Steve G.

Literary Break

In Libertarian on October 30, 2008 at 5:31 pm

By request of ENM, a literary thread.

Let’s have your favorite books. Favorite libertarian books. Favorite socialist novels (I’ll admit to an early love of Steinbeck, and to being a closet Wells fan – check out Day of the Comet sometime). Favorite re-reads (you know, when you haven’t the energy to start something new – you novel version of ‘comfort food’).The last time you re-read the LOTR series. (C’mon… just admit it, you’re among friends).

I’d like to talk about novels, because elections always put me in an escapist mood, but you can of course talk about what econ or constitutional law tome is catching your interest these days. it’s a free country! or… hmm. not.

And, to keep it fresh, name at least one book published in the past, oh, ten years or so, that you think may still be in your ‘top ten’ a few decades from now. I have to ponder that one.

Fact that might surprise people who know me as an atheist: I have a very soft spot for Christian SF. Lewis. L’Engle. Zenna Henderson. I think it’s because I’m much more fascinated by good than by evil. I’ve been re-reading a collection of Henerson’s “People Stories” this week – I think the proximity to election time has made me crave Good People (even fictional ones) even more than usual.

Some on my (current) top-ten list:

Jitterbug Perfume
Crome Yellow
Cannery Row
Heretics of Dune/Chapterhouse Dune
The First Circle

  1. Favorite Libertarian novels: pretty much anything by F. Paul Wilson, but specifically the Repairman Jack series

    Favorite socialist novels: Nicholas Monsarrat’s The Tribe That Lost It’s Head and [I can’t remember the author] a mid-1980s Soviet spy novel “TASS is authorized to announce…” in which the brave KGB spies frustrate the imperialist Americans in Africa…

    Favorite SF (not specifically Libertarian): Stephen Baxter’s “Ring” and–although dated and currently hard to find–anything by A E Van Vogt (his “The Weapons Shops of Issher” is one of the classics of Libertarian SF and the source of the name of the Issher Sports Shop (that really sells guns) in the Repairman Jack books

  2. I just read Weapons Shop in an old collection of SF shorts. Loved it!

    And that reminds me – I just discovered H. Beam Piper this year. What a treasure!

    Best Lib short SF EVER: And Then There Were None by Eric Frank Russell

  3. Lib Novel: The Black Arrow by Vin.

    Other NF: Creature from Jekyll Island, ans a bunch of natural health books.

    Other F: Just wrote a Harry Potter FanFic, for the practice. Trying my hand at a SF novel next year, not necessarily Lib, more of a pseudo-Xtian-occult-political thriller.

  4. I posted something on Facebook a while ago about “Three Books Most People Have Never Heard Of That Changed My Life”. One was Ruwart’s “Healing”, another was a book about Hinduism, and the third was a novel called “Cardinal Galsworthy” by Robert Sheehan. I’m no longer a theist, but the book is an exceptional account of the faith and ambition at the center of the modern Roman Catholic Church, tracking the life of a somewhat cynical man from priesthood to the verge of the papacy.

  5. I wrote about these books in a bit more detail on my own blog, but my five favorite novels:
    1) A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
    2) A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
    3) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    4) The Stand by Stephen King
    5) Dune by Frank Herbert

    In retrospect, I find it kind of strange that a mystery writer doesn’t have any mystery novels listed.

    My original blog post:

  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
    A Confederacy of Dunces. (I agree with that one)
    Almost anything by Steinbeck

    Steve Newton’s got it there with the work of F. Paul Wilson. His “Enemy of the State” for sometime ago is a great book.

    Most of Phillip K. Dick’s work is fun.


  7. I read the entirety of Proust a few years ago, for a very silly reason. I have some big gaps in my reading of classic literature, and I can be very defensive about it. (I’ve read hardly any Dickens, for example, nor much Twain even though I think he’s great.) So I read “In Search of Lost Time” so when someone says with incredulity, “You’ve never read such-and-such?!” I can say, “No, but I’ve read all of Proust.”

