Dec. 16 2013 06:00 PM

Because nothing says Happy Holidays' like books filled with heroin addicts, cross-dressers and underground art

    TFL34 Stahl

    Like William S. Burroughs, Jerry Stahl has made a career out of writing about his life as a junkie. Since his memoir Permanent Midnight was made into a movie starring Ben Stiller in 1998, Stahl's written about every perversion known to man. But his latest novel, Happy Baby Mutant Pills, may be his strangest and his most personal. 

    Lloyd, "a dope fiend in Dockers" who specializes in writing side-effects copy for pharmaceutical companies, falls in love with Nora, an addict obsessed with the chemicals to which we're exposed in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the products we use in our homes. Lloyd thinks it's a match made in junkie heaven—until Nora gets pregnant and announces her plan to intentionally expose the fetus to a smorgasbord of dangerous chemicals and create a mutant baby.

    Lloyd, naturally, is horrified. "It's all so fucking Holocausty. Is that what you want, to be a portable Holocaust?"

    Stahl got many of the ideas for the book while participating in a clinical trial to treat the hepatitis C that was killing him. One of the side effects of the drug made him extremely toxic to pregnant women, which was bad news because his wife was carrying their unborn daughter. Stahl had to leave town for a while, but the story has the unlikeliest of happy endings: He was cured, his baby is healthy and his book is a scream. How's that for a Hollywood ending?

    If you're a well-respected author of difficult works of fiction and nonfiction that includes a sprawling, 3,300-page treatise on violence, what do you do for fun? If you said, "Take hundreds of selfies while dressed in women's clothes," you'd be right on the money.

    The Book of Dolores, by William T. Vollmann, is a curious and complex book. While researching a novel about a Mexican transsexual named Dolores, Vollmann started to experiment with women's clothing and makeup. At some point, that experiment turned into a pastime that's somewhere between a fixation and a fetish.

    "Transgendered people sometimes make extreme commitments to selves which could never exist but for effort, pain, anguish, humiliation and isolation." For Vollmann, Dolores is more than a costume; it's a way to experience "what being a woman would be like." 

    Vollmann documents these transformations, and, believe me, they aren't pretty. (He frequently laments how spectacularly ugly he is.) But The Book of Dolores isn't about beauty, female or otherwise. Vollmann writes, "In commencing this project, of course, I looked forward to exploiting myself with ruthless abandon, without regard for courtesy, dignity and all the rest of it."

    "All the rest of it" would be the esteem of his peers, about which he seems not to care. I have to confess, I have a newfound respect for Vollmann. My heroes have always been impervious to the cheers and jeers of the crowd, and he clearly doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks. 

    Movie posters have lost their luster. So says Matthew Chojnacki, author and editor of Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground. 

    When studios became soulless, corporatized, bottom-line-driven monstrosities, one sheets—the posters that have decorated movie-theater lobbies for decades—went from cherished works of art for the everyman to vehicles for marketing. 

    "Instead of using paint brushes to create inventive works of art, they were using them to remove blemishes and wrinkles from celebrity headshots," Chojnacki writes in his introduction. "The poster was reduced to communicating who was in the film, instead of conveying the bigger picture—the spirit of the film." 

    In recent years, underground artists have filled the gap with inventive re-imaginings of cult favorites and time-honored classics. Some of the posters were commissioned for screenings, and some of the artists were inspired by their passion. The result was a renaissance in the genre.

    "Poster art is clearly back with a vengeance," Chojnacki declares.

    Chojnacki's extraordinary compilation showcases a diverse range of styles, from cartoonish to highbrow, with artists from all over the world, including Justin Bartlett from San Diego, who takes on John Carpenter's The Thing

    You don't have to be a cinephile to appreciate the work. Even casual filmgoers will find posters of their favorite movies, from Anchorman to Zombieland, making it the perfect gift for the weirdo in your life. 

    Jim Ruland's new book, Giving the Finger, will be published April 2014. He blogs at


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