Notable Books

This is a list of all the books I've read (and finished, with a few exceptions) that I feel are worth mentioning. It's not every book I've ever read, as I've omitted books that I've decided are embarrassing, not worth discussing, or that I've simply forgotten (which would disqualify them from being notable). I read the vast majority of these books in the time since I quit video games (more on that elsewhere), although surprisingly I still did manage to pick reading back up about halfway through my long addiction and engage in it occasionally. I suppose that's just a testament to how strong my drive to read is, that it could overcome even Gaming.

My reading order is chaotic, I let my unknowable whims guide me from book to book based on what I "feel" like reading. Sometimes I may read several books by the same author in a row (this happened, for some reason, with J.G. Ballard) and sometimes I might leap between centuries, styles, and topics with each successive book. I stumble upon new books to read serendipitously, usually on the internet (blogs, Twitter, a certain anonymous literature forum, &c). I almost exclusively read print books, (hate reading on screens, even the Kindle displays) so then I need to encounter the books I've found out about at the used bookstore or library. If a book is particularly hard to find and I'm driven enough to read it, I'll order it online and have it delivered. I used to read up to five different books at a time, but of late I've been on a pretty steady streak of reading just one at a time.

Since these are supposed to be "note-able" books, I've tried to leave a comment (brief summary, thoughts, &c) below for each book. The comments, however, come to my mind in the same way as the desire to read certain books, so I'm forced to gradually fill them out in no particular order. I might also go back and delete some if I reread them later and realize they're too cringe, but they really aren't meant to be high-level analysis or criticism of any sort in the first place.

Most Recent
Twice-Told Tales
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Billy Budd and Other Stories
Herman Melville
Hermann Hesse
Italo Calvino
Something I've been thinking a lot about lately is science aesthetics, not neccessarily rigorous science, but the stuff that escapes from science out into popular culture. Stuff like the periodic table, which almost everyone can recognize (even if they don't know how to "use" it), or the old orbital model of the atom, which has been discredited for quite a while now but still sticks around in the popular consciousness. What Cosmicomics does is take old whimsical storytelling forms (fairy tales, dubious tales from the "good old days" from your grandpa, etc.) and "update" them with science aesthetics. This unusual juxtaposition has quite an effect, and while reading it set me off thinking about a lot of things, like how coming up with scientific theories is a form of storytelling, trying to come up with a narrative linking together a few related but distinct observations.
Heart of Darkness and Other Tales
Joseph Conrad
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
Henry Fielding
I was surprised to find out that this was actually published before Tristram Shandy, as the language and style in it felt a lot more "modern" and thus easier for me to read and follow along with. It's long and feels a bit rambling at some points, especially in the middle, but it turns out that it's actually quite tightly plotted, and all the thread come together for an extremely satisfying conclusion right when you think there's no possible way for it to be all resolved without contrivances or some disappointments (the author even alludes to this, while reassuring you that he will be able to pull it off without resorting to such techniques).
The Sot Weed Factor
John Barth
A raunchy and rambunctious journey in the style of Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy, dialed way up. The reveals of long-lost relatives, unexpected reappearances of characters you'd forgotten about, sudden changes of allegiance, digressive stories-within-a-story, close escapes from deadly situations, and attempts to deprive the main character of his "innocence" just do not stop coming. As a result, progression of the plot rarely feels as glacial as in Tom Jones (or even Tristram Shandy), however the eventual resolution at the end, though appropriate in many aspects, is not nearly as satisfying as the conclusion of Tom Jones. Perhaps that was done on purpose, as yet another layer of the satire.
John Crowley
Endless Things
John Crowley
The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro
My god, without realizing I somehow managed to pick up THE book refuting grindset autism. Copes galore as the main character takes basically his first vacation in several decades and suddenly has time to reflect on his years of dedication to "professionalism" and "dignity" and where that got him. Give this to your hustling techbro friends who are at risk of working overtime for forty years trying to develop a more efficient algorithm for convincing people to buy stuff they don't need.