  8. Thanks for posting this thread, Susan! 🙂

    Some books I would recommend to others, completely off the top of my head ……

    “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    “Shot In The Heart” by Mikal Gilmore
    “Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot” by Al Franken
    “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston
    “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr
    “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck
    “I Know This Much Is True” by Wally Lamb
    “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt

    Also, anything and everything by the late great Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

    I have no doubt that I will re-read all of the above during the next ten years, for various reasons.

    At 1:00 am, though, that’s the best you can get out of me for now, LOL.

    I’ll take a look in my home library this weekend and post a more comprehensive and descriptive list, because I’m sure I’m leaving out many fine books and many fine authors.

    I have also read some real stinkers over the years, so if I have time, I will also add a list of popular books to avoid if you wish to retain your brain cells. 😉

  9. Another favorite little-known novel: “The World as I Found It” by Bruce Duffy, about Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, and G.E. Moore.

  10. “Tass Is Authorized to Announce…”

    I gather that was originally or became a top-line Soviet television show. The plot lines sounded to have a unique perspective.

    I will read history–currently Freehling’s history of the run up to the start of the Civil War –and science fiction by author: White, Weber, Turtledove, Hambley, McKillip, Kirstein, McDevitt, Modesitt, though when I started writing SF (yes, I have published professionally) my reading fell off.

  11. Favorite libertarian novel: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

    Favorite socialist novel: Undecided between Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls or any of the four novels in Ken MacLeod’s “Fall Revolution” cycle, or The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin.

    Re-reads: Anything and everything by L. Neil Smith or Vin Suprynowicz. Isaac Deutscher’s three-volume life of Trotsky (The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, The Prophet Outcast). Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative. The old pulp political SF novels by Mack Reynolds but I have trouble finding them these days. J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night. Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars” trilogy and The Years of Rice and Sand. [Note: Deutscher and Foote are non-fiction, but I still consider them literature]

    A few of the above are from the last ten years, so I’ll leave it at that. Last time I read LotR was probably two or three years ago.

  12. The Mars trilogy: I got bogged down in that about 2/3 of the way through. I stopped giving a damn about the characters, best I can remember. They were irritating me. I will have to try again.

    And this from a person who actually *liked* the literary monstrosity that was _God-Emperor of Dune_ – 600+ pages of philosophical ramblings, murderous actions, and lustful desires of a giant visionary man-worm.

  13. Another favorite little-known novel: “The World as I Found It” by Bruce Duffy, about Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, and G.E. Moore.

    Wow. Thanks for that – I am *so* going shopping!

  14. And, hello; how does he keep getitng left out of lib SF discussions: Vernor Vinge. Fairly hardcore anarcho-capitalist stuff.

  15. Other Libertarian SF: J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night–the texture is better than the plot, but I like it

    Not necessarily libertarian but among my faves

    Jean Larteguy’s The Centurions (often published in America as The Lost Command) which starts with the French paras in a Vietminh POW camp after Dien Bien Phu and then follows them into counter-insurgency in Algeria

    Chris Cole and Allen Bunch–A Reckoning for Kings–simply the best novel of the Tet Offensive and the Vietnam War ever written

    David Drake’s The Forlorn Hope–a forerunner of his Hammer’s Slammers novels

    (back to Libertarian sf)

    Anything by H. Beam Piper

    A E Van Vogt’s The Anarchistic Colossus

    F Paul Wilson’s entire LaNague Chronicles and Deep as the Marrow (in which the President decides to legalize marijuana)

  16. Fine idea and great recommendations! It makes me want to run out there and re-read ‘Weapon Shops.’

    Folks, please note I’m an exacting man and speed-reader who has read widely in many languages for years with plenty of time on his hands, but you may find something enjoyable, so here goes:

    Favorite libertarian books–

    Fiction: Heinlein’s novels as a whole, starting with ‘For Us, the Living’ and ending with the suitably apocalyptic collaboration from beyond ‘Variable Star.’ He meant them to be understood as one ‘para-novel,’ or so he said once. His science fiction opera approach has apparently been taken up by such series as ‘Lost’ and others.

