100 Favorite Books.

This "100 Favorite Books" list grows fitfully, in keeping with my reading habits. No pretensions of being the "best" of anything, just books that rattled my cage when I was younger. I've gone through a period of at least ten years now during which I've read very little, but there was a time when these volumes meant a lot to me and they and their friends can still be found on my book shelves dreaming, waiting perhaps, to catch someone else's eye.
Last updated: April, 2003.

The Abortion, Richard Brautigan. I was breaking up with "Ms. Right" when I read The Abortion and it set off sympathetic pains and sorrows. No, there were no abortions involved, unless you consider the condition of my mind. I've read all of Brautigan's work, but I chose this one along with Trout Fishing in America for this list. I assume you know Brautigan. I assume everybody knows Brautigan, but time passes and perhaps I assume too much. When was the last time I saw his name in print? Some of his others:

A Confederate General from Big Sur, In Watermelon Sugar, The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western, Willard and His Bowling Trophies: A Perverse Mystery, Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel and Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942, as well as the poetry collections: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, Please Plant This Book, and The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll. There is no reason whatsoever to explain why this book is on the list. If you question this, go away. Also, of course, Through The Looking Glass.

Another Roadside Attraction, Tom Robbins. Robbins is probably best known for Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and, although I rapidly became somewhat ambivalent about this writer's work as time progressed, I would also recommend Jitterbug Perfume.

The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo , Oscar Zeta Acosta. Acosta was the model for the attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I understand the author is dead, that he "disappeared" soon after he wrote the book. I've never heard any more about it. This is a good first book, there should have been others.

Beau Geste, Christopher Wren. For young men mostly. High school is a good age to read this book, maybe grade school, in these days. I'm not sure it's relevant to the world we live in any more, but the movie was nice. Beau, Digby and John, the Foreign Legion, the funeral pyre, a dog at his feet, big English manor houses with suits of armor in the halls. A hit, a feeling of Sherlock Holmes, perhaps, or Cyrano de Bergerac.

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me , Richard Farina. Husband of Mimi, brother in law of Joan, killed in a motorcycle accident on the night of April 30, 1966, returning from a party celebrating the hard-cover publication of this book. An early portent that God was not always on our side. Still have their album Reflections in a Crystal Wind.

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler. Raymond is a necessary read. Just think of The High Window, Farewell, My Lovely, The Lady in the Lake, The Long Goodbye, Trouble is My Business, Pickup on Noon Street and Killer in the Rain.

Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch , Henry Miller. It's been a while since I've read this book, but it sits there on its shelf casting a shadow.

Billy Bathgate , E.L. Doctorow. I've read a bunch of Doctorow, but this one, for some reason, I liked quite a bit more than some of the others. The movie was panned as perhaps it should (Be warned that I liked the movie too.), but the book is first class.

The Blood of a Wig, Terry Southern. This, in my humble opinion, is the finest example of Black Humor ever written (Is that humble enough?). I read it the first time in Paul Krassner's Realist. It's a short story and not a book, but if the Black Humor genera is of any interest, this is a must.

Catch 22, Joseph Heller. Everyone read Catch 22, maybe they still do, it's a classic. I liked his Something Happened as well, but Catch 22 is probably, for Americans, the equivalent of The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass for Germans. Well, maybe that's not instructive, but something like that.

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger. I spent my teenage years in this place. East coast, prep school (for a year), the times, the tone. I both didn't understand it and understood it too well. This seems to still make everyone's list.

Caesar and Cleopatra , George Bernard Shaw. I read this when I was young and loved it. Loved the movie too. I own a copy of it. With Vivien Leigh and Claude Rains.

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck. I read this book when I was very young and it suggested to me that sitting on a hill drinking wine and discussing art and life might be a better life than running a financial widget company on Wall Street. I've all of Steinbeck, but this is my favorite. Yes, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I never held it against him. Sometimes they get it right.

Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Ice Nine. It all made sense. I bought every book he wrote after this, so did everybody else. A book for that generation. You'll find it everywhere on everyone's shelf. Don't think I could read it today on a dare.

Cyrano de Bergerac , Edmund Rostand. Ah yes, this should be read by a young man still in high school, or, perhaps, given the state of high schools today, earlier still. It takes a certain naivete to set the hook.

Doctor Rat , William Kotzwinkle. Not The Fan Man but close. A rodent Dr. Strangelove on steroids. What more can be said?

Don Camillo Takes the Devil By the Tail , Giovanni Guareschi. There's more than one Don Camillo book. I found them when I was in high school, maybe earlier. The village priest and the Communist mayor. They are wonderful.

The Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West. This one and Miss Lonely Hearts. At one time, at least, if you were hip, you'd read Miss Lonely Hearts.

The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test , Tom Wolfe. This book introduced me to the Merry Pranksters after returning home from the army in 1969. I met Kesey and Wavy Gravy later, both of them as interesting as I imagined, but this was the introduction. Didn't bother with Wolfe thereafter. He was a point of departure, but once you've left, you don't go back. Thompson was in the wings.

The Executioner's Song, Norman Mailer. You have to read The Naked and the Dead, probably The Armies of the Night and any one of a number of others, including The Deer Park and maybe Barbary Shore to put the guy in context. The Executioner's Song is a relatively long book, wonderfully written, in the very short period of eighteen months. When I heard that, eighteen months, I knew how great the achievement and how hopeless the task.

Mailer is "the" writer who came out of World War II, my father's generation, someone who wrote as a contemporary of Hemmingway, the "big" writer on the "big" stage and if you wanted to know about writers and books, you needed to read (and read about) Mailer.

You get inside a Mailer book and you get inside Mailer's head. There's a fight to it, I'm not sure if that's good or that's bad, but I come out of reading Mailer with a not always pleasant ringing in my ears. I don't know how to judge Mailer, it's probably a lack of intellect on my part, but you have to read Mailer, some Mailer, to say you're a reader of books and know something about writers and the culture of the writer in America.

The Fan Man, William Kotzwinkle. Evidently a Portion of cover from a Dutch edition. Thnx R.P. portion of The Fan Man first appeared in Esquire Magazine. I wasn't reading Esquire in 1974, but I did read the book and will never forget Horse Badorties, protagonist and assembler of the Celestial Choir. I bought everything I could find by Kotzwinkle. This is second only to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in defining the tone of those times.

In the last year I've read some of his more recent work, Fata Morgana, Trouble in Bugland, The Bear Went Over the Mountain and The Exile. I'm not sure how I feel about them. I recommend them to anyone who reads, but they didn't have the same impact as the earlier works. Fata Morgana was an interesting work, The Bear Went Over, inventive, nice, but, well, I don't know. I'll have to think about it and rewrite this. Perhaps it's just my own lack of interest in reading, a function of age or mental deterioration, I'm not sure.

Kotzwinkle wrote E.T., I assume on contract with Spielberg in conjunction with the movie. I was happy to hear that Spielberg chose him to write it, if only for the wider exposure and (I hope) the money, but I've not read E.T., only learning that he'd written it much later, and there was a lingering distant echo from that knowledge with which I haven't quite yet come to grips.

Perhaps it marked a passage for me, moving Kotzwinkle from a somewhat underground celebrity to something more adult, I don't know, a coming to maturity at a time when I hadn't, when I never have. That doesn't make any sense, does it.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 , Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. This series of "reports" on the 1972 presidential campaign first appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine in a series of articles chronicling the presidential campaign as it progressed. It was the most exciting political stuff I'd ever read or have ever read. Perhaps it needed to be read then at that time to really appreciate it, but this book belongs on my list, no doubt about it.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas , Hunter S. Thompson. This book first appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine in two installments on November 11th and November 25th of 1971. I received a phone call from Baumgart telling me to go out, do not walk, buy a copy and read it. This book, more than any other, set the tone of a defining period for me and many of my generation. His words brought the proper heat and madness to chronicle those times.

Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser. This is the first of the Flashman series. I liked them and read them. They're outrageous and they're funny, but there's something else that put me off a bit. Worth a read or it wouldn't be here.

The Free-Lance Pallbearers, Ishmael Reed."Part One: Da Hoodoo Is Put on Bukka Doopeyduk"

"SAM's mother was a low-down, filthy hobo infected with hoof-and-mouth disease. A five-o'clock-shadowed junkie who died of diphtheria and an overdose of phenobarb. Laid out dead in an abandoned alley in thirty-degree-below snow. An evil lean snake with blue, blue lips and white tonsils. Dead as a doornail she died, mean and hard; cussing out her connection until the last yellow flame wisped from her wretched mouth.

But SAM's mother taught him everything he knows."

And that's just the first page.

Freewheelin Frank, Frank Reynolds as told to Michael McClure. This is the best of any of the books about the Hell's Angels. There are some wonderful images here, well worth the reading. Whether it tells us anything about the Hell's Angels, who knows? And, anymore, who cares?

