Tag Archives: Bret Easton Ellis

Other People’s Bookshelves #69 – Thom Cuell

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in the wonderful town of Buxton to join blogger, writer, publisher, all round good guy and complete book addict Thom Cuell. If you don’t have the Workshy Fop bookmarked as a favourite then you should. Before we have a rummage through all of his shelves, lets all settle down on her lovely sofa’s, grab a glass of spa water and find out more about him.

(I hate writing bio’s in the third person, so here goes) – I’m a book reviewer and essay writer, and my writing has appeared on websites including 3am Magazine, The Weeklings and The Literateur, as well as the blog Workshy Fop, the website I began in 2007. I also co-host a literary salon in London, for authors, reviewers and publishers, and my latest venture is the indie press Dodo Ink, which will be publishing exciting and innovative new writing, launching in 2016. I have an MA in English and American Literature from the University of Manchester, and I live in Buxton with my daughter Gaia. My favourite novels include Great Apes by Will Self, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and Zone by Mathias Enard, and I’ve recently fallen for Nell Zink in a big way. I am also one of the founders of new imprint Dodo Ink which will be launching in 2016, with three original novels. You can be part of it by donating to The Grand Dodo Ink Kickstarter here.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I’m a terrible hoarder, so yes, most books do end up on my shelves after I’ve read them! My main ambition for old age is to have a study lined with books from floor to ceiling, so I’m making a start already (I wish I had that sense of forward planning when it came to finances – maybe my collection can become my pension. Wishful thinking?). But space is quite limited, and the shelves are constantly overflowing, so I tend to do a monthly sweep where I try to find at least a bagful which can go to charity shops…

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

Before I give my answer, my favourite ever reply to that question was from someone on Twitter who said that they organised their books ‘in ascending order of threat to national security’. My shelves are colour coded – I think I first sorted them that way about 5 years ago, and have kept it in four different flats now. I’ve tried different things before, like by publisher or subject, but I prefer the look of colour coding. The main thing is that I’ve always been opposed to alphabetical order. Sam (Mills, author and co-director of Dodo Ink) has a habit of wandering off with my books, so I don’t want to make it any easier for her to find what she’s looking for…  The downside is that I have found myself thinking ‘I could do with more red books to fill a shelf’. And the ever-expanding TBR pile is currently on the floor, awaiting the arrival of more shelving.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I have no idea! I can tell you my first record (Mis-shapes by Pulp), but no memory of what the first book would have been. However, I do have a huge storage container full of books from when my parents moved house about 10 years ago, so it is almost certainly in there, going mouldy, whatever it was.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No, no shame! At some point I might have to hide some of the Victorian filth away I suppose, for practical reasons. (One disclaimer – the Shirley Conran book is Sam’s!)

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

The piles of books probably make my flat a massive fire hazard, so this question is quite worrying… I don’t tend to get into big emotional connections with specific books – the words in them, yes, but not the physical entity. There are a few I’d be sad to lose though – a Left Book Club edition of The Road to Wigan Pier, which my dad bought me, and my paperback copy of The Quiddity of Will Self, which is full of crossings out and notes from when Sam used it in a reading. And there are two more, which I’ll talk about in the next question.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I was always surrounded by books when I was growing up, and I was never told that any of them were off limits. I think the first ‘adult’ books might have been some of Roald Dahl’s horror stories, which I borrowed from my junior school library – I had a bash at A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovic when I was 10 or 11 as well. From my parents’ shelves, there are a few that stick in my mind: American Psycho and Trainspotting, both of which I read, and are now on my shelves (I got both copies signed by the authors too), and also A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, which I never read at the time, but have bought and read since.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I do prefer to have my own copy, yes – just in case I ever have to refer to them for any reason (I’m always dreaming up elaborate research projects). I normally wait to see if I can find them in charity shops though.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