A Personal Matter
Kenzaburō Ōe
I completely forgot I had read this until I randomly saw the cover somewhere online just now. I'm pretty sure I read it in the library basement in one sitting while hopped up on coffee. I mostly remember themes of shirking responsibility/commitment.
Mother Night
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country
William H. Gass
Mason & Dixon
Thomas Pynchon
Down and Out in Paris and London
George Orwell
Gravity's Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon
United States
Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace
Meme book, but it deserves the top spot here because this is the book that got me back into reading after many long years. It's actually surprisingly accessible, plus well-written, which makes it a good starter book. In fact, it lately got a dear friend of mine into reading as well. Counterintuitively, the extreme length seems to act as a selling point.
The Pale King
David Foster Wallace
The book about working at the IRS. Unsurprisingly, it's mostly about boredom.
East of Eden
John Steinbeck
The saga of two families who settled in Steinbeck's beloved Salinas Valley in California. An American epic.
Cannery Row
John Steinbeck
A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway
Too laconic.
Charlie Kaufman
A neurotic film critic tries to reconstruct the most avant-garde film of all time. The first half is quite funny, with some laugh-out-loud parts and insightful satire, but it starts to suffer from getting too surreal, an issue I find affects some of Kaufman's movies as well.
The Tunnel
William H. Gass
I feel that it's less about being a bigot like many say, and more about being Midwestern. Does this mean Midwesterners are bigots? Maybe.
Middle C
William H. Gass
A bookish but mediocre musician in the deep Midwest fakes his way into a professorship at a small college by exaggerating his European roots and specializing in a trendy but obscure branch of music. Decades go by and he remains a bachelor, living with his mom in a house owned by the college, concerned with the possibility of being found out and obsessed with his project of collecting newspaper clippings for his "Inhumanity Museum". As a whole, it hits a little bit close to home. Is this page of scattered thoughts and clippings from the plots of books that I wrote mostly while living back at home with my mom for a bit just my own Inhumanity Museum?
Little, Big
John Crowley
The Solitudes
John Crowley
Love & Sleep
John Crowley
Butcher's Crossing
John Williams
This was described as a Western novel. I've never read a "Western" before so I guess I expected showdowns on Main St. and the like, but instead what I got was a treasure hunt for a hidden cache of... buffalo.
John Williams
This was described as a Campus novel. I've never read a "Campus" before so I guess I expected showdowns in committee meetings and the like, and boy did it deliver. At the same time, though, it was so much more. The prose has a very distinct feeling; it's tight, spare, and unassuming, which makes the unparalleled emotional depth it manages to deliver completely unexpected.
John Williams
A history student sat down at my table in the cafeteria when I was reading this one day, maybe because he thought it was a history book. No, alas, it's basically historical fan-fiction, as I explained to him at length when he finally engaged me about it, after a tense several-minute period during which I pretended to be laser-focused on reading. That turned into a half hour or so conservation as we also walked to the library. I never saw him again. I think his name was Timmi. A fun read especially if you happened to have just watched some videos on that part of Roman history as I had.
The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James
With the way Henry James manages to get into the heads of his characters, reading one of his novels is basically the equivalent of an entire class in psychology/sociology. It's probably better, in fact, and they should either add his novels to the curriculum or give you credits for completing them. His writing style is also so dense with clauses that some additional English credits would be in order too if you manage to understand what's going on. If you've ever read one of his novels, you'll know what I'm talking about, and the even crazier thing is that apparently that is how he spoke as well. His later books were dictated and they just... came out like that.
The Aspern Papers and The Turn of the Screw
Henry James
I bought this book because it had Turn of the Screw, and then ended up liking The Aspern Papers more. The suspense is masterful and brings back fond memories of sneaking by my parent's room to try and steal my DS for some unauthorized gaming.
A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole
Maybe the ur-example of coming up with a type of guy and then somehow causing him to appear in real life. I think they call this "hyperstition". To this day, you can find hundreds of Ignatius J. Reilly-types on the internet, though all of them manage to pale in comparison to the "real thing" from the book, so I'd recommend giving it a read.
