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Old 04-26-2008, 05:29 PM   #1
Ralph Sir Edward
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Obscure books you think should be read - and why

I decided to start my first thread - So here goes...

After reading the "10 Worst books" thread, I decided that there should be a counter-thread, books that you think are great, but but may not be in print and certainly don't get the respect you think they should get. So feel free to contribute titles (both novels and short stories), but please explain [I]why[I] you think others should read them. Like wine tasting notes, even if it's a great wine, but it's in a style you don't like, you probably won't want to drink it. That doesn't make it bad, just not to your taste....

I'll start off with a couple of author/titles.


#1 - Eric Frank Russell - he wrote some classic S/F works, but somehow never got into the Asimov/Clarke/Heinlein layer of fame. He didn't like authority, yet had a really flexible mind. His writing is kind of pulpish, but entertaining and thoughtful at the same time. Here's a list of four titles - 3 novels and a short story.

Wasp - When Ian Fleming was thinking up ways to confuse the Germans in WWII, E.F.R. was working in the Japanese confusing group. But Japan was considered too far away, so none of his ideas were used. After the war, he bundled them up in a grand S/F story - Wasp. Ian Fleming became famous, E.F.R. became obscure. Go figure. A great read.

Sentinels From Space - Serious S/F, a multi-level story (i.e. a story inside another story) about power, social outcasts, and man's place in the universe. To say more would be a spoiler. Give it a go.

Next of Kin (The Space Willies, Plus X) - A story of pluck, intelligence, and two fingers in the face of authority. Any authority....(B.B.B.)

Study In Still Life - A roll-on-the-floor funny S/F short story. A paper-eye view of bureaucracy...

#2 - John Brunner - The Shockwave Rider - If Neil Young can be considered the godfather of grunge, then this book is the godfather of all the cyberpunk books. All the comments he made in 1975, are still relevant today... unfortunately. An interesting universe, appealing characters, and a good, solid plot. One of his best...

P.S. You'll understand my tagline after reading the book.

Last edited by Ralph Sir Edward; 04-26-2008 at 05:32 PM.
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Old 04-26-2008, 05:53 PM   #2
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My all time favorite Novel. Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

On several levels a great book. As social commentary the cancer of Communism eating away at the Soul of Russia. A really good love story about a guy whose only hope of beating cancer is to take medicine that completely emasculates him making it impossible to pursue the woman his soul loves in any way but a purley spiritual sense. Rich in pathos dealing with the mortality of us all facing the inevitability of our own walk through that lonesome valley we all must eventually tread. And a shining example of hope in eternal joy yet without the easy banalities and platitudes the Church so often tries to spoonfeed its shallow members. I highly recommend.
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Old 04-26-2008, 05:57 PM   #3
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"The octave of Claudius" by Barry Pain.Orwell himself praised it,and called it rare in the 30's/40's.
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Old 04-26-2008, 06:29 PM   #4
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Bright Earth
Philip Ball

Non-fiction. Ball is a chemist, here writing about, as the book's subtitle expresses it, "Art and the Invention of Color". It's a fascinating account of the historical development of pigments, artistic uses, social consequences, impact on devotional art, and even linguistics. Fascinating.

Uncle Tungsten
Oliver Sacks

Non-fiction memoir of famous neurologist Oliver Sacks, who as a boy growing up in WWII Britain wanted to be a chemist or photographer. The book manages to capture one of my own personal favorite recurring quests: childhood wonder and joy of comprehension. This is combined with personal glimpses into a very remarkable family.

Flight of Passage
Rinker Buck

Another non-fiction memoir, again of boyhood adventure and poignant family life. The book documents an amazing cross-country flight in a refurbished Piper Club by Rinker and his brother, schoolboys at the time.

The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space
Craig Ryan

Non-fiction account of pre-NASA experiments in human space exploration. Describes Stapp's high-G rocket sled experiments, Kittenger's totally unbelievable high-altitude freefall jumps, space capsule design, and also NASA's ridiculous and ultimately deadly rejection of most of this pioneering work.


