I don’t often do book reviews here (never crap on your own lawn, folks), but Grady Hendrix‘s Paperbacks From Hell was such a happy surprise that I can’t resist. I met Grady when he launched the book at the MCM Comic in October and we bonded over happy memories of rabies scares and The Omen novelisation…
His book is a history of horror fiction in the ’70s and ’80s. It covers pulp paperbacks, the blockbusters, the fads, the won’t-they-think-of-the-children? outrages, the forgotten gems, the best-forgotten misogyny and racism of the times, the cover designers and artists, the die-cut paperback covers, the editors, the imprints and the authors – many of whom are now only remembered by aficionados.
If you’re a writer, or you work in publishing, and you want a primer on how trends wax and wane, how brands come and go, how one-hit wonders can change an industry, then this book is essential reading. Whatever genre you write in or enjoy reading, you can learn a lot from Hendrix’s astute observations on the publishing industry’s ability to squeeze the lemon till it’s dry, and then to toss it away for the next juicy fruit that comes along. In these pages you’ll see writers’ careers soar, then nosedive, taking all the copycat pretenders with them. You’ll see how politics, social change, and a bust and boom economy can affect the public’s reading tastes (think of how the fear of foreign animals coincided with the UK joining the Common Market… time for a resurrection of the rabid dog genre, perhaps?).
It’s relentlessly entertaining, very funny, and Grady’s love for the genre in all its forms is soaked into every page. One word of warning: having read this, you’ll be hightailing it to eBay to buy at least a dozen books just to see if they’re as good/bad/terrible/gruesome as Grady says they are. I shall be seeking out Let’s Go Play At The Adams’s, Michael McDowell’s Blackwater series, and reacquainting myself with a delightful young man called Damien Thorn. Happy reading.