Last week, John Green, the patron saint of authors on social media and online communities, made a video recommending eighteen of his favourite books that aren’t bestsellers. The full list is available in the video description (and here). He was right – I hadn’t read any of them, although I’ve added a number of them to my mountainous to-read list (and some are great for my 2014 reading challenges!). John’s video got me thinking about how everyone probably has a list of favourite, underrated books, and how sharing them could be a fun way of discovering new reading material. So here is a list of my top five beloved books that you probably haven’t read.
The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler
A fictional true-crime diary, The Basic Eight satirizes the satanic panic of the 1990s in a San Francisco high school, loosely based on Handler’s own high school. Flannery Culp is a pretentious teenager with a pretentious friend group and an unrequited crush on the indifferent Adam State. Features include: three layers of narration (including, hilariously, moralizing vocabulary and study questions inserted by an uptight TV psychologist), croquet, terribly clever writing, absinthe, glamorous best friends named Natasha, unreliable narrators, and murder. This is my actual favourite book. If you choose to read it, report back wisely.
Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones’ books are wonderful children’s fantasy, and I devoured every one the library had in stock when I was a kid. I had a hard time choosing which DWJ book to include here (a very close second was the Chrestomanci series), but Eight Days of Luke won out because it’s the book that ruined American Gods for me when I read it years later; basically everything I’ve read of Neil Gaiman reads like a pale imitation of a Diana Wynne Jones book. Eight Days of Luke follows David, a neglected boy stuck at home during school holidays with his miserable guardians, and the strange things that happen when a mysterious boy named Luke appears in David’s backyard. Fantasy and reality blend as David realises Luke and his relatives are not what they appear. As a standalone, this book is a great introduction to Jones’ work.
There is probably a good reason that Watch Your Mouth is on no one’s radar, and that’s because it has questionable content, and a lot of it (namely, all incest all the time). However, this is the best young-adult incest-comedy gothic Jewish porn opera novel that you will ever read. The first half of the narrative is constructed as an opera, with plot events arranged in acts and scenes, accompanied by strings and woodwinds, and the
operahouse audience reader is directly addressed; Joseph spends the summer at his girlfriend’s parents’ house and discovers they have a terrible secret, which culminates in the appearance of a life-sized clay Golem and murder. The second half (printed in dark red; symbolism ahoy!) is set up as a twelve-step program, in which Joseph tries to recover from his summer at the Glass’s and figure out this Golem business. Watch Your Mouth is risky in form and content, but witty and satisfying.
My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey
I first read this book last year as a part of a course I was teaching, and all my friends and students hated it, but I loved it. Literary editor Sarah is lured to Malaysia by a sleazy family friend, and there discovers Christopher Chubb, a writer who tells her an incredible tale of his fictional character Bob McCorkle coming to life, haunting him, and abducting his daughter. Sarah must choose whether to believe or confront him in order to get her hands on the finest piece of literature she has ever read – a manuscript written by McCorkle (or is it Chubb?). My Life as a Fake is based on the 1943 Ern Malley hoax and questions the intersection of fiction and reality. It’s also an intertext of Frankenstein; I love the reading of Chubb as a mad scientist who stitches together McCorkle out of his own skin. Delightfully confusing and macabre, I change my mind about the truth of McCorkle every time I read it.
Movies in Fifteen Minutes by Cleolinda Jones
So, Cleolinda is my favourite blogger, and her screenplay-style parodies of popular movies took LiveJournal by storm back in the mid-2000s. They’re still funny, and she posts one or two new ones a year, although these days you can more commonly find her recapping television shows and nailing it, as usual. Her book features Movies in 15 Minutes that never appeared online, including Harry Potter and the
Philosopher’s Sorcerer’s Philosopher’s Stone, The Matrix, Titanic, and (hilariously) the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is my go-to book for bedtime reading when I need something funny to settle my brain raccoons.
Have you read any of these (or have I convinced you)? Let me know what you thought, and what your favourite under-the-radar books are!