My Summer Reading List, and Other Ways I’ve Ruined My Life


It was really horrible what I did to them. Grad school! All my classes paid for plus an entire $1100 stipend a month to live on. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was rich. I was Jimmy Rockefeller. I felt like every worry in life had now shed off me. I was free. And then I really committed a foul crime for it that I’m ashamed of.

On $1100 a month I was able to live for the first time all by myself. Loneliness was so precious to me then. My apartment was in back of a gas station. I loved the smell of the gas and breathed it in all day long. I ate chocolate pretzels or pancakes every morning. I ate out every night (who cooks when so wealthy?)

I’d write notes to all the waitresses politely telling them I loved them and would they please go out with me? (“No!”) I learned how to hitchhike.  I bought t-shirts and used-books and saw movies and went on dates. And lo and behold, at the end of the month there was another check with my name on it. Science and magic mixed together. I was like a radioactive spider created by a mad scientist. Life could not have been more wonderful.

(I had a severe waitress fetish)

But, some might say…I stole the money. For two years I didn’t attend any classes. Almost all of my professors would’ve been better off dead. That’s what I thought of them. What good did they do? Nothing. Every chance I could I lied to them just to keep that $1100 money spigot flowing. While they back-stabbed each other mid-race for tenure-ship I quietly began to fail every class (I never showed up) and didn’t let them in on my secret.

At the end of each quarter they would say, “what the hell is wrong with you?” but I would beg and plead, “just one more semester.”  I had new research, I said. New ideas that would save the world.  If you combined computational theory with robot vision I could create a new Planet of the Apes!  I didn’t want to be cut off from that $1100 a month. That was my pig that shat gold!

The real world looked frightening and dangerous. All of the men and women from the real world had a contagious desperate look in their eyes that I was afraid I would catch. I would see them on buses, flipping from face to face like a viewmaster of the Chernobyl aftermath. They would touch me at night in the dark until I woke up scared and alone.

So I convinced grad school to even give me a fellowship and stipend for the summer between my first and second year. I promised to do such amazing research it was like Fermat was a piece of dust to me. I would crush his theorem. I could send toilets into space with my inricate calculations, never discovered prior. Instead, I spent the summer 300 miles away, smoked pot every day, drank, and tried LSD for the first (and only) time, and failed to have sex with any of the dozen or so women I pursued. I gave one talk in Kaiserslautern, Germany for the sake of improving the state of knowledge about highly esoteric and useless artificial intelligence but that was it. Maybe that was enough for them to keep me going. That was the last diesel gas in my sputtering truck engine.

I got hit by a very bad illness my second year of graduate school (the effects of one tab of LSD linger for a long time). I suddenly wanted to write stories and books.  What a stupid pleasure, in retrospect, when I could’ve just spent all my wasted time lying down on the grass doing nothing. [See. 33 Unusual Tips for Being a Better Writer]

(I only had one my entire life. I think the effect is still there 21 years later).

Around the age of 22 I started writing and reading for about ten hours a day. All of my friends got sick of me and one by one they stopped wanting to be around me. Particularly when I insisted we all experiment with a 25 hour a day schedule. Who made the rule that humans need a 24 hour day? Eventually I was always asleep when they were awake and vice-versa. And somehow we never got sync-ed back together. They had moved to an 18 hour a day schedule. It was all messed up. Magic lightning bolts couldn’t fix what had happened.

I stopped going into my little graduate school office (particularly once the guy who made the best chess computer in the world moved out of my office to go to IBM without me).  I instead spent hours at the library. I’d read literary journals to see what authors I liked and then I’d look up those authors in this massive encyclopedia series called “Contemporary Literary Criticism”. Every author imaginable is in there. I looked it up on Amazon and there are around 100 editions with each one costing about $300.

I first read Denis Johnson in the literary journal “Epoch”. Then I found other stories he wrote in “The Paris Review” and then “The New Yorker”. When the collection of his stories finally came out “Jesus’ Son”, I excitedly told one of my professors when I ran into him in the street that was this was the greatest day in literary history. Within hours of that I was officially thrown out of graduate school.


Then I read Mary Gaitskill’s collection “Bad Behavior”. It was excellent and inspiring because all of her stories had been rejected (just like me!) before they were finally compiled into the best-selling collection that made her name as a writer.  All her stories were a greasy mixture of sex and relationships. Greasy because the chemicals never got it quite right but it was too late to stop them from exploding once a match lit up.

One of my favorite writers, Reginald McKnight, wrote maybe the best unrecognized novel ever:  “I Get on the Bus”. You can buy it now for one penny on Amazon. When I finished the book, the last line was so powerful I thought my brain was going to explode in joy. I forced my girlfriend to sit down and listen while I described the entire plot over the course of an hour or so just so I could read to her the last line. Recently she de-friended me on Facebook which is the modern equivalent of…I don’t know…defriending me via Morse Code.

I wrote McKnight a letter analyzing his last line. By coincidence he taught on campus. He responded to the letter and said I should sit in on his class.

So here I was, a grad student in Computer Science, not attending a single comp sci class but religiously attending three days a week McKnight’s class (each week was a different “perspective” – first person stories, third person, even second person (“You”),  stories told in letter form, etc. ) We’d write stories and he’d critique each week.

Turns out he loved comic books also. We’d go to all the comic book stores or flea markets, buy comics, then eat dinner and read them.  I think I insulted him once though. I told him some advice that I now forget. I concluded my un-asked-for advice with, “you’ll really have a career as a writer then”. And he said, “I already have a career as a writer”.

I never saw him again after that although one time I called him with a long rambling message about how I hated my girlfriend at the time. He never called me back.

Then I fell in love with Steve Erickson’s books. “Tours of the Black Clock”. What a beautiful title. He also wrote a book about the 1988 election, “Leap Year” . It was brilliant, particularly the prophetic and beautifully written synopsis of perennial loser  Al Gore. So I decided I would call him up and interview him for a magazine. I made up the name of a magazine and I got him on the phone.

(Great cover)

He sent me a review copy of his as yet-unreleased “Arc D’X”. I think I ended up physically licking every word on the page I liked it so much. (although requires reading all his prior novels to fully appreciate). And then I proceeded to call him no less than 500 times trying to arrange the interview. I would call and usually nobody would answer. Then I’d call 5 minutes later, someone would pick up, I’d say “Hello?” and he’d hang up. Then I‘d call again. And again. I never got the interview.

During this time I found William Vollmann. The guy writes about 10,000 words a day and has such bad carpal tunnel syndrome he has to type with two pencils and hold them as if they were his fingers. I started with the “Rainbow Stories” (out of control good!) and then “Whores for Gloria”, “Butterfly Stories”,  and a few others.

I played a prank on him. I wrote him a letter through his publisher and said that he should be careful what he writes. How I, like the main character in “Butterfly Stories”, went to Thailand and got AIDs and now regret it. I have never been to Thailand.

He then called me! In a very whispery voice he left a voicemail saying he was sorry about what had happened to me and I could call him any time, that there were always people I could talk to. What a nice guy he is! What a bad guy I was!

