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50 best cult books

I saw the post below 'recommendations for everyone' and started looking for other lists.

I had read quite a lot of the books on the like and I didn't really rate them that much.

I found this list:

I seemed to prefer it somehow- the ones I'd read anyway.
Any thoughts on the books listed?
(I've copied and pasted to save on the flicking)

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
Sideways fantasy from the Diogenes of American letters, a comic sage who survived the firebombing of Dresden and various familial tragedies to work out his own unique brand of science-fictional satire. Like much of Vonnegut's stuff, this is savage anger barely masked by urbane anthropological sarcasm. Very much the place to start. TM

The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell (1957-60)
The great modern Baroque novel. Made it possible for the middle classes to embrace the Mediterranean. No such Alexandria ever existed, nor did the potboiler thriller plot of space/time exploration, Kaballa, sex, good food and drink (it came out during rationing) or philosophical enquiry. Some beautiful sentences, sure; but lots of them don’t make sense. AMcK

A Rebours by JK Huysmans (1884)
Plotless, morality-free salute to decadence. An individual based on its French author lounges about his luxurious home indulging in pursuits such as embedding gemstones in the shell of a tortoise until, loaded down, it expires. Dripping with Baudelairean ennui (and not a little dull itself), A Rebours was a bible for the Symbolists, Oscar Wilde and alienated creative types everywhere. SD

Baby and Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock (1946)
Childcare experts go in and out of fashion, but Dr Benjamin Spock remains the daddy of them all. From his reassuring first sentence – "You know more than you think you do" – he revolutionised the way parents thought about their children, asserting the right to cuddle, comfort and follow your instincts. He also tells you how to deal with croup. SC

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1991)
The woman who made feminism sexy by being gorgeous and shaving her legs also taught her readers to eat a hearty meal. This book argues that a cult of thinness has desexualised and disempowered women just when, after the acceptance of free love and the introduction of the contraceptive pill, the opposite should have happened. The most important feminist text of the past 20 years. SD

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
In one of the original misery memoirs, Sylvia Plath delivered an intense, semiautobiographical story of growing up at a time when electroshock therapy was used to treat troubled young women. The narrator is a talented writer who arrives in New York with every opportunity before her, but buckles. The Bell Jar became a rallying call for a better understanding of mental illness, creativity and the impact on women of stifling social conventions. Plath killed herself a month after its publication. CR

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
Bitterly bouncy military farce, responsible for inventing the dilemma to which it gave its name: you're only excused war if you're mad, but wanting an exemption argues that you must be sane. Literary history would be entirely different if Heller had followed his original intention and called it Catch-18: it was changed to avoid confusion with a Leon Uris book. TM

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
Ur-text of adolescent alienation, beloved of assassins, emos and everyone in between, Gordon Brown included. Complicated teen Holden Caulfield at large in the big city, working out his family and getting drunk. You've probably read it, be honest. TM

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1993)
Deep in the South American jungle an intrepid explorer is about to stumble on a sequence of ancient prophecies that could change our way of living, even save the world. If only we didn’t have to buy the other novels in that the series to find out what they were! For a similar effect on the cheap, rent an Indiana-Jonesalike film – Tomb Raider, say – and ask a hippy to whisper nonsense in your ear while you're watching it. TM


The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (1971)
Blame a burgeoning mistrust of conventional psychiatry for the immediate impact of The Dice Man – a novel whose hero, a disillusioned psychiatrist, vows to make every decision of his life according to the roll of a die. As one might have expected from the times, chance sends him into violence and anarchy, which also explains the book’s enduring appeal. AC

Chariots of the Gods: Was God An Astronaut? by Erich Von Däniken (1968)
Those Easter Island things, they're blokes wearing space suits, aren’t they? Er, no. Hugely influential work of mad-eyed fabricated Arch & Anth, responsible for decades of pub pseudoscience as well as for splendid stuff such as The X-Files. Increasingly common at jumble sales these days, though Von Däniken happily got another 25 books out of the idea. TM

