Tag Archives: books

My 50 Favorite Novels

Introduction

I thought I’d have a little fun today and compile a list of my 50 favorite novels.

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First off, the rules.

I didn’t include any short stories, short story collections, poetry collections, screenplays, plays, nonfiction (creative or otherwise), or graphic novels. Every book on this list is a novel (well, there is one novella).

Also, this is a list of my 50 favorite novels, not a list of the 50 best novels in terms of literary merit. Nostalgia, my own personal taste, and the fact that I’ve only read a smidgen of the novels that have been written limit this to a very arbitrary list.

Without further ado, the list!

My 50 Favorite Novels

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  1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  2. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  6. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  7. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
  8. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
  9. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
  10. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  11. Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale by Chuck Kinder
  12. Skagboys by Irvine Welsh
  13. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
  14. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  15. Native Son by Richard Wright
  16. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
  17. Women by Charles Bukowski
  18. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  19. 1984 by George Orwell
  20. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  21. The Plague by Albert Camus
  22. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  23. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
  24. The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson
  25. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
  26. The Group by Mary McCarthy
  27. Drop City by T.C. Boyle
  28. The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight
  29. The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  30. Junky by William S. Burroughs
  31. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
  32. Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley
  33. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  34. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
  35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  36. NW by Zadie Smith
  37. The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini
  38. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  39. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  40. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  41. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  42. The Fall by Albert Camus
  43. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  44. The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis
  45. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  46. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  47. Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  48. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  49. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  50. Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Feedback

Now, here’s where I turn it back to you with a few questions:

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How many of these novels have you read?

Do you hate any of the books on this list? Why?

What’s on your list of 50 favorite books?

Comments and feedback are always appreciated!

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

Self-Publishing: The (Potential) Rise of a New Literary Middle-Class

Hey, it’s been way too long since I’ve published an actual post here on The Literary Game. I can’t make any promises that I’ll post with any regularity, but let’s give this another shot. Before anything, I want to let you all know that I want to make some changes to this blog. I am not the god of writing. I have my perspective on things, and yes, I’ve been published online a bit and have a degree in Creative Writing, but the authoritative tone of the previous posts is going to be no longer. Instead, I want you to join me on a journey through the literary game. Together.

If you caught the farewell post a while ago, you might remember that I’m working on a new project, Beautiful / Losers Magazine, which you can check out by clicking here. Dario Cannizzaro, co-founder of the magazine and a good friend of mine got me to do a total 180 on what was once gospel truth to me – self-publishing. For my longtime readers, you’re probably aware of how much disdain I had for self-publishing. While it is true that there is a lot of weak, sloppy work out there in the world of self-publishing, there is some incredible stuff as well. Whether it’s easy to find, that depends on your Web savvy.

So, how did I change my perspective? Well, it all started when Dario mentioned to me and Austin Wiggins, the third member of our triumvirate of co-founders, that he had completed a novel titled Dead Men Naked. Dario asked if we would be so kind as to read his manuscript, and offer our thoughts. In short, it was damn good! Now prior to reading Dario’s book, I had been on a mission to get a poetry chapbook published. I know that the Big 5 publishers wouldn’t be interested, for obvious reasons; however, I reached out to a few friends in the “underground poetry” movement who are further along in their careers than I am. I had some leads, and some people who genuinely wanted to help, but it came to nothing.

Now there are many small presses that publish a wide-range of material, but generally, much of it is outside of my stylistic parameters. My poetry and fiction is edgy, with a raw spirit that I guess rubbed off on me from spending the better part of the last twenty years hanging out with crazy punk rockers and other assorted misfits. My work isn’t for the book club or professors at Yale, and many of the small presses cater towards a more elite set than my work, which purposefully tries to be accessible and portray life on the margins. That said, I kind of hit a wall, just like many other writers trying to get a book out.

After speaking to Dario, and hearing that a talented writer like him was going the self-publishing route, and later learning that Austin was planning to do the same, I realized maybe I should reconsider my skepticism of that path. The Big 5 are looking for people with platforms, books that can make a huge amount of money. The small presses, by virtue of their limited resources and reach, can’t provide a significant income and can be quite difficult and time-consuming to get published with, due to sheer volume of submissions, stylistic parameters, entry fees, and limited windows for submissions. For a writer who loves writing and wants to make it their career, self-publishing, with a little bit of luck, talent, and extreme skill in marketing, can lead you to the literary middle class.

There are many talented writers who are broke and struggling to find publishers for their material. Why not take my example, and give self-publishing a second look? Make a name for yourself online organically, and scale from there. You can write and make money at it, maybe not at Stephen King or J.K. Rowling levels, but enough to pay the rent while doing what you love, so give it a try!

Six Different Ways To Write Your Conclusion

The beginning of your novel is easy. The ideas flow out and you’re writing at least 3,000 words a day.

The middle of your novel starts to become arduous, but you still know where you’re going with your story. Maybe you’re down to about 1,000 words a day.

