As the resident book wyrm of Spewtilator, picking three books people should read poses quite the daunting task. Rather than picking my three favorite books of all time (which could very well be more difficult than picking my three favorite albums), I’ve chosen to write about two books and a series of books I’ve enjoyed within the past year or two.
While my reading tastes vary from time to time- ranging anywhere from pre-modern metaphysics and mysticism, to contemporary science fiction, to the occasional historical biography- I feel my three selections offer a decent cross section of what I’ve been letting my mind wander through recently. Enjoy, and keep reading!
Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
After finishing my bachelor’s and taking some time away from academia, I realized that there were so many “classics” I had yet to read thanks to being buried in my studies. Steppenwolf was one I finally crossed off my list last year. In the main character Harry Haller, Hesse portrays what I would dare to liken as the lonely outcast type who we so often encounter within our small sub cultural circle; the “beast astray that finds neither home nor joy nor nourishment in a world that is strange and incomprehensible to him.”
Throughout the narrative, the self-proclaimed “wolf of the steppes” (hence, Steppenwolf) that is Haller finds himself in a series of existential crises as a result of his confliction between the aspirations and intellect of the human psyche and the perhaps instinctual desires that he relates as animalistic. These crises only heighten as Haller begins to mingle with the characters of Hermine (who herself may only be a projection of a part Haller’s mind), her confidant and Haller’s eventual seductress Maria, and their pusher-man as it were, Pablo, who Hesse poses as a near trait-for-trait opposite of Haller.
As the Steppenwolf moves through his personal trials, he is often reflecting on the figures of Goethe and Mozart who he reveres in borderline God-like fashion, and who each have their moment in Haller’s ultimate trajectory (Goethe in a dream, and Mozart in the book’s fantastic culmination in the Magic Theatre). While this novel left me feeling a bit unsettled and off-center after reading it, if you find yourself often venturing out at night alone, or enjoy the general ideas of Sartre and/or Schopenhauer, read this if you haven’t already.
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
I’ve come to really enjoy short stories as of late: unlike novels, short stories, when done well, can serve as momentous instants of written excellence that allow readers the leisure of moving from piece to piece with each passing day. Ficciones (“Fictions”) is arguably the most popular collection of short stories from the 20th century Argentine writer/essayist/poet Jorge Louis Borges, whose career and work landed him just about every literary accolade short of the Nobel Prize.
Known for his use of surrealism and repeating themes such as labyrinths, Borges may at once hearken on world history, Western philosophy, and Eastern mysticism to create penetrating insights into the human condition, often all in one story (or in some cases, one paragraph). I’ve been reading a compendium of his work titled Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley and published by Penguin Classics, for about the past six weeks now, and have caught myself constantly thinking about stories from Ficciones, most notably “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim,” “The Circular Ruins,” and “The Garden of Forking Paths.”
For readers looking for thought-provoking, worldly escapes into the spiraling depths of hope and faith, look no further.
The entire Legend of Drizzt series, by R.A. Salvatore
The fantasy works of Lovecraft and Tolkien have by now earned their respective positions of high rank in the world of heavy metal (what band hasn’t referenced either one or the other in some way?). Yet, the world of Dungeons and Dragons — TSR, Forgotten Realms, Wizards of the Coast, etc. — is deserved of similar praise.
This series was introduced to me by an uncle of mine (who I’m forever indebted to for much of this list, as well as for showing me heavy metal as a child), and has consumed my life for most of the past three years. Salvatore started the series in the late 80’s with the Crsytal Shard, what is technically the fourth book of the now 20-plus book saga, and centers it on the adventures of a rather peculiar dark elf ranger, Drizzt Do’Urden, who as an adolescent leaves his subterranean homeland and maniacal race behind in favor of the surface world and a lifelong quest for a more goodly morality. Through the beginning of the series, Drizzt and his sidekick, the magical panther Guenwhyvar, entrust the friendship of an odd group of comrades — a dwarf king, a barbarian, a human woman, and a halfling — who together form the Companions of the Hall and carry much of the narrative through each passing tale.
Without summarizing every book, though at the risk of sounding trite, the Legend of Drizzt truly has everything anyone would want from a fantasy series and then some. Much of Salvatore’s praise for the series has been due to his exceptionally detailed and thrilling battle scenes, which are nothing short of amazing, as well as for his stellar character development. The books are fun and engaging, as every good fantasy series ought to be, though through the intermittent insights of Do’Urden the reader is given surprising analyses of what we often consider universal truths and proper action (in a fantasy series? Dare I say? Yes, indeed). Sometimes one ought to simply read about good versus evil, and when that time comes, I highly suggest the Legend of Drizzt series as it does not disappoint; I have gotten Ryan from Spewtilator and other friends of mine hooked on this series and none have disagreed with me. Salvatore’s next installment comes out in March and I absolutely cannot wait!
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