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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

50 Best Horror Books of All Time via Esquire and Comments on Diversifying Your Lists

Click here to enter the list via Esquire's webiste

Normally, when main stream magazines do a list of Horror books, I roll my eyes before diving in and I predictably, end up disappointed. But this time, I had high hopes because friend of the blog and podcaster, Neil McRobert did his list of the 50 Best Horror Books of All Time for Esquire Magazine and it is awesome. 

Last October, I invited McRobert to participate in my 31 Days of Horror: Why I Love Horror series. McRobert has the top notch Talking Scared Podcast and holds a PhD in Gothic Literature. He has spent years studying Horror as a scholar, yes, but he is also a fan. Click here to see McRobert's appearance on my blog and learn more about him. 

Anytime someone posts a best list of any kind, there are going to be haters. In this case, I saw some criticism that this list has too much of a recency bias. But I loved that recency bias for a couple of reason and applaud McRobert for it.

First, and the most important part for libraries, the recently bias of this list means you can be assured that these are titles that will be enjoyed by today's readers. I loved that about this list. Yes there were a few old classics, but it is focused on what books a general Horror reader today would most connect with and enjoy. This is VERY important both because the venue is a mass market magazine, not a Horror specific publication, and because as a library worker, you can check your shelves for these titles [most of which you already have], add those you are missing, and most importantly, promote them to your general readers. This is a list you can use anytime of year, not just to target Horror readers. It is a list for everyone who wants to feel the fear, even if just a little. This is not for Horror fans; it is for readers [full stop]. 

This is also a list that you can build a display from today! And Add a QR code to access the list. Or post it on your website. Even better, if you have Esquire in your print or digital magazine collection, use this list to promote that holding and increase circulation on it as well.

Second, by giving his list a recency bias, McRobert's list is not only white men. This is a diverse list of excellent Horror. Many "best" list makers use the fact that the "classics" were from a time when only white males published in order to argue for why their lists are not diverse. This is not an  acceptable excuse any longer.. Making sure our best lists represent marginalized voices is more important than anything. As I say frequently, classics change. Not only do people not want to read many books that are 100 years old anymore, but they also need to see an established genre in a modern light where all voices are represented. Because of systemic oppression, we only have the voices of non-white males from a more recent time. That is a societal problem that people  who make these best lists can actively help  to fix.

In the introduction to the list, McRobert mentions that there are some big names missing and says straight up something I wanted to point out:

"Certain big names are missing ...because their books tread ground better travelled by others."

I think a great example of this on the list is including Victor LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom over the Lovecraft original it is based upon. LaValle's excellent novella is a rewrite of Lovecraft's most racist story. "The Horror at Red Hook." As I said here, in this novella it is as if LaValle is giving Lovecraft a hug and the middle finger at the same time. It is brilliant classic for today's readers.

Kudos to McRobert for being willing to consider the contributions of systemically marginalized voices and judge them by the quality of their work, not the era in which they were published.

I also have two observations from my point of view. Not really criticisms but just points I wanted to make about the list.

  1. Anyone who listens to McRobert's podcast knew that IT by Stephen King was going to hold the number 1 spot on his list. He is unapologetic about his love for this book and I applaud that. It would not be my number 1 but I do love consistency. Also, you have got to own your biases when you do these lists. I would have been disappointed if a list by McRobert did NOT have IT number one.
  2. As much as I love the addition of more marginalized voices here, we also have to work to keep hateful humans and their books out of our lists. This is the other side of the anti-racist RA Service coin that must work in tandem with diversifying our lists on order for any progress to be made. It would be hard to argue that The Terror by Dan Simmons is NOT one of the best Horror books; however, he is a horrible human being. Click here for a sampling of reasons and examples. I have stopped supporting him in anyway. I left any mention of him out of my book, even choosing to not include him in my lists of important Horror authors of the late 20th Century-- which he most definitely was. This choice is a glaring omission, and that is 100% the point. By not including him, I make people think about why he was omitted. Clearly, if you read my book, it is clear I know my stuff, so his omission forces you to ask, why he isn't there. I would have replaced The Terror on principle with my favorite recent Horror book from that era, The Ruins by Scott Smith. 
But those are small quibbles. This is an excellent list, one that is especially useful for library workers. I hope you check it out and use it sometime soon for a display. Don't wait until October, these are excellent year round reads.

And finally, big props to McRobert. Going out on a limb to make a list of the best of anything is a brave activity. I know, I have done it many times. He did a great job.

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