Five Books That Were “There” For Me

Reed’s (somewhat) recent post of a similar nature inspired this. I’ll reiterate his sentiment: This isn’t an all encompassing or top-anything list or something like that. It’s just a list of books that I can see affected my life.
Why five? Well, beyond these, it’s just too hard to decide which of my favorite books deserves a mention, since there are so many on my favorite list. These are simply the ones that stand out, in my mind.
1. Fight Club.
by Chuck Palahniuk
First of all, Fight Club is not about fighting. If that’s what you think, I’m sorry, but you’ve been lied to or otherwise misinformed. (Yes, there is fighting in the book, but that is far form the point)
I know the very title probably elicits a certain knee jerk reaction from those of you with a particularly conservative persuasion, but at least give me a few paragraphs to show you what I mean.
Personally, I have to insist that this book was earth-shattering for me.
Up until my senior year in college I never read recreationally, and hardly even did any reading for normal class work. I hated English and Literature. Then someone told me that the cult classic movie, Fight Club, was actually based on an equally landmark novel. I had my doubts, but I picked up a copy. I just couldn’t believe a movie so ‘cool’ could also be a book. Books were boring and literature was for old people and nerds. Right?
Well, reading Fight Club literally opened up the world of literature for me. It’s cool, sexy, sardonic, transgressive, dark, humorous, cynical and completely in your face.
It is the perfect comment on the emasculation a man feels in modern society; from the way we are raised by our mothers, asked to be more civilized and mannerly, and then expected to just know how to be men someday, to the way church tells us God is our father, and yet he seems just as absent as our biological fathers. It addresses and questions basic value assumptions on many levels; societal, familial, sexual and even religious.
“We’re the middle children of history, no purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.”
This is easily one of the most heavily quoted books/movies in my library. Sadly, I end up quoting the movie version of certain lines more often than the book. But this is probably because David Fincher’s directing and Jim Uhl’s writing (working alongside Palahniuk), along with the acting of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, all do such a fantastic job of bringing the character’s alive. Many of the great movie lines are summed-up versions of several pages of evolving prose and character development. It’s hard to quote an entire chapter of a novel.
Believe me, there’s so much philosophy in this book, it is an absolute must-read, a milestone within our present culture. I would go so far as to say that it will be considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
I still read it on a regular basis.
2. The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes.
by Bill Watterson
I have all the Calvin and Hobbes collections. I’ve had them since I was a kid and I’ve worn them out. These books make up the exception to my overall avoidance of reading until my later years. I’m realizing more and more that they probably laid a lot of the groundwork for me to eventually begin asking philosophical questions later in life. If it weren’t for this foundation, a book like Fight Club might have been nothing more than sort of cool and rebellious to me. I might have missed the bigger picture.
Plus, I have to admit that I totally emulated many of Calvin’s stunts as a kid. Jumping off the roof with an umbrella as a parachute; oh yeah. Riding the little red wagon down the hill in our backyard and into the creek; You better believe it! In fact, my older sister and I took it one step further and tied the back axel of the wagon to a tree so we would be thrown out of the wagon at full speed.
A good time was had by all.
3. Inferno.
by Dante Alighieri
This was probably the second or third book I read that I really, really liked. I happened to read it right around the time I was picking up Palahniuk’s other novels and branching off into other dark, pulp or transgressional fiction authors like him. It was an unlikely affinity, since it is such an old and stylistically different work than what I was getting in to at the time.
However, I’d say the version I read was equally important in pushing me along on my journey into literature. It was heavily annotated, and learning all the philosophical and literary allusions brought the book alive for me. I’ve since gotten into the history behind it as well, which enriches the reading even more.
You have Dante, living in exile, writing this epic poem and including within the story many of the people who brought him to ruin and exile in the first place. He imagines those social enemies in Hell, along the steps of his journey to the other side, suffering for their sins the way he saw fit. As far as revenge goes, Inferno is like The Count of Monte Christo on acid.
But there is also the salvation element in the figure of Beatrice; idealized beauty. I was finishing bible college when I read this for a class, and at a time when salvation was still a conundrum for me, it was strangely refreshing to see it presented in such a different light.
Personally, I highly recommend the Robert and Jean Hollander translation for its thorough annotations and footnotes. You can’t just read through a book like this and expect to get much out of it if you don’t have historical and literary context established by people who know what they are talking about.
4. House of Leaves.
by Mark Z Danielewski
