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March 10, 2014

12 Books That End Mid-Sentence.

Kafka.Castle.1967.big_By Gabe Habash.

Way back before The Sopranos made people angry/confused for cutting to black out of nowhere, books were messing with the heads of readers by daring to not use a period as the last typeset keystroke on the very last page. Here are 12 books that have no need for the standard last punctuation mark.

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June 17, 2013

Storyville: 3 Essential Books You Should Read in Every Major Genre

storyville-masterBy Richard Thomas

This list is entirely subjective, based on books that I’ve read over the years. But what they all have in common is that they’ve stayed with me. Many of these titles I’ve read over and over again. Some are touchstones, lodestones that I reference when I get blocked, bowing at the feet of masters that have taught me everything I’ve ever learned about what makes compelling fiction. I’m hoping that you’ve read most of these and will spend much of this column nodding your head in agreement. More importantly, I hope you find some new authors and novels that will enlighten you at some point down the road.

NOTE: The genres I’ve picked are “major” to me, not to publishing in general. In leaving out romance, for example. I’m not saying it’s unimportant, just not for me. As you know, I tend to be drawn to dark writing, so that’s probably easy to see in these selections, including the YA and literary fiction.

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May 15, 2013

In the Reign of the Gay Magical Elves

jasonCollinsElfxCRBy Bret Easton Ellis

The rush to embrace and console every gay man who comes out is infantilizing and condescending—but it’s a script written and promoted by GLAAD and reinforced by a sanctimonious establishment of gay men that rewards those who play by the rules—and punishes those who don’t. Novelist Bret Easton Ellis on why he refuses to take his bitch-slapping lying down.

Was I the only gay man of a certain demo who experienced a flicker of annoyance in the way the media treated Jason Collins as some kind of baby panda who needed to be honored and praised and consoled and—yes—infantilized by his coming out on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Within the tyrannical homophobia of the sports world, that any man would come out as gay (let alone a black man) is not only an LGBT triumph but also a triumph for pranksters everywhere who thrilled to the idea that what should be considered just another neutral fact that is nobody’s business was instead a shock heard around the world, one that added another jolt of transparency to an increasingly transparent planet. It was an undeniable moment and also extremely cool. Jason Collins is the future. But the subsequent fawning over Collins simply stating he is gay still seemed to me, as another gay man, like a new kind of victimization. (George Stephanopoulos interviewed him so tenderly, it was as if he was talking to a six-year-old boy.) In another five years hopefully this won’t matter, but for now we’re trapped in the times we live in. The reign of The Gay Man as Magical Elf, who whenever he comes out appears before us as some kind of saintly E.T. whose sole purpose is to be put in the position of reminding us only about Tolerance and Our Own Prejudices and To Feel Good About Ourselves and to be a symbol instead of just being a gay dude, is—lamentably—still in media play.

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March 7, 2013

LURID: American Psycho – A Retrospective

LURID: vivid in shocking detail; sensational, horrible in savagery or violence, or, a guide to the merits of the kind of Bad Books you never want your co-workers to know you're reading.

LURID: vivid in shocking detail; sensational, horrible in savagery or violence, or, a guide to the merits of the kind of Bad Books you never want your co-workers to know you’re reading.

By Karina Wilson

Happy birthday, Patrick Bateman!  On March 6, 1991, American Psycho was published amidst howls of protest, calls for censorship, and vicious reviews dismissing it as superficial trash.  Twenty-two years later it’s considered a classic. It’s sold more than a million copies in the US, been reprinted more than fifty times, and its anti-hero is guaranteed to make an appearance as a costume at a Halloween party near you.  How did such a reviled book become such a vital cultural reference point?

The brouhaha surrounding American Psycho began months before the book hit stores. In August 1990, when female employees at Simon & Schuster learned about the subject matter of Bret Easton Ellis’s third novel, they objected in the strongest terms to scenes detailing the torture and murder of women. After Time and Spy magazines ran stories about the protests (Time called the book a “childish horror fantasy”) including leaked excerpts, Simon & Schuster (despite the $300,000 advance paid to Ellis) abruptly canceled publication.  48 hours later, Ellis’s agent resold the manuscript to Sonny Mehta at Vintage, sparking even more outrage.

