Apex Authors: Five Books I've Read Maybe Five Times by Michael Wehunt

by guest author Michael Wehunt


If forced to choose a favorite book, I would weep and beg and swear I couldn’t do it but in the end choose this epic era-sweeping puzzle of a masterpiece. It’s a joy to revisit every few years just to admire how the story bleeds across its disparate but connected protagonists—beginning in the 1800s and ending in the far-flung future—through beautiful writing, inventive narrative structure, and a timeless mingling of fate and chance that still captures me every single time.

A lot of my rereads are pure comfort food, and this 650-pager is a warm blanket when I’m feeling at a loss. A string of scholars have, across decades, come to believe that the unnaturally extended life of Vlad III, the brutal fifteenth-century ruler of Wallachia, wasn’t simply an invention of Bram Stoker for his famous novel, Dracula.

Mixing historical richness, travel diary, and some genuine moments of effective horror (though it rarely tries to be a horror novel), it’s a book that lets me put the world aside for a week or so. Even the passages that are overwritten—and there are many—are a comforting joy.

Blood Meridian may technically be the superior novel (and is also a must-read), but The Road is McCarthy, my favorite author on a pure wordcraft level, meeting the mainstream halfway, and that keeps it always within arm’s reach. I can reread this bleak apocalyptic story over and over and over simply to absorb the poetry of the prose and inspire my own, and the hope in the story always lingers with me.

One of the very few artists who can actually produce a visceral creeping dread using words alone, Barron is at the pinnacle of cosmic horror, easily usurping Mr. Lovecraft with superior prose and superior chills. His protagonists range across many walks of life, which is also a refreshing change from the typical stuffy academic that faces off against cyclopean horrors that cause instant madness, as this subgenre usually recycles endlessly. There’s often a deep sense of noir as well. This second collection remains my favorite, and I read it every two years or so.

I would likely take The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor to a desert island instead of her second and final novel, but I’ve read The Violent Bear It Away cover to cover a little more. This is the mad odor of brimstone and the dirt under the fingernails I grew up with as a child in North Georgia.

I’ve still never read anything that comes this close to capturing the dark terror of God and faith—it could be slipped onto a cosmic horror bookshelf and not be that out of place. That it does so entirely within the scope of realism is impressive. And, of course, O’Connor’s incredible voice is present in every sentence, wanting to be read slowly and wonderingly.