Joseph Lapin on His 5 Favorite Books

Joseph A. Lapin is a journalist, author, and poet living in Los Angeles, California. He is a contributing writer at the LA Weekly, and his work has appeared in SalonThe Rattling WallPacific StandardOC WeeklySliver of Stone MagazineThe Village VoiceThe Middle Gray, and Literary Orphans. He blogs at josephalapin.com, and his twitter handle is @josephalapin. Originally, he’s from Clinton, Massachusetts.

Joe is the host of The Working Poet, “dedicated to bringing to the ‘pixelated’ air waves poets who deserve to be heard. [The radio show] explore everything under the sun: sports, literature, politics, music, social media, and, of course, the intersection of poetry and work.”

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Joe tells us about his 5 favorite books:

While books I enjoy trigger memories of a certain age or place, my favorite books illuminate who I am, where I have been, and where I am going. They are books that have shown me a way to see the world and helped me forgive myself for seeing it differently.

Denis Johnson, Jesus’ Son.

Ever since I read John Dufresne’s The Lie That Tells a Truth and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, I have looked at stories as constructed dreams that feel so real [you’d think them] part of your own memory. And Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son is so vivid and textured and alive that I felt like he had been spending his time building myths, dreams, or visions that were essential to the everday. Stories like Work, Emergency, and Car Crash While Hitchhiking teeter on the edge of reality and madness with such an incredible vibrancy and then explode in [such] sudden moments of ineffable understanding, it’s impossible to ignore the sublime.

Philip Levine, What Work Is.

What Work Is is filled with incredible narrative poetry that bursts at the seems into the realm of the lyrical when the speaker is standing in line for work, or drinking gin, or driving to California to watch his mother wake from a dream with John Coltrane. This book made me realize the beauty in work—the same as Van Gogh, Millet, and Steinbeck—and the utter devastation of it as well.

Charles Bukowski, Post Office

I don’t know if you’re noticing a trend, but I like books and poems set in gritty environments with voices that can see through the bullshit and into the lyrical, the poetic, the connection to the hydrogen jukebox cosmos. And that’s why I love Bukowski and his Los Angeles. The main character, Henry Chinaski, is a man on the edge trying to survive within a system and structure he finds bullshit by working in the Post Office. Forces he can’t control imprison him, but it’s small moments of lyricism that free him from his drudgery. For example, he frees a bird from a cage, and he watches the bird fly in a moment of glory. He feels good about himself. But then it turns when the bird flies back into the cage, scared of the limitless sky.

The Beatles, The Complete Scores

Perhaps this is cheating, but I don’t really care. A book is a book is a book. And The Complete Scores was given to me by my father for one of my birthdays. It has every single Beatles’ song with every single instrument, and I have been learning all of the songs since I was about 17. It’s a book. I read it, right?

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Unlike the main character in Silver Linings Playbook, I did not throw this book out the window when I finished. In fact, I was proctoring a test for a student in a school in Ferndale, Michigan. And I was so caught up in the book, I messed up on the timing for the kid, and I let him take the test way longer than he should. Woops. Hemingway is one of my favorite writers, for the same reason as the others: he tells a great story with moments of stunning lyricism. That’s what I look for in a great book. And Hemingway delivers with war, love, and a quest for a way to escape a world gone mad.

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