The “oh my god” books. They’re few and far between because life interferes so often with moments of literary bliss that we welcome the lesser experiences to alleviate our days: not necessarily bad in lesser, but books that aren’t meant to stay with us extensively beyond “the end.”
This isn’t to say there aren’t a multitude of “oh my god” books; they’re everywhere, especially among indie writers who, unlike many of their publishing house compatriots, are allowed, by nature of their independence, to take risks. As anyone familiar with a James T. Kirk speech can (and will) happily attest, RISK (in the caps lock scheme of life)… risk is our business. Risky, profound books are our joy because we are here to seek and here to find.
Of course, “profound” is a matter of personal need. There’s the old saw: An entire classroom reading the same book is not reading the same book. The beauty of books is, however, that we can spend from here to eternity recommending them to friends and lovers and still always have time left for tea.
Quietly then, as books come and go in the library of the mind, here are 5 outstanding, soul-enhancing books. Five out of millions.
We’ve all felt like everything we do is wrong, that no matter how we try to abide and follow there’s always an opposing force ready to stack things against us, so we look to arm ourselves with talismans, be they large or small, physical or ideas.
At times we’re fortunate enough to come across a book that fulfills that need: a novel that radiates energy. The power is sensed without even touching the book. It intensifies after one’s carved out a quiet space to finally and gloriously open the book to its first electric word. The Alchemists of Kush’s power nearly envelops the reader in a protective force field of positive intent.
The novel is ambitious in scope: set in current Edmonton and ancient Egypt; it’s ambitious in subject matter: the transformation of consciousness, in this case from immigrant to fully-vested citizen, from youth to maturity, from boy to hero to, quite literally, god, as it parallels the story of a Somali teen trying to call a new land “home” and the young god Horus as he makes his way from betrayal and suffering to full godhead.
What’s profound about this book is that it challenges the failures we’ve trained ourselves to think of as our identity; its protagonists illustrate and reinforce a mantra for a new mode of thinking: true sight in favor of the mirror image. Minister Faust’s Pan-Africanist coming-of-age story is a tour du force. Faust (who has the most magnificent pen name of anyone by far) is a master, knowing when to be blunt, when to dazzle, and when to tell the reader quite directly: transform. Transform negativity, transform pessimism, transform apathy, illogic, rage, and unfounded expectations. This novel shows us that transformation is easy; it’s the decision to transform that’s hard to come by.
Careful writers have the ability to change our reality at a moment’s notice with turns of phrase so sharp the books should come with pads and helmets. Here is a book that, at a tight 232 pages, tells us comforts are illusions, and rightly so. There are no comforts. There is, however, beauty. The question to form is: Is acknowledging beauty comfort or simply a pragmatic embrace of existence? Which asks the corollary: What about the other, less-beautiful stuff? What of horrors and what of tragedies, and how careful must we be to define each?
Anna Tambour presents gifts of thought and resolution on every page. The book feels like an excellent magic trick. One’s mind wants to flip it, shake it, and turn it over to see how the author achieved her effects. It’s a science fiction book, it’s a fantasy book, it’s an historical piece, it’s drama and realism, comedy, intrigue, romance, tragedy, uplifting all at the same time. It presents pain and joy in one breath, and leaves us realizing that all is melody, all is song. Characters do what their stories require of them, and then they exit – which happens every day in the non-paper world – but in her book not wrenchingly, and this is the lesson received. Life is, and then it isn’t, but then, in many ways, it is again. The melody rekindles. The novel rewards those who are patient and appreciative of beauty.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Forty-two. Know where your towel is. Avoid bad poetry. If one does not know the meaty goodness of these references, one is sorely missing out. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy should be required reading in schools worldwide. Laughter (which some might call “perspective at all costs”) is not only the best, but the only medicine, for everything about existence is utterly ridiculous when we weigh wants to wants.
I’m confident that for the eleven people on this planet who still haven’t read this delightfully profound romp (no other author having definitively solved THE ANSWER TO LIFE, THE UNIVERSE, AND EVERYTHING) I need say no more except “read” followed by “it.”
Love, contrary to prevailing fantasies, is not meant to last, is not meant to remain constrained, and certainly shouldn’t – as a notion – be worshipped. Love is a product of design faults and should, therefore, be expected to break down, malfunction, or run people off the road. This magnificent novel by Milan Kundera, famed as a masterpiece the world over – and despite its title – gives us the absolutely un-Zen notion that desire is the essential fuel, not punishment, of life, and makes all travails worthwhile.
If desire is exquisite torture, says The Unbearable Lightness of Being, then we are all mistresses and masters of BDSM and our only safe word is “yes,” yes to experience, turmoil, bliss, and even – yes – to death. Love as the antithesis of fear is not radical, but is so often forgotten as to be rendered ineffectual. Kundera’s masterpiece returns that notion to the fore of consciousness and demands that we write, of our own lives and like his brilliant book, a story equally moving and lyrical.
Lou Reed had a line in “Last Great American Whale” from his New York album that said, “You can’t always trust your mother.” Enter Hester Garlan, witch, thief, scoundrel, part-time murderer. Enter a long-lost (not lost, but gladly given away) son whose death will cure her of being pestered by the dead (who are, generally, as annoying in death as ever in life; so much for spiritual awakening).
This son wants to do right; this son is good. He is the quintessential hero. Yet nothing in his life ever goes right. In life, the story we think we’re telling is never the one that’s being told. Can a message get any more profound than that? There Is No Lovely End tells us to accept this and alter as necessary: Write a better one, one not as conflicted with the entirety of the world as before.
That it does this while upending the tropes of the Old West, spiritualists, maternity, and even storytelling itself (the book opens with our “villain” Hester having a knockdown, drag out, jail break fight-slash-sex session, therein creating our hero), further punctuates the benefits of altering narratives to find a more authentic ring of truth to the way things (like trustworthy mothers) are “supposed” to be.
The Grand Library
Profound books stop us in our tracks the moment we discover them. They take us outside the norm and permit epiphanies. They allow us to seek the ideas behind their creation and encourage us to embellish those ideas with our own distinctiveness. They become talismans, friends, teachers, confidants, permanently shelved in memory, and even though one might not recall all their details, one knows the books are there; they’ve become part of daily life far beyond “liking” the work. They are wound into the double helix.
All these books present themes of transformation. That’s life, isn’t it? No matter how much we want to dig our heels in, life says “Change,” although it seems we only hear that message when it takes us by, hopefully, pleasant surprise. Enjoy!
Have you read any of the books above? How would you rate them? What other works of fiction have had a deep and profound impact on you? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.