Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Joseph Patchen’s Top Five, no make that SIX Halloween Horror Reading List

For my list I made a conscious decision to leave off the more marquee mainstream names such as Poe, Kafka, Stoker, Shelley, Lovecraft, Hodgson and Blackwood. I wanted to cast the light on the dark writings of others either forgotten or taken for granted.

The order? Well, not carved in stone but I’m happy with it and if it were tweaked I wouldn’t cry like a hipster whose latte was slightly below room temperature with the exception of the two.

Number 5: “The Early Fears” by Robert Bloch. The first of four anthologies I have chosen is a representative collection of Bloch’s early pulp tales of horror and fantasy. If you translate that statement we are dealing with ‘the weird tale’; the unsettling story that I personally love.

Included in this volume we find “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper”, the Edgar Allan Poe fragment titled “The Light-House” that Bloch finishes, “The Opener of the Way”, and Bloch’s 1959 Hugo Award winning “That Hell-Bound Train”.

Published in 1994 with a print run of 2,400 but is widely available.  In all 514 pages of simply great writing, great twists, great chills and great fun.

Number 4: “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson. The only novel I have chosen, but if I were left with one novel on a dessert island this is it. Shirley Jackson is our most underrated writer next to Mary Shelley (coincidence?) and Shirley Jackson is one of our scariest.

The Haunting of Hill House was a National Book Award finalist in 1960 losing to Philip Roth’s Good-bye Columbus; the thing is Jackson’s novel is clearly the most important novel for its genre in the 20th century. If you don’t believe me, just ask Damon Knight and Stephen King.

Need I say more?

This is the quintessential haunted house story; the greatest ghost novel of the 20th century and a book that should be required to be a part of every horror writer’s and horror fan’s library.

Number 3: “Keller Memento: 25 Years of Short Stories” by David H. Keller. More early pulp writings, this time from Dr. David H. Keller, M.D. best known for “The Thing In The Cellar”.

Writing from the 1920s forward Dr. Keller, a psychiatrist, was one of the first to polish the psychological element of terror. In short, his concepts are brilliant and his plots were way ahead of their time.

An enormous THANK YOU goes out to Fender Tucker and Ramble House Books for bringing Keller’s tales back into the light. Check out Ramble House and buy this and many other books.

Number 2: “The Hunger and Other Stories” by Charles Beaumont. We all know Beaumont is on my Mount Rushmore of writers. This was his first collection of short stories; some published, many more not published before.

I devoted an entire column to Beaumont and ‘The Twilight Zone’. Nothing more for me to say here except you can purchase this masterpiece of eerie horror on Amazon.

Just go buy it after I tell you my number one.

Number 1: Tales of Soldiers and Civilians by Ambrose Bierce. Published in 1891 this book more than any other has shaped my writing. Published in 1891 this volume is still considered a work of art despite the fact that numerous publishers passed on it. Twenty six stories that broke many rules of fiction and characterization vaulting literature into a modern age. While the Civil War is the backdrop to this volume, Bierce has written the definitive book on war and horror, as well as their convergence. While the stories are separate they are essentially one and they are each timeless.

Notable here are “Chickamauga”, “A Horseman In The Sky”, “A Watcher By The Dead”, and the immortal “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge”.

This volume is one of the most important books ever written and published anywhere. I make that statement with a clear and discerning mind and with no attempt at hyperbole.

And I have an honorable mention involving a book I have just read which can be slotted anywhere in this list but requires mentioning:

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers was published in 1905 and its impact has been as enormous as Bierce’s work on both the war and horror. Containing ten tales, the first four of which are tied together by a fictional play titled “The King in Yellow”, again we find a seminal base for supernatural fiction and a book cited by H. P. Lovecraft as essential.

This book is moody, creepy and not hyped.   


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