With a career spanning more than four decades, Will Self has forged a reputation as one of the most distinct and unapologetically cerebral voices in contemporary British literature. His oeuvre boasts 11 novels, five short fiction collections, three novellas, and nine collections of non-fiction, all characterized by their labyrinthine prose, dark humor and satirical explorations of modern society.

Often set in his home city of London, Self’s fiction delves into themes of mental illness, drug abuse, and psychiatry while oscillating between worlds that are surreal and starkly real. In 1992, his debut book Cock and Bull introduced readers to Self’s bold experimentation with form and content, establishing him as an enfant terrible of English letters. Other notable works include the 2002 novel Dorian, an Imitation which earned a place on the Booker Prize longlist – and 2012’s Umbrella, which made the shortlist.

Beyond his books, Self is also an accomplished journalist, cultural critic and political commentator who contributes to publications like Harper’s, The New York Times, and the London Review of Books. Regular columns for the New Statesman and The Independent have earned him recognition as a thinker deeply engaged with urban politics and the built environment. Self currently teaches psychogeography as a Professor of Modern Thought at Brunel University London.

Once asked about his motivations as a writer, Self said: “I don’t write fiction for people to identify with and I don’t write a picture of the world they can recognize. What excites me is to disturb the reader’s fundamental assumptions. I want to make them feel that certain categories within which they are used to perceiving are unstable.”

In a reading list for The Week, Self selected six of his favorite non-fiction books that explore truth as stranger than fiction. From a deep dive into America’s crack cocaine crisis to a visionary piece of prison literature, check out his recommendations below. Complement with the bookshelves of Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and Philip Roth.

Will Self’s Reading List

Land of Opportunity by William M. Adler

“The story of the African-American family who brought crack cocaine to Detroit in the 1980s and made millions by running the business with McDonald’s-like efficiency. It’s a staggering portrayal of the ineluctable convergence between addiction and capitalism in Reagan’s America.” -WS

The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin & Ron Hall (also rec’d by Jim Morrison)

“Crowhurst was the British yachtsman who faked his positions during a 1968 round-the-world yacht race and then, when discovery of his subterfuge became inevitable, threw himself into the sea. His abandoned boat was found drifting in the Atlantic, its logbook filled with monomaniacal metaphysical speculation.” -WS

In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Abbott (also rec’d by Nick Cave)

“Abbott was the imprisoned murderer Norman Mailer befriended via mail correspondence and who murdered again after he’d won early release. Besides the Mailer-Abbott letters, this book contains an astonishing philosophical disquisition by the self-taught Abbott, who absorbed quantities of Marx, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche while serving time.” -WS

The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes (also rec’d by David Bowie)

“A contested theory, but I believe it. Jaynes’ view is that sometime between the period described in The Iliad and the composition of The Odyssey, the human corpus callosum was formed and the mind became uni- rather than bicameral. This book will, among other things, make you look at all forms of religious enthusiasm in an altogether new light.” -WS

Island on the Edge of the World by Charles MacLean

“St. Kilda is a micro-archipelago 60 miles west of Scotland where, until a century ago, a community had lived in almost complete isolation for 700 years. MacLean tells its remarkable story exceptionally well and with considerable sensitivity.” -WS

The Mountain People by Colin M. Turnbull

“The story of the Ik, a hill tribe in Uganda whose members, in the face of resource-depleting drought, resolved to starve rather than migrate. A compelling depiction of the skull beneath the skin of all human communities, and a kind of anthropological counterpoint to Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man.” -WS

(via The Week; photo by Shutterstock)

Looking for an Amazon alternative? Support local, independent booksellers by shopping Will Self’s reading list – and hundreds of other celebrity book recommendations – through Radical Reads’ Bookshop page.

Categories: Writers

Leave a comment