More books! Yeah, I’ve been catching up on a good deal of neglected reading here in the ol’ Castle, and after last week’s short story list, I thought I’d continue down this path and put together a list of my Top 10 Short Story Anthologies.
This was a tougher list than I thought it would be. For one thing, I was trying mightily not to lean too terribly hard into Lovecraft’s mythos. To do that I had to cheat a little, and even then, I couldn’t avoid ol’ Howard P. as much as I might have.
There’s also a surprising list of names of folks who aren’t on this list. By some quirk of fate, I don’t have all that many single-author collections, so people like Algernon Blackwood, Roald Dahl, Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Shirley Jackson, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Victor LaValle, Arthur Machen, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Flannery O’Connor, even Poe, have no entries of their own on here as I’ve only read them in multi-author anthologies.
#10 The Ghouls (ed. Peter Haining)
Let’s begin with a sentimental entry as it was one of the first collections of horror stories I’d ever read. As a wee lad, I spent a good deal of time with my aunt and uncle whose tastes in music and reading material were, shall we say, less than mainstream. One afternoon I came across this paperback in which Haining collected 18 stories that were adapted into films subsequently igniting my interest in both the stories and their movies. It was also my first exposure to Lovecraft.
#9 The New Cthulhu (ed. Paula Guran)
This was my introduction into Cthulhu Mythos stories by other writers. Lots of stuff I mentioned last week is in this one, including “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” (Kiernan), “Bad Sushi” (Priest), and “A Study In Emerald” (Gaiman). I was instantly hooked.
#8 Book Of Cthulhu I & II (ed. Ross E. Lockhart)
Yep, more Mythos stuff by other writers, and I don’t mind owning up to a bit of cheating by including both volumes in the same entry. What can I say? My blog. Highlights include “Flash Frame” (Moreno-Garcia) and “Fat Face” (Shea), “The Drowning At Lake Henpin” (Tobin), and “Sticks” (Wagner).
#7 Haunted (Chuck Palahniuk)
Okay this might be a bit of cheat too, but if it is, it’s only a small one. On one hand, it’s a novel centering on a bunch of writers trapped together in what is supposed to be a retreat in which they will create their masterpieces. Speaking as a writer, I can say that being locked in a building with a bunch of other writers, well, sounds like hell to me. In the midst of this story, however, are individual pieces by each of said writers. So there’s a framing device that contains the individual stories. Nothing we haven’t seen in the anthology movie of your choice, so maybe it’s not such a cheat after all.
#6 Songs Of A Dead Dreamer/Grimscribe (Thomas Ligotti)
Ligotti writes some disturbing stuff. “The Spectacles In The Drawer” is a high point. And there’s one piece in particular which I find personally unnerving, and that’s “The Last Feast Of Harlequin.” It’s unnerving because I once found myself in a town that reminded very much of that story’s setting. This kind of thing happens to me every now and again. It’s always chilling, but I always get a strange sense of enjoyment from it as well.
#5 The Secret Of Ventriloquism (Jon Padgett)
This is another unnervingly weird one. Obviously there’s a theme, and all the stories have at anywhere from a vague to an overt kind of connectedness. “20 Simple Steps To Ventriloquism” is indeed a twisted little piece. But my favorite has to be “Murmurs Of A Voice Foreknown” in which the narrator takes revenge on his bully of an older brother (who is both threatening and vaguely sociopathic) over the course of what is implied to be a lifetime.
#4 Monster Festival (ed. Eric Protter)
Another formative sentimental favorite. I found this book in, of all places, the little one-room library of Holy Trinity Catholic School. I was in 4th grade. This was my very introduction to horror as well as Edward Gorey. I was fascinated and terrified. It was also my introduction to Poe with “The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” as well as Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, and Arthur Machen. This is also where I first read E.F. Benson’s nightmarish “Caterpillars” and lost a good deal of elementary school sleep.
#3 Demons By Daylight (Ramsey Campbell)
I really wanted to include “Made In Goatswood” on last week’s list, but ultimately I did not. If I had it to do over again, who knows? I will enthusiastically include Demons By Daylight this week as it remains one of my all time favorite short story collections in my 50+ years of reading horror. For me, the most terrifying story is “The Enchanted Fruit.” The idea of being constantly nauseated and basically kind of rotting from the inside out is something I find viscerally unsettling.
#2 Night Shift (Stephen King)
Numbers 2 and 3 go very much hand in hand, and were I asked, I could easily flip their order any given day. Presently, Night Shift holds the #2 spot because I’ve read it a time or two more than Demons By Daylight. In fact, it was Stephen King himself who got me interested in Campbell. He mentions Campbell in Danse Macabre, and like me is a big fan of Campbell in general and of Demons By Daylight specifically. Truly I don’t think there’s a weak story in the bunch, but if I had to pick any faves… Nah. It’s impossible. I can’t.
A Collapse Of Horses (Evenson), Long After Midnight (Bradbury), The Madness Of Cthulhu I & II (ed. Joshi), Shadows Over Innsmouth (ed. Jones), Unicorn Variations (Zelazny)
#1 H.P. Lovecraft: Tales (Library Of America)
Was there any doubt? It has all the Mythos mainstays as well as some of his other classics like “Cool Air,” “The Outsider,” and “Herbert West—Reanimator.”
And how about you? I’m always on the lookout for recommendations to add to the always unwieldy To Be Read list.