I Am Joe's Website
JOE'S BOOKS, AUTHORS & COMICS
books can do many things for you. They can provide hours of quiet
entertainment. They can teach and enlighten. They can be sources of
information and windows to other cultures and entirely new ways of
looking at things. A great book can do all of these things for you.
Someone who doesn't read frequently is missing out on the best of our
civilization (in the best meaning of the word civilization), certainly much that one cannot get from television. To
paraphrase Edward Abbey, television and other visual and aural mass
media are culture, books and the printed page are civilization.
These are some of the books and authors I have read that had the greatest influence on me and my thinking, or in some cases, that I have simply enjoyed a great deal for their entertainment value alone. I can recommend all of them without reservation, either for personal enlightenment or for personal enjoyment. Most of them I have read several times.
In some cases I have
recommended one or several books by an author but by no means do I intend to
suggest that is all of their work worth reading. I may or may not
know of other works of theirs’ but in any case, the listed book(s)
is a good introduction to their work. In most cases anything by these
authors is well worth your time to read. There are many authors I
have not listed but deserve to be so. I hope someday to make this a
more complete and comprehensive page. But I also hope to keep reading enough so that I can never truly catch up.
I have links to some official and unofficial websites of some of these authors and their works. In some cases, especially with the classics, a search with a good search engine like Google will pull up a plethora of websites. There are many good websites, both official and unofficial, so if you are interested in finding out more about one of these authors there is plenty of information out there. I believe in many cases you will find the fan sites are more interesting than the official sites. Better yet, buy or borrow one of their books and read it. If you're lucky and you pick the right book you will be hooked for life. Most of these authors are far better than my ability to put my appreciation and admiration of their works into words. Any of the books I mention are recommended (unless mentioned otherwise) but I would not limit myself to only those mentioned.
Should you have any comments, suggestions, criticisms or best of all recommendations about reading material I'd appreciate it if you would let me know.
Authors and Their Books
Edward Abbey - A writer of fiction and non-fiction who writes most reverently about the things that deserve reverence and mostly irreverently about things that don't. Abbey is at his best when he is writing about wilderness and his experiences of it but he is by no means limited to that subject. Still, when describing and defending his favorite place, the Southwestern U.S. deserts, Abbey comes closer than anyone else to matching my feelings about them. Indeed, much of my political philosophy can be found in his books, particularly Desert Solitaire. Abbey makes no apologies for his love of the desert and pulls no punches in his despair over what modern "culture" is doing to it. While Abbey's novel "The Monkeywrench Gang" is perhaps partly responsible for spawning the "ecoactivism" of groups such as Earth! First! and Greenpeace. Abbey is an author that everyone should read at some point in their life. Desert Solitaire should be required reading in every school. A good “unofficial” website about Abbey and his philosophy can be found at Abbey's Web.
Recommended Books: Desert Solitaire; The Journey Home; One Life at a Time, Please; The Monkeywrench Gang; Down the River; Abbey's Road
Douglas Adams - A British writer who pokes fun at the self importance of the human race in a series of hilariously entertaining books about a befuddled human who winds up in a strange series of adventures "hitchhiking" across time and the universe. The Hitchhiker's Guide (now a major motion picture!) series is possibly the best and funniest science fiction series ever. Adams also writes strange and wryly humorous mysteries involving things like time travel and Norse gods and has written several serious works about our vanishing natural heritage. Check out his official website at http://www.douglasadams.com/. Adams unfortunately passed away in 2001, far too young and with far too much left undone. His passing is a great loss to everyone who read, or will read, his work. We'll never find out what happened to Arthur Dent or what is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question about life, the universe and everything. Actually, I guess we already know the answer is 42 but, what was the question?
Recommended Books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe trilogy, including The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe, and Everything, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless (Yes! A 5 book trilogy!); Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency; The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul; Last Chance to See; The Salmon Of Doubt
A sixth book (And Another Thing...) in the Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy has been written by a "guest" author, Eoin Colfer. While I'll have to read it again to be sure, the book was entertaining enough, but I couldn't help shake the feeling that it was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike what Douglas Adams himself would have done.
