As I write this, just a few days before Christmas, the series of tubes we call the Internet is clogged with various and sundry Top 10 book lists for 2009. Unfortunately, 2009 was an abnormally busy year for me and I didn't make as much time for reading as I would have liked. In fact, I think I only read about ten books between January and December, well below my average, but I suppose that's what happens when you write three books in one year, two of which had extremely tight deadlines that forced them to be written simultaneously over the summer and early fall. That's not conducive to making the time or brainspace for reading, sadly. While this means I don't have a Top 10 of 2009 list to share with you, I would like to take a moment to point you toward two of this year's novels that I found exceptional.
The first is The Little Sleep, a debut mystery novel by sometimes horror writer Paul Tremblay. The narrator, South Boston P.I. Mark Genevich, suffers from narcolepsy and hypnagogic hallucinations, an affliction that allows Tremblay to utilize the stunningly surreal imagery his speculative fiction has become known for. The opening of the novel involves a possibly hallucinated woman who hires Genevich because she believes her fingers have been stolen and replaced with someone else's. Despite the surreal imagery, the story stays grounded enough in reality to make the mystery gripping and its solution resonant.
The second is Audrey's Door, the third novel by one of my favorite horror authors, Sarah Langan. Langan's writing is so top-notch, with rich characterization, emotional depth, and brilliant prose, that her work often puts to shame that of many other authors in the genre. This novel about a haunted apartment building in New York City is her best yet. Imagine Levin's Rosemary's Baby and Topor's The Tenant in a modern setting with a profoundly damaged yet completely relatable heroine, then up the creep-factor even more.
There are plenty of other hotly anticipated books from 2009 that I'm sure would have rounded out a Horror Top 10 quite nicely: John Langan's House of Windows, Ellen Datlow's Poe anthology, Rhodi Hawk's debut novel A Twisted Ladder, Graham Joyce's How To Make Friends With Demons, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain, and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. But for me they'll have to wait until the new year, when I hope to make more reading time. And I'm going to have to, because it looks like 2010 will be another banner year for horror literature.
In place of a Top 10 of 2009 list, I'd like to do something a little different and present you with an alternative list, 10 Horror Books I'm Looking Forward To In 2010 (Plus Two That Make Me Go Hmmm). Here it is, alphabetical by author:
Occultation by Laird Barron. Barron's 2007 debut collection, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, knocked my socks off, as has every Barron story I've read in anthologies since then. Personally, I consider him one of the best authors working in the genre today. The only thing more exciting to me than the prospect of this second collection is the news that Barron is working on a novel due out in 2011.
Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett. I didn't expect to see a horror novel coming from esteemed science fiction and fantasy house Orbit Books, but this debut tale of supernatural terror during the Great Depression is already getting great advance buzz.
King Maker by Maurice Broaddus. Broaddus is perhaps the most talented horror writer you've never heard of, but that's about to change. (He's also my personal nemesis; everyone should have one.) This dark fantasy, the first in the Knights of Breton Court series, transposes the myth of King Arthur onto the drug gangs of contemporary downtown Indianapolis. The publisher is calling it The Wire meets Excalibur. My nemesis is gifted, and I know I'll be shaking my fist at him as I pick this one up from the bookstore.
Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror edited by Ellen Datlow. I'm sure Datlow, as one of our leading editors and anthologists, needs no introduction to the readers of IROSF. But her anthologies never fail to wow me—
The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology edited by Christopher Golden. Zombies are hot right now, and it was only a matter of time before a big New York publisher like St. Martin's Press glommed onto the unprecedented success of Night Shade Books' The Living Dead zombie anthology, edited by John Joseph Adams. But the reason I'm excited for this one is mainly because of Golden's involvement as editor. Golden has very good taste and is an excellent writer in his own right, which leaves me with no doubt that his zombie anthology will be more than a cheap knock-off. The market is completely oversaturated at this point, but with exceptional authors like Joe Hill, Max Brooks, Kelley Armstrong, David Wellington, and Aimee Bender involved, this may turn out to be the zombie anthology of year.
Horns by Joe Hill. Hill's award-winning 2005 collection 20th Century Ghosts was like a breath of fresh air. The writing was smooth, and the stories were compelling and at times ingenious. Hill struck me as a master craftsman of whom I might just become a fan for life. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that I still haven't gotten around to reading his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box. Not that this means I won't be snatching up his second novel too. Looks like I'll have to embark on a Hillathon sometime soon.
Shirley Jackson: Novels & Stories (Library of America) edited by Joyce Carol Oates. Jackson is responsible for two of my favorite novels of all time, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This Library of America omnibus—
A Dark Matter by Peter Straub. Straub is one of my favorite authors working in any genre, and each new novel is cause for celebration. Those who follow my blog know I've been on an on-and-off Straubathon since 2005, reading all of his books in chronological order. I've only gotten as far as The Throat so far, but Straub just keeps getting better and better. His deeply layered novels are more than just good entertainment, they're brain food.
In the Closet, Under the Bed by Lee Thomas. I can't wait for this collection of new and reprinted queer horror stories from award-winning author Thomas. He's one of my favorites, and his stories never fail to inspire, entertain, and leave the reader with a chill. His 2007 novel The Dust of Wonderland cemented him as a horror author unafraid to explore the human condition of gay men, both closeted and out, and this collection promises more of Thomas' big ideas and effortless prose.
No Sleep Till Wonderland by Paul Tremblay. This eagerly awaited sequel to The Little Sleep (mentioned above) sees Genevich try to solve another mystery while attempting to separate his vivid hallucinations from reality. I know Tremblay is envisioning this series as a trilogy, but frankly I would be happy reading new Genevich novels for decades to come.
And now for the "Hmmms." These two books pique my interest but leave me waiting to see what the reviewers say before I make the commitment:
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Grahame-Smith, normally a TV and nonfiction humor writer, became a bestselling novelist with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This followup, a fully original novel instead of a mashup, could be really fun, or it could be a dud. But then again, that's the risk we take with any book we pick up, isn't it?
The Living Dead: The Beginning by George A. Romero. Did I mention zombies are hot right now? This novel, written by the filmmaker who indelibly invented the modern zombie as we know it in Night of the Living Dead, has the cynical stink of a quick cash-in. I'd rather skip it if it's as bad as his last zombie movie, Diary of the Dead, or as bad as rumors say his forthcoming one, the nonsensically named Survival of the Dead, will be. But to say I'm curious about a zombie novel written by the man who gave birth to the hungry undead would be an understatement.
Whew! Looking back on it, this is quite a list! Will I get to all of these books in a timely manner? It's doubtful, given the fact that my to-be-read pile, if stacked into an actual pile rather than a figurative one, would probably dwarf Godzilla at this point. But in the end what's important isn't reading books in the same year they come out—
Sure, it's fun to anticipate the release of a book you can't wait to get your hands on, but it's even more fun when a book or author seemingly comes out of nowhere and rocks your world, brought to your attention by word of mouth, a random review—
Be sure to let me know in comments whether there are any horror books coming out in 2010 that you're waiting for with bated breath. As much as I like to introduce readers to books and authors they may not know about, I very much enjoy being on the other end of the introductions as well.
Whether my list of eagerly awaited books matches yours or makes you wonder what I'm smoking, I hope 2010 brings you not just health, happiness and success, but plenty of exceptional books—