And They Rode on in the Friscalating Dusklight
Amy And Lesley's Guide To Fiction
Oh, so fiction is a waste of time that doesn’t teach you anything? Really? Well how about a little piece of fiction called THE BIBLE. Doesn’t seem so silly now, does it? Fiction may not be facts but it can still teach you plenty. Sure, it’s “escapist” but so are movies, and you like those, right? Only books are better—because in Flowers in the Attic, the brother and sister actually do it, and in Fried Green Tomatoes, Idgie and Ruth actually do it. Movies are just watered-down versions of books with way happier endings. People in books are all insane and then at the end they usually die. It’s not that we have anything against happy endings, but it usually makes for a better story to be almost eaten alive like at the end of The Beach than to just merrily sail away on a raft made of bamboo and hippie scarves.
So, you’re thinking about reading some fiction? Lucky you, we’ve compiled a list of novels you will love. These aren’t the sort of books you have to read for school, and chances are, if you ever wrote a book report on one of these, you’d be sent to the guidance counselor. These are just books that are fun to read, over and over, and then when you meet someone who’s read them too, it’s total instant bonding. So stop saying that your favorite book is The Catcher and the Rhyme and read something.
House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
The scariest, and perhaps weirdest, book ever written. It’s a really intense, elaborate story-within-a-story-within-a-story and we don’t want to give too much away, so let’s just say that it’s about a house that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Terrified much? Well you will be after you shit yourself while reading this insane book. It scared us so much we couldn’t open our closets for like a month.
Cruddy, by Lynda Barry
Basic plot summary: A preteen girl in the ’70s kills her psychotic father, plus a few other people, with a knife named Little Debbie and then five years later tells her friends about it while they’re all high on acid. Sound good? But wait, there’s more. First off, every sentence in this book is golden. Lynda Barry is a genius with language and you have to read all her comic books too, like right now. Especially The Freddie Stories, My Perfect Life, and The Greatest of Marlys. Secondly, this book is so dark, so full of creepy hillbillies and slaughterhouses and gruesome murder and horrific ugliness, but somehow also manages to be hilariously funny and sweet and sad and a million other things too. How does she do that? Just thinking about it gets us all worked up.
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
A group of classics majors at an arty New England college get a little too obsessed with the subject matter and start experimenting with weird ancient Greek ritualistic dance séances (that may or may not involve horses?). They start tripping out super hard and really getting into it and then one of them accidentally dies. But was it an accident? And will it happen again? It’s a very character-driven novel, and you will find yourself falling in love with even the most despicable ones. I cried at the end, not because it was sad, but because I felt like I really knew the characters and I was so upset that I wouldn’t be able to hang out with them anymore.
My Sweet Audrina, by V.C. Andrews:
A nine-year-old girl is raped in the woods and gets amnesia. Her parents change all the calendars two years back in time, tell Audrina she is really seven-years-old, and tell her never to go into the woods, because that’s where her dead, older “sister,” also named Audrina, had been “spoiled” and then murdered before she was born. Her parents keep a shrine to the dead Audrina in the house, and refer to her as “The First and the Best Audrina.” This book has it all—confusion, fear, and a delicious twist that we just gave away.
Also: The Beach by Alex Garland, Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille (creepy sex), anything by Dennis Cooper for creepy gay pedophiles who like to murder drug-addled teen hustlers, and anything by Stephen King, duh.
My Date with Satan, by Stacey Richter
Incredible short stories. A teenage JAP slashes her best friend’s face for no good reason. A guy in a doom-metal band falls in love and gets kicked out of the band for being suddenly too happy. A girl whose dream in life is to be a lonely old cat lady ends up falling in love with a boy who is obsessed with rats. A ditzy girl gets shipwrecked on an island full of primitive natives and starts dating all of them. Why Stacey Richter hasn’t written anything since this hilarious debut collection is beyond us.