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Ignatius J Reilly is a fat anti-hero to thwart Promethean selfdramatisation in any reader. With the medieval poetry of Hroswitha swirling in a head jammed into a green hunting cap with earpieces, Reilly eats steadily, despises modernity, seeks solace in canine fantasies and remembers with terror his one experience of leaving New Orleans. CH

Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)
In the age of titles such as "No, Please, Daddy, Not There!", the soul-searching autobiography looks about as cutting edge as a Findus Crispy Pancake. But when Rousseau told his story, confessions had never been so confessional. "I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent," he declared, rightly. He added, wrongly: "…and which, once complete, will have no imitator." SL

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)
A Calvinist convinced of his indefectible election to salvation is led to acts of murder by Gil-Martin, his devilish doppelganger. More a myth than a religious satire, it vividly survives James Hogg's not entirely satisfactory manner of recounting it. Consider this: there may be a Gil-Martin near you. CH

Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard (1950)
Do you often feel unhappy? Depressed? Ill at ease with others? You will if you read this. Creepy bit of mind-mechanics by the indifferent sci-fi novelist who founded Scientology. TM

The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (1954)
The book that launched a thousand trips. William Blake said that if we could cleanse the "doors of perception" we would perceive "the infinite". Huxley thought mescalin was the way to do so. In this essay, he pops a pill, goes on about "not-self" and "suchness", and decides love is the ultimate truth. He also took LSD when dying, but hardly stuffed it down the way his fans did. Jim Morrison was one: he named the Doors after Huxley's book, gobbled mouthfuls of acid and was dead by 27. SD

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
Sandworms, ornithopters, Atreides, Harkonnen and spice: chop and blend for sci-fi fantasy, strangely like an intergalactic cousin of James Clavell. The first in an increasingly soap-operatic sequence. Equally cultishly adapted for the screen by David Lynch, and the root of many a lifelong passion for complex character names and/or arcane ceremonial weaponry. TM

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
Forget Asimov or PKD. Douglas Adams was so brilliant a visionary that even in the late 1970s he was able to foresee a time when digital watches would look pretty silly. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy – a radio show before it was a novel, and a film, and a game, and a TV show – was incredibly clever and wildly funny. Thanks to the Guide, an entire generation of Britons was nursed to adulthood with the phrases "Don’t Panic" and "Mostly Harmless", and the number 42. SL

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)
New journalism, non-fiction novel – however you define it, Tom Wolfe’s 1968 account of the novelist Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus ride across America with his "Merry Pranksters" established a style of free-associating, hyperbolic writing (count the exclamation marks!!!) that spawned countless imitations. To a generation of readers it fostered a burning envy that they had not been in San Francisco when the Kool-Aid dispensers were being spiked with "Purple Haze". Now a vivid social history of a period that seems as remote as Byzantium. MB

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1973)
More 1970s searching for "authenticity" and "selfhood": a housewife has an affair with a radical psychoanalyst ("Adrian Goodlove", geddit?) and fantasises about sexual liberation. At the end, though, she goes back to her husband. John Updike called it the most "delicious erotic novel a woman everwrote" – but really, what on earth was all the fuss about? DS

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
Women should taste their own menstrual blood to reconcile themselves to their bodies, declared Germaine Greer in the seminal feminist text of the 1970s. Greer told a generation of women that society had turned them into meek, self-hating, castrated clones. The book was an international best-seller which earned Greer a mixed but enduring legacy. CR

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)
Bewilderingly popular and extremely silly Nietzschean melodrama, in which Ayn Rand gives her mad arch-capitalist philosophy a run round the block in the person of Howard Roark, a flouncy architect. Loved by the kind of person who tells you selfishness is an evolutionary advantage, before stealing your house/lover/job. TM

Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R Hofstadter (1979)
About what it means to think, and how that happens, this is written in the spirit of Lewis Carroll. Pattern recognition in the work of geniuses. Loved by maths geeks and anybody with Asperger's syndrome and anyone with sense. But at root a chess textbook. AMcK

