I’m a reader. I tend to see the world through the lens of the books I’ve read because they’re so often what I’m thinking about. When I started Slaughterhouse 90210 in 2009, I had meant for my blog to be a silly mashup of high and low: I would pair quotes from canonical writers with trashy TV shows to illustrate how they spoke to each other.
As my blog continued and evolved — most recently into Slaughterhouse 90210, the book — I came to realize that the distinction between high and low was less meaningful, both because TV has become more artful and culturally resonant than ever before and because so many of the authors I choose to read are very much alive. They participate in a larger cultural conversation where boundaries between art forms blur. Here are some of the novels that get stuck in my head and to which I find myself returning again and again for inspiration for Slaughterhouse 90210.
Of Human Bondage
By W. Somerset Maugham
“This love was a torment, and he resented bitterly the subjugation in which it held him; he was a prisoner and he longed for freedom. Sometimes he awoke in the morning and felt nothing; his soul leaped, for he thought he was free; he loved no longer; but in a little while, as he grew wide awake, the pain settled in his heart, and he knew that he was not cured yet.”
The most common misconception about my blog is that I always aim for laughs. In fact, it’s my most emo posts that do the best on Tumblr — the quotes about romantic angst are the ones that get reblogged most.
Somerset Maugham’s novel of unrequited love and disillusionment achieves levels of lust and self-pity that Morrissey fans would appreciate — Of Human Bondage can be paired with any teen drama, any MTV reality show, and get results. I think it’s comforting to be reminded that heartache is a timeless rite of passage even when it feels so utterly singular at the time.
By Lorrie Moore
“All the world’s a stage we’re going through.”
There’s no wordplay like Lorrie Moore wordplay — she can make the silliest pun feel like the most profound pronouncement. Her story collections and her novels are brimming with sweet, sad observations about the world, but her 1986 novel, Anagrams, is my favorite. Maybe it’s because Anagrams shuns linear narrative in favor of rearranging vignettes about a protagonist who takes many different forms, a storytelling technique that allows for me to repurpose with ease.
By Margaret Atwood
“Women collect grievances, hold grudges and change shape. They pass hard, legitimate judgments, unlike the purblind guesses of men, fogged with romanticism and ignorance and bias and wish. Women know too much, they can neither be deceived nor trusted. I can understand why men are afraid of them, as they are frequently accused of being.”
The world we live in sometimes echoes Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction in ways that alarm me (see: any Republican 2016 presidential debate), but even Atwood’s more realistic fiction has so many great insights about the power dynamics involved in how men and women interact. Using an Atwood quote with a particular TV character like Cookie Lyons from Empire or Joan Holloway from Mad Men is pretty much the best way to communicate my approval of them!
The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Oscar Wilde
“I can’t help detesting my relations. I suppose it comes from the fact that none of us can stand other people having the same faults as ourselves.”
Oscar Wilde is a great go-to for me because his wit transcends time and place, he makes beautiful broad statements about what marriage is like or how families work, especially in his only novel. But I also can’t but help picturing anything he’s written being recited by an aristocratic elder lady dressed in Victorian-era garb sipping tea — maybe what’s stuck in my head is Judi Dench playing Lady Bracknell in the 2002 film adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest. For this reason, any Oscar Wilde quote feels extra funny to pair with modern-day TV shows, especially those that feature less-than-elegant protagonists like, say, the cast of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
By Marilynne Robinson
“And here is a prejudice of mine, confirmed by my lights through many years of observation. Sinners are not all dishonorable people, not by any means. But those who are dishonorable never really repent and never really reform.”
Marilynne Robinson is one of my favorite writers because she tackles issues of morality and religious faith without being judgmental or self-serious. Her novels contain just the right words of wisdom to describe characters from TV’s greatest antiheroes, like Walter White of Breaking Bad, or nighttime soap’s greatest antiheroes, like Julie Cooper-Nichol from The OC.