Monday, October 1, 2018

Paperbacks from Hell

There was a horror boom in mass market paperbacks that ran from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s.  The origins of the boom can be seen in the mainstream success of Rosemary's Baby (1967) by Ira Levin, The Other (1971) by Thomas Tryon, and The Exorcist (1971) by William Peter Blatty. These books were filmed in 1968, 1972, and 1973 respectively. Stephen King came along with Carrie in 1974 (paperbacked in 1975), but it wasn't until The Shining (1977), The Stand (1978) and The Dead Zone (1979) were becoming bestsellers that the floodgates really opened. For the next decade or so, horror as a publishing category was in boom. 

Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix chronicles those years, and is profusely illustrated with covers from the books published during that period.  Most of the cover art is decidedly cheesy, and Hendrix's text is often snarky, and one wishes he wrote more about the literary merit (or lack thereof) of more of these books, for among the cheesiest of covers there hides a number of worthy books that didn't deserve to be marketed the way they were.

But the comments and descriptions are still often helpful, especially when it spells out for me the quality and content of certain authors and books that, for whatever reason, I decided not to read in those years. Though tempted by some of the titles back then, in virtually every instance I find from Hendrix's comments that I'm better off not having read those books. This is a matter of interests and aesthetics, not of quality.  Occasionally Hendrix's commentary borders on too glib, but there is a lot to think about while reading this book, and I'm glad to have done so.

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