Another book I read during my first leap into the world of fiction novels was House of Leaves. I really don’t know how to describe this one. It’s been slated as “a satire of academic criticism,” as well as a love story and a horror novel. It fits into all of these categories for different reasons.
You’ve got multiple narrators, unconventional type and layout choices, huge amounts of footnotes and references, many of which are to books that don’t even exist, coded messages both in the text and the several appendices; all creating the illusion of a strange, alternate reality. I won’t try to describe what it’s about any more than that.
I read this one again and again, and it gets better and better each time.
If you go for it, make sure to get the full color version. The red, blue, grey, purple and strikethrough text all add to the coded meanings and possible interpretations of the book. Also, the appendices in that version are in full color, which is a nice bonus.
The inside cover mentions a full-color “first edition” version including braille, but it is not known to actually exist. Interesting, indeed.
5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
by Robert Pirsig
I just finished reading this recently, and it is one I know I will read again. Like House of Leaves, I’m reticent to try and sum this one up just yet, but for different reasons. It’s a ‘big’ book, in a sense. It has a very large philosophical scope, so any two or three paragraph summary would hardly do it justice.
What I will offer is one of the many quotes that just floored me as I read.
“You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”
The thing about this book is, while it’s considered a novel, it is not easy reading you should try to do at the beach. This book gets very deep into philosophical critique, and should be read when you have time to devote to a good section of text. If you miss things, it will come back to haunt you, but if you give this book your full attention and really think through it as you read, you will not be disappointed.
***
Other recommendations by these authors would have to include Palahniuk’s Survivor and Invisible Monsters, Danielewski’s Only Revolutions, Dante’s entire Divine Comedy and all of the Calvin and Hobbes collections.
If you want to dig a little deeper still, I’d recommend reading Craig Clevenger’s The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria, Alex Garland’s The Beach, James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, and just about anything by Charles Bukowski.
Oh, and I just finished Lamb, a satirical look at what Christ’s missing 30-odd years might have looked like, told through the eyes of Christ’s childhood pal, Biff. Those of you familiar with the Bible will get twice as many storyline jokes than the uninitiated reader, sure, but there is something in this book for everyone, I promise.
Reed’s (somewhat) recent post of a similar nature inspired this. I’ll reiterate his sentiment: This isn’t an all encompassing or top-anything list or something like that. It’s just a list of books that I can see affected my life.
Why five? Well, beyond these, it’s just too hard to decide which of my favorite books deserves a mention, since there are so many on my favorite list. These are simply the ones that stand out, in my mind.
1. Fight Club.
by Chuck Palahniuk
First of all, Fight Club is not about fighting. If that’s what you think, I’m sorry, but you’ve been lied to or otherwise misinformed. (Yes, there is fighting in the book, but that is far form the point)
I know the very title probably elicits a certain knee jerk reaction from those of you with a particularly conservative persuasion, but at least give me a few paragraphs to show you what I mean.
Personally, I have to insist that this book was earth-shattering for me.
Up until my senior year in college I never read recreationally, and hardly even did any reading for normal class work. I hated English and Literature. Then someone told me that the cult classic movie, Fight Club, was actually based on an equally landmark novel. I had my doubts, but I picked up a copy. I just couldn’t believe a movie so ‘cool’ could also be a book. Books were boring and literature was for old people and nerds. Right?
Well, reading Fight Club literally opened up the world of literature for me. It’s cool, sexy, sardonic, transgressive, dark, humorous, cynical and completely in your face.
It is the perfect comment on the emasculation a man feels in modern society; from the way we are raised by our mothers, asked to be more civilized and mannerly, and then expected to just know how to be men someday, to the way church tells us God is our father, and yet he seems just as absent as our biological fathers. It addresses and questions basic value assumptions on many levels; societal, familial, sexual and even religious.
“We’re the middle children of history, no purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.”
This is easily one of the most heavily quoted books/movies in my library. Sadly, I end up quoting the movie version of certain lines more often than the book. But this is probably because David Fincher’s directing and Jim Uhl’s writing (working alongside Palahniuk), along with the acting of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, all do such a fantastic job of bringing the character’s alive. Many of the great movie lines are summed-up versions of several pages of evolving prose and character development. It’s hard to quote an entire chapter of a novel.
Believe me, there’s so much philosophy in this book, it is an absolute must-read, a milestone within our present culture. I would go so far as to say that it will be considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
