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Sunday, March 2, 2008

10 Obscure Books I Know You'll Love


Sometimes a book looks at you with big puppy dog eyes like the dog in this picture, because it needs to be loved.

You know what I mean. Those old favorites you rescue from second hand bookshops in bulk so you can lend the extra copies to your friends, that they might love the books you love.

I personally have never done this myself, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So I bring you...

Ten Obscure Books I Know You'll Love

10: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

Where in Shub-Niggurath's name are the H.P. Lovecraft fans in Australia?

Seriously, there's like, none, where I live. Kinokuniya in the Sydney CBD sells a small collection of Lovecraft paperbacks, yet whenever I see them I know Mr. Lovecraft is weeping in Heaven because Australians don't know who he is, much less read his books. Yes, the racism barrier in some of his stories makes it difficult to enjoy elements of his craft, but we all know the 1920s and 30s were not at all like To Kill A Mockingbird for many Americans. There was the fear of isolation, in a sea of change. The Depression made people unemployed, but also paranoid about anybody foreign who would take a job that was "rightfully theirs". This happened to Lovecraft, and I'm sorry to say the man had flaws. But who doesn't? Even people at my school say pretty racist stuff when nobody is looking. Ian Fleming had his sexism to shame him. Lovecraft's flaw was his now controversial views on the coloured people of the United States, as well as Asians and Native Americans.

This is no excuse for not reading him. He gives you a vision of a world where alien Gods so powerful that they make Humanity look like ants survive in the dark places of the world hidden from modern civilisation. This book I'm mentioning is still in print and reasonably easy to get hold of from or a well stocked bookshop.

9: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brain Selznick

This book has gorgeous illustrations that pretty much recommends the book by itself, without me having to do much talking. A picture is worth a thousand words, as it were. This book is about an orphaned boy who finds an automaton, and the mystery of this invention is the focus of the book, as well as the strange toymaker and the girl he looks after. Do read it!

8: With The Light: Vol. 1 by Keiko Tobe

This is a Manga about Autism. Usually I don't recommend this much to people I don't know, because doing so implies I have Autism. I have a form of it, Asperger's Syndrome, but I am high-functioning and nothing like the autistic boy in this Manga in many ways, yet reading this was instrumental to my discovery of who I really am and why I think differently to other humans. It's set in Japan (duh, it's a Manga comic) but the themes it deals with are universal to any country's methods of dealing with autistic people. It presents a strong argument for autistics to be integrated into society rather than being shut away from it. Much more helpful in giving a good understanding of the condition than the abominable The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

7: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Not really an obscure book, but I wish more people my age read it so I could discuss it over tea and biscuits. It's one of those "becoming a man" must-read-when-you're-leaving-teenager-hood books. Needless to say it's a classic travelling book about the Real America. America as you see it today, in my mind, is Not Real America, because of what the government has done to ruin it. Still, America as it is now still has its own beauty, yet the spirit of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty roaming the roads like madmen has forever been lost as shopping malls destroy the "Mom and Pop" businesses that remain from a by-gone age. All I can say is: CURSE YOU WAL-MART!

6: The Stolen Child by Keith Donahue

Whoa, I hear you say. A Fantasy book without knights and dragons? This is Urban Fantasy, buckaroo, and it's a dark horse to ride, my Imagination-irritated friends! If you like your Fairies of the Disney variety, read this book. Not because the Faeries of this book will live up to your saccharine poor excuse for Fey Folk memories of Disney pillaging Elfland to feed the entertainment industry, but for a reality check. Most people think that Faeries are twinkly and happy and just for girls who like pretty dresses. Well guess what? Real Faeries are NOT like that. They're so savage and inhuman I'm surprised they don't eat the babies they switch with Changelings. You think a Fantasy book can't teach universal themes? This one will punch you in the face with a story about leaving childhood, which is almost as traumatic and shocking as how leaving childhood really is for anyone. But that doesn't mean this book is a horror to read, it's so readable, it's SCARY!

