Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cult books

Have a look at this list of the Top 50 Cult Books of all time from the Independent. The article states that defining that which makes a book a cult book is a challenge and they eventually fall back on Felix Frankfurter's definition of pornography, you know it when you see it. Very broadly, the books on the list of the kind that provide some sort of life lesson that may cause adherents to harangue their friends and neighbors about this great wisdom they have found. If you fail your savings throw, some of these books (Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Fountainhead, will immediately turn you into a pompous blowhard-jackass, so read carefully.

I consider cult books to be books that are intensely loved and revered by a relatively small readership. Like indie rock, there is an element of clubby exclusivity, but the ideas themselves or the expression of those ideas are unlikely to find mass appeal. HP Lovecraft (or if you desire greater obscurity Clark Ashton Smith) in horror, Phillip K Dick in scifi, and Edward Abbey in green literary fiction are all authors with dedicated fans, but the love of which befuddles many.

For many cult authors, including the three above, there is an implicit or even explicit rejection of elements of the mass culture. If a reader doesn't as some level share these underlying viewpoints and assumptions, much of the appeal of the books will be lost. This makes these cult authors a challenge to recommend.

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