You can learn about yours truly by reading these, though you’ll no doubt get different things out of them than I did. But as a “Bible” (it’s about the same length), you’ll get it. Try not to forget there happens to be an exactly equal number of different interpretations of The Good Book as there are people who believe it, and trust in it. This is the Snowflake Theory of Man; it seems pretty clear to me that we’re all a little different. Snowflakes (and fingerprints and iris scans and on and on…) are God’s hints on the infinite nature of the Human Existence.
Thus, the Holiness of the Individual.
You can find out what I think dying is like, or at least as well-put and funny and close a version as I’ve ever seen it in print (Good Old Neon), war (Johnny and All Quiet), what I think is funny in a Big Way (Summer and Semi-Tough), you can find out what I think of reason and God and love and sex and marriage and humanity and just about anything.
One thing about Wallace, though: You have to read him at least three times to get it—two things, sorry—and women just about universally don’t get him.
In no particular order; some are just plain funny; all are “True” in my worldly paradigm:
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand–Read several times in my late teens/early 20’s, a long time ago. Still appreciated for the respect of the talented individual, now sort of laughed at mostly for the pathological absence of what us Average Joe’s like to call, “a sense of humor.” Still, if it came from a human’s mind, can it not be possible? Nah, probably not, but shouldn’t we try?
Semi-Tough, by Dan Jenkins–The Perfect Woman occupies much space in this book, but mostly it is hilarious and semi-realistic and truly very funny. Chock full o’ great characters.
The Queen of the Damned, by Anne Rice (way better if you read the first two, “Interview with the Vampire,” and “The Vampire Lestat”)–a great story about how we’re all just really one. Beautiful and epic in scope and context. “The Family of Man” theme running throughout brought tears to my eyes.
Against Love, a Polemic, by Laura Kipnis–Holy Crap! An honest expose of the current definition of “love.” Brilliant, smart, and funny.
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving–Part of my own “God” sense…who’s to say, really? It’s all just guesswork. I loved Owen and his pal, and I loved the passion with which this work was done.
Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein–Heinlein is roundly criticized in the blogosphere, but I still don’t get exactly why, because I’m not an academic. Again, the power of possibility, the power of faith, and the power of intellect brought to good use.
Summer of ’42, by Herman Raucher–Just plain funny and sweet and not too much distant from most young men’s experience.
The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God, by John Powers–Another example of my relationship, such as it is, with God. Also very funny. Why doesn’t God get any credit for making Man the animal who laughs? (See Stranger.)
Good Old Neon, by David Foster Wallace–The best description of “mind-time” vs. chonological time, ever; and to boot the best description of what I think/hope death is like, ever. Wallace is a genius, but he takes some work.
E Unibus Pluram, by David Foster Wallace–Ostensibly about the Fiction Writer’s grappling with the TV culture; actually the best dissection of the power of TV over culture ever written, by a mile. (Please send a better one if you have it. The power of TV is comically underestimated.)
The Moon is Down, by John Steinbeck–How to fight The Man, briefly and beautifully done.
All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque–War is hell, and if you don’t believe it, or cheerlead it from the sidelines, you’re a pussy.
Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo–See above.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens–Just great story-telling. I still pick it up from time to time just to marvel.
Powers of Mind, by Adam Smith–Many things revealed here about how the ol’ noggin works, and you might be surprised. Bonus: He was in it to make money. Double-bonus: Very funny and smart.
Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger–Nothing need be said except, “I hate these fucking phonies.”
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera–Again, just a lovely, melancholy slice of life, wonderfully and lyrically and beautifully written.
Lamb, The Gospels According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore–Why isn’t this true? The rest of the goddamn Bible is no more validated. Very, very funny telling of Christ’s best friend Biff, who is pretty un-Christ-like, but the book also manages to be reverential and respectful of the concept of Christ, and the damn book is just really funny.
Anything by Trevanian. The Eiger Sanction, The Loo Sanction, Shibumi, and The Main come immediately to mind. Just fiction, but a Beware The Man kind of fiction.
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. Not even close in the contest in my mind for “You only get one book on a deserted island.”