The best books about misfits and wretched excess

Who am I?

Don’t ask me why I grew aware, from the earliest age, of living in more than one world. There seemed to be a strident world of what we said was happening, and a twilight world of what was really happening. I ended up liking and writing about the world of what really happens, because while all our seamless goal-driven plans are filling the air there’s this beautiful, whimsical, frail and often ridiculous world where we’re hapless and riddled with twists. The world of humanity. The backstage of laughter and tears. And for that, I present five outrageous old friends living in books from our strange human history.


I wrote...

Book cover of Vernon God Little: A 21st Century Comedy in the Presence of Death

What is my book about?

On the outskirts of a sweltering Texan town among willows, pumpjacks, and peeling wood dwellings, a fifteen-year-old under-achiever becomes the prime suspect for a high school shooting. Vernon Little’s coming-of-age suddenly meets the media, the madness of crowds, and his mother’s unfortunate psychology, as he desperately plots to run to Mexico. This extremely black comedy is an explosion of triggers from early 21st-century culture spun into an adventure that asks: what the hell is really going on?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Jernigan

D.B.C. Pierre Why did I love this book?

Being lured into another world by a strong first-person voice turns a book into a wide-open door, and I love going through strange doors. This one opens onto a richly detailed middle-class mess who’s also an exceptional host, recently widowed alcoholic single-parent Peter Jernigan. He takes us on a ride through suburban New Jersey as passengers in his mind, narrating his life’s unravelling with brutal whimsy and humour. This was one of the most helpless relationships I’ve had with a character in a book. A privilege and a reminder of the balancing act we all face.

By David Gates,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jernigan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Peter Jernigan's life is slipping out of control. His wife's gone, he's lost his job and he's a stranger to his teenage son. Worse, his only relief from all this reality - alcohol - is less effective by the day. And when the medicine doesn't work, you up the dose. And when that doesn't work, what then? (Apart from upping the dose again anyway, because who knows?)

Jernigan's answer is to slowly turn his caustic wit on everyone around him - his wife Judith, his teenage son Danny, his vulnerable new girlfriend Martha and, eventually, himself - until the laughs…


Book cover of A Confederacy of Dunces

D.B.C. Pierre Why did I love this book?

If we love high-functioning messes we may as well go straight to the top. I found a sense of real genius in these pages, also said by many to contain the best-written depiction of New Orleans and its cultures; you feel like a local by the end of it. Our host is the outrageous educated slob Ignatius J Reilly – hot-dog vendor, philosopher, and leader of insurrections – whose path from outrage to outrage is a comedic high-wire act of historic proportions. Only published a decade after the author’s suicide, an air of autobiography also adds poignance to this read. I came away feeling I’d been in a backstage of life, the one where tragedy and comedy share a couch.

By John Kennedy Toole,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked A Confederacy of Dunces as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ONE OF THE BBC'S 100 NOVELS THAT SHAPED OUR WORLD

'This is probably my favourite book of all time' Billy Connolly

A pithy, laugh-out-loud story following John Kennedy Toole's larger-than-life Ignatius J. Reilly, floundering his way through 1960s New Orleans, beautifully resigned with cover art by Gary Taxali
_____________

'This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians . . . don't make the mistake of bothering me.'

Ignatius J. Reilly: fat, flatulent, eloquent and almost unemployable. By the standards of ordinary folk he is pretty much…


Book cover of Against Nature (A Rebours)

D.B.C. Pierre Why did I love this book?

This is my recommended therapy against the expected and mundane, a complete inversion of values from late nineteenth-century France. Against Nature (from the French A Rebours) is a refreshingly plotless decadent novel about an aristocratic aesthete, Jean Des Esseintes, who, having grown disgusted with society, retreats into his house to contemplate higher things. These include a tortoise which he plates in gold and encrusts with jewels to highlight the colours on a Persian rug. This book made me want to give up wearing socks.

By Joris Karl Huysmans, John Howard (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Against Nature (A Rebours) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Against Nature (A Rebours)By Joris-Karl Huysmans, John Howard (Translated by)


Book cover of Zeno's Conscience

D.B.C. Pierre Why did I love this book?

