I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it: we must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul.
I think I should shed light on this quickly though. I remember reading that paragraph years ago. When I’d only just discovered Miller. I treated him then and do know as a mentor of sorts. As someone I could turn to no matter how daunting and dire things were. He’d been there and done it and was still laughing his ass off about it. I felt he understood me, and I him. And it was he who led me to others. To Dostoevsky, to Celine, to Hamsun. He whispered their names and I followed. Kerouac did the same. Hemingway did it less frequently but when he did I listened. I’m making my point in a roundabout fashion. If you wanna know what to read then reading helps. One book of Bukowski poems will throw up at least ten names for you. But I’m off track; this is the best I can do. When I read I’ve just never sat there thinking ‘you should have done this son’, or ‘why in hell did you do that?’ I never have, it just never occurred to me to do so. I’m not sure why. When I work it out maybe I’ll write about it. I doubt I ever will. What happened to me was something different, something nourishing. I found things in books, portions and slices, things that made life seem worth all the suffering, that made the pain dazzlingly beautiful. And I thought: I wanna do that. And I felt I could.
This is a list of last ten books I’ve read that contain enough splinters to perhaps make an entire plank of wood, highlighted in my worn blue notebook, the one my brothers bought me when I went to live in Europe that time. The books were read in 2008 and 2009.
Mailer is a favorite of mine. A drunken brawling brilliant hero. I read this just after he passed. Brutal, existential noir novel that is psychologically breathtaking. A stylistic off-kilter mystery of superstition and macho bravado that only Mailer could pen. You can feel him working himself out in the words. The man is a genre unto himself.
The Time of the Assassins – Henry Miller
Henry Miller swoons beautifully over Rimbaud, whom he read for the first time at the age of 36, explaining how he identified so fiercely with him and found him at such an important time in his life. Fascinating explanation on how the true artist may be the man who lives best, not the one who creates best. Read it one sitting and then read it again.
Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantzakis
Wonderful novel. Kazantzakis is an unappreciated genius whose writing is among my very dear favorites. You will never forget Zorba when done with this book. He is the existential overman Nietzsche dreamt of and that we all should aspire to be.
A masterpiece about the gaps in understanding that exist between cultures. Set in Morocco during the last days of the French occupation. Bowles writes sparingly and with as much intelligence as any other writer I’ve read. Having read almost everything by him he continues to knock me off my feet. The ending leaves you reeling.
Requiem for a Dream – Hubert Selby Jnr
Rips your heart out in much the same way that Revolutionary Roaddoes, but with much, much more grit. Selby Jnr is a true original with voice that is wholly his own. The equal of Celine and Genet. His characters and their lives are seared into memory, and his inventive style grips you like a choke-hold. He manages such real beauty amidst the disgust and dismay.
This is the only Coetzee book I’ve read. It’s a complex, moving work dealing with a fictional Dostoevsky trying to find out the facts of his stepson’s death. Taking cues from the novel Dostoevsky would write next (The Possessed, especially the originally omitted chapter in which Stavrogin confesses to the rape of the young girl), and also from Coetzee’s life (his own son passed prematurely in a falling incident just as the stepson in the book does) it comes to life as a clipped, carved gem, written from real grief and the bewilderment at life that comes with it.
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
Language and pedophilia come together so scrumptiously that you are glad on the occasions that Nabokov makes you wince. Humbert and Lolita will stick inside you for all time. I doubt you’ll ever again see a man be able to do so much with the English language. Fluid, dynamic and most brilliant.
A novella type diary by Bukowski as death stalked him at the very end. You can feel him doubting that he has what it takes to fight the bastard off much longer, and you know that like Hem he was probably fighting the urge off his entire life. He muses about writing, drinking, women, going to the track, to the hospital; sometimes with awe, sometimes with nihilistic misery. It’s about death though. Bukowski could write about taking a shit and it would be important. Say no more.
Siddhartha – Herman Hesse
This reads simply yet reaches deep complexities about life and death, reality and time. A moving tale of a man searching obsessively for his own path, refusing to follow anybody to answers other than himself and his experiences. It gives no easy methods and shows the confusion and uncertainty that all ways of life bring forth to us, and puts forward the notion that we may never really know anything unless we truly dedicate our lives to the finding of it, and perhaps not even then.
The Laughing Matter – William Saroyan
I knew about Saroyan because I’d heard Kerouac mention him lovingly. I planned to get to him and saved him for when I could read a bunch of his at once. I read this with the same kind of awe as when I first read Hem or Buk. A man with a style and view that is immediately his own. There is such clarity in the words and descriptions, such tragic beauty in the world he creates. We read as a family tries and fails to make things right and then literally dies before us in a series of fatalistic events bought on by emotional instabilities.
JJ DeCeglie is a 29 year old writer from Fremantle, West Australia. His novella the sea is not yet full and short story collection In The Same Streets You’ll Wander Endlesslydrew him comparisons to Easton Ellis, Kerouac and Joyce. His new novel Damned Good has been called Australia’s first poker novel. Find him @ www.jjdeceglie.com
LM: Would you like to share your favourite books? Or write about the ones that influenced you at a certain time in your life? Is your favourite book one that not many people have heard of? Email me at literaryminded (at) gmail (dot) com to pitch a guest post.