I still read it on a regular basis.
2. The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes.
by Bill Watterson
I have all the Calvin and Hobbes collections. I’ve had them since I was a kid and I’ve worn them out. These books make up the exception to my overall avoidance of reading until my later years. I’m realizing more and more that they probably laid a lot of the groundwork for me to eventually begin asking philosophical questions later in life. If it weren’t for this foundation, a book like Fight Club might have been nothing more than sort of cool and rebellious to me. I might have missed the bigger picture.
Plus, I have to admit that I totally emulated many of Calvin’s stunts as a kid. Jumping off the roof with an umbrella as a parachute; oh yeah. Riding the little red wagon down the hill in our backyard and into the creek; You better believe it! In fact, my older sister and I took it one step further and tied the back axel of the wagon to a tree so we would be thrown out of the wagon at full speed.
A good time was had by all.
3. Inferno.
by Dante Alighieri
This was probably the second or third book I read that I really, really liked. I happened to read it right around the time I was picking up Palahniuk’s other novels and branching off into other dark, pulp or transgressional fiction authors like him. It was an unlikely affinity, since it is such an old and stylistically different work than what I was getting in to at the time.
However, I’d say the version I read was equally important in pushing me along on my journey into literature. It was heavily annotated, and learning all the philosophical and literary allusions brought the book alive for me. I’ve since gotten into the history behind it as well, which enriches the reading even more.
You have Dante, living in exile, writing this epic poem and including within the story many of the people who brought him to ruin and exile in the first place. He imagines those social enemies in Hell, along the steps of his journey to the other side, suffering for their sins the way he saw fit. As far as revenge goes, Inferno is like The Count of Monte Christo on acid.
But there is also the salvation element in the figure of Beatrice; idealized beauty. I was finishing bible college when I read this for a class, and at a time when salvation was still a conundrum for me, it was strangely refreshing to see it presented in such a different light.
Personally, I highly recommend the Robert and Jean Hollander translation for its thorough annotations and footnotes. You can’t just read through a book like this and expect to get much out of it if you don’t have historical and literary context established by people who know what they are talking about.
4. House of Leaves.
by Mark Z Danielewski
Another book I read during my first leap into the world of fiction novels was House of Leaves. I really don’t know how to describe this one. It’s been slated as “a satire of academic criticism,” as well as a love story and a horror novel. It fits into all of these categories for different reasons.
You’ve got multiple narrators, unconventional type and layout choices, huge amounts of footnotes and references, many of which are to books that don’t even exist, coded messages both in the text and the several appendices; all creating the illusion of a strange, alternate reality. I won’t try to describe what it’s about any more than that.
I read this one again and again, and it gets better and better each time.
If you go for it, make sure to get the full color version. The red, blue, grey, purple and strikethrough text all add to the coded meanings and possible interpretations of the book. Also, the appendices in that version are in full color, which is a nice bonus.
The inside cover mentions a full-color “first edition” version including braille, but it is not known to actually exist. Interesting, indeed.
5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
by Robert Pirsig
I just finished reading this recently, and it is one I know I will read again. Like House of Leaves, I’m reticent to try and sum this one up just yet, but for different reasons. It’s a ‘big’ book, in a sense. It has a very large philosophical scope, so any two or three paragraph summary would hardly do it justice.
What I will offer is one of the many quotes that just floored me as I read.
“You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”
The thing about this book is, while it’s considered a novel, it is not easy reading you should try to do at the beach. This book gets very deep into philosophical critique, and should be read when you have time to devote to a good section of text. If you miss things, it will come back to haunt you, but if you give this book your full attention and really think through it as you read, you will not be disappointed.
***
Other recommendations by these authors would have to include Palahniuk’s Survivor and Invisible Monsters, Danielewski’s Only Revolutions, Dante’s entire Divine Comedy and all of the Calvin and Hobbes collections.
If you want to dig a little deeper still, I’d recommend reading Craig Clevenger’s The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria, Alex Garland’s The Beach, James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, and just about anything by Charles Bukowski.
Oh, and I just finished Lamb, a satirical look at what Christ’s missing 30-odd years might have looked like, told through the eyes of Christ’s childhood pal, Biff. Those of you familiar with the Bible will get twice as many storyline jokes than the uninitiated reader, sure, but there is something in this book for everyone, I promise. http://theophiliacs.com/2009/04/14/ten-books-that-were-there-for-m

