From My Shelf at The Bent Page
A good friend opened a used bookstore in downtown Kennewick a while back and offered me a shelf to display book recommendations. I would always get a little thrill when he'd call and say, "Another one of your books sold," since it gave me an excuse to visit the store to select another favorite book to put in its place. These are some of those selections.
Paul Auster is a master of the subtle suggestion of thoughtful unease. Rooted in reality, his novels possess a sense of other-worldly possibility that forces the reader to look under the surface. "Travels in the Scriptorium" is another great (145 page) example.
I've read most everything Buk has written, and he is most definitely one of my favorite writers. He manages a humor and humanity that is overshadowed by oftentimes crude content. Unfortunately, his books have a tendency to disappear from library shelves.
My first love of mystery novels has to be the hard-boiled variety, and, for these, Chandler is tough to beat. You throw in Bogart and Bacall, in the Howard Hawks film of the same name, and the circuit is complete.
Though I read "White Noise" a number of years ago, I readily recall the airborne toxic event featured in the story as a metaphor for the free-floating miasma of anxiety and fear that threatens to consume an attentive, discerning individual. It may be time to re-read this one.
I donated a hardback copy of "Ubik" to the store and was vaguely pained to see it in a case of collectible books at Adventures Underground after the owner sold his stock in bulk when he closed shop. Of Philip K. Dick's books, "VALIS" (Vast Active Living Intelligence System), of The Valis Trilogy, is my favorite. It was written following a series of visions that he interpreted as contact by a transcendental, mystical entity, further explored in "The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick."
You may notice a trend here. Film noir meets hard-boiled detective fiction, as first conceived by Hammett and exemplified by Bogart. Good stuff.
"Hunger" is one of my absolute favorite books. The glimpse into the protagonist's frenzied, passionate thinking allows a terrific example of the relationship between genius and madness.
These stories are a good entry-point for Pynchon. I especially like the story "Entropy."
Another instance where the content runs the risk of upstaging the message. For all the drugs and mayhem, HST's insights into the counterculture movement of the 1960's, and more precisely the end of it, are chilling.
Again, I've read a lot of Vonnegut and like everything I've read, but this take on abstract expressionism stands out for me, as well as "Breakfast of Champions" and, of course, "Slaughterhouse-Five."
Tennessee Williams will pluck your heart out, massage it for a while, tickle a ventricle, scratch at an atrium, then put it back upside down, all while under the influence of a hazy, half-awake anesthetic, fleeting yet potent.
After I read "Winter's Bone," I plowed through everything by Daniel Woodrell I could find. I remember chatting with the owner of BLMF Literary Saloon on the third level of Pike Place Market about Woodrell being one of his favorite authors for years, and only recently his books started moving from the shelves after Jennifer Lawrence's breakthrough role in the film of the same name.
I'm a fan of the psychological novel I find looking at this list, and few writers are as proficient and poignant in this arena as Virginia Woolf. A day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, planning for a party, resonates with rich detail and eventual tragedy. The ever-present gong of Big Ben, I remember, struck a chord.