5: Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore et al

People just don't understand why Heath Ledger's version of The Joker is actually scary compared to the original Batman movie version they remember from their childhood. Alan Moore delivers you a reason why the Joker is absolutely terrifying. His Watchmen is a book I would also recommend, but that's far less obscure than this under-appreciated
classic of Batman lore. This origin story for The Joker has since been written out of continuity by the DC Comics editors, but somehow I think that was a big mistake. I personally liked a more three dimensional Joker who wasn't just an evil clown who laughed at inappropriate times. Sometimes you almost agree with him in this story when he stops and argues about why madness is an acceptable way of dealing with modern life. Almost. And I would have liked a slightly different ending too, yet such is the power of Alan Moore that he makes you understand why he wrote it the way he did. It's just how the characters would really think.

4: Mort by Terry Pratchett

Another Fantasy offering, but this one is also significant for its treatment of one universal theme of Human experience: Death. Terry Pratchett made Death into a person you could love, in a way, for his strange outlook on life. Pratchett's interpretation of Death ranks as one of the most popular characters in the Discworld series of comic Fantasy novels. Why? Because take away the fact he's a skeleton, and you realise he's a man. A strange man indeed, but someone you can have sympathy for in a non-tragic way. You really want to root for Death, because this book proves that Blue Oyster Cult was right, Don't Fear The Reaper.

3: About a Boy by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby in my opinion is one of the only living authors who bother to write popular fiction about men's issues such as responsibility, middle age, and why spending your life being nothing is no life at all. About a Boy, I believe, is Hornby's masterpiece. Not just because I love Nirvana and was interested in the period surrounding his death, but the unbiased way Hornby examines the nature of celebrity deaths, we think we understand celebrities and we feel sad when they die, but how many of us truly know the rich and the famous, really? How does a strange chain of events concerning a boy, his single mother, and an aging hipster come together in a thread of fate that unites people who wouldn't normally talk to each other, come to all tied loose ends when Kurt Cobain kills himself? You'll have to read it to find out. And before you declare me a spoiler monster, I haven't actually spoiled anything about the book at all. Just read it.

2: The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry

Teaching kids about Poetry these days is a nightmare. Getting people interested in writing good Poetry is worse. Luckily, Stephen Fry comes to the rescue in a lovely, entertaining romp through a crash course in meter, spondee, rhyme, alliteration, the lot, and you'll love every minute of both his funny sense of humor and his helpful exercises (Stephen Fry does not tolerate lazy bones poets, do the exercises man!). Highly recommended for anyone interested (or vaguely interested) in an artform that too many people think is a "terrible secret" to practice. Conquer the English Language!

1: Train Man by Hitori Nakano

Lord Almighty, why have the people forsaken this brilliant book that has influenced my life so much it's chronic?

It's obscene that nobody I know has read, or even heard of, this book that has defined geek identity for me so well? This book will give even the most cynical geek and nerd hope that they too can find love in this crazy world, if they just open their eyes and see that somebody outside their room will love them for who they are?

Most people I know automatically discard the idea of reading it because it's about an Anime geek who finds love. Somehow "Anime" and "Geek finds love" translates to "bad book that's boring". I dare you, I really dare you naysayers, to open up your horizons, just like the Train Man in this book, and experience something you're not familiar with. Maybe you know some geek down the road who thinks no girl will ever love him, hence he drowns his sorrows in Sailor Moon cartoons. If you don't ever read this, at least give this book to that one geek who's lost hope in their life of finding a positive, two sided relationship that isn't with a character on a TV screen or a Manga comic. Just... try and bring some joy into their lives, mmkay?

- Jacob Martin
AKA Jake of All Trades

1 comment:

JK said...

don't know about the tea & biscuits (coffee and pancakes?) but 1/2 of your list is some of my favorites, and the rest I'll put on my "make un-obscure" list...