I just couldn’t resist. Here are my bite-sized reviews of top ten books you should read. There should be something for everyone except the non-fiction fiend. For those doubting fiction, let me clarify that reading fiction can help improve some fundamentally human qualities:
- Fiction helps us explore abstract human experiences
- Fiction deepens our appreciation for concrete human experiences
- Fiction expands our range of experiences
- Fiction provides beauty and creativity to be enjoyed
“Literature is a form of discovery, perception, intensification, expression, interpretation, creativity, beauty, and understanding. These are ennobling activities and qualities.” Leland Ryken
And with that! Here comes a list that is STILL related to travel, because with an excellent book you can significantly improve the experience of your travel trip. Also, what else would you be doing on those train rides from A to B? Below is a list that I experienced in different places in the world… About different places of the world.
- For a Paris filled with anecdotes about famous writers (did you know that Hemingway and Ezra Pound vowed to save T.S. Eliot’s position at the bank) and to learn that you don’t need a lot of money to have a good life, read Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”: And if you travel to Paris, head to 6th arrondissement to at 113 rue Notre Dame des Champs, which is where he lived.
- A tour de force vomit on the twisted world of fashion, celebrity & derangement, go to Bret Easton Ellis’s “Glamorama”. Bret Easton Ellis have recently become the best writer of tweets and made a lot of enemies in his lifetime, but I still find his work interesting. It flows with such hedonistic abandon and completely dysfunctional moral compasses. (This is a fucked up book, avoid if you can’t stomach obscenity). I read this book during the hot summer of 2010, in Toronto.
- I work in digital advertising. Which ads changed the world? If you think, none, you’re wrong. And chances are, the top ad that you are thinking is not the one that is featured here. An excellent treatise spawning from the dawn of advertising is James Twitchell’s “20 Ads that Shook the World”. I read this in Toronto in 2009.
- On the true face of Stalinism and fallen idylls of communism, read the startling “Darkness at Noon” by Arthur Koestler. I read this dark piece of intelligent and astute writing on a sunny trip to Los Angeles in 2010. This is one of the few books that deeply shook me and made me question the past of the country I come from (Russia).
- For a beautiful treatise on memory, friendship, ageing and life in London after the Great War, immerse yourself in Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway”. I first read it as a teenager back in Vancouver, but since moving to London, I re-read it and fell in love.
- A progressively lunatic capture of LA hills, an early Hollywood & celebrity culture: Nathanael West’s “The Day of the Locust”. This is the book that starts sunny, full of the energy of the film industry and sunshine. Gradually, things start spinning out of control. There is a particularly gruesome description of a cock fight. There is a murder. There is madness. It spins out of control (like most of West’s books, which are only 4 because he died young in a car crash :( )
- For a dirtier, sexier, sincere take on life in XX century Paris, read Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer”. Inhibitions, be gone! This was the book that I read the moment I returned from Colombia, as my friend recommended it to me. I knew about Henry Miller and his notoriety, but I did not anticipate how much it would affect it. After reading the first few chapters, I sat down to type out angry words of my own. I had a good reason at the time. I still view this book as the bridge that transported me to London. Unfortunately, I gave away my copy to someone who probably did not appreciate it.
- Skip “Master and Margarita” and go for Mikhail Bulgakov’s lesser known novel “Heart of a Dog”. It’s an absurdist parable of the Russian Revolution: Professor Preobrazhensky and his young colleague Dr. Bormental inserted the human’s hypophysis into a dog’s brain. Couple of weeks later the dog became “human looking”. The main question is “Is anybody who is looking like a man, A REAL MAN?” Read the book to find out for yourself. There is an excellent film based on this book, check out the Mubi page.
- Immerse yourself in a futuristic Russia where technology & draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible rule Moscow of 2028: Vladimir Sorokin’s “Day of the Oprichnik” is a straight spit in the face of what the Putin administration is becoming. This is advanced reading and requires some knowledge of the Russian history and what oprichniki were (basically, they were czar’s thugs, Wiki). There is also a lot of drugs, sex and rock’n’roll.
- And the final recommendation to those with strong hearts and open minds: the most beautiful book ever written, and the one that made me feel more emotions than any other books: Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”. I believe that Vladimir Nabokov was the greatest master of Russian AND English language, for the way he wrote is so articulate, scientific, precise and trembling that it borders magic. I also realized that I did not like any covers for the book, because they convey something other than what I got out of the book.