P.S. Lobolover, could I politely request once more that you adopt conventional punctuation and orthagraphy? You're giving me a migraine.
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Old 04-26-2008, 07:05 PM   #5
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very nice idea ! looking through my books to find a couple of good ones i found these. i don't know whether any of these authors / titles will be obscure enough for you, but i seem to be the only one who knows them in my circle of friends at least, so i hope they will be unknown to others here as well... this has reminded me that i have not read any of these in several years ; i think it is time to go back to them again. therefore my recommendations are probably rather superficial, since unfortunately i do not have the details very fresh in my mind.

Sławomir Mrożek : Polish absurdist playwright. i first read his play (do plays count ? i like reading plays but i know some people don't) Tango. here is the quote from the back cover (i am translating from my edition in french, so bear with me if it is not word for word the same as the real english version....)
Quote:
If you had lived through that time, you would understand what you owe us. You don't know what life was like before us. To dance the tango, you needed some kind of courage ! Do you know that the proportion of fallen women was incredibly small, I don't know, two per cent, maybe ? Do you know that people went into ecstasies over naturalist paintings ? And over bourgeois theater ! bourgeois theater, can you imagine, what a horror !
hilariously funny, yet disquieting (more so if you read between the lines...), like all good absurdist theater. according to an online biography, Tango is "a biological and psychological observation of creation of totalitarian mechanisms, the play which made him internationally famous, was staged for the first time in 1965." Could be a good companion piece to Rhinoceros.

Frigyes Karinthy : another representative of the eastern bloc, from Hungary this time. a great humorist who also was the first proponent of the concept of 6 degrees of separation, in a short story called Chains (which i was not able to find the last time i looked for it, although i admit i did not look very hard, but if anyone comes across a copy, please let me know...). i read a book of his short stories called (i beleive) "Je dénonce l'humanité", which i had to give up reading in the métro because i was laughing too much during some of the stories. hilarious and at the same time quite incisive. he has a profound love of humanity, and is disposed to give them the benefit of the doubt, but this does not stop him from seeing (and making fun of) all its flaws. not very easy to find ; the one i read was a library book. he also wrote Reportage céleste : de notre envoyé spécial au paradis (Heavenly Interview), a humorous account by a reporter sent to interview dead souls in heaven, and "Voyage around my skull", a documentary novel about his struggle with a brain tumor (including brain surgery under local anaesthetic). Two for one special on this recommendation : he is the father of the writer Ferenc Karinthy, who wrote Epépé, about a linguist going to a conference in Helsinki who gets on the wrong flight by accident and mischance and finds himself stranded in a country he cannot identify, with people speaking a language he is incapable of comprehending ; on a par with Kafka.

Alessandro Baricco : an italian writer, for a change. perhaps a bit too well-known for this list, since his monologue Novecento was made into a film with Tim Roth (which was abysmal, whatever you do don't see it, however definitely read the monologue, it's amazing), about a pianist who has spent literally his entire life on an ocean steamer. he writes beautiful, poetic stories which are full of hope and wonder at the beauty of life and the world, very silly and surreal sometimes, and profoundly sad at other times. the first book i read by him was Castelli di rabbia, french title "les Châteaux de la colère", english title "Lands of glass" ; eccentric and fantastical story about the inhabitants of a small imaginary town called Quinnipak in the middle of the 19th century and their interwoven existences. watch out for Oceano Mare (Océan Mare / Ocean Sea), about a raft of shipwrecked people ; i was not prepared for how unbearably tragic it was, in a painful, hopeless way. it is beautifully written though.

i think that will have to be all for now ; it is getting quite late and i think i should go to bed now.
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Old 04-26-2008, 07:14 PM   #6
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Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind ('Phenomenologie des Geistes': 1807). I have even uploaded a copy.

Why?
1. Because of its influence on later thinkers, such as Marx.
2. Because there was a great deal of interest in 'New Thought' books on the forum a few months ago. There were a lot of requests for Napoleon Hill's works. These are all 'think yourself rich' books and are generally based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Hegel. Read the real thing instead. You won't get rich, but you will think.
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Old 04-26-2008, 07:19 PM   #7
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Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind ('Phenomenologie des Geistes': 1807). I have even uploaded a copy.

