Suffering is Hip Winter Reading List

If Oprah can do it, so can we. And probably better.

As we at Suffering is Hip have taken it upon ourselves to help define the New Age of Sardonic Spookiness, we would be remiss indeed if we did not point out to you a few manifestoes that help to shape this coming age.

How do I know if this reading list is right for me? The fact that you're reading this is a good argument in itself. But further, if you answer yes to one or more of the following criteria, then we think you'll find the below selections inspirational:
  • When watching a movie or reading a tragical book, you always find yourself rooting for an inappropriate character.
  • You used to write dismal poetry, and still have it tucked away in some drawer, though you'd sooner die than have it read.
  • You gain spiritual & sexual gratification from reading about the depravities of your ancestors.
  • Out of a childlike sense wonder, you reach out and touch a Van Gogh when security isn't looking, thereby leaving a fingerprint in the still tacky paint for posterity.
We herein refrain from recommending books by artists such as Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Tanith Lee, E.A. Poe, etc., for whether quality literature or not, they are far too obviously tomes of this dawning age. Instead, we hope to bring to light works that were not specifically written for this genre, but by their very nature are alarmingly pertinent.

So choose your assignment. You will be tested.

(Feel free to banter about any of the below selections, or suggest your own indispensible choice that we should include.)

"Les Liaisons
by Choderlos
de Laclos
Easiest to find in the
Penguin Pocket Edition
(a.k.a. "Dangerous Liaisons",
"Dangerous Acquaintances")

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos

(Read the abridged and
modernized version here.
It will only take
about 10 minutes.)
Arguably the most pertinent manifesto to this New Age of Sardonia (if I may coin). The book is a compilation of correspondence between the main characters. It is written with a perfect blend of cleverness and lush beauty as it outlines in great detail the motivations and psychology behind the scandalously subversive and manipulative Marquise de Merteuil and the infamous rapscallion, the Vicomte de Valmont, as they plot the demise of the Innocents who surround them -- all for their own idle pleasure.

Due to the time of its writing, a weak pretense of teaching a valuable moral was tacked on by Laclos in the Editor's and Publisher's notes, and at the end, Merteuil suffers a melodramatic and very unrealistic comeuppance. But the book paints such an alluring portrait of the two 'villains', and manages to be so humourous about their (s)exploits, that the veneer of Christian Morals is easily seen through. Thus was it banned from time to time and from country to country, throughout its existence.

This classic, more than any other book I can name, has the balls to stand up to its own rigid society and tear it to shreds, all the while howling with glee.

It is also one of those books that gets better and better with each reading. If you read French, I recommend the original, written in a slightly archaic language, but the bite comes through even more strongly. --M.D.D.

NOTE: For once, there is a good film adaptation from a book. If you haven't already seen it, rent the 1984 release starring John Malkovich and Glenn Close. As for the film, "Valmont," with that mousey Meg Tilly, it's not worth the hour and half of your life you will lose watching it.
(The Story of
a Murderer)"
by Patrick Süskind
Alfred A. Knopf, NY

Perfume by Patrick Süskind
This is the the tale of Grenouille (Frog), a thoroughly misanthropic, wicked and oddly appealing murderer, as he hones his talent of the gift of smell to serve his psychopathic, twisted and hubristic purposes.

Set in 18th century France, this beautifully told saga narrates Grenouille's life from birth to perhaps the most original death appearing in 20th century literature. When I gave the book to Kallistí, she returned it with the complaint, "If I had to read one more paragraph of lush adjectives, I would have thrown the book across the room -- it's good though. I liked it." True there may be Hemingwayesque lists of adjectives to wade through, but the wickedness of the lead character and the ornately bizarre plot of gathering the essential extract oils from little girl-virgins in order to take over the world redeems the occasional overly-florid prose.

I include this book in the S.i.H. reading list not for the intriguing nastiness of the plot, but the often light-hearded humour Süskind uses to manifest his vision. Grenouille is a horrible character, we know, yet despite this fact, the Reader cannot help but cheer him on in the realization of his designs.

Its merit is justified by the sarcasm of its author, for books about misanthropes written by misanthropes are generally unreadable. But those authors who are not afraid to poke fun at their hateful characters' own shortcomings generally make a redeemable product. --M.D.D.
"Idols of Perversity
(Fantasies of Feminine Evil
in Fin-de-Siècle Culture)"
by Bram Dijkstra
Oxford University Press

Idols of Perversity by Bram Dijkstra
For anyone even vaguely interested in the art history of the Belle Epoque, this book is a must see -- must have. Lavishly illustrated from art of the period, it dissects genre painting and literature to lay bare the twisted psyche of an era as it relates to the sexual politics and mores of the time.

This appears in the chapter entitled "Ophelia and Folly":

" ... but what was far from customary was that she made Ophelia leer with the glowering light of a vampire in her eyes, thus emphasizing the sexual origin of her madness -- an aspect further accentuated by the very undecorous fashion in which her dress has slipped off her shoulders to reveal her breasts. Male painters, in contrast, preferred to show Ophelia fully clothed to emphasize the heroic nature of her choice of madness and death over a state of dangerous arousal."

From the "Cult of Invalidism" treating the obsessions with consumptive & dying women validating their virtues through disease, to "The Mythology of Therapeutic Rape" where it is shown just what an uppity woman might need to calm her hysteria, this book is a resource I at least am continually refering to, not the least reason is its beautiful turn of language. Be prepared never to view another Bouguereau or Waterhouse the same again. -- Kallistí
"Black Swine
in the Sewers
of Hampstead"

by Thomas Boyle
Viking Press

Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead by Thomas Boyle
"Black Swine" is an apocryphal study of heinous crimes (even by our standards) of the mid to late nineteenth century.