I went through a 1920s phase (Dos Passos, Hemingway, Fitzgerald), then a 1950s phase (Mailer, Heller, Kerouac, Vonnegut, later Hemingway), then a 1960s phase (puke! Pynchon, Farina, Roth, Updike, Bellow, blah), then a 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s phase. A brief 1800s phase (Chekov, Dostoevsky,  Tolstoy).  A mostly unpleaseant experimental phase (Lish, Calvino, Marquez, and I’ll even throw David Foster Wallace’s first novel in there (“Broom of the System”) which I despised, and Rushdie, who is so unreadable makes me wonder how he gets so many women to like him).

Even had a genre phase (John Grisham, not as bad as I thought, Stephen King (unreadable to me but people tell me I didn’t give it a chance), Robert Ludlum (Bourne not so bad), Anne Rice (vampire series a pageturner but then got somewhat flat).  And, of course, a brat pack phase: Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, Tama Janowitz (loved her!), Donna Tartt, and various others.

(Tama Janowitz – I liked her hair)

Then I started writing my own horrible novels (you can imagine by the titles: “The Book of Orpheus”, “The Book of David”, “The Pimp, the Prostitute, the Porn Novelist, and They’re Lovers”) and maybe over 100 short stories that I still have buried in some pile somewhere. [See, I am Guilty of Torturing Women] I’d go into grad school (and later, work, after 29 out of 30 professors who voted on it finally kicked me out of school when they came to their senses. I never found out the one professor who voted for me. If you are the professor who voted for me, please tell me.) late at night and use all the copy machine paper to print my stuff out to send to 30 different publishers only to receive 30 form letter rejections. Then I’d repeat the process again and again. I never lost hope. But it was hopeless.

Everyone around me went on to start Internet companies they sold for billions but I kept pushing. I wanted to be a published writer. Only then would I be worthy of RESPECT. Finally, I applied for a job at HBO and got it, figuring NOW I’ll finally make some connections .This was the only thing stopping me. I needed to be in the big city!

Instead I totally switched artistic directions. Then veered completely out of control. And even further and further away. How lost can you truly get from your dreams until you can no longer say, “this is who I really am”. At some point (usually after exposure to Gold Kryptonite) you lose your super powers and only become “Clark Kent”, mild-mannered reporter. Its only in the past eight months I feel real happy creatively again.

Because of this blog, all the comments, new friends,  people who send emails, people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and learn from. I feel blessed. I feel I can finally be honest when most others in the past industries I’ve immersed myself in are still lying out of fear. What a horrible decade it was for everyone. And to step out of line is scarier than ever so we feel we have to lie to hide and protect ourseleves. But it’s possible.

This is a long way of saying….thanks.


Summer reading list:

These are either books I’ve just read and will read again in the summer,  or I’m planning to read. I might update this list throughout the summer. All of the books are fiction. BUT they are almost all a particular style of fiction that is almost 99% autobiographical without the authors admitting it.

A)    I had a book here. But I just got it from Amazon, read the first two chapters and it was no good.

B)     Ham on Rye,  by Bukowski. I happen to think this is the greatest American novel ever written. Not sure why it’s not taught in high school literature classes while meanwhile the un-aborted Bronte Sisters/Jane Austen (aren’t they all the same creature?) continue to bore generation after generation of people out of reading. I plan on re-reading this summer. Note, they says it’s a novel but I’m pretty sure its 100% autobiographical. I don’t really like Bukowski when he veers into fiction. The more autobiographical, the better, for him.

C)     Journey to the End of the Night by Celine. The entire book is like the raving of a mad-man who hates everyone and his one grasp on sanity is that he strongly doesn’t want to get his head blown off in a war (WWI). I’m about 1/3 of the way through. The writing is raw, angry, desperate, and beautiful. Supposedly he became a raving anti-semite mentally ill nazi towards the end of his life which is unfortunate but I’d kill to have to the powerful voice in this book. What’s interesting is that Vollman writes the afterward, Vonnegut refers to Celine in his autobiographical book “Palm Sunday”, and Bukowski wrote his last novel more or less about Celine. All of these writers with strong voices recognize each other and stick together.

D)    The John Fante Reader. Supposedly the inspiration for much of Bukowski’s work. Curious to check it out.

E)     Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions  I don’t think I’ve ever read it. Recently re-read “Slaughterhouse 5” and thought it was beautiful.

F)      The Double Life is Twice as Good by Jonathan Ames. I like the TV show on HBO roughly based on this. He has a strong literary voice (I read his first novel probably 15 years ago) even though almost everything he writes is memoir-ish. He has an extreme honesty that I aspire to.

G)    No one Belongs Here More than You by Miranda July. Rereading.  Its packaged as fiction but I’m sure its borderline memoir.  Every word is infused with severe love addiction and artistry.

H)    Hunger, by Knut Hamsun. This is a Bukowski summer. Another guy that supposedly influenced his works.

I)       The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel,  I’ve read everything Raymond Carver wrote a billion times over . I might even re-read him again this summer.  Hempel was one of his students so I figured I’d read her.

J)       The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders, literary nonfiction by a great fiction stylist. Read the first essay and it was excellent.

K)    The collected stories of Lydia Davis. Read a few of them and I like the voice. I hate writers who tell a great story but add nothing with their voices. She seems (like everyone on this list) to have a strong voice.

L)     Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson.  I reread it probably once every month or so.  I wish I could find just one writer who comes close but I’m afraid it’s impossible. I wish I could write 1/10 as good as him.

M) Butterfly Stories by William Vollman. Rereading. Heck, maybe I’ll play the same trick I played on him 18 years ago.

N) The Yoga Sutras. The one “non-fiction” book on the list. My wife has gotten me into the philosophy that underlies yoga and this is a particularly readable interpretation. Patanjali wrote the yoga sutras around 400BC almost as a response to Buddha. It was like Hindu marketing. Buddha kept stealing the customers so Patanjali wrote 195 lines in response. In my opinion the 195 lines basically describes Buddhism, and throws in the physical aspect (which we call “yoga”) and the breathing aspect. Two of my most popular posts in the past month are secretly based on just two of the 195 lines.

O) Please add more suggestions in the comments. Self-promotion encouraged.

There’s more on the list but this is enough for now. And I’m going to add to this, particularly if I read stuff that turns out to be so good I want to recommend it.

I’ll close this list with a quote from “Jesus’ Son”. Maybe it will share why I love the book so much.  This quote comes from the first story in the book:

“Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn’t know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That’s what gave her such power over us. The doctor took her into a room with a desk at the end of the hall, and from under the closed door a slab of brilliance radiated as if, by some stupendous process, diamonds were being incinerated in there. What a pair of lungs! She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere.”

Related Reading: Why You Should Not Buy Most Of My Books

  • Image check James. The images are not showing up. Been waiting for your blog post all day and the images don’t work!! It’s over. 

