What is a cult book?

Put these books on your reading list! Abebooks has an Obscure/Cult books list featured on their website which includes a number of familiar and not-so-familiar works. Defining a cult book isn’t easy; most of the time publishers and readers can give examples of cult books without actually providing a conclusive definition. This seems to be part of the allure of the cult novel. What is known is that a cult novel has a specific following that is different to mass, popular consumption. Cult novels are typically more obscure, not part of popular literary vernacular. People may have heard of these novels but have not necessarily read them, and they might be a bit more difficult to find in book stores (even second hand ones).  The list that Abebooks has compiled features books that are often referenced in other ‘cult books’ lists, such as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Master and Margarita, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Magus, and The Alexandria Quartet, all of which are great reads. Where there is a popular book or novelist, there is a cult author or book that exists in the exuberant shadow of its more popular counterpart. The Master and Margarita, considered Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece, is not as well known and widely read as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and PunishmentThe Magus is the little sibling of Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s WomanThe Crying of Lot 49 is more well-known and arguably an easier read than Thomas Pynchon’s mammoth Gravity’s Rainbow, while Lawrence Durrell’s sexualised Quartet is notably influenced by Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.  Of course there is noticeable irony in these lists, since there are always other, more obscure books that don’t even appear on ‘cult books’ lists. So what’s your definition of a cult novel/author? See the full list of Abebooks cult books here.


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