Brian Francis Slattery's Top 10 Books That Don't Get Enough Respect
Brian Francis Slattery, author of two of the most original novels of recent years--Liberation and Spaceman Blues--has extremely eclectic reading tastes. In fact, Slattery might just be the ideal "omnivoracious" reader. So I thought it'd be interesting to ask him for his picks for ten books that don't get enough respect. Little did I know one of my own would wind up there. - Jeff
Nostromo, by Joseph Conrad - Except for the last couple chapters—you’ll know what I mean—this novel about a fictional revolution in Latin America at the turn of the last century is everything you could want in a book: satirical, romantic, smart, and an excellent adventure story. Plus, it has some ruminations on capitalism that make one question just how different 2008 is from 1908.
Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream, by Jason Fagone - An astonishing piece of journalism for the way that it pulls such substance from an unlikely subject and despairs without ever being mean or condescending. It’s also one of the most hilarious books I’ve read in a long time.
Petersburg, by Andrei Bely - Vladimir Nabokov said that this book was among the four best books of the 20th century (the other ones, to him, being Joyce’s Ulysses, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu). It is as good as Nabokov says, but also, it rips along like any good thriller about a terrorist plot—which this is—should.
The Song of the Dodo, by David Quammen - The most moving, beautifully written book on island biogeography and environmental destruction you’ll find.
Air Guitar, by Dave Hickey - Dave Hickey—art dealer, editor, professional songwriter, professor, MacArthur fellow, and cultural critic—writes like the bastard child of Walter Benjamin and Lester Bangs. Few people have enough material to be able to bury a phrase like “bad taste is real taste, of course, and good taste is the residue of someone else’s privilege” in the first half of a sentence about Liberace, but Hickey’s one of them.
Little, Big, by John Crowley - A medium-sized group of avid readers spend a lot of time wondering aloud why John Crowley isn’t ridiculously famous. By page 50 of this book, I was one of them.
Frontiers: The Epic of South Africa’s Creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa People, by Noel Mostert - Mostert’s lyrical and intensively researched doorstop of a book about the founding of South Africa made me cry.
Shriek: An Afterword, by Jeff VanderMeer - This eerie, gorgeous dream of a novel—in which two highly articulate and squabbling siblings relate their own family’s drama and the history of the decadent and doomed city they live in—reads like a dispatch from another world and a not too distant corner of our own.
The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime, by William Langewiesche - A terrific piece of reportage about pirates, smugglers, the shipping industry, and how much we’re kidding ourselves about our ability to govern international waters, written by a man who writes like he means it.
The Zero-Sum Society: Distribution and the Possibilities for Economic Change, by Lester Thurow - This sharply written, wonderfully cranky book about economic policy is both highly accessible and suddenly relevant.