Scott Adams - The creator of the
Dilbert comic strip, the most satiric and accurate observation of the
Corporate America environment today. In addition to it being
uncannily accurate it also happens to be hysterically funny! In my
opinion it is the best comic strip readily available today. Adams
also has written several humorous books on the Corporate America
subject. You can read a month's worth of Dilbert at:
From there you can also access the entire site. Don't forget to join
the DNRC! You wouldn't want to end up being one of the
Recommended Books: The Dilbert Principle; Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook; any of the strip anthologies
Stephen E. Ambrose – Undaunted Courage
was the story of the Lewis & Clark Expedition to explore the lands
acquired by the Lousiana Purchase, the land acquisition that guaranteed
the ascension of the United States as a world power. An epic tale of
the struggle and the toll it took on those involved.
Mary Austin –
A frontier woman in the desert Southwest, Austin's book The Land
of Little Rain is a fascinating look at frontier life at the edge of the
Marston Bates – The Forest and the Sea is an interesting and informative look at nature's economy and how it relates to humanity, specifically the future of humanity as part of that economy. An important book that deserves more attention as it was one of the first books published on the science of ecology. It is still relevant today.
Wendell Berry – I've read many references to and recommendations about Wendell Berry without ever finding any of his books (I mostly shop in used book stores). When I finally found a book of his I was wowed by what he says like few other authors have ever struck me. In essay after essay Berry hits home with the best explanations yet of what's gone wrong with our culture and why we're headed the direction we seem to be heading. Berry is one of the only writers that has analyzed the decline of small town and rural America and their cultures and how this relates to our overall declining quality of life. Why Berry is not the most renowned essayist in America is incomprehensible to me. His latest book, Citizenship Papers, is perhaps his most important book ever, especially as we are running out of time to solve our culturally caused problems. If you want to understand what's wrong with America today read Wendell Berry. I couldn't find an official site for Berry but a quick Google search will return pages of links about him. His Wikipedia page is a good starting point.
Recommended Books: What Are People For? ; Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community; Citizenship Papers (these are the books I own, everything I've read by him is great).
R.H. Blyth – Games Zen Masters Play is probably the best introduction to Zen available to the West although Zen and Zen Classics is probably more recognized.
Richard Brautigan – Brautigan wrote very short, melancholy, funny books. That may seem to be a contradiction but he manages to pull it off like no one else could. His manner of imagining an entire existence out of a casual observation created fascinating scenes from the ordinary. You don't look at things quite the same after reading Brautigan. Some might call his books novels as they do tend to meander towards a vague destination but I believe, as one of the blurbs on a book jacket claimed, that Brautigan invented his own genre of writing. Brautigan took his own life with a shotgun, leaving a note that said only "Messy, isn't it?" That was Brautigan. A couple interesting pages created by fans of his work: One Two
Recommended Books: Trout Fishing in America; A Confederate General from Big Sur; Revenge of the Lawn; anything else you find.
Berke Breathed – The 1970's through the early 1990's were sort of a minor revival of the comic strip's golden age. There were four great comic strips in this period. Berke Breathed’s Bloom County was one of them. It provided some of the best social and political commentary ever in the comic pages while maintaining a high level of humor. Breathed ended Bloom County in its prime (it was always in its prime and gradually faded out of the picture with his Outland comic strip). Apparently Breathed is "stripping" again. He has released his new strip Opus starring you know who but so far it seems to have limited circulation. I suspect he's not trying to make friends with it. Official Site
John Brunner - Brunner was a science fiction writer who wrote a lot of books of varying quality but his best was among the best of all science fiction. His book The Shockwave Rider is considered the first cyberpunk novel. Published in 1975, it was quite prophetic in its theme of a future defined by access to information. With the publication of Stand On Zanzibar in 1968, Brunner immediately jumped into the ranks of great scifi writers although he never really received the adulation he deserved (review of both books here and the wiki for Stand On Zanzibar here). The Jagged Orbit, published in 1969, and The Sheep Look Up, published in 1972, are the other two of his best works. The Sheep Look Up, about a future of corporate sponsored government, is possibly the bleakest book you will ever read. Brunner's works touched on most of the social, cultural, and environmental issues of his day. Most are still facing us today, including overpopulation, racism, pollution, information access and government control. He used many unique literay devices in writing his books, including tiny chapters that presage social medium like Twitter. Sometimes the title of a chapter was more important than the contents. Characters, some that never met, were all woven together by the events in his books.These four books, published from 1968 to 1975, have been eerily predictive of future trends. A great quote about Brunner: "he had Cassandra's real curse, to be able to see the future but not be able to get anyone to believe it".
