A stack of twelve-teen books from the library sit on my desk. Which ones do I read?
A list of books three pages long, three columns wide, size 10 font, Times New Roman typeface is saved on my computer in alphabetical order. It’s been growing at a rate much faster than that which the strikethrough lines have been inching their way through titles since my second year in undergrad. Which ones do I read?
I have a file in my drawer of hanging files for writing related things that says “fresh ideas.” In there are upwards of twenty pieces of chit paper from the receipt printer at the restaurant that have handfuls of favorite book titles written by dozens of co-workers since 2005 to the present and counting – books these individuals who I come to love think I should read. Which ones should I, then, read?
It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie American Psycho. I guess I don’t remember distinct series’ of scenes like you sometimes do from movies you watched years ago that made an impact. I remember the cover – Christian Bale’s character, a rich face sliding out from behind a gleaming knife blade and all of it rising from a dark, ominous background. I remember him living a lie. I remember addiction in everything. And too much of everything. But I never did read the book. Maybe with intention, maybe not. But I also didn’t believe in much of anything then – and that plays a part.
Bret Easton Ellis was recommended to me by a friend more recently, however, and I reevaluated my reasoning for abstaining from this literature…any literature for that matter. Let me break for a moment to be very clear. I love to read. Love. Love. Love. Forget time management and graduate school and the fact that lately, I’m notoriously tired despite the twelve hours of sleep I’m getting each day. I still worship the written word and have upwards of nine items on hold in the South Suburban Library System at any given time. I consider my reading palette vast and open-minded and I try to keep it that way intentionally. I enjoy reading about things that I don’t know about; after all, isn’t part of the fun in it all the fact that we are humbled by the thrill of learning more than we know? Okay, since we’re all clear on that, we can return to our regularly scheduled program.
Ellis writes novels like American Psycho based primarily on a style called social satire. There are a number of views on this style and even more nuanced views when Ellis’s particular work comes into play, none of which I am going to spend any time slicing and dicing. I explored them and if you care, you can – but you won’t. Because this was my little project and research component to make a relatively small personal decision about my own reading habits. And it worked, and I did, and Ellis got the boot.
Most of my skepticism is in the fact that I don’t really buy into Ellis’s concept of social satire as a justification for how he breaks the rules of literature. I’ll use another author here as a foil. I think my favorite author is David Foster Wallace. He recently died tragically by suicide in his forties, a brilliant man. Wallace broke all the rules. They do say in writing that you have to know the rules in order to break them. And that you have to follow them for some time before gaining the respect to prance around as an acclaimed rule-breaker. Both true to the deepest degree of Wallace. My historical background of Ellis isn’t strong. It’s weak, in fact. But those who talk him up to me attach Rules of Attraction to his name as a foundational work – you know, one that will cause recognition to bloom in hesitant faces. Rules of Attraction follows no rules. From what I’m learning about Ellis, he’s not a guy who cares one lick about following literary rules. Maybe he just has his own plan to follow and it’s a smidge out-of-context with the American literary scene. He seems a bit self-obsessed and it crawls into his novels about every third publication, so maybe that’s a factor. I’m not sure. But he’s too rebellious of a genre and an art that I respect for me to support his riots.
In essence: Ellis produces this piece of artwork (his novel, American Psycho) that claims to be a social satire on the era of excess that the 1980’s spends its days spiraling towards. The novel is a hit with a huge crowd of folks for its brilliance in capturing the overwhelming concept of excess hidden behind a day-to-day facade. The form and shape that excess takes in Ellis’s novel borders literary pornography, with violence in detail far beyond a plot-driven need. The excess that society has derailed into is disgusting, true to a fault. But Ellis does not capture this. Ellis fails to socially comment on excess, but instead adulterates the literary functions that artists with his gift are offered with the pen and the page. Using violence, or any other display of excess, I think Ellis could have depicted a rise above this pattern of social demise and cleverly commented on American excess in the 80’s. Instead of commenting on the nation’s patterns, he participates shamelessly in them.