My Top Five favorite horror story collections.

We haven’t had a favorites list in a few days, and I have quite a few left to go, so here’s another one! These are my very most favorite collections from the world of what Stephen King once called “the almost lost art.”

1. The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time, edited by Leslie Pockell.

When I scooped up this unremarkable-looking volume in 2002, I was only hoping to have a volume of all of my own beloved pieces of classic horror fiction. One book, best stories, no muss, no fuss.

But I discovered something much more valuable here, especially in the stories I had never read before. There’s more to classic horror than “The Monkey’s Paw,” and “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I discovered some amazing writing that has stood the test of time. The story that stands out for me in this book is actually Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan,” which is frightening not just for the main character’s actions, but for the gross elitism and misogyny that impel them. Other previously undiscovered classics I found in here include the subtly scary “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” by M.R. James, and “The Beckoning Fair One,” by Oliver Onions. I still refer to this collection from time to time, and will always consider it a staple of my library.

2. My Favorite Horror Story, edited by Mike Baker and Martin H. Greenberg.

This is another one I’ve found has become essential in my personal stash of horror fiction. It introduced me to two unforgettable stories, “The Human Chair,” by Edogawa Rampo and “The Distributor” by Richard Matheson. Edogawa Rampo, whose name is a homonym for “Edgar Allan Poe,” was a genius Japanese author of horror and mystery tales, whose work I’d never heard of before finding this anthology. Reading “The Human Chair” inspired me to go and order a copy of Rampo’s Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination, which is equally engrossing. “The Distributor,” a piece I really love, is about a shadowy fiend waging psychological warfare on a suburban community for unclear reasons. Truly chilling.

Another feature of My Favorite Horror Story that makes the collection so amazing is the introduction provided by the each author explaining why he or she choose they story as a favorite. I was surprised that Stephen King’s favorite horror story is Robert Bloch’s concise “Sweets to the Sweet.” (I was sure that King, known primarily for voluminous work even in his short fiction, would have chosen a longer piece.)

If you don’t yet own a copy of this, go check it out. It is a life changing one for any lover of this genre.

3.  A Touch of Chill: Tales for Sleepless Nights, by Joan Aiken.

I know I bang this drum a lot, but this is the short story collection I’ve read more than any other. Ever. (With the possible exception of The Best American Short Stories 1997, but I think that’s a post for a different blog.)

Published the year I was born, (’79, if you must know) this book his it all: psychological suspense, fantasy, magical realism, pure thriller and supernatural horror. The prose quality is superb. I have rarely read any collection consistently stronger in style, tone and content overall. Haunting and resonant, (I haven’t lost interest since first discovering it in 1990) this is a book that will stay with you for a long time. It also permanently secured Ms. Aiken as a master of the form in my mind.

4. Skeleton Crew, by Stephen King.

It doesn’t get any scarier than this. To me, the heart of a good horror story is still heart, an effort by the author to scare the reader in ways that matter. Rarely will you see any stories with more heart, even among the King lexicon (not exactly lacking in emotion overall.) The plight of the characters is often too much for me to bear, especially after the monsters emerge to do their thing, even though a few survive despite the odds. This book contains a few of King’s absolute best stories ever, including the heartrending “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut,” an inspiration to the young women I knew as a teenager during our perils learning to drive. Skeleton Crew is a collection that will be stay with readers for the rest of their reading lives.

5. S is for Space, by Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury had many talents, but I think his best work was actually in the short story form. This excellent book includes several of the Bradbury pieces I have the most affection for, including “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed.” Also a few of his quieter works, where the scary or spellbinding is achieved not through thrills and chills, but through the weight of ponderous, philosophical insight. One to own.

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