The Adrian Mole Diaries, by Sue Townsend
A childhood fave that you can read every year for the rest of your life and always get a laugh out of. So huge in the UK that they made a musical and a TV series out if it, but not so well-known over here. Probably because it’s so British, the American version even comes with an appendix explaining what things like “spotted dick” and “‘O’ levels” are. But trust us, this diary of a melodramatic, pretentious British teen and his horrible family is hilarious. The second book is the best one because that’s the one in which Adrian accidentally glues a model airplane to his nose, joins a skinhead gang, and finally gets to do it with Pandora.
Election, by Tom Perrotta
Tom Perrotta is so funny! His real gem is Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies, but it’s nonfiction so we’re not supposed to mention it. His funniest fiction novel, Election, is pretty much exactly like the movie, except the football jock is a lot smarter in the book. We heard The Wishbones is also really funny but we haven’t read it yet. We actually sort of forget why we are telling you to read this.
Also: Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames, Youth In Revolt by C.D. Payne, Duck Duck Wally by Gabe Rotter, Joe College by Tom Perrotta
Bee Season, by Myla Goldberg
Don’t bother seeing the movie; as usual the book is way better. It’s the story of a spelling bee prodigy and her zealously religious Jewish father, klepto mother, and Hare Krishna brother, and it’s beautiful.
Play It As It Lays, by Joan Didion
It’s about a woman, “rigid with self-pity,” who finds herself at “the quintessential intersection of nothing.” It’s bleak, it’s miserable, it takes place in L.A.
Bad Behavior, by Mary Gaitskill
Sex, drugs, and unhappy people in New York City. The movie Secretary was based on one of the stories in this book, but it’s nothing like the original. In the story, her boss is not a “weird yet handsome” James Spader. He’s an ugly dick who punishes her typing mistakes by making her stare at the mistake while repeating “I am stupid” over and over again, spanking her, and then jerking off on her. Afterwards, she does not fall in love with him. She just leaves and never goes back to work there again. The end.
Kissing in Manhattan, by David Schickler
A terrible title for a really special book about, um, kissing in Manhattan, basically. Non-sappy love stories about a group of oddball Manhattanites all living in one special building. If you read this too soon after a bad break-up you will kill yourself.
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
OK, ready to see some waterworks? A girl dies after she is brutally murdered and she tells us the story of her death from fucking heaven! She watches her family try to solve the crime and get nowhere, all the while she is describing what heaven is like (there are a lot of dogs), but she’s fucking bored in heaven because she keeps watching her family and can’t stop obsessing over them. Hmm, sounds more like hell to me. Don’t deny that you’ve never thought about who would go to your funeral and what it would be like if you watched your family mourn. This books goes there, and even further because let’s not forget she was like 12 when she was raped and murdered and buried maybe even in her own backyard? And maybe her parents plant a garden over her, not realizing, and they grow prize-winning tomatoes that are actually from the seeds of her soul? That doesn’t happen, but wouldn’t it be a cool book if it did?
Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn
A couple of circus freaks take drugs on purpose so their kids can come out deformed, hence making them more money in the circus they travel with. And you thought your family was fucked up? How about Siamese twins who share the same vagina? How about an older brother who is a total dick, but also a merman? Sadly, magic and mystery are not part of their history. Weird drug combinations and lots of yelling are. There is some gay subplot about an old lady who is actually the sister with the grossest deformity, looking through a trunk and remembering all this stuff, but the core of the novel is about family life and how much it can totally suck, deformed or not. Dunn writes about how the family balances that love/hate thing so well that you will find yourself totally relating to this motley crew. Geek Love is a potpourri of drama, betrayal, and that weird voyeuristic thing some of us have with carnies. And if you want to cry, you can count yourself in!
