I realise, dear reader, that I rabbit on ever such a lot about books. However, revelations of self-awareness aside, I’m going to do it again. This time I would like to share with you my thoughts on the special glowy feeling of joy that is to be had when you discover a book or an author that you love that/who is not particularly well-known. Mostly the way this works is striking out into the lesser-known works of celebrated authors, but it can also mean finding something brilliant that is not, for whatever reason, widely recognised as such. Herewith, in no particular order, my current five favourites:
1. Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk
Yeah, Chuck Palahniuk. You know. The guy that wrote Fight Club? I’m not saying that Fight Club is not a great book; in fact I’m not even saying that Choke is better than Fight Club, but it is as good. And for some reason it gets skated over all the time because people seem to be so bowled over by Fight Club, but the fact remains this has a protagonist who is just as intriguing, a story arc just as amusing, and a denouement just as bizarre. It also has a film version, but I will concede that the fact that it doesn’t star a semi-naked Brad Pitt is not in its favour (but it does have Anjelica Huston *girl crush*)
2. The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
I wouldn’t go so far as saying this is a completely ‘unknown’ classic, but surprisingly few people seem to have read it, so it probably deserves the moniker of cult-classic. It’s also quite fun that almost everyone I know who has read it did so under quite unusual circumstances - one friend read it sitting in a tree, another on an overnight train in India. I myself read it in one go overnight in a sort of insomniac fit. It’s a brilliantly weird story that poses big questions every couple of pages and pulls the rug out from under the reader every couple of paragraphs.
3. Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I know, because I have discussed it recently with someone, that I am not alone in thinking this is waaaaaaay better than The Great Gatsby. It’s just longer and more complicated and has more characters and is a bit more subtle and protracted in its storytelling. But it is better. You can see from the picture how ‘well-loved’ my personal copy is - that thing’s been trekking in Madagascar, to New York and survived a very wet festival. All because it’s worth reading again and again.
4. Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy is always a hard-hitter, but this is his best. Yes, it’s better than The Road. No, they probably won’t be adapting it into a film anytime soon. Why? Because just as the film of The Road proved, to some extent, giving McCarthy’s brilliant prose the visual treatment is a hopelessly reductive exercise. Also, his ability to excite strange sympathies for the frankly vile characters who populate Blood Meridian probably wouldn’t translate too well. I dare any cinematographer to find landscapes as starkly beautiful than those that McCarthy conjures up.
5. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
This divides opinion quite nicely, but to my mind it’s probably just got the edge on The Virgin Suicides, although that is also a great book. There’s something about Middlesex though that makes me love it. Maybe it’s because Cal (the protagonist) doesn’t exude the knowingness that characterises the Lisbon Girls (in TVS) or maybe it’s just that I like feeling clever when I pick up on the Homeric references. Whatever. This is an excellent book from a supremely clever writer.
One for luck…
Because I’d feel guilty if I didn’t include The Bridge in a list of brilliant things that don’t seem to be justifiably appreciated. This is my favourite long poem ever, even though Crane’s not as slick as Whitman or Eliot or whoever. There’s so much intelligence and depth, and the whole thing seems to tread the line between genius and insanity in a quite unstable manner. It’s also rendered deeply tragic by Crane’s life-story, but I won’t go into that at length now.
Just about the only New Year’s resolution I’ve made is to read a ridiculous number of books by year’s end. Hopefully this little list of gems will inspire you to read at least one, too.