American Psycho
Bret Easton Ellis
Between the barrage of brand names, there's sometimes a funny scene. Just go watch the movie, I say.
The Crying of Lot 49
Thomas Pynchon
Vladimir Nabokov
The eloquent narrator seduces you with his style as describes his molestations. Somehow also one of the Great American Roadtrip novels.
Pale Fire
Vladimir Nabokov
An academic writes the commentary for his deceased colleague's final poem. I think the less you know, the better in this case. Incidentally, this is my favorite book.
Speak, Memory
Vladimir Nabokov
Invitation to a Beheading
Vladimir Nabokov
Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Vladimir Nabokov
Romance, duels, incest, outrageous multilingual wordplay, alternate history, technology based on water?? For the real Nabokov fans. Almost certainly his longest. Requires passable knowledge of French and Russian to fully appreciate.
Frank Herbert
I read this a few years before the new movie came out and the corresponding big marketing push of the book, just so you know.
A Canticle for Leibowitz
Walter M. Miller Jr.
Something I've noticed is that all the best (at least in my opinion) "science fiction" books seem to be anything but (see: Dune). In this case, after an apocalypse, a monastery preserves books and knowledge for hundreds of years as society rebuilds. What results is a meditation on the relationship between people, religion and technology.
Herman Melville
I saw a whale the same day I started reading this. Auspicious.
Post Office
Charles Bukowski
Too many writers are straight-edge, well-to-do intellectual types, which has a tendency to limit what they can write about since you can only write well about what you know. Fortunately, occasionally someone who's the complete antithesis of the writer archetype gets in on writing, for God knows what reason, actual divine inspiration perhaps. One of them is Charles Bukowski, who brings his experiences being a deadbeat alcoholic gambler (and postal worker) to the page.
Ham on Rye
Charles Bukowski
How can I be so sure Bukowski was a deadbeat alcoholic gambler? This novel was described as being mostly autobiographical and contains all of that in spades, along with lots of physical fights over arguments in which not-Bukowski ("Chinaski", to be exact) is clearly in the wrong.
White Noise
Don DeLillo
Overrated. Everyone acts like it's some kind of brilliant exploration of modern consumerism because of one brief, contrived section where the main character goes shopping because he's scared of death or something. There is one good bit in it about "The Most Photographed Barn in America".
Latin America
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Gabriel García Márquez
Jorge Luis Borges
The Aleph
Jorge Luis Borges
Roberto Bolaño
The Savage Detectives
Roberto Bolaño
Nazi Literature in the Americas
Roberto Bolaño
The Third Reich
Roberto Bolaño
Definitely the weakest Bolaño work I've read. Seems to be part of an exploitative trend of digging through everything dead writers leave behind and publishing work that they had probably buried for good reason. I guess that kind of material is enlightening for the scholars, but I can't help but feel that publishers were also quite eager to put out another book with a reputable name like "Bolaño" on the cover.
United Kingdom
Nineteen Eighty-Four
George Orwell
Where do I even start? I don't think my main problem is even with the book itself, it's with the way people misinterpret it. It certainly deserves a place in the public consciousness as it has a lot of novel concepts that really get the noggin' joggin', but at the same time, the misinterpretations I complain about come from the fact that many people probably have not actually read it and are relying on imperfect cultural osmosis. Unfortunately, this means referencing it has also become a cliché on par with likening people you disagree with to Hitler and/or the Nazis. Over the years, it seems to have fallen solidly into a category one might call "dystopia porn" (along with other notables like The Handmaid's Tale and The Hunger Games), as the future depicted gradually shifted from possible to mere fantasy.
