There’s a good reason why most of these books aren’t familiar to the general public. They aren’t meant for everyone. But for someone with an open mind, they could contain valuable insight.
10. Sausagey Santa by Carlton Mellick III
No, there’s no literary significance to this book, it’s just hilarious. The most twisted Christmas story ever told. I can’t even begin to explain except to emphatically state that it’s not for kids. This book also makes a great introduction to the Bizarro literary movement going on right now. Opening line: “I never should have married a woman named Decapitron.” Example of Mellick’s skilled characterization: “I’m a wild man… I call my hairstyle “the sly guy” and I like to make guns with my fingers and point them at people when I walk down the sidewalk.” Best part: Both of those examples are on the first page and the story is that good all the way through.
9. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
This book is taboo and the author is a dirty old man. I don’t care. It’s still important. It’s a convincing romance, even if it is really messed up. This book doesn’t try to justify it’s content. Hubert, the protagonist realizes how horrible he is. But at the same time, you see that he really does love her and that makes the harm inflicted on Dolores so much more painful. Also, the writing is amazing. The fact English is only the author’s second language puts the vast majority of native English authors to shame.
8. Aurélia by Gérard de Nerval
This book is almost as hard to understand as it’s author- a man who parade a lobster on a blue ribbon through the Palais-Royal and eventually hung himself from an apron string he referred to as the garter of the Queen of Sheba (thank you for the trivia Amazon.com!). What I did gather was that Nerval was completely insane. He was also an inspiration for Proust, Artaud, and even the surrealist movement. Aurelia is a tribute to an unrequited love whom the author was completely obsessed with. At one point, she becomes a trinity. The reason this book is important is because it completely blurs the lines between dreams and reality.
7. Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice
The Vampire Chronicles are guilty pleasure for me. They’re just exiting books to read. This is one of the deeper entries into the series. Lestat, a powerful and very suave vampire, is abducted by Memnoch. The central part of the story is his debate with the devil. It’s nothing less than a journey from heaven, hell, and creation. In Memnoch’s version of the story God has no sympathy for mankind (having never experienced mortality) and therefore neglects them. For his disagreement, he was condemned to Hell, where is job is to teach the deceased what they’ve done wrong in life in order for them to be able to move on to heaven. I know Anne Rice is a terrible place to get theology, but this book really does offer some commentary on the human condition. At the end there is a hint that Memnoch’s entire story may have been deceptive and it leaves the reader pondering how impossible it is to truly know the mysteries of the universe.
6. Hell by Henri Barbusse
Voyeurism. If I were allowed to use one work summaries, that’s what I would say- but then again, people wouldn’t know what that meant anyway. Of course, the story is also a lot deeper than that. The premise of this book is that a man gets a room in a Paris boarding house and discovers that there’s a hole in the wall looking into another room. He stays in this room for years doing nothing but watching that room and it’s various owners. He sees every facet of human life. Some of the most powerful parts for me were the dying atheist’s Last Rites and of course the sex. Barbusse writes in the early 1900s French Decadent style, which is very beautiful to read, “an all you can eat steak buffet of words” according to my girlfriend. Finally, the protagonist returns to the real world even the reader can feel his head spinning. This book is a good reason for all of us to stop and think why we’re so obsessed with the private lives of other people- and then go take a cold shower.
5. It by Stephen King
Though Stephen King may never have heard the phrase “quality over quantity” he’s still penned a few classics in his time and this is my personal favorite of them. Like many of his other novels it’s full of violence, gore, metaphysical freak-outs, and the forces of unadulterated evil. It also has the bonus feature of taking place in the groovy 1950s, complete with cheesy monster movies, soda fountains, and radio-shows. Oh yeah, King does not skimp on all the gory details one would expect from a cataclysmic battle between good and evil. But what really sets this book apart is the characters. All the main characters are so fully fleshed out- he wasn’t wasting those twelve-hundred pages. You get to see them fight off Pennywise as kids and later adults. You really get to know those people and it’s gets to the point where putting the book down is as painful as picking it up. I’m going to say that this book ruined my life… READ IT NOW!
4. Journey to the End of the Night by Louis Ferdinand Céline
If I may be blunt, this author is a BAMF. He hates everyone and everything, and he hates them good. Words like “nihilistic”, “misanthropic”, and “explosive” often appear in reviews of this book. It’s brutally honest and soul-crushingly cynical. Supposedly it’s much better in the original French but I definitely got the gist by reading in English. This autobiographical book chronicles the author’s World War I experiences, his time in French occupied Africa, his experiences as a poor doctor in Paris, and is emigration to America. This novel was inspired by Cervantes, Dostoyevsky, and Nietzsche and inspired Sartre, Kerouac, and Nabokov. Plotwise, it’s a lot like Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer but not much more powerful (even if it does have less sex). Celine’s use of language makes his book all the more lethal… You feel frustration at the pointlessness of war, disgust at how rude people can be… you even feel grimy during the disease infested Africa portion of the book. Of course, the heart (not that it has one) of this book is the Journey, the existential importance of life’s events.
3. Citizen Power by Mike Gravel
No, the Democrats and Republicans don’t have all the answers. Not even together. In fact, they aren’t all that different from each other. But Mike Gravel is. This book is a full on assault on how the political system is now dominated by money and charisma. Now is not the place to get into Gravel’s political agenda, however, I think everybody needs to know his name whether or not they agree with him. He’s the man responsible for the Alaska pipeline, the release of the Pentagon Papers, and the end of the draft- and now he’s running for president. Lately his public antics have included the “Soulja Boy” dance and switching from the Democratic to the Libertarian party. Anyway, the main idea he proposes in this book is something called the National Initiative for Democracy. It would change the United States from a Republic to a Democracy by allowing every citizen to make and vote on laws.
2. If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
If books are an important part of your life I promise you that you NEED to read this one. It makes you think hard on what books really are, and warps your mind in the process. This book begins with the iconic opening line “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.” Then it starts to get weird. This book is about reading this book. It tells you just how you do it. After this second person chapter you actually read a portion of a book called If on a winter’s night a traveler and it just kind of dissolves. The book tells you that this is because your copy is defective and it describes your quest to find a new copy. You do, but it turns out to be a different book that’s also incomplete. Eventually you’re read the opening chapter of ten different books and uncovered a vast conspiracy from the book publishers. As if the plotting wasn’t convoluted enough, Calvino overwhelms you with his writing style. Every event that occurs in the various “book” you read is subtly related back to literature through Calvino’s literary tricks. There’s also the not-so-subtle criticisms the commercialization of writing as an industry occurring in the second person chapters. I know, you don’t know what I’m talking about. Read the book and find out.
1. Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut died recently, but I like to think about what he said in this book: “When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments.” But then again, in Man Without A Country he also said“If I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, “Kurt is up in heaven now.” That’s my favorite joke.”
You will think when you read this book because it covers so many subjects people don’t usually think about. Non-Linear time is a good example. And it’s also the best World War II book to feature alien abductions. Of course, the reason this book is so easy to read is Vonnegut’s delightfully sarcastic black-humor. Good stuff.