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To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life | Hervé Guibert
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Recommended by Clare Fentress
 
“If the title of this electrifying and brutal book doesn't grab hold of your attention immediately, try this sentence from the end of one its vignette-like chapters. Guilbert is describing the handsome junkie Ranieri, who, like him, is visiting a Roman clinic to pick up his AZT, which has just become available in Europe. It's a perfect summary of the experience of reading Guilbert himself: ‘I saw him rip off his bandage as he passed a trash basket. There was a marvelous energy in his step; I hesitated to make a move, and watched him disappear.’
 
About the Book
 
First published by Gallimard in 1990, To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life describes, with devastating, darkly comic clarity, its narrator's experience of being diagnosed with AIDS. Guibert chronicles three months in the penultimate year of the narrator's life as, in the wake of his friend Muzil's death, he goes from one quack doctor to another, describing the progression of the disease and recording the reactions of his many friends.

Drugs Are Nice | Lisa Carver
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Recommended by Lisa Borst
 
“An extremely lively, bittersweet, sometimes shocking account of a ’90s underground punk scene by the great Lisa Carver: editor, noise musician, icon of American raunch, and memoirist many times over. You watch the DIY sensibility that defined Gen X's most productive decade rise and fall: zines are founded, tapes are traded, Bill Callahan appears briefly among a parade of bad boyfriends. Then the internet comes along and gentrifies all of it.
 
About the Book
 
In this eye-opening memoir, Lisa Crystal Carver recalls her extraordinary youth and charts the late-80s, early-90s punk subculture that she helped shape. She recounts how her band Suckdog was born in 1987 and the wild events that followed: leaving small-town New Hampshire to tour Europe at 18, becoming a teen publisher of fanzines, a teen bride, and a teen prostitute. Spin has called Suckdog’s album Drugs Are Nice one of the best of the ’90s, and the book includes photos of infamous European shows. Yet the book also tells of how Lisa saw the need for change in 1994, when her baby was born with a chromosomal deletion and his father became violent. With lasting lightness and surprising gravity, Drugs Are Nice is a definitive account of the generation that wanted to break every rule, but also a story of an artist and a mother becoming an adult on her own terms.

Glamorama | Bret Easton Ellis
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Recommended by Vladimir Sorokin
 
“The metaphysics of a glamorous world, which quickly grew to attain inhuman scale, are described with fierce intensity and depth. Their substance can be touched and contemplated herein. A powerful and captivating book.”
 
About the Book
 
Set in ’90s Manhattan, Victor Ward, a model with perfect abs and all the right friends, is seen and photographed everywhere, even in places he hasn’t been and with people he doesn’t know. He’s living with one beautiful model and having an affair with another on the eve of opening the trendiest nightclub in New York City history. And now it’s time to move to the next stage. But the future he gets is not the one he had in mind.
 

Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book | Maxine Hong Kingston
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Recommended by Hua Hsu
 
“A novel full of luminous passages about partying, scheming, judging and joking, the energy and avarice of youth, as we follow a bristly Chinese American hippy wandering through the Bay Area, holding tight to his dream of writing a play that will bring the Vietnam War—all wars, actually—to an end. He’s written a part for everyone—even you.
 
About the Book
 
Wittman Ah Sing is an unstoppable hipster poet and playwright on the streets of San Francisco, after the Beats have left and before the hippies have arrived. He falls in love with Nancy the Beautiful, marries Tana, and chases his dream to write and stage an epic drama spanning America and China.
 
 
 
 

Fatale | Jean-Patrick Manchette
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Recommended by Rachel Kushner
 
“Fatale is perhaps Manchette’s strangest novel. The female protagonist, Aimée, is a cold directed killer, almost a machine, whose ambition and death drive are perfectly in sync. She’s seen from way outside, in this “behaviorist” account, a technique Manchette claims he learned from Guy de Maupassant. Aimée roves around the blandest of wealthy towns like a robot vacuum cleaner, killing the structurally guilty. At the end, her failure is also, somehow, an exquisite and hallucinogenic triumph.
 
About the Book
 
Whether you call her a coldhearted grifter or the soul of modern capitalism, there's no question that Aimée is a killer and a more than professional one. Now she's set her eyes on a backwater burg—where, while posing as an innocent (albeit drop-dead gorgeous) newcomer to town, she means to sniff out old grudges and engineer new opportunities, deftly playing different people and different interests against each other the better, as always, to make a killing. But then something snaps: the master manipulator falls prey to a pure and wayward passion.
 

Talk | Linda Rosenkrantz
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Recommended by Nicole Lipman
 
“I can't believe Talk was published nearly fifty years ago: the recorded conversations are almost shockingly contemporary, still funny and raunchy a half century later. Read it if you're obsessed with your friends, or if you have no friends (Linda Rosenkrantz will lend you hers for 240 pages).
 
About the Book
 
Talk is a hilariously irreverent and racy testament to dialogue: the gossip, questioning, analysis, arguments, and revelations that make up our closest friendships. It’s the summer of 1965 and Emily, Vincent, and Marsha are at the beach. All three are ambitious and artistic; all are hovering around thirty; and all are deeply and mercilessly invested in analyzing themselves and everyone around them. The friends discuss sex, shrinks, psychedelics, sculpture, and S&M in an ongoing dialogue where anything goes and no topic is off limits. Talk is the result of these conversations, recorded by Linda Rosenkrantz and transformed into a novel whose form and content put it well ahead of its time. Controversial upon its first publication in 1968, Talk remains fresh, lascivious, and laugh-out-loud funny nearly fifty years later.
 

Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber | Manny Farber
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Recommended by Mark Krotov
 
“I don’t know why I don’t own Negative Space, which I gather is the better collection, but I don’t, so I’m recommending Farber on Film. The book is too heavy, the font is too small, the index is somehow too comprehensive, but every maddening, paradoxical, occasionally self-undermining assessment sees more on the screen (and provokes more reflection from the reader) than almost any other film criticism I’ve read. Here, for example, is Farber on Bullitt: ‘But in a long, near-silent and very good stretch in U.C. Hospital, which is almost excessive in the way it sticks like plaster to the mundaneness of the place, the movie hits into about seventeen verities: faces looking out as though across the great divide of 20th-century lousiness.’ Because of the tiny font you get like a dozen of these mega-genius sentences per page.
 
About the Book
 
Farber was an early discoverer of many filmmakers later acclaimed as American masters: Val Lewton, Preston Sturges, Samuel Fuller, Raoul Walsh, Anthony Mann. A prodigiously gifted painter himself, he brought to his writing an artist's eye for what was on the screen. Alert to any filmmaker, no matter how marginal or unsung, who was “doing go-for-broke art and not caring what comes of it,” he was uncompromising in his contempt for pretension and trendiness, for, as he put it, directors who “pin the viewer to the wall and slug him with wet towels of artiness and significance.”

The excitement of his criticism, however, has less to do with his particular likes and dislikes than with the quality of attention he paid to each film as it unfolds, to the “chains of rapport and intimate knowledge” in its moment-to-moment reality. To transcribe that knowledge he created a prose that, in Robert Polito's words, allows for “oddities, muddles, crises, contradictions, dead ends, multiple alternatives, and divergent vistas.” The result is critical essays that are themselves works of art.

A Severed Head | Iris Murdoch
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Recommended by Ari M. Brostoff
 
“Iris Murdoch was interested in the question of what it means to be good in a world shaped by amoral desire, and A Severed Head—a very funny and also deadly serious philosophy joke barely disguised as a comedy of manners—is a deeply provocative, and truly bonkers, attempt at an answer.
 
About the Book
 
Martin Lynch-Gibson believes he can possess both a beautiful wife and a delightful lover. But when his wife, Antonia, suddenly leaves him for her psychoanalyst, Martin is plunged into an intensive emotional reeducation. He attempts to behave beautifully and sensibly. Then he meets a woman whose demonic splendor at first repels him and later arouses a consuming and monstrous passion. As his Medusa informs him, "this is nothing to do with happiness."
 
 
 
 

The Book of Lieh-tzu | A. C. Graham
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Recommended by Ken Chen
 
“I want NYRB to republish this book and have me write the intro. This is the least famous of the three great Daoist books and also the most slapstick. Aside from a few forays into dense dialectical mysticism, much of the book consists of some of the best written philosophical fables ever. The stories intersect a wuxia wonder intersects with metaphysics and satirized Confucian class structure. A judge adjudicates who has the right to a deer killed in a dream. The character of one story is a feudal landowner dreaming he is a servant—or is he the reverse? There are invisible swords, people who have removed their hearts, the proper etiquette one should use for magic powers, and the social creation of memory. Better than Kafka!
 
About the Book
 
A translation of the work of the Taoist philosopher, Lieh-tzu. Includes, among others, Heaven's Gifts, Yang Chu and the Questions of T'ang.
 

Summer Will Show | Sylvia Townsend Warner
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Recommended by Hannah Zeavin
 
“You would be forgiven for thinking, from its first pages, that Summer Will Show is some novel set on an estate where bad things happen to rich, if not bad, people. And they do: two children die in quick succession, a husband is off with another woman. And suddenly, the reproductive labor that has occupied our protagonist, Sophia Willoughby, no longer quite exists. After all, although she is head of her estate, she employs many, many workers who carry out its actual management. And so what does our protagonist do? She goes to get her husband back, so that she may start reproducing once more. Yet, rather than using the change of scene to have new clothes made and secure her husband once more, or not only, she falls in love with none other than her husband’s mistress Minna. I should now mention that, although the book was written in the interwar period, for Sophia the year is 1848 and her husband has traipsed off to Paris. I think this queer romance is one of the best novels to imagine the not-quite-revolution, centering on a fictional account of the June Days uprising.
 
About the Book
 
Sophia Willoughby, a young Englishwoman from an aristocratic family and a person of strong opinions and even stronger will, has packed her cheating husband off to Paris. He can have his tawdry mistress. She intends to devote herself to the serious business of raising her two children in proper Tory fashion. Then tragedy strikes: the children die, and Sophia, in despair, finds her way to Paris, arriving just in time for the revolution of 1848. Before long she has formed the unlikeliest of close relations with Minna, her husband's sometime mistress, whose dramatic recitations, based on her hair-raising childhood in czarist Russia, electrify audiences in drawing rooms and on the street alike. Minna, “magnanimous and unscrupulous, fickle, ardent, and interfering,” leads Sophia on a wild adventure through bohemian and revolutionary Paris, in a story that reaches an unforgettable conclusion amidst the bullets, bloodshed, and hope of the barricades.
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