SJ Reads: Paperbacks from Hell

So obviously, I need to rethink how to stay on a schedule. Welcome to your creative life: it’s always something. This time, though, I’ve been really leaning into a lot of writing, looking at where I’m at and where I want to go, that sort of thing. So good things in my absence.

But yeah, nuff of that, we can cover all that later, let’s talk books.

One of the things I’ve been doing lately is really expanding what I’m reading, focusing on different things, and picking up things I may have missed.

And my dudes, I love this book so much. Not only is the writing hilarious, but this is a documentation of a period of literary history you shouldn’t miss. I give you: Paperbacks from Hell.

paperbacks from hell

In all seriousness, it’s a fantastic book. I grew up in the heyday of trashy 80s paperback horror, but at that time it wasn’t my bag (I was more into carebears and my little ponies, the gateway drugs of alternate dimensions, demon possession, and other sparkly horror for young girls). I remember seeing crazy covers on store shelves when I got bored waiting for my parents to do whatever it is parents do in a store (I’m still not sure, honestly). I didn’t really understand where they sat in the genre, though, and certainly didn’t appreciate the history of them.

This book is a necessity. If you love horror, if you’re a horror author, if you do panels talking about horror, I’d better see this book in your hot little hand. It explores the evolution of genre titles from late sixties (led by The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, etc), up to the early 90s when RL Stine and Christopher Pike ruled all. Each chapter goes by a type of subgenre, and it’s really a fantastic breakdown that also helps you understand where publishing was at the time and what the hell happened.

The thing I notice with a lot of people at smaller conventions is that they can namecheck Stephen King, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, maybe some splatterpunk or southern gothic and a few other things, but a lot gets brushed over. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist (tangent rant: reminds me of the time I was told by a co-panelist that horror comics don’t really play the same roles in genre and it turned into me proclaiming my love for them for a good five minutes at least. I expect this book will lead to similar performances re: horror writing history when I’m on future panels, so look out for that).

Guys, know your stories. Know what all is out there. A lot of the books mentioned are out of print, but you can still find some in ebook, still find some in yard sales. Not all will be your cuppa tea and that’s fine. I’d never heard of Elizabeth Engstrom, I went right out and read When Darkness Loves Us because of this book, and oooooh my gawd. Suddenly I have a huge influence to namecheck because it almost makes me angry how good her writing is. Plus, I mean if not that, killer babies, satanic whatevers, evil toys, monster animals and all that are tons of fun, amirite?

I also appreciate that the authors go into the place of Gothic fiction and Gothic romance within the timeline, and just generally make everything so easy to follow. Plus, they’re hilarious. I’ve loved Grady Hendrix’s novels anyway, but now I feel he and Will Errickson need to be my best friends. The narration in this book is amazing – I laughed so much reading this thing, I can’t even tell you. It never takes itself too seriously, and it’s infused with a huge love of every book that’s profiled.

Seriously, if you even half appreciate the horror genre, or want to ogle some epic covers, check this book out.


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