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Considering cult books, most of which didn’t start a “church”

The Telegraph‘s book critics are at it again. It’s another one of their books lists, this time the 50 best cult books. Still, I get a kick out of these, particularly some of their comments about the books. So here’s the list with occasional quotations from what the critic selecting the book said about it. The ones I’ve read are in bold, I’ve underlined those I started but never finished and placed asterisks by the ones I’ve never heard of, for which I attribute the large number to the U.K. source.

  • Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut (1969) (“Sideways fantasy from the Diogenes of American letters….  this is savage anger barely masked by urbane anthropological sarcasm.”)
  • The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell (1957-60) (“Some beautiful sentences, sure; but lots of them don’t make sense.”) **
  • A Rebours, JK Huysmans (1884) (“Plotless, morality-free salute to decadence. “) **
  • Baby and Child Care, Dr Benjamin Spock (1946)
  • The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf (1991) (“The most important feminist text of the past 20 years.”)
  • The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (1963) (“one of the original misery memoirs”)
  • Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1961)
  • The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger (1951)
  • The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield (1993) (“For a similar effect on the cheap, rent an Indiana-Jonesalike film – Tomb Raider, say – and ask a hippy to whisper nonsense in your ear while you’re watching it.”)
  • The Dice Man, Luke Rhinehart (1971) **
  • Chariots of the Gods: Was God An Astronaut?, Erich Von Däniken (1968)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1980) (“Ignatius J Reilly is a fat anti-hero to thwart Promethean selfdramatisation in any reader.”)
  • Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)
  • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg (1824) **
  • Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, L Ron Hubbard (1950) (“Do you often feel unhappy? Depressed? Ill at ease with others? You will if you read this. “)
  • The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley (1954) (“The book that launched a thousand trips.”)
  • Dune, Frank Herbert (1965)
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1979)
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe (1968) (“Now a vivid social history of a period that seems as remote as Byzantium. “)
  • Fear of Flying, Erica Jong (1973)
  • The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer (1970)
  • The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand (1943) (“Loved by the kind of person who tells you selfishness is an evolutionary advantage, before stealing your house/lover/job. “)
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Douglas R Hofstadter (1979) (“Loved by maths geeks and anybody with Asperger’s syndrome and anyone with sense. But at root a chess textbook.”) **
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
  • The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Michael Baigent, et. al (1982) (“Staple text of the bonkers brigade.”)
  • I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith (1948) **
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, Italo Calvino (1979) **
  • Iron John: A Book About Men, Robert Bly (1990)
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach and Russell Munson (1970) (“The book that gave 1970s idealism a bad name”)
  • The Magus, John Fowles (1966)
  • Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges (1962)
  • The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958) **
  • The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
  • No Logo, Naomi Klein (2000)
  • On The Road, Jack Kerouac (1957)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson (1971)
  • The Outsider, Colin Wilson (1956) (“Modesty was not one of [the author’s] virtues; nor, sadly, was literary ability.”
  • The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran (1923) (“a beautifully phrased exercise in pointing out the obvious”)
  • The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell (1914)
  • The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Edward FitzGerald (tr.) (1859)
  • The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron (1937) **
  • Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse (1922)
  • The Sorrows of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774) **
  • Story of O, Pauline Réage (1954) (“Bewildering, creepy and joyless, it’s a guaranteed detumescent.”)
  • The Stranger, Albert Camus (1942) (“If you don’t love this when you’re 17, there’s something wrong with you.”)
  • The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Carlos Castaneda (1968)
  • Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain (1933) **
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1883-85) (“Incendiary declamation through a megaphone “)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960)
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, Robert M Pirsig (1974)

A cult following is a nice way of saying very few people like you.

Martin Mull

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