    Honorable mention: John Wyndham’s, Bester’s stuff; the series ‘Millennium’ on the murder of the human race has many themes of proto-libertarian interest; Grosser’s ‘Tamburas’ and several Nicholas Guild novels are sword-and-sandals yarns that have unsuspected charm. King’s ‘The Stand’ and also Brin’s ‘The Postman’ are great novels of reconstructing a free society that help one understand why things are there. Rand’s ‘We the Living’: brutal, self-contained, Rashomon-like, classic (she also thiought it was her best). I thought the film was pretty good: only Russians, Hungarians, and Mediterranean’s seem to fully get this stuff without pre-conceptions.

    Lib Non-Fiction: Plutarch’s life of Numa Pompilius with the original proto-libertarian design of the Roman Republic; Aristotle’s passage on the Libertarian city of Hippodamos in his Politics, Jefferson’s collected writings with some good books on common law. All else is commentary. Heinlein’s ‘Take Back Your Government’ is a how-to for Libs all should read.

    Favorite socialist novels– The original modern (actually medieval) novel, ‘Tirant lo Blanc’ (The White Tyrant); Jack London’s ‘The Iron Heel’ and of course ‘Germinal.’

    Favorite re-reads–I have for decades kept near my bed 8 books: Spinoza-Teixera’s ‘Ethics’ in Portuguese (makes more sense that way to me: he wrote in Latin but thought in Portuguese, I think), the ‘Lazarillo de Tormes,’ the ‘Satyricon’ of Petronius, Grosser’s ‘Tamburas,’ Confucius’ ‘Analects,’ a compendium in Spanish of Toynbee’s ‘Study of History,’ and the first novel ever written, ‘Daphis and Chloe,’ plus a short Catjholic devotional recommended by JPII called the ‘Chaplet of Mercy,’ which according to him summarized all religious teaching and whose periodic reading with a generous and well-intended life assures salvation and ennobles the soul.

    I also keep whatever 3 things I’m reading now, which this week are: Joe Haldeman’s ‘Old Twentieth,’ Stephen King’s ‘Duma,’ and Howard Bloom’s ‘The Lucifer Principle.’ Just finished Faber’s ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ and a re-read of Rod McKuen’s ‘Stanyan Street.’ Next on my list: re-read William Mize’s stuff, it’s great not-what-you-thought-at-first stuff.

    The last time you re-read the LOTR series: I made a point of skippin’ a papragraph so I can claim I never read it during the LOTR hysteria in the ’60’s. Last time I never read it was in 1978 or so.

  17. Ah, ENM. “The Good Earth”. One of my early favorites.

  18. Susan: I’m a huge fan of Pearl S. Buck, she’s one of my all-time favorite authors. Did you also read the followup, titled “Sons”? It is also a wonderful novel.

  19. I read the entirety of Proust a few years ago, for a very silly reason. I have some big gaps in my reading of classic literature, and I can be very defensive about it.

    I hear you! I have thought about watching every David Lynch film for the same reason – my abysmal ignorance of film. But I just can’t muster up the energy for it.

    So how did you find Proust? I’ve somehow escaped him.

  20. ENM: I haven’t read “Sons” (in fact, I didn’t know about it, so thanks!) – I’ll have to do so.

    There were parts of TGE that were – if this makes sense – vividly depressing – but some of the images have been embedded into my mind, which I suspect is the hallmark of good writing. The retarded child twisting her cloth, the sons looking over their father’s head and smiling at the end, the dying scene of the wife when he still cannot really love her, the two stolen pearls, the begging in the city, the ransacking of the rich man’s house, the green peaches he takes to his wife’s household, the tea leaves the wife extravagantly uses for the old man’s morning drink her first day… just such amazing detail.

    And the food! For a book that’s mostly about poor people, there are some amazing food descriptions.

    And speaking of food in literature, has anyone here read _The Magic Mountain_? Jeezus, they stuffed those TB patients! Between the descriptions of food, love, and philosophy, Mann has it all covered in 1000 pages 🙂

    Oh, and Mann makes me think of Hesse. I went through a pretty strong Hesse phase (who doesn’t?). I would like to re-read sometime coon _The Glass Bead Game_, which I think I like best of his novels.

  21. “So how did you find Proust?”

    This might be worded confusingly. What I meant was how did you *like* Proust?

