Recommended Reading

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!

 

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4 comments on “Recommended Reading

  1. I have to totally agree with you on The Rule of Four. Great read. Are they really making a movie, or is that an assumption?

    I was actually inspired to read Neuromancer because I had the old Commodore 64 game, but my disc would never load right past a certain point, and I wanted to know what happened.

    And A Clockwork Orange, man, I read that back in High School. I remember that being a trip and a half. I may have to revisit that one.

    I’ll have to check out the rest of your list. Currently (against your better counsel) I’m reading Twilight because apparently, I’m a girl. My wife loves them, and I figure we have to talk about something…My current reading isn’t quite as high brow, but at least I’ve knocked out a couple of your recommendations.

    By the way, did I mention Rule of Four to you in passing at some point? I swear I recommended that one to someone…

  2. You say you are a committed Mormon, but recommend Eggers and Bukowski.

    A metaphor for the “modern” Mormon exists somewhere in that, and I´m not so sure it should be cheered.

  3. Ha! Shucks, Split, I do wonder whatever you might be insinuating there… :)

    Worst case scenario, I’m a rampaging two-faced hypocrite. Great, you got me. Now what?

    Is it your goal to imply that “modern” Mormons suffer from an ethical epidemic of some sort? Because you can identify some that make media choices that you can snipe at?

    Seriously, the only possible philosophy in comments like that seems to be that the LDS Church’s beliefs are inauthentic, and rather than get into the messy business of examining and evaluating things, it’s easier just to subjectively write off the behavior of a few members. This is the same metality that I see in teenagers when, as they’re presented with any kind of rule (be it moral or grammatical), their instict is to come up with an exception, always thrown down with an attitude that says, “If there are possible exceptions, then the rules are no good, so there shouldn’t be any rules, and we should do whatever we want. Woo hoo! Party!”

    Eggers, though inconsistent, has moments of insanely talented prose styling, and his content is solidly PG-13, and often tamer. While his opus does get a little too blue at times, it’s by no means universally inappropriate. In fact, I recall a positive passing reference to the Book of Mormon near the end.

    As for Bukowski, yes, he’s often crude. Unlike most of pop culture today, it’s hardly a celebration, though. His blank verse is more lyrical than most, well, lyrics these days. Anyone could enjoy the simple melancholy of “the tragedy of the leaves,” or the tenderness of “marina,” or the soulful desire for happiness held back by ingrained hesitation in “the bluebird.” Bukowski shows me that some kinds of light are best appreciated after being in darkness.

    When he gets too R-rated, you know what I do? I turn the page until I find something more suited for me. I never have to go far.

    Appropriateness exists along a spectrum, and what might be genuinely offensive to one may not be so to another. Some things, many things, should probably be avioded by all, but if someone sees or listens to something and in the honesty of their heart knows that it isn’t spiritually detrimental, I won’t hold it against them.

    Hope this helps!

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