Why?
1. Because of its influence on later thinkers, such as Marx.
2. Because there was a great deal of interest in 'New Thought' books on the forum a few months ago. There were a lot of requests for Napoleon Hill's works. These are all 'think yourself rich' books and are generally based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Hegel. Read the real thing instead. You won't get rich, but you will think.
pff, if i won't even get rich, forget it.
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Old 04-26-2008, 10:44 PM   #8
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What a great thread idea, Ralph Sir Edward! Of course you know, by starting with such a good one, you've set the bar pretty high for yourself for the next one.

I'll have to think about it some before I come up with too much of an answer, but I can start with these:

The Adolescence of P1 by Thomas J. Ryan. I think it's a very interesting look at where we've come from on computing technology, as well as where it looked like we were going at the time. The first ~20% of it reads like a trashy novel, though, that may or may not be a drawback for you.

God and My Country by MacKinlay Kantor (this one got made into the obscure movie Follow Me, Boys). It's a look at Boy Scouts and the impact it had on an entire town during the 30's, 40's and 50's (I think that's the time frame). Anyone who has an interest in Boy Scouts will likely find the book and/or the movie interesting.
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Old 04-26-2008, 11:18 PM   #9
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Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of An American Writer 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwriight
Author: Steven Millhauser

This novel accomplishes many things and works on many levels. It’s a mediation on the art of biography; a love affair with the English Language; a study of how we acquire language; a look at narcissim; and a song to the days of growing up in the 50s when innoncence abounded and life was good.

It’s not necessary to be critically engaged in the issues I note above. Mainly, the novel is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. The main conceit of the book is that it’s “written” by an 11-year old!

This book was originally published in 1972 and has achieved a kind of cult status over the years. It was Milhauser’s first published novel. Years later, while working on my doctorate, I used the novel in a Theory of Language course to explore how we acquire language.

For example, a study of the young author as he acquires langauge (as written by Jeffrey Cartwright), would go something like this:

"ffftttttt, zzzzzffffff, afrrrmrmrm"

fffttttt = undiluted happiness

zzzzzfffff = often used to imitate digestive discomfort

afrrrrrmrmrm = A sound accompanied by drooling and a clapping of hands, signifying total and complete agreement with what is being discussed.

Of course, the young writer eventually graudates to working on his magnum opus: a coloring book!

Don

Correction: Not written BY an 11-year old; rather, written ABOUT an 11-year old.
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Old 04-27-2008, 12:48 AM   #10
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The Eclipse of the Intellectual
by Elemire Zolla (1926-2002)

He was a professor of English and American literature at the University of Rome "La Sapienza".

I first found out about the book in a reference in one of Marshall McLuhan's books (From Cliché to Archetype as I remember.) The English translation was published in the US by Funk & Wagnalls in 1968.

It explores the limiting nature of a society to think that you have choices but only within their constraints. Like a multiple choice test that limits your answers to only the ones provided, society also limits the options available while maintaining the illusion that you are free to choose anything you want.

Another part talks of a viewer of modern art. They criticize the work and then add the ultimate insult by saying "I really don't understand modern art at all." It goes on to explore how and why people condemn what they do not understand or what is not common to them.

This is only a small part of the book (as I remember about one or two chapters.) I read the book in my second year at college/university and it altered my life. I was able to think of things in a new way. I changed my major, changed schools, changed girlfriends, and have been far happier with life since then.

