These are not necessarily the “best” books I’ve ever read in my life, but they are the ones that’ve had the most personal impact on me. Some of that had to do with when I read them in my life, some of it has to do with the actual work itself. I have these listed in the order of their influence on me:
1. Confederacy of Dunces: Probably my favorite book ever. This is the type of book that humbles you, and makes you understand how great writing can be. I could write 10k words about how amazing this book is, but you’re better off just reading it yourself.
2. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: I cannot over-emphasize how important this book was to my development as a man. This was the first memoir I ever read that made me think I can overcome the obstacles in my path and become great, and it was the first time I had read something by someone who so eloquently explained how and why the standard assumptions everyone makes can be questioned. The funny thing is, I just re-read it recently, and it doesn’t hold up the way I remember it. Of course, the first time I read it, I was 12, so that’s probably why it was so influential on me.
3. Fight Club: The book that put me on the course to becoming a writer. I read it when I was 25, and it perfectly crystallized and defined for me my emotions about working in a soulless corporate world, and helped me get the courage to actually go out and do something other than just be a sheep.
4. A River Runs Through It: The piece of fiction that almost singlehandedly taught me about economy of writing, what it means to be loyal and how to deal with losing a friend. My best friend killed himself in college, and reading this was one of the things that helped me get through it (my friend was very much like Paul, the brother).
5. All The Trouble In the World: This probably isn’t P.J. O’Rourkes best book, but it’s the first I read and perhaps more than any other book, shaped my early comedic voice. It showed me that you can be really edgy and funny, but still be smart at the same time. I re-read this recently as well, and was shocked at how it was no where near as good as I remembered it. But again, the first time I read this I was in my teens.
6. The Neon Bible: Probably the best first person perspective ever written on youth. Catcher in the Rye gets all the press, but this is a MUCH better book. Perfectly captures so much of the experience of growing up in the south, and around hypocritical adults.
7. Sperm Wars: There are much better books about there about evolutionary psychology and human sexuality–especially now–but this is the first one I read on the subject when I was in college, and the one that really opened my eyes to the field. Though some of the science is outdated, almost all of the important stuff still stands up, and I think its a great intro to the subject because of the way it mixes narrative with actionable information. Read this, and you’ll want to go down the rabbit hole of evolutionary psychology.
8. The Godfather: The movie is truly great, but to me, the book has always been more meaningful to me. It’s hard to describe why this book is so good; Mario Puzo doesn’t even regard it as his best, and I can see why he says that–I think it impacted me so much because I read it at a young age, like 14. In a weird way, it’s a guide to modern manhood. Read it and you’ll understand.
9. The Alchemist: If you are someone who wants more from life than just being another sheep, but have never been able to articulate that desire, this book will resonate with you. There are a ton of books out there that are inspirational, but this one is probably the best I’ve ever read. It perfectly captures the emotional struggle of someone who is trying to break free from the bonds of the standard path and search for their personal destiny.
10: The War of Art: I have all the admiration in the world for Steven Pressfield, and this book is one of the main reasons why. He understands what it means to be an artist better than anyone else I have read, and whenever anyone tells me they want to be a writer, I make them read this book first.