7 March 2019

Top 5: Ben Silcox

One thing I have quickly learned about my boyfriend Ben is that we have very different interests in fiction. When Ben and I first met we would hang out until like 5 am watching movies and we'd often talk about books we liked. I remember writing down and then buying Don DeLillo's White Noise based on his recommendation. I also read The Unbearable Lightness of Being quite a few years before I met Ben and had a very different experience with it - but after reading White Noise I wasn't surprised in the least that Milan Kundera was included on his top 5 list.

Ben loves books that are experimental and surreal. And I love that I can get recommendations from him that are completely different from the fiction I would normally be drawn to. So here is a look at his top 5 favourite books:

Coming Through Slaughter is Ondaatje's first novel, and bridges his work from poetry to prose in a brilliant, short package. It follows Buddy Bolden, one of the originators of jazz music in a loosely structured, violent journey through New Orleans. The writing takes as much from jazz's structure as it does its history, riffing, improvising and doubling back on itself. It's not the best entry point to Ondaatje, but it may be his best work, and it's a novel that's burned into my brain.

I don't agree with Kundera's politics or his questionable depiction of women, but this book has always resonated with me. A meditation on identity and individuality, it reveals something new every time I read it. A surprising goldmine of thoughts on Beethoven, dreams and the benefits of owning a dog.

You could really insert whatever Pynchon book I have most recently read here. His novels are built upwards from paranoia and find their niche in the places where curiosity meets discomfort. They reveal themselves slowly, prioritizing a dreamy sketching out of its handful of characters and surreal, hazy version of America, before plot. Inherent Vice is a good entry point for this - a detective-noir meets stoner-comedy meets Los Angeles novel.

I get really swept up with this novel each time I read it. Its depiction of the passage of time is very striking. When the clock leaps forward between the book's two main segments, you get a rushing urge to grip onto the world around you to stop it from slipping away. A reminder of the mysterious nature of thought, and a description of the complexity of a world containing so many subjective participants in it. Woolf's masterpiece and an essential read for anyone.

Thomas Bernhard is really dense and scares the shit out of me. Correction tells the story of an obsessive academic who begins building a house for his sister, correcting it and reshaping it as he slips through obsession, hate, love and his own destruction. It's told in one long paragraph, slowly melting from lucidity to madness as the book's narrator becomes indistinguishable from its subject. Bear the exhausting format and you get a truly unique read, one of those that worms its way into the way you think even after you put it down.

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