Tammy Bruce (from the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women) described it as “a how-to novel on the torture and dismemberment of women” and called for a boycott of all Vintage books if publication went ahead.

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November 1, 2012

What Scares You? 30 Terrifying Horror Stories Straight Out Of Your Worst Nightmares

By Kimberly Turner

Fear is subjective and personal. The things that haunt your nightmares and the things that cause my breath to quicken—they are probably not the same. Some people are hit hardest by subtle seeping dread and things unseen. Others, by in-your-face gore and guts. Still others, by the darkness of the human psyche.

That’s why making a definitive list of the most terrifying books of all time (which I originally set out to do) is a futile endeavor. Instead, I invite you to stroll down phobia lane until we find the horror that pushes your buttons, poking around until we discover a soft spot that makes you cringe. Because that’s what Halloween is all about.

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October 27, 2012

Death Turns The Page: Seven Notable Literary Kills

By Jon Korn

Most of the time proper literature deals with death, it is presented as a beautiful thing: a knight’s brave sacrifice, a lover’s romantic suicide, an old person’s fond farewell. But this spooktacular time of year pulled my focus towards another kind of literary death. You know, those dark and dastardly acts that run the bloodthirsty gamut from spine-tingling to gut-churning.

The murders.

In the spirit of the season, I’ve assembled what I believe to be seven of the most memorable and disturbing acts of homicide in literature. Think of it as a “Best Kills Supercut,” but, like, for the Western cannon.

Obviously, this list is incomplete – despite my best efforts I have yet to read all of the books, ever. I chose the moments that stuck out to me as especially gruesome, shocking, or haunting. So be warned, there is a lot of disturbing imagery to follow – because when highbrow types go dark, they go all the way. (And, necessarily, this article contains SPOILERS. If you don’t want to know what happens to Piggy at the end of Lord Of The Flies, STOP READING NOW.)

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October 20, 2012

May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes – review

Family life is a bizarre picaresque in AM Homes’s new novel.

By Theo Tait

A few years ago, AM Homes, still probably best known for her upmarket paedophile shocker The End of Alice, took an unexpected swerve into feel-good territory. Up until 2006, she was mainly a purveyor of suburban gothic: she adopted John Cheever’s Westchester as her fictional terrain, but where the great short story writer gave the wealthy New York suburb an undercurrent of dread and misery, Homes turned it into a horror film. The End of Alice – pretentious, humourless, and horribly overwritten in a cod-Nabokov style – is actually far from her best in this vein; the short stories and Music for Torching, her 2003 novel about yuppie parents run amok, are a much better bet. In this period, Homes was often compared to Bret Easton Ellis – cynical and sensationalistic, certainly, but also clearly very talented.

Then, surprisingly, came her last novel, This Book Will Save Your Life, an LA-set story about a rich, isolated man who suffers a physical crisis and goes on a wild compassion spree: he buys a homeless man doughnuts; he takes in an unhappy housewife and a stray dog; he rescues a woman from the boot of a kidnapper’s car. It had the same sense of spiritual emptiness as the earlier books (none too subtly, a sinkhole opens up in the hero’s garden) but moved decisively in the direction of redemption. The book received a bumpy critical reception, but became a kind of cult success. Both reactions were understandable: it was kitschy and bordered on the inane, but there was something appealing about its mixture of the apocalyptic and the perkily upbeat, caught nicely by John Waters when he said: “If Oprah went insane, this might be her favourite book.”

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September 8, 2012

Bret Easton Ellis launches broadside against David Foster Wallace

American Psycho author says Foster Wallace was ‘the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation’

By Alison Flood

David Foster Wallace, the critically acclaimed American writer who took his own life in 2008, has been described as “the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation” by American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis.

Ellis, no stranger to provoking controversy with his comments, laid into Foster Wallace on Twitter this morning, calling him “a fraud”, and “the best example of a contemporary male writer lusting for a kind of awful greatness that he simply wasn’t able to achieve”.

