Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Apathy Jack writes:

I remember when I went to Boarders looking for a copy of A Child Called ‘It’ - Dave Pelzer’s harrowing account of his childhood, where he suffered experiences that were, from memory, classified as the third worst case of recorded child abuse in America.

“Hmm,” I thought to myself. “I wonder where they keep the autobiographies?”

Searching fruitlessly for a time, I decided to go for the more general “non-fiction” section.

Couldn’t find that either.

“Excuse me,” I asked the information drone. “Where would I find your biography section?”
“Don’t have one.” Replied the book drone.
“Alright, how’s about non-fiction?”
“Don’t have one of those either.”
“Then where do you suppose I’d find A Child Called ‘It’?” I asked.
“For that book,” he said, looking at his computer. “You’ll need to look in our Child Abuse/Incest section.”

And that was how I learned that Boarders doesn’t have a biography section or a non-fiction section, but does have a child abuse/incest section.

It’s like the dirt just won’t come off, you know.

What was my point?

Oh yeah, you should all be reading more. So, for your edification, here is a reading list:

There is of course the aforementioned A Child Called ‘It’ – one of the only truly upsetting reads I’ve had. This is available by itself, or collected in My Story which is the full volume of Pelzers tale, including the sequels The Lost Boy and A Man Named Dave. Reading them all is good for completeness (and a sense of closure), but I must say they drag a little. Pelzer is remarkable for his past, not his writing ability, and as his life gets more and more on track (towards the middle of the second book or thereabouts) it becomes, sadly, a lot less interesting to read about...

Another favourite is THEM by Jon Ronson – subtitled ‘Adventures with Extremists’ it is basically a series of profiles of people like David Icke and the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan who is spearheading a new initiative to ban the use of the "N" word.

Ronson is, by trade, a humour writer, but he knows when to pull back and let the innate ridiculousness of the extremists show through.

Ronson’s second book The Men Who Stare At Goats has recently been released, which is basically THEM applied to a military conspiracy called The First Earth Division, which would be laughable if there wasn’t evidence of holdover ideas from this hippy-era military plan being applied in places like Iraq...

Worth a brief perusal is A Million Little Pieces – James Frey’s autobiographical tale of his time in rehab, overcoming drug and alcohol problems he had since the age of ten. Frey is a brilliant writer who presents some very powerful scenes; I challenge anyone to sit through the chapter where he undergoes root canal surgery - sans painkillers - without flinching.

The book is let down a little by how increasing difficult it becomes to suspend disbelief as the story goes on. While it is human nature to make oneself the hero of one’s narrative, by the last few chapters I was expecting the book to end with Frey being crucified to save Mankind from it’s sins and returning from the dead three days later...

A book I’m now onto my second copy of is Cruddy, by Lynda Barrie. In order to convince you that this book is worth reading, I will simply cut and paste the prologue of the book in its entirety:

When we first moved here, the mother took the blue-mirror cross that hung over her bed in our old house and nailed a nail in it for the new bedroom of me and my sister. Truthfully it is a cross I have never liked. The Jesus of it seems haunted. He’s the light absorber kind. In the pitch-black middle of the night he will start to glow green at you with his arms up like he is doing a tragic ballet. Some nights looking at him scares me so bad I can hardly move and I start doing a prayer for protection. But when the thing that is scaring you is already Jesus, who are you supposed to pray to?

Another damn fine read is, well, anything by Christopher Brookmyre – especially Not The End Of The World, where Brookmyre looks at religious extremism, and A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away, his treatise on terrorism (which earned some small notoriety by being released in the first week of September 2001 with a blurb that boldly announced “Terrorism is the new rock and roll!”).

Brookmyre writes fiction – crime stories which almost always have a smart-mouthed Glaswegian as the main character. He also gets hugely didactic at times, telling you what he thinks about the ills of human stupidity with all the subtlety of a charging rhino. However, his sense of comedic description makes these rants a part of the narrative, rather than an impediment to it.

Also worth a look is The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen. The story of two octogenarians and their three grown-up children, and how life hasn't really worked out the way they thought it would.

Franzen is most famous not for his books (the first two of which came and went relatively unnoticed by the majority of the public) but for being "dis-invited" from Oprah's Book Club, which The Corrections got him into. Despite this, I have to say, the man writes better than Jesus, and this book is an amazing read.

I lent the book to a friend of mine and she read the first hundred or so pages before getting so depressed by the horrible things that happen to the characters that she had to cheer herself up by reading a Sylvia Plath biography.

You just don't get 'depressing' of that quality too often.

Finally, I’ve been rereading a lot of Henry Rollins of late.

Over the last twenty odd years, Rollins has published over a dozen books of poetry and prose, all of which are themed around the same idea as his three dozen or so CDs of music (first with Back Flag then with The Rollins Band) and spoken word: The idea that Henry Rollins is very angry all of the time.

His writing is definitely an acquired taste (which is a polite way of saying I’m pretty certain you’ll like the other stuff I’ve recommended but less sure about this ‘un). Ah, hell, here’s the man himself:

I see walking bombs on the street
Hearts not beating, but ticking
I’m talking about detonation!

Rollins is the master of nervous breakdown writing – words that aid and abet my occasional spiral into hideous dysfunctionality.

For the beginner, I’d recommend The Portable Henry Rollins, excerpts from twelve of his books. In addition to being a good yard stick as to whether you’ll like his work, it also highlights the faintly upsetting fact that in Solipsist, published in the late nineties, Rollins is still dealing with exactly the same hatred and anger that he presents in High Adventure In The Great Outdoors, his first collection of writing from the early eighties. He’s a poster child for rage, not for healthily working through your issues and living a life of contentment.