Funeral in Berlin, Len Deighton. This is my favorite "spy story" writer. I've read most of Deighton books and enjoyed the lot. The Ipcress File started it. The main character, a spy with no name, is the perfect male hero. Reminds me of Sam Spade, somehow, a British Sam Spade, but Sam, none the less.

The Futurological Congress, Stanislaw Lem. I read a review of this book in Fortune Magazine. Fortune Magazine? This is one of the great science fiction books, shuffling and losing the reader inside a deck where only one of the cards is everyday reality and its not marked.

Giles Goat Boy, John Barth. What is this doing here? I think I got half way through and then gave up. I own other books by Barth. I've read all of them. Similar experience. Tells you more about me than Barth.

The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy. Read long ago as well as others by Donleavy. Again, read as a young man and perhaps its a young man's book, a product of the times.

Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon. Every hippie on the block went out and read this one when it was published in the 70's. Weird shit well written. Appealed to the weirdness of the times. They say it was written on cocaine. Who knows? I doubt it. Third hand rumor stuff. Every writer I knew smoked dope. Didn't know any who could afford cocaine.

Hell in a Very Small Place, Bernard B. Fall. I read this book many times just prior to entering the Army. The reasons had to do with my being young and getting ready to go to Vietnam, but it also had to do with the fact the book was about heroes at a time when there were no heros. This book had no politics, it was read by hawks and doves alike as it wasn't a polemic on war, it was a story of a strange place called Dienbienphu in a strange war in a land called French Indochina and the solders who fought it. Fall, who also wrote Street Without Joy, was covering the American Vietnam war as a reporter when he was killed in an ambush.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. I read this book in about 1979 or 1980. I seem to recall reading it while I still lived in San Francisco, so that would have been before 1981. This book sits right next to the Holy Bible on many people's book shelf, most of whom I consider reasonably sophisticated in their reading habits. I liked this book and would include it on this list along with Venus on the Halfshell, a book that everybody thought was written by Kurt Vonnegut when it was published. I guess I will get the rest of the Hitchhiker series and read them one day, even though I don't much read anymore. I guess.

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell. Read this in the Penguin paperback before they were available in the U.S. This is the first of his books I read after reading 1984. Liked it a lot. Gives an you odd feeling that you're actually there in that time and the Spanish Civil War.

Hyperion, Dan Simmons. I had the hots for the lady who recommended this science fiction book and this might have tilted my judgement. Nah. One of the reasons I had the hots for the lady was her well honed taste. I still remember the Shrike and doors that opened into rooms that were light years distant. This is very good science fiction. There's a sequel.

The Ice Age, Margaret Drabble. Margaret was read by all the hip well read ladies of a certain time and place. I read it at a time when I was in love with an English woman and perhaps that had some influence. Realms of Gold by Drabble is recommended as well.

Journey to Ixtlan, The Lessons of Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda. This is a very good sort of book to read when you are still juggling ideas of life and existence. You've gotten all that nailed down by now, right? I immediately bought and read all of Castaneda's books over the years after reading A Separate Reality. You'll hear a lot of bullshit about them. Don't listen. They're a good read. Let the fools argue message and meaning and whatever else it was that got them excited in the first place, take them as they come without prejudice or prejudgement.

The Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby, Tom Wolfe. This is a collection of stories written for the New York Herald Tribune during the mid-sixties "Golden Age". This is his first book before the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, which is also on this list. Most people who "read", read this one. Everyone read the Acid Test and that was it for Wolfe. I know, I know. Dumb statement. I just had a hell of a time with Bonfire of the Vanities. I couldn't even watch the movie.

Kim, Rudyard Kipling. This was read way way long ago as a youngster, of course, but I remember the reading and the places it put into my head. It belongs on the list. Kipling was a writer.

The Magus, John Fowles. I read this as a young man and remember being slam banged about by it. I read a bunch of Fowles after this, but the interior monologues became, well, slow going. Still, recommended, The Magus certainly and some of the rest that followed.

The Man with the Golden Arm, Nelson Algren. Once, when asked why he wasn't currently working on a novel by a newspaper reporter, Algren is said to have replied: "For the same reason that I'm not driving a Cadillac, I can't afford the payments." That was good enough for me.

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov. I liked this book immediately as I have always liked works of fantasy where the Devil is more than a one dimensional protagonist. This is not some rude "read the ancient text and bring forth the you know what", this is a wonderful intelligent funny serious satire that I have always hoped might be made into a movie one day, now that the special effects boys have their act together.

