(Reposted from my previous platform booksishouldhavereadalongtimeago.tumblr.com)
C’mon, was this even a question? We all knew he was going to head up the list. Bukowski was many things: an incredible writer; a clever man; a drinker; a gambler. And it was his willingness to portray the gritty lifestyle he lived that made him so excellent. For many, reading his work has the tinge of voyeurism to it: a glimpse into a world both filthy and alluring. He may be the ultimate quotable anti-establishment figure, yet throughout his writing I sometimes sense not a longing to belong to the ‘other side,’ but to have the other side be more interesting.
4. William S. Burroughs
A list of this type wouldn’t be complete without at least a brief mention of William S. Burroughs. Whether you like Naked Lunch or not, it deserves a mention for its sheer balls-breaking creativity. Burroughs enjoyed his drugs and ran with the best of the Beat Generation. This book was so groundbreaking that at the time of publication in the US it was banned in SAN FRANCISCO. Yes, the nation’s capital for hippies and deadbeats considered this book too foul to allow into its citizens’ hands.
3. Vladimir Nabokov
It wasn’t all Beat writers and layabouts, though. Russian-born Vladimir Nabokov deserves a mention on this list for his most famous work, Lolita. It was a finely-crafted, disturbing book about a professor’s sexual obsession with a young girl – who also happens to be his step-daughter. It shocked most of the world upon publication, although it received a surprisingly positive review in the US and became the first book after Gone with the Wind to sell more than 100,000 copies within three weeks of publication.
2. Irvine Welsh
I felt hesitant to include Welsh at first because a) he’s still alive and writing well into the 21st century, and b) I’m not sure that with the commercial success of Trainspotting, one could really call him ‘gritty.’ But on a reading of his novel Maribou Stork Nightmares I decided he deserves to be on this list. He finished off the 20th century with a heroin-flavored bang, and I couldn’t be more grateful. He’s a brilliant writer and does an excellent job of getting into the deep dark cavities of the mind we’d rather not look at. His colorful writing does much to not only portray the plight of the working-class Scotsman in the modern day, but to illustrate it richly with near-illegible slang and a kind of psychosis of text that knocks all your preconceived notions about novel structure and plot devices out from under you. This isn’t your gramma’s novel.
1. Alice Walker
While there have been many shocking, controversial, and above all talented female writers in the 20th century, women are still unfortunately often typecast as writing either self-confessional ‘true stories’ – a la Prozac Nation, or sappy romance novels – Danielle Steele, etc. Obviously that’s not true of every woman writer. And one woman who broke that trend with her astonishingly beautiful work was Alice Walker with her 1982 publication of The Color Purple. Written in the first person as an epistolary story, Walker’s novel touched on such delicate topics as racism, sexism, homosexuality, violence and domestic abuse. Because CLEARLY reading about such topics will make the people of America rush perforce to practice them, the book has reached number 17 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009. It made me cry. The book, that is, not the American public’s giddy enthusiasm for banning important books. Although that could make me cry also, if I think about it for too long.