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Monday, Mar 7, 2011

To open Shade Rupe’s Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms at random is to drop into a vortex. It’s 500 pages of double-columned interviews, conducted over a 20-year period, with artists in some way “trangressive”, pioneering or peculiar.


These include filmmakers such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, who discusses his Paris happenings with the Panic group and his fateful encounter with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Other directors include William Lustig (Maniac), Gaspar Noé (Irreversible), Jim Vanbebber (The Manson Family), and Buddy Giovanazzo (Combat Shock). There are also performers (Udo Kier, Divine, the recently deceased Tura Satana) as well as various writers, illustrators, musicians and performance artists.


Check out Zamora the Torture King, who says “You’ve got your body and then this mysterious area inside, and these sensations that can happen that you’re not normally coming in contact with.”  Indeed, this is a book that’s littered with not-safe-for-work photos.


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Friday, Feb 25, 2011
Mills revisits fond memories of reading the Guinness Book of World Records as a child (it sure beats Nightmare on Elm Street), and the lasting distortion the series has wrought upon her life.

A while back I was reading an article on the potential of celebrity children to feel frankly a little silly about being named, say, Peaches Honeybloom Geldof, once they come of age and start wanting careers of their own.


Besides real sympathy, the whole thing—as things are wont to do to me at the oddest moments—triggered off nostalgic flashbacks to my boon companion of rainy afternoons past: the Guinness Book of World Records. Now, I’m not talking about the post-millennium “Guinness World Records’; in fact, leafing through these new ‘relevant’ editions, all foil-gilt covers and colourblocked gossip (“Most Successful Plastic Surgery!”) makes me kind of sad.


The Guinness book of my preteen-hood was a fat Bantam Books paperback, densely packed with doggedly businesslike prose (“The claims of M. Michael Lotito to have eaten a bicycle must, however, be regarded as apocryphal.”) The combination of kaleidoscopic detail and determination to make sense of it was just endlessly charming to me. I can’t really recommend a better way to inspire wholesale fascination with the human experience.


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Thursday, Feb 10, 2011
David Peace's Occupied City brings a bleak, incantatory rhythm to its investigation of a real-life mass killing in 1948 Tokyo.

In 1948, in occupied Tokyo, a man walked into a branch of the Teikoku Bank and informed the workers present that he was a public health official there to inoculate them against an outbreak of dysentery. He dispensed a series of two liquid medicines to each of the 16 workers in attendance. Very soon after, the bank employees collapsed in writhing agony. The man gathered up some (but not all) the cash laying out on the desks and escaped. Twelve people died, and while a murderer was imprisoned, many believe that justice was never really done.


This is the case that David Peace tackles in his latest novel, 2009’s Occupied City, the second in a projected trilogy of novels set in postwar Japan (2007’s Tokyo Year Zero was the predecessor), out this month in paperback. But just as his Red Riding Quartet burrowed deep into the archival history of historical murders and corruption in England’s bleak northlands only to go spinning off into their own dark orbit of depressive madness, this novel uses the Teikoku case as a springboard for Peace’s explorations of human brutality.


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Tuesday, Oct 26, 2010
Dystopias are the hot, newish trend in the teen world; they've become so popular they're bumping vampires down a few notches in the bestseller lists. But are they just a passing fad?

Dystopic fiction is nothing new. According the Oxford English Dictionary, the word was first used (created of his own free will) by philosopher John Stuart Mill in 1868. Mill used the word in a speech to the British House of Commons, denouncing the Irish Land Act (“What is commonly called Utopian is something too good to be practicable; but what they appear to favour is too bad to be practicable.”). Since then, dystopias have become a staple in fiction, cycling through literary, science fiction, and fantasy. The current YA dystopic trend may signal the end of of dystopias as a wandering subgenre—perhaps even bringing them into the mainstream.


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Thursday, Sep 9, 2010
A story of a family’s twisted relationship to fire and the protagonist's gradual recognition of his legacy.

Jay Varner tells us up front that his memoir Nothing Left To Burn is about his “complicated history with fire”. However, what unfolds with the speed and avidity of a blaze is much more than that; it’s the story of his family’s twisted relationship to fire and Varner’s gradual recognition of his legacy.


Three months out of college, Varner takes a job he needs, covering the fire and obit beat for the newspaper in his tiny central Pennsylvania hometown. He knows fires and he knows death –  his father, Denton, was the town’s fire chief. Denton’s father, however, was the town’s serial arsonist.


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