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
Europe-hopping comic metanovel of war and power, stuffed with maths, shaggy-dog stories, childish humour and ravishing sentences. And lots of rockets. Genius, though long enough to lie unfinished. TM

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982)
Similar territory to The Da Vinci Code but earlier, less balefully stupid and with the nerve to claim factual accuracy (its authors took Dan Brown to court and lost). The usual song and dance about Templars, bloodlines of Christ and global conspiracies, but somehow still chilling for all that. Staple text of the bonkers brigade. TM

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)
This heady mix of romance and reality opens with its teenage heroine Cassandra Mortmain writing while sitting in the kitchen sink. It ends with the words "I love you" scribbled in the margins of the imaginary journal that forms the substance of the novel. In between a story unfolds that feeds the fantasies of every lovelorn young girl; but its status owes much to the way that, as in life, things don’t end happily ever after. SC

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino (1979)
A book composed of the first chapters from other invented books. Either a classic work of literary snakes and ladders or a tiresomely recursive bit of postmodern sterility depending on your interlocutor. Italo Calvino was arguably better elsewhere. TM

Iron John: a Book About Men by Robert Bly (1990)
For decades, the cowed menfolk of the world ambled about in pinafores, dusting ornaments and saying "yes, dear". Then Robert Bly wrote Iron John, invented mythopoetic masculinity, and the daft creatures all rushed off into the woods together, hugged, bellowed, wept, painted their furry parts blue and felt re-empowered to wee standing up. SL

Jonathan Livingston defies his fellows

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Russell Munson (1970)
The book that gave 1970s idealism a bad name, the nauseating story of a seagull who defies his fellows to soar into the heavens. "The only true law," the bird solemnly tells us, "is that which leads to freedom." Richard Nixon's FBI director, L Patrick Gray, ordered all his staff to read it. Later, he resigned for gross corruption, a fitting punishment for his dreadful taste. DS

The Magus by John Fowles (1966)
Posh young teacher goes to idyllic Greek island, there to be exquisitely tormented by young women and a Prospero-like figure. Like most John Fowles, this is solid middlebrow dressed as highbrow, but stunning setdressing, TS Eliot quotations and a twist at the end guaranteed a lifelong place in the hearts of a certain type of bookish male. TM

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1962)
Miniature literary mindwarps from the world's most famous blind librarian, a writer – like Kafka – whose work, once encountered, adds a new adjective to the mental lexicon. Unforgettable stuff, after which mazes and mirrors will never be the same again. Often beloved of the kind of person who agrees with its author that "there is a kind of lazy pleasure in useless and out-of-the-way erudition", and none the worse for that. TM

The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)
A thing of beauty, the sole bequest of the last in the line of Sicilian aristocrats on whom the novel is based. An ineradicable elegy for a vanished society, and, despite its risorgimento setting, still the best psychological and botanical guidebook to parts of southern Italy. TM

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
Satan live and in person, a mansized black cat, a magician and his helpmeet, Pontius Pilate… Classic text of dissident magic realism, banned for years under Stalin: now you’ll struggle to find a Russian who hasn't read it. Essential stuff, and with the finest description of a headache yet committed to paper. TM

No Logo by Naomi Klein (2000)
Few books have caught a political moment better than Naomi Klein’s stylish and impassioned report on the abuses of brands, and the activists who fight them. It was published in 2000, just as "antiglobalisation" crashed into the mainstream, and Klein was adopted as its poster-girl. SL

On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
Supposedly filled in under three caffeine-fuelled weeks, the roll of paper on which Kerouac typed his seminal novel recently sold for more than two million dollars, and has spent the past few years on the road itself, travelling from museum to museum in the US, where it attracts queues of bearded jazz fanatics. It is the result of seven years of road-trips across America during the 1940s. Initially it celebrates the alternative lifestyle, although by the end it is coloured by disappointment. TC

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson (1971)
Needs little introduction. Bad craziness as the Duke of Gonzo and his helpless attorney blaze a streak of pharmaceutical havoc across 1970s California, all in demented bar-fight prose and fever-dream set-pieces. Now also a core text for ex-public school drug bores, which tends to obscure the anarchic excellence of HST's journalistic talent. TM

