The best books to completely ruin your day

The Books I Picked & Why

Johnny Got His Gun

By Dalton Trumbo

Book cover of Johnny Got His Gun

Why this book?

War sucks, man. And strangely, there aren’t many books about war! I can’t think of a single one. Really a missed opportunity on the part of the writer community at large. I mean, just think of the movies that could be made on the topic! Hollywood, take notes.

/s, as the kids say. More seriously: this book is claustrophobic on a cellular level. Reading it feels like suffocating in the dark. Extrapolate the ending of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream into an entire book about the horrors of war, and that’s Johnny Got His Gun.

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Apt Pupil

By Stephen King

Book cover of Apt Pupil

Why this book?

Like everyone else with a pulse, I love Stephen King. So here’s a slightly underrated pull so I don’t lose my horror fan street cred. Apt Pupil is the first King book I’ve read that made me feel legitimately dirty. The creeping menace, the way he subverts your expectations, this excruciating dance of mutually assured destruction between Todd and Denker... just fabulous. Nothing supernatural, no murderous trucks or universe-vomiting turtles, just humans being mundane and evil. And you won’t have to spend the whole book wondering if King is gonna biff the ending, as he is often wont to do—he sticks the landing and it’s absolutely killer. Love it. Read it.

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The Cipher

By Kathe Koja

Book cover of The Cipher

Why this book?

Kathe Koja’s The Cipher dares to ask, “What if House of Leaves was actually good?” 

(Look. I wouldn’t be writing this on a screen at ergonomically optimized eye level were it not for my beloved monitor riser House of Leaves. The idea is interesting enough to stick in my craw beyond the gimmicky brick of the book itself, which just so happens to be annoying and a drag in practice.)

To properly capture the ambiance of the novel, the best time to read The Cipher is on the floor of your bathroom in between your second and third rounds of food poisoning vomit. The second best time is perhaps when you’re a little too heartsick over another artsy woman who listens to Siouxsie and the Banshees and you need a cautionary tale. Either way, it’s a great book. A bunch of punks in over their heads, living in blissed-out squalor, depressed with nowhere to go but down into the phantasmagoria of the Funhole. It’s good. Read it.

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Tender Is the Flesh

By Agustina Bazterrica, Sarah Moses

Book cover of Tender Is the Flesh

Why this book?

I would be remiss if I wrote a list of day-ruining books without at least a little bit of cannibalism. Don’t fret though, because this book is nothing but graphic human slaughter and cannibalism! Absolutely no one in this book is having a good time, and you won’t either! I am a filthy meat eater but this book makes a hell of a case for never touching the stuff again. It’s mildly insufferable of me to say, but there are few things that shock me anymore – and this book made me feel physically ill at multiple points. It’s absolutely sickening. It makes you feel alive. It’s great!

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By J.G. Ballard

Book cover of Crash

Why this book?

Cronenberg’s 1996 movie adaptation (not the one that won many Oscars and is bad) captures Ballard’s sensual mechanical fetishism and apocalyptic consumerism perfectly. It is a 120-minute-long sex scene in a carousel of mangled metal. It is probably the best adaptation of prose to film I can think of, which is bolstered by the sheer strength of the book itself. Crash (again, not the 2006 one, the car crash sex one) is by far Cronenberg’s horniest feature, and that’s saying something. Uh. I didn’t mean to just talk about the movie. I should probably talk about the book. The book is very good. I’m deathly afraid of car accidents, and reading about them through Ballard’s dreamy, eroticized lens is a capital-E Experience. Truly one of my favorites.

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