"If I could pick just one book for you to read..."


Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow.


Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse


The list of books I want to read and think I should read is already atrociously long, and what I’d recommend to anyone varies from person to person, but two books I keep going back to are A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain and Island by Aldous Huxley.

It didn’t occur to me until I was typing this that they’re both about attempts to create and sustain a utopian society. I don’t know what that says about me.


Another one of my all-time favorites, ever.

why a direct e-mail? This seems like a trap.

Someone call Ackbar.

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With cold weather and hard times upon us, might as well recommend Hunger by Knut Hamsun (Lyngstad translation). This work (and others by Hamsun) paved the way for modernism, influencing the likes of Hesse, Hemingway, Kafka, Miller, Mann, Bukowski, Singer, Fitzgerald, Gorky and more.

Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography.

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Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’, Shunryu Suzuki.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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One should also include “Fart Proudly” in that.


Depending on what mood I’m in, either the Tao te Ching of the Old Master, or Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny.

You know, usually this question is phrased as “what book would you want with you on a desert island if you could only have one” so I usually answer “Proust’s Rememberance of Things Past - because it’s really really long.”

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Since the point is to pick a book to recommend (to a friend) and not necessarily ones’ favorite book, I would pick Geek Love – a, more or less, one hit wonder from Katherine Dunn.
I tend to recommend it to friends because I think that they will enjoy it and that otherwise they would never come across it…

For me, the all time winner would have to be Chuang Tzu, but for something a little bit more modern and easier to read, “The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia” is a completely brilliant book that blew my mind and turned a lot of my assumptions about history and civilization on their heads.

I’ve read so many books lately, I just don’t know what I’d recommend. If I had to pick just a couple, I’d say that Tera Hunter’s To 'Joy My Freedom is one of the best books on black working class women in the reconstruction/early Jim Crow south I’ve ever read. And Barabara Ransby’s book on Ella Baker is amazing, too. One more would be my advisers book on piracy and copyright, Alex Cumming’s Democracy of Sound. I also love anything by Usama Makdisi - he does late Ottoman and modern middle east - Faith Misplaced and Artillery of Heaven are both excellent books.

Fiction - The Sandman comic and American Gods by Gaiman. Anything by JG Ballard (I’m particularly fond of his short stories and his early disaster novels). Alice Walker, especially Third Life of Grange Copeland and Meridian, though The Color Purple is a classic. And of course, all the discworld novels by Sir Terry, but I’m sure those need to promotion from me on these boards. I’m just finishing up Murakami’s Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World.


No way I could pick just one book.
Okay, in the desert island scenario it would be a field guide/survival guide. Preferably the one Huey, Dewey, and Louie use (I actually had to wiki-check the spelling - they were introduced to me as Tick, Trick und Track).

As fas as recommendations go: anything by Jasper Fforde.


Josef Skvorecky, always and forever. But it is so hard to pick just one. Do I recommend the most accessible, most obviously humorous one about life in the tank brigade during those mandatory army years? (The Republic of Whores) Do I recommend the greatest big one, the epic that took its name from a Stalin quote and takes on the heart of exile and loss? (The Engineer of Human Souls) Do I recommend the short stories spanning his entire career so you can get the sense of the dreamy young man in love with jazz growing up into the wry, eloquent academic exiled from his homeland? (When Eve Was Naked) Or do I just recommend the first one I read, the one that made me cry at four in the morning with a paragraph so beautiful and haunting I still get teary 12 years later? (The Miracle Game)

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But oh-so-depressing.

Exactly. Island scenario, basic survival or how to build a boat. But just one book for someone as a recommendation, it just depends on the person. There are plenty of people I know and respect who probably wouldn’t be interested in Dawkins, and there are other intellectuals I know who appreciate a good filthy joke.

And neither category is right for my niece’s daughter, who is showing a lot of interest in drawing, like me.

This reminds me of the Library of Alexandria project, one of the early attempts to build a “people who liked those liked these” review-and-suggest system on the Web. That’s something of a commonplace these days…

I agree that it’s hard to pick a single book without knowing the prospective reader’s tastes (and parental constraints). I recently got a copy of the Born Free omnibus for my cat-loving teenage niece, after recalling how much I loved those books at her age. (Have to re-read it sometime.)

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Added to wish list, thanks!

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