Tuesday, January 24, 2012

14 must-read books for the college rebel (and me)

Ran across this article in my Internet surfing:
14 must-read books for the college rebel

Although no longer in college, just for fun (and for the sake of wasting time on this sunny afternoon) I thought I'd see how well my reading list would stock up as a college rebel. And if anyone else is up for this, maybe we can make a little blogging game out of this list. Tell me how many of these books you've got under your belt.

Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Book

Read it back in freshman year of college. Don't remember it all that well now years later, but remember enjoying it at the time.

(In fact quoted I even quoted from this book in this Chimes article I wrote. Although re-reading it now, I wish I hadn't because that quote isn't really on topic, and just looks stupid.)

Noam Chomsky, The Chomsky Reader

Um, never read the Chomsky Reader per se, but I've certainly read plenty of Chomsky over the years. Does that count?

Howard Zinn, A People’s History Of The United States

As I mentioned in this post, I never actually got around to reading this book cover to cover, although I've read large sections of it at different times.

William Powell, The Anarchist Cookbook
Never read it, don't plan to. I certainly remember this book popping up in a lot of conversations back in college, but if you don't have an active interest in manufacturing explosives it sounds like it would be pretty boring reading.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

Never read it. Don't particularly plan to.
I'm more of a history nut than a philosophy nerd, and too much philosophy hurts my brain. Plus I tend to associate Nietzsche too much with a Freshman philosophy major. (Although Emma Goldman did mention in her autobiography how much she loved Nietzsche, so maybe I should read him one day.)

Arthur Rimbaud, Complete Works
Haven't read this yet, but may someday. Maybe. Or maybe not.
I'm a little bit too much of a philistine to enjoy poetry, but Rimbaud does strike me as an interesting guy. And he lived during a period of French History that I'm interested in. (Rimbaud was around during the Paris Commune days, and although he didn't have much of an active role his name occasionally pops up in history books on the Paris Commune).
May have read some Rimbaud back in college literature classes actually. Don't remember. Tend to get him mixed up sometimes with Baudelaire.

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
Haven't read it. Don't plan to.
It seems most 17 or 18 year olds go through a period when they're fascinated by drug culture.
(At least for men anyway. From my own observations it doesn't seem to be such a big fascination to most girls, for whatever reason. Or am I going out on a limb here?)
Despite not using a lot of drugs, I was fascinated by drug culture. Perhaps those of us who are too cautious to do our own experimenting tend to be all the more interested in doing it vicariously through books. And so I read with great fascination books like "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" by Tom Wolfe.
However having moved on from that stage of life, I have now lost all interest in it, and don't imagine I'll be reading this book anytime soon.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Haven't read it. Don't plan to.
At the risk of reinforcing stereotypes, all of my knowledge of Sylvia Plath just comes from talking to girls who were big fans--the type of girls who thought that they experienced feelings deeper than the ordinary person did. It turned me off of it.

Anton LaVey, The Satanic Bible
Haven't read it. Don't plan to.
(I probably shouldn't say this without having read the book, but I'm of the opinion that Satanism is not so much a real philosophy as it is a boogey-man created by Church Evangelicals on the one hand, and by metal fans who want to shock their parents on the other hand. But if someone out there can convince me that this book is worth reading, I might reconsider.)

Charles Bukowski, Factotum
Never even heard of it.

Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
Read it. Reviewed it on this blog. And wasn't overly impressed with it.
(I must be a bit out of it, but at the time I read this book I didn't realize this was a classic back-packers' book. I was just looking to learn a little bit more about Buddhist mythology.)

Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf
Haven't read it. Because Siddhartha failed to make a big impression on me, I doubt I'll be checking out any books by the same author.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
Read it. Reviewed it on this blog. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

This book used to be on my reading list back when I was 18 and really into the beat poets, but I never got around to it at the time and my interests have since moved.  Now I doubt I'll ever go back for it.

I did however read "On the Road", and "The Subterraneans" by Jack Kerouac and tried to struggle my way through a couple books of Ginsberg's poetry. Also read "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest" by Ken Kesey and (as mentioned above) "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test". Do I get any points for any of those?

