I am on a horror reading project with two friends of mine and yours, MB Partlow and Shannon Lawrence, and am currently working on the Nightmare Magazine Top 100 Horror Books list. I am reading (or re-reading) everything that I don’t have on Goodreads. You can find the entire list of what I’ve read so far (and my reviews) here, on Goodreads.
It turns out that I’ve read far more science fiction and fantasy than I ever did horror, although admittedly the Nightmare list is extremely shy on ghost stories and work before, say, 1960. The Turn of the Screw, the Hitchcock collections, the entirety of Edgar Allan Poe, the creeptastic critter and ghost stories from Algernon Blackwood, EF Benson, F Marion Crawford – missing, all missing. Not a single Edward Gorey cover.
But it turns out that’s probably for the best: I’ve already read those!
So far my impressions have been that:
- There was a period where Women Are Either Evil or Stupid was the dominant theme. Aside from questions of whether books with this theme are trying to subtly undermine that perception, buhhhh. So dull. Plus, as a reasonably proficient mystery reader, I just keep going, “What is the ulterior motive here? Is the entirety of this story a coverup for something even worse that the supposedly-innocent or otherwise redeemed main character actually did? The main character’s the murderer, right? Because clues.”
- It is almost impossible for a horror novel to make you jump out of your seat; conversely, creeping awful dread seems to be even easier. And that moment when you’ve been reading a story and you realize there was something the writer didn’t bother to spell out in the text unfolds in front of you, and you’re climbing up the seat.
- It’s really hard to make gore stand out in fiction, but man can Clive Barker pull it off.
So far, 22 books in, my favorites out of the list are:
- The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker
- Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, ed. by Ellen Datlow (I think this may be my favorite collection edited by her, and I really like her stuff)
- The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, which is even scarier now that I’m a parent
Some happy discoveries:
- Richard Matheson short stories are an absolute pleasure
- So are Ramsey Campbell short stories, generally
- I liked the Poppy Z. Brite novels better than I thought I would–and Love in Vein less
All in all, I’m going to say that if you’re looking to get into horror, you should pick up Darkness first; it covers two decades of the best-of-the-best of horror, with not a single skim-worthy story.
So that’s my recommendation for Friday 🙂