These are in no particular order.
The Earthquake in Chile, by Heinrich von Kleist is amazing. It’s so far ahead of its time (and our time, too, I think). It was written well before The Scarlet Letter, and manages to deal more humanely with similar concepts. And it’s more violent. And it’s probably no big deal but I’m impressed when writers in the early 19th century manage to write so well about countries so far away. Ah, you brainy Europeans.
Light Boxes, of course. I think Shane Jones has done something really new with that story. I’m not referring to the meta elements, though they are new at least in the way he pulls off the author/character thing so well. I’m thinking more of the overwhelming interaction between the animals and the humans. It’s amazing the things he has the animals doing in that book.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde blew me away. I think it was the first “classic” I read after I started reading more contemporary or unknown stuff and it reminded me of why classics are classics, how good they can be.
I probably think about Bartleby, the Scrivener more than any other book, because I so often prefer not to work. But that’s too obvious for this list so I’ll mention Naive, Super by the Norwegian author Erlend Loe. I breezed through this book and was slightly off put by the narrator’s reticence, but overall I thought it was very moving. It might be the first book I read that relied so heavily on lists, too.
The Gambler, by Dostoevsky, is as complete and fully realized as any of his massive novels. This is one of the books he wrote real quick to get a paycheck so he could keep writing Demons (I think it was). Amazing. It’s such a good story of addiction and messed up families. Also, I love hotels and there are a lot of them in this.
Goodbye, Columbus was an early influence, or at least motivation, for me to keep writing. I was probably 19 when I read it and I thought if that’s what Philip Roth can do at 28, I ought to be able to accomplish something like that. I remember specifically feeling moved by the description of the girl climbing out of the pool and sticking her finger inside her bathing suit to make an adjustment. So sexy!
The Pedersen Kid, by William H. Gass, is something I like recommending to people lately. I don’t know which aspect of his writing is my favorite—the localized epic struggle or his voice or the way he understates the big things that happen. I think I read the father’s death in that story more times than I’ve read anything else.
Agape Agape, by William Gaddis works for me the way other people read Notes from Underground. The narrator’s ramblings are at times hilarious, at times befuddling and esoteric, and occasionally they are brilliantly instructive. I wish Vonnegut had read this before writing Player Piano.
Gould, by Stephen Dixon, is “a novel in two novels,” but really I think it’s either one novel or two novellas. Along with Goodbye, Columbus, this book proves that writing about white kids losing their virginity is still valid. There’s a scene in the beginning when Gould is with a girl and he feels around her butthole and she says, “Not there, it might be dirty” and Gould says, “Ah, I don’t care about morality.”
The Sanza Affair, by Brian Evenson, is intense and precise. This is Evenson at his best, mesmerizing in his exactitude, and that fits because the detective in this story is so meticulous. He carries around peas in a baggie.
Adam Robinson is a playwright, guitarist, and the founder of Publishing Genius Press. His first book of poetry, Adam Robinson and Other Poems, will be released by Narrow House Press in July 2009. Find him HERE.