Classic American Horror
What is about that the horror genre that beguiles us? Is it a fascination with the unknown or is it a delight in the senses that accompany fright? I was enthralled by this genre at an early age. Who among us remembers Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Regardless of our motivation, there are many books that inspire a love of chillers; here are a few American classics that will keep you peering under your bed at night.
To understand the roots of the horror genre, what better figure to turn to than literary mastermind Edgar Allen Poe? Readers may enjoy The Portable Edgar Allen Poe, an anthology that includes Poe's poetry and prose. However, true fans should also examine Poe-land: the hallowed haunts of Edgar Allen Poe by J.W. Ocker for a true multi-faceted perspective. The text blends the author's body of work with cultural fascination surrounding Poe to examine the allure that this figure has historically presented.
Readers should also turn to Shirley Jackson's novel, The Haunting of Hill House. While they may more aptly remember Jackson's short story, The Lottery for its chilling account of small town life, The Haunting of Hill House - which was a finalist for the National Book award - illustrates a complex psychological portrayal of a group that comes to know true terror when they visit a seemingly innocent home.
The undisputed king (no pun intended) of the horror genre is Stephen King - this prolific writer has penned 54 novels, including seven under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. I admit to being slightly obsessed with his texts as a young adult, my favorites being It and Misery. I have never looked at a shower drain in quite the same way after also watching the movie. It's hard to choose among his works, considering the rich characterization and themes that dominate his stories. Readers who are new to the horror genre may like some of King's short story collections instead like Skeleton Crew or Night Shift which will allow one to read bursts of horror at a time.
Truman Capote revolutionized the non-fiction field with his work In Cold Blood, although this true crime work shares overtones with horror for its unflinching portrayal of the Herbert Clutter family murder in the late 1950's. To this day, Truman's work is only out-published by Vincent Bugliosi's book Helter Skelter (1974). Recent fare, such as The Devil in the White City: murder, magic, madness at the fair that changed America by Erik Larson has received positive acclaim. Based on the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, Larson's text portrays aspects of the city's history including a chilling account of the hotel constructed by the infamous doctor H.H. Holmes.
But sometimes true crime can be a bit much to handle for even the most hardened readers. A book that combines sci-fi or fantasy elements allows one to distance themselves a bit from the text. Although thought provoking, Cormac McCarthy's book The Road features terrifying moments that defines the dystopian narrative. The Fireman by Joe Hill promises to be another gut-wrenching book to add to your reading list: combining elements of a mass plague with small town hysteria, Hill's text is compelling and fast-moving.
But of course, for true horror aficionados, books complement a love across various media. Try Reel terror: the scary, bloody, gory, hundred-year history of classic horror films by David Konow to find your next fantastic feature - or at least give you good talking points when someone asks you who is George Romero. Don't forget to check out Broadcast hysteria: Orson Welles's war of the worlds and the art of fake news by A. Brad Schwartz; not only is the subject matter timely, but it also dwells on horror films' early roots - the radio - and more specifically the impact of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast.