Some people have a ton, some people have a few, but just about everybody has a book, or books, that they love. I asked author and editor Paul Michael Anderson and...
The top shelf of my highest bookcase is reserved for my go-tos--those books that regardless of when or where or why, I can reread. I'm not a book hoarder--I only keep books I know I'll reread and never put books I haven't read on shelves until they have been read. So, the top shelf is less a "favorites" shelf and more a "this is the goddamned cream of the crop", I was asked to give a few book recs of those novels that never fail to turn my dials up to ten every time. I went immediately to this shelf and pulled six from the ten or so books currently residing there, trying to avoid the obvious choices.
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
Might as well start this one off with the least-likely novel you might find on a horror writer's shelf. I debated going all-horror when I asked to pass along some book suggestions, but I'd be lying, really; while horror fills 75% of my house's bookcases, it's by-far not the only thing I read.
But High Fidelity was a touchstone for me; I was introduced to Rob via John Cusack in the 2000 film High Fidelity--ironically enough, seeing the redemptive romantic-comedy with a girl I was skidding into the relationship-outs with and would break up with less than a month later--and immediately identified with the dour, fuck-off-ed-ness of the main character. Tracking down the novel later, I saw that the source material wasn't just romantic and hysterical, but shrewd in its characters, as well. While I identified with the dismal cynicism of Rob (which teenager wouldn't?), if you happen to be part of any kind of fandom, you know a Barry and Dick from the record shop. You might even be friends with them. They, in actuality, might be you (please let that not be true for your sake).
Paper Tigers, Damien Angelica Walters (2016)
This is my currently favorite book of the year, no hyperbole. I read the book as an ARC and, afterwards, shelled out the cash for a proper paperback copy; I'm a parent, so the times when you spend money on yourself had better be worth it. Paper Tigers is worth it.
Walters's is incredibly well-known for her short-fiction--she was nominated for a Bram Stoker on the strength of the story "Floating Girls (A Documentary)" (Full disclosure--I was editor of the magazine that published it)--but she transitions perfectly to the long form. After a fire takes her fiancé, unborn child, and her life as she knew it, Alison discovers an antique photo album that's less haunted and more the rotten heart of the uneasy dead. This is a novel that uses a reader's knowledge of hauntings and ghosts and doesn't necessarily twist them, but brings them down to a human level. This story would be a failure if not for the humanity of Alison and the horror is less what she finds in the album--and, later, a house that shouldn't be--but in the aftermath of the fire that took away who she thought she was.
Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World, Sarah Vowell (2000)
Slight cheat here--Take the Cannoli is not a novel, but a collection of essays from the "This American Life" contributor.
Slight admission here--Sarah Vowell was my first "celebrity" crush. Forget the fact that she's nearly fifteen years older, and living in New York City, I thought with the wistfulness of a teenage girl mooning over the photo spreads of teen heartthrobs in Tiger Beat, "No, I can totally make this work." Unfortunately, I was twenty, not a teenager, so, you know, don't tell anyone, 'kay?
Anyway, Vowell's work I discovered in college and I loved how she could take something like an intersection in Chicago, or her father's obsession with guns, and make it not just insightful but funny. Horror and humor are notoriously the hardest genres to write (and how am I doing, so far?), so I'm attracted to any writing that can show mastery of it. Vowell does, and in short, concise bursts.
The Magicians Trilogy, Lev Grossman (2009, 2011, 2014)
The writer Joe Hill told me--in a chat before a reading while on his Horns tour--that The Magicians was Harry Potter for grownups. "Imagine if Potter and friends had been obsessed with pot and sex and drinking as well as magic." I never got the Harry Potter phenomenon. Not throwing shade at Potter fans--hell, I was part of a very Potter-themed wedding a few years back--but stories about small children being all into magic school failed to kickstart my heart. Of course, I was in the middle of novels like James Herbert's The Fog or Shane Stevens's By Reason of Insanity when I heard of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, so the concept wasn't not even on my radar when it hit the street.
