Tag: Reading

This Month’s Question: What Horror Novel Should Everyone Read?

The Question of the Month has a simple premise: each month I’ll ask a handful of authors to answer the same question and then I’ll publish their responses exactly as I receive them. In these posts you’ll discover how these authors think, giving you insight into where their darkest tales come from. These responses are listed here in the order they were received.

This month’s question is: If you had to recommend just one horror novel for everyone to read, what would it be and why?

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Why? Because it’s not only the scariest novel I’ve ever read, it’s also a “literary” novel, so it can demonstrate to snobs and skeptics that the genre can have intellectual heft.  In addition, it’s a mainstream work of fiction with no overt sex or violence, so it has the potential to win over milquetoast Middle America, those wimpy readers who flinch and flee at the sight of blood. It’s the perfect poster boy for horror. As far as I’m concerned, Jackson’s masterful novel should be required reading for every human on the planet.
Bentley Little

I’m going to hail Richard Matheson’s Hell House, because I still recall finding it impossible to put down and wishing I hadn’t stayed up after midnight by myself to finish it. Truthfully, it’s the only book that made me realize that looking over your shoulder because of what you’re reading isn’t always an exaggeration. Forget the timid movie adaptation and go straight for the real thing—Matheson certainly does.
— Ramsey Campbell

The Shining by Stephen King.  I love that man.  I love that book.
— Nancy Holder

The one horror novel that I would recommend that everyone should read is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. As an inward and an outward journey of discovery it exposes the narrator to the nature of evil. Both it and its palimpsest (Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) resonate for a generation (mine) that went to college, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, or Vietnam in the ’60s. Those of us who did those things (I did all three) understand perfectly Kurz’ (or Brando’s in the film) cry at the end: “The horror! The horror!”
— Robert Booth

My answer is Reprisal by Mitchell Smith. Reasons: the nightmarish scope of his human imaginings, the austere and limpid grace of his prose.
— Michael Shea

Dracula by Bram Stoker. As a King “expert” it would be expected of me to recommend The StandIt or even the under-rated Bag of Bones. But, our whole genre is founded and fed by certain great classics. Stoker’s great novel has influenced the horror genre more than any other, and no horror book has had a greater impact on popular culture. Yet, most of those who still read entire books have not actually read this novel. Surprisingly that goes for many horror or dark fiction genre readers. Yes, it is written with a Victorian sensibility and the epistolary style is difficult for many but the payoff from this carefully crafted novel, full of the back-imagery of our minds, is immense. The sexual tension, the multi-layered representational use of blood, the ancient fear of the unknown, and the tools of a newly scientific age, all combine with tremendous characterization and a rollicking good story. Best of all, when the tale is done, a mighty genre lies downstream from its headwaters.
— Rocky Wood

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.  This is a classic novel for a reason. The story evolves from two thirteen-year-old boys, James Nightshade and William Holloway, who are still at that age where the world is full of unknown mysteries and anything can happen. They are opposites, one adventurous and daring and spur-of-the-moment, the other cautious and grounded and wary. They are at the crossroads of innocence and adulthood. And when a dark carnival comes to town, they find themselves drawn to the darkness by all the possibilities.

And while that’s the core of the story, it’s not the whole story.  Something Wicked This Way Comesalso explores a part of human nature deeply rooted in all of us … wishing things were different.  The aging school teacher who wants to be young again. The disabled ex-football player who dreams of playing again.  The father with a bad heart who fears experiencing life to its fullest because it might mean his death.

And of course, there’s the dark carnival and the small town and the library.

How can you go wrong!
— David B. Silva

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.  It’s my favorite book by the best writer in the field.  It shows King at his best, with wonderful characterizations of a small town filled with fear.  I was 20 years old when I first read it and it dazzled me.  It showed what horror writers were capable of and I never looked back.  Even three decades later I remember the story vividly.  No other book has ever hit me so hard and I recommend it at every opportunity.
John R. Little

This, at least for me, is a deceptively difficult question because so many exceptional books so easily come to mind. On a strictly personal level, Clive Barker’s The Books of Blood and, before that, Richard Matheson’s Hell House, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula were all huge influences that I believe remain as exceptional “ambassadors of horror” for new readers. However, if I must choose only one, (and possibly a bit of an uncommon or even contentious choice as it is often labeled as “fantasy” rather than horror) I’d have to select Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. The novel is beautifully written, can be appreciated equally by readers of all ages, and touches upon some of our deepest universal fears and aspirations including our fears of growing old, of dying, of lost opportunities, and of lost friendship, among others. The book examines horrors of both supernatural and entirely mundane, human origin and manages to be mutually terrifying and life-affirming and a thoroughly entertaining read.
—  Norman L. Rubenstein

