Here’s five great books you should read but you haven’t because you’re a gosh darn dick who doesn’t read. (Just kidding. If you’re here I bet you’re a badass.)
1. The Magicians, By Lev Grossman
Remember Harry Potter? Remember how happy that made you? Remember how the characters were endearing? Remember how it made you think magic was awesome?
Well guess what, jerk? It’s not! Magic sucks!
This book takes a protagonist raised on Harry Potter/Chronicles of Narnia-type books and sends him to magic college.
As it turns out, having God-like powers doesn’t make you happy. It just robs you of your ability to find meaning in simple things. It gave me a lot of sympathy for God (he’s probably depressed as shit – that’s why he doesn’t listen to your prayer-calls.)
Also, the main character has the same first name as me, which is pretty rare. So if you’re curious what my first name is, you can read this novel (or just read it’s synopsis on Amazon.)
Tips for Reading: Tear out the last four pages of the book. I’m goddamn serious. It completely betrays the tone and entire fucking point of the entire fucking novel in order to leave room for a sequel. Leave that shit to movies, Lev.
2. Mortality, By Christopher Hitchens
This is a tiny book with a great weight. Christopher Hitchens is best known as a well-spoken British dude who thought God was dumb and that women weren’t funny. A lot of people said they hoped he’d get cancer for hurting their feelings. Then he got cancer.
He continued to write and tour throughout the entire ordeal, culminating in Mortality. It’s rare to see such a poignant, balanced view of death from someone staring it in the in the face.
Tips for Reading: It’s tempting to plow through the book because it’s so short, but read one section at a time and let yourself process it.
3. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
Remember how Lord of the Rings was so popular that every nerdy writer tried to copy it for fifty years, oversaturating the market with disposable shit that made everyone think fantasy was disposable bullshit instead of an interesting technique for exploring societal trends?
Well, I do, because I hate most fantasy books. Everytime I try to get through one I’m overwhelmed by the unoriginal world-building at the expensive of any meaningful character or plot development. Maybe some people get a kick from a 500 page lecture on dwarf economics, but I hate economics no matter how hairy it is.
The Name of the Wind sets out to dissect the fifty-year history of fantasy while simultaneously being a part of it. The result is like a glass of spring water after fifty years of high-fructose soda—refreshing.
Tips for Reading: Go slow. Even though it’s over 700 pages, the writing is actually very polished. Events feel like they’re supposed to be there, not tangents to show off how creative the author is.
4. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
9-11 (pronounced nein ellie-van) was a terrorist attack that happened in America. It was very sad, and completely changed the cultural zeitgeist. Unfortunately, one of these changes was our attitude towards people of middle-eastern descent (except Jesus, but that’s only because we pretend that he’s white.)
Persepolis is a great fucking reminder that people are just people, no matter how scary FoxNews tells you they are. When the little kids are goofing off in school, making fun of all the fundamentalist bullshit , it’s powerful because it’s obvious. It’s something I did. It’s something people all over the world did. Obedient fear is a learned behavior.
Tips for Reading: This is a graphic novel, so pay attention to the pictures. They’re adorable, but the composition is meaningful.
5. On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
I have to read a lot of academic writing at school, and I’m constantly amazed at how many people who’ve devoted their lives to literature can’t write a goddamn sentence. When I read this bloated, meaningless, ego-driven drivel of uninspired academia I want to beat every literary scholar over the head with this book.
It plays like a dark comedy—writers who favored simple, clean writing being analyzed by the willfully obtuse. Literary academia has burrowed so far up its own ass it thinks shit is complex.
On Writing Well reminds us that writing is about communication, not a contest to see who can pontificate in the most masturbatory manner.
If literary scholars are going to complain that no one reads, I must also complain that uninviting, self-indulgent, unpalatable writing does nothing to advance humanity’s relation to the novel, and in most cases actively corrodes it.
Tips for reading: Don’t be a scholar. Get this book and learn to write like a fucking human.
I read Persepolis in my graphic novel class and it became my favorite.
It’s awesome, right?
Haha I fucking love Hitchens. That guy was something else. Might buy Zinsser’s book; ever heard of ‘Writing That Works’? Same idea, brilliant little book.
