Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cult Books-Favorites-and Not So Much

by Jamie Freveletti

Ask a reader what are their favorite books and you will get a slew of answers with few overlaps. The joy of reading is that there is a genre out there for everyone. Change the question to “what is your favorite cult book?” and the list narrows. Cult books hold a unique position in the public consciousness, because they survive often in spite of their narrow appeal.

It’s tough to label a book a “cult” classic, because we all have different interpretations of what that might mean. For me, it’s a book that you stumble upon, and when you describe it to your friends they all seem to know it, and agree that is was odd, outside their normal reading material, and that they loved it, or hated it. The love or the hate runs deep with cult books.

The Telegraph came very close to creating the perfect cult book list in this amusing article: Fifty Best Cult Books. I urge you to read the authors' hilarious short explanations of the books, which are dead on. Here's their list (without the funny asides):

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

The Alexandria Quartet A Rebours by JK Huysman (1884)

Baby and Child Care by Dr. Spock (1946)

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1991)

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1964)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1993)

The Dice Man by Luke Rheinhart (1971)

The Chariot of the Gods: Was God an Astronaut? by Erich von Daniken (1968)

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)

Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)

Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health by L. Ron Hubbard (1950)

The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (1954)

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1973)

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)

Godel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter (1979)

Gravity's Rainbow by Douglas Pynchon (1973)

The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln (1982)

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)

If On a Winter's Night by Italo Calvino (1979)

Iron John: A book about men by Robert Bly (1990)

Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Robert Munson (1970)

The Magus by John Fowles (1966)

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borgas (1962)

The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa (1968)

The Master and the Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov (1967)

No Logo by Naomi Klein (2000)

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1967)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson (1971)

The Outsider by Colin Wilson (1956)

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran (1923)

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (1914)

The Rubbiayat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald (1854)

The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1774)

The Story of O by Pauline Reage (1954)

The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)

The Teachings of Don Juan: The Yaquit Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda (1968)

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)

Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Von Nietzsche (1883-85)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig (1974


There were a few on this list that surprised me. I’d read many, and disliked some and hated one in particular (“The Fountainhead.” I shudder at the thought of it).

In reading the list, I realized that many of the books came to define an era or make a profound, or not so profound, statement on women, men, sex, and the ever interesting subject of the “meaning of life.” Several created new descriptors for old behaviors. “Catch 22, “(Vonegut), “Zipless F.*#%,” (Jong), and “New Operating Thetan” (Hubbard). Okay, that last one is only known to followers of Scientology or the antics of those in Hollywood, but you get my drift. To be a cult novel it must operate on the reader in a way that makes her step back and rethink an old closely held idea.

What’s most interesting is the way our culture has changed since these books were written. Jong’s groundbreaking view into housewives and sex without strings seems like a yawn today, where casual sex is much more prevalent and even accepted in some circles, and Hubbard’s “Dianetics” has received its share of derision and hostility even as followers of Scientology continue to remain at the top of the “A” list in Hollywood. “The Story of O,” described in the Telegraph article as a treatise decrying the objectification of women may have been seen that way in 1954 when it was published, but by the time I read it in the late ‘80’s appeared to be nothing more than an erotic novel describing an unusual sexual subculture and really depressing.

Some of these on the list look interesting, mostly because I was unaware of them until I read the article. I’m going to pick up a couple and see if I agree with the authors. In the meantime, if you have any “cult” books that you think have been missed, let me know!


20 comments:

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Cool list, including many of my favorites and a few that are new to me. Interesting especially in the way that several of those titles--Catch-22, To Kill a Mockingbird, Slaughterhouse Five, even A Confederacy of Dunces--might be considered cult by a British newspaper, but most Americans would consider them a definitive part of the American literary culture.

(You mean every British child doesn't read To Kill a Mockingbird in 9th grade?!?)

Dana King said...

I was thinking the same thing as Kevin. I consider books like CATCH-22, SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and several others as staples of 20th Century fiction. I'm inclined to believe that a book that sells as well as THE CATCHER IN THE RYE 60 years after its writing, and is almost universally taught in schools, has gone well beyond cult status.

Sarah W said...

Delurking to venture that The Manchurian Candidate certainly defines the pervading views of an era.

Though I'm not sure if the book has any cult status not reflected from the original movie . . .

Skulking back into lurkdom now . . .

Jamie Freveletti said...

Wonder what, then should we call a cult book? Underground, but well read by all and yet not taught in schools? What do you think? because I agree some of these have definitely moved into "classic" catagory!

Jamie Freveletti said...

And that would be "category!" Sheesh

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