    • Hi Ross, hmm, I’m seeing the images. I’ll do an “update” in WordPress and maybe that will help. 

      • I thought they were images but they were the links to your book suggestions. Works now. 

  • ZenPen

    A man of Sung, one Ts’ao Shang, was sent by the king of Sung as envoy to the state of Ch’in. On his departure, he was assigned no more than four or five carriages, but the king of Ch’in, greatly taken with him, bestowed on him an additional hundred carriages.

     When he returned to Sung, he went to see Chuang Tzu and said, “Living in poor alleyways and cramped lanes, skimping, starving, weaving one’s own sandals, with withered neck and sallow face – that sort of thing I’m no good at. But winning instant recognition from the ruler of a state of ten thousand chariots and returning with a hundred of them in one’s retinue – that’s where I excel!”

    Chuang Tzu said, “When the king of Ch’in falls ill, he calls for his doctors. The doctor who lances a boil or drains an abscess receives one carriage in payment, but the one who licks his piles for him gets five carriages. The lower down the area to be treated, the larger the number of carriages. From the large number of carriages you’ve got, I take it you must have been treating his piles. Get out!”

  • This post hits home with me. I was in Grad School at Florida State. Instead of reading or working, I went to play golf everyday. Eventually they told me I had to work nonstop in order to get funded the next semester. So I decided to register for classes for the next semester when I had no intention of staying. I took my finals and left the state within 5 minutes of my last exam. I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want it to affect my grades. It didn’t matter, I got all C’s anyway so nothing would transfer. I made up some medical reason for leaving. I hope they don’t read this. They wanted to charge me for a book I kept 6 months later. $$

  • I hope you got a download/copy of David Gerrold’s “The Man that Folded Himself”.  That LSD may come in handy to mentally follow the time travel angle!

  • You all need to read this here’s a free chapter how I made $100k+ in one weekend

  • Jdpeak

    How to Sell by Clancy martin is excellant. Probably autobiographical fiction and great.

    • Oh! Very glad to hear of that… was wondering if it was (plausibly) autobiographical. Just read a short story by him of similar topic – was hooked. Thanks for that! 

  • Anonymous

    I just finished Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates. I don’t know if I would recommend it. But I can tell you this: By page 100 you want to be blonde. By page 700, you don’t want to be blonde anymore …

  • Caromusa

    “Nausea” by Jean Paul Sartre. Masterpiece.

  • John Navin 

    That’s Pynchon himself doing the voice over. They’re making a movie, I hear…

  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It is a mix of his experiences in a nazi concentration camp and his perspectives on the human condition. Sounds heavy (it is) but is also very inspiring. You should check it out.

  • M

    Hi James, Loving your blog and book! 
    I suggest “the Age of Absurdity” by Michael Foley

  • ‘We All Fall Down’ by Brian Caldwell.
    A Christian novel full of sex, violence and swearing.
    You’ll love it, I promise. (Read the diverse reviews on Amazon):

  • Tutti

    ohhh Black it. Never mind.

  • Mother Night- Vonnegut

  • Ji Eun (Jamie) Lee

    Just re-read Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart

    and in the middle of re-reading Wind-up Bird Chronicle

    Murakami also is a big fan of Carver and tries to emulate his style. He’s been compared to a cross between Kafka and Carver, probably once too often.

    • I really liked his sentence structure and rhythm in Lost Sheep Chase.

  • Azulet

    Hi James, will add your book suggestions to my list. Do you use If so you should create your reading list there! Favorite books I’ve read recently are The Alchemist and Where in the World is my team.


  • Tom Mikolajczyk

    Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis. It’s the funniest and most clever book I’ve had the pleasure of reading. 

  • Sergey Gorsh

    James ,I dont think you enjoyed much with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy . Even in
    their original Russian its boring . Try our Vladimir Nabokov . He is
    torturing his readers with sweet tortures …

    • Annevitiello

      Good idea. Maybe Pnin.

    • Annevitiello

      Good idea. Maybe Pnin.

    • Omon Ra

      Who would not enjoy Tolstoy, and  would not find Dostoevsky mistical, seductive and repeling at the same time, just a bit more peeping into the sick human soul, just for one more page… addictive…  
      I’ve read Nabokov, angry and unhappy stories, his soul is exposed but it is shallow to begin with 

      • Sergey Gorsh

        “I’ve read Nabokov, angry and unhappy stories” … Agree. Happiness ( or may be happy ending? ) is the true criteria of  arts. literature in particular.

        • Omon Ra

          You’re a master of sarcasm, aren’t you? I believe you’ll qualify for a certificate.As it could be a topic for a long discussion on the matter of someone’s taste, by it’s definition art is anything intellectually created by anyone and expressed in some tangible form. Nabokov is art, sure thing. Does it in anyway penetrate a human soul? Sure, a sick one. Does it have any value in the history of literature? Not at all. Should people read it to understand more about themselves and the word around them? Absolutely not.  When I’m finished with the book, I’ld like to experience a deep thought coming through my mind; in regards to love, sorrow, pain, kindness, happiness, or anything that touches a better person in me.I like books that have a message, and not the once that cause only one feeling- regret for wasted time on the shallow book of someone who had no idea what else to write about.  The “War and Peace” is tragic; personages died, lost, loved, cheated, stole, broke and killed. However, if you read this book closely it will enrich your mind and soul, like you just drank from the Fountain of Wisdom, and if you lucky you will feel that your heart is bigger than it was before you’d started, it’ll open doors for you to become a better human being. Tolstoy loves LIFE, he embraces it, so as Bulgakov.  ..and Nabokov likes to write, that’s the difference….

  • Paul

    James you will like Fante, your writing reminds me of his a little.  Also Cormac mcCarthy “Blood Meridian” is a terrific novel I recommend.

    • Ben

      I second this recommendation whole heartedly, especially since you (James) appreciate strong voice. In addition, Suttree is a different novel of his that is very autobiographical and haunting and funny, but it’s not nearly as epic as Blood Meridian.

  • Your grad school experience reminds me of the Ghostbusters quote:

    Dr Ray Stantz: Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn’t have to produce anything! You’ve never been out of college! You don’t know what it’s like out there! I’ve *worked* in the private sector. They expect *results*.

