In a previous post I gave a recommended non-fiction reading list. Now let’s look at some fiction to expand the mind, stretch the imagination and inspire the spirit.
This little known book by Chinese-American author Gus Lee is an autobiographical account of growing up in San Francisco. Lee was a skinny, weak, and insecure kid. By taking a number of classes at the local YMCA, most importantly some boxing classes, he overcame his fears and stepped out of childhood. I’ve always been a sucker for stories of young men and their mentors. This tale is told in an straightforward, honest way that captures the reader immediately.
I first read The Dharma Bums when I was a senior in university. My best friends at the time were passing this book around. I was expecting a letdown after having reading On the Road the previous year, but instead I found Kerouac’s witty storytelling of his adventures with Gary Snyder to be a far superior work. The blending of exhilarating mountain climbing blended with just the right amount of Buddhist-inspired philosophical musings told in Kerouac’s everyman language make this perhaps his best work. This is always a fun book to go back to.
Starhawk’s first attempt at fiction is not the work of a polished writer. It is overly long and verbose and could have easily been cut by a hundred pages. Nevertheless, it is an inspired work and presents a much needed vision of a positive future, one free of the dysfunctionality of our present age where people actually work together and have re-learned how to live in harmony with mother earth.
Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson’s masterpiece, is more akin to a visceral experience than a simple exercise in reading. Many have told me that they felt changed afterward and even felt ‘high” while reading it. That’s about the best praise a writer can achieve. Thompson would go on writing for 30 more years after the publication of Fear and Loathing in 1972 but never again soared to the artistic heights that he did with this work.
Getting back to the young man/mentor theme mentioned earlier, The Education of Little Tree tells the story of a young orphan raised by his Cherokee grandfather in the mountains of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. There are precious few good novels by and about the native inhabitants of North America. This is one of them.
Author Daniel Quinn is a visionary. Unlike most visionaries who can only imagine a future of technology and machines, Quinn looks to the ancient past and envisions humanity coming back to sanity and wholeness by remembering who we were before the agricultural revolution. Ishmael tells the story of mankind’s downfall through a talking ape who teaches his student through the Socratic method. The Story of B is a sequel of sorts, a continuation of the line of thought brought up in Ishmael, but more in-depth and philosophical. Quinn delves into the deepest roots of our current global predicament and sees it a crisis of mindset. Until that mindset changes, nothing will.
Robert Heinlein’s classic is far more than simple science fiction. It is a work of philosophy and a treatise on the human condition. It is the tale of the ‘man from Mars’, a Jesus type figure who comes to redeem humanity. What would life be like if we really embraced and lived unconditional love? Heinlein was a genius and this book’s message is timeless. Such was its original impact when published that a pagan church was founded and organized based upon the ideas contained within it.
This is a book which I had read about for most of my adult life. It had always been on my ‘must read’ list but somehow I never got around to actually sitting down with it until a couple of years ago. Even with the dozens of articles I had read over the years discussing the book’s message, I was not fully prepared for its impact. I understood immediately the importance and genius of what I was reading, but the story is so unrelentingly dark and dystopic that it gave me nightmares. I’m glad I’ve read it, ( and I think everyone should) but I don’t care to relive the experience again.
Edward Abbey moved easily between fiction and non-fiction. This was the fictional work which made him famous and started a movement of environmental direct action- Earth First! This book spoke to a generation of activists who wanted to do more to save the planet than just write letters and do an occasional sit-in. It’s also a really fun read.
These are my four favorite Tom Robbins novels. Robbins was deeply influenced by the teachings of the spiritual master and mystic Osho, and the Tantric message of living life to the fullest shines through in all of Robbins’ work. Funny, irreverent, witty, incisive, warm and adventurous, these novels are food for the soul.
Erotica is genre that few serious writers ever delve into. This is unfortunate, as the vacuum is filled with thousands of hacks who hone their ‘craft’ penning garbage for ‘Penthouse Forum.’ This book is actually a collection of short stories by amateur erotica writers, and editor Lonnie Barbach includes a broad range of writing styles so that no matter what your taste is, you will find something here to enjoy. The quality of writing varies, but there are enough delightful gems here to make it a worthwhile purchase.