Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Jim McCarthy offers books to make you question humanity

To rip off Miriam, I’ve compiled a little list of my own. Below are a few books that, for whatever reason, may make you question your faith in humanity. More publishing advice to come soon!

WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES by Philip Gourevitch: The title gives a pretty strong indication that all is not well in these pages. Emotionally devastating but entirely necessary, this work, subtitled “Stories from Rwanda” is an impeccable look at contemporary genocide, brilliantly written and depressingly relevant.

IF I DID IT by O.J. Simpson: What does it say about us that we’re snatching this book up in large numbers? Who is reading it? And why? To me, the only thing more upsetting than the book was the number of people who tried to silence it. Would I buy it? No. Would I have represented it? Probably.

The collected works of Ann Coulter: About as smart as O.J. and about as reprehensible. This woman is a mouthpiece for hatred and contributes nothing legitimate to political discourse. Also, I think she eats babies.

TRY by Dennis Cooper: The adopted teenage son of two sexually abusive fathers begins a journal about his own mistreatment and exploitation entitled “I Apologize.” The adults in Cooper’s vicious world are violent and degraded. The children seek solace in drugs and sex. The book is legitimately shocking, and you might have to numb yourself to get through it. But the biggest surprise is that if you can stomach it, you come out on the other end realizing that Cooper is actually a humanist, and that this is a novel about love. You just have to survive the attack to realize it.

THE MYSTERY METHOD: HOW TO GET BEAUTIFUL WOMEN INTO BED by Mystery: Now, if anyone has seen the VH1 series The Pick-Up Artist, they know that Mystery is a guy named Erik who wears big furry hats, silly eye makeup, and entirely too much animal print. He looks like the love child of Dennis Rodman and Tammy Faye Bakker. He’s a misogynist, a moron, and a self-professed “expert” on landing beautiful women. Now, I watch bad reality TV. I watch a lot of bad reality TV. Rarely, if ever, have I come across someone who is as big a tool as this guy. That enough people seem to believe he might have the secrets to becoming a ladies’ man to propel his book to the bestseller lists makes me want to vomit in my mouth a little bit.

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Sometimes I get on thematic reading kicks. I’ll go all Southern Gothic for a little while then find myself reading lots of books set in and around zoos for a few weeks. Earlier this year, I found myself reading back to back books about civil wars in Africa. I followed the aforementioned Gourevitch with this novel about the impact of the Nigerian-Biafran war a few decades back. Is there hope and redemption in this astonishing novel? Absolutely. Would I recommend you read it immediately after a book about the Rwandan genocide? Not unless you want to feel like you got sucker punched in your soul.

16 comments:

  1. Jerzy Kosinski's 'The Painted Bird.' No matter that the story was largely fictional; this book really has it all when it comes to depressing themes. People tormenting children and animals comes pretty high up on my list, and The Painted Bird is just chock-a-block with awful, gratuitous violence of the most depraved kind. I'd rather read half a dozen Barbara Cartland novels than reread The Painted Bird.

    Mo Hayder's Tokyo (The Devil of Nanking) is another one. This is a better book than The Painted Bird, in my opinion, and it deals with the mass rape and murder of the Nanking Massacre, which is largely under-represented in literature. But it is hardly a fun read.

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  2. I would add Yukio Mishima's tetralogy 'The Sea of Fertility' to this list. After finishing the last in this series, you feel as though you've been listening to the monologue of an absolutely fascinating but thoroughly insane person. You're horrified by what he's saying, but you can't wait to find out what happens.

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  3. Jim, reading about Rwanda is one thing, but to hear and see Paul Rusesabegina talk about his experience with the war in Rwanada a few years on the special features on the DVD "Hotel Rwanda, was indescribable. It's amazing how the British played mind games on the Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda. It's how slavery utilized the field and house slaves, in the same way. I was, am, and will always be thoroughly disgusted by what happened while the rest of the world just sat back and watched...

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  4. Ah, Jim, humanity's been on an extintion path for some time now.

    A fly in the ointment though, for better or worse. This curious intelligent creature, MAN, has found his own DNA - the molecule of life as we know it... and he's learning to manipulate this molecule, (or is it manipulating him)? to do his or its' bidding. A
    damn neat turn of evolution, if ya ask me)! Imagine, a molecule evolving a creature that contemplates itself. I meant DNA can now ensure its' viability, or destruction, as represented by Homo Sapiens... gonna be an interesting experiment. DNA doesn't care about Rwanda, Dafur, oil, The Twin Towers, etc... It only cares about continuing life on this blue planet in some form or another. Our species is just another in a long line of experiments on said topic. Indeed, the cockroach could take over!
    I always throw this into the equation when I consider "Humanity" and its' benevolence/malevolence quotient.