  • Steven L Goff

    As voracious a reader and intelligent person you are. I am surprised you didnt mention the Enlightenment Period and some of the writers and they’re works relevant to today’s society.
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
    Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men (Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes), also commonly known as the “Second Discourse”, is a work by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The text was written in 1754 in response to a prize competition of the Academy of Dijon answering the prompt: What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law? Though he was not recognized by the prize committee for this piece (as he had been for the Discourse on the Arts and Sciences) he nevertheless published the text in 1755.[1]
    ContentRousseau discusses two types of inequality, natural or physical and ethical or political. Natural inequality involves differences between one man’s physical strength and that of another – it is a product of nature. Rousseau is not concerned with this type of inequality and wishes to investigate moral inequality. He argues moral inequality is endemic to a civil society and relates to, and causes, differences in power and wealth. This type of inequality is established by convention. Rousseau appears to take a cynical view of civil society, where man has strayed from his “natural state” of isolation and consequent freedom to satisfy his individual needs and desires. For Rousseau, civil society is a trick perpetrated by the powerful on the weak in order to maintain their power or wealth. But this is Rousseau’s final conclusion; he begins his discussion with an analysis of a natural man who has not yet acquired language or abstract thought.
    Rousseau’s man is a “savage” man. He is a loner and self-sufficient. Any battle or skirmish was only to protect himself. The natural man was in prime condition, fast, and strong, capable of caring for himself. He killed only for his own self preservation. When the natural man established property as his own, this was the “beginning of evil” according to Rousseau. The natural man should have “pulled up the stakes” to prevent this evil from spreading. This property established divisions in the natural world. The first was the master-slave relationship. Property also led to the creation of families. The natural man was no longer alone. The subsequent divisions almost all stem from this division of land.
    DedicationThe work is dedicated to the state of Geneva, Rousseau’s birthplace. On the face of the dedication, he praises Geneva as a good, if not perfect, republic. The qualities he picks out for praise include the stability of its laws and institutions, the community spirit of its inhabitants, and its good relations with neighbouring states, neither threatening them nor threatened by them, and the well behaved women of Geneva. However, this is not how Geneva truly was. This is the type of the regime Rousseau wished for. The epistle dedicatory is a highly ironic and idealized version of the Geneva Rousseau really wanted. Also, his description is in great contrast with Paris, where he had spent many years previous to writing this discourse, and where he had left bitterly. So, his description of Geneva is in part, a statement against Paris
    Frontispiece and title page of an edition of Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality (1754), published by Marc-Michel Rey in 1755 in Holland.

  • Steven L Goff

    The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment) is the era in Western philosophy, intellectual, scientific and cultural life, centered upon the 18th century (The 18th century lasted from 1701 to 1800) , in which reason was advocated as the primary source for legitimacy and authority. It is also known as the Age of Reason.” “is that not in a nutshell, where we find ourselves today?” Here in the later parobiolic phase of exponential technology and medicine advancement.
    The Enlightenment developing simultaneously around the globe during that time period. Including France, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the American colonies. The movement culminated in the Atlantic Revolutions, especially the success of the American Revolution, which resulted in independence from the British Empire. The authors of the American Declaration of Independence, the United States Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the Polish–Lithuanian Constitution of May 3, 1791, were motivated by Enlightenment principles.
    The “Enlightenment” was not a single movement or school of thought, for these philosophies were often mutually contradictory or divergent. The Enlightenment was less a set of ideas than it was a set of values. At its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals, and a strong belief in rationality and science. Thus, there was still a considerable degree of similarity between competing philosophies.[3] Some historians also include the late 17th century as part of the Enlightenment.[4] Modernity, by contrast, is used to refer to the period after The Enlightenment; albeit generally emphasizing social conditions rather than specific philosophies.———-similar to our “computer age”—————-
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++The imagined community is a concept coined by Benedict Anderson which states that a nation is a community socially constructed, which is to say imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group.
    Anderson’s book, Imagined Communities, in which he explains the concept in depth, was published in 1983.
    Imagined Communities
    In developing his theories, Anderson observes that the notion of “nation-ness” is, in the recent years, becoming a principal force in many aspects of modern thought. Both the rapid expansion of the United Nations, and the political unrest caused by conflict between and within “sub-nations” around the world (Imagined 3), are evidence that nationalism is, indeed, recognized as modern political moral hegemony.
    Yet despite the influence that nationalism has had on modern society, Anderson finds the origins of the concept inadequately explained and recorded. His purpose in writing Imagined Communities is to provide a historical background for the emergence of nationalism — its development, evolution, and reception.
    Nationalism Anderson defines the nation as an “imagined political community that is imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign”
    The Nation is . . .
    Imagined because “members . . . will never know most of their fellow members . . . yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (6). That is, the possession of citizenship in a nation allows and prompts the individual to imagine the boundaries of a nation, even though such boundaries may not physically exist.
    Limited because “even the largest of them . . . has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations”. The fact that nationalists are able to imagine boundaries suggests that they recognize the existence of partition by culture, ethnicity, and social structure among mankind. They do not imagine the union of all under one massive, all-encompassing “nationalism.”

    I inject this thought >
     ?”It may be that our role on this planet is not a worship God, but to create IT” ~ Sir Arthur Charles Clarke
    …That’s an interesting concept when you think of the harnessed collective consciousness the Internet has brought to our species….yes? And the never ending exponential advancements in technology and where that will take us with regards to religion.
    The Almighty Voice From Above…might someday be the best of our collective gene pool who emigrated off of this planet either in the future or in it’s past.
    May the Force be with you!……LOL

  • Ben

    Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, I read parts of this almost every day. I have the 2003 translation by Gregory Hays. One of the greatest books ever written, in my opinion, at least that I’ve read.

    Best non-fiction I’ve read, about Carl Akeley of gorilla fame via AMNH: Kingdom Under Glass by Jay Kirk

    Reading currently, non-fiction: The Tiger by John Vaillant, about a Siberian tiger attack in Russia in 1997.

    I’m almost 22, and have only just began my reading career. 

  • Jadoube

    Chess Secrets I Learned From the Masters, by Edward Lasker

    Great throughout, but worth the price for the Reshevsky profile alone.

  • Forgive me, but it’s hard to see how you’ve ruined your life. I see – through your words and portrayal of past events – that you’ve learned despite yourself. Also, “you’re welcome!” This is a wholly symbiotic relationship – you get, we get, win win and love!

  • Ben

    I read Ham On Rye at your suggestion a few weeks ago, and you’re right, it’s amazing. I’m currently on a big Faulkner kick–just about everything of his is amazing, especially Absalom, Absalom!, The Sound and The Fury, and As I Lay Dying, but I’m sure you’ve read him already. Bukowski’s Post Office is on my pile too.

  • Warren

    A Confederacy of Dunces–a comedy set in New Orleans circa 1960.

    Catch 22.

  • Willywonka

    If you’ve never read any of Dostoevsky, Brother Karamazov. My favorite fiction books always have a philosophical bent to them… and this might be one of the best best ones written. I also like Saul Bellow, if you can get around some of his name dropping. His stories aren’t always the best, but he is one of the best of modern writers.

    • I liked “dangling man” but never got into his later stuff (herzog, etc). I’ve got Karamazov on my “life list” to read at some point. I hope I read it. Its BIG. 

  • Anonymous

    HI James
    Like you I am an avid reader – I reckon I’ve read a dozen books a month for past 30 years, plus I have an honours degree in literature and work as a newspaper editor….which is why I’m intrigued that I’ve never heard of most of the authors you mention (except Vonnegut)! I will have to go hunting for them. Perhaps we just have completely different taste? FWIW, here are some of my all-time favourites, I wonder if you’ve read any of these? The Handmaids Tale (Margaret Atwood), Possession (AS Byatt), The Road (Cormac McCarthy), A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Solzhenitsyn), The Principles of Influence (Cialdini – non-fiction). And if you like autobiographical – Running with Scissors(Burroughs). And although I have some sympathy for your POV re the Brontes/Austen, please try Wuthering Heights (if you haven’t already).
    Of course, mostly I just read crime fiction, but hey, these ones l’ve listed sound a lot more intelligent :) Happy reading!

