My 5 Favorite Books (Updated thanks to Mark Manson)

About two months ago, Mark Manson posted on his website that he was “Hiring.” Two positions for two lucky individuals—an artist, and a content curator.

I was—and still am—a huge fan of Mark Manson’s stories, so I was immediately interested. It seemed like the perfect job for me: 23 years old, underemployed, and looking to grow as a writer. I could learn from and work with Mark Manson, whose work I really connect with. It was like a dream come true. I circled the due date of the application on my calendar weeks in advance.

The application had several steps. It required some typical job application stuff like a résumé and cover letter, but there was more. Much more.

In typical Mark Manson-style, he presented a challenge for the applicants to weed out the weak.

He wanted a list of five favorite books. And, he wanted an explanation as to why each one is on the list. He also wanted a write-up of “what is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done and why?”

Also—just for good measure—every applicant needed to arbitrarily include the letter “X” at the bottom of their e-mail application. If you did not do this, your application would not be read.

Oh, and if the application was received past 11:59 PM, it would be deleted immediately and not read.

Skip a few weeks to the night the application is due.

I have been polishing and re-polishing my list of books and my application for days, and as I’m getting some final feedback from Katie, I check back on Mark Manson’s website for the 40th time to make sure I didn’t forget anything.

I forgot something.

Eastern Time. Even though that globetrotting motherfucker lives in Colombia, he set the application time as Eastern Time. That meant that—living in Austin—the application due time was actually 10:59 PM. I realized this at about 10:50 as I was finishing up my list and e-mailing it to myself. (Yeah, I took until the last minute to write everything down. Fuck you. I really thought over this shit for a long time.)

Anyway, in the end, the application did not get submitted on time. Time Warner Cable’s internet at my apartment was especially bad that night, and the e-mail did not go through until 12:01 ET.

I was livid. I screamed and cried and flipped furniture. I was about to Hulk smash the entire apartment in my fit of rage and frustration at myself and the injustice of life.

I hated Mark Manson. I hated his stupid application. I hated my egregious internet service. (Go suck a fat chode, Time Warner Cable!) And, ultimately, I hated myself for cutting it so close.

I’ll spare you the rest, but let me just tell you—it wasn’t a pretty scene. I’m amazed the cops didn’t get called on me. It sounded like Vegeta turning into a Super Saiyan. Or like King Leonidas passing a kidney stone the size of a Volkswagen. It was very loud.

In the end, I wound up with a broken door, a cut hand, a hoarse voice, no job, and a list of some pretty cool information. Here is some of it:

Mark Manson, you really made me think hard about what my five favorite books are—as well as the criterion by which I judge what constitutes a “favorite book.”

I actually made a list of my 10 favorite books a few months back. But, I never forced myself to consider why they were my favorite books—I just chose books that I arbitrarily enjoyed the most.

As I went through my old list, some books made the cut and others were replaced. I set a new criterion. Only the five books that changed my life the most would make this list.

This is the new list I settled on:

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is my favorite book because it was the first book that made me love reading (in English).

My dad actually had to bribe me with $20 to read the book cover-to-cover when I was seven years old. I tried to cheat, of course, but failed when he quizzed me over a minor detail in one of the middle chapters of the book—he had read the book himself.

I had to read it after that incident—just to get back at him. What began as spite turned into a love affair with J.K. Rowling’s writing, and her story. I was hooked as a reader from that point on. I read for fun because of Harry Potter.

2. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

I read Breakfast of Champions when I was 22, and I loved Vonnegut’s clear, concise prose. His distaste for semicolons was hilarious to me, and it made for a unique, unforgettable voice.

This book is my favorite because it showed me that writing can be simultaneously substantive and humorous. I was also inspired to start drawing (as a second creative outlet) after reading this book—resurrecting a passion I had when I was a kid.

3. Choose Yourself by James Altucher

I bought this book after reading James Altucher’s “Ask Me Anything” thread on Reddit—when he promised a full refund if you purchased it and sent him a receipt.

During his AMA he was focused on spreading the message of his book more than anything else. He was truly passionate about his message of “Choosing Yourself,” and I really loved that about him. He didn’t seem to be in it for the money. He seemed like someone with real, human life experiences and failures who wanted to help—by giving real, actual advice.

I thought I could learn from him, and I figured worst-case scenario I’d get a free book. I never imaged this book would change my life. This book inspired me to take action with my writing.

Rather than just fantasizing about becoming a writer, I decided to actually start writing and sharing with the public. It was a game changer for me.

I literally keep this book in my bathroom when it’s not being loaned out to friends. (Sorry.)

4. The World According to Garp by John Irving

John Irving is a master. And he demonstrates in this novel the true power of writing. I did not read this book—I experienced it.

When this book was in my hands, I was Irving’s emotional marionette. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to rip the book in half out of anger and frustration.

It was inspiring to experience something like that—the power of truly great prose. This book changed me in two big ways: it made me fall in love with literary fiction; and it set an impossibly high bar that I will strive to reach through my own writing. This book contains some of the finest prose in the English language.

5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson.

Hunter Thompson’s famous novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is my favorite book because of the unique “research” that went into the creation of the story. Hunter Thompson was not afraid to be counter-culture, and he was certainly not afraid to write what he had to say in clear, concise—sometimes brutally honest—language.

I couldn’t stop reading the book once I started. I was mesmerized, confused, and felt like I was drinking from a literary fire hose. I had no idea where Thompson was taking me, but I needed to find out.

Although the story—on the surface—is about a journalist and a lawyer taking an inhumane amount of drugs and going to Las Vegas, it is about so much more than that. It is written by a literary genius. There is gold in those pages.

This book is my favorite because it is as memorable as it is fearless, hilarious, and unique. After reading Fear and Loathing I felt inspired to write some of my most personal work. If I can ever bleed into my writing the way Hunter Thompson did, I will be satisfied.

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