I saw this idea on JessMitten’s blog – My A-Z of Literature – and liked it so much that I’d thought I’d steal the idea and post my own A-Z.
Margaret Atwood. No writer combines the uncertainty and terror of dystopian fiction with humor and satire the way Margaret Atwood does. Some would dismiss The Handmaid’s Tale as pure fantasy, but in some parts of the world – and, if some will have it, in this country – the tale of Offred is very much real. Love, love, love Margaret Atwood.
Paul Auster. My favorite New York City writer. Brooklyn represent! The New York City Trilogy is simply mesmerizing.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. My favorite novel of the past decade, and one of my favorites ever.
Charles Bukowski. See below.
Raymond Carver. I’ve read hundreds, maybe thousands, of short stories, but no one writes (well, wrote) a better short story than Raymond Carver. “Cathedral” is perhaps the finest short story ever written.
The Catcher in the Rye…ah, yes, this book spoke so loudly to me during my disaffected…OH FUCK THAT SHIT. AND FUCK THAT BOOK. AND FUCK YOU IF YOU FIND THIS BOOK PROFOUND. IT’S OVERRATED AND YOU KNOW IT.
Don Quixote. The first of the great classic works of literature I read. This is one that’s very close to my heart, a novel that’s funny and wistful and tragic. Often times considered a contender for one of the best novels ever written, and rightly so.
Dune. I would not be lying if I told you I’ve read Dune at least 20 times.
L’etranger (The Stranger). Yes, I’m cheating. Still my favorite existentialist study. It floored me in high school – I still think my 11th-grade HS English teacher for making me read this – and it still floors me today.
The Elements of Style. You can’t claim to be a writer, even if what you write are technical documents, if you’ve never read this. Essential reading for every writer and budding writer everywhere.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Oh, irony: I remember my entire 10th-grade English Lit class pretty much hating this book, and thinking it would be perfectly alright if we lived in a world without the printed world. There’s no telling what these geniuses are up to these days.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “We were somewhere outside of Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.” Best opening line to any novel, if you ask me.
Neil Gaiman. Just oozes cool, doesn’t he?
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. I’ve read it 3 times. I still can’t tell you what it’s really all about. But I can tell you no novel has ever enthralled, puzzled, humored, and sucked me in like this multi-thread post-modern head-scratcher.
Nick Hornby. Many writers write about obsessions, but only one writes about the things that I obsess over – music, film, books, and football (soccer) – the way Nick Hornby does. He understands how obsessions form the male psyche, and how important – and debilitating – those obsessions can be.
Ernest Hemingway. My first literary hero. Still one of my heroes.
Ignatius J. Reilly, the main character of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. He’s obnoxious, ill-mannered, a legend in his own mind, yet I love him to death, because, hey, I too can understand what it’s like to be a misunderstood genius. Okay, maybe not.
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. You read it, right?
James Joyce. Yeah, I haven’t read him, either.
Karamazov, as in The Brothers Karamazov. GREATEST. NOVEL. EVER. WRITTEN. Seriously. The “Grand Inquisitor” scene is the finest chapter ever committed to paper by a single novelist ever.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Murakami loves to play with symbolism and metaphor. Kafka on the Shore, just from the title alone, is chock-full of said symbolism, and it’s a hoot of a read. One of my all-time favorites.
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. Do I need to describe or defend it? If you’ve never read it, then what are you waiting for?
Moby-Dick. The Greatest American Novel? Maybe. But it’s one of the best novels ever, and better than you think. Yeah, it’s long-winded. So what? Read it, if you haven’t already.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. Not so fantastical after all, huh?
Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs. Man, I still have trippy flashbacks. I don’t think I’ve read a book that unnerved me as much as this novel has.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I used to use this novel as my litmus test for women if they were date-worthy material. If she’d read it and loved it, then she and I would get along fabulously. If she read it and hated it, then she paid for dinner. If she never read it, date over.
I’m kidding. Somewhat.
Flannery O’Connor. Her masterpiece short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” taught me there’s no such thing as a need to politely and cleanly wrap up a story. That story, and O’Connor’s embrace of the beauty in the grotesque, helped shape my writing to some large extent.
Portnoy’s Complaint, by Philip Roth. True story: I was reading this on a subway train ride one day. A little old lady was sitting next to me, snooping peeks at what I was reading. I was pretty aware she was trying to steal a peek at what I was reading. I got to a chapter with the following title – “Cunt Crazy” – and all I heard was “OH MY GOD THAT IS DISGUSTING WHAT YOU’RE READING!” I flashed a knowing smirk and got off at the next stop.
Quasimodo. I’m stumped. That’s all I got.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. This novel scared the living hell out of me in ways no Stephen King novel could ever frighten me, yet it’s also one that’s a novel of hope and perseverance in the face of absolute destruction. I sobbed after reading this.
Salman Rushdie. Any writer that lived more than a decade with a price on his head – still does, actually – and lived to tell about it, with his dignity, sanity, and sense of humor still intact, will always earn my undying respect. Rushdie is the living example that the pen will always be mightier than the sword.
Slaughter-house Five. Has there been a novel written in the past 50 years as influential as Kurt Vonnegut’s darkly comic, humanist, anti-war screed?
Super, by Aaron Dietz. The best novel you’ve never read. Do yourself (and Aaron) a favor and read it.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. One, it’s the best story ever about heroism in the face of the odds stacked so badly against you, knowing you’re going to lose, but sometimes heroism comes from a result of the character you demonstrate. Two, being it’s the only novel Harper Lee’s ever written, it’s one hell of a novel to be remember for.
Hunter S. Thompson.
John Updike. His “Rabbit” Angstrom novels are so steeped in, well, whiteness, as in White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism that they can be a distraction, yet Updike was a vicious voyeur into the private lives of public people. I could never identify with Rabbit Angstrom’s “struggles,” but I sure as hell loved reading about them.
Ulysses, by James Joyce. Look, I already told you haven’t read James Joyce!
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Anything more needing to be said?
Jules Verne. Science fiction writing begins with him. Some 125 years later, his influence is still being felt, especially within the steampunk genre.
Where the Wild Things Are. Still the one single book that’s best described my world view to this day. And now that my daughter’s reading it, I can only hope it forms her world view as well.
White Noise, by Don DeLillo. Post-modern suburban existentialist dread. Written in 1985, just as relevant, if not more so, today. There’s so much irony oozing in every page – the technology that supposed to make our lives better and more efficient is really making our lives worse and less efficient, and in turn building walls between us – that it’s disarming and unnerving at times. I’ve read it several times. I think I need to read it again.
(PS – the band The Airborne Toxic Event got their name from this novel)
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. Oh, Jesus Christ, I hope I never have to undergo the confusion of grief she underwent. Wow.
Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. His essays may be a bit self-serving – after all, he only uses his own work as examples – but his advice is absolutely indispensable.
Zone One, by Colson Whitehead. There are too many damned zombie books out there. If you’re going to read one that’s profound and funny and frightening, this is it.