I was in Southport this weekend, which turned out to be secondhand book heaven – especially Broadhurst Books (note – this was the book shop Granny Savidge used to spend her weekends reading in as a little girl). By the time I got to the third floor there, I was testing the patience of a six year old who had been promised a trip to the beach, so I didn’t get to explore as much as I’d have liked, but I did come away with Murder in the Collective by Barbara Wilson – a 1980s crime novel involving anarcho-feminist communes. I’ve been getting very into The Women’s Press recently – they published some stunning novels which are often out of print now – so I’m really excited about this one.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Ah, there are always more books! One that I’ve always wanted, but which comes with a hefty price tag, is Il Settimo Splendore by Girogio Cortenova, the catalogue from an exhibition I went to see in Verona in 2004. And there are loads which I do own, but are buried in storage when they should be on my shelves – In Search of the Pleasure Palace by Marc Almond is one, and my collection of Attack! books, a short-lived imprint created by sadly deceased NME journalist Steven Wells, which specialised in highly offensive gonzo thrillers.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

Probably that I am a mad pervert! I’d like to think that it shows a wide-ranging set of interests…

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A huge thanks to Thom for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forget if you would like to be part of helping set up an new publishing imprint, you can help kickstart Dodo Ink here – backers can receive rewards including bookmarks, signed books and invitations to launch parties. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Thom’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Less Than Zero – Bret Easton Ellis

There is a danger when you have read a cult novel such as ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis, a book so initially mundane and monotone before becoming haunting, horrific and disturbing you might not want to read it again but you equally won’t forget reading it and see it as a possible masterpiece, another book by them might not live up to your prior experience and therefore expectations. Sadly ‘Less Than Zero’ didn’t, yet I am sure had I read it upon its publishing in 1985 (though I was three so unlikely) I would have found it far more groundbreaking.

‘Less Than Zero’ follows the Christmas break of Clay, a young rich kid with far too much money and time on his hands. As we follow Clay and his group of equally disheartened and spoilt yet rather messed up friends a tale of drugs, drinking and much, much worse ensues. That really in a nutshell is the story. Clay starts a relationship with a girl called Blair, sleeps with anyone who will have him whatever there gender on the side and then go and get absolutely of his face on whatever comes to hand too. Throw in some ‘shocking material’ like drug deaths, snuff movies, escorting and even some possible child abuse for good measure and you know where this book is going. Unusually though, this is all told in a rather silent and minimal style (almost verging on bored) that I could see lingered in his prose with American Psycho’.

It’s actually the minimalist voice and slight coldness that saved the book, if only slightly, for me interestingly. I do like how Bret Easton Ellis looks at what boredom can lead to, is this a theme in all of his novels? It did make the book stand out from the many, many books I have read that stick to the same subject, have almost as much horrific and ‘shocking’ subject matter thrown in, and are filled with spoilt rich nasty characters that you kind of hope get what is coming to them. You know the sorts of novels I mean, ‘Trainspotting’, Dead Babies’, books that interestingly sum up the generation that hail them as masterpieces (‘Trainspotting’ was mine and I still think its good) yet after time seem to date and get usurped by the next generations favourite fictional rich kids ‘shocking’ drug orgy.

Initially I was rather intrigued by Clay and all those around him who came and went. As the book went on to try and shock the reader further I found myself first of all feeling a little shocked and then becoming disengaged. ‘American Psycho’ works so stunningly because at the start you are almost bored to tears by the mundanity before being shocked by the events that come, ‘Less Than Zero’ starts this way, shocked and then left me completely cold and a little bit bored. I couldn’t predict the horrors that might lay in wait for these characters yet I wasn’t sure I cared. Which is now going to be completely contradicted when I say I would read the sequel ‘Imperial Bedrooms’ to find out what became of those who survived in their thirties and forties and the effects that the events of ‘Less Than Zero’ had on them.

The fact I wouldn’t mind reading the sequel means that ‘Less Than Zero’ did work for me in some ways. I actually found the dislikeable characters well written and rounded and if Easton Ellis’ intention was to make me loathe them he did well. I think what I found more interesting was seeing the start of a writer and the initial skills being developed that would create a much greater work in the future. Maybe not the best reason to like a book, but it works for me. I think I would have been much more impressed if I hadn’t felt I had read this sort of book several times before, I’m also not sure if this had been my first introduction to Easton Ellis right now that I would read any more. Interesting.  6.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publishers.