Carlos Casteneda – Casteneda is an author that
one invariably comes across in their college years while the rapid
expansion of your horizons is occurring (at least it’s
occurring if you’re actually getting an education). Whether the
material is fact or fiction the “Don Juan” books helped
nudge me towards the realization that there are other perspectives
available of the world out there and that we are conditioned but not
required to accept our cultural and perceptual
viewpoints. He was, for better or worse, one of the godfathers of the new age movement.
Recommended Books: The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge; A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan; Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan; Tales of Power; The Second Ring of Power; The Eagle's Gift; The Fire from Within; The Power of Silence
- A hardy explorer of our desert southwest, Childs becomes almost a
religious pilgrim during his adventures deep into the wilderness of the
desert. He'll chase after and race ahead of flash floods, wander deep
into labryinths unexplored possibly since the Anasazi, seek out lost
ruins, map out paths to water or stare at animals for as long as they
let him. His works and accomplishments give you something to hope and
aspire towards in the wilderness. He has a website here.
Recommended Books: Soul Of Nowhere; The Secret Knowledge Of Water
Don DeLillo - Ratner's Star
was a book I had long meant to read, having been mentioned several
times by Edward Abbey and others. It is similar in style to Thomas
Pynchon in that a mysterious force or event is approaching but it is
difficult to learn quite just what it is, even by those involved. As the disaster approaches people act weirder and weirder, and weirder and weirder characters appear.
A unique literary form DeLillo uses is advancing the stories with
which the protagonist has conversations with other characters in which
both participants talk about entirely different things, conversations
in which the protagonist realizes no one pays attention to anything he
is saying and the other participant in the conservation has no
realization of the current situation and is only interested is holding
forth on his speciality, regardless of how irrelevant it is to their
Annie Dillard – Pilgrim At Tinker
is recognized as a nature classic and rightly so. Dillard's quiet,
accurate observations of the natural world help provide an insight into
its workings. She has her own site here.
Maitland Edey & Donald Johanson – Johanson was one of the discoverers of Lucy, possibly the most famous hominid fossil ever found. The recommended book is a great introduction to the history of the theory of evolution and how our current understanding of it came about.
Recommended Book: Blueprints: Solving the Mystery of Evolution
Colin Fletcher - An introspective writer with a profound reverence of the harmony in nature. Fletcher works his philosophy in with his descriptions of his travels and adventures in the wild places of the United States and ruminates on the problems and controversies surrounding them today. Fletcher was the quintessential backpacker. A must read for anyone who loves nature and wild places. And walking in them. I was stunned to discover while updating this info that Colin Fletcher died in June 2007. His vision will be missed by his many fans.
Recommended Books: The Secret Worlds of Colin Fletcher; The Man Who Walked Through Time; Down the River; The Winds of Mara; The Thousand Mile Summer
John Hay – In Defense of Nature was a remarkable book for its and any time. Written in the sixties, it lessons ring true even more so today. One of the first books to attempt to counter the economic reasons for raping nature with reasons why the current policies were set to cost us more in the long run. We're still making the same mistakes today and the cost is still rising.
Joseph Heller – Catch 22 is a genuine modern American classic. Like the best humorous books it had an underlying core of sadness and futility. Written about a group of soldiers in WWII this book also has particular significance today for our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who are seeing their tours of duty extended well past what would be reasonable if Bush, Cheney et al hadn't blundered so badly in getting us involved there in the first place.
