Cult Books

The book critics at the Telegraph have produced a list of The 50 Best Cult Books.

What is a cult book? We tried and failed to arrive at a definition: books often found in the pockets of murderers; books that you take very seriously when you are 17; books whose readers can be identified to all with the formula ” whacko”; books our children just won’t get…

Some things crop up often: drugs, travel, philosophy, an implied two fingers to conventional wisdom, titanic self-absorption, a tendency to date fast and a paperback jacket everyone recognises with a faint wince. But these don’t begin to cover it.

Cult books include some of the most cringemaking collections of bilge ever collected between hard covers. But they also include many of the key texts of modern feminism; some of the best journalism and memoirs; some of the most entrancing and original novels in the canon.

I find I have read 32 of the 50. Does that make me a cultist? And have I really missed out on the other 18 books? Most of all, I am astonishingly pleased to see “A Confederacy of Dunces” on the list. Years after we both read it, my wife and I still throw Ignatius-isms at each other on a regular basis.

First published in May 2008

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2 Responses to Cult Books

  1. I had trouble with the link above to the Telegraph’s Best Cult Books article, so I resupply it here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/10432344/50-best-cult-books.html .

    I find this list almost pedestrian, and hardly quirky. Many of these books were featured in my high school English class curricula, and almost all of the rest on recommended “summer reading” lists from the same instructors. At a minimum, I would say this list is de rigueur for anyone hoping to develop an informed and critical view of modern society.

    If you want true cult, try Woodrow Wilson Sayre’s Four Against Everest, a bizarre and outlandish tale about a mountaineering expedition into Chinese occupied Tibet in the early 1960s, which also happens to be a totally true story. Drifting more to the edge of fiction, there B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two–yes, the Skinner of the famous “Skinner box”–who helped to inspire the “intentional community” movement which is more commonly experienced today in the many tens of thousands of co-housing arrangements, including a new one in Vancouver at 33rd and Commercial. Or a bit father out into the fictional utopian/dystopian world is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which even today informs government policy in socially progressive countries. None of these made the cut, and should have.

    If you like Albert Camus’ The Stranger (L’Etranger)–on the list–then Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) is a far shorter and more cultish exploration of life’s meaning (or not).

    Finally I have to give a solid plug to Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, a 30-year update of sorts on Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, and a powerful critique of “modern” social convention around gender–and everything. I am glad it made this list. Naomi and I were classmates in college, and she was light-years ahead of the rest of us in seeing an unvarnished world, and the need to improve it on behalf of not just women, but for all of us.

    If you are going to read 50 “mainstream cult” books, these are a great starting point. A winter reading list? Any of these would be a great gift for the holidays to anyone you love, and remember to buy the book from a small local bookstore, like Sparticus, Banyen, Little Sisters or any others from this list so nicely assembled by The Tyee: http://thetyee.ca/Books/Bookstores/.

  2. jakking says:

    Thanks for the link correction which is now correected in the body.

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