Brave New World
Aldous Huxley
It languishes in the shadow of Nineteen Eighty-Four despite being far more relevant to modern society. I think Neil Postman put it best, in the forward to Amusing Ourselves to Death, wrapping up a discerning comparison of the two books: "In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right." Even as a young lad I was able to recognize how well the two books go together, which is why I used them as the basis for the SAT essay portion, back when they still had that.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Laurence Sterne
The Unlimited Dream Company
J. G. Ballard
Cocaine Nights
J. G. Ballard
J. G. Ballard
I'm not sure what compelled me to go on such a Ballard binge but I read all three of these consecutively. Funnily enough, I missed reading his most famous book, Crash, as it was not in the library. I think I was just really interested in the "seemingly-perfect 'modern' community that is actually based around some horrible secret (violence, drugs) that they're constantly covering up" theme that he had going in both this book and Cocaine Nights. I will admit that I didn't get as much insight from them as I had wanted, though.
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
Thomas De Quincey
De Quincey's vivid imagery is as strong an endorsement for opium as Coleridge's poetry. Tragically, these days all our opioids are less-than-literary, twisted by the malicious forces masquerading as "progress". Gone are the days when you could pop down to the apothecary, and in the evening enjoy a nice opium tincture by the roaring fireplace as you compose some lines.
The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear
Walter Moers
I never, ever hear anybody talk about Moers, which is a shame because they're some of my favorites. His imagination is incredible and all of his books are a kind of unique blend of fairy tale, science fiction, and comedy, almost all of which take place in a shared universe. I guess what might scare people off is the heft of some of his books, since I just took a look and this book is actually larger and as thick as my copy of Infinite Jest. But, in fact, the fare is a lot lighter, with the size coming from all of the wonderful illustrations by the author included within, or the playful typography in some sections, not to mention the fact that the margins in general are huge and the font size is as well. If you're looking to get into Moers, this is the book I'd recommend starting with, though I might be biased because I started with this one.
Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures
Walter Moers
The City of Dreaming Books
Walter Moers
The Alchemaster's Apprentice
Walter Moers
Death in Venice
Thomas Mann
Hermann Hesse
Life: A User's Manual
Georges Perec
Sometimes, when I was a kid, I would look at random passersby or objects around and wonder, "What's your story?". I feel that this same sort of curiosity is what inspired Perec to write this book, where he goes through every room in a Parisian apartment block and tells its story. An impossible task outside of fiction, it really makes you appreciate the sheer depth of even the seemingly-ordinary.
Swann's Way
Marcel Proust
Many people will lay claim to having read all of "In Search of Lost Time" after having only read the first volume, but not I. The writing style is extremely rich, like A5 wagyu (flavor not price). Proust seems to be trying to serve up the whole cow, and though it's extremely good, the only way I'm getting through it is by taking my time. Maybe I'll read one volume a year from now on.
Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert
My Friends
Emmanuel Bove
Michel Houellebecq
Against the Grain
Joris-Karl Huysmans
Yeah, I only read this because the main character in "Submission" was a Huysmans scholar and I wanted to see what the fuss was.
The Stranger
Albert Camus
Journey to the End of the Night
Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Almost certainly the most pessimistic novel I've read.
Extension du domaine de la lutte
Michel Houellebecq
I don't normally do this, but the English title is crap so I've kept it in French above. Possibly the first entry in a category that may soon come to be known as "modern incel lit".
The Map and the Territory
Michel Houellebecq
I only read this because I heard about the gimmick, that Houellebecq himself is a character in it. Why do I keep falling for these things? At the very least, he actually did some interesting stuff with the gimmick.
Foucault's Pendulum
Umberto Eco
The thinking man's Da Vinci Code. Mainly because it contains quite a few lengthy, well-researched, tenuously relevant digressions about the Knights Templars and such.
The Name of the Rose
Umberto Eco
The mystery of murdered monks in a medieval monastery. Also contains treatment of important semiotic and theological questions like "Did Jesus laugh?". An extremely popular book back in the day (the eighties), I discovered this on my grandfather's bookshelf next to massive alchemical tomes (chemistry reference books) and several hefty Michener novels (I don't hear anything at all about Michener these days, but he must have been very popular back in the day, since you can find his massive bricks fossilized on the shelves of many boomers and used bookstores. Maybe they are too long to be worth reading for modern sensibilities). Anyways, once I picked it up I had difficulty putting it down, though I forced myself to do so to save it for an upcoming flight. I think I finished it at good old Sea-Tac, while a guy argued with a gate agent in the background.
