The best books on the terrors of nihilism

The Books I Picked & Why

The Driver's Seat

By Muriel Spark

The Driver's Seat

Why this book?

For good reason, Spark herself claimed the novel a personal favorite. Set in Northern Europe, Driver’s Seat is a fascinating portrayal of a woman gone mad. Adapted into a movie directed by Giuseppe Griffi, the film stars Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol, a movie I highly recommend after the book is read. This cult classic may have been written in the late ‘60s, but it superbly touches on issues relevant today. Everything from travel, fashion, sexual opportunity, trendy diets, religion, and personal freedom, Spark brilliantly lures readers into a world of isolation despite all the luxury amenities people had access to then and now. It’s a cruel tale about human nature confronted by a self-annihilating reality.


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Black Wings Has My Angel

By Elliott Chaze

Black Wings Has My Angel

Why this book?

First published as a Gold Medal Book in 1953, this gritty noir is an insatiable read about greed, gluttony, and lust. Tim Sunblade is a WWII vet who served in the Pacific and carries a piece of metal lodged in his skull. Chaze fears nothing when it comes to characters on the run from a past they’d much rather see burn into oblivion. This post-war story is full of rebellion against mundane lifestyles and all the responsibilities that go with making the self-made man. Along his voyage, Sunblade gets wrapped up with a succulent, money obsessed femme fatale who loves to roll around nude in piles of cash as they crisscross the country. This masterpiece is nothing short of tacky pulp-fiction, but literature that has no fear shedding light on big issues and people who are faced with an inevitable future they don’t want. This book also has one hell of an ending, so buckle up. Americana at its best!



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Nausea

By Jean-Paul Sartre, Richard Howard

Nausea

Why this book?

Written in diary format, Nausea is a story about a young man, Antoine Roquentin, a writer horrified by his own existence. Many who are fascinated by art from the darker aspects of loneliness will find this short novel exhilarating. The protagonist is in an endless flux of desire, depression, sickness, and the absurdity of life. A dangerous mix that has lethal outcomes on the human psyche. Make no mistake, Sartre’s criticism and writing style is a tough read, especially for those who might feel they’ve truly never sought risk to live an interesting life. It’s a raw look into a mind overwhelmed by intolerable anxiety. There’s a lot of reflection on the modern society in Nausea, but I would take it with a grain of salt since Sartre’s Existentialism and Neo-Marxism views take a bold look at the sensitive tensions between individual freedom and overreaching power.



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Frisk

By Dennis Cooper

Frisk

Why this book?

Released in the early ‘90s, Frisk was adapted into a film in the mid-90s by Todd Verow. Both received mixed reviews due its transgressive content about madness and bizarre sexual aesthetic. Frisk leaves little to the imagination as the narrator explores taboo photography and sexual deviance while traveling through Holland. Critics and fans found this breakthrough novel deeply polarizing because it involves a gay character obsessed with annihilation. Nevertheless, the overall theme is about victimization, and a culture obsessed with objectification. Despite the novel’s punk prose and hypnotic pacing, there’s something to be said when humanity has a tendency to destroy what society deems perfect. Cooper definitely explores how human desire can become just as fanatical as a religious zealot. A must read for fans of cinematic gore.


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Dirty Snow

By Georges Simenon, Marc Romano

Dirty Snow

Why this book?

Simenon is a master storyteller and father of the noir genre. He quit school as a teenager and never attended a writing program. Dirty Snow is filled with psychological insight and hard facts about life. The main character, Frank Friedmaier, is a brawny young man who lives in his mother’s brothel in France under German occupation. A horrible crime, along with heinous acts, are committed because he cares about nothing and does things without reason. His life is deprived of a father and that void quickly becomes occupied by whores that facilitate a man without optimism. Simenon vividly takes us on a trip into the mind of a creature that can be uncomfortable for a lot of people. This is yet another dark classic about an anti-hero challenged by the notion that he is a man like any other.


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