In the first of a new series, Angus, singer in a superb rock band who are about to release their fifth album 'Sisterworld', writes about the books he is reading and has already read.
1. ‘American Psycho’ – Bret Easton Ellis
Intellect is not a cure. Justice is dead. Fear, recrimination, innocence, sympathizing, guilt, waste, failure, grief, were things, emotions, that no one really felt any more. Reflection is useless, the world is senseless. Evil is its only permanence. God is not alive. Love cannot be trusted. Surface, surface, surface was all that anyone found meaning in…this was civilization as I saw it, colossal and jagged…
I first read this book when i was about 17. The bookstore sold it wrapped in plastic coz it was deemed so illicit. Kinda like a porno – or a dare. Anyway, i had to have it. Its not a light read, in fact from the opening words ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’ you’re forced to confront issues you’d probably rather ignore. It’s bleak and unsettling but also savagely clever. Brett Easton-Ellis is easily one of my favorite authors and this book is important to me. I actually physically learnt to shave from reading it.
2. ‘Idoru’ – William Gibson
Kathy thought of celebrity as a subtle fluid, a universal element, like the phlogiston of the ancients, something spread evenly at creation through all the universe, but prone now to accrete, under specific conditions, around certain individuals and their careers.
Just as with Ellis I’ve read all Gibson’s books. When I was younger I was really into sci-fi novels. Gibson actually coined the term ‘cyberspace’ on his typewriter and envisioned the internet before it came about. With Idoru, as with his other works, the ideas are immense. He investigates the blurring line between the virtual and the real, particularly as it relates to celebrity in the Information Age. Most of all though I like the idea of these autonomous societies created within the infosphere that wield immense power but are practically invisible to the outside world.
3. “We Need To Talk About Kevin’ – Lionel Shriver
A successful lie cannot be brought into this world and capriciously abandoned; like any committed relationship, it must be maintained, and with far more devotion than the truth, which carries on being carelessly true without any help.
Franz Kafka wrote that a book should be the ice-pick that breaks open the frozen seas inside us. This then, is a book.
I remember my sister read it when she was first pregnant and got a real shock. I was suitably intrigued. At first the subject matter seems semi boring – the reasons a couple decides to have a child and the impact that decision has on their lives. But its actually a highly complex look at the limits of love and loyalty that never rests until your guts are fully wrenched. I won’t spoil how the book works too much but suffice to say i got what i least expected.
4.The Raw Shark Texts’ – Stephen Hall
The streams, currents and rivers of human knowledge, experience and communication which have grown throughout our short history are now a vast, rich and bountiful environment. Why should we expect these flows to be sterile?_
I get really excited by first time novelists. This book started me on a string of them. Its a really fun read utilizing interesting ways of incorporating typography and a different approach to the format of a novel. The text itself tells a story. Inkblots, puzzles, pictures made from vowels and consonants. The climax comes to life in an unnerving 50-page flipbook of a shark racing right at you. The typography is so complex that apparently the print run had to be sent to some special company in Italy – the only place with a press nimble enough to do the job.
5. ‘Remainder’ – Tom McCarthy
Guns aren’t just history’s props and agents: they’re history itself, spinning alternate futures in their chamber, hurling the present from their barrel, casting aside the empty shells of past.
This is the best book i’ve read in a long time. It blows my mind. Another debut novel. Its disturbing, funny, bleak and haunting. Often you can feel like Tom Mccarthy is totally messing with you in a way that recalls Satre’s “Nausea”. With obsessive logic he shows how philosophy like history can repeat itself leaving you stranded and grasping for straws. Your forced to recognize that the line between art and reality is really blurry and that we’re constantly trying to figure out which side is the most ‘liveable’ or important to us. But really that’s just scratching the surface with this one. Of all the books on the list it stands out as my favorite.
6. ‘A Fraction of the Whole’ – Steve Toltz
There are men put on this earth to make laws designed to break the spirits of men. There are those put here to have their spirits broken by those put here to break them. Then there are those who are here to break the laws that break the men who break the spirits of other men. I am one of those men.
