"A Perfect Day for Bananafish" by
J. D. Salinger, published in Nine Stories, Bantam PB, ISBN 0553205129, 25th printing,
This is the best short story collection I've ever read.
Period. Of course, reading them during the I-Like-Ike era was influential. Some of the stories are only less fascinating than
the others. In the 1950s, not many looked at the enturbulated
underbelly--that psychic residue of shame and terror from the
WWII experience—other than a small bunch of B-level filmmakers
creating what we now call film noir. My other favorite
Esme—with Love and Squalor."
"The Willows" by Algernon
Blackwood published in Tales of Terror and the Unknown, E.P. Dutton PB, c.1965
This is his most popular story—and for good reasons.
All of these stories were written about 100 years ago, when
ghost stories were explorations, not adrelinine rushes, and
their creepiness was built in your imagination, not splattered
all over the room for you to slip in. My other favorites are "Max
Hensig", "May Day Eve", "The Camp of the
Dog", and—not to be missed—"The Wendigo".
I need to read more of this author and am looking for other
works, namely Julius LeVallon and The Bright Messenger.
"A Scandal in Bohemia" by
Arthur Conan Doyle published originally in The Adventures of Sherlock
Holmes, George Newnes
Publisher UK, c.1892.
When attacking Hommie, why not start at the beginning?
Besides introducing the famous duo, it brings us our only glance
at Irene Adler, a much-needed strong female character who is,
alas, only referred to in subsequent stories. If you want to
contemporize Holmes for easier swallowing, watch Richie's 2009
movie with Downey & Law. It might make "The Speckled
Band" and the compulsory novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles more
palatable for modern taste buds.
"The Dead" by James Joyce published in Dubliners,
Viking TPB, c.1967, story c.1914.
They made us read "Araby" for college prep,
then I got the full dose during spring quarter 1968 at UC Berkeley.
As I continued with Joyce, I found him more and more incomprehensible,
culminating before I could even get to Molly's damn soliloquy
But "The Dead" put a new word into my consciousness:
epiphany. I grudgingly identified with Gabriel's small, ego-bolstered
worldview, and scared that my "own identity was fading out
into a gray impalpable world" (p.223). The revelation was
that it was my own pettiness--not the world's--and that led me
to a cornerstone of my maturing philosophy, summed up later by
Jackson Browne with "nothing survives,
but the way we live our lives."
"The Metamorphosis" by Franz
Kafka published originally in German by Kurt Wolff Verlag,
How can you deny a story when its first sentence is:
"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found
himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." It
is the ultimate fantasist's backflip of appearance-vs.-reality,
made doubly uneasy with not even a nod as to why? If,
in fact, "it is what it is" as my son Tol would say, it validates
all fantasy literature with merit—and bestows upon it the
possibility of revealing that hidden, capping arcana we're
all searching for.
Especially for us Outsiders.
"The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson
published in The Ghost Pirates and Other
Revenants of the Sea, Vol. III, Night Shade Books, ISBN 189238941X, c.2005, story c.1907.
Most terrors, when experienced
vicariously through books or film, are
cluastraphobic: the darkened hallway in a haunted house,
the point-of-view camera angle opening a door into nothingness,
the jack-in-the-box horror when pulling off a coffin lid. But
the creepiness of the ocean comes from
just the opposite place
best pondered by this author over a century ago. It is "the enormous
silence of the sea, spreading out . . . every way into the
everlasting, brooding night . . . as calm and quiet as some queer
plain of death" ("The Stone Ship", p.279). It is so indifferent,
so alien, so not interested in being a part of our world.
This is a story about a doomed couple who are slowly
being horribly consumed by the sea, or something derivative
of the sea. It is a cancerous and pathetic tale that is becoming
all the more real as we age and see our friends get devoured
by nonchalant and inscrutable forces. Pray we face it with
the same strength as these characters do.
"The Graveyard Rats" by Henry Kuttner published
in The Graveyard Reader, edited by Groff Conklin, Ballantine PBO,
c.1958, story c.1936.
This, by no means, is the best Kuttner
story out there. But, I picked it because it was the 1st story
Kuttner ever published, and I wanted to stay consistent with
Catherine his wife. Plus, this was one of my all-time
virgin scare experiences.
In the triple-digit summers of Phoenix
managed by swamp coolers, I would dig underground forts to
play and stay comfortable in the cooler, desert earth. Imagine
my 11-year old, creeped-out brain, housed in a miner's hat
and propped up against a dirt wall, readin' about a gloomy
gravedigger who ends up crawlin' in the below-ground
passageways between graves chasin' jewelry on a dead guy being
dragged by hungry and industrious rats—and something else.
