The Top Ten Books For Your Existential Crisis

As graduation looms ahead for many of the seniors here on campus, I’ve had quite a few conversations dealing with the anxious contemplation of what’s next. The closing of such a significant chapter like the completion of someone’s undergraduate career can be a stressful time for anyone. Whether the nerves stem from the uncertainty that the professional world comes with or from the reluctance to branch away from the safe haven that is college I urge you to find solace in books. The following list I’ve compiled is to help any individual who may be lost in an abyss of ‘what if’s’. These are my top ten book to help get you through that existential crisis.

The Ask – Sam Lipsyte

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Milo Burke – protagonist, father, recent divorcee, self-loathing, middle-aged, out-of-shape, alcoholic-  is just another man going through an existential crisis. The difference with Milo Burke is his poor social interactions that will make you cringe to the point you want to leap into the page and shut him up yourself. He talks much longer than necessary and can’t seem to let things go. His life could be a lot easier once he fixes his intentions and isn’t so maladjusted. Take away Milo Burke’s knack for self-flagellation and you take away the pathos of “The Ask”. I felt for Milo, I really did. You find yourself rooting for him and siding with him even though he’s wrong. Despite his lack of social graces, his gauchness makes this a page turner. I include this first because it is the easiest read with the lightest content. Enjoy.

House Of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski

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I’ve written a review on this novel which you can find here

I’ve opted to just provide my favorite quote from this book to convey how it deals with the human existence.

“Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need to sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of your life you have lost something and the loss is too empty to share.”

 

Veronika Decides To Die – Paulo Coelho

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Easily one of my favorite books I’ve ever encountered. It meshes the fantastical with the absolute devastating traits of human nature. It explores suicide and depression while keeping a beautifully depicted tale of a young woman’s battle with her own psyche in tact. 10/10 would recommend any day of the week. Veronika is a troubled young woman whose resolve is weakened by the turmoil she endures day in and day out, only finding comfort when staring at death in the eye and death blinks.

Denial Of Death – Ernest Becker

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This is one book I am currently reading but had to include in on this list. Having gone through some family loss, I picked this book up and encourage anyone who wants a well grounded look at the human nature and the heroic. “The problem of heroics is the central one of human life.” This non-fiction book goes deeper into the human nature because it stems from organismic narcissism and on the child’s need for self-esteem as the condition for his life. Society as a hero-system is a necessary illusion that gives meaning to our lives. Dense stuff but enthralling throughout.

Nausea – Jean-Paul Sartre

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*Disclaimer* Not for those with thin skin. This book changed my life and I often struggle with deciding whether or not it was for the better. It definitely isolates the existential dread of the other books on this list but in a hauntingly prophetic way. It speaks to the notion of touching things around you as a reminder that you are rooted in a reality relevant to you and your life. People often only notice things when they have a vocabulary for them. This book was the moment, at 18, when I realized literature can also be philosophy. Sartre’s is simple: A no-nonsense encouragement to take responsibility for your life and for all of your actions. Fun fact: Sartre was actually incredibly happy during the time he was writing this.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera 

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Direct quote: “On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth.” The book itself is just that. On first glance, it’s another novela. A tale of loves lost and others found. Trite. But when you dare to pick it apart, you find yourself. Clearly defined within a character seemingly wholly different. It’s a book about midlife crises I’d say, about a man who loves a woman. They are together for a while, she is needy. Very needy. He finds a mistress, a totally sex-positive super hot artsy gal. Who has another lover, that is needy. For those trying to get a grip on what love is, all different kinds of love.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey

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This one had to be on here, didn’t it? A popular book that looks into the human psyche through a crude and cunning protagonist. A read that will offer an escape as well as a glimpse into the horrifying and at times wildly entertaining life of a psychiatric ward.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick

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I read this book while staying in Brooklyn in the summer of 2011. I read this in coffee shops and on park benches. I found that, for up to a week after finishing this novel, I examined the people around me very closely, legitimately and irrationally wondering whether or not they were human. It warped my mindset for a while, especially because I was surrounded by constantly changing strangers. Anyone ever experience that? Anyway, I enjoyed the novel not because it’s entertaining but because it’s thought provoking.

As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner

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Another one of those high school reads that will forever remain in that corner of my mind where the rest of these books dwell. A harrowing depiction of a woman’s final wish to be buried in the town of Jefferson, Mississippi. Still gives me shivers.

Less Than Zero – Bret Easton Ellis

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Definitely the book that has the least amount of Ellis’ humor. That being said a worthwhile read and I find it always interesting to see where an author started from. A bit darker than his other novels as it has a strong emotional impact that teeters on distressing. This reaction has something to do with reading the exploits of a bunch of wealthy, passively-nihilistic young adults and seeing a figment of the worst parts of myself buried in them.

 

 


One thought on “The Top Ten Books For Your Existential Crisis

  1. This list is great! I know you wrote it a few years ago now, but I’ve been looking for a list like this that has books that are actually interesting, meaningful and soul-searching. Whenever you type in something like philosophical books/ books when you’re feeling lost/ existential angst etc either actual philosophy books come up or you get Eat Pray Love vomit comes up. So finally a list of books I would actually read! I come from a philosophy background so I’ve read the Sartre, you’re right there it is a tough read. What a quote from The House of Leaves, I got put off this book from the front cover (the other cover makes it look like a free book you’d get on kindle), but goes to show you should never judge a book by its cover. I read your separate review and that quote has me sold. I’ve put pretty much everything in my online basket, so thank you!

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