My Favorite Writers’ Favorite Books: John Hodgman

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Like Will Ferrell or Amy Sedaris, it seemed like John Hodgman was creating a new kind of humor. We had no idea what he was going to do next, but you had to watch him, specifically, or you wouldn’t see it.

My friends and I used to flip through his book, The Areas of My Expertise, reading out loud and cracking up. (This was before the Snappy Chats, kids.)

He’s more fully embraced serious-ish nonfiction with Vacationland.

Like many people who are hilarious on the surface, he’s sensitive and thoughtful, and most of his recommendations are more serious than you might expect.

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Here are some of John Hodgman’s favorite books:

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

I don’t think anyone who more thoughtfully and fearlessly reminds us that America was never really great for everyone, and that the only way forward is forward. … Coates’s breadth of knowledge, taste, talent, anger, decency, curiosity, and humor makes me work harder to be better every day.

Publisher’s description:

“We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. Now Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”

But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period–and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective–the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.

Cujo by Stephen King

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It is one of the most achingly sad and subtly constructed novels I’ve read.

Publisher’s description:

Outside a peaceful town in central Maine, a monster is waiting. Cujo is a two-hundred-pound Saint Bernard, the best friend Brett Camber has ever had. One day Cujo chases a rabbit into a bolt-hole—a cave inhabited by sick bats. What happens to Cujo, how he becomes a horrifying vortex inexorably drawing in all the people around him makes for one of the most heart-stopping novels Stephen King has written.

The Green Ripper by John D. McDonald

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I was amazed by it. McGee is a likeable, noble, sardonic houseboat-dwelling dilettante in all his books, but the horror he endures (and by necessity, causes) in this one was as powerful as any ‘literary’ novel I’ve read. More people should read the classics of genre fiction before they plow into their old high school syllabus.

Publisher’s description:

Beautiful girls always grace the Florida beaches, strolling, sailing, relaxing at the many parties on Travis McGee’s houseboat, The Busted Flush. McGee was too smart–and had been around too long–for many of them to touch his heart. Now, however, there was Gretel. She had discovered the key to McGee–to all of him–and now he had something to hope for. Then, terribly, unexpectedly, she was dead. From a mysterious illness, or so they said. But McGee knew the truth, that Gretel had been murdered. And now he was out for blood…

Charlotte’s Web audiobook by E.B. White

Charlotte's Web audiobook cover art

“Listening to E. B. White read the last chapter of Charlotte’s Web while leaving Maine a summer or two ago made for a dangerous driving experience. I could not see through that many tears. Boy oh boy does that guy have the goods, and if you have a daughter who is getting older, it will get you.

Publisher’s description:

Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte’s Web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter.

E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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It was a painful book. At times I came close to audibly lamenting ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’ But I pushed on, got used to the pain (as we always do) and ultimately was astonished and moved by the journey.

Publisher’s description:

A searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

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“Once I discovered Borges, I was changed. … He wrote short. He wrote serious. But he also wrote funny. He taught me that profound does not mean unplayful.

Publisher’s description:

The seventeen pieces in Ficciones demonstrate the whirlwind of Borges’s genius and mirror the precision and potency of his intellect and inventiveness, his piercing irony, his skepticism, and his obsession with fantasy. Borges sends us on a journey into a compelling, bizarre, and profoundly resonant realm; we enter the fearful sphere of Pascal’s abyss, the surreal and literal labyrinth of books, and the iconography of eternal return. To enter the worlds in Ficciones is to enter the mind of Jorge Luis Borges, wherein lies Heaven, Hell, and everything else in between.

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