Picking a book to read is almost as stressful as Netflix. The wrong choice and everyone has to suffer. I don’t like to waste my time and it burns a hole through me to start reading something and realize it sucks a few pages in. I want to hurt the author physically and the bookstore for setting it next to Catching Fire, leading me to believe it would be good.
I like smart books that are still commercially appealing. Whether they started as cult hits or they were popular right away, they all posses a level of wit that makes me feel smart for understanding while avoiding the pretentiousness that comes along with other literary douches. These books hit the sweet spot between easy reading and thought-provoking, not unlike “Best Picture” films at the Academy Awards.
I’ll start with where I fell back in love with reading.
1. Franny and Zooey – JD Salinger
Reading this story reminded me of the life I was supposed to have been born into, but for whatever reason was robbed of. The Glass family couldn’t have been anymore genius and intriguing and I should have been one of them. Felt better to live their lives through the pages than to never know they existed (at least in Salinger’s mind). After reading Franny and Zooey I went on to read every work Salinger had ever published within the next 7 days.
2) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers
I couldn’t believe this book was real when I started reading it. It was like my best friend wrote it to me. And it pains me to admit that because McSweeney’s is the only publication I’ve ever cared about writing for that denied one of my articles. They said I talked about farts too much and it wasn’t interesting. As much as that hurt, I still can’t deny the true brilliance of this book. Before the book actually starts, Eggers separates himself creativity from most other authors by the acknowledgements he gives. They are worth the price of the book in itself. I laughed and got choked up reading this book and I love Toph dearly. I wish every book made me feel this connected to the story.
Let’s not even talk about how he was like 22 or 25 years old when he wrote this Pulitzer Prize Finalist. Impressive work.
3) Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
My good friend and serious writer Shanna recommended I read this after she gently informed me that my novel needed a lot of work. She was right. After reading this book I realized what it meant to write a book without fear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many firsts in my life of reading and I don’t think the author had even a thought in the world about becoming a commercial success. This book was so insane and manic that it made me want to take drugs and completely abandon any sense of reality I’ve ever had.
This book was nothing but an underground novel that publishers thought to be too raw before it turned into one of the greatest cult sensations of all time (both in print and on film).
Nothing like this could ever be duplicated and it should be on every reader’s list of influential books.
4) Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
Pretty sure this is one of the funniest writers on the planet. He has mastered the art of self-deprecating humor and telling completely chaotic stories in the most normal tone. I saw him do a reading in San Diego and I loved him, almost enough to wait in a long line for him to sign my book. I like laughing out loud when I read, and very few authors have the skills to generate true belly laughs. He is one of them.
5) Henry and June – Anais Nin
I’m not sure where this woman has been for the last 10 years of my life but I feel like I’ve known her forever. Diaries are the closest thing to pure writing that exists. Her insights into people are so interesting that they’ve affected how I look at things. She also speaks on delicate topics with no hesitation or apology. As a writer, she is brilliant. As a human, she was boundless. And to learn about Henry Miller through her perspective was pretty cool.
In a strange and giddy way, I ran to this book every free chance I got. It was a personal experience.
6) A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
It’s no wonder Hemingway killed himself. This book was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read up until the last page, and then I couldn’t move for a couple of hours because I had been brutalized. Still, such a fierce writer deserves respect and I’ll suffer with him all day if it means I get to feel something. One of my all-time favorites and a true original.
7) The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
If you’ve ever wondered why you don’t have all the things you’re wanting, then this book will give you some new perspective. “Become a pro” comes out of my mouth almost every conversation with any entrepreneur or dreamer and it comes from Pressfield. He’s very clear about the difference between creative amateurs and professionals, as well as the stories we tell ourselves in the process. It might be a bit of tough love, but I think it’s some of the greatest, loving advice I’ve ever gotten. This book changed me.
8) The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
I wouldn’t say this is exactly a page turner, but this story builds slowly and by the end, all you want to do is a be an old, Chinese man smoking opium and working on a farm. It’s beautiful and painful all at once. It’s the single greatest depiction of what life really feels like that I’ve ever read. I got so angry at that man for a while but in the end, I felt like he and I were the same, and that all humans need to spend more time observing the smooth steadiness of the Earth.
9) Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
If you are curious about what makes a person successful and open to learning about it in a completely new way, then this book should provide some new frameworks for thinking that might change how you look at just about everything. There are people that share information and there are people that create new ways of looking at things.
Gladwell combines interesting facts with intuition to paint pictures that we might normally miss. Outliers cuts through the ancient stories that successful people got to be that way simply because of inheritance or good old fashioned hard work. It’s an intricate combination of many factors according to Gladwell, and some of the parallels he was able to draw made me think he was quite a brilliant mind. I cherished the time I spent reading this book (mostly on airplanes).
10) The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Talk about an uplifting tale… When I first read this book I thought it was written in the 1800s because it felt and tasted like a musket blow right to the stomach. What a gifted writer, to make the reader fold over with angst every time a foot step was heard or a cabinet contained no soup cans. This book belongs high up the ranks with other great and classic literary works. I was moved to the point where I didn’t want to finish the last few pages.
Alright, that’s it. I’m always wondering what to read, what to watch, what to do, someone just please help me already. These books should keep you busy for a while and they should make you smarter because they are all a little different. Let me know if you have any good recs now that you’re more familiar with my style.