Actually a book like "On the Road" really should be on this list. Which just illustrates once again how random and utterly subjective these kind of Internet lists really are.

So let me make a couple suggestions of my own. (Since my own brain is much more interested in politics and history than poetry and philosophy, my own list would weigh heavily towards those genres. A different person with different interests might create a different list, but that's all part of the fun isn't it?)

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

In my experience hanging out with anarchist groups, this book comes up frequently in conversation. In any group of anarchists guaranteed there's at least one of them who's read this book.
If you're hanging out with Trotskyists, the preferred book seems to be "10 Days that Shook the World" by Jack Reed (something I haven't read yet but plan on doing someday.) Just don't get into a conversation with them about what happened after those 10 days. They don't like talking about that part nearly as much.
"1984" gets honorable mention.  It's a little bit too mainstream to be hip, I know.  (Anything your high school English teacher is likely to assign to you doesn't get written up as a rebellious book.)  But for anyone who's trying to position themselves as anti-establishment, it's always useful to be able to quote from this book and compare it to the current government.

All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

The ultimate anti-war book. Plus it gets bonus cool points for being banned by the Nazis.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller  gets honorable mention.

Anything by Marx. (Really, what is a book list for college rebels without any Marx?)
Personally I find his political writings to be much more readable than his philosophical writings.

Ditto for Bakunin.

I'm tempted to add classic leftist history books here like, History of the Paris Commune by Prosper Oliver Lissagaray, but that's probably too obscure. The point of a list like this is to highlight the classics, not list every last book on the subject.

Okay, let me know what I missed, or what other books you would add.

Update: Someone criticized this list for being too white (over in the comments section over at the original post).  That's probably a fair criticism.  The two big books connected with Black Radicalism that come to mind are:

The Autobiography of Malcolm X 
(Which I've read)

And Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
...Which I haven't read. Although back when I was a college student I did try and track this book down. Calvin College library didn't have it, and none of my local bookstores had it.

Which raised the question: Does anyone still read "Soul on Ice" anymore or is it purely a time piece from the 60s now?

If memory serves, Calvin's library didn't have "Soul on Ice" but they did have Cleaver's born again Christian novel "Soul on Fire". You could make some sort of cheap jibe here about how this is just what you would expect from a conservative Christian college like Calvin, but actually their library wasn't half bad when it came to books on black radicalism.  They had several books sympathetic to the Black Panthers, like A Panther is a Black Cat by Reginald Major

They also had "Die Nigger Die!" by H. Rap Brown (A), which I read. And "The Autobiography of Angela Davis" (A), which I also read. And the Autobiography of David Hillard (A) (which I never did get around to reading at the time, unfortunately).
All of those books should probably get honorable mention on this list although probably none of them are famous enough to warrant their own entry.

Okay, what else did I miss?

Link of the Day
Mirror Crack'd

Monday, January 16, 2012

The 6 Characters You’ll Meet At Every Expat Bar

This has been making the rounds on friends' facebook pages, so I thought I'd steal it and post it here with the following comments.

1). Pretty spot on. More or less.
2). Ouch. Number 2 is a little bit too spot on for comfort. The truth stings a bit.
3). Despite the introduction, I'm not sure this is entirely universal. It's probably true around the world in developing countries but in Japan, for example, many of these characters were absent. (Not much need for overpaid aid workers in a country like Japan.)

Also if I had to add one category, in Cambodia I seem to run into the "pretentious back-packer" a lot. The kind of person who believes that because they have traveled to the far corners of the earth and because they appreciate literature in a deep way, they are somehow better than us ordinary slobs. If you try and talk to them in a bar, they'll quickly try and size you up to see if you're as deep and cultured as they are, and then dismiss you and move on to someone else.
(Perhaps this is just bitterness talking.)

This type of person will also often have trendy tattoos--often Kanji characters that they actually can't read, and will sometimes get defensive if you try and make conversation to them about what their tattoos really mean.