Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction – Grady Hendrix

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror FictionPaperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw Grady Hendrix on a convention panel, was immediately captivated by the thought of all the things I didn’t know about horror fiction, and then entered (and won) a giveaway for this book. It took me a year and a half to read it, picking it up and putting it down as my desire to study the subject waxed and waned. It’s a lot to take in all at once, but it makes for a great bed- or couch-side read.

The text is tightly-written, witty and smart, devoting time to the subgenres of horror as they rise and fall, the books themselves and their writers, the cover artists so rarely named or lauded for their work, strung along a thread of the boom and bust of the publishing houses putting all these books into the hands of the masses. That anecdotal balancing act kept the book from feeling repetitive (“oh, and then this novel, and then this one, and this one . . .”). It delivered what was promised: a history of the books, their stories, cultural context, and the business and people behind and around them.

You may walk away from this book with a reading list to keep you busy for years. You may, like me, enjoy knowing more about that period of horror fiction and its echoes down the years than feel any great desire to read the greatest hits of decades past. I didn’t get really excited and start looking up authors and books until I got to the last section, about the psychological and genre-crossing horror of the early nineties under Dell’s short-lived Abyss imprint, edited by Jeanne Cavelos. If nothing else about this book appeals to you, it makes a great coffee table book for the wealth of full-color cover images, ranging from stark and iconic to bizarre and lurid.

I recommend this to anyone discovering (or re-discovering) an interest in horror fiction who isn’t quite sure what parts of the horror spectrum appeal to them. This book is also wonderful for anyone who enjoys knowing the history of genres and publishing, or just wants to read clever and sarcastic essay-reviews about older books.

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