Summer is here, so I thought I would offer a few books that have been on my list. All of these books have left their stamps on my memory. There was the summer I read Moby-Dick, and the summer I read Moby-Dick again… I hope to pass on some books that might make a few marks on your own souls.
Zeroville by Steve Erickson
The first book of our club is by Cal Arts teacher Steve Erickson. It is Easy Rider meets Raging Bull meets Being There. It follows a strange, talented editor with a tattoo of Monty Clift and Liz Taylor on the back of his head as he navigates the wild world of 1970s Hollywood. Here, dreams become reality—and reality becomes the dream fabric that is film.
Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
This is the bible for all MFA writing programs. These interconnected stories by Denis Johnson follow a guy nicknamed Fuckhead through the hazy realms of drugs, love, and death. It’s one of my favorite books ever.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Great summer reading! Michael Chabon's Pulitzer winner about two teenage cousins who write comics during the Golden Age of comic books to empower themselves in the face of a World War. It’s fun, moving, and well-crafted.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Richard Yates' first novel and also his masterpiece. Watch a couple tear each other apart as their dark secrets are revealed in the most scrumptious prose ever. Also, look at his book, Easter Parade. It’s an equally enjoyable trip down sad, sad pathways. It’s about two sisters who just can't get life right.
Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon
This is the non-fiction follow up to The Noonday Demon, Solomon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book about depression. This book beautifully tracks children whose identities are “horizontal”—meaning they didn’t inherit them from their parents. These include deaf children, gay children, criminal children, autistic children, mentally-handicapped children, and sociopaths. The father of the Sandy Hook killer asked Solomon to interview him for the New Yorker because of this book. Solomon does a brilliant job getting into the inner workings of such individuals and their families. His profile of Dylan Klebold’s parents alone is worth the read.
The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott
Stephen Elliott is a San Francisco writer who spent most of his career using his crazy life, childhood, and personality as material in his work. He decided to change things up and follow a Bay Area murder trial in the style of Capote and Mailer, but his life inevitably comes crashing back in. His Adderall addiction, S & M escapades, and father—who chooses to discredit and fight with his son whenever possible—all begin to derail this would-be In Cold Blood.
The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Two books that helped define a new genre of literary non-fiction or creative non-fiction. The way these two writers turn real people into the most fascinating characters in literature is awe-inspiring.
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne
This novel follows a young pop star in the mold of Justin Bieber as he navigates his way through puberty at the same time as he is trying to hold together a rising career. Life becomes career and career becomes life for this poor little guy caught in the eye of the pop culture storm.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
A tattoo artist moves into a new apartment and finds a mysterious trunk full of notes by a man named Zampano about a movie made by another man, Navidson, in which a labyrinth is found beneath his house. Part metafiction, part fantasy, part punk, part literary, House of Leaves bends the idea of a book into an object to insert oneself inside.
Reality Hunger by David Shields
Another book that changed my writing because of its unflinching insistence on reexamining what is most vital in literature: compression and reality. Shields proves his point in both form and content as he undermines the heavy plotting of traditional narratives.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Truly a hybrid form. This is my bible and I’m not sure why—except that I love its characters, its seaborne setting, its portrait of old America, and the way it mashes up fiction, non-fiction, drama, epic, and tragedy.
Ask the Dust by John Fante
The biggest inspiration on Charles Bukowski and also a seminal work of Los Angeles fiction. Arturo Bandini is a character who will make his mark on the soul of any young dreamer or artist who lives with a sensitive soul in the middle of a rough world.