What is a cult book?June 03, 2016

A piece of writing that the reading public is unaware of. The author is long gone without meeting his (or her) passionate followers. They read the book one too many, so they know every line by heart. And they can react violently. Eventually, the book will find its way to the mainstream. The last one seems hard to believe, but this can be Jane Austen's case. It's no surprise, as readers can relate to most of the themes in her book. The opening line of "Pride and Prejudice" sets this novel apart from Austen's other books, as it deserves scrutiny. It doesn't mean that "Persuasion" is less deserving to be included in the module, while Gwyneth Paltrow would have second thoughts about playing Emma Woodhouse. This would be how readers have seen it.

Not all cult books end up in the mainstream, but it doesn't seem to be the case nowadays. Social media (or Oprah Winfrey) can turn a new release into a bestseller. And it can happen in weeks. The Internet provides authors with many means of promoting their works. Nonetheless, the reader will be the final judge. Believe it or not, there's a long list of titles with cult following. Different strokes for different folks.

Let's look at some titles that gain cult following through the years. Here is a short list:

Siddhartha (1922) by Hermann Hesse. The author's devout followers would know the real story behind the book. They are also aware of how Eastern philosophy would influence many Europeans during the early years of the 20th century. This could be due to events leading to the Great War, which the lives of Siddhartha and Govinda would show. You don't need to try too hard to understand the happenings, even find out the secrets of the river. (It might take days, if not weeks, and it's still too cold in some parts.) Nothing beats the real thing. You must have led a sheltered existence if you still haven't figured it out.

The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by JD Salinger. Imagine Holden Caulfield if he's alive right now. Social media will force him not to think too much about (teenage) angst. Some can visualise the teenage boy's further isolation due to lack of sympathy from Facebook users, and Salinger would like the analogy. Most have been naive, even resentful of adults. Technology didn't change the general attitude. On the contrary, it would amplify it. Think about the outcome, where one might be Holden becoming an online sensation after a thousand users liking his (emotional) post.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveller (1979) by Italo Calvino. Don't be alarmed if you're clueless about Italo Calvino's works, as the author would be better off somewhere. Whether the setting is in Medieval Italy or the Far East, his postmodern musings would appeal to intellectuals. This is not for the ordinary readers, prompting some to wonder if there's any chance of Calvino's works finding its way to the mainstream. It seems unlikely, but Calvino had some surprised up his sleeves. Uncertainty is also a constant. You might have a different list. Don't hesitate to share it with us.

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