In the last few days, I read Flight by Sherman Alexie and Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member by Sanyika Shakur, aka Monster Kody Scott. One is fiction. One is memoir. Both books offer brutal and violent moments by self-reflective main characters that made me dislike and admire them at the same time. Together they made me question whether life imitates art or art imitates life. I recommend both.

Now on to the top 25.

25. Pastoralia by George Saunders

I could have swapped out Pastoralia with several other of Saunders’ short story collections and it would have still been all good. Saunders reminds me that there are no limits to ridiculousness and creativity. He is funny, charming, provocative, serious and brings readers in to a world that is familiar yet wholly foreign. Personally, I push the envelop in my personal writing any time I read him.

24. Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer

The guy is a Quacker, so expect God references and a particular religious philosophy throughout. While some basic ideas within Let Your Life Speak are not really my cup of tea, Palmer’s book promotes a natural order of things and how the reader can strive toward a unique, and perhaps destined, “vocation.” He encourages the reader to explore that nature and power of his or her being and that such explorations makes for a more harmonious world. It is only 109 pages long and a bit dense at points, but is a motivating and encouraging group of pages with few unnecessary words.

23. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

The question was posed by Yali, a New Guinean politician in 1972, to Jared Diamond. “Why is it that you white people have developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own.” This simple question led Diamond on a hunt to explore society and geography and brought him to some fascinating conclusions about how the world has become what it is today. The read was eye opening on many levels, but mostly made me look at the world in a completely different way and forced me to write about what I thought I understood.

22. Within the Context of No Context by George W. S. Trow

Does the media tell us how we should think and feel about nearly everything? Is television just transmitter of dubious information? Trow uses history, personal and otherwise, to offer short, often disjointed, bites of writing to make some still relevant points about the nature of media and television — 30 years after Within the Context was first published. I think he was way ahead of his time. The book is a tough read, but worth the effort. For me, WTCONC is a terrific inspirational source for interesting ways to approach complicated social issues.

21. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Like Saunders, I could have chosen a handful of different books from Palahniuk that could have worked instead of Fight Club. So Fight Club‘s inclusion is really more a representation of Palahniuk, than his book being a particular inspiration — although it is definitely one of Chuck’s best. His clever use of devices and short punchy dialog is smart, funny, sometimes poignant and always entertaining. I think Palahniuk’s writing does for men what the romance novel does for women, using a bit of porn, violence, darkness and a deeper meaning as his calling card. I find it hard to go more than a few pages without needing to reach for pen and paper to note an idea his writing inspired. For what it is worth, Fight Club as a book is still better than the movie — and that’s saying something.

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