Which Bret Easton Ellis books have you read? Are they all filled with vile nasty characters? Have you read ‘Imperial Bedrooms’ and if so, without giving too much away, is it worth the read? Is there any subject matter you feel has been done to death and merely gets regurgitated (an apt word with this books subject matter)?   Are there any other debut novels by cult classic novelists that fall flat?

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Lastest Incomings & Postal Problems

I thought as I haven’t done one for ages and ages I would do a post on the latest arrivals from some of you and some lovely publishers over the last month and a bit. First though I need share my latest postal drama’s with you. You might remember a while back that I told you how my delightful postman (I like to point him out to visitors when they are staying so they can see just what a miserable so and so he is) was leaving my parcels in the street. Finally he has given up on that front but I was rather worried as some rather important parcels (which I can’t share with you or talk about sadly) hadn’t turned up. So off to the sorting office I marched.

I got there, explained the situation as they know e quite well and they said they would have a look. I then get one of them coming out beaming ‘it’s your lucky day’ they had seven rather large parcels waiting. I was about to leave when I noticed the posted dates, some as far back as last Saturday, so back to the man I go and ask what this is all about. I get a sheepish look before I am told ‘well the thing is, because you get so much post we hold the parcels for a week and then try and deliver it in one go once a week’. I didn’t shout, I didn’t kick off – after all these people do handle my post and I don’t want it vanishing forever as opposed to a few days. I simply and quietly said I would be most appreciative if my postal service could deliver the post that people are paying for at the speed they are paying for it. I then shouted and screamed a bit down the customer complaints phone line. Anyway before I make myself cross again lets get to those parcels, and some that arrived on time, which of course cheered me up no end.

First up a big thank you to you out there who read the blog and then send me emails asking me if I would like a copy of this that or the other that you have spare, want to re-home etc. None of you wanted your names mentioned but I wanted to put you first at least with a picture of your treats as I am very grateful. In the last month you have come up with some real gems such as…

  • Wise Children by Angela Carter – after I loved ‘The Bloody Chamber’
  • Taking The Devils Advice by Anne Fine – as it was mentioned in my Mum’s favourite books
  • The Child Garden & Lust by Geoff Ryan – a kind reader thought after my ‘253’ joy these would be good and one is a very sci-fi look at a future London so that will be interesting
  • Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood – you all know I love an Atwood and this is one of the few not on the TBR
  • Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue – after I loved ‘Room’ a kind reader thought I might like her 1700’s slightly sensational earlier novel

Now onto publishers some who sent a few so I have placed their books separately before a mixed bag or two at the end. First up some more guilty pleasures as Constable and Robinson sent me the latest M.C. Beaton series which they are relaunching this autumn. Cosy Edwardian murder mysteries with a new heroine and some fabulous titles.

The power of social media can bring you some treats sometimes. I tweeted that I had heard Brett Easton Ellis on the Guardian Bookclub podcast (I also heard Sarah Waters this week and it made me like ‘The Little Stranger’ even more which has grown and grown on me) a week or so ago and how listening to him talk made me want to read everyone of his books that I hadn’t, and wasn’t it funny how listening to or seeing authors talk can do that? In the post within a few days came this from Picador…

So now I do have the whole of his works to go through bar the latest as I had only read one of his books before which is the amazing (but possibly a book you don’t read twice) ‘American Psycho’ which If you haven’t read bite the bullet and try.

Vintage Books sent me a mixed bag of unsolicited (which I like as with Vintage they tend to be books that are going to become classics and I never knew I wanted to read – or had heard of – and yet once I see them I do) forthcoming treats containing…

  • The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
  • The Good Angel of Death by Andrey Kurkov
  • Look At The Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut
  • A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks (can you believe I have still never read a Faulks?)

