Sunday, December 17, 2017

Book Review: The Best of Richard Matheson (Selected and edited by Victor LaValle)

The Best of Richard Matheson (Selected and edited by Victor LaValle)

Paperback, 384 pages

Published November 2017 by Penguin Classics

It is not Hyperbole to say that Richard Matheson is one of the most important writers of the 20th Century. Ray Bradbury said that and I want to expand on the point. It is not just the novels, or the films and the TV shows. It is all of them. Neil Gaiman nailed it when he said you know his stories even if you don't know him. Weather it is I Am Legend, The Night Stalker, Somewhere in Time or one of his many Twilight Zone episodes. I have met most of my professional heroes and the only time I was ever star stuck in my life was the three times I met Richard Matheson. I often tell that story and people often tell me "I never heard of him," then I say his titles and they know them. Many of them are classics.

Matheson was a hero to me growing up. I started to read him shortly after I discovered Clive Barker and Stephen King. As a young horror reader, I was reading everything I could get my hands on by those two giants. I lived in the used section of Cavet Emptor the used book store in a old house turned into a jam packed used backstore. The store has moved but still exists. When I was young the horror section was in a small room just bigger than a closet.

Richard Matheson had a shelf to himself, his name caught my attention because I knew it, from years of watching the Twilight Zone. I proceeded to buy every book I could. I loved Matheson right away in part because he was a pure story-teller. I loved that he wrote Twilight Zones, novel and movies. He wrote weird but didn't create things so out there that a young reader like me couldn't get it. That was a problem I sometimes had with Clive Barker at the time. He didn't waste words like Stephen King.

So how does one compile a best of book for a author with a long productive lifetime of writing short stories. I am sure it was a huge challenge. It fell on the shoulders of Victor Lavalle (author of The Changling and the Ballad of Black Tom)who is certainly one of the IT writers of the day. He responded by reading everything and choose thirty-two classics.

LaValle's introduction was good, he gave a personal story that set the tone. I had read a good many of these stories before. Several of them you will know from the Twilight Zone, and if you don't know them you need to know them. The selection of stories is thoughtful and shows a good range of what RM could do as a writer. If this is your introduction it is a good place to start.

Stories that stood out for me in this reading include "Shipshape Home" about a apartment building with a mystery. Deus ex Machina that had a great emotional core and the Twilight zone Classics "Button, Button" and "Third From the Sun." Some of the best stories like Duel did less for me because I just watched the film (That Matheson wrote himself) and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet as it is also too well known.

Content wise this is a no brainer 5/5 book that should be required reading not just for genre fans but anyone wanting to understand 20th century American fiction. There are a few little things I wish they had added to the book, and I understand I might be asking for things outside of the Penguin classic Formula. Listing the year of publication under the title of each story and maybe editor commentary after each title. maybe even a paragraph. I would like to know more about the selection process.

Must have read and now that I know about The Charles Beumont Peguin Classics I have to read that too.

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