5 Novels You Should Read Cause I Said So

Sometime comes the motherThis is a list of masterpieces that may have slipped under your radar.  It was born at about 2 a.m. this morning as I couldn’t sleep due to the following conversation had earlier in the day with students.

“Do you know Cormac McCarthy?”

“McCarthy, I think so…Is he on Facebook?”

So, I decided to make a bold social statement and write about books. Yes, for the day I am avoiding Czechs, my cat and even pizza. This list is obviously incomplete and welcomes, nay, demands additions. Please judge, agree, disagree and comment.

5. Watership Down by Richard Adams

Synopsis: After a physic vision, a rabbit convinces several of his furry friends to leave their current warren to find another home. They do so and adventures ensue aplenty. These include meeting a passively aggressive evil band of rabbits, men, trains and fighting a monstrous rabbit named Woundwort who is a mix between Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Teddy Ruxpin.

Why read it? A book about rabbits, you say? It sounds like a book that should be read only by those in primary school. But, reading it goes like this:

Page 1: I can’t believe I am reading a book about rabbits.

Page 2: Please don’t die, rabbits!

And this continues until you put the book down 474 pages and two days later.

Drawback: You will never eat rabbit again.

4. A Dirty Job by Chris Moore

Synopsis: A normal schmuck (a “beta male”) finds out that he is Death. Well, he’s one of many Deaths who do the actual Grim Reaper’s dirty work. This book features a giant black man named Minty Fresh, an army of anthropomorphized woodland animals and crocodiles, and a dating website called UGLY.com (Ukrainian Girls Love You).

Why read it? If you’re anything like me, you never skip a chance to read a story in which animals talk and fight crime. Throw in the Ukrainian girls (great site actually) and you have the great American novel. Also, A Dirty Job is a perfect example of Moore’s specialty of mixing a ‘conflicted every man’ story with his exceptional brand of humor.

Drawback: You will definitely start looking up girls on UGLY.com

3. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Synopsis: This is an incredibly gritty tale of the old west. The story follows the main character (simply called ‘The Kid’) and a band of scalp hunters wreaking havoc and blazing a trail of murder and violence through California, Arizona and Mexico.

Why read it? This book is so beautiful that it’s on Harold Bloom’s best books of the 20th Century list, but he had trouble reading it because it was the most violent book he had ever read.

Anyone who can pull off writing this well with violence of this magnitude should be awarded something, like a couch made of cat’s belly hair. Everything gets killed in this book in remarkably violent manners – cats, dogs, children, Comanche, soldiers, doctors, and renegades. There is an attack by Comanche who kill men and sodomize them as they’re dying. There are people getting killed as they are killed. I believe in one scene a man gets killed and gets resuscitated just so they can kill him again. But it’s so well-written that you crave the blood and bits of brain that will cling to your thumbnails as you read.

Also, this book has a monumental description of a grizzly bear attack and introduces the word ‘thrapple,’ which is a body part that gets cut in half by an ax.

Drawback: You will never ever not know the word thrapple or what an ax does to it.

2. The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis

Synopsis: This book essentially retells the familiar story of Christ’s last days, but acts as an alternate history of sorts by pulling him off the cross and allowing him to live a full life.

Why read it? This book, while telling a fantastic story, is ingenious in its ability to break down and rebuild historical characters already known to the reader. Job is a goofball hermit with fish bones in his hair, Pontius Pilot is a reasonable gentleman (who looks like David Bowie), and the apostle Peter is a waffling, spineless wimp. Plus, Jesus gets to have sex in this book and I think that’s just swell.

Besides, anything that has pissed off so many Catholics in this world has got to be entertaining. See: Ozzie Osborne, The Who and anything written by Oscar Wilde.

Drawback: You will forever fear little girls. Trust me.

1. A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

Synopsis: This World War I epic is the story of Italian lawyer Alessandro Giuliani and the remarkable events which he encounters in the war. Also, there’s a deranged midget running the war from a villa in Rome.

Why read it? I was reading this book while on a trip to Ostrava, which is a traditionally industrial town in Moravia. I stopped in a pub for a beer and I don’t think I impressed the miners much by drinking and weeping into a book.

Like no other writer, Helprin has the ability to trick you into loving his characters and then torture you as they get into highly desperate and unusual situations. More remarkable is the fact that he somehow creates an even more unusual manner of dealing with the situation. This book is exemplary of that as Giuliani is imprisoned in a hard labor camp and joins the Bulgarian front with a general who happens to be a pacifist.

Moreover, Helprin writes like my grandmom cooks and Jennifer Aniston looks.

Drawback: You will cry in public places.

This is my list. Please add to it!

  1. #1 by Chris on April 12, 2012 - 8:12 pm

    I suppose it would be easy to say Lonesome Dove but everyone shojuld already know that. Besides, if people are interested in this particular article and haven’t read LD then shame on them. My addition is Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. It’s about a man who was born in the slums of Paris in the 18th century and he has the greatest sense of smell ever known to man. He eventually becomes obssesed with creating the world’s greatest smell and this leads him to killing young women and draw their scent out of them… It’s such a remarkable book I can’t even put in into words.
    Drawback: You’ll stop buying perfume and this will hurt my business.

  2. #2 by Lee on April 16, 2012 - 8:22 am

    I have to add ‘Invisible Cities’ by Italo Calvino. A bit of an abstract book, but tied together by sections written in italics of convsations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Worth it just for those.

  3. #3 by Amber Lite on July 10, 2012 - 1:46 am

    Damien, Love the blog – hope you are writing another book? :). If you love talking, fighting animals, try ‘the Book of Lost Things’ by John Connelly; also ‘The Talisman’ by Stehen King and Peter Straub. Not that they belong on the above list, but they are solid reading.

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