Fast forward to 2010 and the concept is more interesting to me, but not so much a children's book. Grossman's novel fit the bill and admirably. Here is the best example of breaking the whole making characters likeable rule; Quentin Coldwater & Co. are snobby, drunken, self-absorbed...and you still root for them. This is the reality that Grossman gave his people. Even if you're shaking your head and can't believe they could be so stupid or cruel...you still hope they make it. I stumbled upon the sequel, The Magician King, and didn't know when I read it that it was going to be a trilogy, so the ending was probably the ballsiest, most downbeat ending ever, and I loved it. Discovering the third book didn't diminish it, but, even if the story wasn't that good (and it is), I'd love this trilogy for the ending of the second book, alone.
20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill (2005)
Another collection, but it inspired my own book, Bones Are Made to be Broken, more than a little. It was Hill's first book, putting together the stories of his early career--but not all of them--and served as his stake in the ground. When I interviewed Hill in 2016, he said that, at that point, he wanted the book out because, even if he never became a novelist--which hadn’t happened after ten years of trying at that point--he at least had this product he could be proud of. Mixing everything from fantasy to horror to mainstream, Hill's collection flows together, stitching together characters and situations that are disparate but familiar based on the strength of Hill's writing. His Finney homage, "The Black Phone", indirectly inspired my Finney homage "All That You Leave Behind". His bravery in putting together hardcore horror--"Brand New Horror"--with literary pieces--"Better Than Home"--inspired my willingness to write, sell, and then reprint stories of mine like "The Agonizing Guilt of Relief (Last Days of a Ready-Made Victim)" or the novella "Bones Are Made to be Broken". I love this collection, recommend it to anyone and everyone looking for a solid pack of stories or wanting to try out Hill's writing, but don't know if they want to get Horns or The Fireman.
Another Day in Paradise, Eddie Little (1997)
Little died in 2003 of a heart attack, before he could finish the saga of Bobby Prine begun in Another Day in Paradise and Steel Toes, tragically rendering his on-the-edge crime writing into a curiosity. However, say "Eddie Little" to any hardcore crime fan and a gleam comes into their eye. Little had the goods. Reading his two novels, you got less of an impression that Little had a great imagination and, rather, he was fictionally retelling things that had happened to him. Little was a thief and a heroin addict, much like his protagonist Prine, falling in with a master thief and addict in the down-and-out 1970s. It's unverified that he wrote Paradise in prison (I've heard references, but can't confirm enough to my liking), but it would make sense; the prose is clunky and amateurish, but there's a pounding, oozing, raging heart there that can only come when you've literally looked at what you're telling. The sequel, Steel Toes, is much more polished and is leaps and bounds above Paradise, but I put Paradise in this list because it doesn't get rawer than this slim book. Little would struggle to stay clean, but would ultimately become a full-time writer--you can Google some of his old "Outlaw LA" columns for LA Weekly--and he never lost his sniper-vision of the crime and drug world. This isn't the polished thievery of Elmore Leonard or even the controlled violence of Richard Stark; if Little had a literary relative, it would be the harsh work of Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me, Pop. 1280), but spoken in the language of a native, not the descriptions of a tourist. Paradise would be made into a minor-film starring James Woods, but ignore it and hunt down this book.
Bones Are Made to be Broken puts 14 (15 in the deluxe hardcover) of Paul Michael Anderson's best works, from "To Touch the Dead" to "The Universe Is Dying" and from "Baby Grows a Conscience" to "Love Song for the Rejected", together in a collection that Jack Ketchum called "a dark carnival of rigorous intelligence and compassion, the title novella alone of which is well worth the price of admission," and Jonathan Maberry said delivers "chills, heartbreak, nail-biting suspense, and horror." Featuring an introduction by Damien Angelica Walters and interior art from writer/illustrator Pat R. Steiner, Anderson's Bones Are Made to be Broken will be available from Written Backwards/Dark Regions Press in trade paperback and eBook in November 2016 and, in deluxe, expanded hardcover, the first part of 2017. Visit darkregions.com or paulmichaelanderson.wordpress.com for more information, or look Paul Michael Anderson up at the inspired Twitter handle @p_m_anderson.