Real And Horrific: My January Reading List

My goal for 2023 is to only read horror and horror adjacent works in order to help me improve my own horror writing (and to learn more about my comp titles, of course). Since gaining access to my husband’s Audible account, that his increased the number of books that I can get through. No longer am I struggling through motion sickness on the bus, fighting to get a book read. When I’m out and about, it’s audiobooks only. And when I’m safe and stationary at home, I work my way through my physical books and ebooks.

Since developing this system, I’ve been reading about 2 to 3 books at a time – one audiobook, one physical book, and one ebook. Honestly, I think the last time I had more than one book on the go was during my Masters when I had a list of books to read for each class. The last time I had multiple books going at the same time for pleasure was in elementary school. It feels real nice to be reading this much again.

Although I hadn’t planned on it, most of the books I read in January were non-fiction titles. They certainly helped me towards my goal of learning more about the horror genre. And, thanks to a number of these books, I ended up with more fiction titles to add to my reading list. Some of them are even included with my Audible membership so I can start reading/listening to them right away!

I love listening to autobiographies read by the subject themselves. Between my enjoyment of Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi films, and my love of the Evil Dead franchise (yes, I have an Evil Dead tattoo) I knew this was one autobiography I had to get my hands on. In the opening chapters, Campbell mentions that he does not like traditional autobiographies that are all about the actor. And although parts of the book were about his personal life, much of the book focused on the behind-the-scenes of acting and movie making. Between my studies in theatre and film, and my past acting experience, this was fascinating! If you’re contemplating getting into the movie business, I highly recommend giving this book a read. And if you’re an Evil Dead fan like me, the multiple chapters describing the making of the original film are totally worth it.

I’ve heard the stories about this one – about how both book and movie are not that great. After reading it, I can confirm that this is most definitely not Stephen King’s strongest work. What’s disappointing is that some of the scenes and passages were so well done, but that didn’t carry out throughout the novel. It took me so long to get into this one, and after one great scene I was hopeful the book was going to pick up. Not a chance. Good scenes were bookended but not-so-good ones. And the outdated and cringy depictions and descriptions of Duddits were uncomfortable to read. From the language used, this dates the novel as a product of its time, but that does not make it any easier to read. I’m still tempted to watch the movie though, just to see how bad it really is. Why do I enjoy suffering like this?

I got really excited when I found The Great Courses series on Audible because there are a lot of interesting lectures, and listening to them reminds me of my days of academia. I always loved being in school, so listening to these is a nice way to get that school experiences without the student debt and the stress. Although this particular lecture didn’t teach me a whole lot that I didn’t already know, it was still interesting and gave me so great recommendations for my to-read and to-watch list.

This one is, by far, my favourite of The Great Courses. Jortner’s lecture series was predominantly history based, and went through key moments and time periods in American history, showing how the culture, beliefs, and events influenced horror. This is a side of the genre I adore. Learning about the socio-political influences on stories and pop culture is of great interest to me, especially because I myself am an example of that. Sometimes without meaning to, my stories are influenced by the pandemic and the current housing market/crisis. This is one lecture series I wouldn’t mind listening to again.

First of all, this book is gorgeous and I am thrilled to have a physical copy of it in my collection. A unique retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” this slow burn horror story delivers my favourite kind of zombie: mushroom zombies (and yes, I am watching The Last of Us). Although it was a tad over played, and sometimes clumsily handled, I also enjoyed how this story explored gender. I honestly can’t recall reading about any other explicitly non-binary characters in a horror story before. I feel that certain elements of the plot could have been developed further, but overall this was a fun and spooky read that I binged in one sitting.

I listened to the audiobook because it was included in my Audible membership at no extra cost, but I soon realized my error. There are many passages about cover art and, well, you can’t see the artwork when reading an audiobook. I’ve yet to come across a physical copy in the wild, so I don’t actually know if there are pictures in the book, but I would assume that is the case (don’t ask me why I haven’t Googled that information yet). Overall, this book was really just a list of titles to add to my reading list as there was not a whole lot of in-depth analysis going on, but it was interesting to learn about the trends in 70s and 80s horror stories.

This lecture series is similar in style to “American Monsters” although not quite as riveting. Scott’s lectures are informative and interesting for sure, but it always feels like there’s something missing. And maybe it’s because I’ve already read up on wolves and werewolves in pop culture, but not all of this came across as new and exciting information for me. It wasn’t bad, but this might be the most forgettable of The Great Courses for me.

After reading What Moves the Dead, it only felt right that I should learn more about Edgar Allan Poe. As Mark Canada mentions, many have studied Poe’s work in school, and many of his works have modern adaptations (including Simpsons episodes). So of course not everything here was new information, but it was still well presented. And I did feel like I had learned something by the end of the series. The main problem, however, is that Canada wastes a bit too much time flaunting his credentials and explaining why he is the perfect person to deliver these lectures.

I love non-fiction, I love horror, and I love Stephen King. So this should have been a great read. Until a few essays in when I thought, “Wait, I think I read this one already… Like 5 years ago.” That’s right – this essay collection was so forgettable for me that I forgot I already read it. It’s kind of for the best, though. Back when I first read it, I did not recognize all of the names of the contributors, like Ramsey Campbell. So I thought why not keep reading and see if I get anything new out of this book now that I’ve got more experience with the horror genre. The essays are a mix of the good, the bad, and the academic, but unfortunately a second read through just didn’t give me the exciting new perspective on horror and King that I hoped it would.

This was bad. Hands down the worst book I read all month, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the worst of 2023. I only added it to my library because the title and short run time caught my eye, and it was included with my Audible membership and no extra cost. That’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back. Although the premise of horrors and fears coming to life at a slumber party was certainly interesting, I found the story to be poorly written and poorly presented. And the continued obsession with Harry Potter just felt cringey – even if Rowling wasn’t proving to be a terrible person, the constant fixation on the wizarding world still would have felt out of place in this mess of a story.

I’ll be the first to admit that a large part of the horror stories in my collection are from male authors. The big names in horror right now are mostly male, so it’s hard to ignore. As a woman writing horror, this book was an absolute must for me. Not only was it inspirational, but I learned of a lot more authors and titles I could be adding to my TBR to diversify my collection and reading list. It was also interesting to see how many of these female authors I had and hadn’t already heard of. Thankfully, a number of the books mentioned are either already on my reading list, or I read them years ago. This book is what my 2023 reading goals are all about, and reading it has forced me to prioritize some books over others. I have always supported female writers, in horror and other genres, but after reading this history of horror fiction I feel that I will be more aggressive in that support.

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