I've conceded in the past that I am not as well read as I would like to be. It's the cross I bear as a man who wasted too many years in his teens and twenties treating books as some kind of target for my derision. I'm reading now, however, and it's like rediscovering a treasure you can't imagine why you ever abandoned in the first place.
I keep coming back to horror stories in my reading, though I cast a wide net when looking for reading material. I may have started off by reading The Dark Half by Stephen King, but I've indulged in the works of Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Elmore Leonard, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, E. Anne Proulx, Frederick Pohl, Ed Gorman, J.K. Rowling, Alice Sebold, and others. Even now, I'm casting my net even wider to check out the works of newer authors like Cassandra Clare and Jaye Wells.
But, let's stick with the horror novel for now. I've got some favorites I'd like to share. My favorite five, as it were. I'm sure this list will change as I read more and more novels, but I don't think there's anything shameful about the way the list shapes up at present.
#5: The Dark Half by Stephen King – This is a sentimental pick of sorts. I can't even remember who gave me the book, but I was looking for a King novel back then, to get my feet wet, and this is what I got. A writer has "buried" his pseudonym persona in a promotional setting, but soon finds his life turned upside down when the alter ego he used for his darker writing comes to life and starts killing people. Things don't help his cause any when the mysterious killer bares a striking resemblance to our famous author—right down to the fingerprints. The whole tale culminates with a showdown between the tormented writer and his "dark half" who wants to get back to writing his masterpiece.
#4: The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker – This was the first novel of Barker's I had a chance to read, and I was not disappointed. There are moments when it feels like you're reading poetry with this guy. This epic of a novel centers on two eternal forces struggling for dominance, and wreaking having on each and every life they touch in the process. To think this grand tale starts off in a dingy little mailroom is noteworthy to me, because the story sweeps through so many settings of ever-growing grandeur, you have to really appreciate the scope of it all. I did at any rate. With one novel, I became a fan of Clive Barker.
#3: Watchers by Dean Koontz – I've read a few Dean Koontz novels, and I must be honest, his fiction is hit-or-miss with me. Velocity is a great tale of a serial killer, but Sole Survivor didn't interest me in the slightest. And, those Odd Thomas is shaping up to becoming my favorite Koontz novel yet, Watchers takes the prize for now ... and with a super-intelligent dog, no less. The premise as a simple logline might seem cheesy and ripe with clichés, but it's really a very intense novel. And, the monster in the story is tremendous.
#2: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – Okay, this technically qualifies as a novella while the others in this list are full-length novels. Cut me a little slack. This is an amazing story. Forget The Omega Man and forget Will Smith. Those films may be good, but this one-hundred-plus page story about a lone man against a horde of ravenous vampires is a classic by all accounts. I saw both of the movies before I ever got around to reading Matheson's work. While I enjoyed both films, I wonder if I might be as forgiving for the interpretations and creative license by the directors if I had read the novella first.
#1: Cell by Stephen King – When my sister recommended this novel to me, the title was an instant turn-off. I did not enjoy the movie of the same name, and while I realized at the time the two stories were in no way related, I despised the idea of cellular phones being used as a plot device. One Missed Call is testament to that, as far as I'm concerned. However, I ended up adoring this story more than any other King tale I've had the pleasure to read. Forget the title, it's not important. What's at the heart of this story is the consistently eery and terrifying atmosphere the characters go through, as they to survive a world that's literally gone mad. What's more, this is one of the few pieces of literature, film, or music to bring an actual tear to my eye. It's the only horror novel to accomplish that, so that must mean something. If you're curious what scene got my tear ducts to squeeze out a little moisture, I'll simply say it was the point when one of the characters dies a very slow and heart-wrenching death. This was a home run, without a doubt.
Five more on my to-be-read list: The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum; The Ideal, Genuine Man by Don Robertson; Everville by Clive Barker; Red Dragon by Thomas Harris; The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Five more on my wish list: The Shining by Stephen King; Hell House by Richard Matheson; Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber; The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff; Ghoul by Brian Keene