I've been asked to chat a bit about my horror book club. We are currently making a journey through the history and evolution of horror. We started out as a Stephen King book club. In this group of friends, we would frequently close out a party discussing horror literature, in particular Stephen King, yet we could find no single book that all of us had read. So we decided to close that gap, pick our favorites, and work through an assemblage of his best work. After a couple other incarnations, we have returned to horror. Partially because that's where we started, and partially to have an excuse to dig more effectively into that "to read" pile of classics.

We wanted to trace the roots of horror from the gothics to our modern era. We broke the timeline into four major segments: 

  1. Gothic Precursors and Pulp: To World War 2
  2. The Next Generation and the Atomic Age: Post-WW2 through the early 60's
  3. Rise of the King: The 70's through the 90's
  4. Post-King: Our current millennium

We smooshed the gothic and the pulp together so we could recover stylistically and didn't quit either era too soon. The rest cover fairly distinct eras of horror fiction.

We developed a master list of books, and we voted on specific books two months out. A few books were selected as critical so kept coming up on the polls, and we couldn't leave an era until all the critical books were checked off.

The master book list looked something like this:

Gothic Precursors and Pulp:

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley [1818]
  2. The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers [1989] (as a response to Frankenstein)
  3. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
  4. Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
    • The Suitable Surroundings
    • An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
    • Chickamauga
    • The Night Doings at “Deadman’s”
    • The Coup de Grace
    • The Moonlit Road
    • The Death of Halpin Frayser
    • Oil of Dog
    • The City of the Gone Away
  5. Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933)
    • (with An Inhabitant of Carcosa by Bierce)
    • The King in Yellow
      • "The Repairer of Reputations"
      • "The Mask"
      • "In the Court of the Dragon"
      • "The Yellow Sign"
      • "The Demoiselle d'Ys"
    • plus The Harbour-Master
  6. A Season in Carcosa or Casilda’s Song (Modern King in Yellow response)
  7. Lord Dunsany
  8. August Heat by William Fryer Harvey
  9. M. R. James [1904]
    • The Wailing Well
    • Preface to More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
  10. The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton [1904-1937]
  11. A selection of Lovecraft (1890-1937)
    • The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce
    • The Dunwich Horror (pair with The Damned Thing by Bierce)
    • The Call of Cthulhu
    • The Shadow Over Innsmouth
    • Herbert West, Reanimator
    • The Haunter of the Dark
    • Pickman’s Model
    • The Dreams in the Witch House
    • The Lurking Fear
    • The Music of Erich Zann
    • The Colour Out of Space
    • The Rats in the Walls
    • At The Mountains of Madness
    • The Festival
    • The Cats of Ulthar
  12. She Walks in Shadows [Lovecraft response by female authors]
  13. The Cthulhu Mythos Megapack: 40 Modern and Classic Lovecraftian Stories
  14. The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf [1842]
  15. Arthur Machen (1863-1947) (The Great God Pan, etc)
  16. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (The Horla, Carmilla, The Mother of Monstrosities, etc)
  17. The Phantom Ship by Frederick Marryat
  18. The Gothic Terror Megapack
  19. Nathaniel Hathorne – Twice Told Tales: Young Goodman Brown, The Minister’s Black Veil
  20. Washington Irving – The Money Diggers: The Devil and Tom Walker; The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  21. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte [1847]
  22. Oscar Wilde – Picture of Dorian Grey [1890]
  23. Dracula – Bram Stoker [1897]
  24. Henry James – Turn of the Screw [1898]
  25. Heart of Darkness [1902]
  26. Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951)

The Next Generation and the Atomic Age:

  1. Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House
  2. Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle [1962]
  3. Shirley Jackson – The Lottery and Other Stories [1948]
  4. Daphne du Maurier – The Birds and Other Stories
  5. John Wyndham – Day of the Triffids [1951]
  6. John Wyndham – The Chrysalids [1955]
  7. Robert Bloch – Psycho
  8. Richard Matheson  – I Am Legend [1954]
  9. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
  10. Robert Aickman – Dark Entries [1964] or Sub Rosa [1968]
  11. The October Country by Ray Bradbury
  12. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Between the two eras we added a transition period where the optimism of the 60's died and ushered in the Satanic Panic that fueled much of the next era:

  1. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin [1967]
  2. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty [1971]

Rise of the King:

  1. A Night in Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny
  2. The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll
  3. The Best of Joe R. Lansdale
  4. My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (modern, but steeped in the 80’s)
  5. Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix (nonfiction, but an excellent resource to cover the paperback boom)
  1. Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti (we had previously read Songs of a Dead Dreamer in an earlier phase)
  2. The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett (as resonance with Ligotti)
  3. GRR Martin: Armageddon Rag + Sandkings + The Pear Shaped Man
  4. Books of Blood 1-3 by Clive Barker
  5. From Hell by Alan Moore [1999]
  6. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
  7. Dark Forces edited by Kirby McCauley
  8. Beloved by Toni Morrison [1987]
  9. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (we had read most of the other excellent examples of his work in the first phase, but missed this one)
  10. Deliverance by James Dickey [1970]
  11. Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber [1978]
  12. Tanith Lee – Dark Dance or The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales or Dreams of Dark and Light
  13. T.E.D. Klein - Dark Gods [1986] or The Ceremonies [1984]
  14. A Nest of Nightmares by Lisa Tuttle [1986]
  15. Painted Devils by Robert Aickman [1979]
  16. In a Lonely Place by Karl Edward Wagner [1983]
  17. Ramsey Campbell (short fiction collection)
  18. Octavia Butler – Bloodchild and Other Stories [1985-1995] or Fledgling [2005]


  1. For Mortal Things Unsung
  2. World War Z [2006]
  3. Laird Barron [2007-now]
    1. The Imago Sequence and Other Stories
    2. The Croning
  4. Joe Hill
    1. 20th Century Ghosts is the natural choice, but we read that in a previous phase
    2. Locke & Key
    3. NOS4A2
  5. Coyote Tales by Jim Bihyeh (oral tradition – audio only)
  6. David Nickle – Knife Fight and Other Struggles [2015]
  7. Furnace by Livia Llewellyn
  8. Orrin Grey
  9. Eugie Foster
  10. Damien Angelica Walters
  11. Joyce Carol Oates
  12. Closing Time and Other Stories by Jack Ketchum
  13. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (2015 short story collection)
  14. Cell by Stephen King
  15. Prodigal by Melanie Tem [2001]
  16. Experimental Film by Gemma Files [2015]
  17. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski [2000] (700+ pages)
  18. Let the Right One In –or-- Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist [2004]
  19. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami [1999]
  20. John Dies at the End [2001-2007]
  21. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer [2014]
  22. Laundry Files 1 by Charles Stross [2004]
  23. The Terror by Dan Simmons [2007]
  24. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (2015 – Stoker winner and loved by most tastemakers)
  25. Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones [2015]
  26. The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley [2014]
  27. The Ritual by Adam Nevill [2011]
  28. Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola
  29. Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff [2016]
  30. Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire) Feed or Parasite
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