It was an amazing book for me.
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Old 04-27-2008, 04:00 AM   #11
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'Doctor Rat' William Kotzwinkle

Not sure if this book is obscure enough - but it's a funny, thought provoking, disturbing, and ultimately terrifying novel that deserves to be better known imho.
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Old 04-27-2008, 07:12 AM   #12
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The Rule Of Four - Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason
(Link to amazon)
Quote:
From Publishers Weekly
Caldwell and Thomason's intriguing intellectual suspense novel stars four brainy roommates at Princeton, two of whom have links to a mysterious 15th-century manuscript, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. This rare text (a real book) contains embedded codes revealing the location of a buried Roman treasure. Comparisons to The Da Vinci Code are inevitable, but Caldwell and Thomason's book is the more cerebral-and better written-of the two: think Dan Brown by way of Donna Tartt and Umberto Eco. The four seniors are Tom Sullivan, Paul Harris, Charlie Freeman and Gil Rankin. Tom, the narrator, is the son of a Renaissance scholar who spent his life studying the ancient book, "an encyclopedia masquerading as a novel, a dissertation on everything from architecture to zoology." The manuscript is also an endless source of fascination for Paul, who sees it as "a siren, a fetching song on a distant shore, all claws and clutches in person. You court her at your risk." This debut novel's range of topics almost rivals the Hypnerotomachia's itself, including etymology, Renaissance art and architecture, Princeton eating clubs, friendship, steganography (riddles) and self-interpreting manuscripts. It's a complicated, intricate and sometimes difficult read, but that's the point and the pleasure. There are murders, romances, dangers and detection, and by the end the heroes are in a race not only to solve the puzzle, but also to stay alive. Readers might be tempted to buy their own copy of the Hypnerotomachia and have a go at the puzzle. After all, Caldwell and Thomason have done most of the heavy deciphering-all that's left is to solve the final riddle, head for Rome and start digging.
The reason I put it here is because I really, really enjoyed the fresh new setting and theme of the book, and because everyone I convinced to read it told me they didn't like it.
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Old 04-27-2008, 07:16 AM   #13
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'Doctor Rat' William Kotzwinkle

Not sure if this book is obscure enough - but it's a funny, thought provoking, disturbing, and ultimately terrifying novel that deserves to be better known imho.
I like just about everything Kotzwinkle has written, due to his wacky sense of humor and the off-beat selection of topics that he chooses to write about.

Doctor Rat is a great read and, in my opinion, too little known. It won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1977.



Don
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Old 04-27-2008, 09:01 AM   #14
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I can't think of anything exceedingly obscure. Perhaps Rynosseros (Terry Dowling) might barely qualify amongst the broader public, but I daresay the SF-interest amongst this group might possibly deny its obscurity.

So, instead, I'll go for a non-obscure writer's perhaps slightly obscure first novel (though it won the Miles Franklin Award and was made into a movie with Barry Otto, so I'm pushing it). Anyway, the book is not Oscar and Lucinda or The True History of the Kelly Gang bur rather Peter Carey's Bliss.

Bliss is about a man blissfully believing he is living the Australian dream, until he dies for nine minutes and wakes up in what he believes is literally Hell. His wife is cheating on him, his son is selling drugs, his daughter is whoring herself to buy those drugs, his business partner's an arse, and his car is sat on by an elephant. Then he meets Honey Barbara...and you will never look at honey in the same way again. He is to die twice more.

It is one of my favourite books, and the movie is also worth watching (I believe reading the book beforehand improves the movie. Barry Otto is brilliant in the lead).

Sorry, it's not that obscure, though perhaps enough so amongst a predominantly non-Australasian crowd. I'll have a look through my bookcases tomorrow for something more obscure.

Cheers,
Marc
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Old 04-27-2008, 10:11 AM   #15
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A modern translation from Catalan of Tirant Lo Blanc by Joanot Martorell in 1468 was reviewed by NYTimes in the early 1980's and quickly died away. This is definitely not for the casual reader. I found it most interesting because it was foreign to me in so many different ways (subject, surroundings, pace, style). I confess that I did not actually finish it but now I think I will.

Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals is by no means obscure in the U.K. but it sure is here, or it was when I was trying to find a copy ten years ago when recommended to me by a Brit friend. I had a Dickens of a time finding it. Well worth it, though. An absolutely hilarious tale of the nature-curious author living on Corfu with his mother and siblings. He was certainly surrounded by wildlife.
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