both her parents before she was 30, I like knowing if there is a dead parent in a book. This is because sometimes, it can be a dealbreaker for me. When Bear from the BookTube Channel Et Tu, Bodry mentioned that Hide and Seeker involved a dead parent, I was so beyond grateful for that heads up, especially considering how it played out.
This is not always the case, mind you. Last year, I made the questionable choice to read Book Lovers and The Dead Romantics at the same time. Both involve a dead parent. As much as I wanted to read both, I had to take a moment to ask myself how badly I wanted to finish them. That moment in time was an emotional one for me, so it could have easily ended in me being a blubbering mess. But I decided to slightly push the envelope since dead parents aren’t always a deal breaker for me, and I enjoyed them.
Playground is a different beast, though, because of the extreme type of horror it is. There is no middle ground; either you’re all in or all out. Even if you’re a huge horror hound, it’s okay not to like every subgenre in it. I get a good portion of my bread and butter from reading and writing about romance. Even then, there are subgenres there that I refuse to read. I make no apologies for that.
Ultimately, reading is supposed to be fun. It can be challenging, and yes, you should probably try to read a wide variety of things. But you also have to be very well aware of things that will harm you because if you aren’t, then reading stops being fun.
And if that is the case, then why are you doing it?
*This post is not intended to defend any problematic behavior on the author’s part or harmful content of his books, if there is any. I’m referencing him here as an example of the overall theme of recognizing when some books/genres/subgenres just aren’t for you.
**Sorry to anyone named Heather. I was born in the ’80s when the name was big, and it was the first to pop into my head.