I have not, but I looked it up on Amazon and now I might buy it. Look at this. It’s like a little book exchange.
*Shit just got real*
*Puts shades back on & disappears into the night*
So, on the academic thing, I recently handed in a bunch of essays for psychology and I kept getting the same critique on them: “This is unusual wording”.
Yes, you idiots, because it was EASY TO UNDERSTAND! I wasn’t trying to be overbearing and ridiculously “intelligent”. Because, with a writing degree under my belt I learnt the value of CLEAR AND CONCISE WRITING.
OK, rant over.
A lot of fantasy is crap, I’ll give you that. But when it’s good, it’s fantastic (no pun intended). I highly recommend The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks. You are thrown into the world in such a way that info-dumping (which is what they call ridiculous amounts of exposition) doesn’t actually fit, and so Weeks doesn’t do it! :-O
The only thing is that every single character, bar 2, are described as “beautiful” or “handsome”…I mean…mix it up, guys!
Never read any of the other titles, but Persepolis… now THAT is something and a half. One of the all time great graphic novels. It should be compulsory reading in schools (but yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen).
I’ve read two of these! I’m 2/5 awesome!!
Days like this, I am so happy that I follow this blog.
The Name of The Wind is just phenomenal, probably my favourite fantasy novel since American Gods or A Storm of Swords. It’s a shame Patrick Rothfuss is going to take another 30 years to finish the next book.
Cool. I really liked the Persepolis film, so I will now be tempted to give the book a shot. I’m also in the academic writing business now – been reading a couple of books on how to do it well and not be an obtuse jerk about it, but maybe I will add your suggestion to my list as well.
I just laughed when the very first title was a book my husband just finished for the second time! And The Name of the Wind is one of his favorites! but he said you forgot to mention, it’s a trilogy. and he said…you “are reading way too much in to that!!” The rest he hasn’t read. I know I would find Mortality interesting, as well as the rest. Hubby doesn’t really read graphic novels….except for Sandman, but who wouldn’t read Sandman??? and doesn’t care about writing…but did laugh when reading your description of the book On Writing Well….”writers who favored simple, clean writing…” then you breaking that rule by writing, “to see who can pontificate…..” Yes we know that was the point, but it was quite amusing.
I will be sure to check all of them out.
Well we are not quite so illiterate, and soon I will not be as illiterate as i am now. (I promise I do read…a lot…and some really good books too. Just recently more health and Buddhist centered…oh don’t give me that look!)
For writing that’s guaranteed to turn your brain into cotton wool, try an afternoon reading journals in highly specialized areas of biology.Urf! It’s like a contest to see who can be most obtuse.
I don’t envy you. Biology can be crazy.
I’m sorry, I just don’t think I can give Hitchens another chance. I love his essays on books, but eight years of hearing how great GW Bush was and how wonderful our wars were, followed by the thing about women not being funny (who the hell asked him?), combined with his odious floppy-haired slurred-voice Oxbridge bad-boy routine…well, I didn’t wish he’d get cancer, but I wished he’d shut up.
Interesting—I’ve read four and out of five and browsed the fifth in a bookstore.
I haven’t read any of these – though I have read Hichens so on your recommendation I am going to. My five for you and I am serious about this – as serious as only I can be – because you will emerge different as a result of reading them. Seriously. I know you know what I mean.
Freefall William Golding. Prose god. Simple as that. Written some of the most discombobulating passages I have ever read.
Ali Smith ‘There but for the’ ‘Do you come to art to be comforted, or do you come to art to be reskinned?’ she asked in a 2003 interview with Jeanette Winterson.
How to live A LIfe of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell- I wrote about it here https://amonikabyanyuvva.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/how-to-live-montaigne-style/
‘The Happiness Hypothesis’, Jonathan Haidt and I blogged about this too – https://amonikabyanyuvva.wordpress.com/category/books/page/5/
Four is eonugh fo rnow . You can always come back to me!
‘On Writing Well reminds us that writing is about communication, not a contest to see who can pontificate in the most masturbatory manner.’ this sentence alone may just send me to Zinser. And I just see I wrote a reply to you in 2015 too!! Ha!