Ernest Hemingway – In many opinions Hemingway is considered the greatest twentieth century American author. Whether he is or not, Hemingway most certainly has the most recognizable literary style of possibly any author of any era. The biggest literary voice of the “Lost Generation”, often parodied but never matched, Hemingway's books with their unique dialogs will always be a great read. A site for him can be found here.
Recommended Books: The Sun Also Rises; Green Hills of Africa; The Old Man and the Sea; The Complete Short Stories of…
Maurice Herzog – Annapurna is a first hand account of the incredible effort made by the first team of climbers to scale Annapurna in the Himalayas. At times exciting, at times horrifying, it is one of those books that get harder and harder to put down as it approaches its climax. The anticlimax is just as exciting. A real, honest to god, true life adventure.
Thor Heyerdahl – Kon-Tiki is another true life adventure story, this by (in)famous anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, chronicling his voyage in an attempt to show that the Polynesian islands were populated by exiles from South America. While his theories are controversial the adventures he and his teams experienced while attempting to prove their possibility were undeniably exciting and a great read. The Guardian Unlimited, in his obituary, claimed he "was one of the great individualistic standard-bearers of mid-20th-century adventure". He's a national hero in Norway!
Richard Hooker – Before it was a great movie, before it was one of the best TV series of all time, M*A*S*H was an extremely funny and irreverent book. I think the book was better than the movie and at least as funny as the television series. I've read it many times and will read it again.
Aldous Huxley – There are two famous books written in the mid-twentieth century that attempted to foresee and describe the coming dystopian future for America. Brave New World was one of these. Huxley's vision of a genetically engineered and medically controlled population still strikes a note of warning today. Huxley was also popular with the Sixties drug culture for works like The Doors of Perception. A short look into his works can be found here.
Jack Kerouac – Kerouac was the author who gave a popular voice to America's first truly “alternative” culture. Had Kerouac not provided that voice for the “Beat Generation”, the culture of the 50's, 60's, 70's and beyond might have followed entirely different paths. In his best works Kerouac pulls you emotionally and subconsciously into the pace of life of his characters. If you're not careful you might find yourself crossing the country for reasons you can't really explain. Sadly, most of the Kerouac websites seem to have become little more than stores selling the "Beat Generation" to subculture tourists. A referenced bio can be found here.
Recommended Books: On The Road; The Dharma Bums; Desolation Angels
Joseph Wood Krutch – Krutch is one of the first great writers about the natural history of the American Southwest. He is also a great critic of what our culture is doing to it. A good site for Krutch can be found here.
Recommended Books: The Desert Year; The Grand Canyon; Voice of the Desert
Gary Larson – Of the four great comic strips of the late seventies through the early nineties Larson’s The Far Side was by far the strangest. For the most part it worked by illuminating the absurdities of human behavior, often by replacing people with animals (especially cows) in situations people often find themselves. Sometimes, however, it just got weird for weirdness’ sake. If you ever get a chance to read through one of the Far Side compilations you will inevitably reach a point where the accumulated bizarre, weird, strange and let’s not leave out, simply funny strips causes you to burst out laughing. As Stephen King notes in one of the introductions, you try and try to stop yourself from turning the pages and looking at more but you just can't seem to stop. There is an official website but I recommend searching for the better fan sites. Better yet, pick up any of the compilations and start laughing.
Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird was a great book that was turned into a great movie. The movie won an Oscar, the book won a Pulitzer Prize. Both deserved the accolades but as usual the book is the stronger work. An extremely powerful novel.
Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac was the first great twentieth century book about conservation. It is another of those books that should be read by every child in every school. Leopold's simple descriptions of the history of his familily's farm, both natural and human (if they can be separated) and his growing awareness of the value of the natural world can enlighten all of us. Leopold was a former head of the U.S. Forest Service who began to question what America was doing to its great natural heritage with its policies of rape and plunder and became one of the first pioneers of the conservation movement. Instead of listening to industry funded propaganda try reading his book to help understand what conservation is really about. Check out the society founded to preserve his legacy.