Now for two final mixture of publishers who have sent and who are…

  • Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford (Capuchin Classics) – I will be reading this over the bank holiday weekend
  • The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi by Andrew McConnel Scott (Canongate Books)
  • Last Night In Twisted River by John Irving (Transworld Books) – another author I can’t believe I haven’t read yet
  • Something Sensational To Read On The Train by Gyles Brandreth (John Murray) I love diaries and these one sound quite salacious and gossipy so I might be dipping in and out of them for the next few months
  • Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius (Peirene Press)
  • Tarr by Wyndham Lewis (Oxford University Press)
  • The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall (Legend Press) winner of the Luke Bitmead Novel Award and being compared to Sophie Hannah

  • The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst (Sceptre) – call me a book cover slut but I do want to read this for the cover alone
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (Granta)
  • The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld (Headline) – I have started this one because I really liked ‘The Interpretation of Murder’ only thing is I couldn’t remember what happened in that as it was my pre-blogging days – oops. I know I liked it though and so far I havent had to hark back to the last one!
  • Farundell by L.R. Fredericks (John Murray) – I had never head of this one before it thudded through my letter box, however reading the synopsis and seeing thoughts on it here and there I am actually ridiculously excited about reading this one over the weekend
  • The Captain’s Wife by Kirsten McKenzie (John Murray)

Right that’s the lot of lovely loot, it has been a good month or so since I did one hence the mightiness of it. Special thanks again to you the readers who have been sending. So which of these have you heard about, which do you quite fancy and what else have you read by any of the authors and what did you think? Any more tales of postal hell?

Oh and a quick note; none of these books were asked for – I have banned myself from that as have lots in the house – either the publishers contacted me or simply sent them unsolicitied. Just so you all know!

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American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis

I originally tried to read Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho about three or four years ago and wasn’t put off by the murder but by the monotone never ending first fifty pages of meals in ‘the’ restaurants of New York, labels, meetings, same looking crowds, meals, labels. You get the gist. This time round though I managed it (partly because it was a book group read) all, only I also discovered this does in fact go on for more like 150 pages but do bare with it, because I do indeed think everyone should read this book once, for its unlikely you could a second time, in their lifetime. It is an unusual and uncomfortable masterpiece.

Our protagonist Patrick Bateman seems on the outside normal, materialist but normal. Working on Wall Street in the middle of the 1980’s he is obsessed with labels, the best restaurants and business cards. In fact he is so obsessed by business cards that he almost breaks down and cries when someone has a better, edgier and more minimalistic card than his. Through small glimmers like these we realise that we might not be dealing with any ordinary man, we are in fact dealing with a murderous psychopath who is happiest when he is slashing throats.

Patrick takes us through his materialistic life and shows us the selfishness, wastefulness and greed of the people in his life that he is friends with, works with and dates. His self obsessed girlfriend Evelyn is a superb character who I loved to loath throughout the book. It’s in these characters that we see what the time of the yuppie and their shallowness, these people are so shallow in fact that they don’t notice when people they know go missing or when the murder rate in New York City is spiralling, they certainly don’t notice the murderer amongst them.

Bret Easton Ellis must have a way with words because though the first 150 pages are repetitive and monotonous I couldn’t stop reading. Also anyone who can get away with chapters on the chart movements and history of the likes of Genesis and Whitney Houston and somehow make you read them is doing a good job. The murders are of course horrific, in some cases so graphic I had to pause and take a breath before I could continue. What’s clever is in making the rest of the world so chrome, bland and slightly grey when the murders happen not only do they seem shocking ten fold, there is a huge clash of images in your head doubly hitting the point home.

To say that I enjoyed this novel seems wrong. However in a strange way I found it very compelling and in some parts darkly funny. I think this is a must read and strongly believe this will be a classic in future generations. I won’t pick this book up again (though you never know) but I am so glad that I finally pushed through the difficult start and finished this on the second try.

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Filed under Book Group, Bret Easton Ellis, Picador Books, Review