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!)