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The Inside Reader: Tomas Mournian

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir Mitchell
When I ask to authors to do an Inside Reader list, the output can be really different, always interesting but I can notice different level of "passion". A real booklover cannot hide the pain he/she felt in being forced to choose "only" 10 books. But if the list is compiled by one of these booklovers, then the output is something that I feel almost humble to post here, the impression is that an article of such literary level should have a bigger window. But well, Tomas Mournian chose to gift me with it, and I'm proudly posting here. Thank you Tomas, and friends, welcome Tomas and his list, and of course check out is coming soon book, hidden, from Kensington.

Top Ten Books / Elisa's site

Play It As it Lays by Joan Didion, and Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis with Barbara Grizzuti Harrison's take down of that style


Amazon: Play It As It Lays: A Novel
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2nd edition (November 15, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0374529949
ISBN-13: 978-0374529949

Amazon: Less Than Zero
Amazon Kindle: Less Than Zero
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Vintage (June 30, 1998)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0679781498
ISBN-13: 978-0679781493

I character the two novels as The People Who Snore/ Snort genre. If Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays is the apotheosis of the California Dream -driving-&/or-lounging-around-by-poolside (wearing post-White House Jackie Kennedy togs: wide-leg pantsuits, large lapel jackets, gypsy skirts, silk Hermes head scarves and large, round, dark sunglasses) loaded and lost en route to nowhere, then Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero is PIAILays is the live-fast-die-young-leave-a-hot-body younger brother. (You'd be correct if the idea of these characters suggest Porsche driving, pill popping émigrés from Marguerite Duras' The Lover.)
While Ellis' Less Than Zero characters post-date Didion's by a few years, they're all people who are cut from the same Burberry cloth. Too much, too soon, their dilemmas are of the, "Now What?" variety common to upper class Angelenos who are peripheral in the film industry. In a sense, Play It As It Lays is, more so than Ellis' recent Less Than Zero sequel, Imperial Bedrooms, the sequel to Less.... Didion's characters are Ellis' but all grown up.
Both Didion and Ellis' novels employ an oblique, Hemingway derivative style (brief yet often arch sentences, an "aversion" to "meaning") combined with a world weary sensibility: the apocalypse meets Saks Fifth Avenue (or, The Children of the Ladies Who Don't Munch Their Lunch.) Despite both novels' pervasive malaise, if I was asked to choose two Gilligan's Island books Play ... and Less Than Zero would be my choices.
Many writers have mastered this anodyne style which I would characterize as smart / smug, yet weirdly satisfying - the "knowing" tone that effortlessly disarms, carrying the reader along to whatever the writer's foregone conclusion: none of this means a Damn Thing.) As it were, Play It As It Lays' central character, Maria Wyeth, is to Less Than Zero's Clay, as Scarlette O'Hara is to Designing Women's Suzanne Sugarbaker - different era, same person.
If find yourself desperately in need of the same detox as Didion and Elllis' characters, Barbara Grizzutti Harrison's essay, "Only Disconnect" (from the collection, Off Center, 1980) helps Harrison, unlike the acolytes emulating Didion / Ellis / Hemingway's style, resists and deconstructs - language ("tricks," as she describes Didion's famous style), and intent. But despite (or, perhaps, because of) Harrison's hostile brilliance, and relentlessness is a caustic style doesn't seduce in a way equal to Didion - of whom, despite her gin, migraines, and conservativism - I remain a fan.


The Abomination by Paul Golding

Amazon: The Abomination: A Novel
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Vintage (May 14, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0375724397
ISBN-13: 978-0375724398

Quick! Look! It's the elusive author! Paul Golding's strange yet mesmerizing work reads like a roman a clef. This is a Big Novel, the literary equivalent of James Mitchner's Hotel, or Marilyn French's The Women's Room (which is, actually pretty good, just dated.)There's a quality of guilty pleasure in this sort of subject matter that's "intellectualized" by the heft. As in, "This maybe crap, but it's long, so it's Worthwhile."
The Abomination benefits, too, from a frustratingly elusive author, Paul Golding. Unlike many people - authors, college students - in the twenty-first century who are ubiquitous vis social media posts and photographs, Paul Golding has exactly two pictures of himself. The first is blurred and looks nothing like the second: Golding (or, as some have suggested, a call-boy hired to pose as Golding, or Golding after a really long night and/or dollops of Botox), wide-eyed, wearing a very tight, very white tee-shirt.
I mention the photographs of "Paul Golding" only because they cue so perfectly to The Abomination. One (okay, me) imagines a narrator who's brilliant yet painfully sensitive, sexy and urbane. This picture of "Paul Golding” repeatedly made me turn back and look while reading the book: I wanted to see the adult who wrote so beautifully about the homoerotic charge of an all-boy boarding school, and the institution's insane mix of religion and sex.


Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan &...

Amazon: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
Amazon Kindle: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (August 26, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 037584614X
ISBN-13: 978-0375846144

YA does it better? Rachel Cohn collaborated with David Levithan on Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist, a short yet perfect novel. Rachel gave me Nick & Nora... in galley form and I tore through it in two hours. It was, as I told Rachel, "a perfect romantic comedy." With seeming effortlessness, David and Rachel had written a boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-gets-girl back story equal to the original Nick & Nora, the gum shoe duo introduced by Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man (later made into the 1934 movie of the same name, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.)

The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

Amazon: The Realm of Possibility
Amazon Kindle: The Realm of Possibility
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (May 9, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0375836578
ISBN-13: 978-0375836572

I read Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist the same week Rachel suggested I pick up Levithan's Realm of Possibility, a sort of prose poem. Realm's ... sequence of overlapping stories reveal a community, character's who are enthralled - mostly - by love, the challenges writ into coming of age, and all the ensuing confusion.

America by E.R. Frank, Cut by Patricia McCormick & Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Amazon: America
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse (August 1, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0689857721
ISBN-13: 978-0689857720

Amazon: Cut
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Push; First Edition edition (February 1, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0439324599
ISBN-13: 978-0439324595

Amazon: Speak
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Puffin; 1 edition (April 20, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0142407321

In my library, I'd shelve this trio of novels in the Narratives of Restraint section. Each book is topically different, yet equally painful - excruciating, in fact - to read. In the 70's, the books would have been "problem novels" (Judy Blome's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret or, Go Ask Alice.) In the hands of Patricia McCormick (Cut - about female cutting), Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak - the mute teenage rape survivor), or E.R. Frank (America - a boy abandoned in foster care), these novels reinvigorate the genre, giving topical issues a literary gloss. Each of the three writers effortlessly slips into the skin of their adolescent protagonist: the "problem" merges with the fact of the character's youth. What's rendered in these novels transcends age specific "issues." The pathological, shameful, traumatic and pitiful becomes universal.

So Many Ways to Sleep Badly by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, The Sluts by Dennis Cooper & Lithium for Medea by Kate Braverman

Amazon: So Many Ways to Sleep Badly
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: City Lights Publishers (September 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0872864685
ISBN-13: 978-0872864689

Amazon: The Sluts
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press (October 19, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0786716746
ISBN-13: 978-0786716746

Amazon: Lithium for Medea
Amazon Kindle: Lithium for Medea
Paperback: 362 pages
Publisher: Seven Stories Press (July 1, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1583224718
ISBN-13: 978-1583224717

Cra - cra and yet more cra (crazy), these three novels would make Sybil (a patient made famous for her multiple personalities) look like Heidi (Johana Spyri's classic novels about a girl who lives with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps.)
The authors - Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Dennis Cooper, and Kate Braverman - serve up emotionally and physically battered characters who are all in the grip: of sex, drugs, and trauma (most of it induced by monstrous parents.) Existentialism souped up on pain meds, desire, the "internet" and Mom. Wildly different (stylistically), these novels are relentlessly grim yet impossible to put down. Page turners, as it were, for the depressed and disaffected.
Sycamore's So Many Ways ... is the rawest, yet most deceptively accomplished of the three with a narrative style that overtakes you. Cooper's The Sluts is the apotheosis of a story he's been reworking for years: the elusive central character - a generic boy - appears in variation incarnations (Safe, Try) taken to dizzying heights. However, Cooper remains in control of the narrative and, while The Sluts comes close to unraveling, it never succumbs to collapse.
Braverman's Lithium for Medea is the most conventionally written of the three novels, grounded in the daughter besieged by her crazy / rich mother trope. What elevates - or, in fact, propels - Lithium... out of genre (or, women's fiction i.e., Jody Picoult et al) is the language. Braverman has constructed her writer self in a seer and, in language, a sorceress. When I read her work, especially Lithium..., I find myself enthralled with Braverman the fearless explorer (of the human archetype, a place to live, relief.) She's seeking something like purification through her work, a combination of self-sacrifice, alchemy, and immolation.
Some characterize (and, disparage) Braverman's work as, "beat." I would argue otherwise because, unlike Kerouac (or, Ginsberg), Braverman's trafficking in the mythological, an underneath that is earthy and, for lack of a better description, "feminine." And unlike the sissy boy / homocore feminity of Cooper, or Sycamore, Braverman's feminine is the feminine that's both regenerative, and destructive. Braverman's Lithium ... stakes out a struggle that is both existential and heroic, the struggle writ within the female cycle: girlhood giving way to motherhood giving way to the crone.


Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Amazon: Mrs. Dalloway
Amazon Kindle: Mrs. Dalloway
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: Harvest Books (September 24, 1990)
ISBN-10: 0156628708

Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway is, in many ways, the perfect modern novel. Or, a novel born of modernity, and perfectly expressive of modernity. I've reread my copy of Mrs. Dalloway so many times that it's fallen apart. The prose is deceptively casual, a style that would be characterized as "stream of consciousness" yet, unlike Faulkner's work, a stream that's layered yet accessible. What Mrs. Dalloway seems to offer are a series of short characterizations. But Woolf's technique is so blended with sensibility or impulse, that she creates pieces that become greater than the sum of the whole.

Neuromancer Series by William Gibson & Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson

Amazon: Count Zero
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Ace Trade (March 7, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0441013678
ISBN-13: 978-0441013678

Amazon: The Secret Life of Puppets
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 1, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0674012445
ISBN-13: 978-0674012448

When I pitched the idea of adapting Gibson's series to a Paramount studio executive in the 90's, he learned towards me and said, "What would virtual reality look like?" I stammered, it was an impossible question to answer because, at the time, there wasn't the filmic technology - C.G.I., etc. - to render a "Virtual" reality. We were then stuck or, hamstrung by the idea of cyberspace, but no real way to render it.
Soon, Hollywood colluded with technology and figured out how to create some version of virtual reality. In my opinion, the Matrix series is, essentially, a rip-off of Gibson's Spawn trilogy (Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Neuromancer.) Over the holidays, I saw the 3-D version of the new Tron. It was, much as I thought about the original Tron, an amazing technical feat, a highly accurate rendering of virtual reality, and a total failure as a story.
Tron offers Gibson's world of human "meat" colliding with digital constructs in a cyber world where one can pop up - whee!!! -- just by thinking about it. What was unnerving was the degree to which the filmmakers located this amazing possibility in a fascist political system. Tron took for granted, and asked the audience to believe, not in a fantastic utopia, but what's essentially a military dictatorship with more similarities to Rome Circa 264 BCE than any near-future.
Although it's academic, Victoria Nelson's The Secret Life of Puppets demystifies the whole "what does virtual reality look like" question, stripping the narratives wholesale of mythology. Nelson's work is the intellectual antidote to Tron's headache inducing 3D glasses, calling these various androids, and avatars for what they are: puppets. And, even more compellingly, classifying "virtual reality" as the grotto.


More, Now, Again by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Amazon: More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (December 31, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0743223314
ISBN-13: 978-0743223317

My inability to look away from a (human) train wreck is no more indulged than in this mini-collection of autobiography, social narrative, and artist biography. More so than Prozac Nation, Wurtzel's More, Now, Again switches tempo. She discovers the possibilities of using a mortar and pestel to crush painkillers for immediate "relief." Epic insomnia ensues, and Wurtzel spends months in Florida, shoplifts a $598 Elisa Peretti bracelet from Saks Fifth Avenue, gets caught, (and then sues the cops), stopping into her publisher's offices (where she takes up residence, alternately ordering pizza and more drugs) while en route to her inevitable destination, rehab.

Goodmorning Midnight & After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie by Jean Rhys, Exposure by Kathryn Harrison

Amazon: Good Morning, Midnight
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (December 17, 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0393303942
ISBN-13: 978-0393303940

Amazon: After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (March 17, 1997)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0393315479
ISBN-13: 978-0393315479

Amazon: Exposure: A Novel
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (July 11, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0812973593
ISBN-13: 978-0812973594

