As corporate publishing grows ever more corporate, the specialized work of nonfiction, the photography volume that beckons to a certain rarefied taste, the historical work that explores, let's say, areas of less than burning interest to a vast reading public are all less likely to find support at major houses. Small presses, once bastions of the sublime and ridiculous fringe interests of readers, are in many cases being gobbled by the major leagues, becoming wholly owned subsidiaries answering to that ever-more-draconian Bottom Line.
This is one reason we need publishers like Feral House. Not everyone wants to read an oral history of the punk scene in 1970s Los Angeles or the philosophical ruminations of Scotland's Moors Murderer Ian Brady or to study the bloody photojournalism of Mexican tabloids or ponder "the bloody rise of the satanic metal underground" in, of all places, Norway.
Not everybody wants to see corpses with their heads blown off, murder victims in situ on the sidewalk with their intestines hanging out, aborted fetuses, hospital patients sporting enormous tumors, amputated limbs, bloody hammers, knives and other tools of homicide. Many people do not wish to read the diaries and Post-It notes and laundry lists of serial killers, death cultists, adolescents sliding off the deep end or the "reflections" of writers such as Colin Wilson, who specialize in drooling over other people's misery and introducing the pensees of incarcerated human waste material as if revealing the whereabouts of the Holy Grail.
It's a safe bet, I think, that rather few people find such works more worthy of their time than "The Brothers Karamazov" or "Light in August" or the works of Henry Adams, Taylor Branch, Alexis de Tocqueville and other canonical reading matter. But some certainly do, and one person's esoterica may be another person's velvet gold mine: Consider what brilliant use W.G. Sebald has made of the history of silkworm cultivation and the spread of Dutch elm disease, among many obscure researches, in "The Rings of Saturn" and his other fiction.
I don't want to push a strictly utilitarian argument in favor of Feral House's extremely extreme, often necrophiliac and paranoid array of publications. It does not really matter if a literary genius one day spins a tissue of ingenious reflections from his or her perusal of "Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons," a Feral House title by John Carter, or "Extreme Islam: Anti-American Propaganda of Muslim Fundamentalism," a mind-boggling decoupage of hate manifestos and religiously twisted kitsch assembled by Feral House editor-in-chief Adam Parfrey.
I remember writer Jamaica Kincaid's once telling me that she was reading Goethe's theory of color with great relish, even though she knew that not a word of it was correct. Works of questionable scholarship or less-than-impeccable accuracy, even works that are blatantly ghoulish and make no claim to "redeeming social value" can be, and, let's face it, usually are, fascinating in and of themselves. (Sartre preferred reading serie noir crime novels to Merleau-Ponty, and who could blame him?) There are times, too, when a book of libidinal fancy and sexual-historical lore such as "Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin" by Mel Gordon is a more welcome diversion from life's poisonous little ironies than "The Brothers Karamazov."
Feral House is not consistently one thing or another. Some of its offerings--"Snitch Culture" by Jim Redden, "The X-Rated Bible" by Ben Edward Akerley and "Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs" by Brendan Mullen with Don Bolles and Parfrey, to name a few recent titles--are richly interesting, fastidiously researched and arguably important contributions to their respective subjects.
Some others, such as "Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective's Scrapbook," despite its lively introduction by classy Katherine Dunn, author of "Geek Love," are pure pieces of ghoulishness. But if you want to see what death looks like, Feral House will show it to you.
Feral House brings us gems like "Voluptuous Panic" in the same breath, so to speak, as such dubious achievements as "The Making of a Serial Killer" by Gainesville psycho Danny Rolling and his Vampira-like muse, Sondra London, which recounts several of the ghastliest rape-and-mutilation killings ever perpetrated in the U.S.--with the perp himself clearly gasping each blatantly pornographic paragraph to his amanuensis. Questionable though it may be to even print such a book, it is No. 2 in Feral House's True Crime Series.