Umberto Eco
The adventures (and misadventures) of a lovable rascal through real (and mythical) Medieval Europe and the Near East. Contains plenty of ruses, a brief introduction to Gnosticism, and even a locked-room whodunnit. The competition is steep but I think this might be my favorite Eco novel.
The Island of the Day Before
Umberto Eco
I think this is probably the weakest Eco book I've read, but for some reason I keep seeing people around saying it's his best. Evidently they haven't read Baudolino yet.
The Prague Cemetery
Umberto Eco
I'm not positive I actually finished this one. I lost it for a while in the middle of reading it and rediscovered it in the forbidden realm beneath the couch at some point.
If on a winter's night a traveler
Italo Calvino
You know you're in for a treat when you read the first line of If on a winter's night a traveler, "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler." I was once in a cramped domestic sauna with a Finnish guy studying English who started telling everyone about this crazy book he was reading and analyzing for class. He said it was basically like a collection of short stories with wildly different settings, and that in particular he was focusing on one of the later ones which was in the style of an old Japanese erotic novel. I told him wait, hold on, I think I know what book you're talking about, surely it's not If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino? He was dumbfounded.
Invisible Cities
Italo Calvino
Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes
I only read part of this, I'm putting this here as a reminder to pick it back up sometime. I guess the Spain section here also serves as a reminder to read more Spanish literature. Arguably, Bolaño's stuff fits in this category too.
The Good Soldier Švejk
Jaroslav Hašek
Might be the funniest book I've ever read, especially some of the episodes towards the beginning. Švejk toes the line between idiot and genius with comedic dexterity, the very picture of the idiot savant. Hašek was paid by the word though, and it start to show in the latter half as things started to drag. Would not fault anyone who decided to skip the later volumes.
I Served the King of England
Bohumil Hrabal
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
Milan Kundera
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Milan Kundera
This book has such a godly title that there was basically no way the contents could ever live up to it.
The Trial
Franz Kafka
Unfinished and rather scattered, not really the definitive critique/satire of bureaucracy it is always sold as which I was really hoping for. Somebody needs to either find or write THE definitive bureacracy novel because I must read it.
Motley Stones
Adalbert Stifter
A Hero of Our Time
Mikhail Lermontov
Fathers and Sons
Ivan Turgenev
Notes from Underground
Fyodor Dostoevsky
I made a reference earlier to "modern incel lit", and this book is the pretty much the entire reason I had to specify modern. Almost as prescient as A Confederacy of Dunces in coming up with a type of guy decades (even centuries in this case) before the internet has exposed his previously-hidden existence to us.
Dead Souls
Nikolai Gogol
A tour, and perhaps a satire, of the Russian middle class (that's right, there was a middle class back then, though far smaller) in the mid-19th century. I think some of the characters may still be found among the middle class today, though obviously without all the serfs.
The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years
Chinghiz Aitmatov
The otherwise moving life story of a railway worker in a remote Kazakh outpost, which is interrupted randomly several times towards the beginning with a sideplot about cosmonauts meeting dangerously peaceful aliens. For that reason, everyone condemns this book to the "science fiction" category even though it really isn't. A shame... though why the heck did he include those parts? Some sort of attempt at novelty? Can't just have a regular old Kazakh novel?
Natsume Sōseki
The rousing tale of one simple, honorable man's struggle against bullshit. Many times people simply fantasize about solving problems with their fists, but Botchan actually does. A very funny book, and it may be a bit of a basic choice, but it is my favorite Japanese book. Apparently schoolchildren read it there, so maybe one day I can give reading it in Japanese a go.