A doctor in early twentieth-century Trieste demands that an eccentric patient write his memoirs as a form of psychotherapy. These pages are those memoirs – the doctor calls them all lies – and form the fictional life story of one of my favourite misfits, the unreliable Zeno Cosini, with his horde of idiosyncrasies. Between proposing to three sisters within an hour and making a fortune on the stock market by mistake, he spends his time nurturing his hypochondria and trying to give up smoking, which means endlessly smoking ‘last cigarettes’. A seminal work of modernism, this is another novel with autobiographical ties to the author, and I left it torn between laughter and tears over just how complex, ironic and funny we humans can be.

By Italo Svevo, William Weaver (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Zeno's Conscience as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A marvel of psychological insight from one of the most important Italian literary figures of the twentieth century

When vain, obsessive and guilt-ridden Zeno Cosini seeks help for his neuroses, his psychoanalyst suggests he writes his memoirs as a form of therapy. Zeno's account is an alternative reality, a series of elliptical episodes dealing with the death of his father, his career, his marriage and affairs, and, above all, his passion for smoking and his spectacular failure to resist the promise of that last cigarette. A hymn to self-delusion and procrastination, Svevo's devilishly funny portrayal of a man's attempt to…


Book cover of The Satyricon

D.B.C. Pierre Why did I love this book?

This work is a game-changer for our perception of history, as well as being a riot to read. Assembled from discovered fragments, the work is a form of a satirical novel from late first-century Rome, narrated by a certain Encolpius in the house he shares with his handsome sixteen-year-old slave and boyfriend, Giton. What I love about this work is how modern it is: the language, the satire, the comedy, and decadence are relatable today, and are still outrageous and funny. This book blew away any disconnect I felt with ancient history, where all matters are reduced to serious narrative; it did it by sending a voluptuary’s voice direct from Nero’s Rome.

By Petronius, P.G. Walsh (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Satyricon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

`The language is refined, the smile not grave,
My honest tongue recounts how men behave.'

The Satyricon is the most celebrated work of fiction to have survived from the ancient world. It can be described as the first realistic novel, the father of the picaresque genre, and recounts the sleazy progress of a pair of literature scholars as they wander through the cities of the southern Mediterranean. En route they encounter type-figures the author wickedly satirizes - a teacher in higher education, a libidinous priest, a vulgar freedman turned millionaire, a manic
poet, a superstitious sea-captain and a femme fatale.…


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Radio Free Olympia

By Jeffrey Dunn,

Book cover of Radio Free Olympia

Jeffrey Dunn Author Of Radio Free Olympia

New book alert!

Who am I?

I’ve always been a child of the woods. I preferred to leave my home and wade a creek or explore a hillside. Nothing compared to the sight of a black snake or the feel of a mud puppy. School was a torture until an English teacher introduced me to Richard Brautigan and then read my first serious story to the class. Since then, this dyslexic nature lover has become a dream fisher and history miner with a Ph.D. in English Literature and Cultural Studies. Retired from forty-one years of teaching, I now write and publish cultural fiction.

Jeffrey's book list on where imagination and nature run free

What is my book about?

Embark on a riveting journey into Washington State’s untamed Olympic Peninsula, where the threads of folklore legends and historical icons are woven into a complex ecological tapestry.

Follow the enigmatic Petr as he fearlessly employs his pirate radio transmitter to broadcast the forgotten and untamed voices that echo through the wilderness. Venture deeper and encounter Baie, the founder of Wildsisters, a cranberry-infused roadhouse that offers solace to lost and wayward women. When a newborn is kidnapped, Baie and her community must unite to recover what has been stolen. Yet, their quest for justice extends beyond the realm of human characters—it must also be served for the fragile flora, the diverse fauna, and the very essence of the natural world.

Radio Free Olympia

By Jeffrey Dunn,

What is this book about?

Unleash the Power of the Wilderness in Radio Free Olympia


Discover the captivating allure of Washington's untamed Olympic Peninsula in Radio Free Olympia, an extraordinary literary masterpiece that immerses readers in a mesmerizing realm of visionaries, folklore legends, and historical icons. With an enchanting blend of magical realism and cultural fiction, the brilliant wordsmith Jeffrey Dunn artfully intertwines multiple narratives, crafting an intricate ecological tapestry that resonates deeply within the soul.


Embark on a riveting journey alongside the enigmatic Petr, a foundling whose path leads him deep into the heart of the majestic mountain rainforest. Armed with nothing but a…


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