Feature

Best books … chosen by Ed Park

Ed Park is co-editor of The Believer and author of the new office-culture novel Personal Days. <br />Here he touts six of the more obscure titles among his all-time favorite novels.

Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by P.D. Ouspensky (Lindesfarne, $15). If you were able to live your life again, determined to make the “right” decision at a crucial moment, you would. Or would you? Ouspensky’s short, strange fable has the most potent use of repetition I’ve ever encountered in a work of fiction.

Thieves’ Nights by Harry Stephen Keeler (out of print). Talk to me for more than five minutes and I start raving about Keeler, America’s great unsung experimental writer, who masqueraded as a mystery novelist. It’s hard to choose a single example of his genius, but lately I like this shape-shifting palace of a book from 1929. It drops you through trapdoor after trapdoor until you’re not sure which way’s up.

The Scorpions by Robert Kelly (Barrytown, $11). This list of favorites could have comprised only novels by poets. Kelly’s singular creation brims with tantalizing fragments, esoteric graphics, and unsettling laughter—the sweet but venomous residue of late-’60s counterculture, or maybe of history itself. The narrator is so effortlessly sinister, one nearly forgives Kelly for never again writing another novel, as if for fear of the voice getting lodged in his head.

Afternoon Men by Anthony Powell (out of print). I bought Powell’s first novel, on a whim, on vacation, in a store evenly divided between abandoned ex-library volumes and Western gear—a not inappropriate habitat for a British comic novel par excellence that seems to have Hemingway in its DNA. Speedboat by Renata Adler (out of print). Along with Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine and Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, this is a book I’ve bought repeatedly and given away, in the hopes of expanding the cult. I don’t even have a copy at the moment, but it doesn’t matter: I’ve established permanent residency under Adler’s cool, hypnotic spell.

Amazons by Cleo Birdwell (out of print). Don DeLillo’s reputation as a novelist of ideas overshadows his comic gifts. In 1980, DeLillo and Sue Buck collaborated under the Birdwell pseudonym, and their raunchy, relentlessly silly fabrication has its way with Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, erectile dysfunction, support groups, and most of all, hockey—my favorite sport, and one woefully underrepresented in 20th-century fiction.

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