Jack London – Way back when I was in third grade, I picked up Jack London's Call of the Wild to read. I probably ended up reading it 20 times that year. To a third grader interested in the outdoors it was an incredibly exciting book. Later on I read White Fang although probably only 10 or so times. They, along with most other of London's books, are simply great adventure fiction.
Barry Lopez – Lopez is another of those authors, like Wendell Berry, whom I had never read but had constantly seen references to in books by other of my favorite authors. I finally searched for, found and purchased a copy of Desert Notes, River Notes on the internet. Lopez writes prose that seems to be a combination of mysticism, zen and poetry. If you are one of those who like travel in the desert and places that others shun as lonely a Lopez book will be a great choice to take along. It's also a great choice if you're sitting home quietly on your couch.
Peter Matthiessen - The Snow Leopard is the story of multiple journeys. It is the story of a physical journey to a far off lamasery in Tibet and also the author's spiritual and emotional journey in parallel. If you want a first introduction to Buddhism this is one place to look.
W. Somerset Maugham –
Maugham is one of those rare authors who have such a command of the
language that he can make what would be longwinded prose if penned by
others seem like poetry. In The Moon and Sixpence,
Maugham hits his peak.
Cormac McCarthy - His characters can be hard to take ("they have all the flaws expected of the story locations") but the stories still fascinate. Blood Meridian is in a class by itself with its unique prose style. It is worth reading for that alone. Extremely graphic, it reads with a certain rhythm and could possibly be called poetry. The story, propelled by the rhythm of the prose, was hard to stop reading once started. A society of his fans can be found here.
Patrick McManus - The
funniest writer about the outdoors and outdoor life in my lifetime,
with only the possible exception of Ed Zern. Even if you're not a
hunter, fisherman, camper or backpacker you will find his outlandish
characters, tall tales and stretched truths hilariously funny. A
regular columnist in first Field and Stream, then Outdoor Life,
McManus’ stories have been compiled in several books. All of
them are uproariously funny and all of them are worth reading. He's
been most often compared to Robert Benchley and Garrison Keilor but I
think he's in a class by himself. If physicists gave up on trying to
unify quantum mechanics and relativity and instead tried to unify
McManus's theories of Sequences and Convergences we might actually find
out what's going on in the universe! The official website is here.
Recommended Books: A Fine and Pleasant Misery; They Shoot Canoes, Don't They?; The Grasshopper Trap; Never Sniff a Gift Fish; Rubber Legs and White Tail Hairs; The Good Samaritan Strikes Again; Real Ponies Don't Go Oink; The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw; Into the Twilight, Endlessly Grousing; How I Got This Way; Never Cry Arp!; The Bear in the Attic
John McPhee - An extremely engrossing writer about various places in the United States, the people inhabiting them and the problems and issues facing them. He is especially adept at showing how the land has shaped the people and the effects of their attempts to shape the land. While he seems to lean towards the environmentalist view he presents the members on both sides of an issue as real people with genuine beliefs. Normally dry subjects like geology take on a new and fascinating life under his pen. If you want to get an understanding of the physical characteristics of the North American continent and how they shaped the local people and cultures there could be no better introduction than a John McPhee book. There is an official John McPhee website at here.
Recommended Books: Annals of the Former World, including Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, Assembling California and Crossing the Craton; Coming Into the Country; The Pine Barrens; Uncommon Carriers; The Founding Fish and anything else of his you come across.
Walter M. Miller Jr. – Years ago I took a course in science fiction to help fulfill my English requirements at Rutgers. After all these years I still have a copy of one of the assigned books for that class. A Canticle for Leibowitz is interesting for showing the human race repeating the same mistakes over and over again. In the book's case a nuclear war destroys most of the human race. The survivors revert to a dark ages level of civilization but gradually build up again and reach the same technologically advanced point as before. With again the same result. As we watch the Bush Administration repeat the mistakes of Vietnam and once again fire up the Cold War the book takes on a hint of prophecy...There are a lot of pages about Miller and this book available on the internet.
