1. The Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper by Mark Twain
Mark Twain is nearly always funny, but never more so, in my opinion, than when he’s talking about writing he doesn’t like. Cooper wrote Last Of The Mohicans and The Leatherstocking Tales. Whether you’ve read those (or love them) doesn’t matter–this is the best kind of venom, as only Twain could do.
2. My Father’s Brain by Jonathan Franzen
A fascinating, poignant essay about the author receiving a letter from his mother–the letter contains the details of the autopsy of his father’s brain. A brain which had been deeply changed by Alzheimer’s Disease.
3. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
If you have ever considered taking a pleasure cruise, you may want to read Wallace’s essay first. A Supposedly Fun Thing is about as good as it gets. I miss you, David. (Read Big Red Son as well).
4. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
All of humanity is dead except for five people. They are immortals, tormented forever by the computer who caused the genocide that wiped out the human race. They find a way to win, but the cost is pretty freaking terrible. I’m going to sneak in one more for Ellison here–The Whimper of Whipped Dogs. Read it!
5. The Summer People by Shirley Jackson
Everyone has read The Lottery. I think this is way better. And creepier.
6. The Santa Land Diaries by David Sedaris
A hysterical recounting of Sedaris’s seasonal job as a Christmas elf in a department store. If you are ever feeling down, reach into the Dave Sedaris grab-bag and you’ll be smiling in no time.
7. At The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
Trouble in the Arctic, discovered by an unfortunate excavation team. Big trouble. In my mind, I pretend that Dan Simmons took this tale up much later in The Terror.
8. Stone Animals by Kelly Link
Kelly, I’m in love with you. A wonderful, bizarre story about a family in a new house, some unusual rabbits, and…well, you’ll have to see. Also by Link, check out Some Zombie Contingency Plans.
9. The Iron, by Henry Rollins
If you ever need to get fired up to go lift something heavy.
10. Match Wits With Inspector Ford by Woody Allen
I love some of his movies, but I love nearly all of his prose. This is a fantastic parody of Encyclopedia-Brown type sleuthing.
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