Yeah, with enough soap, you could blow up just about anything.

Reed’s (somewhat) recent post of a similar nature inspired me to make a list of influential books in my life as well. First off,  I’ll reiterate his sentiment: This isn’t an all-encompassing or top-anything list or something like that. It’s just a list of books that I can see affected my life.

Why five? Well, beyond these, it’s just too hard to decide which of my favorite books deserves a mention, since there are so many on my favorite list. These are simply the ones that stand out, in my mind.

Yes, that is a hardcover first edition.

1. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

First of all, Fight Club is not about fighting. If that’s what you think, I’m sorry, but you’ve been lied to or otherwise misinformed. (Yes, there is fighting in the book, but that is far from the point. (And yes, CP signed my first edition hardcover copy, “Happy Birthday, Tony,” since my wife got it for me on my birthday. Oh well… I’m over it.))

Now I know the very title probably elicits a certain knee jerk reaction from those of you with a particularly conservative persuasion, but at least give me a few paragraphs to show you what I mean.

Personally, I have to insist that this book was earth-shattering for me.

Up until my senior year in college I never read recreationally, and hardly even did any reading for normal class work. I hated English and Literature. Then someone told me that the cult classic movie, Fight Club, was actually based on an equally landmark novel. I had my doubts, but I picked up a copy. I just couldn’t believe a movie so ‘cool’ could also be a book. Books were boring and literature was for old people and nerds. Right?

Well, reading Fight Club literally opened up the world of literature for me. It’s cool, sexy, sardonic, transgressive, dark, humorous, cynical and completely in your face.

It is the perfect comment on the emasculation a man feels in modern society; from the way we are raised by our mothers, asked to be more civilized and mannerly, and then expected to just know how to be men someday, to the way church tells us God is our father, and yet he seems just as absent as our biological fathers. It addresses and questions basic value assumptions on many levels; societal, familial, sexual and even religious.

“We’re the middle children of history, no purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.”

This is easily one of the most heavily quoted books/movies in my library. Sadly, I end up quoting the movie version of certain lines more often than the book. But this is probably because David Fincher’s directing and Jim Uhl’s writing (working alongside Palahniuk), along with the acting of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, all do such a fantastic job of bringing the character’s alive. Many of the great movie lines are summed-up versions of several pages of evolving prose and character development. It’s hard to quote an entire chapter of a novel.

Believe me, there’s so much philosophy in this book, it is an absolute must-read, a milestone within our present culture. I would go so far as to say that it will be considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

I still read it on a regular basis.

2. The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

I have all the Calvin and Hobbes collections. I’ve had them since I was a kid and I’ve worn them out. These books make up the exception to my overall avoidance of reading until my later years. I’m realizing more and more that they probably laid a lot of the groundwork for me to eventually begin asking philosophical questions later in life. If it weren’t for this foundation, a book like Fight Club might have been nothing more than sort of cool and rebellious to me. I might have missed the bigger picture.

Plus, I have to admit that I totally emulated many of Calvin’s stunts as a kid. Jumping off the roof with an umbrella as a parachute; oh yeah. Riding the little red wagon down the hill in our backyard and into the creek; You better believe it! In fact, my older sister and I took it one step further and tied the back axel of the wagon to a tree so we would be thrown out of the wagon at full speed.

A good time was had by all.

3. Inferno by Dante Alighieri

This was probably the second or third book I read that I really, really liked. I happened to read it right around the time I was picking up Palahniuk’s other novels and branching off into other dark, pulp or transgressional fiction authors like him. It was an unlikely affinity, since it is such an old and stylistically different work than what I was getting in to at the time.

However, I’d say the version I read was equally important in pushing me along on my journey into literature. It was heavily annotated, and learning all the philosophical and literary allusions brought the book alive for me. I’ve since gotten into the history behind it as well, which enriches the reading even more.

You have Dante, living in exile, writing this epic poem and including within the story many of the people who brought him to ruin and exile in the first place. He imagines those social enemies in Hell, along the steps of his journey to the other side, suffering for their sins the way he saw fit. As far as revenge goes, Inferno is like The Count of Monte Christo on acid.

But there is also the salvation element in the figure of Beatrice; idealized beauty. I was finishing bible college when I read this for a class, and at a time when salvation was still a conundrum for me, it was strangely refreshing to see it presented in such a different light.

Personally, I highly recommend the Robert and Jean Hollander translation for its thorough annotations and footnotes. You can’t just read through a book like this and expect to get much out of it if you don’t have historical and literary context established by people who know what they are talking about.