  • Mike Kenny

    descent into hell by charles williams–the most haunting, troubling ending ever–if you’re not going to read it, just read the last chapter to see what i’m talking about–charles williams was an inkling along w/jrr tolkien and cs lewis–it’s free on project gutenberg–the url: calvin coolidge in a dream by john derbyshire–written by an english man turned american about a chinese man, an ex-red-guard turned american who is obsessed with calvin coolidge, pines for his lost love and the bohemian free-wheeling life of his youth in hong kong, while also attached to his lovely bourgeois life with a wife and favorite is nabokov’s the real life of sebastian knight.and i happened to list some favorite nonfiction books recently here:

  • Steven L Goff

    That’s a pretty cool sheet of acid hits in the blog cover photo BTW. If i was its creaor/chemist/doser/ploter I would of laid/dropped a triple dose on the part of hit sheet that is the hit on the little girls tongue….lol….whomever was lucky enough to purchase that exact hit (notice they’re perfrated little sections)….would be tripping their assssssssssss off……lol

  • charity

    thanks James. It seems that from the place of nothing inside everything arises.  I wait each day for your writings because I know they will give me something of me everyday. 

  • CMS

    HA! You answered two questions that I was about to try to persuade you answer.

    First was the reading list.  A few days ago I was compiling my own. I did a google search: “reading list’ {interesting person}; to find lists from a few people that I believe have interesting perspectives and came across your post from last June. I thought it would be nice to see an updated version. You have a bit more of a literary slant this time.

    Second, on acid. A few posts back, I read something that reminded me of a conversation I had with an employee a few years back.  Good guy, 15 or so years my senior and former businesses owner himself. We’d stay in the office afterours and shoot the shit quite a bit. He had the time. One day he told me “I can always spot someone who has dropped acid.” Implying that I did. Which is true. For him, too. He explained that people who experimented acid in thier younger years tended to question convention, throughout their life, more than the average. Tended to have Robert Frost’s sense of direction, by taking the other road. That acid can be good stuff.  Christ, I’ll never do it again.

    • Yeah, once is enough, even 20 years ago. Its like your stuck in the middle of a tornado trying to hold on for eight hours else you get ripped apart. 

  • TripleB

    One book that stands out in my recent reading is The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr.  It’s a memoir of her highly dysfunctional childhood, written in a way that leaves you horrified and wanting more at the same time.
    Her latest book, Lit, recounts her adult alcoholism and recovery.  I liked it less.

    • Second rec of Liars Club in two days. Definitely going to read it. With all these recs I think I’m going to be set for the rest of the year, which is great. 

  • Sooz

    straight back at you!
    (I feel  relieved all of a sudden..pheewww..this past week has been tough reading)

  • Great Grand-Skunk

    I get it. A two year old does the same no-no ten times in a row to see if it’s really important. They say most Billionaires have gone bankrupt at least once – no-no-no-no! What is important? I struggle. Money is not real. What is our true purpose?

    There’s something about being able to think, and question and push against boundarys without worrying what other think. I will probably not even post this comment.

    Your writing is good enough to make me even too self conscious to comment, but it is also so good I want to try. Keep it up…

    Breakfast of Champions was good for me. Read with a headlamp, in a tent, alone, and laughing.

  • My most favorite novelist ever is Honore de Balzac, think you’ll like him a lot – my favorite book from him is “Pere Goriot”.

    I got “How to Be the Luckiest Person Alive!” in the mail recently. Congrats on that, I’m looking forward to reading it for my summer reading list.

    • On order! Pere Goriot. Funny again: no kindle for a great book. People in the reviews highly praising this translation so I’m looking forward to it. 

  • lane bieler

    Loved your prostitute story yesterday. Reminded me of Thailand. So I’ll try out butterfly stories. I recommend Dream of the red chamber which is a Chinese classic and anything by pearl s buck. Also nabokov as stayed below. And my current favorite atlas shrugged.

    • Loved Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead but not her other stuff. But highly recommend those two. I dont know Dream of the Red Chamber. I’ll definitely check it out. I’ve only read “The Good Earth” which I think was by Buck. 

  • Blablabla

    Try David Mitchell. I think he was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize…never actually read him myself though. 

  • Anonymous

    Kicking the Sacred Cow by James P Hogan

    Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! By Richard Feynman

    Semi Tough by Dan Jenkins (Really good fun.)

    Have Space Suit -Will Travel by Robert A Heinlein

    Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

    The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

    The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman

    Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

    The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

    I am an eclectic and compulsive reader, so this is a few that made me think and rethink.

    • Kicking the Sacred Cow looks very interesting. I’ve read almost everything else on your list. I havent read “Lonesome Dove” but I love his “literary memoir”

      • Dgarber906

        The reason that I like Kicking the Sacred Cow is that it rewards thought and opens a view into the politicization of science and the sad lack of objectivity that contrary thought is given. While I don’t always agree with his conclusions, his reasoning is very good food for thought. In my case, I have to admit that I had to study a bit to come a little up to speed on some of the topics he discusses, but I was glad that I did. All too often we are asked to accept opinion as fact and all too many people just go with the flow.

        As for Lonesome Dove, it is a pure pleasure to read and it has a voice that resonates with the part of me that has been in some pretty hard and dangerous places. It is a heroic tale populated by eccentric and very human people exploring life at the edge of existence and the contrasts in how they choose to spend the coin that is their lives. The miniseries is almost word-for-word from the book and may be the best adaptation of a novel that has ever been done, but I still think the book is better.

        I am fond of writer’s that allow and encourage me to think for myself, or those that suck you into the world of their creation.

  • I was just talking about you the other day, James, and I said, “with his writing, he’s found his calling.”  The level of obsession you had over your favorite writers, books, going to lit class rather than comp sci – that I had no idea, but makes perfect sense.  You are a writer.  

  • Here’s one to read that blew my mind.  Couldn’t bring myself to finish it because if I did, it’d be over.  “The Fan Man” by William Kotzwinkle

    • Looks great! Just ordered it. Too bad no kindle version. For some reason it seems like all the great books are not on Kindle. 

  • A nice list, compelled with tools at hand. Marvelous there still are people reading Céline, these days, :). I’m part of a generation growing up with classics but never fed up by them. In college, the Latin Americans were discovered (Ernesto Sabato passed away recently), and in the nineties, I discovered “Midnight Children”, an all timer actually. Because you’re inspired by Patanjali, I recommend in the spirit of the locale, the jewel, the masterpiece, Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy”. Looks huge, it is huge actually with it’s over twelve hundred pages, but one can’t put it down.
    You seem happy!