I characterize stories these as the flip side of the Wurtzel train wreck genre: bummed out ladies of the night, girls who drink (too much), and otherwise run around crazy. While Wurtzel is more sedentary in her addiction, often lift the television channel changer, much unable to move herself away from the television, these girls are busy. Interesting, these books' characters all share one narrative element: shoplifting. What they can't buy, charge, or receive as "gifts" (Rhys' ladies are all thinly veiled prostitutes, girls with good educations who never married, or married and got divorced, and have become professional mistresses, living off the largesse and whims of men.)
If these novels were fashion, they'd be illustrated by black and white, Helmut Newton photographs. (In Exposure, the main character is, quite literally, haunted by imagery, compulsively shoplifting inbetween running a marriage taping business, and trying to purge herself of the kiddie porn / art photographs taken by her now-deceased father.) The novel's central characters feature women who, while "well-written" are all coming, going, or leaving (or, planning to) lending the characterizations a blurred quality .. just like an out-of-focus picture.
Rhys, best known for Wide Saragossa Sea (a retelling of Jane Eyre from the p.o.v. of Bertha, the "madwoman" in the attic), succeeds more truthfully with Good Morning.... and Leaving... which are, essentially, two long novellas. Rhys turns her gaze on the "consequences" of women who turned away from nineteeth century's notional "Cult of femininity." Rhys' characters are met by the reader at exactly the lowest moment in their lives and have, one sees, little prospect of rising (or, clawing) their way back to the "top." Imagine Carrie Bradshaw's Sex and the City world - but without a computer, the wardrobe, or social connections to meet Big.
Exposure is, perhaps, the most uncomfortable novel I've ever read. Harrison's protagonist careens, hither and yon (mostly, like Carrie Bradshaw, in yellow cabs, speeding through New York City, the streets an outside blur) between trying to "forget" memories of her pedophile (sounding) photographer father, shoplifting splurges at Bergdorf Goodman, and occasionally paying attention to her husband, unaware that her marriage is in free-fall/ collapse. The drama's heightened by the looming prospect of her father's work being shown at a MoMA like exhibition, problematic because the photographs chart her childhood / adolescent dance with diabetic induced comas, and pubescent body.
Several times, Harrison created so much tension in the chapters when Ann Rogers sets her sights on the merch at Bergdorf's (Steve Martin's Neiman Marcus never had a chance: his shopping emporium seems like Mommy & Me in comparison), that I frequently had to close the book, and put it aside. The foreboding and risk were so potent, and the desperation, though extreme, so relatable, I couldn't continue.
More so than her best-selling autobiography, The Kiss, Harrison glosses incest with a narcotic quality, destabilizing the pathological vis Ann Roger's anthropomorphized diabetes. The prospect of insulin shock hovers as death and excuse ("Really, I didn't know I was stealing that Chanel jacket!"), a perfect storm of story and alliteration: the medical, mental and memento mori.


About Tomas Mournian: As a freelance journalist, Tomas Mournian has been published in a wide range of consumer titles: Marie Claire, Los Angeles, US, InStyle, and Movieline. For the San Francisco Bay Guardian, he investigated and wrote “Hiding Out,” breaking the story of gay teens who escaped from mental hospitals into an underground network of safehouses. “Hiding Out” won the Peninsula Press Club, East Bay Press Club and GLAAD Media awards. A short film based on the article and produced by Mournian, was shown by George Michael at Equality Rocks. Tomas rewrote hidden while in residency at Yaddo (where he was awarded the prestigious Eli Cantor Chair), studied at UC Berkeley and lives in Los Angeles.

hidden by Tomas Mournian
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Kensington (January 25, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0758251319
ISBN-13: 978-0758251312
Amazon: hidden
Amazon Kindle: hidden

When Ahmed's parents send him to a residential treatment center known as Serenity Ridge, it's with one goal: to "fix" their son, at any cost. But eleven months of abuse and overmedication leave him desperate to escape. And when the opportunity comes, Ahmed runs away to San Francisco.

There, he moves into a secret safe house shared by a group of teens. Until they become independent at eighteen, the housemates hide away from authorities, bound by rules that both protect and frustrate. Ahmed, now known as Ben, tries to adjust to a life lived in impossibly close quarters with people he barely knows, all of whom guard secrets of their own. But even if they succeed in keeping the world at bay, there's no hiding from each other or from themselves. And there's no avoiding the conflicts, crushes, loneliness, and desire that could shatter their fragile, complicated sanctuary at any moment. . .

"This fresh and original novel defies easy labels. It's knowing yet vulnerable, observant yet naive--a wholly unique and compelling read." --Rachel Cohn, New York Times bestselling author

Tags: author: bret easton ellis, author: david levithan, author: dennis cooper, author: e.r. frank, author: elizabeth wurtzel, author: jean rhys, author: joan didion, author: kate braverman, author: kathryn harrison, author: laurie halse anderson, author: mattilda bernstein sycamore, author: patricia mccormick, author: paul golding, author: rachel cohn, author: tomas mournian, author: victoria nelson, author: virginia woolf, author: william gibson, the inside reader
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