Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Horror: 100 Best Books (1988), edited by Stephen Jones & Kim Newman

When I first read Horror: 100 Best Books it was a revelation, and caused me to search out and read Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness, Wagner's In a Lonely Place, Marasco's Burnt Offerings, Klein's The Ceremonies, as well as a handful of others that have sat on my shelf unread in the many years since. That'll happen. Although it's a bit disconcertingly diverse, it is still an indispensable guide for the horror fiction fan as a reference book. It may be over 20 years old - yes, there is a second volume - but you still need it. I finally actually bought a used copy and it fits my parameters here well.

Jones and Newman are both are well-known horror scribes and editors, Jones for his Best New Horror anthology series and Newman for my personal favorite book on horror film, Nightmare Movies. It may have been better had they themselves chosen the 100 best books, rather than enlisting various horror fiction authors, present and past, to choose their favorites. Authors contribute an essay on their choice. Joe Lansdale goes for Ray Bradbury's The October Country - honestly, I would have never guessed. Harlan Ellison on Clark Ashton Smith! T.E.D. Klein on Machen! Poe on Hawthorne! Uh, Guy N. Smith on Charles L. Grant? Don't think I'm going to delve into Marlowe's Dr. Faustus any time soon, but thanks anyway, Clive Barker. The Gothic moldy-oldies of the 19th century are are present and accounted for: The Monk, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Melmoth the Wanderer.

It's a bit UK-heavy, and features a Lovecraft collection you won't find Stateside, Cry Horror, nor will you easily find Ramsey Campbell's Dark Feasts, Michael Bishop's Who Made Stevie Crye?, or Nigel Kneale's Quatermas series that I've been looking for since I first read Best Books in the early '90s. My major quibble is that many of the specific titles chosen are unavailable anywhere, except as expensive collector's editions.

As for the essays themselves, I found David J. Schow's piece on All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By particularly insightful; Peter Straub's words on The Shining particularly ass-kissy; Al Sarrantonio's insights into 'Salem's Lot virtually absent; Stephen King's into Burnt Offerings, debatable. Then Craig Spector on Deathbird Stories correctly and acppropriately notes both its power and its dated "hipness" while Edward Bryant nails Song of Kali's nightmare precision.

Non-disputable classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Island of Dr. Moreau, Ghost Stories of Antiquary, Haunting of Hill House, etc., are duly included. More surprising are modern fiction titles like John Gardner's Grendel and Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird, or literary classics like Macbeth, Heart of Darkness, Northanger Abbey, and The Trial, as well as dystopian 1960s SF novels like John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up and J.G. Ballard's The Crystal World.

There are plenty of spoilers in these essays, so tread carefully. The Recommended Reading list included at the end is amazing and overwhelming and, ultimately, kind of disheartening. I am never, never, ever, ever, gonna be able to read all them books. Damn and damn again.

8 comments:

Joe Monster said...

I'm currently half way through the second volume right now. Both books are indispensable in my eyes. Just the delightful, passionate commentary from (most of) the writers is enough to inspire you to hunt down these titles.

Ha! I think I had that same thought about Straub's article. And you know I actually really enjoyed Barker's essay on Faustus. Ended up reading the play for British Lit class. It ain't too shabby. You know, just sayin...

Taranaich said...

Harlan Ellison on Clark Ashton Smith!

This I gotta read.

That said, I'm a bit nonplussed by the omission of Robert E. Howard from that list. Surely a collection like The Dark Man and Others, Pigeons from Hell or Skull-Face and Others would be worth consideration. Or is this reserved for novels, as opposed to short stories and novellas?

Will Errickson said...

Good eye on noting the lack of Howard. No, everything is considered here: short story collections, anthologies, novellas, novels and plays. Perhaps Howard's work is included in the second volume.

Anonymous said...

You'd think they could have made room by cutting one of the essays on Stephen King-- oh, what am I saying...

Taranaich said...

Always hope for Howard in the second volume, I guess. That said, it would've been nice if they had restricted the number of participants. How can they have Haggard's "She," an adventure story, and not a single Howard horror?

Still, the ones I recognized are deserving (aside from Barker: I'm not a fan of his fiction), and I don't want to judge the ones I haven't read. Ah well.

Woodside Skulk said...

Hi Will,

Glad to read that you've finally got a copy! I'm also glad you have a posted this for those who don't know. An indispensable book - yeah I'll say it again. I use it all the time! As you noted, and I fully agree with you, the supplement at the end is AMAZING and I believe in a lot of ways superior to the "core" list. Also, You really should check out Best New Horror, as you have said you don't read much/any of it. C'mon they're only short stories, almost any library has 'em, what's to lose? There are some excellent new (particularly Brit, I might add) writers doing stellar work. Reggie Oliver, Adam L.G. Nevill & Mark Samuels to name but a few of the standouts. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

I found this at just the right time in 1990 - it introduced me to the work of Jonathan Carroll and prompted me to search out his first novel (THE LAND OF LAUGHS) before it became a highly priced collectible... and it got me to find a copy of WHO MADE STEVIE CRYE? (a novel that's still criminally unknown).

highwayknees said...

i gave upon trying to find everything in the supplement pages too. So frustrating! And Will really you should seek out Reggie Oliver. His books are so unique. Besides the great stories- he illustrates his own works in all his books with detailed gothic-style pen & ink drawings that compliment them so well.