Cult Fiction

The Telegraph has a list up of the top fifty "best cult books," a category they describe as:

the sort of book that people wear like a leather jacket or carry around like a totem. The book that rewires your head: that turns you on to psychedelics; makes you want to move to Greece; makes you a pacifist; gives you a way of thinking about yourself as a woman, or a voice in your head that makes it feel okay to be a teenager; conjures into being a character who becomes a permanent inhabitant of your mental flophouse.

Below the fold are the top 50. I’ve indicated those (19) I’ve read with italics. Feel free to make suggestions for additions.

  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
  • The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell (1957-60)
  • A Rebours by JK Huysmans (1884)
  • Baby and Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock (1946)
  • The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1991)
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
  • The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
  • The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1993)
  • The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (1971)
  • Chariots of the Gods: Was God An Astronaut? by Erich Von Däniken (1968)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
  • Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)
  • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)
  • Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard (1950)
  • The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (1954)
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)
  • Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1973)
  • The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R Hofstadter (1979)
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
  • The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982)
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino (1979)
  • Iron John: a Book About Men by Robert Bly (1990)
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Russell Munson (1970)
  • The Magus by John Fowles (1966)
  • Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1962)
  • The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
  • No Logo by Naomi Klein (2000)
  • On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson (1971)
  • The Outsider by Colin Wilson (1956)
  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (1923)
  • The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (1914)
  • The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám tr by Edward FitzGerald (1859)
  • The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)
  • Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)
  • The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)
  • Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954)
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
  • The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda (1968)
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1883-85)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig(1974)

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Shame on you, Dr. Lynch, for not having read The Catcher in the Rye. You should. Like, now. Grading be damned.

I vote to add Man's Search for Meaning (1946) by Viktor Frankl.

@ Andrew

Well, I never said I was perfect!

Actually, every time I post a list with that book on it, I promise to read it and never get round to doing so. Maybe sometime this summer.

By John Lynch (not verified) on 25 Apr 2008 #permalink

Seriously!? Never read Catcher in the Rye? I agree with Matthew - drop whatever it is you are doing, go into a time machine to when you were about 14-16, and read that book a few times. Trust me on this one. I'll see you in the future.

Put it this way, when I was 14-16 in Ireland, we were reading other things.

By John Lynch (not verified) on 25 Apr 2008 #permalink

I've read 16.

I am not sure why they listed The Leopard, other than the movie made it quite well-known. If you want to go Italian, Pirandello's Six Characters has far more of a cult following (though perhaps plays don't count?). Also candidates, Moravia The Indifferents and Calvino's Cosmicomics.

Notably missing: Sartre's Nausea, Mann's Death in Venice, Orwell's 1984. I'd put in Chance and Necessity, but that's just because I am a science nerd.

I've read 12 of those books. Sorry, I'm just not a reader. 'Zen and the art of ...' is drivel. 'Chariots of the Gods' rivals 'The Privileged Planet' for it's pseudo-science.

By NoAstronomer (not verified) on 25 Apr 2008 #permalink

Anyone actually read and understood "Goedel, Escher and Bach"? I hear its a bit hard to read.

The variety of books on there is quite extreme. I'm 31, and I think I am the only person I know of my age or younger who has heard of COlin Wilson, let alone read several of his books, or indeed "THe OUtsider". Yet other books like "To Kill a Mockingbird", are on school reading lists.

And who has read "The Alexandria Quartet"?
Anyone? Hands up so we can count you.

I think this shows the Telegraph Critics are of a varied age and outlook, which can only be good for the Arts section.

Hmm, I've actually read 14 of them. I have copies of a further 3 on my shelves to read when I can be bothered.

This is not exactly an international list. I suspect many of the books will be unknown to people outside the UK.

And who has read "The Alexandria Quartet"?

Not I. I'm more of a Gerald Durrell gal, mayself.

Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is excellent.

Eeewwww, Ayn Rand. :-P

Ditto L. Ron Hubbard.

I've read 18 of them.

I'd suggest that the Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson belongs on the list.

Also conspicuously absent from the list is William Goldman's The Princess Bride (1973, though the 1987 film version is much more famous).

Not all of the books on this list can be considered classics by any means. Dianetics is the basis of the "religion" of Scientology; The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail is best known as a major source of the ideas in The DaVinci Code. I have read Gödel, Escher, Bach, and I thought I understood it at the time.

I've read 10 of these books--I've had other priorities, reading-wise. Three are books that John says he hasn't read: Jonathan Livingston Seagull (good light reading, but don't go out of your way to buy it), The Prophet (somewhat more substantial), and To Kill a Mockingbird (which does deserve classic status).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 25 Apr 2008 #permalink

I've read 26 of them, but I can't say they are all equally worth reading. Some of them, in fact, I consider a waste of my time, though a couple of them (like that horrible Teachings of Don Juan or the incredible Holy Blood Holy Grail (does it really have articles and "and" in the title? I could have sworn not)) I'm glad I read so I can tell people I have when I'm telling them how stupid they are... Of the ones you haven't read that I have, I'd definitely recommend To Kill a Mockingbird. (Catcher in the Rye you need to come to younger, I think, and Master and Margarita I hesitate to recommend because it's not a *usual* kind of book, but I love it...)

guthrie wrote:

Anyone actually read and understood "Goedel, Escher and Bach"? I hear its a bit hard to read.

More than once actually and I shall probably read it again sometime. The understanding is relative to ones own knowledge of the multiple themes that Hofstader handles in the book. My understanding has evolved over the years and continues to do so.

Thony- I suppose thats a definition for a really good book, which needn't be in common in all cult books. That you can read it again and again and get different things out of it is a good sign. To that extent, a lot of the books on the list do that, but I do not think anything by Leigh and Baigent, Von Daniken, or Hubbard would be on the list.

In high school around '70, I serendipitously pulled De Quincey's *Confessions of an English Opium-Eater* from the library shelf. As they say -- blew me away. Its sighing tenor of ennui made an impact on me that lingers to this day. It certainly confirmed my feelings of being somewhat an eccentric...someone who preferred the darker, stranger avenues to the brighter light of conventional normality.Probably could draw a straight line from that book's flavor of fatalism to my fairly recent encounters with those by WG Sebald.

This list is clearly incomplete. They didn't mention The Third Policemen or At Swim Two Birds.

By Amadán (not verified) on 30 Apr 2008 #permalink