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High Cotton by Joe R. Lansdale – Book Review

Now that Halloween is winding down, I’m ramping up my efforts to talk about scary stories and short horror tales as often as possible. I would also like to correct what I now feel is an unacceptable oversight–I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Joe R. Lansdale on this blog. He happens to be one of my favorite favorite writers, both of horror and other stuff, and I love his Texas gothic stuff.

And of course, if you’ve been reading this blog for upwards of five minutes, you know that I like short stories, and the creepier the better. That’s where Joe comes in at the start of this post.

I read an essay by George Orwell once (from the collection In Front Of Your Nose) in which he said that book reviews should not contain reminiscences–he then admitted to breaking his own rule, so I’m not going to hold myself to that standard. My first experience with Joe R. Lansdale was High Cotton, and there is no better way for me to talk about how much I loved it than reminiscing about how it made me feel: like I had found the perfect book of short stories for my tastes, age, temperament, and sense of humor. I’m older now, and all of those things still apply.

It’s a perfect book for me.

High Cotton summary

Besides having one of the creepier book covers I can think of, High Cotton is one the best horror collections out there. If you call yourself a horror fan and have not yet read Lansdale’s “The Night They Missed The Horror Show,” you need to quit reading this right now and go find a copy. I’m not sure how How Lansdale feels about having a signature story, or if he would claim this one as such, but among fans I have talked about this story more than any other. I’m not even going to get into the plot beyond saying that if you are young and stupid, chances are Lansdale has written a story about you, showing just how bad things can get because of carelessness.

The first story in High Cotton is called The Pit. It was actually the first story I ever read by the author and I was hooked. A man is forced into lethal prizefighting in a nasty little backwater town. In another story Creepy rednecks are a major staple of Lansdale’s fiction, and they are in high supply in High Cotton.

high cotton Joe LandaleThe stupid shenanigans of some teens land an unfortunate one of them in a crocodile’s mouth. And so on. Some of the stories are truly frightening. Some are shocking. Most have something funny in them and a few are flat out hilarious. Above all I read High Cotton and I see a man who loves to write. I doubt Harold Bloom would have anything very nice to say about the author’s body of work. All the better.

I could go on and on. I probably will in the future, which is why for now I’m just going to say, please go read High Cotton. It is absolutely fantastic.


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  • Elle B. October 23, 2010, 7:24 pm

    Oh, so enjoying the countdown to Halloween (one of my favorite holidays). I just checked out High Cotton on Amazon and ordered via your link. My husband will adore it! BTW, loved Drood, something you recommended to me some time ago.

  • Mich November 26, 2010, 9:00 pm

    Thanks for this recommendation. I’ve enjoyed Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard books but somehow missed this collection.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 26, 2010, 9:04 pm

      You’re welcome! If you like this one I’d recommend Bumper Crop as well.