The Lists #21 by John King
Recently a listicle, 10 Books for the Literarily Disturbed, appeared on Feed Your Need to Read. Now I adore most of the books Renata Sweeney placed on that list (Tropic of Cancer is in my sweet spot), but found the adjective disturbing wrong somehow, even when describing Naked Lunch, which I find to be clever and disconcerting, but seldom disturbing–but then again, I used to listen to the industrial music of Throbbing Gristle for fun.
For me, disturbing conjures up existential terror and howling fantods.
So I offer an alternative list.
7. Lá Bas by J.K. Huysmans
This 1891 novel features a scholar, Durtal, who retreats from the vulgarity of the contemporary world and throws himself into researching the middle ages. He finds himself obsessively researching the life of Gilles de Rais, who fought alongside Joan of Arc, but would later be discovered to be a pedophile who had his victims murdered. Witnessing a black mass (which author J.K Huysmans claims to have actually seen) does little to cheer him up.
While the black mass does not shock me the way it was meant to shock French readers in 1891, the rising madness of scholarship I too easily identify with.
6. Decision Points by George W. Bush
The decider proudly confesses his decision-making. He is serious.
5. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Okay, so it seems obvious to include this book from 1991, but the way Ellis de-contextualizes serial killing and conflates it with the vapidity, greed, and consumerism of the 1980s unsettles me. That, and the book is a page-turner.
In the literary community, most people dismiss the book, as David Foster Wallace did, as too nihilistic and entertaining, but for me, the combination is what makes it great and memorable. It stays with me despite myself. I can claim to be above it or give to American Psycho what is American Psycho‘s. Please don’t ask me about the movie.
4. Touch Me by Suzanne Somers
In all fairness, I have not read this one, but I have a feeling. I dare you to stare at the book cover for thirty continuous seconds.
3. Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
The philosophy of existentialism sounds rather tidy when Sartre describes it in Existentialism and Human Emotions. We have existence before our lives have essence or meaning (World War II having made religion seem especially untenable). At some point, many people realize the lack of meaning to their existence, and despair, and then, through great struggle, create meaning out of the uncertainties of existence.
Sartre dramatized the problem of this lack of meaning in No Exit, whose plot is easily summed up: Hell is other people. But that diminishes both Hell and other people.
Nausea (1938) is a novel that focuses mostly on the long realization that existence precedes essence. Hell is, viscerally, the world and oneself. While Albert Camus’s The Stranger is a shorter and better existentialist novel, Nausea kinked my brain with its psychological depths. It still does. Also, like Lá Bas, its main character is a historian losing his mind.
2. It by Stephen King
Stephen King (who happens to not be a relation) does not get a lot of love here at The Drunken Odyssey. Jaroslav Kalfař and I discussed Stephen King’s On Writing back on Episode 6, and while we enjoyed the book, we admitted that King’s sense of what was exciting seemed predictable, and in doing the homework suggested in On Writing, both Jaroslav and I mocked his questionable movie, Maximum Overdrive. Perhaps that was predictable of us.
Nevertheless, I do remember reading It in high school as a sophomore and getting really freaked by the text. Perhaps the mysterious malevolent presence in It was J. K. Rowling’s inspiration for the boggart, a creature that assumes the appearance of whatever you are most afraid of. Maybe it is Pennywise the Clown, violating his way into this world from another dimension. (This was long before the clowns-are-scary thing was a trope–and is one of the BIG reasons it is a trope.) Maybe it was the fear that what fucks us up as teenagers (say, a sophomore in high school) might secretly live with us for the rest of our lives.
I have been afraid of the pronoun it when used sans referent ever since.
1. The Tinkerbell Hilton Diaries: My Life Tailing Paris Hilton by Tinkerbell Hilton
As of the posting of this blog, this heiress’s canine has more books in print than I do. I’ll get you, D. Resin.
John King (Episode, well, all of them) is a podcaster, writer, and ferret wrangler.