  22. Hey.

    21 posts and no one’s mentioned Rand. I beleive it’s a record!

    Maybe the libertarian movement is actually maturing 🙂

  23. Whoops, I was wrong about Rand. Still, 15 posts before a mention has got to be some kind of record in lib circles.

    I confess to a soft spot for “we the living” (love Russian novels and this is Rand’s only real Russian novel), and of course the sex scenes in Atlas are fine, if sparse, and Anthem is great short fiction. Dominque Francon is messed up in da haid, if-you-know-what-I-mean.

    Talk of Rand reminds me: I read _Free Land_ by Lane a few years back. Excellent stuff. Need to find me Lane to read.

  24. I actually liked Proust after the fact — while reading it, it was a bit of a slog, but about a year later I looked back on it fondly. Really, very little happens in the course of 4,000 pages, though.

  25. no one’s mentioned Rand…..actually maturing
    Susan Hogarth

    Whoa there. Let’s talk Rand. I got my first copy of Atlas Shrugged stolen from me by a hostile ‘hostess’ at the ‘foot’ of a tiny glacier (Palisade, 1975?). Fortunately, I was able to puchase a second copy for $2.95 (a week later) at a book store in Bishop, CA; owned by a liberal who hated Rand, but loved books. $2.95 is about what that novel is worth (IMO).

    Halloween is such a wonderful time for me! I like to sit around and think about Norman Clyde
    ‘the village half-wit who could always find Old Bes the cow’.

    At one time he was a REspectited member of society, workings aways in the Public-School-System. But Halloween came unlucky one year, and he was condemededed to wander aimlessly in the foothills and valleys carrying books in Latin and Greek. Some rumors said he carried books in Russian, too. Some of those rumors show up in ‘Rambles Through the Range of Light’. I don’t know where to get a book like that anymore. I managed to get one once that was actually autograghed by ‘half-wit’ himself, thanks to Smoke Blanchard and the liberal-Rand-hater-bookstore-owner, but all that junk of mine disappeared with my own Halloween-time-like misfortune, an IRS/FTB tax assessement of $25,703.00 (for a year I didn’t work).

    Halloween, yeah it’s spooky for some, and for others…….

  26. Correction:
    A quick research of death records reveals that ‘Palisade ’75’ (above post) is incorrect. Should be August ’77 +/-, roughly August 7, 1977.

  27. I’m not the hopeless speed-reading bibliomaniac my husband MG is, but LFB has gotten back on its feet and has some good hard to find but must-read stuff.

    See (free e-mail catalog) and or

    The e-mail catalog is a great free ‘handout’ as well that saves a lot of explanation.

    Also a lot of public libraries have gone online with great search features. You type in ‘libertarian science fiction’ or CATO and there you go.

  28. OK! Favorite novels/comfort food for my head, things I like to reread when reality starts getting to me:

    Atlas Shrugged (well duhh)
    Probability Broach (L. Neil Smith)
    Little Women
    An Old-Fashioned Girl (also by Louisa May Alcott)
    Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
    Shining Through by Susan Isaacs
    Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
    A Conecticutt Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (Twain)
    Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow

    All I can think of at the moment. Probably more later.

  29. In the R.I.P department, I’d like to acknowledge Michael Crichton’s best (and possibly only*) novel, _Andromeda Strain_.

    I boldly say ‘best, although I haven’t read all of his books. I may be wrong, and I hope someday to suffer through another long enough to find out that I am. There was something really compelling about _AS_ that wasn’t present in his other novels – though perhaps it’s a generational thing, since his novels seem to be fear-based SF and maybe I just was of the ‘germ generation’ more than I was the ‘DNA generation’.

    Not really fear-based, though, now that I think of it. His novels seem at first like made-for-film horror-SF-movie stuff, but on reflection they seem to end with everything just working itself out somehow. Realistic, I suspect, though perhaps a bit dull. Maybe he has a genre of his own: the averted apocalypse novel.

    *Calling _AS_ his ‘only’ novel is a bit harsh, but he does seem to have developed a formula and stuck with it (which is fine). Put a bunch of academics in a crisis situation, shake ’em up a bit, and see what happens.

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