Geez Pete's list of "Top 50 Essential Non-Fiction Books for Weirdos"

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Inspired by the Modern Library's "Top 100" list, Cheryl Botchick over at the Geez Pete blog took a crack at listing his picks for the "Top 50 Essential Non-Fiction Books for Weirdos." Now, of course this is a "fool's errand," as she says, and the word "weirdo" is made of an infinite number of pocket subcultures, but it's still a list of mostly really great, inspiring, or at minimum, provocative, books (not that I've read them all). Next, Geez is planning to tackle fiction for weirdos. Here are a few of my faves from her non-fiction list:
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson: Looking over my list, my husband asked, “Isn’t that almost fiction?” Good point! But reporting on events through the filter of copious drugging and a sizable helping of paranoia is still technically reporting in my book. Hunter’s world view is one of the backbones of modern counter-cultural thought. Start here, and maybe try his vicious lone wolf  takedown obit of Nixon, too.

Just Kids by Patti Smith: Yet another book about a world long lost to our modern times. Smith tells the story of coming to New York, meeting her lifelong friend Robert Mapplethorpe, and living the happy-but-skint life of artists in the big city. While reading, be sure to consider that today you can get a $50 cheeseburger in Manhattan without looking very hard.

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil : I don’t care how historic or high-minded any artistic movement is, it’s going to be full of sniping and backstabbing and petty jealousies. We’re all human, and that’s just part of the fun. Kudos to McNeil for getting all these stories about hairy nights hanging out in front of CBGBs on paper, before many of the principals were lost.

Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson: If that book cover isn’t enough to convince you to check this out, what is? Robert Anton Wilson (RAW to his fans and followers) was an icon of brain-altering philosophies, and his writing has lost zero of its power over time. The headline here is that Prometheus Rising is about meta-programming your own mind. The subheads are many. You’ll feel altered.

Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century by Greil Marcus : Marcus tackles what should be an impossible task – taking anarchic artistic and social movements throughout roughly a century of history, and tying them together into a narrative thread that leads straight through punk rock and pop culture – and pulls it off. And it’s entertaining to boot.

Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante: Scorsese’s mostly horrendous Gangs of New York dabbled in the nefarious history of lower Manhattan, but Sante goes for the full narrative, from the Civil War straight through the first couple decades of the 1900s. Learn what the crooks, prostitutes, swindlers, junkies, grifters and their various known associates were doing for “fun.”

"The Top 50 Essential Non-Fiction Books for Weirdos" (Thanks, Heather Sparks!)


  1. I’d have to add Stanley Cohen’s Folk Devils and Moral Panics, which both Hebdige and Marcus took as their inspiration.

    Also Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds for some good old-timey bubble economics.

  2. Hollar! Thanks for the mention, and for any other reader suggestions. I love hearing more ideas! Fiction coming in the next couple of days…

    Cheryl Botchick (yep, that’s my real last name)

    1. I recently finished The Harvard Psychedelic Club, about the effects of Ram Das, Timothy Leary, Andrew Weiner and another guy (whose name escapes me) on not only the ’60s but also the demise of the Eisenhower/’50s era.

      It nicely captures the complexity of the times, the movement towards self-actualization and the inherent pitfalls in same. I would nominate it as well.

      Now if someone could somehow write a biography of Slim Gaillard.

  3. Maybe my definition of weirdo is a little more florid than the norm, but apart from Anton Wilson and Kurzweil, I don’t see any genuine weirdness there at all.

  4. The modern library top 100 “readers list” serves as an eternal monument to just how insane the internet was in 1998. Is there a case to be made that it represents the first truly culturally significant act of trolling? .. certainly respectable sources continue to link to it too this day even though it accepted a “readers vote” that crowned Ayn Rand and L.Ron Hubbard as the “best” authors of all time.

  5. OK What the hell is the cover art on Prometheus Rising telling me? I’m a robot with a stinking grey skinned corpse in his skivvies living inside? If I’m not careful the smelly thong beast with a mullet and strange hat will escape my insides using a sword and attract lightening to my metallic body?

  6. > Kudos to McNeil for getting all these stories about hairy nights hanging out in front of CBGBs on paper

    He was actually one of those people – there’s a picture in the book with him in it, outside CBGB.

    Been looking for that Luc Sante book for a while now…

  7. I see what you did there, Pescovitz! You copied the reviews from the linked site, but you replaced the links to the books from Powell’s and replaced them with BoingBoing’s Amazon Associate links. Very clever…

  8. To be honest, I was surprised how many of these I’d read despite the usual US-centrism. That suggests to me that either I’m weirder than I think, or more likely, this list isn’t as weird as it thinks!

    5 random bits of essential weird nonfiction from my shelf. Douglas Hofstadter’s ‘Godel, Escher, Bach’, the awesome ‘$50 and Over Underground House Book’, ‘Kooks’ by Donna Kossey – one of many excellent Feral House publications – ‘Pink Box’, a strictly, ahem, anthropological collection of photographs and descriptions of Tokyo sex clubs, ‘Hitler’s Table Talk’ – a collection of frighteningly insane and/or inane after-dinner chit-chat.

      1. On the other hand, I may be reading the title wrong. Here is a humorous list of weird books, but not necessarily a list of books for weirdos. I guess there’s a difference.

  9. That looks like a good list. There are many of these I haven’t read, but have wanted to for a while. Too much to do, and not enough free time to read, sadly.

    I’m glad to see the Joe Carducci book on there, cause I enjoyed it. I think it’s out of print — I got it through an inter-library loan. Highly recommended.

  10. I personally believe that Prometheus Rising was eclipsed by RAW’s later Cosmic Trigger series. They both talk about the same things, but I felt that Cosmic Trigger was easier to read. It also made much more of an impact on my daily life and way of thinking.

  11. I read a great deal, but very little of it fiction. That’s why I’m usually dismissive of most Top 10, Top 50, Top 100 (etc.) Book Lists because they are usually all fiction.

    I may not agree with all the titles, but this is a good attempt at a Non-Fiction List. I’m surprised at how many I’ve already read.

    And I’m with Wally Ballou…where’s the Loompanics catalog when you need it?

  12. Prometheus Rising is a great book and all, but for an “essential” list, I’d probably swap it out for Cosmic Trigger.

    1. well, the fiction list is pretty mainstream really…

      Obviously he doesn’t mean sexual or political weirdos. Just your average widely-read person.

      If you want real fiction for weirdos, you could just start with the kind of decadent stuff on the Dedalus list – – everything there is more interesting than most things on this list from Huysmans to Gustav Meyrink (who made Kafka look entirely sane) to Robert Irwin, and including one of my favorite titles ever – and it’s quite a fun read too – ‘Androids from Milk’ by Eugen Egner.

      Nice to see ‘Dhalgren’ by Samuel Delaney in that list, although there are several ‘New Wave’ novels that are just as essential and messed up – Spinrad’s ‘The Iron Dream’ (Hitler ends up as a pulp fantasy writer, and this is his novel), Brian Aldiss’s ‘Barefoot in the Head’ and Dick’s ‘A Scanner Darkly’.

      Glad to see there isn’t a hint of frickin unimaginative zombie mash-up ‘novels’, perhaps the most worthless and laziest excuse for creativity of recent times… they aren’t for weirdos, just dull people.

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