Bruce Benderson: TOP TEN BOOKS

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“I’ve been called ‘transgressive’ during the length of my career—and often ignored as a result,” Bruce Benderson has said (in a conversation for Evergreen magazine). He is also that old-fashioned phenomenon: a writer who is not afraid to have unpopular, often provocative opinions. In his lengthy career he has roamed freely between novels, short stories, essays, and memoir, including The Romanian: Story of an Obsession which won the prestigious Prix de Flore in France. His book-length essay, Toward the New Degeneracy (1997), was a cris de coeur for the lost era of Times Square, when drugs, sex, and commerce commingled. He  has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Libération, and Out, among many other publications, and is a translator of books from French including Alain Robbe-Grillet who appears on this list of ten favorite books. Benderson’s latest publication is Urban Gothic: The Complete Stories.

Below are Bruce Benderson’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.


Peyton Place

Grace Metalious
My 12-year-old lesson of sex as shame. You don’t get over it.
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Against Nature

Joris Karl Huysmans
The French Symbolist novel that started the Decadent movement at the end of the nineteenth century; the entire text is an exhaustive portrait of the strange tastes and moods of an aesthete. I’m so into Huysmans that I have even read the novels from his Catholic period.
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Fritz Peters
Finistère (From “fini,” meaning “end,” and “terre,” meaning “land”) is the most eastern point of France, a peninsula in Brittany that sticks way out into the Atlantic. This story, which takes place there, is one of the first contemporary gay novels (1951), published not long after Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar (1948), but it’s more daring and more worthwhile.
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The New Moon with the Old Moon in Her Arms 

Ursule Molinaro
This short novel has a double narrative. As the plot unfolds in ancient Greece, it is counterpointed by a book-length footnote explaining ancient Greek culture and running along the bottom half of the pages. Molinaro, who was also a linguist, was my very close friend who became my mentor without ever admitting it. We translated several books from the French together. I miss her and her writing terribly.
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Allan Stein 

Matthew Stadler
Stadler isn’t just a brilliant and intriguing novelist but is also the creator of The GOAT PoL (the Geopolitical Open Atlas of The Polity of Literature). He is one of the 2 or 3 in each century whose life choices and experiences are on a moral and intellectual level with his fine writing. Allan Stein deftly manipulates references to an aspect of Gertrude Stein’s biography,
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Blood of Requited Love 

Manuel Puig
For this novel, the author of Kiss of the Spiderwoman invented an avant-garde narrative technique in which the two voices telling the story are actually fantasies of the main character. It's almost as if that character were witnessing a nonstop candid conversation about himself. We readers can see all the self-deception and vanity involved, and he can't. Puig was my friend and mentor, and we even worked together on a film project.
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La Jalousie 

Alain Robbe-Grillet
The most radical experiment in point of view and narrative I’ve ever read. The main character, who probably commits the murder of his wife, is never referred to directly. Instead, the entire novel is an objective description of the visual stimuli taken in by his eyes. “La jalousie” is a play on words in French, meaning both jealousy and the Venetian blinds through which the character watches his wife betraying him.
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Andrzej Zaniewski
The moment-by-moment life of a rat, from birth to death, by a highly disciplined, amazingly imaginative Polish writer, who actually observed the lives of these animals for an extended period of research.

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Andre Breton
Yes, this Surrealist could be a dick and especially a homophobe: just ask the most prominent gay member of the Surrealist movement, Louis Aragon, who worked with him. Regardless, Nadja is a stunningly fractured narrative about a woman who materializes like a dream on Boulevard de Magenta in Paris. It even has photos.
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Naked Lunch

William S. Burroughs
A classic, of course. But few mention that Burroughs hoped to sever the bonds of language with both his cut-up method and his fantasy of the birth of the linguistic code chez the Mayans.
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