Memoirs of Hecate County, Edmund Wilson. Edmund Wilson was, among other things, literary critic of The New Yorker and considered something of a genius. I'm not sure if this should be here or not. It caused some controversy over the explicitness of some of the writing at a time when people were more upset with these things, the interesting part for me being his position in the literary establishment of the time. Pick it up, maybe, if you can get it cheap.

Moving Through Here, Don McNeil. Peter Max did the cover, Allen Ginsberg did the introduction and Paul Williams did the epilogue. Don was a staff writer for The Village Voice, accidentally drowning in a lake in upstate New York on August 10, 1968. He was my friend in college and we spent many a night drinking and talking about art, life and the future. It was in the Red Robin tavern one night in Seattle that Don told me of his decision to drop out of school and go to New York City to become a writer. I first heard of his death when I'd returned from Korea, reading an article in The Evergreen Review about The Village Voice and a very special writer named Don McNeil. I'd have liked to have more of those conversations, Don. I think we all would.

My Sister's Hand in Mine, The Collected Works of Jane Bowles, Jane Bowles. Jane Bowles is a great writer and a writer's legend both, married to Paul Bowles, who also appears on this list. I discovered the Bowles in the early 1970's many years later than everyone else. Better late than never.

Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed. Reed wrote a number of books around this time. His skill is with words, wonderful juxtapositions that rattle like dice in a cup and then spill out laughing onto the reader's lap.

Naked Lunch, William Burroughs. I'd read a lot of Burroughs before I bought an album where Burroughs reads from his own work including Naked Lunch. I went back and read them again, only this time in Burrough's own voice. Burroughs isn't for everyone and sometimes he's a lot of work, Burroughs was not afraid to experiment, but when he's good he's as good as good gets.

Night Flight, Antoine De Saint-Exupery. A short work. The only book I can remember that was favored by my father as well as his son.

The Night Life of the Gods, Thorne Smith. I will always remember the scene where the group enters a seafood restaurant near Fulton's Fish market, a haunt of the truly dedicated seafood gourmet, and Neptune, god of the sea, spies a tank filled with lobster and immediately hauls one out, dismembers it and eats it alive. The other patrons are watching, silent, not in horror, not in amazement, but in total fascination as they realize they have discovered a new way to eat lobster, that they are in presence of a master. Loved this book. Smith also wrote Topper. Liked Topper, but I have yet to read the book. Strange. Need to do that.

The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemmingway. Ah, yes, bullfights. There's more to Hemmingway than bullfights. If you think you can get out of reading him, well, go ahead, but you're wrong, you know. And if you're my age with that attitude, go away.

On the Road, Jack Kerouac. I read this in the 50's when I was young and hadn't heard much about it. I didn't read the review in the New York Times, I didn't have any friends who read books the way I read books, I was just fooling around trying to get a better look at the world anyway I could. I was moved, certainly I've read all the others. I believe I "loaned" all of my Kerouac novels to the high school aged daughter of a friend. I wonder if they had any similar impact? I don't expect to get them back.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I'd discovered Jorge Luis Borges some years before and reading this caused me to pursue more of the South American writers. Worthwhile pursuit.

The Panchronicon Plot, Ron Goulart. I don't know if this is a good representative book of Ron Goulart's work, but I've generally bought them whenever I find them. I ran across Goulart during my humor magazine days when I found some of his pieces written when he was a student at Berkeley (I still have copies of The Pelican from that period packed away somewhere) and very much liked what I read. A funny writer. I actually corresponded briefly with Goulart back in those days, a longer story than can be written here, but I've always liked his work and buy and read it whenever I find it.

A postscript: Ron Goulart found this mention surfing the web and sent me an email, curious when it was that we'd exchanged letters, mentioning he'd had some 160 books published to date, his current effort a Groucho Marx series with Marx as a master detective: Groucho Marx, Private Eye, Groucho Marx, Master Detective and Elementary, My Dear Groucho. I ordered them from Amazon. They are slick and funny reads at a time in my life when I find it more and more difficult to read anything at all. There's a softness here, no really hard edges, and, since this series is being written with the approval of the Marx estate, perhaps there's no other option. I'd like him to dig a little deeper. Still, I much enjoy them and read his new ones as they're published.

The Princess Bride, William Goldman. I read this book when it was published and I was in my 30's. Perhaps you've seen the movie. Nice movie, but the book is in a class by itself. I was riding into San Francisco today on BART and a man in his late twenties was leaning over a paperback copy of The Princess Bride, having read perhaps the first dozen pages, smiling.

"I see you're smiling", I said. "It's a really good book."

"I know", he replied. "I've read it many times."

