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cult books list
(I got this from the_siobhan and am shamelessly stealing her lead-in)

The Telegraph published a list of the 50 best cult books. They don't really define "cult" other than to say they know it when they see it.

In response, Nisi Shawl and Nin Harris created an alternative and suplimentary list of
Best Cult Books
. Nisi provides the following definition for the books she chose;

Cult books are, by my definition, books that introduce the reader to a culture, a group of people who share values delineated by the book. Such books may be big seller or underground hits passed along via loans, but they have an impact beyond that of run-of-the-mill works. And they draw people in rather than merely preaching to the choir: they convert readers into believers.

They also provide their reasons for including each book, so check out the list on their blog if you're trying to figure out why a specific book is on the list.

<hr>

I've bolded the ones I have read, and italicized the ones that had been on my want-to-read list before seeing these lists; that list will inevitably grow as a result of Nisi & Nin's list, though perhaps not the other. With occasional comments.

Nisi and Nin's list

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Female Man by Joanna Russ
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (I think I've read all her books. They were safe and yet challenging havens, especially in my teen years.)
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Roots by Alex Haley
House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
Howl by Allen Ginsberg
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (I don't know why I have resisted this; I loved Midnight's Children)
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany (Have attempted it once, and didn't have enough brain.)
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide by Ntozake Shange
Jambalaya by Luisah Teish
Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler
Cheri by Colette
Black Looks by bell hooks
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
The Sensuous Woman by J (aka Helen Gurley Brown, editor-in-chief of Cosmo. Explains so much.)
I Hate to Housekeep by Peg Bracken  (I read this, and more so, the I Hate to Cook book, over and over again, cackling all the while. My love of snarky cookbooks sprang from this, I think, and I still devour cookbooks even though I hate to cook.)
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I Ching
Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday
Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moor Lappe
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Woman, Native, Other by Trinh T-Minh Ha
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Wild Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Matigari by Ngugi Wa Thiong’O
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (which is actually on a real to be read shelf, not just a virtual one. progress of a sort.)
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Dykes to Watch out For by Alison Bechdel


And the Telegraph list:

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám tr by Edward FitzGerald
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
A Rebours by JK Huysmans
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Journey to the End of Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (didn't finish it. also, the description of this on the list is fabulous, and probably made a ton of Randians froth at the mouth.)
Baby and Child Care by Doctor Benjamin Spock
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
Story of O by Pauline Réage (yuck)
The Outsider by Colin Wilson
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Can you escape a U.S. high school without reading this?)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Dune by Frank Herbert
The Magus by John Fowles
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Chariots of the Gods: Was God An Astronaut? by Erich Von Däniken
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Russell Munson
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig (I was obsessed with this book in my early 20s)
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R Hofstadter
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln
Iron John: a Book About Men by Robert Bly (Well, maybe not all of it. But I hung out regularly in a neo-pagan bookshop about the time of its release.)
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
No Logo by Naomi Klein (2000)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami




I am surprised by how many of the things on this list I know I have read but have almost no memory of; apparently I was not destined to join those cults.

The two books that had a "cult" impact on me, as a set, really, that aren't on either of these lists are the Principia Discordia and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy, the latter of which I read straight through over two days while feverish, which made it EVEN MORE MIND BLOWING.

YES! Illuminatus! Trilogy. You know I honestly thought that was on the list.

The Illuminatus Trilogy was important to me too. Although the first time I encountered it I was too young to enjoy it (14?) and dumped it at the first explicit sex scene. I've re-read it several times since then.
Did you know that there is a Synopsis of Books 1 and 2 in the beginning of the Dell paperback copies of Book 2 and 3? I haven't seen those reprinted in any of the omnibus collections, and they were an amazing re-view of what had happened.

I should do this. And I should pick up a few more on that first list.

Regarding the Telegraph list: Many of those books are classics, assigned over and over in high school and college classes. So, um, no, not cult books whatsoever. The Story of O, by virtue of it's taboo subject matter would probably count. But if we're measuring cult books like we do cult movies, with a certain cache among groups that are not the establishment, then I think the majority of their list fails that test.

Seriously? Catch-22? The Catcher in the Rye? The fuck?

Edited at 2013-12-17 04:21 pm (UTC)

I was confused by that, as well -- clearly they're defining 'cult' quite differently. I mean, To Kill a Mockingbird? It's a classic, and I'm pretty sure I read it in school twice.

Of course, I also had a teacher who idolized The Prophet and made us read that in world lit class... somehow eliding the fact that it was a fairly recent work by an american, which I didn't know until I read that list. :| (I got into SO MANY FIGHTS with the teacher about the Prophet, lol).

(Deleted comment)
With the exception of Vonnegut, I tended to look askance at most of the "this book must change your world when you're 17" books even when I *was* 17. Perhaps because I was dealing with enough actual medical misery that hearing some poor upper class dude's tale of teenage alienation just made me want to smack him.

(No, I never finished catcher in the rye. SMACK).

My friend wrote a song about Jonathan Livingston Seagull that's hilarious, though.

High above the ocean
Half way to heaven...
... slurped through the engine of a 747.

Cult books are, by my definition, books that introduce the reader to a culture, a group of people who share values delineated by the book. Such books may be big seller or underground hits passed along via loans, but they have an impact beyond that of run-of-the-mill works. And they draw people in rather than merely preaching to the choir: they convert readers into believers.

"Such books may be big seller or underground hits passed along via loans" is a good inclusive disclaimer, if there is such a thing, since one generation's underground hits may become the next generation's required reading. And/or, the shared values may spread throughout the mainstream and become unremarkable, while the book that started them is forgotten except by those who read it at 17.

Fwiw, what influenced me toward groups at 17-27 were books by CSL/GKC, Rand, Friedan, L. Durrell, Francis Moore Lappe et al, Leary/Bateson et al, Swami Muktananda; etc etc. Loved all Colette, but groups? -- where, where?

The shared values from the more recent books seem pretty non-remarkable, except maybe Daniken.

?

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