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Friday, August 28, 2009

Horror Backlist...Starring Jaws

'Jaws' book cover 200
NPR does a recurring series of authors talking about their favorite guilty pleasure reads. Recently memoirist Lizzie Skurnick wrote about how much she loves Peter Benchley's Jaws. Click here for a transcript of the essay.

Of course the horror maven that I marketed to be part of me did a flip for joy reading this essay, but the general RA librarian part of me also was excited about how Skurnick is reaching into the backlist to pull out a great read. And if you have not read it, let me tell you, Jaws is a great book.

I am in the research phase of working on the second edition of my horror reference book for ALA and one of the points this essay made me think about is how relevant the backlist is for horror readers. For example, even though Anne Rice hasn't written a horror book in years, I get at least a question a week about her. I still give out Dracula 6-10 times a year, and the Dean Koontz and Stephen King backlists alone would keep most of our readers happy for a year or two.

The horror backlist is a treasure trove of great reads, and there are always new, young readers to discover these great titles. Just about every young reader (especially the accelerated readers) goes through a horror reading phase, so these backlist gems are a great place to lead younger readers.

Although other genres like thrillers, romance, and suspense may be more popular, I do not find the backlist for these genres to be very popular. These genres attract readers to the newest titles and series, but the older ones languish on our shelves. Mystery would be another example like horror in which the backlist is just as popular as the newest titles. For example, I put Agatha Christie and PD James books in people's hands on a regualr basis.

As horror is moving closer to the mainstream, and, as mainstream books are adding horror elements at a record pace, more readers are seeking out books to hold them over until their favorite authors come out with new titles. Pointing these readers to some great horror novels from the past will make everyone happy.

In order to help get you started, here are a few of my picks (besides Jaws) for horror backlist titles that are still "great reads." This is not by any means a comprehensive list, rather, it is here to get you started roaming the stacks at you local library looking for great horror reads that are available without putting your name on the reserve list. These are books that should also be easily available at your public library.
  • The Shining (1977) by Stephen King is still the best haunted house story out there. But a close second is Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

  • Twlight and Sookie Stackhouse may be all the rage at your library right now, but have you read Carmilla (1872) by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu? This Gothic vampire novel predates Dracula by 25 years, is more fun to read. Too old school for you? Go straight to the vampire novel that started the current phase of today's sympathetic, broodingly handsome vampires, Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976).
  • Read anything by H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe. I don't think I need to say more here. Each semester I introduce at least one student to these classic authors' twisted worlds, and they have yet to disappoint even the most jaded 21st-century reader.
  • Like a little bit of pseudo-science thrown in with your horror to make it a bit more believable? Try the coming of age techno-thriller Watchers (1987) by Dean Koontz. However, if you are more adventurous, get your hands on Donovan's Brain (1942) by Curt Siodmak, which went back into print after Stephen King mentioned it as one of his all time favorite horror novels. Donovan's Brain is a terrifying tale of one scientist's quest to keep a human brain alive outside of a human body.
Happy reading! You may need to keep a night light on.

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