Saturday, April 26, 2008

50 Best Cult Books

First it was the 50 Best Crime Novels, and now the Telegraph offers a list of the 50 Best Cult Novels. A cult novel is a bit slippery to define, as we've seen before, but Sam Leith has a damn good go :
In compiling our list, we were looking for the sort of book that people wear like a leather jacket or carry around like a totem. The book that rewires your head: that turns you on to psychedelics; makes you want to move to Greece; makes you a pacifist; gives you a way of thinking about yourself as a woman, or a voice in your head that makes it feel okay to be a teenager; conjures into being a character who becomes a permanent inhabitant of your mental flophouse. ... We were able to agree, finally, on one thing: you know a cult book when you see one.
Here's their list, check out the full article because it's a very enjoyable read ... and for oldies like me, a real nostalgia trip (mostly summoning up memories of the extremely pretentious ex-boyfriend!). It can't of course be see as the definitive list, and readers have added more suggestions in the comments :
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell (1957-60)
A Rebours by JK Huysmans (1884)
Baby and Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock (1946)
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1991)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961) *
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951) *
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1993)
The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (1971)
Chariots of the Gods: Was God An Astronaut? by Erich Von Däniken (1968) *
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)
Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard (1950
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (1954)
Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979) *
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1973)
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R Hofstadter (1979)
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino (1979) *
Iron John: a Book About Men by Robert Bly (1990)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Russell Munson (1970)*
The Magus by John Fowles (1966) *
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1962)
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
No Logo by Naomi Klein (2000)
On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson (1971) *
The Outsider by Colin Wilson (1956) *
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (1923)
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (1914) *
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám tr by Edward FitzGerald (1859) *
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922) *
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)
Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954)
The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942) *
The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda (1968)
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1883-85) *
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) *
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig (1974)
* = the one's I've read (grand total15!) and please don't gasp at the gaps in my reading!


Miao said...

I've read 13. Not too bad, I guess.

Chet said...


Rob said...

I've tried to read eighteen, I finished sixteen of them, and I wish I'd only read fourteen...

Jannah said...

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger


Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Russell Munson

and got a few they turn into movies. Does that count?

pussreboots said...

I've also read 15. I posted about it on my blog.

bibliobibuli said...

i hasten to add - this is in no way a recommended reading list. there are some gems on here, but not everything is in that category. you are therefore absolved from any guilt you might feel from not having read the lot. you probably had your heads in stuff that was much better!

the book i feel guiltiest about not having read yet is plath's "the bell jar". i think i have to fill in that gap soon.

rob - that does rather beg the question - which two do you wish you hadn't read?

jannah - maybe in some cases just seeing the movie is more sensible, but i do love "to kill a mockingbird" and although the film is excellent, the book is another experience

pussreboots - welcome! it was nice seeing which you'd read and what's tbr.

Glenda Larke said...

12. And a couple of others tried but not finished. And a whole stack I've never even heard of!! Let alone know why they would be considered cult novels.

Hmm, now I wonder where I would find the Story of O in Malaysia??

bibliobibuli said...

glenda - i reckon it's all to do with where you're living and during what era! so many of these books aren't popular anymore. who reads "zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" now for e.g.? maybe growing up in australia you had a very different list?

i think the modern day cult books might include "the secret", "the alchemist" ... almost anything that gives the illusion of being wise and life changing ...

animah said...

15, and another 4 which I didn't finish cos they were in other people's houses.

You've not read the Prophet or Fear of Flying?!! Shock Horror.

enar arshad said...


bibliobibuli said...

i dipped into "the prophet" but never felt motivated to read it.

"fear of flying". nope. maybe i should?