Hell, I still wince a little when I read the longing description: You are beautiful like demolition.

Anyhoo, the above are the things worth reading. So get the hell away from the internet and read an actual book. Everything I’ve mentioned can be found at any halfway reputable literature merchant – if you’re in Auckland, a trip to Boarders will net you all of these in one go. Off you go – step away from the computer and get some real reading down you.


Now for the interactive part of this: What should I be reading, and why? I want replies from as many people as possible, because I will actually make an effort to procure and read what is recommended.

Two things to keep in mind:

1) To convince me to spend hard-earned hamburger tokens on your recommendations, I may need reasons that are slightly more in-depth than “Dis buk iz teh coolzor.”

2) I’m a grown up, so Harry Potter books and anything with elves in it should, of course, not be suggested by anyone for any reason.

Go crazy wild.


BerlinBear said...

I would recommend Cees Nooteboom's "All Souls' Day" the story of a Dutch documentary film maker and incorrigible globetrotter in the Berlin of the late 90s. I'm just reading at the moment - getting to the end - and so far I think it's great.

And, of course, since you seem to like harrowing reads, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" is an absolute must.

Hope that helps

HORansome said...

For all that is holy could someone go through and replace 'Boarders' with 'Borders' please. It is doing my head in.

Anyway, whilst I would like to recommend books I find myself in the unfortunate position of only having read seven fiction titles in the last year and can really only recommend 'The Algrebraist' by my old favourite, Iain M. Banks. Whilst not his best work in the SF field (bizaarely enough his best SF work was not published as SF - indeed, go and read 'Walking on Glass;' 'tis funny and depressing (often at different times) 'The Algrebraist' once again proves to me a) why I don't usually like SF and b) why American SF feels so filthy. 'The Algrebraist' is a character piece, unlike so much other SF out there, which tend to be idea-driven (and the prime reason why the genre tends to fail to get mainstream respectability) and it written by a Scotmans who is not afraid at poking fun at the American Dream version of SF (you know, the one where outerspace becomes another part of America's glorious empire of doing good and spreading Truth, Justice and the American Way!).

It is all good.

Non-fiction wise... It's all been thesis-related and I am sure (utterly convinced, actually) that no one needs to read Donald Davidson on 'Anomalous Monism.'

HORansome said...

Also, Borders has a 'Black Magic' section (look at LaVey or Crowley onm their computer system for proof of this). Unfortunately you do not need to circle the building eight times whilst chanting litanies to Yog-soggoth to be granted access to it...

Josh said...

Arna or I lent you "The Road to Mars" by Eric Idle, didn't we? For everyone else, it's a SF story about two comedians on their way to Mars, which is sort of like the Vegas of the future. They're accompanied by their robot servant who looks like David Bowie and is working on a thesis about comedy. The actual plot is unremarkable, but the disections of comedy and comedians go from insightful to hilarious, to kind of worrying, especially when the robot starts talking about how fucked up most comedians were, including that Eric Idle guy - boy was he a mess...

phats said...

I have recently completed the Book of the New Sun and it's follow-up Urth.
After reading these two books, I am having trouble finding any other science fiction or fantasy worth reading.
Finally getting around to Picture of Dorian Gray tonight, which I should have done years ago. I am hoping it will not be as wanque as I fear.

Krimsonlake said...

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.
Literally everyone should read this. If you think James frey is a good writer you'll adore Augusten Burroughs. It's supposedly an autobiography, but the sheer lunacy of the story has you closing the book thinking that it's just absolutely not possible.
If you're the type who likes insight into lunacy then you cannot not read Running With Scissors.

Yes, I liked it THAT much.

Oh, and Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk. Everyone has seen Fight Club, this book is better. Fight Club is the inferior cousin to Invisible Monsters, enough said.

Josh said...

I dunno - Fight Club is the only one of his books I really liked. Possibly because it's the first one I read - I found his ultra-repetitive style got tired very quickly, and had less and less tolerance for it each book I read.

Krimsonlake said...

Unfortunately there seem to be 3 Palahniuk camps.
1) Those who think he's a God (me)
2) Those who think he is repetitive. (Which he is, us God types just don't care.)
3) Those who have never heard of him.

I'm counting on the third group and trying to make them read Invisible Monsters first.

I'm hoping I don't get over his schtick though, because he does have a particularly repetitive style, which seems to annoy some people. If I get annoyed I'll have to find another author to worship.:-(

dreamer said...

Well, it's not all that highly rated, but I think it's worth reading The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson.
It's basically a work of fiction, that follows a group of people who reincarnate from one life to the next, down the course of history to modern day - except that the black death killed off most europeans, and the asian countries rose to power instead.
It's worth reading because it's an interesting idea, seeing the same sorts of things familiar in our recent history shown in a slightly different light - like women's liberation burning a veil instead of a bra, and so on.

Josh said...

Re: Palahniuk -- don't get me wrong, the guy has some cool ideas and some great one-liners, but when he spends an ENTIRE FUCKING PAGE listing serial killers and their partners...

I also don't like the way he uses the supernatural as a plot device, e.g. the psychic girlfriend in Survivor and the haunted houses in Lullaby (and pretty much the rest of Lullaby, too).

taikonaut said...

So I shouldn't mention I have already read apreview copy of Brookmyre's Be My Enemy, then?

Also, although you abhor magic, I really think you should read His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. Loosely based on Paradise lost, it's theological devestation aimed at early teens.

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