Also: Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers, In Youth Is Pleasure by Denton Welch, The End of the Story by Lydia Davis, The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks, The World According to Garp, A Prayer For Owen Meany, and A Widow For One Year by John Irving
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Do you know what it means to be 15 years-old and feel infinite? You know, like when you’re hanging out with your best friends at the diner and you can’t tell whether hours have passed or minutes, and suddenly you look at the clock, it’s 8 AM, and everyone dies of laughter. Or when you’re in a car, windows rolled down, and some song comes on the radio and it sounds like the best thing you’ve ever heard. You feel infinite because even if it’s just for one song, the feeling will last forever. That’s how you will feel after you read this book. This is underground required-reading for the cool kids, so do the world a favor and stuff a stocking with it this year. Under the tree, give them a typewriter.
Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books, by Francesca Lia Block
We first read about this book series in Sassy magazine, if that’s any indication of just how awesome it is. It’s a surreal teenage punk-rock fairytale, full of glitter and rollerskates and mohawks and funny made-up slang words. There is zero cynicism in this book and it just makes you want to run around with your best friends and choose your own fucking adventure. Warning: If you are too jaded and grumpy to deal with extreme cutesiness, stay away from this book, as well as from us cuz we hate you.
The Rule of the Bone, by Russell Banks
A real tearjerker. A teenager runs away from his white trash family to search for his real father. He finds a different kind of family when he ends up living in a school bus with a Rasta dude. Can someone say dream life? One of the best parts of this book is when he squats in someone’s summerhouse and lives off canned goods. Haven’t you always secretly wanted to do that? The tears come at the end when he finally finds his dad in Jamaica and he’s super rich, but the heavy-vibery sets in when it turns out he’s, like, a total dick. If it were written by an author like Robert Cormier it would be YA all the way, but it’s Russell Banks (author of The Sweet Hereafter) so the voice is young, but the themes of family life and relationships in this novel is very adult, and very melancholy.
Also: The Outsiders and Rumble Fish by S.E. Hinton, The Whores on the Hill by Colleen Curran, Forever by Judy Blume, Losing Gemma by Katy Gardner, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates, Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis (he should have just stuck to writing about college kids).
The Speed Queen, by Stewart O’Nan
The best drug books are usually nonfiction (Basketball Diaries, Permanent Midnight, David Crosby’s autobiography, etc.), but this is an exception. A woman sitting on death row moments before her execution tells her story. It’s a methamphetamine romance, complete with Big Gulps from 7-Eleven, drive-thru burger-joint massacres, and racing through the night with your boyfriend like you are the last two people on Earth. All these things in real life are just considered trashy, but if you’re a sucker for novels that idealize the druggy lifestyle, and you secretly fantasize about never sleeping, drinking Diet Pepsi for breakfast and chain-smoking your way through giving birth, then you’ll like this fast-paced crystal-meth fairytale—a nice change from the all the sleepy junkie novels.
The Story of Junk, by Linda Yablonsky
Fiction but not really, this is a thinly-disguised memoir of a punk-era New York lesbian hipster who hung out with and dealt drugs to other punk-era New York hipsters. It’s not hard to figure out that “Honey Cone” is really Cookie Mueller, and “Ginger Snaps” is Nan Goldin. I mean, duh. But this just makes it all an even juicier page-turner. There are no junkies like punk-era New York junkies.
Also: Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (again, not sure if it’s fiction but noteworthy as the book that made every teenage girl want to do drugs), Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
If The Royal Tenenbaums is your favorite movie and you think Wes Anderson is an original genius, please read Franny and Zooey. You are in for a rude awakening. O R you?
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What doesn’t this novel have? Gang fights, tropical island breeze, naked boys fighting, naked boys touching each other, naked boys beating each other up, naked boys trying to kill each other. Yummy! You can always fall back on a Lord of the Flies fantasy when you’re in a masturbation rut. Sorry Miss Esslinger! We know we’re supposed to be writing about how this terrifying tale is an archetype for society and its failings and all the symbolism with Piggy and survival of the fittest and blah blah blah. It’s great for all that, but damn, this is one sexy piece of literature.
Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
Yet another gloomy look at Hollywood. This book is focused around a few sad-sack characters all struggling to get by in the movie biz. Their weak vaudevillian acts depress us so much that it makes us wonder why people flock to L.A. at all. And then we’re reminded: People go there to die. Think Barton Fink meets Less Than Zero.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Come join the bunny brigade! There’s Fiver and Blackberry and Big Wig and Hazel and Strawberry and Pipkin and Silver and Buckthorn and Acorn and Snowdrop and Holly and Haystack and Clover! This allegory for fascist society and World War II is as cute as can be! All joking aside, this book is actually really dark and creepy and sad, so whenever you see a bunny rabbit cross your path, make sure you realize that it’s not just a bunny—it’s a symbol for everything you fear. Aw! We’re watership-down with this book.
Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
Dudes, check it out: Marco Polo and Kublai Khan sit in a garden while the young explorer regales the aging emperor with tales of all the magical, fantastical cities he has visited. Happy cities, sad cities, cities built on spider webs, on water, underground, full of spiral staircases and linked by ladders. But the one thing that links all these cities together is that it’s all the same city. Chills much? This book is poetic, surreal and so, so nerdy. This is what it’s like to have an imagination, I guess.
Also: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wiseblood by Flannery O’Connor, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
[NOTE: We don’t really believe in the term “guilty pleasure” anymore (why should we feel guilty about anything we love?), but some of the books in this category might make the more insecure of us feel slightly ashamed. So if you have a cool homemade book cover, this is your chance to show it off.]
The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
You didn’t think we would leave this out, did you? Gavin dismissed these books as something some poor welfare mom told her kids because they had daddy issues, but what he didn’t mention was that some poor welfare mom created the first ever series of books that had people waiting in lines at midnight to buy the day it was released. The first ever. It’s a book! The fact that so many people are reading makes us fiction-lovers jump for joy. Reading isn’t always about escapism—it’s about learning how the world works. How would we know empathy if it weren’t for Steinbeck? How would we know about suppressing emotions if it weren’t for Hemingway? Sure he was a little Drunky Brewster, but look at Woody Allen. We learned about relationships from him, and he married his daughter! The Harry Potter books touch on themes that might seem obvious to us adult readers—you know, the basic plight of good vs. evil (there’s also a bit of union organizing in the fourth book)—but for younger readers it is crucial that they learn these things maybe just a few years before they delve into Dante’s Inferno. Let us grown-up nerds enjoy Dumbledore’s magic for just a few hours before we have to listen to Barbara Ehrenreich gripe about how little we get paid. Dumbledore’s dead now anyway. Happy?
His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman
This Phillip Pullman trilogy will have you indoors for weeks, devouring every sentence and wishing you were drinking meade instead of Orangina. You know how people often ponder the existence of a parallel universe? Well, what this books suggests is, maybe it’s true? Peel away your judgments as if you were peeling away the skin to another dimension, one with cute talking elephant creatures that have wheels for feet, and go on, peel it again. You might just find yourself with a little pet that only talks to you and changes into a permanent animal-form after puberty and even shares your soul! Come on, you know you’ve always wanted one of those. These were written way before Harry Potter even dreamed of having a scar shaped like a lightening bolt. Voldemort was in PJs when these books were written. They are the original gangsters of sci-fi fantasy trilogy and they are pure fucking gold.
Also: Lord of the Rings, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, anything by Anne Rice, V.C. Andrews, Poppy Z. Brite, Agatha Christie, Douglas Adams, Douglas Coupland, or Tom Robbins
BONUS SECTION: BOOKS THAT EVERYONE LOVES BUT THAT REALLY SUCK
-The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, By Haruki Murakami
-Everything Is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran-Foer
-The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger
-White Teeth by Zadie Smith
-A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
-A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey (even before the whole thing)
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