Let’s Talk Books – Burnt Tongues: An Anthology of Transgressive Stories

It’s been a while since I’ve read some short stories. Hell, it’s been a while since I’ve actually finished writing a short story. I’ve become so used to reading novel-length fiction lately that I feel like I’ve lost touch with something important. Luckily, Chuck Palahniuk’s been promoting a collection of short stories he helped edit for a while, and last month it finally came out. I picked up a copy after work, rushed home… and put it on my book shelf, as I finished up other books I felt entitled to complete first.

But my eyes kept drifting towards it. It’s sexy spine kept tempting me to cheat on the books I was currently reading. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, and I wanted to give it my undivided attention. Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve dived into reading short stories. I wanted to reconnect.

Well I finally read it, and truth be told, this book is going to be a little hard to talk about. It’s good. Really good, actually. Granted, not all of the stories are as great as others, but it’s still a solid collection worth checking out.

The problem is, this book isn’t for everyone. I don’t want to build anyone’s expectations up, but there are some fucked up stories in Burnt Tongues. Like… really fucked up. I actually had to pace myself while reading this. I could usually only get through 1-3 stories a day; just when I thought I could keep reading, one story would either make me feel too uncomfortable or a little sick and I had to stop. I don’t want to spoil what any of these stories are, but let’s just say I had to tell my cat and dog I loved them after reading a couple. (My dog was confused. My cat was indifferent. Still love them, though.)

I know that may disappoint some of you who want to know just what they’re getting into. But I honestly feel like approaching this book, only armed with the knowledge that it’s messed up but not knowing in what way, is the best way to read it for the first time. I will say there’s a large variety of stories; each one felt unique and separate from every other one. Even though there were a couple that I personally didn’t care for, I could tell careful consideration went into selecting these stories. The variety makes me want to say there’s something in here for everyone, but like I said, Burnt Tongues isn’t for everyone.

Geez, how many times can I say “it’s not for everyone?” Who the hell is it for then? Well like the subtitle says, these are transgressive stories. If you can appreciate looking at the ugly areas of reality, the courage to actually write about them, and the coping methods people use when faced with that ugly reality (whether they’re healthy or not), then I would suggest giving this book a read. If, however, you’re not satisfied with unhappy endings, if you don’t like graphic descriptions, if you’re easily grossed out, or if you don’t like when stories don’t explain every detail to you (these are short stories, after all), then you’re probably not ready for this book.

I think it’s something all avid readers should try out, however. There’s most likely something in here you can appreciate. Same thing goes for writers; considering these are all stories that have been workshopped by other writers, coupled with the fact these stories are good examples of showing how to talk about uncomfortable subjects, I feel like there’s a lot in here writers will be able to appreciate (although if you’re a writer, you should already be an avid reader 🙂 ).

I know there’s only so much I can say without actually mentioning any of the stories, but I really believe you should go into this one blind. At the end of the day, you may just have to end up reading it to know whether or not it’s for you. Everyone’s tastes and weak points are different, but if you’re curious, read the first story the next time you’re in the book store. It’s one of the strongest and sets the perfect tone and expectation of what you can expect from the rest of the book. And everyone, everyone who appreciates any kind of art should read the introduction by Chuck Palahniuk. One of the best introductions I’ve ever read. It’s not very long and it’s pretty powerful.

As a final thought, this isn’t something I can see myself picking up again anytime soon, and I in no way mean that in a bad way. This isn’t the kind of book you can read again and again. It’s powerful, but it’s the kind of book that provides the best experience when you need it. You know what I’m talking about. We all have certain books or movies or games that we love, but we don’t abuse them. We need the feeling they provide us at specific times, and when we really need them, we take them out and lose ourselves in them. We learn from them. We relearn from them. We grow up a little. We face truths with them. We come out a little differently. And then we store them back on our shelves until we really need them again.

Info for my edition of Burnt Tongues:

  • Published 2014 by Medallion Press
  • Paperback, 329 pages
  • ISBN 978-160542734-8
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