It’s that time of year again. “Beach Reads” lists are making the rounds, and no doubt they’ve got all the bestsellers: feel good books with inspirational titles, geopolitical tracts, pop-culture rags, and action hero stories. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. I’m not here to shit on things that other people like! But there’s also nothing wrong with you, if those books just aren’t your bag. If you are anything at all like me, you’ve a melancholic disposition and you prefer your choice of reading material to reflect your morose, sometimes maudlin mindset.
It’s June. It’s inevitable. Some of your normie friends are probably going to invite you on a picnic or to a day at the beach, and hey– having friends is great. It’s difficult to make friends and maintain friendships if you’re a weirdo introvert reader who sometimes prefers pages to people; but you understand the power and importance of human connections, and you actually like spending time with these people even if they abnormally revere the sunlight and sometimes listen to Top 40.
You know they’re going to gently poke fun at your perilously overstuffed black tote bag when you show up for the party, but you also know that no one’s going to give you a hard time when you slink off behind a shadowed sand dune for some peace and quiet to dig into that book stack that’s been calling your name for the past hour while you were catching up and eating vegan hot dogs or whatever your friends are into. You might be an anti-social weirdo, but you don’t pass up free food!
What’s in my bag this year? Well, firstly, I don’t necessarily believe that newer is better, so I may have a few titles that were released more than a few years ago. Hell, maybe the authors are even dead! That’s okay. Nothing wrong with contemplating your own mortality on a sunny, cloudless, midsummer afternoon.
Secondly, while these are all either bleak or dreary, that has nothing to do with how good they are. Each of these titles, in my opinion, are thoroughly engaging, compelling reads–they’re not merely good, they’re pretty fantastic. There’s just not going to be many chuckles of mirth while you’re reading them (okay, except maybe for Megahex). You might find that you have actually forgotten to smile after you’ve finished them (maybe especially with Megahex). That’s fine, you’re fine. Our friends are like, twenty feet away and they’ve just made a pitcher of margaritas and we can drink until we forget.
But for now, let’s wallow.
The Late Works of Margaret Kroftis, a novella by Mark Gluth, is a series of vignettes, a chain of separate lives connected by death. Themes of loss and grief and daydreams and stories within stories within stories. It begins with a personal tragedy in the titular Margaret’s life and chronicles the heartache and sorrows that follow the other characters as the book progresses. Written in spare, atmospheric, dreamy prose that simultaneously breaks your heart and leaves you sighing wistfully the whole time, you will recommend The Late Works of Margaret Kroftis to every bookworm you know but then too late you realize your suggestion should have come with a trigger warning. Steel your sweet hearts–devastatingly beautiful and seeping with insidious sadness, this is a rough one for sensitive readers.
In the reading of Caleb Curtiss’ A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us, you will become aware of what it means to be close to someone and to also be very far away from them. Written in the aftermath of Curtiss’ sister’s death, these are poems attempting to make sense of moments and memories, loss, and lost time. Radiant elegies that present as both revelatory and contradictory in the way that grief, when distilled and examined, can both clarify and confuse–especially when stalked at the periphery by ghosts. Hug your beloved sibling after you read this and remember that your life and everything you know in this world can change in the blink of an eye, in a heart beat, and we will never have all the time we need with those we love.
True, The Tenant, a surrealistic, psychological nightmare by French writer, illustrator, and filmmaker Roland Torpor was originally published in 1964, but, with themes of alienation and pervasive loneliness while living in close quarters with other jerks in an urban environment, it seems astonishingly relevant today. The story follows Trelkovsky, a seemingly average guy, who moves into the recently vacated apartment of a female suicide. Hilarity ensues! Not really. With an atmosphere awash in suspicion and paranoia, we watch our protagonist travel an almost pre-determined path from obsession and existential crisis to sociopathic misanthropy and madness. Your shitty neighbors won’t seem nearly so bad after reading The Tenant, I assure you.
Megahex by Simon Hanselmann follows the darkly humored, depressing as hell, and sometimes pretty fucking disgusting stories of ennui-infected, perpetual stoner witch Meg and her cat familiar/lover Mogg, along with their various degenerate friends. This collection of strange beings, despite their otherworldly appearances, spend their time engaging in mostly mundane rather than magical activities, consisting mainly of dopey shit and bad decisions. Intensely relatable, frequently hilarious, and surprisingly poignant–while reading it, I at one point found myself quietly weeping, without even realizing it.
House of Psychotic Women by Kier-La Janisse is an “autobiographical topography of female neurosis in horror and exploitation films,” that, despite its title, doesn’t read at all as a dull, dense treatise on horror theory–and it is not exactly criticism so much as it is intensely enthusiastic film appreciation. An examination of neurotic, hysterical, and oftentimes bonkers bat-shit crazy women in genre film, interwoven with fascinating autobiographical elements that parallel her own, often troubled past, Kier-La Janisse’s House of Psychotic Women is an accessible, powerful, utterly unique creation, and undoubtedly the exact opposite of a fun, light-hearted beach read.
(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)