Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – A great start to critical reading. I hope this stays at the top, of my list here and your reading list. I’ll let it tell you how it and most of the books on this list should be read with its opening, a “notice” to the reader: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll – I think these two should be read as one, and it is never too late to have this much fun. Wonderful wordplay and just an altogether frabjous time await.

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson – This is not a true story, but it is a true story. Maybe the first “true” should be replaced with “factual,” but I believe this story. And it’s simply told. Also, one scene in it called forth more emotion than any other image within this list of books. James Weldon Johnson is the most notable (I want to use “greatest” but don’t like the sound of it here) Jacksonville-ian ever. More people need to know about this man and his doings.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin – A story of escape by an author who tried to escape–a timepiece, beautifully written and short enough to keep you.

Being Dead by Jim Crace – Published in 2001, BD demonstrates life more than its other, but speaks around death in a refreshingly true and intuitive and modern way. Its title aside, this book is a love (and life) story, a real one.

Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago by Mike Royko – My introduction to “boss politics” and the “political machine.” This is a journalist committing journalism. The writing does its work with a great voice, but the subject compels the reader to continue–truly fascinating stuff. A terrible and touching story of American government.

Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey – An almost true, autobiographical account of a man’s staying in Arches National Park as a ranger there. The narrative, and Abbey’s discourse, changed my idea of the world I inhabit and contributed to the initial conservation movement in the sixties. His voice and conversations are sometimes hysterical, but every word contributes to a spiritual read: “I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self emerges with a nonhuman world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and Bedrock.”

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger – As you can see, I don’t gush over many books; I merely type. This book changed me, and it is probably the first book I’d recommend to someone (if one asked, that is). I’ll admit that it’s tough. But you don’t have to like it; I’d just suggest that you try to start it. The reward of the last twenty pages is one of the most beautiful/tragic/disgusting/human things I can imagine (and that ability is only afforded by the text itself).

Heart of Darkness by Joesph Conrad – The story requires a read, but you may not get there the first time because the language is so distracting with its beauty. The novella holds more than most novels, and luckily the brevity entices that second read.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Doyle – Boasting the greatest detective of all time, it deserves a look. What we see as “traditional mystery”.

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish – With attention to form over content, at first, Fish asserts a fresh understanding of sentences. It’s a lot of fun to read a bunch of sentences with Fish, and in reading them with him, one learns how to read better. And by that, maybe later by practice, one learns how to write better, which starts with a sentences and ends with whatever one intends to write. Focus on the “logical relationships” of words (as components) in a sentence is foundational to Fish’s argument; isn’t that compelling?

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk – His third novel is exemplary of the total Palahniuk experience: biting style, breakneck pacing, head-spinning twists, and eye-popping images of  modern decay. “Jump to what a big mistake this was, coming home.”

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – Because the material was originally designed for and delivered on the radio, a conversational tone puts the reader in the same room with Lewis, perhaps around a warm fire or somewhere as equally endearing. Furthermore, Lewis’s mastery of language gives this foundational introduction to Christianity a readability for any level (of believer or reader).

Moneyball by Michael Lewis – This is a book about baseball. But baseball is just a manmade thing, so it’s about man and his matters. Economics, humor, and critical/conceptual thinking abound.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – I didn’t know women or black people. This story was convincing enough that I believe I may now say that I do know these things (real well too). Seriously, this novel will speak for itself: “You got tuh go there tuh know there…Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.” This is one of the truest truths I’ve learned.

The Naked Now by Richard Rohr – This is not a new concept by any means, yet this book, Rohr’s approach, makes it altogether accessible. I want to recommend this to any “seeker” I know. But I don’t like recommending books. I want to buy this for any “seeker” I know. But I don’t have any money. I feel like this book could be read every week and never grow tired. The message is the message. Also, the way the book is set up, there is a benefit to reading it in the printed order and another entirely different benefit in jumping right into a designated portion. Read this.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce – Ok. I do not have a grasp on this book, but I think that admission an important piece of the puzzling text. A look at language occurs whether or not the reader wants it, for the story doesn’t really emerge, or bear a fullness, if the reader resists the unrelenting feelings the poetic language engenders. Joyce is a master, and his first novel loudly declares this.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – There isn’t much subtle about this work, but there is quite a hook to hold you until it’s finished. Topics: guilt, shame, religion.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – It isn’t how I started Vonnegut, but it’s how I’d recommend starting him (if not a short story to whet yourself). SF is a beautiful book with a bunch of fun and tough dealings, like death and determinism and humanity.

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington – I think this book is important. Of course I have problems with some things in it, but it can do a world of good for an ailing idea of people in regards to equality or the condition of America in Reconstruction/The Gilded Age. “Any man, regardless of colour, will be recognized and rewarded just in proportion as he learns to do something well.”

White Noise by Don DeLillo – Inspired by Becker’s Denial of Death, here is a discourse on how ignoring death happens. Ultimately, the narrative becomes an exploration–a highly satiric one, at that–on life and death, the meaning of both.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – Simple writing, but the text is loaded–approaching poetry. The novel is almost an answer to Jane Eyre, or a retelling; it contains a couple of characters from the novel and tells their story. This story is about how the Other approaches the other Other, how binary thinkers operate, how dangerous pride is. And a dually told love story, told by both partners–maybe I wouldn’t call it love…”They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks.”


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