Given my love for vintage novels of all kinds, you can imagine my reaction when I saw that vintage font peeping at me on Netgalley with its classic Gothic serifs, and red-black contrast. It looked exactly like a horror novel from the late 70s/early 80s. "What on Earth is that?" my inner book goblin cried. "I must have the precious!"
It turned out to be a meta-book published by Grady Hendrix, the author of Horrorstör. PAPERBACKS FROM HELL is a celebration of horror from its early days to the 90s. It contains bite-sized reviews from his favorites - or at least the most memorable - discusses the game-changers and front-runners in the various sub-genres of horror (e.g. Gothic romance, vampire novels, splatterpunk, serial killer books, haunted houses, etc.), has beautiful, high-quality pictures of some of the cover art (and even goes into some of the more notable arists themselves), and is basically a celebration of the creepy and the wyrd.
I expected it to be good, since it was published by Quirk Books and I've liked 90% of everything of theirs I've read, but I wasn't expecting this book to be this good. Some of these meta-books can be pretentious, but PAPERBACKS FROM HELL was just pure fun. Finally, someone who gets the ironic, self-indulgent pleasure of indulging in the ridiculously dated and ridiculously fun books of yesteryear! He even gives a nod to bodice rippers, when discussing Gothic romances.
OBVIOUSLY my favorite sections were the Gothic/vampire romance sections and the sections on teen horror, because those two niches are my jam and I will spread them as thickly on toast as I can until the bread tears (or until I run out of shelf space). Crummy metaphor (ha - toast, get it?); let's just say that there's a genre of horror that I like and there's genres of horror that I don't like.
HOWEVER, even though not all of these horror novels are my cups of tea, Hendrix made me want to revisit the genre. I used to read exclusively horror when I was a teen - Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz - THE DARKER THE BETTER, I thought! Until I started having nightmares all the time...and at fourteen became briefly too traumatized to stand too near the shower drain (or the sink) after reading IT. After that, I started to tone it down.
His enthusiasm and the amazing cover art would make this a must-read on their own, but the content is also great and I feel like he brings fresh insight and humor to the genre that is just extra. If you're a fan of horror at all, you should pick this up. It might bulk up your to-read list, but that's ok, right?
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars