It’s easy to get swept up in the latest and greatest; this post is about looking back to some oldies but goodies. These are some books that I hope will never be forgotten:
1. The Waves by Virginia Woolf (1931)
It’s hard to imagine this now but before post-modernism invaded every aspect of pop-culture, there was just plain old modernism, and it was really…modern! People like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce and TS Eliot were doing things with language that had never been done before and it was pretty bloody exciting, if you liked that sort of thing. The Waves is Woolf’s most experimental book. It’s not what you’d call a page-turner. It’s more like reading poetry than prose. But it’s so audacious. Maybe even bodacious!
I hold a stalk in my hand. I am the stalk. My roots go down to the depths of the world, through earth dry with brick, and damp earth, through veins of lead and silver. I am all fibre. All tremors shake me and the weight of the earth is pressed to my ribs.
2. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
Burgess’s vision of the not-too-distant future, in which teenagers rape and murder just for kicks, is terrifying, and also, suprisingly, funny.
3. Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion (1970)
This book is out of print and that, my friends, is a crime. Didion’s razor sharp expose of a young ingenue’s breakdown amidst the shallow debauchery of LA’s film industry in the 1960s is a brilliant read.
4. The Abortion: A Historical Romance by Richard Brautigan (1973)
This is a quintessentially sixties book. It feels very old-fashioned now but that’s part of its appeal. It is romantic in that ‘free-love’ sort of way and I suspect Barutigan smoked a lot of pot while he was writing it because it’s got some pretty kooky metaphors, which are a large part of its charm: I heard the bell ringing inside my sleep like a small highway being poured from a great distance into my ear.
5. White Noise by Don DeLillo (1985)
There are parts of my body I no longer encourage women to handle freely. How could you resist a book containing such a line? White Noise is to the eighties what Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections is to the nineties, that is to say, a godamn masterpiece!
6. The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway (1986)
All the masterful prose but none of the fishing, hunting, bullfighting and other testosterone-fuelled activites that infest his other books. The best of Hemingway without the worst of Hemingway. I heart it!
7. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson (1987)
I first read this book when I was 21 and it blew my tiny mind. It is playful and exuberant and the language is gorgeous: Passion is sweeter split strand by strand. Divided and re-divided like mercury then gathered up only at the last moment.
8. Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg (1992)
This is the most well-written thriller I’ve ever read. It’s complex, psychological and compelling and even when you know the end there’s enough else happening to make me return to this book again and again.
9. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1995)
Speaking of post-modernism… Okada’s search for his missing cat leads him into, I don’t know exactly, another dimension? It’s weird and whacky and wonderful.
10. The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett (1997)
This is my second favourite Patchett book. And that’s really saying something. because I love her books. A lot.
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