Now you’re at the finish line and it has become a nightmare because you have no idea how to artfully end your book. Sound like a situation you’ve faced before? If so, read on for a few different ways to conclude your novel or short story.

  1. Open Ended – In this approach, readers determine what happened because the writer intentionally leaves the ending open to interpretation.
  2. Traditional – A clear cut ending with no ambiguity. Readers know exactly what happened and why.
  3. Back To The Beginning – The writer revisits the same/similar image or situation as at the beginning of the story.
  4. Thoughts – A character, usually the protagonist, sinks into reflection.
  5. Dialogue – Characters have a conversation.
  6. Symbolism – Details that allude to something important are presented.

Which approach have you used in your novel/s or short stories? Why did you choose that approach? 

 

The Importance of Reviews for Independent Writers

I am going to tell you a secret: As a general rule, I do not read independent writers. 

Perhaps I am biased. I have seen a handful of talented figures who are not publishing with literary journals or publishing houses through the blogosphere and through various publishing operations. They are the exceptions.

I was weaned on weighty writers who wrote heavy, simple, and philosophical fiction: Raymond Carver; Flannery O’Connor; Carson McCullers; Kent Haruf; etc. The intelligence and humanity of these writers doesn’t appear on indies much at all. Hell, that kind of intelligence and humanity doesn’t appear much even on the Big 5 or anywhere outside of the University of Iowa.

Indie writers can call me a conservative or wrong or whatever, but instead of calling me and those of my ilk names, what they ought to consider doing is concentrate on getting reviews.

I know an excellent website called Indie-Pendent Steam. The site is operated by Virginia Arthur. Virginia does not pull any punches in her reviews. If your writing needs work, even though you paid her for a review, she will still call it as it is. The good news for budding writers though is that Virginia will not post bad reviews, instead she will default to proofreading such work instead. Even with caring professionals like Virginia who take steps to protect the reputation of independent writers, many do not have the mental toughness to handle bad reviews, even if no one sees them. That’s a horrible character trait in any writer. Still, if you are an indie writer and want to prove people wrong and get people reading your stuff, you need to obtain some reviews to build that initial traction and pique readers’ interest.

As an editor, I am as tough as possible on my writers because to flatter with kind words will not serve any aspiring writer intent on crafting excellent fiction. As a book reviewer, Virginia takes a similar approach. If you’re an independent writer, you should seriously consider working with Virginia. Her book reviews are fair and unbiased. Her reviews actually hold weight with readers because there’s a quality attached to her opinion.

30 Books You Must Read If You Want To Become A Literary Badass

In The Literary Game, I repeatedly mention the simple three-step process necessary for success in the literary world:

  1. Get to writing.
  2. Have your work edited.
  3. Find appropriate places to publish.

However, in truth, no matter how excellent an editor or publishing consultant you choose to work with, all your efforts will probably be for naught if you are not well-read.

Reading more is one of the most critical things that you can do to become a successful writer. Without a truly voracious love for the written word, your work will likely be stale, and not publishable. There are exceptions, but they are VERY rare, and you are probably NOT the exception.

Personally, as an author, I take it as an affront when writers do not read at all. I view those individuals as carpetbaggers. While some writers read more than others, as dependent on their lifestyle and other factors, it is important that all writers actually read – to improve their own work, and to support the profession as a whole.

My own writing tends to bridge the gap between literary fiction and alternative literature. If you write in either genre, getting familiar with a few of these books is essential. Also, if you write in a different genre, but just want a good read, consider the following:

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil – This isn’t a novel, but rather a recollection of the original 70s punk scene from the figures who lived it.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – Four outsiders in a small southern U.S. town search for acceptance and a reprieve from their alienation.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor – Like all of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories/novellas, this one is dark and saturated with religious themes.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver – In my opinion, this is the best collection of Raymond Carver’s short fiction.

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson – A young American journalist goes to Puerto Rico, makes a barebones salary, gets drunk, gets laid, and tries to avoid being killed by the natives.

Women by Charles BukowskiThe red pill of male-female interactions told only as Bukowski could.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – “I had to stop reading this because I started seeing people as meat.” – My friend Ben. That about says it all.

NW by Zadie Smith Two best friends navigate cross-cultural issues in modern day England.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – The best prose writer alive.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shtenygart – For those sad bastard moments.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth – Neurosis encapsulated.

Taipei by Tao Lin – Hipster life in the 21st century.

Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale by Chuck Kinder – The story of two hard-partying, life-wrecking buffoons who eventually make it as successful writers.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – Perhaps the best book written in the 21st century.

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem – From outcast white kid in a slowly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood to liberal arts college party boy to young professional. No, I cannot relate to this story in any way!

The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight – An entire movement was borne out of this book (Islamic punk).

Demonology by Rick Moody – An incredibly sharp collection of short fiction.

Junky by William S. Burroughs – Easily William S. Burroughs’ most accessible work.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Satan comes to Moscow. Not going to make a Putin joke.

