Reviewing: Paperbacks From Hell by Grady Hendrix

Content warnings: Discussions of all sorts of horror themes and tropes, gore, abuse etc. 

My Rating: 5 out of 5 books

Highlights: 

  • This book made me laugh, I had no idea nonfiction books could be this funny
  • It was fascinating to see how horror changed with the world’s fears. 
  • I felt this weird surge of pride whenever I saw a book I’ve read being mentioned. Looking at you, Jaws and The Exorcist. 
  • These books are weird and wonderful and Hendrix clearly adores them. 

“Of course, every mother thinks her baby is perfect, but at some point, as her home fills with dead bodies, she has to face facts and admit that the fruit of her womb is a face-eating beast spawned from the deepest recesses of hell.”

I’m just going to say it out of the gate, this is definitely one of my top reads for the year. The first entry in my ‘Nonfiction November’ goal of consuming more facts before the inevitable avalanche of christmas romance, this book was an absolute delight to read. I’ve loved Hendrix’s fiction, one of my favourite horror reads is My Best Friend’s Exorcism and his book Horrorstor is going to make my next visit to Ikea incredibly weird, so I was intrigued to see how his darkly funny writing style would lend itself to a historical study of the genre he excels in. 

I knew vaguely that horror paperbacks used to be a big thing, especially in America, but my knowledge ended there. This book is predominantly America-based as, it seems, was the majority of the horror publishing world during the paperback boom of the 70s and 80s, but I felt a little puff of pride whenever England popped up. It was fascinating to see how trends in horror mimicked fears across the nation at large and culminated in some astonishing and astonishingly bizarre fiction the themes of which varied from creepy children to rock star vampires. Need to figure out if your precious blue-eyed baby is secretly Satan’s love child? There’s a chapter for that! Looking to buy that suspiciously cheap piece of real estate which may or may not be on cursed ground? Maybe consult this book first. 

Hendrix shines a light on the criminally underappreciated cover artists of the horror boom. (Side note, this book does use the phrase “born Male” in reference to cover artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones, which is potentially not the best phrasing, but still uses her correct pronouns when referencing her life and works). Through the pages of this book we meet artists and writers from all walks of life, such as George Ziel, an artist who survived internment in Nazi concentration camps and went on to paint beautiful and eerie horror covers. This book is full, cover to cover, with these incredible and bizarre works of art featuring everything from nightdress clad women fleeing shadowy castles to angry infants after the blood of the mothers who rejected them, and from the gory to the gothic it is honestly an experience just to take them all in. Fair warning though, it’s not entirely safe for work. I was reading it in the opticians and I had to close the book for a few minutes because naked satan worshipping ladies were on the page, and a child sat next to me. I needed new glasses people, I didn’t want to be kicked out of Specsavers for introducing a nine year old to well endowed satanists. 

This book made me laugh out loud, Hendrix’s trademark wit and humour translate incredibly well into nonfiction. It’s educational and conversational, mixing light hearted fun-poking with serious societal discussions and more than a few facts to entertain friends, dogs and long-suffering partners as you make your way through two decades of total madness. I want to read some of these strange and fantastical books, I want to read more about them, and I really hope that Grady Hendrix writes more nonfiction because this was fantastic!

2 comments

  1. “I didn’t want to be kicked out of Specsavers for introducing a nine year old to well endowed satanists” is quite possible the best line I’ve ever come across in a book review.

    This sounds great! I haven’t been in the mood for non-fiction at all this year, which makes me a little sad because there’s plenty I want to read, but this definitely sounds like one to add to my TBR for when the mood takes me. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I turned the page and just went “NOPE NOT RISKING IT” and very carefully put the book away! I’m so glad you liked the review! I’m not a massive reader of nonfiction in the past but this one is a fantastic intro to it and I’d highly recommend it!

      Liked by 1 person

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