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The worst of times 

An open question: If you take the stories that represent the worst of sex-drugs-and-death scandal journalism in 24/7 news -- missing intern adultery scandals, porn star junkies caught up in multiple murders, a cult of eunuchs booking passage on a spaceship by leaving their mean bodies behind -- if you take these stories and write them in long-form magazine features, can you make them something worthy of our attention? Not righteous tales with heavily penned existential insights, I'm not advocating that. But can the stories rise above morality porn-and-shock gossip?

Mike Sager's Scary Monsters and Super Freaks: Stories of Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll and Murder is a compendium of such stories. Currently writer-at-large for Esquire and veteran of Rolling Stone and GQ, Sager, an Emory University grad, wrote his first feature story -- about a guy into edible plants -- for Creative Loafing. He has gone on to become one of the masters of true crime reporting, with several of his stories inspiring movies. (e.g. "The Devil and John Holmes," whose well-endowed subject is at the heart of both Boogie Nights and Wonderland.)

Gary Condit, Rob Lowe, Heaven's Gate: They're all in Scary Monsters. It's the sensational stuff of media feeding frenzies. But Sager goes deeper, employing what he refers to as "the precarious practice of New Journalism": unapologetically subjective and relying on many of the techniques of fiction writers to reconstruct events and get inside his subjects' heads.

Sager seems to hold with Veronica Guerin (in "The Martyrdom of Veronica Guerin"), who says, "There is a human side to everybody. Even to the most dangerous hardened criminal." Sager shows us his subjects' many different facets, their interesting eccentricities, their harmless little contradictions. Humanized, they ask that we at least take more than a "Headline News" minute to understand them before we begin with the wagging of fingers and the clucking of tongues.Mike Sager reads from and signs Scary Monsters and Super Freaks:

Stories of Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll and Murder, Oct. 20, 7 p.m. at Chapter 11 in Ansley Mall, 1544 Piedmont Ave. 404-872-7986. www.chapter11books.com. Book: $15.95. Thunder's Mouth Press. 457 pages.

Other worthwhile words this week

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of Charis Books & More, the feminist bookstore presents a reading at the Carter Library by Dorothy Allison, best known for her raw and disturbing novel of incest and abuse, Bastard Out of Carolina. Elizabeth Anderson will also read. Sat., Oct. 16, 7:30 p.m. Carter Library, 441 Freedom Parkway. 404-524-0304. www.charisbooksandmore.com.

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