A Standup Guy Who Is Serious About Books

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/5508995/5510091" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript
Leo Allen holds a microphone during his standup comedy act. i

Leo Allen's favorite writers include Octavia E. Butler. Anya Garrett hide caption

itoggle caption Anya Garrett
Leo Allen holds a microphone during his standup comedy act.

Leo Allen's favorite writers include Octavia E. Butler.

Anya Garrett

Leo Allen, a New York comic, challenged himself to read 100 books in a year's time.

He's polished off 51 so far, and he seems to be gaining momentum.

Allen offers summer reading suggestions that span nearly a century of literature. There's a bit of an emphasis on science fiction... and he comes across the occasional clunker or two.

Leo Allen's Book List

Cover of Octavia E. Butler's Wild Seed

"Why do I love Octavia Butler so much?" Allen asks himself, answering: "...mostly because she's a great storyteller." hide caption

itoggle caption
Cover of J.P. Donleavy's 'Ginger Man' shows cartoon of central character.

Allen read J.P. Donleavy's 1955 novel with awe... then ran into the author at a party. hide caption

itoggle caption
Cover of Kurt Vonnegut's 'A Man Without a Country' features caricature of author.

Allen says he read Vonnegut's book in one sitting... at a bookstore. hide caption

itoggle caption
Cover of Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' shows a young girl sitting on some steps.

This novel made funnyman Allen cry. hide caption

itoggle caption

Leo Allen has read the following 51 books since Sept. 11, 2005. His mini-reviews range from "Grabs you by the throat and punches you in the heart" to "excruciatingly awful."

1. The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone. Interesting and inspiring biographical novel about Michelangelo Buonerotti. Everyone should work so hard at what they love.

2. Atonement, Ian McEwan. This amazing book pays off wonderfully and truthfully. It literally made me cry.

3. Paycheck and Other Classic Stories, by Philip K. Dick. There were many of these stories that you could guess where they were going. But what is great about PKD, when he's great, is that there is a kind of Fitzgeraldean truth about the way humans interact and think — the describing of or speaking the unspoken which haunts us as humans — which is, or I at least I find — extremely interesting in the science fiction format.

4. Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott.

5. The Extra Man, Jonathan Ames.

6. Francis Ford Coppola Interviews, edited by Gene D. Phillips and Rodney Hill.

7. Bridget Jones' Diary, Helen Fielding.

8. A History of the World in Six Glasses, Tom Standage. Interesting topic, but reads like a dry textbook.

9. The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy. Amazing. Grabs you by the throat and punches you in the heart. Is it in the first person? Third person? It doesn't matter, it's so assured, funny, and rings so true. You can't help but to love this incredible bastard. Life changing good — nothing is the same with respects as to trying to write something after having read this book.

Also, strangely enough, at the end of October, ended up at the 50th anniversary party (open bar, of course) thanks to and with Chanelle for the publication of this book with the nearly 80-year-old author in attendance, along with Shane MacGowen and Johnny Depp.

10. The Beatles, Bob Spitz.

11. Mind Wide Open, Steven Johnson.

12. On the Way to Work, Gordon Burn interviews Damien Hirst.

13. Basket Case, Carl Hiassen.

14. The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece, Jonathan Harr.

15. The Puppet Masters, Robert A. Heinlein.

16. Caesar's Hours: My Life in Comedy with Love and Laughter, Sid Caesar (and some other guy).

17. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson.

18. The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman.

19. A Long Way Down, Nick Hornby.

20. Indecision, Benjamin Kunkel.

21. Lucid Dreams In 30 Days: The Creative Sleep Program, Keith Harary, phD and Pamela Weintraub.

22. The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara.

23. Heart of a Dog, Mikhail Bulgakov. Really great and interestingly told.

24. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke. Smart, incredibly readable and disturbing. Could not put it down.

25. A Man Without A Country, Kurt Vonnegut. Read it today at the bookstore... I love what Vonnegut has to say about art, comedy, and what's important.

26. Colony, Ben Bova. This is a horribly written book with some interesting ideas behind it.

27. Billy Wilder Interviews, edited by Robert Horton. A man with taste and integrity and humanity and also truly funny.

28. The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino. F—-ing unbelievably smart, meaningful, fascinating, and, above all, readable. Didn't want to put it down. A great story and an uplifting, inspiring, sad, and honest tale about how we all live. Metaphor and allegory with the lightest touch of a genius level storyteller. Something to aspire to...

29. Looking Backward 2000-1887, Edward Bellamy. Interesting but wordy and too corny. More a philosophy than a story. For it's time, a shocking plot move (I won't ruin it).

30. It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, Lance Armstrong.

31. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov. This is one of my favorite books I've ever read. It is hilarious, sad, frightening, and actually saying something. Actually, saying a lot of things. It is also amazing in that it was written without the hope of its ever being published. I love it.

32. Maimonides, Sherwin B. Nuland.

33. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris. Sedaris accomplishes a tone not many come even close to... he is human, insightful, and non-judgmental.

34. Cosmicomics, Italo Calvino. This book is more difficult, but worth it. Calvino's sly, fantastic takes on scientific phenomena.

35. Everyday Matters, Danny Gregory.

36. Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino.

37. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny.

38. The October Country, Ray Bradbury. I have to say that I don't really love these stories too much. They seem pretty contrived to me. But one thing that I do really like about them is that he is great at getting the tone down and taking his time. Even though they can be slightly contrived or straining to be "spooky," he doesn't wallop you over the head with it. So this is not as much of a pan as it might sound like at first.

39. Intuition, Allegra Goodman.

40. Dogwalker, Arthur Bradford.

41. Mind of My Mind, Octavia E. Butler.

42. Patternmaster, Octavia E. Butler.

43. The Poor Bastard, Joe Matt.

44. Parable of the Sower, Octavia E. Butler.

45. A Technique for Producing Ideas, James Webb Young.

46. Wild Seed, Octavia E. Butler.

47. Fatherland, Robert Harris.

48. The Time Travelers Wife, Audrey Niffenegger. Simply, excruciatingly... awful.

49. Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer.

50. Parable of the Talents, Octavia E. Butler. Why do I love Octavia Butler so much? Because she tells the truth simply? Sure, but mostly because she's a great storyteller.

51. Lulu Eightball, Emily Flake. Who is even close to as wry or funny as Emily Flake? Not many... No, woe are we, not many at all.

Books Featured In This Story

The Ginger Man

by J. P. Donleavy

Paperback, 347 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

The Ginger Man
J. P. Donleavy

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?


by Ian McEwan

Paperback, 351 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Ian McEwan

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Wild Seed

by Octavia E. Butler

Paperback, 279 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Wild Seed
Octavia E. Butler

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

A Man Without a Country

by Kurt Vonnegut

Hardcover, 146 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

A Man Without a Country
Kurt Vonnegut

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

The Baron in the Trees

by Italo Calvino

Paperback, 217 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

The Baron in the Trees
Italo Calvino

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Heart of a Dog

by Mikhail Afanasevich Bulgakov

Paperback, 123 pages | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Heart of a Dog
Mikhail Afanasevich Bulgakov

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.