Another debut novel, this time by an Australian author Steve Toltz. Its a great big leaping tale that deals with the grand idea of how you get to know yourself in a world that’s always telling you what you should do, or how you should feel. The story is loosely based on a father son relationship but goes so much much further as it trips and delves into sub plot after sub plot. Its super absorbing because Totlz paints his charachters so rich with feeling and substance, you feel a bond with their mania and his indictment of the modern world.
7. ‘Et Tu, Babe’- Mark Leyner
As you know, I am not your average author. I dress like an off-duty cop: leather blazer, silk turtleneck, tight sharply creased slacks, Italian loafers, pinky ring. I drive a candy apple red Jaguar with a loaded 9-mm semiautomatic pistol in the glove compartment. When i walk into a party I’m like this: my head is bobbing to music that only exists in my mind.
This is a really fast and rewarding read. Its a short and surreal autobiographical fiction about the super powerful author, Mark Leyner, and his bizarre adventures in modern day pop culture. It mocks the heavy currency of celebrity in America and mimics the ridiculous behavior that inevitably results from it. Its the kind of novel you can pick up and put down but still retrieve an immense amount of great ideas in a short reading. Plus, it’s funny as hell.
8. ‘The Gone Away World’ – Nick Haraway
There are ten or so of them, tall, short, thin, fat and all white-faced and black-clothed, and surely about to die. Not white-faced like skin pigment, but white-faced like wearing full stage make-up. They are clowns. Worse than that. They are mimes. As I approach the circle to say that maybe they should just leave quietly and of course this will be something they are quite good at, being what they are, the mime-in-chief spins to the bar and leans over it, and under the eyes of seventeen of the most dangerous men in Matchingham, he orders a glass of milk. In sign language.
Again, a truly shocking and impressive debut novel. Its really hard to explain what the book’s about without giving away too much of the plot. Basically the world the way we know it has ended but humankind has been rescued by a corporation. It’s part sci-fi, part war story part thriller all spat out with Haraway’s really unique off kilter deadpan humor. The book is really interesting but during the first part i did get dismayed by some of the more obvious ideas. Eventually though everything seems to come together and the story turns out to be really well thought out with parts that only make sense at the end.
9. ‘Girl With Curious Hair’ – David Foster Wallace
That night Tit and Gimlet fellated me, and Boltpin did as well. Gimlet and Tit made me happy but Boltpin did not, therefore i am not a bisexual. Gimlet allowed me to burn her slightly and i felt that she was an outstanding person.
‘Infinite Jest’, David Foster Wallace’s major and best known work is a massive novel that can at the very least be daunting to read. For the less convinced I’d suggest this book of short stories. In a series of fairly tightly wound pieces Wallace relays his interest in flux as a partial definition of human nature. He especially speaks to the idea of masks and the truths behind them.
Wallace comitted suicide by hanging himself in September 2008 aged 46. It amazes me as i’m sure it does many people how this could happen to such a gifted writer. It’s well worth reading all his work.
10. ‘Australia Felix’ – Henry Handel Richardson
On the summit of one of the clay heaps, a woman shot into silhouette against the sky. An odd figure, clad in a skimpy green petticoat, with a scarlet shawl held about her shoulders, wisps of frowsy red hair standing out round her head, she balanced herself on &e slippery ekth, spinning her &m like the vane of a windmill, and crying at the top of her voice: ‘Joe, boys! – Joe, Joe, Joey!’
This is a classic old Australian novel i picked up by chance when i was last there. It’s actually the first in a trilogy called ‘The Fortunes Of Richard Mahony’ written by a woman under the pen name Henry Handel Richardson. I think it was first published in 1917. I love to read about life in Australia when it was first colonized. It was a real rough job to settle there. This book is a vivid depiction of mental illness and an intricate interweaving of one man’s story with that of a whole nation-in-the-making. It’s intense and sad but also really uplifting at times. I’ll no doubt be getting into the remaining two books in the trilogy – The Way Home and Ultima Thule.