Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's The Illuminatus! Trilogy. You know all those conspiracy theories you've heard? Never really sure which ones to believe and which ones were just too ridiculous? RAW and Robert Shea assert that all you've heard is only the tip of the iceberg. A surrealistic excavation of human history and politics, with healthy doses of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.
James Joyce's Ulysses. Yeah, yeah, I know. You've been told over and over again about how badly you need to read this book. Well, guess what? There's a reason. Joyce's novel set the tone for hundreds of writers who followed, and is still doing it today. Precious little else in the twentieth century can compare. Oh, and get the annotations. You'll need 'em. And if you haven't been told to read it, you're hanging out with the wrong kind of people.
Tom Robbins' Skinny Legs and All. By far his finest achievement, with Jitterbug Perfume running a close second, this novel explores narrative options few other writers would dare. Keep an eye out for the samurai vibrator. It's worth the price of a paperback alone. And I want to be Turn-Around Norman when I grow up.
Clive Barker's Imajica. I think the only recommendation this one needs can be found in Widge's conversion, on his list. Not your average horror novel. For readers who like their reality bent, with a side order of out-there. Barker's imagination is phenomenal, and Imajica is the first place he really cuts loose.
Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before. Don't know Eco? Shame on you. By far one of the best living writers on the scene today. Unfortunately, he doesn't write many books. Fortunately, the ones he does write are without fail top-of-the-line fiction, and will take enough time to read and digest that you just might be ready when he puts out his next one in another three years or so.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude. Perhaps the only one of his novels that deserves to be called "magical realism," and also the most recursive plot structure you'll ever run across. Keep a notepad handy for keeping everybody's name straight. By the time the fourth generation of the Buendia family rolls around, things get mighty confusing. Beautifully written and impossible to put down until the stunning conclusion.
Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. Take Clint Eastwood. Throw him in a pot with Mad Max. Add two revolvers and a box of ammo, and stir vigorously. Then fold in a heroin junky, a paraplegic with attitude, and a kid. Stir again. Add a pinch of evil sorceror, and a return engagement by an old and very diabolical friend. You get the Dark Tower. Serves four. [Order the first three in a boxed set] [Order the fourth one]
Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. Largely considered his most significant contribution to literature, Clockwork
makes Orwell look like an optmistic bastard. Burgess presents a world gone mad with random violence, and the establishment strikes back with some hardcore reprogramming, raising interesting questions of which is worse: a world full of violent human beings, or a world full of non-violent things that
aren't quite human?
Wallace Stevens' The Palm at the End of the Mind. While T.S. Eliot was
(and is) my central academic interest, Wallace is more fun to read. Very few poets had a grasp of the English language as strong as Stevens, and nobody since Lewis Carroll as thoroughly enjoyed playing with the sound of
words. Deeply thought provoking, and impossible to read without smiling.
David Eddings' The Belgariad. OK, this one's cheating, as it is really a series of five books, but it had to be here. One of the finest works to appear in the lesser respected world of genre fiction, Eddings' fantasy quintology establishes the only significant milestone since Tolkien, and his dialogue is more interesting. Well-developed characters, swords, sorcery, politics, marriages, and an evil god awakening -- What more do you need? [Order the books as follows:] [Book One] [Book Two] [Book Three] [Book Four] [Book Five]
It was Cape Fear. Ick.