George Orwell – I mentioned Huxley's Brave New World previously as a vision of a dystopian future for America. Orwell's 1984 does so in a much more chilling and increasingly more realistic manner. Orwell himself says he was trying to portray the result of a society conditioned by the effects of the “Cold War”. And now, prophetically, the U.S. seems to be following the plot of the book as if it was a script.
The US now has a mysterious but invisible enemy we can't catch even though we "defeat" him at every turn. Our news is marketed to us in order to obtain a certain public state of mind rather than to alert and inform us as to what is going on in our world. Unpleasant (to those in power) truths and their presenters are erased or minimized by ridicule or hyperbole. Our current society is the most monitored in history. Our television (if you have cable or satellite you're choices are counted), internet (users are spied upon in an incredible number of different ways), reading (your library records are computerized), shopping (any discount card, credit card or non cash payment is recorded and with RFID's if you even pick up an item in some stores you are photographed) and virtually any activity you partake in someone is watching and recording it. Eventually when you walk into job interviews, apply for credit, rent an apartment or anything else those you apply with will know more about you than you do yourself. When you go shopping retailers will be able to predict and influence your shopping habits. Your internet browsing will lead you towards products you will be conditioned to buy. If you complain about something the government and other interested parties will be alerted...
Originally trumpeted as a condemnation of Communism, Animal Farm is now recognized as a book about the corrupting influence of power and its effects on a society.
Recommended Books: 1984; Animal Farm Website: George-Orwell.org
P.D. Ouspensky – In Search of the Miraculous was an extremely difficult book for me to read. I started it numerous times but I seemed to stop reading, as if I was blocked, at about the same point each time. Finally, I forced myself past that point and finished the book. I need to read it again. Ouspensky was one of Gurdieff's followers and this book is one of the more popular introductions into Gurdieff's teachings.
John W. Powell - The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons and Frederick S. Dellenbaugh – A Canyon Voyage and William Culp Darrah - Powell of the Colorado – I put these three together as they are accounts of some of the same adventures. Darrah's book is a biography of Powell, one of the great explorers and most foresighted land use visionaries in American history. Powell's expeditions as the first white explorers of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon opened up what was the biggest unknown blank on the map of the area that would become the lower 48 states of the U.S. These were great adventures and Powell's journal entry before entering the Grand Canyon for the first time are classic lines: “We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not. Ah well! we may conjecture many things. The men talk as cheerfully as ever; jests are bandied about freely this morning; but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly”.
Thomas Pynchon - If you like Tom Robbins and have never heard of Thomas Pynchon, well, Pynchon is the writer Robbins dreams of being on his best days. It's the same sort of wandering mystery/adventure but it is generally more cleverly written. You will have to read each Pynchon book several times and you still won't be quite sure you have the outcome down right. I don't recommend reading Gravity's Rainbow first for this reason. I wasn't quite sure if I was stunned or infuriated at how the book ended as it took so long to get there due to the massive size of the novel. The Crying of Lot 49 is a better first choice.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn -
The Gulag Archipelago is one of the most important books of
the twentieth century and perhaps of all time. It is important not
only for its condemnation and exposure of a completely corrupt and
repressive regime but also for its warning to all of us. It is too
easy for a regime to move towards the repressive behavior
demonstrated by Stalin's regime and it is too easy for a society to
acquiesce to such activity. In Stalin's Russia they took group by
group, starting with those hated by all. Each time they added another
group those remaining thought it would end there and they never
believed there would be a knock on their door in the middle of the
night until they themselves were riding in the back of a black maria
on the start of the road to the Gulag. In the U.S. there is the
beginning of such activity (look at the detaining of those of Arabic
or Muslim descent without charges) and the first laws abridging the
rights of American citizens under the guise of protecting the state
(the so called “Patriot” Acts). Those who fail to learn
from history are doomed to repeat it.
John Steinbeck - Yet another one of the great twentieth century American authors, who, like Hemingway and Kerouac, should need no introduction. His powerful, moving social commentaries still ring true today and indeed, as our "leaders" seem intent on moving us back toward pre-depression era standards, the events that brought them forth will likely repeat. Several of his novels (Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden among others) have also been made into classic movies. He is possibly the most adept at creating empathy for his characters of any author. The National Steinbeck Center can be found here.