When that scorpion landed on my shoulder you can bet it felt
just like the first scratchings of a
But besides the heavy-handed moral
message against stealin' and greed, there was, for me I think,
a deeper, thought-twisted haven in those self-made caves regarding
the consolation of the womb in the primordial dirt.
Better Kuttner stories are to be found in The
Best of Henry Kuttner (Nelson Doubleday BCE, intro by Bradbury, c.1975), like
"Two-Headed Engine", "The Proud Robot", and "The Twonky".
"The Lottery" by
Shirley Jackson published in The
Lottery or, The Adventures of James Harris, Demon Lover,
Lion Books, #14, c.1950, but story c.1948.
What homage to the short story would be complete without
this selection? I know, you've already read it. In high school.
But read it again. If this cover art is any indication, you
might find a whole different story than the one you remember.
"Kaleidoscope" by Ray Bradbury published in The
Illustrated Man, Doubleday, c.1951, but story 1949.
It is impossible to pick only one story
as being the best of Ray Bradbury. It's even ridicilous to
highlight one out of a favorite collection, let alone by genre
or any other catorization. Only because I remember it
the best after 50 years since reading, I picked this one about
a disgruntled astronaut reminscing his worthless life as he
tumbles toward earth and certain death. At the same time he
wishes he could do only one "good thing for just himself to
know about" (p.150), a boy in Illinois points up and says,
"Look, Mom, look! A falling star!" His mom replies, "make a
wish. Make a wish."
I also like "The Emissary" from Dark
Carnival a lot.
I'd recommend The
Stories by Ray Bradbury,
published by Knopf in 1980. Ray's picked his favorite 100 stories
from the beginning of his career forward—bookended loosely between
Dark Carnival and Long After Midnight.
"The Color out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft published
in Cry Horror!, Avon PB, c.1959, but story c.1927.
This was my first introduction to HPL. I was 12 years
old and having some serious transitional problems facing puberty.
I had shutters on my bedroom in Phoenix so I could read by
candlelight during the day. Along with Forrie's Famous
Monster of Filmland magazine, this story grievously disturbed
Upon later study of Lovecraft, I'd recommend Arkham's
Dunwich Horror. Not a bad read in the bunch.
of Doctor Death and Other Stories" by Gene Wolfe published in
The Island of Doctor Death and Other
Stories and Other Stories,
Pocket Books PBO, ISBN 067182824X, c.1980.
This is the most successful second-person
narrative I've ever come across. It may be the only one I've ever
read. They're pretty scarce. But this one, wow. It achieves the
narrow focus of first-person, and simultaneously, the complete
detachment of the teller, even from himself. It is a profound
alienation--perfect for a story about trying to figure what's
going on—yet retains a deep emotional involvement. The other
two Island/Death stories kinda make a trilogy—Ziesing published The
Wolfe Archipelago where Gene added a fourth—but the basis
for linkage beyond the titles is puzzling. But all of Wolfe is
somewhat disconcerting. He seems to be writing on a shelf above
me, a pace ahead of my literary experience, and I've never decided
if it is audacity or genius. Clarity is not his strong suit;
that's okay 'cause it ain't mine, either. But I feel, well,
cheated; as if he's making me do too much of the work. Maybe there's
just not enough adjectives for me. But try "The Hero As Werwolf",
"The Eyeflash Miracles" and "Seven American Nights" from this collection
"Jacqueline Ess: Her Will
and Testament" by Clive Barker, published in Books
of Blood, Vol II, c.1984 as
anthologized by Stealth Press, ISBN 1588810402, c.2001.
This is eroticism of the bizarre personified. It links
sex and death way past the French's petit mort and
into a sort of obsessional pilgrimage leaving from the mundane
for a phantasmagorical re-defining of oneself strictly through
the magic of extreme carnal sensation. Lose yourself to Pan's
pipes and wake up—if you do—far beyond erections and wetness.
Don't read this story if you believe self-loathing is merely
"Bread and Circuses" & "Phantasy Moste Grotesk" by Felicity Dowker, TPB published in Bread and Circuses, c.2012, Ticonderoga Publications, Australia, ISBN 9781921857089.
This down-under gal will put you down and under with twisted, scary stuff. Ms Dowker is from Tasmania and certainly has some devil inside her. Not a lot of pulled punches here. To borrow her own words from the back cover blurb, "it hurts, and it's horrible, and it's beautiful . . . and we might as well enjoy it."
08/21/2010 by Larry Crawford