No, it’s not a review of the news this year, but rather looking back over what I’ve read over the past 12 months.
I am a horror film fan, but since my late teens I haven’t really read much horror. I’m not sure why, there was probably some genre-snobbery applied to books that I didn’t hold for movies. Maybe I associated it with youth and now I was a Grown Up Adult, I should read literary fiction. And, to be fair to my past self, I wanted to expand reading tastes, understand the appeal (or otherwise) of classics, struggle with some ‘difficult’ books and generally develop those reading muscles. But over the past few years I’ve been much more content to simply read for pleasure, although those years of literature mean I can’t abide any sloppy writing.
So, at the start of 2022, I decided this was the year I would revisit horror. I signed up for Kindle Unlimited, joined the Facebook Books of Horror group, looked through GoodReads recommendations and set off. And what a great year it’s been! I read 108 books, of which 83 were horror, the rest being a mixture of crime and non-fiction. Here are some thoughts and highlights.
Finding your sub-sub-genre and preferences is important. Anything goes in horror, and there are categories such as extreme and splatterpunk which hold no interest for me. There are also many elements I don’t like in books – animal torture, sexual violence, etc. I found that I veered towards haunted house, monster, literary and cozy horror. However, one of the things I’ve appreciated from the Facebook group is that no judgement is passed on another’s taste. It is a broad church, and I think all horror fans have experienced their tastes being derided, so they tend to be very accepting of others.
There is a sub-sub-sub-genre for whatever you want. I went on holiday for a week to the coast and decided to read Lighthouse themed horror. Of course there was a wide range to choose from. Similarly I went on a riff around monsters from the deep, creepy forests and urban myths. People put in VERY specific requests to the Facebook group, and there are always a ton of recommendations.
Lots of men are very bad at writing sex. Oh my God. Maybe they’re deliberately writing for the target audience of 14 year old boys, but I DNFd (Did Not Finish) a few otherwise well written books when it got to sex scenes which you felt were more about the adolescent desires of the author than for the plot. It’s not a guarantee of course, but women tend to be better at writing this, and also, just not bothering to shoehorn it in when not required.
There are lots more women writers than there used to be (although Shirley Jackson was always the absolute pinnacle of horror fiction), but I still found it to be male dominated. You could happily read only women authors though if you wanted, and probably my go-to writer for always reliable quality was Darcy Coates.
There is a thriving, and well supported independent book industry. If you go into your local Waterstones, there may only be half a shelf devoted to horror, of which 80% will be Stephen King and the others will be Vampire love stories. But through groups like the Facebook one and Goodreads, there are very well received and successful horror authors publishing through small independent presses. The influence of reviewers and support from the internet audience creates a completely different perspective than the one you would gain from mainstream retail. This year books like Stolen Tongues, Hex, Hidden Pictures and the Exorcist’s House all benefitted enormously from this word of mouth endorsement.
Here’s ten of my favourites that I read this year:
- My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones
- Mexican Gothic – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Horrorstor – Grady Hendrix
- Wakenhyrst – Michelle Paver
- The Fisherman – John Langam
- Seed – Ania Ahlborn
- The Ritual – Adam Nevill
- From Below – Darcy Coates
- The Hunger – Alma Katsu
- Chainsaw Confidential – Gunnar Hansen
So, let’s hear for it diving deep into genre fiction and still only touching the surface.