1 The Dubliners by James Joyce
What can one say and not be blasphemous? It is a masterpiece, clear and simple. With this, I have read everything Joyce has written except for Finnigan’s Wake. Looking forward to that one. I loved both Ulysses and The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but this is my favorite one of the bunch. While Ulysses is a far more impressive work in a lot of ways, mostly stylistically and form-wise, this is just a guy writing stories and doing it perfectly. Sentence after sentence you get to know people, who lived in those days, in that town, but whose soulmates or personal reincarnations are still widely dispersed throughout the world.
Part of me feels sad that he didn’t stick to just telling stories, but every man has his way and his right to go his way.
I read the Project Gutenberg version which can be found here.
2 Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
There is always a tension between fathers and sons. I think Freud even wrote about it. This innate need of the young to fight against what the mature stand for is what Turgenev’s novel deals with and does it beautifully.
I had a Vegeta-like experience with Bazarov, the nihilist that is the force in the novel. Without Bazarov, everything would be the same as it always does. He is the embodiment of the “Storm of the New”. He clashes with everyone and makes a mess everywhere. And yet…
I felt pity and compassion towards him as the novel ended.
I listened to the Librivox Version and so can you if you click this link.
If you want to read this masterpiece instead you can find a free Project Gutenberg version here.
3 Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
Anthony Burgess is one of my absolute favorite people of all-time as well as my favorite writers. Everything about the man strikes me as quite curious, unique, even a bit eccentric. Sometimes when I read his books I like to mimic his mannerism, the cadence of his voice, the way he contorts his mouth and flays his arms about. We also share the idea that writing is like building muscle and inspiration is but a sad excuse by those who are guilty of a particular Mortal Sin.
I have read three different books by Anthony Burgess last year and it was very difficult to figure out which one to choose. The candidates were Clockwork Orange; with its seductive and charismatic psychopath protagonist Drug Alex, the one you are reading about now and Burgess’ last published book, about the life and times of the playwright Christopher Marlow, A Dead Man in Deptford (even the title delights). Finally, I choose Earthly Powers, a novel about a gay writer who lived through the 20th century, meeting most of the greats of his Era, even saving someone you would never save, and some would argue you should never save, a Nazi.
It is truly a monumental novel, something you come about rarely in life. It also functioned as ore. In other words, it led me to a lot of writers and works I never really heard about.
4 Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Live your life. Don’t think too much, don’t plan too much. Do more, think less. But, what if I do think a lot, maybe I’m an intellectual, you might ask. Maybe, but it is more likely that your soul, person, or being; however you want to call it; is in the same state now as is Ethan Frome’s body at the end of this novel.
I have listened to a Librivox version of the book, which can be found here.
You can also read a free Project Gutenberg version if you click here.
5 Father Sergius by Leo Tolstoy
An ambitious, but superficial man wants to leave a mark on his world. He is vain and after an insult which he deems something one can’t recover from in high society, he decides to join a monastery. There he slowly, day by day, becomes a saint. That is, day by day more and more people consider him a saintly person because of his frugal, aesthetic life. But in his own eyes and in our eyes that is not true. He is still the same. He has just been hiding all along, and all it takes is one woman to prove that to him. Will he manage to be worthy in his own eyes? Read and you will find out.
Tolstoy is always magnificent, be it in a thousand-page book, short story, or a novella like this one. The more I read him the more I believe that his writing is The Golden Mean. In every sentence, everything is just right, balanced to perfection.
I read the Project Gutenberg version which can be found here.
6 Messiah by Gore Vidal
There is a special kind of joy when you encounter something fully formed, and that something is an idea that has been brewing inside you. That was my experience reading Messiah by Gore Vidal. Vidal, one of my favorite writers, speakers, and intellectuals of all time, approaches the notion and belief of many moderns that the religious creation has ceased to be. But Vidal shows that is misleading. The core of every religion is an idea. Sure there are always people or demigod, or even gods that are put in the center, but the idea is the real, true core. Without that core, nothing would work.
In Messiah, we see that for a new religion to be born and to spread like wildfire you only need a couple of things. Those things are an idea that a few influential people believe. By influential, I mean the people with the capabilities to present and sell those ideas to a wide audience who will just eat it up. That is the brilliance of this book. I also enjoyed the aliveness, chaos of the primordial form of religion. Our views on religion and religious creations are tragically static. Every religion that stays has always been in flux, never more than in the time of the genesis of its dogmas.
7 The Second Variety by Philip K. Dick
My favorite story by Philip K. Dick. It deals with a world in the aftermath of a world war. The war has destroyed most of humanity. But there isn’t much nuclear power or nuclear bombs that have desolated the planet. Robots, self-creating, and self-improving robots have been shredding people to bits.
Now, both sides try to unite to fight against this new threat. But they have only identified a few of the new robot varieties. It is a thrilling, nerve-wracking tale where absolute paranoia reigns. There are a lot of Dick’s stories and novels that have been turned into films, and I really think this one should be looked at as ore for a movie. With a few things here and there, it could be quite the space horror/thriller in the like of Alien.
This Sci-Fi thriller can be read on this Project Gutenberg link.
8 The Awakening by Kate Chopin
I regret not reading this book. There is only so much you can gaze inside a book when you are listening to it. Reading is always much more rewarding. That’s why this book is on top of my to reread pile. It is incredibly dense. It deals with and talks about so much. With equal precision and detail it paints both society and nature, the way one looks and the way one thinks or feels. Astonishing work by a supreme writer.
9 No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
I might be mistaken but there have been a lot of works that dealt with the tortured genius recently. The Queen’s Gambit comes to mind most of all. But none of those geniuses are really that tortured. In this novel, the protagonist is not just tortured he is disfigured by his genius or the way he sees the world. The book is largely biographical, some might even call it autobiographical fiction. I have never felt so alien inside someone’s head before. The world of this protagonist is made out of all the same things that my own is, but the way we filter it is so radically different. His severe depression eats away at him, bit by bit, moment by moment.
And he is aware of himself, to a degree. Really heartbreaking stuff.
I read it towards the beginning of 2020, might even be the second or third book I read last year, but it really stayed with me. Looking back on it now, it really was a great introduction to a year that devasted me for a lot of reasons. Dazai is truly a jewel in the crown of writing and literature, hope I read him again soon.
10 The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis
This book is probably the best soap opera ever written and it was so much fun to read! Probably the purest fun I had read something in the last year. It deals with the corruption and descent into hell by a well-regarded priest. There is so much kinky, brutal, violent stuff in this. I could not believe that this book was released towards the end of the 18th century. That is right, this book is more than 200 years old and it still has the capacity to shock the reader. One of the better twist endings, as well as “He gets what he deserves” endings I have experienced both in a book or movie ever.