Chosen by Will Self
Will Self’s new novel, Phone, completes a modernist trilogy that he launched with 2012’s Umbrella. Below, the acclaimed British novelist, journalist, and iconoclast recommends six books that prove truth can be stranger than fiction.
Land of Opportunity by William M. Adler (out of print). The story of the African-American family who brought crack cocaine to Detroit in the 1980s and made millions by running the business with McDonald’s-like efficiency. It’s a staggering portrayal of the ineluctable convergence between addiction and capitalism in Reagan’s America.
The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall (Quercus, $18). Crowhurst was the British yachtsman who faked his positions during a 1968 round-the-world yacht race and then, when discovery of his subterfuge became inevitable, threw himself into the sea. His abandoned boat was found drifting in the Atlantic, its logbook filled with monomaniacal metaphysical speculation.
In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Abbott (Vintage, $16). Abbott was the imprisoned murderer Norman Mailer befriended via mail correspondence and who murdered again after he’d won early release. Besides the Mailer-Abbott letters, this book contains an astonishing philosophical disquisition by the self-taught Abbott, who absorbed quantities of Marx, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche while serving time.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes (Mariner, $19). A contested theory, but I believe it. Jaynes’ view is that sometime between the period described in The Iliad and the composition of The Odyssey, the human corpus callosum was formed and the mind became uni- rather than bicameral. This book will, among other things, make you look at all forms of religious enthusiasm in an altogether new light.
Island on the Edge of the World by Charles MacLean (Canongate, $17). St. Kilda is a micro-archipelago 60 miles west of Scotland where, until a century ago, a community had lived in almost complete isolation for 700 years. MacLean tells its remarkable story exceptionally well and with considerable sensitivity.
The Mountain People by Colin M. Turnbull (Touchstone, $22). The story of the Ik, a hill tribe in Uganda whose members, in the face of resource-depleting drought, resolved to starve rather than migrate. A compelling depiction of the skull beneath the skin of all human communities, and a kind of anthropological counterpoint to Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man.