Last week, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a couple articles about recommended reading lists, here and here. They aren’t bad, but what’s the point of suggesting books that most everybody has already heard of, to people who are likely to have already read them?
Here’s another list, perfect for summer reading. They aren’t necessarily my favorites, though some are, nor do I think they’re the very best out there, though some are; they’re just great books that interested readers may have overlooked, or titles too quirky to have made a blip on the radar.
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde. Yes, that’s how his name is spelled. Hilarious literary-fantasy nerdiness, e.g. a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III as if it’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Please tell me you like it.
Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog, by Mark Leyner. His cutting-edge style blends a med school/Shakespearean lexicon with lots of violence, satire, and improbable observation.
How Proust Can Change Your Life, by Alain de Botton. How can self help-oriented literary criticism about the world’s longest, most dense French novel be so funny and down-to-earth?
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers. The title’s meant to be ironic. Or is it? This story is weird, true, hilarious, and genuinely touching.
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Fat, philosophizing loser somehow has trouble making it in the real world. Ha! What’s not to like?
Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane. Every murder mystery he writes is a powerful, dark, achingly beautiful vision of humanity’s wrecked moral compass.
The Razor’s Edge, by W. Sommerset Maugham. Inspiring literary story of a young playboy, traumatized by WWI, who roams the world searching for enlightenment.
The Best American Non-Required Reading. This annual anthology collects some of the previous year’s best humor, reporting, stories, comics, and weird, random stuff…
Run With the Hunted, by Charles Bukowski. This collection of his stories and poetry chronicle the life of an American original: Bukowski was a tragic loser with a largely wasted life before it was cool.
The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, by Bill Watterson. Just as incredible as the comics themselves are the artist’s ruminations on their origin, meaning, and legacy. Truly, contemporary art at its best.
The Know-It-All, by A.J. Jacobs. Another true story that’s both hilarious and insightful, this one’s about a snarky man’s quest to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.
The Rule of Four, by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. A thousand times better than The Da Vinci Code, this literary historical mystery is set at Princeton and celebrates erudite nerdiness. Read it before the movie comes out.
Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi. Incredibly inspiring and well-written true story about a persecuted college professor in Iran who has to meet with her students in hiding in order to discuss Western literature. Bliss.
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess. Not only is this a wonderful philosophical meditation, but it has, quite possibly, the most masterfully inventive use of English since Shakespeare.
Neuromancer, by William Gibson. Gibson wrote this cyberpunk novel about a techno-mercenary battling an Internet monolith in virtual reality ten years before the Internet was popular and fifteen years before The Matrix.
America Alone, by Mark Steyn. The funniest and most insightful political book I’ve read in years, Steyn uses endless puns and pop culture references to make a compelling case that demographic change lies at the heart of civilization’s major challenges this century. Agree or disagree, it’s a roller coaster of a read.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy. The most sublime, most realistic and moving “search for the meaning of life” story I’ve ever read. And it’s under 100 pages long!