Confessions of a Mask
Yukio Mishima
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea
Yukio Mishima
Convenience Store Woman
Sayaka Murata
I think this is the only book by a woman in this list. Fear not, however, since during my childhood I read many (may Allah forgive me for uttering these letters) YA books which were, for the most part, written by women. Though I should hop over to the other list and add something by Austen, Bronte, or Woolf...
Some Prefer Nettles
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
A cautionary tale about the biggest simp who ever lived. The original Japanese title is in fact "A Fool's Love". Should be required reading for all men.
Diary of a Mad Old Man
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
Picked this up based on the title alone while I was at the library looking for something else. "Mad" as in "Crazy" by the way, though I'd like to read a book entirely of angry boomer rants too. There don't seem to be many books written from the perspective of the very old, I guess because it ends up being lots of pains and pills (though lately young people seem to be getting started on the pills quite early). As expected from Tanizaki, there is plenty of... how shall I put this... "complex eroticism".
Snow Country
Yasunari Kawabata
I can barely remember anything from this except for glimpses, flashes, vague sensations and shadows. I think I read most of it while extremely fatigued on a flight. I might have to re-read it sometime.
No Longer Human
Osamu Dazai
The classic "literally me" story of alienation from society. Kind of the Japanese version of "Joker" except the protagonist is handsome. Actually, on second thought, it's more like the Japanese version of Steppenwolf. Apparently it's one of the most popular books in Japan, which is... interesting...
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Haruki Murakami
Big meh. The only sections I liked were the ones with the soldier in the war in Manchuria. Other than that, it was a bunch of stylish surreal schlock which isn't really for me, but I can certainly see how it's attracted a following. It really started to feel like a slog, even though apparently the English translation is slightly abridged. Sometime after finishing it, I happened to see someone share a "Haruki Murakami" bingo thing that originally ran in the humor section of some well-to-do magazine like the New Yorker (note: I do not and will not read the New Yorker) and I'm pretty sure I was able to cross off half the squares just from this one book. The obvious conclusion is that Murakami revisits (or reuses, depending how you look at it) a lot of the same themes and aesthetics, which I guess are ones that Murakami fans tend to vibe with, so they keep coming back for more.
James Joyce
Some parts can be a struggle to visualize if you're not intimately familiar with the geography of Dublin.
The Book of Disquiet
Fernando Pessoa
The journal of a seemingly-ordinary, meek Portugese clerk reveals unimaginable depths. All I can say is that this book is incomparable, completely unlike anything else I've read in its emotion and insight. Almost otherworldly.
The Egyptian
Mika Waltari
Probably the most famous work of Finnish literature. Naturally, it is a sprawling historical novel set largely in Ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, the only English translation (which was actually done using the Swedish translation) is abridged, specifically removing a lot of the more philosophical parts. A shame because I would have been really interested in them, although Waltari does seem to be quite pessimistic.
Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
From its exterior, this just looks like another one of those "New York Times Bestselling" pop-sci (and disguised self-help) books showing you how you can improve your life thanks to the simple but counterintuitive results of some experimens some guys did somewhere. I think Malcolm Gladwell originally pioneered this genre back in the early Noughties, which has now grown to be quite popular. Thinking, Fast and Slow, though not by Gladwell, comes to mind immediately as a "classic" of the style. Anyways, then you actually open up Antifragile and instead you see Taleb ranting against science, technology, bureaucracy, medicine, various "Intellectuals Yet Idiots", and just the establishment in general. Rather than scientific studies and "experts", his sources are mostly Ancient Greeks or math. The anecdotes are almost all from Taleb's personal experience, or he just makes up a dialog using one of his characters like "Fat Tony".
Debt: The First 5000 Years
David Graeber
The Utopia of Rules
David Graeber
Seeing Like a State
James C. Scott
Capitalist Realism
Mark Fisher
How Buildings Learn
Stewart Brand
Byung-Chul Han
In Praise of Shadows
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
Deschooling Society
Ivan Illich
Medical Nemesis
Ivan Illich
The Architecture of Community
Leon Krier
Amusing Ourselves to Death
Neil Postman