Classics, cranks, comics, love, music, and so much more ... I'm so impressed with your book choices, people! Here, my fellow geeks, is the full list of books you suggested for our Ovaltine Book Club. These are in random order and have little blurbs from the intertubes to help you choose, but please do your own research too. Can't wait to see the results of the vote on these! Send your votes (each of us gets 2) to firstname.lastname@example.org. - Andriy
1. “Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories” by Raymond Carver
The last story collection published during Carver's life, it contains most of his greatest hits from his earlier books, as well as 7 stories that hadn't been collected up to that point. The breadth of the collection makes it a complete map of Carver territory, of a particular area of America and of the specific texture of the people Carver writes about - their difficult attempts at survival in a world where happiness does not arrive wrapped up in neat packages but comes in far more peculiar parcels, if it comes at all.
2. “Life: A User’s Manual” by Georges Perec
Interwoven stories, ideas and literary/historical allusions, based on the lives of the inhabitants of a fictitious Parisian apartment block. Perec wrote according to a complex plan of self-imposed writing constraints; “Life…” is primarily constructed from several elements, each adding a layer of complexity. The book can be read linearly, from start to finish, but it can be fun to dip in and out of - an appendix contains a chronology, a list of the 100 or so main stories, and a plan of the elevation of the block as the 10x10 grid.
3. “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy
This politically charged novel is a story about the childhood experiences of a pair of fraternal twins who become victims of circumstance. A description of how the small things in life build up, translate into people's behavior and affect their lives. The first and, to date, only book by Roy, it won the 1997 Booker Prize. “The book feels like a million stories spinning out indefinitely; it is the product of a genius child-mind that takes everything in and transforms it in an alchemy of poetry”
4. “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic” by Lester Bangs
Until his death in 1982 at age 34, Bangs wrote freewheeling rock 'n' roll pieces for Creem, Rolling Stone, the Village Voice and London's NME. As rock critic, he was adept at distinguishing the commercially packaged product from the real thing. Written in a conversational, wisecracking, erotically charged style, his impudent reviews and essays explore the connections between rock and the body politic, the way rock stars cow their audiences and how the pursuit of success and artistic vision destroys or makes rock performers as human beings. This collection covers "fake moneybags revolutionary" Mick Jagger, John Lennon ("I can't mourn him"), David Bowie "in Afro-Anglican drag," Iggy Pop, the Troggs, Lou Reed and more. Bangs claimed his influences were not so much predecessors in journalism as they were beat authors, in particular William S. Burroughs. His ranting style, similar to Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalism, and his tendency to insult and confront his interviewees earned him distinction.
5. “Fragile Lights of Earth” by Gabrielle Roy
A collection of non-fiction writing spanning Roy’s entire career, the book contains among other things, some of her pieces on immigrant communities on the prairies as well as her work on urban Montréal, all of which were significant sources of inspiration for some of her later works (such as “The Tin Flute”).
6. “Shampoo Planet” by Douglas Coupland
The novel about the generation after the X generation. Tyler is a Generation Y “Global Teen”, one of the children of the hippy generation, who “react by loving corporations, and they don't mind wearing ties. To them, Ronald Reagan is emperor". They exist in a globally connected world marked out by advertising and corporate power. They are optimistic when compared with their siblings in the X Generation. However, they do not have experience with leaders who show care for other people. "There's nothing in these kids' databases to show that there are other options, that it wasn't always dog eat dog. Older people have to somehow convince young people that better things are possible."
7. “Under The Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry
Written in a squatter’s shack on the North Shore of Vancouver and rescued from a fire by the author’s wife, “Under the Volcano” is a 1947 semi-autobiographical novel by writer Malcolm Lowry. A modern classic, it was rated Number 11 on the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of the 20th century. The book exemplifies Lowry's method as a writer, which involved drawing heavily upon autobiographical material and imbuing it with complex and allusive layers of symbolism. The novel depicts a series of complex and unwillingly destructive relationships and is set against a rich evocation of Mexico. Lowry’s stream-of-consciousness technique was an obvious and witting attempt to emulate James Joyce.
8. “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler
The angry ranting of an obscure, small-party politician, the first volume of Mein Kampf was virtually ignored when it was originally published in 1925. The book details Hitler's childhood, the "betrayal" of Germany in World War I, the desire for revenge against France, the need for lebensraum for the German people, and the means by which the National Socialist party can gain power. The few outside the Nazi party who read it dismissed it as nonsense, not believing that anyone could--or would--carry out its radical, terrorist programs. As Hitler and the Nazis gained power, first party members and then the general public were pressured to buy the book. Had the book been taken seriously when it was first published, perhaps the 20th century would have been very different.
9. “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau
The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, and manual for self reliance. Published in 1854, it details Thoreau's sojourn in a cabin near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau did not intend to live as a hermit, for he received visitors and returned their visits. Rather, he hoped to isolate himself from society in order to gain a more objective understanding of it. Simple living and self-sufficiency were Thoreau's other goals, and the whole project was inspired by transcendentalist philosophy, which was a central theme of the American Romantic Period.
10. “Love is a Mixtape” by Rob Sheffield
Sheffield was a "shy, skinny, Irish Catholic geek from Boston" when he first met Renee. Southern born and bred, "she was warm and loud and impulsive." They had nothing in common except a love of music. Since he made music tapes for all occasions, he and Renee listened together, shared tapes, and though never formally planning to, married. On May 11, 1997, everything changed … Fun and funny, moving and unbearably sad, Sheffield's account at its quirkiest, and because of his penchant for lists, is reminiscent of Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity. Anyone who loves music and appreciates the unspoken ways that music can bring people together will respond warmly to this reflection.
11. “Henry and June” by Anaïs Nin
Based upon material excerpted from the first volume of Anaïs Nin's published diaries, written between October 1931 and October 1932. This bestseller covers a single momentous year during Nin’s life in Paris, when she met the writer Henry Miller and his wife, June.
12. “Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China” by Leslie T. Chang
China is in the midst of history’s largest human migration, a hundred and thirty million of its citizens having left their home villages in search of urban employment. Chang, an American of Chinese descent, explores the migrant experience and the burden of being Chinese through the lives of several young women in the industrial city of Dongguan. Their Sisyphean attempts at self-reinvention are both entertaining and poignant; the most ambitious of them achieves modest success selling dubious health products, before falling under the spell of an American raw-food guru. In her diary, she reminds herself, We can be ordinary but we must not be vulgar. Chang’s fine prose and her keen sense of detail more than compensate for the occasional digression, and her book is an intimate portrait of a strange and hidden landscape, a universe of relentless motion.
13. “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller
Its publication in 1961 in the United States led to an obscenity trial that was one of several that tested American laws on pornography in the 1960s. While famous for its frank and often graphic depiction of sex, the book is also widely regarded as an important masterpiece of 20th century literature. Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Set in France (primarily Paris) during the 1930s, Miller tells of his life as a struggling writer.
14. “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman” by Laurence Sterne
“Tristram Shandy” has come to be seen as one of the greatest comic novels in English, as well as a forerunner for many modern narrative devices. Sterne was at work on his celebrated comic novel during the year that his mother died, his wife was seriously ill, and he was ill himself with consumption. The book is ostensibly Tristram's narration of his life story. But it is one of the central jokes of the novel that he cannot explain anything simply, that he must make explanatory diversions to add context and colour to his tale, to the extent that we do not even reach Tristram's own birth until Volume III … Along with Cervantes, Sterne set the style of comical absurdity that lives on in such modern examples as “Catch-22” and “The Confederacy of Dunces”.