4. House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski

Another book I read during my first leap into the world of fiction novels was House of Leaves. I really don’t know how to describe this one. It’s been slated as “a satire of academic criticism,” as well as a love story and a horror novel. It fits into all of these categories for different reasons.

You’ve got multiple narrators, unconventional type and layout choices, huge amounts of footnotes and references, many of which are to books that don’t even exist, coded messages both in the text and the several appendices; all creating the illusion of a strange, alternate reality. I won’t try to describe what it’s about any more than that.

I read this one again and again, and it gets better and better each time.

If you go for it, make sure to get the full color version. The red, blue, grey, purple and strikethrough text all add to the coded meanings and possible interpretations of the book. Also, the appendices in that version are in full color, which is a nice bonus.

The inside cover mentions a full-color “first edition” version including braille, but it is not known to actually exist. Interesting, indeed.

5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

I just finished reading this recently, and it is one I know I will read again. Like House of Leaves, I’m reticent to try and sum this one up just yet, but for different reasons. It’s a ‘big’ book, in a sense. It has a very large philosophical scope, so any two or three paragraph summary would hardly do it justice.

What I will offer is one of the many quotes that just floored me as I read.

“You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”

The thing about this book is, while it’s considered a novel, it is not easy reading you should try to do at the beach. This book gets very deep into philosophical critique, and should be read when you have time to devote to a good section of text. If you miss things, it will come back to haunt you, but if you give this book your full attention and really think through it as you read, you will not be disappointed.

* * *

Other recommendations by these authors would have to include Palahniuk’s Survivor and Invisible Monsters, Danielewski’s Only Revolutions, Dante’s entire Divine Comedy and all of the Calvin and Hobbes collections.

If you want to dig a little deeper still, I’d recommend reading Craig Clevenger’s The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria, Alex Garland’s The Beach, and James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.

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6 Comments

  1. I own/love the Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes too!!! ha… I have the “biggest snowball in the world/reality conintues to ruin my life!” strip facing me at this moment as it is taped to my computer 😉

  2. House of Leaves! Holy Crap, what a great book! I’m still worried that one of the narrator’s predictions about having the nightmares will come true for me one of these days. When (if) I get my copy back from one of my friends, I am going to reread it. Great post, ADJ.

  3. From my blog on Fight Club:

    Saturday, February 21, 2009
    Book Review: Fight Club
    I finished Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk last week. talk about a break from seminary! This book, reportedly written on post-it notes, is fast, disjointed, and frenetic. Fight Club is a damning indictment of modern masculinity, i.e. neutered, materialistic, and tame. There is alot wrong with the thinking of this book, but the reader is left with the feeling he has just had a conversation with a slightly crazed prophet. I think of Fight Club as a parable of the modern (Gen X) man. A generation of males raised, for the most part, without fathers in a post-feminist society. Now, you can see how much is wrong with that statement right there, not every one lost their father and it was the feminist movement in many ways opened the doors for fathers to claim their caring role.

    There is a recurring theme of abandonment also, the author is well aware of this issue and says so explicitly. Palahniuk makes the point that our fathers=God, “if our fathers abandoned us, what does that mean about God, in fact God may not even like us, which is better than being ignored! We are God’s misbehaving children, getting attention for being bad.” Well, I could really lay into that quote, but for now let is suffice that we need to hold on to our images of God, but lightly. Hold onto them, because we are image animals, that’s how we think. Hold those images lightly, because we are also rational animals: It just makes sense that God is beyond our reasonings (see St. Paul for more on this).

    The crux of the book lies in the wonderful twist that sets all the wild adventures and opinions in stark relief whereby one is forced to at least reconsider all that was said and done. The book is brutal, quick, and inspiring at times (made me want to get off my duff and get something done).

  4. jstambaugh,

    One night I was reading HOL for the first time, by the light of my desk lamp since my roommate was asleep. So I was at the part where they’re measuring and remeasuring rooms, and the measurements didn’t add up.

    Then I look over and see the room extending beyond where I know the outside wall of the apartment stands and totally freaked out for about five seconds… until I realized it was just the mirror inside the closet door which was propped open, creating the illusion of depth that isn’t there. Totally freaked me out. I couldn’t sleep with the closet door open for weeks.

  5. I wish I could read a page of text and actually remember what it is I had just read

    For me, it seems difficult to fully enjoy a novel as I am easily distracted.

    Perhaps one day I’ll be able to fully delve into an in depth plot; wanting to read more and more the further the story unravels.

Comments are closed.