Pairs Well With: a Maker’s Mark Old Fashioned; a reliable, respectable drink whose moniker alone suits this Bram Stoker award-winning tome about old and forgotten books, and whose twist of orange (supremely more favourable than the lemon twist many prefer) both sweetens reception and jolts the tongue in a way akin to the devious plots and unbelievably outrageous characters that occupy this catalog of bygone horror.
Author: Grady Hendrix (with contribution from Will Errickson)
Rating: 4 Out of 5 Whiskey Shots
Synopsis: The paperback horror boom of the 70s, 80s, and 90s may have been completely forgotten, if not for Will Errickson’s blog, and this particular tome detailing the rise and fall of horror in this era. Complete with outstanding photographs of the mesmerizing cover art, along with sections dedicated to recognizing the contributions and careers of these cover artists, Paperbacks from Hell is the ultimate compendium of 70s and 80s horror fiction knowledge. Hendrix chronicles the rise and fall of the horror boom while giving insight into a staggering number of book plots, trends, and authorial contributions.
Overall Impression: Rarely do I have fun reading non-fiction work. Most of the time, it seems more like a lecture (and I do love oral lectures, but reading them is… not the same), and often the narrative either focuses solely on facts, thereby reducing the entertainment value to that of an old IBM data print out, or it is so loose with the structure and purpose that it might as well be a fictional piece (op-eds often fall into this category).
However, Paperbacks from Hell was immensely enjoyable and left me with an even greater admiration for the pulp writers of yesteryears. Page after page passed through my fingers, and before I knew it, I’d finished reading the entirety of the book in under two hours. And with the offered bevy of information to digest, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be revisiting this work soon.
The Cheers: Remember back when Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and PBS Nova featured actual educational programming and not just reality TV junk? Remember how those old shows were fun and engaging and always taught you something new? And remember how the narrator helped immerse you in the information through the use of well-paced questions and the promise of resolution?
This book is like that.
It reads so smooth, and the use of colourful and playful metaphor and simile strewn throughout reminds the readers of the purpose of this book, and the books detailed within: to suspend disbelief and have fun. Hendrix whizzes through bafflingly clever summations of plot that left this reader incredibly interested in getting my own copies of these books to read. There is very little outright judgment or hard critique to be found in the book, and generally, if there is a more critical opinion, it can be easily chocked up to Hendrix’s own tastes, and not stated as an unquestionable absolute.
The chronicling of the rise of the paperback horror novel era is interesting, and helps solidify the atmosphere of the times; the context of the layout of the world is highly prevalent throughout the book and is absolutely critical in finalizing engagement with the narrative.
And as I stated in the prior section, the presented book covers are absolutely gorgeous. Every page is filled with the old painted book covers that made the books of this time so iconic and gripping. You won’t find any modern “sensibilities” on these covers. There are no ambiguous men/women standing in a strange way, often looking in the distance as gangly large, while stylized font covers almost every conceivable corner of the cover. No, the book covers featured in this book are the old school style: hand-painted works of art with unique fonts worked into the overall aesthetic. They’re the kinds of covers that immediately tell you what to expect in terms of atmosphere and plot.
In short, these books can certainly be judged by their covers.
The Hangover: While the overall feel of this book is one of admiration for 70s and 80s horror novels, there is a tendency for the critical descriptions to come across as demeaning.
While claiming to love these campy books for what they are (a reprieve from reality), there is an often unpleasant tone of displeasure when it comes to describing books about Satan-worshipping orgies, rampant leech invasions, and sinister doctors who switch out children at birth. Are these concepts ridiculous? Absolutely. Does that mean they’re bad? Not necessarily. But does Hendrix take the time to explain what makes these books great?
If anything, there is a tendency for his prose to come across as embarrassed that these books were ever written. His tone is almost as if he’s displaying the dirty laundry of old writers and expecting others to laugh at and deride them.
I wouldn’t say that this tone is so obvious that it distracts from the overall feel of the book, but it is unmistakable that it is there, and I can’t help but wonder why he claims to adore these old books while saying very little that showcases that claimed adoration?
Corking the Bottle: This is every horror novel addict’s dream: a detailed list of books to hunt for and add to their growing collection. Many of the titles are even being reprinted by Valancourt Books, ensuring that interest in 80s horror continues to grow, and not go forgotten.
Paperbacks from Hell reads smoother than any non-fiction I’ve read in a very long time, and the pacing is quick enough that you’ll find yourself traveling from the 1960s to the mid-90s in the blink of an eye. The photographs of old book covers are worth the price of this book on its own, as is the shopping list you’ll inevitably end up with when you come to the acknowledgments at the very end.
While the tone can often come across as snarky and pompous while describing these old pulp horror novels, there is still very dedicated intention in making sure these books and their authors are not buried in the sands of time. And for that reason alone, I would highly recommend buying a copy of this book.
*** What did you think of this Drunken Book Review? Are you interested in picking up a copy at your local library or bookstore? Did Paperbacks from Hell inspire you to scour thrift stores for forgotten treasures? Let us know your thoughts down below!***
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