You Are What You Read

Here are some of the books I've read recently that have wedged a pickaxe on my memory. About 80 percent of them are depressive, wtf. Delightfully, artistically depressive, mind. I am what I read. If anything, books have implanted in me only two types of magic beans: words and rage. (Say, has there ever been a happydappy book in literature? Siddhartha, mentioned below, is possibly the only book I've ever read with a happy ending.)

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

Introversion transformed into a voluminous high art graphic--that's the life of Jimmy Corrigan. The graphic novel reads like a memoir, a hodgepodge of childhood humiliations, grown-up frustrations, melancholic observations, sweeping landscapes, debilitating loneliness, and daydreams, lots of them. Jimmy's life itself is mundane and uneventful, until he meets his father for the first time. The story is a common tragedy; the art a celebration. To read Jimmy Corrigan is to step inside the colorful mind of an American loser.

The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barbers

At 464 pages, The Marlowe Papers is a ponderous read, especially for people with zero cerebral wiring for verse. Written in iambic pentameter, the novel presents a conspiracy theory, an alternate history, that William Shakespeare was a stage figure for Christopher Marlowe's staggering body of work. Not every reader can swallow this, of course, as it's based on pure speculation. But the language is witty, sublime, and vividly descriptive, the lines themselves are eyeworthy of a second read.

Black Hole by Charles Burns

The skin on your palm peels off, and gives way to a hole. A pussy. A vertical slit to some other dimension. Sometimes the slit appears on your leg, or on your spine. But wherever it appears, it means you've caught "the bug". Black Hole is a horror graphic novel whose sole literary merit is its shock value. Set in Seattle in the 1970s, a group of hypersexual teenagers catches this bug, a metonym for the AIDS virus that spread like wildfire decades ago. The bugged teens then cast themselves out deep in the forest, where their horror stories continue.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Siddhartha tells the life a wandering hippie set in ancient India. A pampered rich boy runs away from home, becomes an ascetic, a merchant, a lover, a vagabond, and later, a low-profile Buddha. The book is short and sweet, written like a children's story for adults--for the damned, the lost, the spiritually starved, the aspiring nomad-hippie. An excellent substitute for the Bible, Siddharta is a quest to rid of the ego and transcend the boundaries of human experience. Needless to say, its protagonist could've been doped on weed all throughout the course of the book.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick

Dick loves to fuck with his readers' minds. The Man in the High Castle is a book within a book, the man referring to the novelist who wrote the fictional book within Dick's novel. Expansive as Dick's mindfuckery, the novel is an alternate history where the Axis won the Second World War. Half the US is dominated by the Japanese, the other half by the Nazis. Within this alternate-historical novel is another alternate history, the reality we have now, where the Allies won the WWII. WHAT, Dick, WHAT?

A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin

If you're into psychotic, suicidal geniuses, this novel is a boredom-filler. Levin pilfered the book's content from biographers, and fictionalized the lives of Kurt Godel and Alan Turing, the first a math genius, the second the father of computers. Fictionwise, the characters are cardboardish, superficially explored, and glamorized into tortured, lonely souls. Meanwhile, the book's language are sapphires of poetry at best, and pretentiously intellectual at worst. Two mirror plot lines lead predictably to the characters' suicides--which best describes the book: a portrait of suicides.

Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse

If The Man in the High Castle is a book within a book, Steppenwolf is a book within a book within a book. A self-portrait of a half-man, half-wolf, Steppenwolf dissects the psyche of the middle-aged intellectual Harry Haller, who identifies himself as Steppenwolf. He is thrown into an existential crisis verging on madness and suicide, and meets the multiple characters of his multiple selves. The last several pages is a psychedelic trip to the Magic Theater, where the novel ends with a cathartic BANG. Steppenwolf is violently brilliant.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

A wry memoir, Girl, Interrupted is a collection of vignettes about the author's experience in a mental institution in the late 60s. Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, Kaysen questions the validity of her diagnosis and the flimsy divide between sanity and insanity. The memoir was adapted into a drama film (1999), starring Angelina Jolie, though it could've been better off adapted as a comic or graphic novel. It's not drama to begin with, nor is it a full-blown story.

Kokoro by Natsume Soseki

Yet another book within a book and somewhat mirrors Steppenwolf, Kokoro is a masterpiece of Japanese literature. A university student befriends a nameless old man, "Sensei" (teacher), and unleashes a dark secret from the grave. Sensei has abandoned society to live as a recluse with nobody else but his wife. He only steps out his house to routinely visit the remains of a friend in a cemetery. Intense reading, this one. Possibly one of the few rare books that have given me the schmaltz and made me weep an entire night.

// Sep 2014

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