This guest post is by the spectacular Bailey Brown, who generously allowed me to make commentary as well.
The following is a list of books (and one short story) I firmly believe should end up in every dedicated reader's version of a library at some point. However, I must warn you to proceed with caution because…
...we’re going to talk about Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk)
It is my opinion that a great book makes its reader want to punch a hole in the nearest solid surface. How fitting then, that Fight Club is a novel that examines violence in the face of emotional instability? Chuck Palahniuk leaves his readers questioning the context of the revelation narrative that exists in the narrator’s repressed personality. Tyler Durden is the literal embodiment of sacrament and his death at the end of the novel leaves a sort of transcendental mess for both you and the narrator.
(HT: this movie is worth the watch, but I recommend viewing after reading the book; either way works).
Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann)
"New York City...times are shitty" (at least for the series of characters we meet in McCann’s masterpiece). He is one of the best at manipulating language until you are convinced there is no other modern writer who could capture the essence of fiction the way he does. He is able to project a series of realities onto a single moment and (with the help of his setting) creates a simultaneous relatability for a diverse audience. Be prepared to form unresolved emotional attachments. (HT: I can confirm this, as I read this book in preparation for writing my Master's thesis and accidentally fell in love with it).
"Good Ol’ Neon" (David Foster Wallace)
What good is a (partially) postmodern book list without David Foster Wallace? "Good Ol’ Neon" is a personal favorite because it does not tire of being read. Each time I pick up this short story, I am re-amazed by something I did not catch before. Neal the Nihilist’s perspective on fraudulence in the face of family, therapy, love, and God leaves you with more questions than answers that Wallace has fooled you into thinking you’ve gotten. Good luck.
The Crying of Lot 49 (Thomas Pynchon)
If I thought "Good Ol’ Neon" was a never-ending account of revelations, Lot 49 is almost torturous. That is why it falls in my top 5. Pynchon uses the transcendence trope to question the credibility of a projectionist perspective of reality (or in other words, just reality). This narrative about the post office examines the reliability of sight and how simple paranoia can force revelation. Unlike stories such as Fight Club where there is no question as to whether Tyler Durden exists (even if only in the narrator’s mind) Oedipa’s reality is no more real than her paranoia. This novel is the ultimate depiction of the better story because yours (as well as Oedipa’s) revelation is left entirely up to you.
10:04 (Ben Lerner)
Anyone who knows me knows I have a love for Ben Lerner’s brain that verges on unhealthy. (Although I highly recommend Leaving the Atocha Station as well as diving into his poetry) 10:04 takes the cake. Bookended by two hurricanes, the NY pseudo-fiction that transpires within this novel may or may not create a relatability that causes you to reexamine your interpretation of reality. Lerner is able to project the past, present, and future into the same story while simultaneously forcing a type of spiritual transcendence that actually feels ironic.
Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)
Sacrament, Sociality, Revelation, and Transcendence all wrapped up in a mind-blowing letter about racism after the Civil War.
(HT: this book also made my list of most impactful books of 2016).
Middlemarch (George Eliot)
In the midst of a post-modern craze, it is nice to throw in a great classic. Eliot’s unprecedented manipulation of both language and logic creates a reflexive tone that is at risk of frustrating someone who is a fan of those who came before her (i.e. Fielding, Lennox). Although she is satirizing social manipulation, Eliot does so in a way that forces her readers to question their initial approach to her characters. You may find yourself wanting to read Casaubon to his literal death, but she will consistently chime in to remind you why your judgement makes you no better than even the most repulsive of characters.
Bailey Brown studies English with a focus on postmodern and postsecular literature at Azusa Pacific University, where she is also a tutor and member of the yearbook staff. Her interests include photography, listening to music, and playing with her gentle (and giant) dogs.