Another Perspective: On Discovering Night Shift by Stephen King

In the spirit of My Mother’s Secret Stash of Stephen King, I thought I’d post another essay I wrote about that summer when I was 12 years old.  I mostly want to post this because the essay was written a few years after “My Mother’s Secret…” and it’s completely different.  One of the things I’m very curious about is how our memories work.  Not sure what that means in this context, but here’s what I wrote:

Like most life changing events, this one came out of nowhere:

One summer when I was very young, I stood in the basement of my family’s house staring up at the bookcase by the pool table.  This was where I had discovered my mother’s collection of Stephen King hardcovers a few months earlier.

On this particular day I saw a blue paperback jutting off the edge of a shelf high above my head.  I reached up and grabbed the paperback.  I turned it over in my hands.

There were eyes peeking out through holes cut in the front cover.  The eyes were part of a bigger piece of artwork under the cover: a hand wrapped in bandages with eyes growing in the flesh!  How horrible!  How awesome!

I sat on the basement floor next to the bookcase and read the introduction by John D. McDonald.  He wrote something there I’ve returned to many times over the years.  “If you want to write, you write.”  (It really is that simple, isn’t it?)

Next I read Stephen King’s “Foreword” and was instantly hooked.  I realized this was the author himself inviting me to join him on a journey.  He was talking about fear and the scary things in the dark closet, and yes, I totally understood what he was saying.  It was as if he knew me and my secret fears.

I skipped “Jerusalem’s Lot” because I didn’t understand the epistolary tale yet (why are these characters writing letters to each other?  where’s the story?), but I started the second piece, “Graveyard Shift,” and was sucked right in.  There was a basement full of ruined junk!  And big rats!  What’s not to love?

And I was off to the races, reading story after story.  I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.  This continued for the better part of the afternoon while my father was at work and my mother slept.  (She worked the night shift at the local hospital.)  The sun crossed the sky and the day slipped away and I just couldn’t get enough of those short stories.

My favorite in the bunch was “The Last Rung on the Ladder.”  Oddly enough, after all of the killer trucks and toy soldier assassins and scary boogeymen and a very bizarre lawn guy, this story was nothing like the rest and yet it easily affected me the most.  (Spoilers to follow.)

Instead of another scare fest, this was the story of two farm kids–a boy and his little sister–playing a game in their family’s barn when something goes terribly wrong.  The sister was climbing a ladder to the top of the barn when the rungs splintered, leaving her hanging high above the floor, her hands barely holding on.  Her brother frantically built a pile of hay to break her inevitable fall.  The ladder was going to give way, but he kept telling her to hold on… and then, right before the ladder finished breaking, he told her to let go… and she did… and she landed in the hay with a sickening thud… but she lived!  She had let go without looking because she knew her big brother was going to do something to save her.  What a happy ending!

But then the story went on.  And the two farm kids grew up.  And in the end, the reader was left with a man dealing with his sister’s suicide and his regrets about the distance that grew between them as adults while he was busy chasing the brass ring in life — and the fear that, had he been a better bigger brother after they left the farm, he might have been able to break his sister’s fall one more time and she wouldn’t be dead.

Powerful stuff.  Emotional stuff.  And what the heck was it doing in a book of horror stories?  Some readers might have been turned off by this heart-wrenching tale of loss if they were just expecting more gore and scares, but I loved it.  I had never experienced a story quite like it before.  I read “The Last Rung on the Ladder” a second time that day and I’ve read it a dozen times since then.

Night Shift was marketed as “excursions into horror” and it was my first taste of grown-up short stories.  Soon after, I discovered a huge anthology called Dark Forces, and soon after that I dedicated myself to writing and selling my own little stories.  I had dabbled with writing since the second grade, but now I had a concrete goal: my stories needed to appear in an anthology like Dark Forces or a collection like Night Shift.

Since then, my short stories have been published in many anthologies, including Borderlands 5, which featured Stephen King and a lot of other great authors I was humbled to be published with; my first collections of stories will see print next year if all goes well, although I harbor no illusions that they’re anywhere near as good as the tales in Night Shift; and a few years back Lonely Road Books published a brand new edition of Dark Forces.

When I think about it, I realize just about everything I do today is because I happened upon Night Shift one summer afternoon when I was a kid.

If you ask me, there isn’t a better foundation for a lifetime of reading than the short story.  Short stories will take you to worlds you never imagined and help you examine your own world through new eyes.

What better way is there to spend a summer afternoon… or an entire life?