A Crackup at the Race Riots by Harmony Korine – This is postmodern writing done by the director of Gummo and Spring Breakers.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – One of the funniest books I have ever read.

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh – Explore how the lads of Trainspotting became junkies.

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley – An interesting fictional look into the world of tobacco lobbying.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – A Greek-American family’s story as told through several generations, including through the life of a hermaphrodite.

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon – Within 24 hours, your wife divorces you and you’re fired. What else can you do but drive across America talking to people? The finest travel writing I have ever read, and a personal inspiration to me as both a writer and free spirit.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn – Carnies are people too.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf – If you like sparse prose, Haruf was the master.

Black Hole by Charles Burns – In this graphic novel, a weird sexually transmitted disease is spread in suburban Seattle in the 1970s.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney – Writing in the 2nd person that is actually good!

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes – A quote from the character Enid Coleslaw: “These stupid girls think they’re so hip, but they’re just a bunch of trendy stuck-up prep-school bitches who think they’re “cutting edge” because they know who “Sonic Youth” is!”

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno
Publisher, The Literary Game

 

Five Ways to Effectively Market Your Self-Published Book

In previous posts, I’ve been quite critical of self-published books. The reason for my reluctance to advocate that writers go that route is that quite often self-publishing is a complete dead end. Virtually no one ends up reading the average self-published book. Of course, there are many exceptions, but truthfully, this is the case for the vast majority of books published with vanity presses.

Self-published books have a bad reputation because many self-published works could have seriously benefited from a massive edit on content, and oftentimes even on basics like spelling and grammar; however, there are quite a number of incredible books that deserve to be read that have been self-published.

So, how do you keep your self-published book from getting lost in the sea of anonymity? Here are a few helpful suggestions:

1. Tell Your Friends and Family. By tell your friends and family, I don’t mean just your closest friends, your partner, and your mom and dad – tell EVERYONE in your network. Find appropriate, non-awkward ways to pitch your book to everyone you know. Explain that you would deeply appreciate it if they read your book, and if they tell others about it afterwards. If you go the traditional route and just plaster social media, very few of your contacts will actually proceed with reading it, much less helping you publicize your book; however, if you treat your contacts respectfully by approaching them individually, you’ll get much better results.

2. Leverage Your Life. Whatever passions, work, and undertakings you are a part of, find an appropriate way to connect your book to them. Whatever base you have in your area of expertise, find a way to connect it with your book in a way that’s respectful of that world.

3. Become An Internet Player. The Internet is democratic. If people like your ideas and your presence, and most especially, if you’re helpful to others, people will respond. The best way is to start a blog, frequent message boards, become a beta reader, of find other ways to help writers via the Internet. The more writers you help, the more people will be open to reading your work and helping you promote it.

4. Make a YouTube Promo. YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine after Google. Try making a captivating video to promote your book in a way that it might go viral. If it’s just a direct pitch to buy the book, few viewers will care, but if the video itself will stick in people’s minds, you’ll get many new readers.

5. Have a Website for the Book. If you’re good with technology, develop an aesthetically pleasing, content-rich search engine optimized website to promote your book. If not, hire a web designer and SEO expert. Either way, you need a website for your book. If possible, try to make the website as interactive as possible. If you simply ask people to buy your book, yet you don’t really help others or interact with them, few people will take you up on your offer.

I hope these ideas are helpful if you choose to go the self-publishing route. Of course, if you need any help with publishing consultancy, editing, or need a skilled book doctor, just email me. I’d love to help you achieve your literary dreams!

-Alfonso

No Publisher Should Ever Be Overlooked

When you’re an aspiring writer, any offer to publish your writing should be accepted graciously!

Now, I don’t necessarily mean vanity presses, but that’s a post for another day. Any competitive press or literary magazine that would like to publish the manuscript of your book, your poetry, or your short fiction should (in most cases) be accepted wholeheartedly.

There are certain places that everyone would like to publish with. Of course you’d probably like to publish with The New Yorker, Granta, Glimmer Train, Tin House, PANK, Word Riot, or any of the Big 5 publishers – so would every other writer; that doesn’t mean that the obscure journal with a subscription list of 1000 should be overlooked.

The fact is that any competitive press is just that – competitive. They screen out lots of writers’ work. If any publisher or press likes what you’ve sent them, that’s a huge victory. It’s not a slight to get published somewhere that isn’t widely known, even amongst literary crowds. Keep in mind that the big publishers pay attention and are always scouting for new talent. If nothing else, you are building quite a portfolio.

The reality is that it’s just not common for most writers to start at the top of the heap, unless they have a wide platform from being notable for some feat other than writing. If you have the chops to get published, no matter where, that’s a huge victory. Embrace it. The journals and presses that you may be seeking to publish with quite possibly may take note, and soon you will be on your way!

-Alfonso

If you need any assistance with finding places to publish your writing – or if you require a diligent editor, simply email me. I’d love to help your literary dreams come true.