Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Horror fiction must-read list: the top 25

A reader asks:

Dear Ed: You’ve written horror fiction of your own, but what are your influences? Or what horror novels do you recommend (other than your own books, of course ;)?

A fair question. As I’ve noted, I’ve been influenced by a lot more than just horror fiction, and I actually don’t read all that much horror fiction anymore. (I don't like most of the newer horror fiction, truth be told.)

Nevertheless, there is some horror fiction out there that is legitimately worth reading—must-read horror fiction, in fact. These titles are listed below, my top 25

  1. Salem’s Lot, Stephen King
  2. The Shining, Stephen King
  3. Carrie, Stephen King
  4. The Stand, Stephen King
  5. Night Shift, Stephen King
  6. Everything’s Eventual, Stephen King
  7. Pet Sematary Stephen King
  8. Different Seasons, Stephen King
  9. Skeleton Crew, Stephen King
  10. Christine, Stephen King
  11. The Rising, Brian Keene
  12. Ghoul, Brian Keene
  13. Dracula Bram Stoker
  14. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  15. Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin
  16. Hell House, Richard Matheson
  17. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
  18. The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty
  19. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
  20. Song of Cali, Dan Simmons
  21. Carrion Comfort, Dan Simmons
  22. Ghost Story, Peter Straub
  23. If You Could See Me Now, Peter Straub
  24. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
  25. Jaws, Peter Benchley

I would also include the collected works of both Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, which both consist mostly of short stories, and are available in various printed and Kindle-based formats.

*    *    *
You’ll notice, of course, that almost half of the above books were authored by Stephen King; and I’m perfectly fine with that. King took a niche genre and transformed it into the stuff of popular, mass-market fiction, by populating the world of horror with likeable, sympathetic characters that readers genuinely care about.

You’ll also notice that most of the Stephen King books I recommend are ones that he wrote prior to 1988. I’m okay with that, as well. Over time, Stephen King’s quality has varied considerably (though some of his recent works are still very, very good.) Also, King has diversified away from straight horror since the late 1980s. I read 11/22/63 earlier this year. That’s a good book—very much worth your time; but it isn’t exactly horror. 11/22/63 isn’t horror at all, in fact, but would better be classified as science fiction or fantasy.

And no, I’m not going to put Eleven Miles of Night or Hay Moon on the above list, although I would of course be delighted if you would consider them after you’ve had a chance to read the books enumerated above. (I’ve got to eat, after all.)

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