    • I’ll check out “A Suitable Boy”. Next going to India in January. Might be good for plane. 

      • Venusbarak

        a great read but not something I would recommend in cabin baggage…too heavy.. 
        ….highly recommend ‘shantaram’ especially  before your Indian trip next year.

  • Patrick Moynihan

    The art of racing in the rain – By g stein had me balling like a baby; beach music and other p conroy works

    • The art of racing in the rain looks very interesting. I’m worried my revulsion of dogs will get in the way of enjoying the book. I never thought about reading pat conroy before. Beach Music is what youd recommend first?

  • I recommend books by Haruki Murakami. Yes, all of them. They are that good. 

    Since you encourage self-promotion, I’m currently writing an autobiography and a novel.
    I made one site for each. Prepare to die of boredom.

    • I love the titles. Let me know when they come out. 

      • And, been debating the Windup Bird Chronicle. Maybe I should put it on the summer list.

    • Kb

      fully agree on Murakami

  • You write with a lot of sarcasm. Just an observation. It’s a little predictable. If you can step out of that, your other voice might be heard, the angry, strong one.


    Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. 

    One of the best books I’ve ever read. Second only to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.

    • Catch 22 one of my favorites. Funny how the best WWII novels (in my opinion, Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse 5) underline the uselessness of all wars. Heller jewish and Vonnegut german. 

      Never read the Virgin Suicides but listen to the soundtrack of the Sophie Coppola movie about it all the time. maybe i should buy the book. 

  • Baghani

    Hi James, Is it possible for two people to be each other’s anti-particles? If so, you and a girl I once knew might be a match –

  • Jamalchahboune

    I typically don’t enjoy fiction but when I read “Everything is Illuminated” by Jonathan Safran Foer I was blown away. Easily the best novel I have ever read. If you haven’t read it then I would recommend it in an instant. 

  • Annevitiello

    Anything/everything by Anthony De Mello.

  • James, you have definitely created an honest and exciting list of books that would guarantee more people would return to a bookstore, not like others with their pretentious lists that will torture your soul. 

    I got to read Celine, Fante and Hamsun through Bukowski, so I’m a little surprised you are not recommending any poetry either by him or by Billy Collins which you might enjoy. I got to read Amy Hempel through Chuck Palahniuk and I highly recommend you read his non fiction stories “Stranger than fiction” it’s amazing. 

    I’m not a big fan of Stephen King, but “The Writing Life” is a good book for writers, perhaps that could change your thoughts about him. Also we can’t forget about “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lammott every time I feel like writing is not worth it, I go back to her. 

    Have a great summer reading.

    • Raul, thanks so much. I’ve just finished “Stranger than Fiction”. Was great. And I like Steven King’s “The Writing Life” as well. Hmm, I never checked out Anne Lammott. I’ll check out that book. 

  • Hungrybrain

    Hey James–Mysteries by Hamsun is Great! Ever read Henry Miller? What about Baise Cendrars? I just read his DAN YACK: Dan Yack is an eccentric English millionaire, a notorious hell-raiser, and the
    envy of all St. Petersburg. He is also the alter ego of his creator, the
    acclaimed French writer, Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961). Spurned by his lover, Yack
    awakens in a bar one night amidst three hard-up artists. He immediately invites
    them to accompany him on a world voyage via the Antarctic. They accept.
    Unfortunately, the weather gets bad and after the boat enters pack-ice, Yack
    orders the crew to land them while they wait for clear passage. Things
    deteriorate terribly with the group. When the sun finally returns after the
    polar winter, no one could have predicted the surreal disaster that is about to
    unfold-a scenario involving a plum pudding, whales, women, and World War I. A
    kind of jazz-age super-cocktail, a swirling cauldron of the outrageous, the
    orgiastic, and the surreal.””–Guardian.

    Currently reading Against the Day by Pynchon–Magic Mountain Thomas Mann. I did not like Europe Central By Vollman. Also check out Bruce Duffy-novels about  philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the poet Rimbaud.

    whats your take on bank stocks-C, BAC

    • Wow, I will order “Dan Yack”. I have not read “Against the day”. I actually don’t like Gravity’s Rainbow at all. I feel like Pychon’s grasp of language is peerless but he is so obsessed with structure that it becomes gimmicky and he’s incapable of building anything above a cartoon character. His characters are awful. I much prefer the writing of his college friend, Richard Farina who wrote one novel before he died in a motorcycle crash “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me:” I even think Pynchon’s invisibility to the public is all a gimmick. 

    • Wow, I will order “Dan Yack”. I have not read “Against the day”. I actually don’t like Gravity’s Rainbow at all. I feel like Pychon’s grasp of language is peerless but he is so obsessed with structure that it becomes gimmicky and he’s incapable of building anything above a cartoon character. His characters are awful. I much prefer the writing of his college friend, Richard Farina who wrote one novel before he died in a motorcycle crash “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me:” I even think Pynchon’s invisibility to the public is all a gimmick. 

  • I just added Jesus’ Son to my list.  Lookign forward to it.

    As to self promotion, check out:

    This is a project that has dropped into my lap thru my blog.  I’m still not sure what to make of UC and his story and boy howdy but it has become a pain to be the editor of his tale.  But I’m intrigued and I owe him.

  • Anonymous

    I love your strong voice in your writings.

  • Journey to the End of the Night by Celine., such a great book, I first read it when I was 17, so powerful, it felt like being punched the face, I am 40 today and I re-read it every couple of years.
    I have one book for your summer reading list, a really well written and well constructed historical novel taking place in WWII Leningrad : “City of Thieves” by David Benioff

  • Alex

    Did you try Julio
    Cortázar?  I really like some of his short stories, especially the way he does endings – he’s the master of the last sentence.

    • Just ordered “Blow up: and other stories” by him. On paperback. No kindle version. 

    • Just ordered “Blow up: and other stories” by him. On paperback. No kindle version. 

  • Vlado

    And no one’s mentioned Bulgakov. I think.. The Master and Margarita anyone? 
    or Andrey Platonov: The Foundation Pit.
    both brief, brilliant, terrifying and hysterical.

    • I’m going to order both. I hope kindle starts getting these masterpieces. Its funny how many recommendations are not on kindle. Its as if the good stuff still has to be read in its physical form. 

    • MM

      Master and Margarita is very good indeed!

      Julio Cortázar was mentioned earlier as well, and I’d recommend not only his short stories but hopscotch (Rayuela)

  • BW

    Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is a great novel based on the author’s life experiences.

    • Thats the second recommendation of Shantaram. Definitely on the list. 

    • Thats the second recommendation of Shantaram. Definitely on the list. 

  • Dan

    If you’re into Celine and Bukowski, you may want to give Henry Miller a shot. Most people start with Tropic of Cancer, but in my opinion his best stuff is in the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy (Sexus, Plexus and Nexus).

    Also, the contemporary French author Michel Houellebecq may be up your alley. Also from the Celine school, more or less. My favorite of his novels, “The Possibility of an Island,” begins thus: “How vividly I remember the first moments of my vocation as a clown!” The narrator proceeds to described, in the same chapter, among other things, the loss of his virginity.

    On a side-note, realizing that Nabokov was recommended in the comments elsewhere, and as much as it pains me (as a fellow Cornellian) to disagree, I would urge you to steer clear. If you were put off by Calvino and Rushdie and the like, you will not like Nabokov. Houellebecq, in the same novel previously cited, refers to Nabokov’s style as comparable to a deflated pastry.

  • James, I love, love, love that you’ve got Amy Hempel on here. One of my favorite quotes from any fiction ever is “I leave a lot out when I tell the truth.” Isn’t that true of all of us? At least in some part of our lives?Ham on Rye is brilliant and Bukowski repeatedly called Celine’s book the only book worth reading (after he decided he hated Hemingway).I’m finally getting aroung to David Foster Wallace this summer. Less than a hundred pages into the thousand page tome that is Infinite Jest. So far I love it. I know how you feel about him, but if you find your reading list a thousand pages short maybe give it a shot. Jesus’ Son was incredible and I am still thankful for your earlier recommendation of it. I read it once all the way through within the first twenty four hours after I purchased it. Re read it before heading to Colorado a week and a half or so later. (Then left it with my brother insisting he read it, simulataneously retrieving the borrowed copy of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Carver from him for a re-read. Have you read The God of Small Things by Roy? Perhaps the most beautifully written book I’ve read this decade. I always think back to the boy and his sad little shoes. When you’re reading it you frequently forget it is a novel as opposed to an incredible piece of poetry. And I always recommend revisiting Salinger’s Nine Stories. Perfect Day for a Bananafish and For Esme With Love and Squalor are excellent short stories. Just the idea of “love and squalor” is enough to suck me in, but that story haunts me and I read it at least once or twice a year. Sorry for the wordy reply. I get carried away at times.

  • Has anyone ever told you that you might be a bit weird? Or somewhere on the autism spectrum? Just a thought.

    My Kindle screen went on the fritz and now I have a reason to get it replaced.  Thanks for the list!

  • Hungrybrain

    So many books , so little time –I must read The Master and Margarita–

    Vlado have you ever read Demons by Dostoyevsky?

    Another great one is Mcteague by Frank Norris I linked this post to my blog self promotion

    • Vlado

      I havn’t read it no, but thanks for the suggestion in my kindle now.

  • bob

    James, you do good telepathy.
    I am currently reading the Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series, well researched and can’t put down historical fiction. Discover the only difference between the Roman and American empires is technology. Start at the beginning: The First Man in Rome.
    I can not recommend too highly Dorothy Dunnett’s 2 historical fiction series: The Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolo. Lymond is a 16th century Scottish 007 You first meet Niccolo as clownish buffoon working in a dye house in 15th century Bruge, Ah, but, as the stories develope you discover he is really a combination of a Medici and Da Vinci.I guarantee you will not be able to put her books down till done, that you will not figure where and what lies ahead from page to page, chapter to chapter, all the while inhaling the deep history and pageantry of these periods, stories that span all of Europe.
    Have you read any John McPhee? Try Rising from the Plains, a geological and recent history of Wyoming’s Rockies. It begins with a schoolmarm desending off a moutain in a stagecoach into the Wind River Valley. I accidently took this same scary descent in pitch-black night at a high rate of speed without realizing I was on an 8000 ft mountain.
    For something different I would recommend Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. A decade ago I accidently walked into the Geisha area, without fully realizing it till later, while wandering around in Kyoto. It is a world rapidly going extinct. The book was made into an excellent movie which fully captured the story.

    • Vlado

      So many books.. You remind me of starting the Rome series years ago, and looking forward to the other books, when something, I forget what, caused me to turn my attention elsewhere.. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll be picking it up again.  
      btw talking about books on Rome and historical novels, a few more good suggestions, I think: Robert Harris: Imperium and also Conspirata. I havn’t yet read the Fatherland (it’s not yet available on the Kindle! though it looks like it will be soon). 
      and also Orson Scott Card’s: Pastwatch Redemption – that’s sci-fi/historical.
      And also Ender’s Game (not a historic novel, just a classic must read sci-fi if you’re a fan).

      • bob

        Yes, Robert Harris’s Roman series are excellent. I had forgotten about him.
        Ender’s Game is good sci-fi.
        If you are into sci-fi, checkout Iain M. Banks: Consider Phlebas. Talk about spanning the Universe and the future.

      • bob

        Yes, Robert Harris’s Roman series are excellent. I had forgotten about him.
        Ender’s Game is good sci-fi.
        If you are into sci-fi, checkout Iain M. Banks: Consider Phlebas. Talk about spanning the Universe and the future.

  • Jack

    When I feel depressed, sad and unhappy I come here, to feel more depressed by your writing until I feel the world will end tomorrow.

  • Todd_Andelin

    A) I had a book here….
    I love your honesty in showing your mental process.  It would be cool if you could read someones email as a video, showing exactly how they wrote it…all the mistakes they erased.  slashed paragraphs etc…then the final product.

    “Bound for Glory” by the folksinger Woody Guthrie.  Very interesting book.  Bob Dylan said that book had a bigger impact on him than “On the Road”

  • C Pennybrown

    “Warlock” by Jim Harrison.  And because you like poker – “The Biggest Game in Town” by A. Alvarez.

  • Anonymous

    I’d add “Women” by Bukowski which is also very good, funny and seemingly close to autobiographical. 

    Also in terms of voice and sheer quality I love Lolita by Nabokov and some Camus (the stranger, the plague).

  • James, check out The First and Last Freedom by Krishnamurti – I think you would like it.

  • James, check out The First and Last Freedom by Krishnamurti – I think you would like it.

  • Hi everyone, this morning I woke up almost sweating because I forgot to mention an important book “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, great read for the outdoors.

  • Hi everyone, this morning I woke up almost sweating because I forgot to mention an important book “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, great read for the outdoors.

  • comet52

    Agree on Ham on Rye, the greatest book most people never heard of.  Read also (if you haven’t already) “Factotum” and “Post Office” in that order.  

  • Anonymous

    I took your recommendation and got Ham on Rye – my first fiction book in over a decade at least.  Just finished it – fantastic.  I’m so glad for this post since it inspired me to read for pleasure again.  Trying to decide what to read next…

  • C Pennybrown

    Spalding Gray:   “Sex and Death to the Age 14”
                             “Slippery Slope”

    Colete:   “Retreat From Love”

    David Shields:  “Reality Hunger”
                           “The Thing about Life is One Day You’ll be Dead”

    James M Cain:   “Double Indemnity”

    Mary Gaitskill:   “Don’t Cry”
                             “Because They Wanted  To”

    David Foster Wallace:   “Interviews of Hideous Men”  (Also made into a good movie)
                                        “Consider the Lobster”  (essays)
                                        “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll never do again” (again essays)

    (I agree that “The System of the Broom” – his first novel – is totally unreadable but his other stuff is brilliant, funny.  By the way, any chance you would self-publish your early stuff?  I’d love to see “The Prostitute, The Pimp and the Pornographer”  etc.)

