Books are the only form of mass media that address risky, potentially offensive topics. Consuming a book depends on the reader’s consent. That effort – compared to the passive nature of watching movies or listening to music – gives books a privacy and permission no other medium has.
The author of transgressive cult classics Fight Club, Choke and Invisible Monsters has made a name for himself writing books that shock, awe and push already extreme situations to their most unsettling conclusions.
It’s no surprise, then, that his list of best books provided to The Week includes works that explore the darker sides of human nature, alongside America’s apparent predilection for violence. Read on for a selection of Palahniuk’s favorite reads.
Honored Guest by Joy Williams
“Don’t let the praise by highbrow critics scare you away from this 2004 story collection. We’re so much more likely to feel sympathy for an animal than for another person, thus the best fiction uses animals to define truly humane behavior. No one does this better than Joy Williams.” -CP
Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
“Every decade, we get a stunning collection of dynamic, heartbreaking short stories. In the past, those collections came from Barry Hannah, Mark Richard, and Thom Jones. For the next 10 years, Pollock’s work will be tough for any writer to beat.” -CP
Flannery by Brad Gooch
“Why do the lives of writers seem so… train-wrecky? Mary Flannery O’Connor was no exception. She survived the back-to-back snake pits of the Iowa Writers Workshop and the Yaddo colony only to find herself trapped at home with her strong-willed mother and crippling lupus. The life of this Southern Gothic belle makes the somber existence of Emily Dickinson look like a barrel full of monkeys.” -CP
“Clark played the character ‘Nitro’ on the television series American Gladiators, and if you read only one book on vacation this year, this has to be it. After a dark childhood, steroids launch the author into a new life as a national celebrity built from mountains of chemically enhanced muscle. The dream falls apart as he sprouts breasts he can’t conceal inside his skimpy spandex costume, then suffers high colonics in order to pass mandatory drug tests. Of course, there’s redemption, but not before a ton of laughs.” -CP
Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr by David Bret