content by

Craig Davidson

7 Horror Novels from the Heyday of Mass Market Paperbacks

I came of age as a horror-head in the ’80s. I exited that dizzying decade as a disaffected teenager with a Gordon Gekko collar… no, probably a Chip and Pepper shirt. I grew up in the greatest boom of horror books North America has likely ever seen. Stephen King was at the height of his powers—though he was no slouch in the ’70s and hasn’t waned since. But not only King: Koontz, Barker, Simmons, Straub, McCammon, Rice, and others hit highs. It was perhaps too crowded a marketplace, and as such some writers may have gotten lost, as unfortunately happens.

The big thing back then seemed to be making the leap from paperback to hardback. Nowadays hardcovers and paperbacks—trade paperbacks, or French-flapped hybrid paperbacks—may be more commonplace than mass-market paperbacks, depending on the genre. But in the ’80s, MMPB was king. Zebra, Pinnacle, Tor, Daw, Orbit, Sphere, Leisure (I think) and others were putting out tons of paperback horror books. Now some writers came out of the gate in hardback, but others had to ascend from the paperback spinning-racks (found at all drugstores and supermarkets) to prove themselves “hardback worthy.” Not all did. Not all of them gave a damn about doing so, if it meant writing stuff they weren’t interested in. My sense—and I can only imagine Grady Hendrix and others agree on this—is that while good horror is never a cheap thrill, it is sometimes best enjoyed in its cheapest format. I have my Kings and Barker and Rice hardcovers, sure, but my old paperbacks really show how much they’ve been read, wearing their scars in the creases of their spines, the bald spots on their foil-stamped covers and their rounded edges. Like old dogs, you can see how much they’ve been loved just by looking at them.

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