Happy summer! It’s time to bulk up your reading list.
Didn’t think you’d have homework, did ya? But that’s what tends to come with the territory of a Western summer: the guilt of freedom and the need to sweat to make it seem worthwhile.
I mean, if you’re on a beach then you gotta be working, right? I guess the logic is that there’s no gain without pain, even when you’ve finally made it to paradise.
We really gotta learn to chillax in the USA. But first, use your Puritan work ethic to devour some of my favorite books you’ve definitely never heard of.
- Gifts of Unknown Things by Lyall Watson
One of the most profound and insightful books I’ve ever read is also one of the most poetic and entertaining to read. This is very rare. Typically when a book is profound it’s about as fun as a box of wheat crackers, and entertainment doesn’t have a stellar academic background. But Lyall Watson sure as hell does.
Watson was a trained ethologist, botanist, zoologist, biologist, and likely many other -ologisms who was basically a globe-trotting supergenius interested in the fraying boundary between science and spirituality wayyy before it got popular today. Having completed his academic training at an early age, he set off on a journey to discover the world that took him many places, including the Pacific Islands where this book takes place.
In it Lyall and his crew are swept onto the shores of Nus Tarian (name changed in the book to protect the islander’s privacy) and discover an island populated by wonderful people who are also at war for the very soul of the island. Religion and magic collide, with the conflict itself centering around a young girl who seems to have the unreasonable powers of controlling the weather, manipulating time-space (with dancing), healing the sick and raising the dead. Highly recommended for both scientific content and artistic quality.
2. The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave
If you haven’t heard of Nick Cave, we’re not friends. Kidding (just barely), but seriously, if you’re not aware of the rock-god legend of our day, get out from under that rock and listen to these, and watch this. I’ll wait.
Anyway, Cave produced a heavyweight literary achievement of deep critical clout just a few years ago that is mostly in poetic form. What’s even more profound is how very readable and hilarious it is.
The work centers around a tour of North America with Cave and his band. Along the way Cave describes America in his graphically colorful, hallucinatory style (check out this incredible novel of his youth) and includes, among other things, love letters to his wife and audience, with whom he returns to nearly every night. He even collaborated with Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, with whom he made one of my favorite movies of all-time-ever, to do readings from select cities via YouTube video.
The fact that Robert Johnson makes an appearance is a solid reason for it being a perennial favorite. What’s more, the book got its name from Cave’s writing the majority of it on airplane puke bags, the photos of which are printed before each typed version.
This is obviously a titan work of art. It’s short, it’s entertaining, it’s “literary”, and it’s got pictures (and video). Check, check, check and check.
3. The Joke That We Play on the World by Joshua S. Porter
You may be noticing a trend here.
I love real-life stories by people who do great things, particularly in the way of artistry or some kind of spiritual exploration (if you’d like to keep that high vision of me, don’t scroll down). This book is exactly in that vein.
My favorite band of all time is Showbread. I know you’ve never heard of them, and that’s a huge crime. Because this band is like the best of all rock bands rolled into one super-smart, super-talented, and ludicrously hardworking musical machine.
It’s over now (sigh, cry), but when the band was still going it was headed up by the fantastic Joshua S. Porter. This man’s done everything from novels to audiobooks to double-albums to film, and yet this memoir seems to top (most of) them all for me.
It chronicles the history of a young band starting up and moving into full-time career mode as an indie staple in a weird niche (Christian punk). Woven in are accounts both beautiful, hilarious, and harrowing of life on the road and the interpersonal struggles that exist there, as well as personal philosophies about art, business, beliefs, and the meeting of the three.
Absolutely essential for anyone starting a band or just trying to do some personal project, whether artistic or entrepreneurial. You’ll probably have to email Porter personally to get a digital copy since the paperbacks are all out of print, but I’m pretty positive the man would shoot it over, and it’s well worth it.
And it’s got glossy! photos! too!
4. Solitary Fitness by Charles Bronson
If you thought that 70’s action movie star was the real Charles Bronson, you, sir, were mistaken.
This is the real man among men right here. Charles Bronson is the fighting name for Charles Arthur Salvador, an English prisoner who has been locked up in solitary confinement for more than 24 years for everything from robbery (for a girl) to beating the hockey sticks out of the guards. With all that time on his hands he’s learned ALOT about exercise and strength conditioning- so much so that when he got out of the clink (like twice) he competed successfully as a bareknuckle boxer and could whip the boys at the local gyms for lifts.
How does he do it? A helluvalot of pushups, sometimes 2000 per day to be exact, as well as strict diet and meditation.
Of course, what makes this book such a good read is not the workouts or fitness strategies, but the stories and crazy British hood rat language everything is written in. Sure, the breathing techniques are super valuable, and the philosophies life are great (summation: eat real food, do pull-ups, don’t go to prison), but the book is packed also with great art by the author, as well as wacky photos of early-2000 British models performing the exercises (think shea butter, spray-tans and spandex).
Even if you don’t dig the book, check out the film Bronson by Nicholas Winding Refn. It’s one of my favorites and sure to turn you on your head (for handstand pushups lol). And also the handwritten original copy just got auctioned off, which is cool.
5. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
So I’m going to try and throw in a book not written by a crazy (or artistic… basically the same thing) white dude about something wild and/or hallucinatory. And my pick for this is Tracks by the excellent Louise Erdrich.
Another hallucinatory work of great profundity that’s also crazy readable (noticing a trend here?), this work of fiction focuses on the winding paths of those displaced by Indian removal. The tale is written deeply Southern Gothic, with Erdrich describing so well the terror of the dark swamps and dense forests which swallow up those encroaching on tribal lands.
The character who carries this story is a young native woman who seems to have a deep magic yet no particular cares, and her beauty gets her in trouble with the changing world time and again as death follows in her wake.
100% honesty: I’m actually still working on this one. But so far the writing ins excellent, and I’m stoked to put this fantastic find up with Marquez and other lyrical writers.
Casanova in Bolzano by Sandor Marai
aaaand some more:
The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski
Rodan By Rilke
Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Happy Summer Reading!