This haunting book is a rare and wonderful thing: an artistic approach to history. Lesy creates a collage of news stories, quotes from contemporary novels, local asylum records, medical diagrams, and harrowingly bleak-but-beautiful photographs to give us a portrait of Black River Falls, Wisconsin in the late 19th century. It's the kind of book that you can dip into or get lost in for hours, gently circling around the historical truth at the heart of it but never quite getting there until you read the explanatory Preface and Conclusion. Mysterious and undeniably creepy, it is a great piece of art that showcases the darker side of the Midwest.
If you are fascinated by American culture, mass communication, mass destruction, media, or simply have an overwhelming feeling of imminent doom, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Featuring a college professor who wanders supermarket aisles rhapsodizing about consumerism and the human condition, a sad and wise housewife addicted to an untested pharmaceutical meant to stave off the fear of death, and a cast of characters from the suburbs of 1980's America. The writing is absolutely gorgeous. A complex, exhilarating read.
There can never be enough said about the Alice books. Transcendentally absurd, cloyingly Victorian, poignant, fantastical, and refreshingly amoral (but with a good heart.) After the Bible and Shakespeare, they are the most often-quoted works in the English language. Their appeal is strangely timeless and universal; I myself end up identifying so much with Alice that it's almost scary. And there are so many more layers of humor and meaning in the books than in the movie adaptations (the backstory about Charles Dodgson, i.e. Lewis Carroll, and Alice Liddell is also quite interesting,) so they're worth diving into matter what your age.
Less about murderers than the spectators of murder, this is a thoroughly entertaining historical study of human behavior. Flanders provides rich details about high-profile cases from the era, and even has some fresh insights about Jack the Ripper (with all of the books written on him, that is a difficult feat.) She really knows her stuff about Victorian England, recreating its uniquely gloomy atmosphere that still tends to captures contemporary imagination.
I shamelessly relished this grubby little satire. Here's the delightful part: the story begins as a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey and snowballs into a story of world-domination through sex toys and one woman from Nebraska finding herself pitted against a multibillionaire sociopath. There's even a pilgrimage to an ancient erotic guru who lives alone on a crag of the Himalayas. All of this takes place in the near-future. Without giving too much away, I'll say that it is mostly a story about gender politics, sexual liberation, consumer enslavement, and vagina dentata. I wasn't too offended by it as a woman, and I think it would be a mistake to take Palahniuk too deadly-seriously. This is one of his more relatively mature books, though just as gratifyingly extreme as the others. I think he is just playing with the theme of modern sex positivity and the power women hold in the consumer market, not ridiculing the idea of female libido or even sex toys themselves. .
I love letters. Sometimes I pick up crumpled bits of paper on the sidewalk hoping that they're letters (usually they're shopping lists.) This book is a wonderful tribute to this fading form of communication, populated with some colorful letter-writing characters from history. But despite the book's nostalgic tone, Simon Garfield never falls into blustering anti-internet-age diatribes. To the Letter is more about human relationships, the need for connection, and how culture shapes personal experience.
For everyone who loves the internet, hates the internet, or loves the internet but becomes paralyzed with fear in thinking about its implications. A direct descendant of Marshall McLuhan's cult classic, The Medium is the Massage, this book is part cultural commentary and part disenchanted/dystopian manifesto. Douglas Coupland's trademark imaginary word definitions are peppered throughout the multimedia collage of the pages. His argument is unsettling but plausible, a little histrionic, and totally fascinating. Globalization, global warming, cybersex, classlessness, and a loss of self -- let the future begin!
The story behind the classic comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces is fascinatting in itself: author commits suicide before it was published, mother finds manuscript and hawks it to Walker Percy, it gets published, wins the Pulitzer Prize. However, the story of the rest of the author's life is just as fascinating and tragic. This book provides a much-needed biographical look at a Southern writer who died far too young, at the height of his powers.