Monday, March 17, 2008

This Will Shock You Senseless

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As a writer, I make it a point that I read and read and read some more , because the only way any self-respecting writer would improve in his craft is to amass as much experience and information as he can, which, of course, is a rather difficult endeavor (given the restrictions of time and money, among other viable resources).

There's also the question of knowing what to read. Which is an important question, because while everything readable is always a valuable resource depending on the person, not all books are actually conducive for writerly inspiration. You could spend hours and hours going through books like The Name of the Rose or Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago and you wouldn't come up with anything inspiring. Those are two awesome books, don't get me wrong, but they're both two rather difficult books - and when books get difficult, they tend to render you useless for the next couple of days (at least, in my experience).

Just recently, I came across, through sheer serendipity, a list of books given by Donald Barthelme to his students when the writer was still teaching. The list is an eighty-strong bum rush of novels and the occasional short story collection, all rumored to be of varying levels of awesome and guaranteed somewhat to be anything but boring. In his article, Kevin Moffett exudes that each and every one of the books he found within the list were guaranteed to intrigue and to entrap the reader within its world, and I'd have to agree; I've read several of the books within the list (not enough, apparently, but sufficient to keep me happy as of now), and I have to say that the ones I've read are life-changing pieces of absolute brilliance.

Take, for example, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. This is, I think, THE prime example of magic-realism in the known world. It rendered me incapable of coherent, happy thoughts for a month due to the breadth and width of its powerful imagery and convoluted cast of the most indescribably tragic characters I have ever seen.

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities takes the magic of the former book, condenses it, makes go to bed with a little bit of history, then tosses that same history out the back door because it cramped the magic's style. Really, there is no other way to describe this book, since the entire thing is made up of various snippets of story that illuminates the period of time Marco Polo spent with Kublai Khan.

Some of the other books that I've read (or will be reading) in his list are; A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess; V by Thomas Pynchon; and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. For a full list of the books, you can visit Kevin Moffett's article here; you can find photographs of a much-stained and ratty-looking list, which for some reason, is very, very stimulating.

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