Recommended Books: Cannery Row; Tortilla Flats; Grapes of Wrath; East of Eden
Neil Stephenson - Another of those authors I've long heard about without reading, I finally picked up a copy of Snow Crash.
Wow! A future where the government is just another faction among those
controlling society, where people spend more meaningful time in virtual
worlds than in their "real" lives, where computer viruses can kill you,
the Mafia are the good guys, the hero of the story is named Hiro
Protaganist. It would be hard to review without revealing too much of
the plot. Shortly after reading Snow Crash I picked up a copy of
Cryptonomican. This is also a fantastic book, chronicalling two
parallel stories of two generations of the same character's families,
as their exploits were tied together at different ends of the same
events. A fascinating look at the importance of cryptography in our
history. While these two works are now classics of science fiction,
Stephenson way by no means limited to that genre. I will read more of
his works as soon as I get a chance. Stephenson has his own site here.
William L. Sullivan –Another
adventure tale, this time of the first hike over what would become
the New Oregon Trail. Sullivan chronicles his hike from the
westernmost point of Oregon to its eastern border. Along the way, he
seems to encounter everything wild Oregon has to offer. While not
quite as dramatic as Herzog's Annapurna, Listening for Coyote
is a good read and will seem more familiar to U.S. readers.
Hunter S. Thompson – From the first paragraph, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas careens at a manic pace. It never stops and you'll likely find yourself hyped up and ready to go off on a binge while reading it. While I liked the movie it didn't come close to doing the book full justice even though it stayed fairly true to the book. All of Thompson's writing has merit and no one else truly approaches his unique style. Very few people have the ability he has to clearly see and expose the nasty truth of his subjects for all to see. Thompson launches himself into the action in a manner that usually ends up subverting and redirecting it. He then simply reports his observations on the results. Thompson's book The Great Shark Hunt covered, among other things, the last days of the Nixon “empire” and is again very relevant in today's political climate. If you're a fan of the Doonesbury comic strip the character Duke is based on Hunter S. Thompson. If you're not, well, Thompson is in a world of his own and is still a must read. Anything he's written is of great value. A fan page about HST can be found here.
Thompson unfortunately took his own life recently. Many of us truly mourn his death and will miss his unique outlook on things.
Traven - Best known as the writer of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,
Traven is one of the most mysterious figures in early twentieth century
literature. No one is quite sure who he was or even where he lived. One
thing is sure, he lived at least part of his life in Mexico as he did
much to expose the conditions of life the Mexican government forced
upon the natives. The Death Ship is the story of a sailor who loses all
his identification and becomes stranded in Europe, a non-person, unable
to find a way home or employment. Eventually he ends up trapped working
on a "death ship", a ship that no legitimate sailor would accept a
berth upon, a ship that with doom as its destiny. I've only read four
of his works but they were all worth while and I would not pass up the
chance to read more.
Recommended Books: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; The Carreta; The Night Visitor and Other Stories; The Death Ship: The Story of an American Sailor
Trudeau - The creator of the Doonesbury comic strip, the
long running political and social commentary on the last thirty plus
years of American culture. Doonesbury is one of the best and most
important comic strips ever, evidenced by the fact it often appears
in the editorial sections of newspapers rather than the comics pages. Slate has a Doonesbury page at
Born in the Nixon years, Trudeau has managed to keep Doonesbury
politically and socially relevant entering into its fourth decade, a
feat unmatched by any other comic strip. Doonesbury was
the first (and except for Bloom County) still the only popular comic
strip to "name names and point fingers" at current
political and cultural icons with no holds barred. Although Trudeau
and his characters have become more conservative over the years the
strip still manages to highlight the worst of our public officials
while still preserving their humanness. After a fairly dull 90's,
the Bush Administration with its bungling ineptitude in foreign
policy and its malevolent domestic policy has reawakened Trudeau's
inspiration and Doonesbury has once again become a relevant source of
public vision and again a must read.
