My favorite books reside, generally in unmarked cardboard, or if they are loquacious, are marked 'Free' on the side of the urban street. Otherwise they hail from basement-like bookshelves near the backs of used bookstores and thrift stores. I rarely pay more than a Dollar.
Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa This book has become mythological in my mind. I return to it in visions, grotesque and violent - intimacies of what I intend of life, my place in the violence of oppression and resistance, my violences, my relations. I should probably read it again. Its been a while.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr. A surprising find and a somewhat forgotten sci-fi classic in the modern pop-sci-fi world. Most likely for its religious undertones. It's perhaps an examination of a search for meaning where meaning may not be, but as well the improbable creation of meaning there. A sort of abiogenesis of will.
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell I found and started the first book of this set on the weekend of my wedding at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, which is interesting for the close relationship between Miller and Durrell. These books are so well written and so capture the tension of living as colonizer in a colonized world (which would he prefer?). Nothing so linear and concrete, because what he is really addressing is the convergence of western and eastern metaphysics and the tension of inhabiting that space.
Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine Saint-Exupéry It was originally called 'Terre Des Hommes' in the original french. This is the first of the slight, back pocket books I will recall. The print was at least forty years old and my reading it literally destroyed the copy, till by the end I was grasping at a rubber band strapped dog-eared yellowed out of order copy with perhaps, most of its original pages. This one is just a parcel of contemplation at the far reaches of (then) forward human achievement, over, with and at the mercy of timeless and static human achievement.
All the Kings Horses and Other Stories by Anthony C West. Oh, a collection of shining little pearls of growing into adulthood and out of pure communion with nature, of the disreputable who never quite do, of growing back into it with death, and sex. Sex in the pure way of half guilted desire that pulls like that lost free connection. This reads like D.H. Lawrence condensed.
The Favorite Game by Leonard Cohen. It is not great, maybe not even that good, but it points toward an embryonic great with intensity. It is a more sexually deviant Catcher in the Rye. I get the feeling the title character (Cohen himself) is more likely to flame out brilliantly through vague egoistic sexual sub-violences than through the end of a gun. In that way, aside from having that specific New England type class assertions, I feel an uneasy pride in my affinity for this early attempt
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima In my mind Mishima is often dancing about a conversation: the reply to ideology from the real and the often violent answer back. Knowing about his life and having read his later works, I can know that this was a very real tension within him and his Buddhism, japanese nationalism and sexuality. But this was the first piece I found and the theme shined through and onto me at that stage of life (about the time I saw the film based on his novel 'the sailor who fell from grace with the sea'. A very good and under-rated film)
John Dos Passos USA Trilogy, because its about a hundred years old, its is about industry and labor, the strenuous age, it is about every sad ultimate end of our Horatio Alger myth, it is about the seeming individual inevitability of the first world war and just because its as good as Fitzgerald and Hemingway and no one seems to read it anymore
It may be noted, and I have, that the list is primarily white and is all male. I have attempted to rectify this with mixed results
this year came into my hands:
The Man who Cried I Am by John A Williams About an erudite and cosmopolitan black novelist in the sixties. It stands on its own as a powerful work of male ego-centric postwar literature like the Phillip Roth, Saul Bellow Norman Mailer et al., yet has the distinction of probing the africa american experience through modern history within and without the borders of the US
Soledad Brother the letters of George Jackson At the same time as above, a friend handed me her copy of this book that changed her life. It is truly a heartbreaking work or staggering genius with no tongue in cheek, no hyperbole. Reading a man finding his nobility in being and his intelligence while simultaneously discovering the system's antagonism and valued disregard of him is a real and modern version of any of Camus' works. All within the walls of California's prisons with a de-facto and eventually carried out death sentence.
The Dark Night of Resistance by Daniel Berrigan is the journal of a priest in hiding in the seventies after his protest action of the vietnam war. It is a good primer for an understanding and engagement with an idea of a true religious conscience in action. Not a black man, but a timely accompaniment to the above and I found it at the same time. So it goes with the universe.
Finally, not a find, but a rare and rather expensive purchase: Poems for the Millennium in two volumes. Not much has done more to shatter and splinter my assumptions of language and reality, to cause me to purposely disregard rules (so called), to leverage time and history within a creative voice and to improve my writing than this collection.
There are always more and always changing and the classics are always worming around (Moby Dick is probably my actual favorite, Mildred Pierce, Mother Night, the Colossus of Maroussi, ... ) these are favorites that have found me rather unknown, and certainly unspoken of and unread by most of todays younger literati. I know because I have spoken enthusiasm to blind eyes and whats? I know there are no women on this list. I try and struggle to find women authors I connect with but don't beat myself up over it too much. It may be I prefer male authors the same way I tend to prefer female radio DJs and songwriters/musicians/bands. I'll keep up the search though, internal and external.