Look, people 'round these parts often ask me to recommend them a book. Now, I'm basically a book cannon, geared to launch great works of fiction at anyone who even hints at interest. A combination of my exhaustion, some booze, and my comically overblown sense of self-worth have caused me to create this thread, just for you, SE++. In it are some books...works of genuine and substantial literary merit that I think you should read, and--with the exception of just a few of the confirmed bibliophiles here--I am pretty sure you haven't
But that is OK, kids. That's why this is homework
The Stars My Destination
, Alfred Bester
Where do I start with this book? How about by telling you that it's like The Count of Monte Cristo
, only with rockets and teleporting maniacs and badass radioactive spies? Maybe I could let you know that most of the Cyberpunk genre can trace its roots back to this novel, written in 1956. If that's not enough, Alfred Bester was an early writer on Superman and The Green Lantern (he wrote the most famous Green Lantern Oath), and he won the very first Hugo award for a novel. This man had fucking chops.
It Can't Happen Here
, Sinclair Lewis
It's OK that you haven't read this book, even though it's by Sinclair Lewis, and super famous. Really. It was out of print for basically my entire life, and has not yet entered public domain here in the US. It is a shockingly under-read book, whose dystopian view of an America dominated by theocratic fascists seems oddly prescient, especially considering that it was written in the mid-30's. If you enjoy satire (or you think that Americans have never done it well), pick up this book. And a little known fact: An adaptation of It Can't Happen Here
was turned down by NBC, on account of it being "too cerebral" for viewers; later, they would dumb it down, turn the fascists into aliens, and repackage it...as V
The Child Buyer
, John Hersey
Full of arch humor and pleasantly deft social commentary, The Child Buyer
is a story about a strange, ominous, and intensely creepy man in a porkpie hat, who travels around the country purchasing "hyperintelligent" children for a purpose so secret that it is only discussed "off-screen" for the bulk of the novel. Not enough for you? Try this on for size: THE CHILD BUYER IS COMPOSED ENTIRELY OF DIALOGUE. Also it has maybe the creepiest cover of all time.
The Master and Margarita
, Mikhail Bulgakov
Bulgakov was a stone-cold badass from early Stalinist Russia who supposedly burned the entire first version of this novel in a fit of pique, brought on by news that his play had been banned. This book has a fascinating history of underground publishing, heavily censored "official" versions, and other such political wackiness. It is a profoundly great work, centered around the devil taking a road trip to Moscow, and visiting a tortured artist who's writing a novel about Pontius Pilate. This book has so many layers, it would not be hyperbolic to say that, depending on how you look at it, it could either be The Three Stooges or Fellini's vision of Faust.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Absolutely DO NOT get any of the early translations, which are shitty, and besides which, were based on a heavily censored version. I personally recommend the Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor translation, but the Karpelson is also good, and I hear you're safe as long as you don't get anything translated before the 1990's.
In the Dutch Mountains
, Cees Nooteboom
Cees Nooteboom, in addition to having a comically odd name, has a narrative style that is best described as "whimsical", and this book somehow manages to compress adventure and fantasy, strung together with fantastically subtle threads of metafiction, into a tale that feels shockingly complete despite only being about 140 pages long. The narrator of In the Dutch Mountains is perhaps the most unequivocally unique, splendidly (and consistently) voiced character ever to tell me a story. Read this now, so that wheen Nooteboom wins the Nobel Prize sometime in the next couple years, you can feel superior for having already read him.