    Mary Karr :  “Lit”   Gotta get in on CDs – she reads it and the voice is great.  You won’t be able to stop listening after the 2nd CD)

    Steve Martin:  “An Object of Beauty”
                          “The Pleasure of my Company”

    Alain de Botton:   “Kiss and Tell”

    Jay McInerney:  “How It Ended”

    Erica Jong:  “Sugar in My Bowl”

    Marc Maron:  “The Jerusalem Syndrome”

    Checkov:  The novella, “The Duell”   (also the one time I think the movie version is as great as the work!)

    Nabokov:  “Lolita”

    MCGuane:  “92 in the Shade”
                      “Bushwacked Piano”

    A. Alvarez:  “The Greatest Game in Town”   ( best poker book)

    Jim Harrison:  “Warlock”  – one of my sentimental favorites.  I’m re-reading it now)

  • Monster, Dunne/Didion

  • “A Monk Swimming” by Malachy McCourt, brother of Frank McCourt who wrote “Angela’s Ashes”. It’s the funniest autobiography ever.

  • Beyondbeige

    I’ve been desperate. Desperate I tell you to find anything worth reading. Loved all these writers. Now what else you got?

  • Red October

    The Risk Pool by Richard Russo (also Nobody’s Fool); The Cider House Rules by John Irving (also A Prayer for Owen Meaney); Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; How to Be Good by Nick Hornby; the books in the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith; Ana Karinina by Leo Tolstoy. I’d read The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, or The Great Santini by Pat Conroy before Beach Music.

  • E_spalding

    Some recommendations, but not on the cool side of things :) –

    Yep, fully support Master & Margarita – reread several times.

    For the war enthusiast –
    All quiet on the western front.
    The English Patient
    Goodbye to all that
    Brideshead Revisited – esp if you’ve seen the 80s series – only book of Waugh’s I was able to finish.

    On a lighter note –
    Any of the Jeeves books by PG Wodehouse – whatho!
    A confederacy of dunces
    Wind in the Willows – still reread this.

    Good, can’t putdown reading –
    Brazzaville Beach – William Boyd – my personal fav (cried at the end!); hubby’s read all of his & recommends an Ice Cream War.
    House of Leaves – really enjoyed the story within the story, plus lots of the more pseudy stuff.
    A million little pieces – altho’ somewhat discredited, still a good rollicking ride.
    Any Margaret Attwood – personal fav.

    I’ll be revisiting some teenage scifi – Asimov’s original Foundation series, Dune & His Dark Materials (not read this).

    Now summer listening – anything by the Fleet Foxes (baroque folk at its best:))

    • E_spalding

      Ohh, should also have suggested Cable & Deadpool – 30 Pieces of silver (preferred the original title The Passion of the Cable) – but you seem to be a DC person, so you might not like the MU.

  • THE LOSER by Thomas Bernhard

  • jonny O

    Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer or Black Spring.

    Nice finding a fellow Denis Johnson fan. I’ve even brought him up at cocktail parties full of writers and gotten blank stares. I’m sure you’ve read all of his works, but I particularly enjoyed The Stars at Noon and Already Dead.

    Great blog James. Write on my man, write on –

  • I got “Ham and Rye” for the kindle immediately when I read this post.  Almost finished with it.  Quick read, but absolutely fantastic.  I can’t put it down.  I love the declarative way he describes everything.  So matter of fact.  Thanks for the recommendation.  I have been drinking this blog up as if it were an oasis in the desert ever since I discovered it a few months ago.  Wanted to say thanks.  I love your writing.  It sets me free.

  • Anonymous

    “Feast of Snakes” or “Body” by Harry Crews

  • Jack

    I highly recommend the following:

    “Steps” by Jerzy Kosinski.  A collection of haunting short stories, I consider this piece to be Kosinski’s finest work.

    “A Confession” by Leo Tolstoy. “Tolstoy’s autobiographical essay is a dissection of his soul, a study of his life’s movement away from the religious certainties of youth…”

    “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” by Borowski.  An account of the holocaust by a man who survived it all only to kill himself shortly after.  The most nihilistic work I’ve read.

    “On the Shortness of Life” by Seneca.

    “The Elementary Particles” by Houellebecq.  A modern French phenomenon.

    “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde.  Mr. Wilde IS witty.

    •  I think I’m going to add “Steps” to my list for the summer. I loved his book “Cockpit”. Read all his stuff except for Steps. Was sad when he killed himself.

  • Baer

    To Have or To Be?  by Erich Fromm

  • A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge. And the sequels.

    Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles by Jesus de Soto. My review:

    And… check out (because you’re not going to have enough time to read everything on your list before you run out of telomeres…)

  • Didn’t see this here, forgive me if I missed it: underworld by don delillo. I read it, re-read it, underlined + scribbled in it, carried it everywhere, read it aloud to anyone who would listen + took it to my bed like a lover.

  • Meaghan Barbin

    Thank you for this – just grabbed a bunch off Amazon. Particularly love short stories and am always grateful for new authors to check out.

  • Prof. Byron Brainard

    “The Illuminatus Trilogy”  Robert Shea / Robert Anton Wilson.  I was amazed that I had never heard of this until recently.  If you were ever a fan of comic books, this is a comic book for the Elders of society.  

  • TC

    I love Journey to the End of the Night but Celine’s second book Death on the Installment Plan is even better.

    Breakfast of Champions is my favorite Vonnegut. Don’t miss Mother Night and, of course, Cat’s Cradle.

    Everything Bukowski wrote is brilliant. I love Post Office. I don’t think I’ve read Ham on Rye though.

    Great blog! Now I will plug mine:

  • Kind of out-there suggestion but I think you may like Mark Leyner’s electric speed and ferocity. Don’t read too many in a row necessarily or they become less funny. But first Et Tu, Babe? and then My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist and least funny is The Tetherballs of Bougainville. See, the titles are in descending order of funny too.

    I can’t say for certain you’ll like Mark Leyner but it seems like he might be up your alley.

    This one may not be as much for you but it’s my favorite book ever: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. After I read that I lost all aspiration to write fiction. I realized that I would never write something as good as Riddley Walker and instead of trying to write something myself I should just tell people to read Riddley Walker.

  • steve cornell

    Try James Salter’s A Sport And A Pastime
    Walter Mosely’s Fearless Jones Stories (1950s LA)
    Tadeusz Borowski Stories This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (General Editor Philip Roth)

  • Abhimail

    Ever tried Ayn Rynd?

  • Dogbowwow

    Try reading some Harlan Ellison. Start with his story collection Shatterday and then go on to read Strange Wine and Deathbird Stories.

  • Anmol

    I’ve compiled all the books (sans a couple, which weren’t available) recommended by James on goodreads. It could be of help to everybody!

  • No Hitchhiker’s Guide? No Terry Pratchett, Harry Potter, Wodehouse?

  • Michael Davis