    Haste yee back ;-)

    I hate to admit it... but I think, House is right!

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  5. Why would anyone read such tomes if they're so horrific?

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  6. In answer to that question about why people read books that are so horrific, why do we look at accidents on the freeway or read news reports of dreadful crimes? We can't help ourselves.

    And in the case of books about tragic historical events, such as Mo Hayder's novel about Nanjing, or Half of a Yellow Sun, we ought to know what has happened. The Diary of Anne Frank isn't a feel-good book, but it is an absolute must.

    What must be really awful is writing them. At least you only have to read them once, but writing just goes on forever.

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  7. The pathetic-ness of The Pick Up Artist makes it ever so fun to watch.

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  8. Jim,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your inclusion of the collected works of Ann Coulter. She has repeatedly shown that she cannot make a point without insulting and degrading those she disagrees with.

    She also does it in a manner that is reprehensible and entirely without merit in a civil society.

    That anyone would want to be seen having her books on their shelves is beyond my comprehension. It would confer to me that they support and possibly wish to emulate her style of gutter-snipe politics.

    Then again, I simply have never bought and refuse to consider buying any book with the words "Complete Idiot" or "Dummies" in the title. Those series sell boodles of copies, but I prefer for people to think of me as intelligent and I am not about to self-proclaim that I am an idiot or a dummy.

    My refusal to purchase those titles hasn't seemed to hurt their overall bottom line.

    It was a good topic. Thanks for sharing.

    Linda

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  9. "Also, I think she eats babies."

    *spit take* :D

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  10. Totally disagree with your perceptions of Ann Coulter, and I'm astonished that you, and so many people, don't "get" her.

    Does no one in this (so-called intelligent) culture understand hyperbole when we hear it? Have we so totally lost touch with any sense of irony, any intelligent use of exaggeration, or--and this is certainly true--any ability to laugh at ourselves that we can't know satire when we see it?

    And, yes, I know that a great deal of the material Ann writes, she means. And a great deal of what she writes, ladies and gentlemen, is true. But she cloaks pretty much all of it in a lot of exaggeration, a lot of over-the-top lanaguage, and if we can't distinguish clear and pointed use of exaggeration, hyperbole, and outrageous language to convey a truth, then it's clearly been a long, long time since high school English class.

    Or have we all forgotten A MODEST PROPOSAL already?

    Sheesh. Heads out of sand, folks. Calling a spade a spade isn't hateful...it's truthful.

    Janny

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  11. Glad to see the blog up and current. Missed you all!

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  12. I can't help wondering how many times these projects, and others like them, were rejected.

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  13. Mr. McCarthy,

    You have made me very curious. I'm interested in how you came to the position that you would represent OJ, yet not buy his book. I'm not sure I would do it differently, but I'm interested in how you came to that decision.

    Much of my writing dwells in that space where individuals make choices regarding personal ethics and threat. Your thoughts on OJ facinate me.

    Actually OJ fans (or OJ murder fiasco fans) facinate me beyound words. I've had one personal experience with an eager OJ reader at a local book store. A woman in her fiftys walked up to the front desk and inquired if her copy of OJ's book had arrived. It was the first day the book was available. The book unfortunately had not arrived on schedule. The woman was clearly frustrated and went on to say she had pre-ordered it so she could get one of the first copies. For numerous reasons I will not go into she didn't seem to be someone who usually spent much time with books. In fact, her car was parked in the fire lane outside. What in the world could get someone so hopped-up about something so personally remote???

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  14. Janny, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I get where you're coming from, but there are some fundamental differences in how we see La Coulter. I'm fine with an intelligent use of exaggeration, but I really don't see her efforts as intelligent. And sure, calling a spade a spade is fair. But calling a black person a spade is racist. And I think we know where Ms. Coulter falls in that divide.

    Which is to say, she still eats babies.

    And W. Meyers, I'm admittedly not entirely sure myself where my ethics fall on representing O.J. versus buying his book. My reasoning not for buying it is simple enough: I don't want to read it. I think I'd be willing to represent it because I do see value in the exploration of crime in literature. I don't think the book should (or is even really intended to) be read as fact. That said, there is this collective hunch we have that he did it. So whether he tells any truth or not is to me less relevant than the ways in which he justifies himself. I'm convinced there's something to learn there, beneath any lies and rhetoric.

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