The stated premise of the book is to demonstrate that the Victorian legacy of repression and strict moral values was not in fact a backlash to the decadent age that preceded it, but rather a knee-jerk reaction to the endemic cruelty, poverty and moral decrepitude inherent in its own culture. And that the sensationalist novel first popularized by the Victorian reading public grew out of and was inspired by the wealth of raw material read daily in the papers.

Using newspaper clippings, crime sheets, and other journalistic paraphenalia, Thomas Boyle has no problem demonstrating that Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Henry James barely scratched the surface of Victorian depravity. From children purposefully and slowly starved to death by their parents to servents tortured and abused by their employers Boyle supplies us with a wealth of contemporary accounts of human cruelty and suffering.

One young maid is beaten repeatedly by her master and mistress. Denied the use of the household chamberpot, she "dirtied the floor" which caused her Mistress to get "a piece of turnip and cut a hole in it and filled it with some of the dirt [i.e. feces], and forced it down my throat by means of a large iron tablespoon" while the Master of the house prevented her escape, and then beat her afterwards for attempting to refuse this tender morsel.

Life just doesn't get much blacker than the England portrayed in this book. You want despair? Here it is. -- Kallistí
"Mary Poppins"
by P. L. Travers
Harcourt, Brace
& World

Mary Poppings by P. L. Travers

Click here for a few illustrations
of some very scarey situations.
A Disney children's book, appearing here? Hell yes! Though this is not Disney, but the original book from which that tepid monolithic corporation made a copacetic, watered-down version, as is their wont.

Children's books, especially written from the 20's through the 60's, can, from time to time, be incredibly twisted things. (Read 'Where the Wild Things Are', 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' or any Roald Dahl book, for that matter.) I use "Mary Poppins" and all her subsequent novels as an example. ("Mary Poppins Comes Back", "Mary Poppins Opens the Door", "Mary Poppins in the Park")

This is not Julie Andrews crooning and flitting about the nursery, extolling the virtues of candy-flavoured medicine (though I suppose that image in itself could be regarded as pretty weird.) But no, the real Mary Poppins as presented by Travers is perhaps the most stodgy, negligent, abusive, elusive, misleading (and misguided), vituperative, vain and priggish bitch ever conceived in the mind of an author. Fitting that Travers sics this harpy upon Jane and Michael Banks, already living in an incredibly twisted household, and that they, poor little sods, glom onto Mary as their own personal saviour.

Mz. Poppins quite literally never has a kind word for these children. When she occasionally sets up some fun magic for them, she instantly denies it ever happened. The poor children are confused and dismayed by her more often than not, and spend a fair amount of time trembling in fear, ducking under the covers as she glowers over their beds saying mean things to them.

In one particularly memorable sequence in "Mary Poppins Comes Back," Jane, waking up with bad PMS, talks back to Mary Poppins. Her punishment is her being left behind while Mary and Michael go to the park. Meanwhile, Jane is whisked into a ceramic bowl where she is chased, abducted, imprisoned and psychologically tortured by some of Mary's more horrible creations. Eventually, Jane, a quivering frightened mess, repents, calling out for Mary Poppins who shows up and tersely removes her from this hell world. The moral? "Don't fuck with Mary Poppins!" --M.D.D.
"Fanny Hill
(Memoirs of a
Woman of Pleasure)"
by John Cleland
©1989 (written in 1749)
Parragon Press

Fanny Hill by John Cleland
Fanny Hill is the romping English counterpart to les Liaisons Dangereuses, notwithstanding the fact that what Laclos only alludes to in favor of plot, Cleland brandishes, wildly irrespective of premise. Namely sex. Written in the purplest of purple prose, you would be hard put finding a word you couldn't utter in front of your grandmother, and yet Cleland leaves no doubt as to the jist of Fanny's "Memoirs", with lots of squishy, moist humour thrown in besides. Ferinstance:

" ... in a few minutes he was in a condition for renewing the onset, to which, preluding with a storm of kisses, he drove the same course as before with unbated fervour, and thus, in repeated engagements, kept me constantly in exercise till dawn of morning, in all which time he made me fully sensible of the virtues of his firm texture of limbs, his square shoulders, broad chest, compact hard muscles, in short, a system of manliness that might pass for no bad image of our ancient sturdy barons, when they wielded the battle-ax, whose race is now so thoroughly refined and frittered away into the more delicate modern-built frame of our pap-nerved softlings, who are as pale, as pretty, and almost as masculine as their sisters [hmmm, some of us may prefer the latter, eh?]."

Despite a proclivity for run-on sentences, Fanny Hill indeed has a plot. She is a whore, sometimes a courtesan, but always lusty and ready for more. Written in 1749, it is a tribute to the female orgasm. One of the most unique aspects of this most famous of erotic novels is that Fanny enjoys her many splendoured thing. Sex for her is always consentual and her profession actually plays second fiddle to her libido.

"All my animal spirits then rushed mechanically to that center of attraction, and presently, inly warmed and stirred as I was beyond bearing, I lost all restraint, and yielding to the force of the emotion, gave down, as mere woman, those effusions of pleasure ..." ad infinitum.

I could go on, but space is running short. Suffice to say that this is a very enlightening book in regard to the apetites of our ancestors, and due to the fact that it hasn't been out of print for over 200 years, you should have no trouble locating a copy. -- Kallistí