Stephen On My Mind: My May 2023 Reading List

Ever since binge reading The Only Good Indians in one day, I have been a fan of Stephen Graham Jones. When someone said “You should read My Heart is a Chainsaw next,” I did! So it only made sense to have an SGJ themed month for my reading list. So, like with my Grady Hendrix themed reading list from March, I’ve ordered the Stephen Graham Jones books from this month from least to most favourite.

Growing up Dead in Texas:

Although I am a fan of non-fiction and enjoy reading the occasional memoir, this one didn’t really do it for me. Jones’ writing style is wonderful, and I appreciated that he portrays himself as an unreliable narrator in this story. But overall, I’d say this book was just okay. I enjoyed some of the stories about Jones’ life in Texas, but others never quite caught my attention and left my mind wandering as I listened to the audiobook.

Demon Theory: In theory (pun intended), I should have enjoyed this book more. In practice, not so much. I think part of the problem is that I listened to the audiobook when reading words on a page might have given me the experience I wanted.

As someone who has studied film and theatre, I thought having this horror “trilogy” portrayed as a screenplay was a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, the audiobook did not come across as a script being read (like in a radio play) so I feel as if I missed out on some of the impact and formatting on the page that would have added to the experience. The stories got messy and it was hard for me to keep track of all of the stereotypical characters and campy moments.

This book would make a great movie or tv series though.

Night of the Mannequins: This story was not at all what I expected it to be. I expected a hoard of killer mannequins. Instead, I got a delightfully unreliable narrator.

Although I didn’t get the nightmare fuel I was hoping for, I enjoyed the story more than I thought I would when I first realized the plot was going to be much more different than I expected. My main complaint, however, is that I would have loved more fear and violence. And maybe even a bit more confusion surrounding the narrator’s reliability. At one point, it became a bit too obvious that his word was not to be trusted.

Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Without reading the book description at all (sometimes I like to go in blind), I was expecting a non-fiction response to the original Men, Women, and Chainsaws I read earlier in the year. In a way, this was exactly that – just not non-fiction.

Using all the classic tropes of the horror genre as outlined in Clover’s book of the same name, Jones tells a campy tale of love, death, and revenge. It was a quick read, and a silly read, but I truly appreciate Jones’ love for and knowledge of the slasher genre.

Attack of the 50 Foot Indian: Speaking of silly reads… This short story references an older genre of horror film and does so in a hilarious way. The 50 Foot Indian is all the classic massive movie monsters rolled into one while also serving as a metaphor for the way indigenous peoples have been treated by the colonizers.

This story is both funny and smart, and totally worth a re-read in the future.

Don’t Fear the Reaper: (Beware mini spoilers)

The second installment in The Indian Lake Trilogy was an absolute must for this month’s reading list and scored high for me simply because I think Jade Daniels might be one of my favourite horror heroines. This reluctant Final Girl is not only a compelling character, but a clear representation of Jones’ obsession with all things slasher.

Between this and the first book, I still think My Heart is a Chainsaw is my favourite. The story in this sequel is not quite as strong for me, and got just plain ridiculous by the end when I realized how many killers were working their way through the town. That being said, I still appreciated all of the crazy deaths and gruesome moments that came from this chaotic carnage.

Mongrels: This was the unexpected winner for me. The Only Good Indians is still my favourite book by Stephen Graham Jones, but Mongrels is a close second because of how moved I was by it.

This werewolf coming of age story made me feel so many emotions all at once. I was happy, sad, amused, uncomfortable. This isn’t a scary horror story, but there are moments that inspire fear.

All of the characters are well developed, and the episodic story structure is unique and intriguing. Even when I was upset by something I had read and wanted to put the book down I couldn’t.

Although there are undoubtedly more Stephen Graham Jones stories out there, that’s all I had in my collection, so I had to add some other books by other authors to hit my reading goals for the month.

Bad Cree by Jessica Johns: I added this novel to the list because I felt like reading something by another Indigenous author would fit into the theme. Whereas Jones’ work is all about slashers and classic horror tropes, Johns’ novel focuses more on Indigenous folklore/mythology and the bonds between women.

And on a personal note, I’m a sucker for Wendigo/Weetigo stories. Obviously, I was a big fan of this one. There’s just something about that particular creature that I find works so well with the horror genre on so many levels. There was physical and emotional horror present here and I could not be happier. I binge read this in about 2 days. I could have done it in 1 if life/responsibilities hadn’t gotten in the way!

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu: This short story collection was added to the list because it was a new purchase I was dying to read, and on Goodreads it showed up as another title I might enjoy after reading Bad Cree.

Although I wouldn’t technically classify these stories as horror, many of them are certainly horror adjacent. These stories go to dark places, and some of them sit right on the cusp of pure horror/terror. In fact, moments of “June Bugs” reminded me of my own short story “Silver.”

Re-reading the table of contents, it’s hard to pick a favourite from the collection. At the moment, I’m leaning towards “Sandman”, but that could easily change if I spend more time over-thinking it.

Decoding Cats: Inside the Feline Mind by Kristyn Vitale:

This is the only one that doesn’t fit the theme of the month. After Max passed away, I need something a little less intense for my audiobook listening. And since the other three cats were going through a bout of depression, I was hopeful this installment of Audible’s The Great Courses would provide some insight.

Although I did learn some new things from this virtual lecture series, a lot of it was information I already possessed simply from living in a multi-cat household. However, if you’re new to cat parenthood or unfamiliar with cats and looking to learn more, this is a great audiobook for beginners.

The book’s main point of focus is training your cats, but also deals a lot with cat behaviour and personality types. Learning more about the sub-categories of cat personality types and reward preferences was the most interesting and helpful for me.

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