AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. Time, now, for our book series "PG-13." Thirteen is about the age when young readers start to explore the grown-up literary world, even if they're not quite ready. At that age, writer Victor LaValle lived in Queens, New York - very much an urban kid - and he was already a fan of horror. He was stopped in his tracks one day, by a blurb from Stephen King on the front of a book.
VICTOR LAVALLE: I have seen the future of horror, and it is named Clive Barker. It was the mid-'80s, and I was in my local comic store. I remember seeing those words on the paperback cover of a book. The image of a cheap, rubber-looking mask - with its mouth hanging open, and its eyes empty - was on the front. A purple light glowed behind the mask. It wasn't frightening. The cover looked stupid. And the name, Clive Barker, meant nothing to me. I might've passed it by - if not for the name under the blurb.
Stephen King had called this dude the future of horror. That was like having the shark from "Jaws" endorse a new monster. I bought the paperback. I opened the book at random to the second story, "The Midnight Meat Train." Leon Kaufman, a recent transplant to New York City, is drinking his morning coffee, and reading the New York Times, at his local deli. Another gruesome murder - in a string of them - dominates the front page. Bodies have been discovered, butchered in ritualistic fashion, down in the New York City subways.
And that's where I stopped reading - not because of the butchered victims. It was the fact that they'd been found in the subway cars of New York City. Can I tell you what a revelation this was? When I was 13, I loved horror. But it was never about cities. It was always some small town or backwood locale, or maybe the suburbs. But a real city - with subway systems, and morning coffee bought at the corner store - those were rare. But here was Clive Barker, a Brit, writing about a city - my city. I felt so grateful. We were on the map.
Needless to say, Leon Kaufman soon finds himself down in that New York City subway system. And someone - something - is waiting there to meet him. Do you see why I was hooked; why I tore through every other story in a day; why I rejoiced when there were five more volumes to come? Barker's other stories took place in other parts of the world, and I enjoyed them just as well. But it was that first story, "The Midnight Meat Train," that hit me hardest. Clive Barker made me believe that stories about my hometown could be worth a shiver and a chill, too. "Books of Blood" was a jolt of terrifying salvation.
BLOCK: That's writer Victor LaValle, recalling a revelatory teenage read for our series "PG-13."