The Outsider by Colin Wilson (1956)
Required reading in the coffee bars of the East Midlands in the late 1950s; unbelievably, some people paid good money for this study of the outsider figure in Western literature. The TLS found 285 mistakes in a sample of 249 lines, but in its young author’s eyes, it confirmed him as "the major literary genius of our century". Modesty was not one of his virtues; nor, sadly, was literary ability. DS

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (1923)
Pocket-sized set of aphorisms that sound like they were written by a medieval monk but were actually the product of a Lebanese-American alcoholic who died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1931. The Prophet is a beautifully phrased exercise in pointing out the obvious but Sixties hippy kids loved it. SD

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (1914)
The Americans had Upton Sinclair, and we had Robert Tressell – the pen-name of painter and decorator Robert Noonan, chosen because it sounded like one of the tools of his trade. Tressell's posthumously published saga of "12 months in hell" with the exploited working classes – their trousers the victims of poverty and their minds the victims of false consciousness – is a totemic text of British socialism. SL

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám tr by Edward FitzGerald (1859)
This is among the best-selling volumes of poetry of all time, and does all that a translation should: it introduces the idea of an exotic, different culture; and it expresses what its readers feel, but lets them blame it on someone else. Here, in an age of doubt, aesthetics and Darwinism, these mysterious verses, drawn from 11th-century Persian, stand as little examples of how to celebrate life even as it slips away. TP

The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)
Modern travel writers such as Colin Thubron and Bruce Chatwin were inspired by Robert Byron. Travelling through the Middle East and Asia in the 1930s, Byron provides detailed descriptions of Islamic architecture, with pungent asides: "The Arabs hate the French more than they hate us. Having more reason to do so, they are more polite; in other words, they have learnt not to try it on, when they meet a European. This makes Damascus a pleasant city from the visitor's point of view." SR

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)
Hermann Hesse’s allegorical novel sounds a bit Buddhist but is actually saying that experience (including of wealth), rather than contemplation, is the key to enlightenment. It's persuasive, especially if you read it, as many do, chillum in hand, in the Himalayas. Although, thinking about it now, profundities such as "the secret of the river is there is no time" don't make much sense out of context. SD

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)
The book that was supposed to have lovelorn young men reaching for their guns. Even if it didn’t inspire as many suicides as people thought, it’s still a vital work. As Werther tromps about the countryside, reading Homer and Ossian and agonising over his host's wife, he shows how much you're allowed to feel in the Romantic age Goethe did so much to invent. Before he smashed the Mamelukes, Napoleon said he wished he’d written it (and surely so did the Mamelukes). TP

Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954)
Deliberately discomforting, Story of O takes as its subject the objectification of women. O is a beautiful woman who submits to the sadistic whims of various men after she is kidnapped and taken to a chateau to be blindfolded, whipped, branded and pierced. It ends with an odd sense of triumph, O wearing nothing but a mask before a group of strangers. Bewildering, creepy and joyless, it's a guaranteed detumescent. TC

The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
"Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know." The beach, the sun, the Arab, the gunshots, the chaplain: the stuff of millions of adolescents' fevered imaginings. If you don't love this when you're 17, there’s something wrong with you. In the film Talladega Nights, Sacha Baron Cohen's snooty French racing driver reads it on the starting grid. Strange but true: George W Bush read it on holiday two years ago. DS

The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda (1968)
Take an enterprising anthropology student (Castaneda) and a Mexican shaman (Don Juan), mix in liberal quantities of peyote, and you end up with a text rooted in "nonordinary reality". Castaneda's multi-part account of his adventures, which started to appear in 1968, and includes lessons in how to fly and talk to coyotes, has always elicited queries as to its veracity. But when you’ve taken that many drugs, it may not matter. AC

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
A record of a lost generation in the shape of the contemporaries Vera Brittain loved and lost in the First World War, this memoir is also a poignant, passionate and perfectly poised study of a woman trying to find her place in a changing world. A bible to the generation who read it on publication, its influence continues thanks to a Virago reprint. SC

Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird
Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird

Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1883-85)
Incendiary declamation through a megaphone. If only one knew what he was on about. Put six Nietzscheans in a room and it ought to be a bloodbath; except, since they're all nancies who fancy themselves as Supermen, there wouldn't be one. Nietzsche was brave and mad enough to kill God: but look what happened to him. His acolytes are, largely, less brave. AMcK

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Economical Deep South drama around perennially hot-button racial questions, further exalted in literary mythology by being the only thing its author ever wrote. Even those who think they haven’t read it often have. TM

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig (1974)
Burnt-out hippy takes son on bike trip. Remembers previous self: lecturer who had nervous breakdown contemplating Eastern and Western philosophy. Very bad course in Ordinary General Philosophy follows. If he’d done Greek at school and knew what "arête" meant, we could have been spared most of the 1970s. AMcK



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 15th, 2008 05:23 am (UTC)
Can you please put this list under a cut?
Sep. 15th, 2008 05:32 am (UTC)
Sep. 15th, 2008 06:13 am (UTC)
LJ cut please? This is killing my f-list!
Sep. 15th, 2008 06:41 am (UTC)
The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942) [...] If you don't love this when you're 17, there’s something wrong with you.

Apparently there's loads wrong with me, then, because I loathed this book with the passion a thousand burning burning suns when I read it Senior year.

"Slaughterhouse Five" was an incredibly annoying read, imo.

"Jonathon Livingston Seagull" is a Buddhism metaphor, the titular character is a birdy bodhisattva. I think 70s idealism made it nauseating, not the other way around.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" pwns, maybe not all, but a lot. Same thing with "Catcher in the Rye".
Sep. 15th, 2008 08:33 am (UTC)
Under cut, yes. Please.

But reading it was an awesome review of things I totally got caught up in growing up... from when I was 11 and convinced aliens visited the ancient world (Chariots of the Gods) to The Stranger and Jonathon Livngston Seagull... to Naomi Klein who I'm still totally wrapped up in at 27.

Didn't know the Dice Man was a book, though... had seen the Canadian/British miniseries. Huh.
Sep. 15th, 2008 09:28 am (UTC)
please, please, please lj cut this.

i don't know if i'd consider a lot of these "cult" books, as quite a few are taught in a lot of grammar/high schools (in america, anyway.) but they are pretty good books.
Sep. 15th, 2008 10:55 am (UTC)
Please put behind a cut
Could you please put this behind a LJ cut? Instructions on how to do so can be found here.

It is an interesting entry and a lot of work must have gone into, but, on a community page, it's a bit long.

Trust me, if you post the first few with a note saying that more are under the cut, people will click.


Oh, and to the meat of your post, I must say that I'm extremely surprised to see To Kill a Mockingbird and On the Road on the list. I suppose On the Road started out as cult book but it's place in mainstream seems fairly cemented.
Sep. 15th, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC)
I was surprised to read that Catch-22 was supposed to be Catch-18 but that makes sense from a Jewish perspective. Heller was Jewish.

The Hebrew language uses a counting system based on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In English this would work out as A=1, B=2, C=3 and so on. Thus one could imagine certain sets of numbers spelling out words. This is so with the number 18. The number 18 in Hebrew contains the same letters as the word (chai) "life". Thus the title was meant to suggest "Catch-Life".

Since Leon Uris was Jewish he would also realize the significance of the number 18 and thus wish to place it in his title for his own reasons.

I don't know Hebrew very well, so I don't know if "22" is significant.
Sep. 15th, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC)
I Capture the Castle is a wonderful book, one of my favourite YA novels. I still frequently re-read it.

As for The Bell Jar, I can't re-read it anymore because it hits way too close to home.
Sep. 15th, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC)
I've only read five. Heh.
Sep. 16th, 2008 08:47 am (UTC)
My god, I really need to read more...I have only read 4 of these books....two of them were for school!!!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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