In highschool, and during my first year of university, I subsisted on a greedy diet of horror fiction. I was at first mostly interested in novels, but for some reason I gradually became obsessed with anthologies of short stories, and I collected them rabidly: "The Year's Best Horror Stories," all those Charles L. Grant "Shadows" books, the sublime "Tales By Moonlight," the less sublime "Hot Blood" series, "Dark Voices," "Night Cry" magazine, "Night Visions," the seemingly endless collections edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg...
There was something fun and sort of chocolatey about picking up a new anthology and seeing the same names again and again; Ramsey Campbell, Alan Ryan, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Steve Rasnic Tem, Karl Edward Wagner, all jumbled together without any thought of transition or theme. I'd rate each story out of ten and add it to a computerized database, then go out and hunt for all the books I'd missed over the years. It was a project, an education, and a joy.
These books inspired a friend and I to start our own small-press horror 'zine called "Lost," which pulled in a few professional authors who probably didn't realize that the editors were two little kids with acne. I even got some of my own sub-par stories published. But more on that some other time.
Soon, maybe in an attempt to resurrect declining sales, the anthologies started going all thematic. Stories about vampires! Stories about freaks! Erotic horror, zombie horror, ecological horror! Splatterpunk! Bladderspunk! Even something called "architectural horror!"
Dennis Etchison coined the term "Metahorror" for my personal favourite stories, a new breed of fiction that was kind of like "magic realism gone bad." A bunch of the more successful authors banded together as "The Horror Writers of America," which seemed particularly mean-spirited at the time (and possibly was, a bit). I bought the books anyway, I loved the books, maybe I sort of LIVED the books.
But in university I discovered a whole new world of literature that I'd never cared about before, and I packed up all those anthologies into a bunch of cardboard boxes and put them in the basement. I decided I wanted to be HAPPY, not some loser kid who sat at home assigning ratings to mediocre stories by Whitley Strieber. And that was it. The end.
Until I picked up Stephen King's "Dreamcatcher" last week, and I remembered why I liked horror fiction to begin with: it's breezy, it has a near infinite number of themes and permutations, and when it's good it scares you. I still remember the stories and novels that terrified me the most, and I probably enjoyed reading them more than I ever enjoyed "Oliver Twist." And even when a book is BAD it is still at least INTERESTING, and you don't need to invest much in order to pick out the kernels of fun.
Yeah, I'd love to open those boxes and revisit the best stories, anthologies, and novels...and maybe I will. I even bought Peter Straub's "Floating Dragon" the other day, and I'm actually considering re-reading "It" or some of the better Dean R. Koontz books.
Darn it, I've spent too many years reading high-falutin' literature. I think I've earned the right to read some genre fiction now, no?