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Regulars / Bookshelf

“I just wanna be hit with something extreme that bewilders me”: writer Charlie Fox’s Bookshelf

Charlie Fox is a London-based writer whose fiction and non-fiction writings deal with all things strange and spooky. It’s an interest which has seen his words grace publications like Frieze, Artforum, The New York Times, and The White Review. It’s safe to say, he’s a man with a thing or two to say.

He’s perhaps best-known, however, for his book of essays This Young Monster. Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions (you know, the beautiful blue and white books which make you want to collect ’em all and definitely judge a book by its cover), the book is “a hallucinatory celebration of artists who raise hell, transform their bodies, anger their elders and show their audience dark, disturbing things”. Through the lens of case studies such as Twin Peaks and Alice in Wonderland, This Young Monster answers the questions: “What does it mean to be a freak? Why might we be wise to think of the present as a time of monstrosity? And how does the concept of the monster irradiate our thinking about queerness, disability, children and adolescents?”

As an author with a propensity for all things surreal, grotesque and, well, spooky, we got in touch with Charlie to find out which books have captured his imagination over the years. “I don’t have some fancy criteria for what I like,” he tells us. “Non-literary things – hyenas, psychedelic cookie packaging, the noise of a guitar getting destroyed – fire me up as much as stuff made from words. I just wanna be hit with something extreme that bewilders me. Yup, I drool over horror material but ‘extreme’ doesn’t mean ‘gore’. Watching Disney’s Beauty and the Beast or the video for The Rain by Missy Elliott for the first time were pretty extreme experiences. Like falling in love, I guess.”

Check out Charlie’s selection, below!

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Sue de Beer: Hans und Grete

A cute storybook about fucked-up teens staring into the abyss that makes you want to go out and suck blood. Sue de Beer rules. Hans and Grete collects a bunch of eerie stills from this movie she made with the same name in 2002. I think it happens in a haunted version of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse – the ideal place to zone out from the existential horror of growing up. Shout-out to the good witch Alissa Bennett for writing the kids’ wastoid monologues with perfect verisimilitude. Smooch the rabid wolf on the back cover, he’s covered in blood.

Last time I was in New York, Sue gave me one of her ghost masks and we tripped out to this enormous graveyard in Queens in search of Houdini’s tomb. I’ve got this photo of our shadows staring at a black plastic bag that says “Thank You For Shopping Here” on it. Like, if Houdini’s corpse escaped, what did he shop for in the cemetery – rotting flesh?

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Crispin Hellion Glover: Rat Catching

When I saw Crispin Glover as the mad kid in Wild at Heart who wears a Father Christmas costume all summer and stuffs live cockroaches in his underwear, I knew I had found my prince. Check out the video for his jam Clowny Clown Clown with the boogying Pennywise and chorus line of satanic goats, too. Rat Catching is a mutilated version of a very unsettling Victorian manual on how to kill vermin where every page is infested with odd new words and sinister inky creatures drawn in Crispin’s own hand. His goth remix masterpiece is covered in red fur and feels like the private work of a serious fiend… which is hot, obviously.

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Francesco Bonami and Raf Simons: The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes

I won’t go into the story of how I got my paws on this outrageously rare unicorn for nothing because it still freaks me out, like owning the Hellraiser puzzle box. Look at the shots of the Angel River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho or the coven from The Craft: this grunge mythological epic about the beautiful mutant known as the teenager breaks my heart.

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Thomas Ligotti: Songs of a Dead Dreamer

“I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world!” Melting faces are a freaky virus oozing through art history as a long-feared reaction to living in our evil carnival world. Francis Bacon’s portraits, the T-1000 from Terminator 2 and, yup, the Wicked Witch of the West all got stricken. But my favourite example is the psychotic scene on the cover of this ‘80s horror paperback. Yikes. It’s weirdly luscious and somehow condenses a whole genre’s obsessions into a perfect swirl of hallucinogenic colour: madness, hideously liquid thresholds between waking life and bad dreams, flesh transforming into something else. Ligotti is a nihilist who scares me to death and his work is amazing. The designer is unnamed. Maybe they thought horror was ghastly trash but that’s how it gets you. Trash is what seethes under the surface of normal life. You know you wanna touch it.

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Jim Henson and Anthony Minghella: The Storyteller

The Storyteller was this phantasmagorical TV show created by Saint Jim Henson that retold folktales with creepy/adorable puppets and a wizardly version of John Hurt. My entire childhood was spent under its spell, looping episodes like a bewitched prince in neon Casper pyjamas. The book freeze-framed all the scenes with devils, griffins and deformed raven brothers so I could achieve my demented dream of living inside them forever. Everything my imagination feeds off now was here from the beginning: monsters and metamorphosis, parallel worlds, talking beasts and nightmares.

I never think about anything being “make-believe”. When I look at this stuff, reality gets cracked and something dreamy sneaks into my mind. Hell yes, dogs, dark magic is real.