The purpose of this post is share my all time best literary “finds”. My definition of a “find” is a work that is not mainstream but undeniably brilliant. These books are, in my opinion, masterpieces. A masterpiece is, in my experience, a book that is usually not very accessible at first but once you’ve entered it’s universe you feel your mind literally expanding. It’s technically brilliant, it offers unique perspectives and tackles multiple universal themes simultaneously. You can revisit/reread these works many times and you’ll learn something new. Hamlet, Moby Dick, The Invisible Man and The Iliad are some of my favorite works and are undeniable masterpieces, but they aren’t exactly finds. I’d like to start a dialogue in which we share our favorite, lesser known books. In essence, I’m saying “Trust me, you might not have heard of this book, but it’s well worth your time” So, without further ado, below a few of my best, unexpected finds.
- “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz: This one almost qualifies as mainstream as it had much critical praise and won many literary awards when it was published. There is a relatively small but fervent bad of “Oscar Wao”-heads and I count myself among them. This book deserves a much wider audience, I think, now more than ever. “Oscar Wao” is ostensibly about a sensitive, obese young Dominican nerd growing up between NJ and the Dominican Republic in the late 70s and into the 80s. It explores so many themes so well that I actually had to put the book down a few times when I first read it – from sheer exhilaration. My mind was blown. I have reread this many, many times. Some books will make you laugh and some will make you cry, but Oscar Wao is the only book I’ve read that will make you do both. For real, don’t read this on the subway or you risk making a scene of yourself. (Sidenote: I grew up in the Caribbean (in a country veeerrry close to the DR – hint) during the time this book takes place and also spend a certain amount of amongst Caribbean communities on the US East Coast so the book resonates even with me, a quiche-eating gringo/blan. The language, the descriptions of Caribbean history and culture, comic books, youth culture of the time, hip-hop, the outrageously debilitating “fineness” of Dominican women, it’s all there.)
- “The Tao of Physics” by Fritjof Capra: The subtitle of this books is “An Explanation of the Parallels of Eastern Mysticism and Modern Physics” which sums it up pretty neatly. I love this book for many reasons, not the least being that it’s a “period” piece. This book could only have been written in California in the early 70s. It fairly reeks of patchiouli oil and acid trips, but I mean that in a positive sense. Fritjof Capra was a renowned Quantum physicists whose “aha” moment came, as one might imagine, whilst he was tripping balls at Big Sur. If you’ve ever wondered why leading physicists such as Robert Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr were adepts of Eastern Mystical traditions long before they became trendy in the west, this book answers that question. Granted, some of the physics is somewhat dated (at least in my old edition) but the basic premise remains valid. Capra succeeds in describing the basics of each tradition and the underlying theories of Quantum physics and ties them neatly together. I’ve read and reread this book many times and will often just revisit specific chapters.
- “The Zanzibar Chest” by Aidan Hartley: This book is very much off the radar, I suspect. It’s a nonfiction work that tells the story of the author’s work as a Nairobi based Reuters correspondent in the 90s. It’s also part family history as Hartley frames his story in the wider context of his family who were British colonial expats par excellence. As a correspondent, Hartley covered most of the well-known “micro” wars from the Balkans to Rwanda, Somalia and beyond. This book was criticized when it was published for lacking politically correctness. Hartley is both a product of British colonialism and a war correspondent. He doesn’t try, however, to whitewash his past or his some of his behavior, about which he himself is very conflicted. Hartley’s own story, and stories he reports on, are very Joseph Conrad-ian in tenor. In the age of the Oxfam scandal (in my “home” country no less, and no, not at all surprised – such behavior is the rule, not the exception.) this book is perhaps a bit less shocking. As somebody who has lived and worked a fair bit in various parts of Africa, as student of history and as a human being I found this book to be riveting. It’s book that stays with you long after you’ve read it and one that you will most probably read more than once.
3 lesser known books that are well worth your time. What are your favorite finds? Please comment down below.