According to Zadie Smith Foster Wallace “was an actual genius”. Dave Eggers believes his writing is “world-changing”, and the Booker-longlisted novelist Ned Beauman wrote last week that today’s novelists must try “to work out how in a million years we might ever hope to absorb the magnificent advances and expansions Wallace offered to the form”.

But “Saint David Foster Wallace”, according to Ellis, is read by “fools”: “a generation trying to read him feels smart about themselves which is part of the whole bullshit package”.

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March 15, 2012

Bret Easton Ellis contemplates American Psycho sequel

There will be blood … Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho. Photograph: Rex Features

US author delights Twitter followers with multi-tweet ideas session, finishing with tentative plans to start writing.

By Alison Flood

Bret Easton Ellis appears to be pondering a sequel to his most famous novel, American Psycho, in which his antihero Patrick Bateman might stalk Gavin Rossdale, murder David Beckham and slit Chris Martin’s throat.

The novelist told his quarter of a million Twitter followers on 10 March that it was 1am in Los Angeles, and that he was “sitting at my desk finishing a script and suddenly I’m making notes on where Patrick Bateman’s now”. Easton Ellis seemed uncertain about whether or not to go ahead with the sequel, but finished his Twitter session having produced at least 14 pages of notes mapping out the likes and dislikes of a 2012 version of Bateman, and with tentative plans to start writing.

“Maybe I’ll call my publishers on Monday … But have to figure out what the structure is … Definitely murders at prep school,” he wrote. “If this American Psycho sequel pans out I’d get in touch with my agent first but will have to spend the weekend seeing if it works.”

First published in 1991, and satirising the money-focused New York of the late 1980s, American Psycho is unreliably narrated by Bateman, a 26-year-old Wall Street operative obsessed with appearances and ruled by his appetites for food, clothes and sex. He sleeps with “hardbodies”, loves Les Misérables, discusses the “emotional honesty” of Phil Collins and devotes a chapter to analysing all of Whitney Houston’s albums. He also indiscriminately rapes, kills and eats (or does he?) his victims – “thirty, forty, a hundred murders” – but goes unnoticed.

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March 1, 2012

Transgression in Theory: The Idea of a Fight Club

By Phil Jourdan

Not very much has been written, on even a basic theoretical level, about this weird thing we call transgressive fiction. I call it weird because the very idea of lumping together some twisted and “dangerous” novels and seeing them as part of a “group” — or worse, a genre — feels, to me, like a bad move. Certainly, as I’ll happily concede, novels like American Psycho and Fight Club have thematic similarities, as well as stylistic ones. Still, considering them in terms of a genre, which apparently we have come to do, means softening them, cushioning their blows, and attributing (in hindsight) a pattern to their development.

It doesn’t, in the end, matter very much, because as the popularity of the transgressive genre rises, so will its impact diminish. Not to say the texts themselves will lose their power: it’s trickier than that. I think, rather, that whatever is genuinely transgressive about these novels — assuming they are transgressive in any real sense — will be overlooked.

Transgression is a very difficult concept. I’ve found that in conversations about Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk, it’s rarely made clear what exactly is being transgressed. Beyond that, it’s hard to explain why the transgressions are needed in the first place. And since so little theoretical discussion exists that deals directly with this kind of text (notwithstanding some excellent film criticism), I’m going to try my hand at starting a conversation.

I must take certain things for granted, at least at first. For instance, I think that the idea of jouissance, an irrational, exuberant enjoyment without any purpose except itself, is a fantastically useful one. It was developed by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and more recently by the Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, to explain many apparently unreasonable kinds of behavior in people. This enjoyment has to be understood as extremely desirable: it’s a thrill, it’s the kick we get out of things even though we probably wouldn’t if we operated on cold logic. A football team wins and your friends start screaming with joy; or you hear someone say something arousing to you that nobody else can hear, and you feel those “butterflies” in your stomach; or you’re about to have an orgasm. That generic, almost boundless feeling of “being alive” — let’s call that jouissance.

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