Friday, November 02, 2007

HORROR: 100 BEST BOOKS edited by Stephen Jones & Kim Newman

The Book: Stephen Jones & Kim Newman, editors; HORROR: 100 Best Books. Xanadu, 1988 (first edition). Signed by Stephen Jones and 11 of the book's contributors: Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, Dennis Etchison, F. Paul Wilson, John Skipp, Brian Lumley, John Farris, David J. Schow, Peter Straub, David Morrell, Ed Bryant
First read: 2005
Owned since: 2005

This book is in my top ten list of Best Christmas Presents Ever, a gift from an author friend that I didn't pick up from the post office until January 2005 (so I suppose, technically, I've owned it since December 2004, but the book was not in my possession until the calendar changed).

I am not the easiest person to buy for, and it's especially difficult to give me books. This book hit the jackpot. It's British, so I was unfamiliar with it; it's all about a genre I feel a little guilty about loving; it recommends dozens of books I've never read, and several I'd never even heard of; and it's one big LIST, and we all know how much I love lists.

Its format is brilliant: 100 short essays about the 100 greatest horror novels of all time, written by the biggest names in the genre. Not all of the essays were written for this collection; the book includes Edgar Allan Poe's review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales (he liked it) and M. R. James on LeFanu's Uncle Silas.

Essays are arranged chronologically by publication of the recommended book, beginning with Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (discussed by Clive Barker) and ending with Dark Feasts by Ramsey Campbell, reviewed by Jack Sullivan. Along the way are a few surprises, books one might not think of as horror: Kafka's The Trial; Golding's Lord of the Flies; Kosinski's The Painted Bird; John Gardner's Grendel.

I was humbled by what a relatively small percentage of these books I'd read (I think it was 20 when I got the book; it's 25 now), but it's wonderful to have this list on days when I think that I've already read everything I ever wanted to.

What I Read This Week

Philip Zimbardo, THE LUCIFER EFFECT: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. It's horror, but it's not fiction. Dr. Zimbardo, a social psychologist, created the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which showed just how quickly "normal" people could become sadists, given an environment that encouraged or just enabled that behavior. This book gives a minute-by-minute report of that experiment, and goes on to discuss other instances of unthinkable, apparently inexplicable brutality, from the Rwandan genocide to Abu Ghraib. Zimbardo's thesis -- which, based on the evidence here, is inarguable -- is that we are all capable of this behavior, and not one of us has any right to feel safe or smug or self-righteous. Thank God, he also talks about the heroes that emerge in these situations, and what it takes to set oneself against mass movements of evil. It's a hard, hard read, in more ways than one -- the prison experiment narrative, in particular, was originally written as an academic paper, and still reads that way -- but everybody needs to read this book. Everybody.

Linda Fairstein, BAD BLOOD. Linda Fairstein is one of my heroes -- someone who has set herself against evil throughout her career -- but I wish she had a better editor. Assistant D.A. Alexandra Cooper's prosecution of a murder-for-hire case is interrupted by an explosion in one of New York's water tunnels, and one of the explosion's victims turns out to be the brother of Cooper's defendant. Cooper and her colleagues track down the connection to a decades-old unsolved murder, and Fairstein gives us a fascinating look at the sandhog culture along the way. A subplot about Cooper's personal life is a distraction that goes nowhere, and the two main plot lines don't tie up as well as they should.

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