I looked for Goldman on my book shelves when I returned. I did't find The Princess Bride. Maybe I've got it packed away. I'll find it and, if I can't find it, I'll buy another. That rider has the right idea.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. This has a very modern feel to it as do all of her works. If you're a woman, you have to read this book, if you're a man you have to read it too, you just might not know it.

Rabbit, Run, John Updike. I runned.

A Separate Reality, Carlos Castaneda. This one made a big splash. Lots of arguments about what it all meant. Worth reading, but again, like Journey to Ixtlan and the rest, don't bother with all those old critical examinations. Make your own.

Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle. The entry is under Sherlock Holmes because all of Sherlock's books should be here. I think the Conan Doyle works elicit some deep emotional response in men that lasts throughout our entire lives. What are they about? I don't know, but that flat in London at 221B Baker Street is a refuge of some kind, a dream of escape or, maybe, a dream of coming home.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem , Joan Didion. Didion and Austin (and, what the hell, maybe Babitz) are my favorite female authors, although I'm not sure why anyone talking writing would specify gender.

Slow Days, Fast Company, Eve Babitz. I also recommend Sex and Rage, Black Swans, L.A. Woman and Eve's Hollywood. Amazon wanted something like $250 for her Fiorucci, The Book, copied and sent in a 3 ring binder, so I haven't read that one. Yet. Her's is a world I once experienced through the eyes of a close friend. There are authors you read and you want to read more of their books and authors you read and you want to meet the author. I'd like to have met Babitz just to see her in her element. Probably just one of those icky groupie wannabe impulses. Pure fantasy. Pay no attention.

Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence. Everyone of a certain age (my age) read Lady Chatterley's Lover, it was at the center of one of the great battles in bringing books under the umbrella of The First Amendment. I always thought "they" finally realized they could give in on the books because nobody really read them anymore. Any of Lawrence's books are worth a look and I think you have to be able to say you've read at least one.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John LeCarre. This was the book "serious readers" said they preferred when everyone else was reading Ian Flemming's James Bond. Actually, I only met one person who said they read and preferred Ian Flemming at the time. I had the hots for this guy's sister, so I let it pass. I've read all his subsequent stuff, some of the reading a bit like swimming through warm humid English school boy mud. I guess I prefer Deighton, which probably makes my opinion suspect.

Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse. Who doesn't relate to the "Steppenwolf"? I remembered reading this, the moment and the special feeling it provoked. A friend once said that Hesse was pop bullshit, he'd ripped everything he'd written off from Goethe. So? I began reading Goethe.

Tales of the South Pacific, James A. Michener. Everyone knows the Broadway show and I thought I might skip it back in the sixties for that reason when I read it, but this is pretty good, a collection of short stories beautifully and simply written. I remember liking Hawaii when it was published much later and knew without saying I couldn't admit that to anyone I hung out with at the time. It's OK to like Hawaii, of course, as long as you know it's not OK to admit it.

Terms of Endearment, Larry McMurtry. Everyone I knew read this one whether they read other books or not. It came at a time and an age when maybe all of us understood the beginning, the middle and the end, particularly the end. I've read a whole bunch of McMurtry over the years. I particularly like Buffalo Girls, Anything for Billy, Cadillac Jack, and The Evening Star.

The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass. They talk about an entire generation of Germans who have read this book, a weird definitive German perspective on the war. Its on my book shelf too. Don't know anything about definitive German perspectives. Haven't seen the movie.

The Trembling of a Leaf, John Colleton (Robert W. Marks). This is an "erotic" novel and erotic it is, a story to unearth fantasies in the memories of boys who notice women. There's a sequel. Its OK, but the first is the better.

Trout Fishing in America, Richard Brautigan. A book on trout fishing technique. Brautigan caught many like me and reeled us in.

True Grit, Charles Portis. John Wayne starred in this movie and it was pretty good, although we all had our reservations about John. The times, what else? This book has a lilt and language that tickles the soul.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne. Another book read a long time ago. The story seems to hold. This is science fiction at its beginnings before the Genie got out of the bottle.

Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts, Donald Barthelme. Oh dear. I have others.

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy. There's no way around reading this one if you want to pretend to be literate. There are many other books not on this list that you have to read as well, but trust me, there is little or no discussion about this one. It surprised me, slapped me awake and made me realize they weren't kidding. You realize you know all of these people and the thought occurs maybe that's what they've been talking about.

Your Sparkle Cavalcade of Death, Robert Shiarella. William Kotzwinkle calls this "A weird and wonderful book." This is a weird, wonderful and very funny book that most people have never heard of. That's too bad. This is well worth the read if you can find it.

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