by Stephen Kozeniewski
I still remember every moment of reading Edward Lee’s BRAIN CHEESE BUFFET.
I remember where I was. I remember what I was doing, who I was with, the sights, the smells, the plots of TV shows I watched later that night. (Normally I can’t even remember what I watched yesterday, let alone what it was about.)
It was a transformative experience. It is etched into my brain.
It is possible, in fact probable, that there are more transgressive pieces of literature. Probably some of the books reviewed right here by the fine, iron-stomached reviewers of Horror After Dark are more extreme. I’ve heard POPULATION ZERO is nothing to sneeze at. By what I’ve read of Carlton Mellick III, I don’t doubt he’s capable of penning something more severe.
The point, though, is not that BRAIN CHEESE was the most extreme piece of horror ever written (although I suspect it probably ranks up there.) The point is that it was the most extreme piece of horror I’ve ever read.
“And who the hell are you, jerkoff?” I’m sure you’re asking, “And why should we care?”
Well, first of all, I’m a human being with feelings and I don’t appreciate being called a jerkoff. But second, it doesn’t matter who I am specifically, it only matters that I’m a reader. You’re a reader too or you wouldn’t be reading (see?) this. You wouldn’t be on this book review site at all. You’d be off slapping the toned butts of your lacrosse team-mates or possibly passed out in your room with a needle and spoon. (I don’t really know what non-readers do.)
I’m often asked, “Why would someone want to read horror?” It’s a compelling question. The appeal of other genres is obvious. Reading romance leaves you warm and fuzzy, reading adventure leaves you excited and full of beans, reading non-fiction satisfies your thirst for knowledge. But horror? Why would someone deliberately submit themselves to the fight-or-flight mechanism, the most fundamental and basic of unpleasant human experience?
And in providing an answer I point right back to the question: because it’s fundamental. Because it’s potent. Because fear is what drives us, more than any other emotion. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of the outsider, fear of dying, fear, fear, fear.
We remember traumatic events like 9/11, or for different generations Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination. Or our personal traumas, our suffering, our losses, our struggles. So, too, bringing it back around, do we remember traumatic reading.
I remember BRAIN CHEESE BUFFET in the Biblical sense. I remember pretty much every individual story. It’s seared into my soul. I tried to bleach my eyes out at the time, but sadly no amount of bleach can ever remove the stain from my soul.
Does that answer why we read horror? I can’t tell you the plot of A WALK TO REMEMBER. (It was something about a post office, right?) And as fun as OLD MAN’S WAR was, or STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, I’m sure I could re-read them a few more times and enjoy them just as much. GUNS, GERMS, and STEEL I just have vague recollections of. BRAIN CHEESE, though? I’d probably collapse into a foetal ball if I tried to crack that book again.
Well, that about wraps up my guest post, and even though that was a really perfect ending point and adding anything now would be like reading the 21st chapter of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, I really would be remiss if I didn’t say why I wrote this guest post. It’s because my new book, THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, is way more hardcore than anything that’s ever been published before. This is my perfect revenge. Now everyone else can have my transgressive monstrosity seared on their souls. Eat your heart out, Ed Lee. Ha ha ha ha ha!
You can find Stephen’s books on Amazon
I highly recommend Braineater Jones
You can check out my review of it HERE