J.R.R. Tolkien – It happens every year or so. I'm out of new books to read and I'm searching my shelves for something to read again. Eventually, in desperation, I grab my copy of the Hobbit. Before I'm through I've read the Hobbit and the whole trilogy again. This has been going on since 1978 or 1979. I've read these books, by my estimation, at least 25 times, quite probably more. When the movies came out, despite their rave reviews, I was very hesitant about seeing them but I finally watched them. Not surprisingly, I was disappointed. The movies simply couldn't provide the background and depth for the characters and the complete tale that the books do. The movies were probably very good but knowing the books as intimately as I do I can't see how anyone who hadn't read the books could really know what the hell was going on. Anyone who had read the books, especially if they've read them more than once, will find that the movies left way too much out of the story. Anyway, these books are probably the best and greatest English language fantasy/mythology/fairy tale/legend that post industrial English literature has provided. Visit the Tolkien Society for pretty much everything Tolkien.
Recommended Books: The Hobbit; the Lord of the Rings trilogy including The Fellowship of the Ring; The Two Towers; The Return of the King
Mark Twain - Possibly the greatest American author of all. His cynical, subversive, satirical and humorous works should be known to everyone. Huckleberry Finn is considered by many to be the "first great American novel" and most of his other work stands up almost as well. Many say that Twain "invented" the American literary style. I simply like reading him. If somehow Twain could be grabbed from the past and brought to today he would likely be capable of adapting to society and be as witty and insightful today as he was in the 1800's. There is an official website for Mark Twain here.
Recommended Books: Huckleberry Finn; Roughing It; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; The Innocents Abroad; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court; Life On the Mississippi
John C. Van Dyke – Van Dyke is one of those rare authors whose descriptive prose can become a sort of poetry. Even if you are not an outdoorsperson or don't appreciate the desert his book The Desert is worth reading.
Kurt Vonnegut - Another great whose biting satire and prophetic humor "speared culture and held it's corpse up for all to see". Vonnegut had unfiltered vision. He saw and he joked about what he saw because not laughing would be too painful. A continuing theme throughout his work has been the effect of a technological culture upon our civilization. It's worthwhile to seek out anything he's written and essays and interviews of his are equally, if not more fascinating reads. The Vonnegut Web is a fansite that provides a lot of good Vonnegut. Some quotations.
Recommended Books: Cat's Cradle; Slaughterhouse Five; Slapstick; Breakfast of Champions; Hocus Pocus, any interviews or essays, really, I've never read anything bad by Vonnegut.
Bill Watterson – There
was the humorous political and social commentary of Doonesbury and
Bloom County, the bizarre humor of The Far Side and then, there was
Calvin and Hobbes. The fourth of the great comic strips of the
late 1970's through the early 1990's , Watterson’s Calvin and
Hobbes was possibly the best comic strip ever. Watterson is a rare
one for our times, creating his strip out of love of the art. He
spent a great deal of time battling for commercial and artistic
control, sacrificing a great deal of extra profit for his ideals. His
concern showed in the quality of his strip and in the legions of its
fans. No day was complete if you missed the misadventures of Calvin
and Hobbes. Watterson exposed a great deal of our culture and
personalities through the eyes of the six year old boy Calvin and his
sometimes stuffed, sometimes real tiger and friend Hobbes. There are
many fan pages for Calvin and Hobbes that are lovingly crafted and
make better reading if you are a true fan (or if you want to
experience the feelings Watterson's fans have for the strip) but the
official site is the only one where you can view archives of the
strip. There are a lot of Calvin and Hobbes sites out there. A quick search will lead you to many of them.
Ann Haymond Zwinger – Zwinger is similar to Annie Dillard in that she is an observer and describer of the natural world. Like Dillard, she finds a great deal of wonder there. Since she tends to write about the Southwest I tend to especially enjoy her writing. In The Mysterious Lands Zwinger travels throughout our deserts and encounters a number of unusual plants and animals.
Four Books That Should Be Required Reading Before The End Of One's Formal Education:
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
1984 by George Orwell
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn