A book in hand is better than two on the shelf!
March 10, 2009 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Meta Book Recommendation Filter: Since I have a tendency to give my books away; my shelves are getting bare now. So please recommend books to refill my bare shelves, conditions inside!

1. Books that are every shelf must have.

2. Books that people will actually want to borrow.

3. Books that will make me look intelligent, sophisticated and fun (super cheesy of me).

4. Favorite book in your collection.

5. Books that intrigued/impressed you when you saw them on someone's shelf!

Thanks for putting up with this question.
posted by boyinmiami to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

From glancing off to the side at my bookshelf:

A Heartbreaking work of staggering genius
The unbearable lightness of being
Anything by Mark Twain
Most of Vonnegut's work
Ender's Game

Really, you might be better off just going through one of the many, many top 100 book lists.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:59 PM on March 10, 2009

My recommendation would be Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
posted by nam3d at 4:10 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

These qualify for all of your criteria 1-5:

Non-fiction: Thomas Metzinger, Being No One

Short stories: Gary Lutz, Stories in the Worst Way

Short stories, runner-up: A.M. Homes, The Safety of Objects

Novel: David Wallace, Infinite Jest

Also note that when you lend out a book you will never see it again.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:12 PM on March 10, 2009

I assume that you've already seen this:


And here are a few of my favourite works of fiction:
The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks
Flashman, by George MacDonald Fraser (for a laugh)
London Fields, by Martin Amis and
The Cunning Man, by Robertson Davis

Happy reading!
posted by gwpcasey at 4:16 PM on March 10, 2009

Structurally/visually intriguing books:
Ulysses by James Joyce
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

I am sure there are more, but that's all I can think of right now.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 4:20 PM on March 10, 2009

Here you go.
posted by djgh at 4:25 PM on March 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

1. A book about first aid.
posted by box at 4:57 PM on March 10, 2009

The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas.

posted by Sitegeist at 5:00 PM on March 10, 2009

3. This won't work. Just limiting it to the books that people have already mentioned in response to these question, here are some of my reactions: "That's not even the best book that dude wrote, and he's not a very good writer." "Well, I see that the last time this person bought a book was sometime around the millennium." "Why would you hang on to your old textbooks?"
posted by box at 5:00 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some of my favorites:

The Master Butchers Singing Club
Kafka on the Shore
posted by cachondeo45 at 5:11 PM on March 10, 2009

Issues of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern make good conversation starters, with their colourful and sometimes unconventional designs and mix of art and literature. The McSweeney's Store has a lot of back issues on sale right now, too.

Used books are also awesome for this as they sometimes come with interesting wear and tear or stories of where you found them. Artist's books are small treasures. My bookshelves are also littered with board games and other odds and ends.

Also, the answer to all your questions is the Codex Seraphinianus.
posted by oulipian at 5:47 PM on March 10, 2009

Anything by John McPhee.
The Gulag Archipelago.
Lectures on Physics by Richard Feyneman.
Shards of Honor by Lois M. Bujold.
posted by Bruce H. at 5:53 PM on March 10, 2009

anything by Robert Anton Wilson, Manly P. Hall or Howard Phillips Lovecraft. And if you want people borrowing your books, get some Calvin and Hobbs collections!
posted by Redhush at 5:54 PM on March 10, 2009

I think everyone should read James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia

The last couple of books I read and liked were Christopher Priest's Inverted World and The Prestige
posted by tylerfulltilt at 5:58 PM on March 10, 2009

anything by gabriel garcia marquez
"fathers and sons" by ivan turgenev
"never let me go" by kazuo ishiguro
and... the complete Far Side Gallery collection :)
posted by skaye at 6:19 PM on March 10, 2009

The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk
posted by sleepytako at 6:58 PM on March 10, 2009

Two books by Victoria Finlay - Color: A Natural History of the Palette and Jewels - A Secret History. I have loaned and gifted both countless times (and replaced my own copies when they don't come back to me). They're both just fascinating takes on their respective subjects, full of all kinds of history and minutiae and smart stuff. The cool thing is that I've never given a copy of either to anyone who had heard of them before, but they're always terrifically received.
posted by ersatzkat at 7:23 PM on March 10, 2009

Anything by David Mitchell. Literary, interesting, and will intrigue your guests.
posted by Gotham at 7:29 PM on March 10, 2009

Milosz's ABCs
, Czeslaw Milosz
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee
Autobiography of Malcolm X
Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson
Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
Rashomon, Akutagawa
Go Down Moses, Faulkner
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown
A Gesture Life, Chang Rae-Lee
Shakespeare After All, Marjorie Garber
Paris Review Interviews

One Norton Anthology

Pop-culture favorites, like Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, DFW non-fiction essays, Middlesex, Kavalier & Clay, etc.

Full spectrum of books favored by one gender over the other. Bukowski and Bronte, Woolf and Hunter S. Thompson, Philip K. Dick and Jane Austen.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:00 PM on March 10, 2009

Don't forget childrens' books written with adults in mind:
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
The Gashlycrum Tinies (or any Edward Gorey anthology)
posted by TDIpod at 8:34 PM on March 10, 2009

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman
What Do You Care What Other People Think?

both by Richard Feynman

Who's Afraid of Schrodinger's Cat? by Ian Marshall and Danah Zohar
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Nixon and Kissenger by Robert Dallek
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Timeline by Michael Crichton

nthing Feynman's Lectures (in the red books) and most Vonnegut.
posted by thewestinggame at 9:06 PM on March 10, 2009

Robert Irwin the expert on the Middle East and novelist: Satan Wants Me, The Arabian Nightmare, The Limits of Vision, Mysteries of Algiers.

The other Robert Irwin (not the real-estate guru, the artist): Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees


Paris Noir: The Secret History of a City, by Jacques Yonnet

You Can't Win, by Jack Black

Out of the Night, by Jan Valtin

The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin


Love, War and Fancy, by Sir Richard Burton

And in my opinion, A Child's Machiavelli is worth too much to let a friend walk off with. Although it certainly will disappear off your shelf in a hurry if that's what you want.
posted by BigSky at 11:48 PM on March 10, 2009

1. Books that are every shelf must have.
Books on living:
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
The Guide To Getting it On by Paul Joannides
Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson
Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis
Books on making art:
Notes on Directing by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
On Writing by Stephen King

2. Books that people will actually want to borrow. From my shelf, folks always want to borrow The Time Traveler's Wife and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

3. Books that will make me look intelligent, sophisticated and fun. To a certain crowd, The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem will do just this.

4. Favorite book in your collection. My current favorites are The Irrational Season by Madeleine L'Engle and The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett. I'm also a big fan of anything written by Lawrence Weschler.

5. Books that intrigued/impressed you when you saw them on someone's shelf! My curiosity is generally piqued by well-designed book jackets I'm unfamiliar with. I can't think of ever being impressed by a particular book or set of books.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:17 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

An addendum on my earlier post: no matter what your taste is, someone will have that exact opposite taste. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who think Metzinger, Lutz, Wallace, and Homes are all full of shit and further that I'm a bad person for liking them. So don't count on your bookshelf to make friends for you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:25 AM on March 11, 2009

Books are heavy and collect dust.

Collecting books with the aim of impressing others is both impossible and lame.

Lending books is just a way of giving them away, so don't collect books for this purpose, buy them (used if you want)

Therefore, you should collect books that you love and that you want to read over and over. This includes for me favorite fiction by classic American and Canadian authors, books I buy on impulse, and reference material (cookbooks, dictionaries, handbooks, etc.)
posted by Gor-ella at 9:39 AM on March 11, 2009

But ... Thanks for asking the questions. I will be referring to this list for reading ideas.

Personally, I also enjoy award winners and finalist. Your visitors may recognize and or be impressed by this. Also if it is still in hard cover and hard to get from the library, may be a hot commodity.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:42 AM on March 11, 2009

I cannot fathom giving my books away. I'm like the guy in Patriot Games: "Mah booooks! Mah booooks! What about mah booooks!"
posted by _Skull_ at 11:33 AM on March 11, 2009

Collecting books with the aim of impressing others is both impossible and lame.

Ditto on this. Filling a shelf with books of no particular interest to you for the sake of appearances really perverts the whole purpose of a personal collection.

But there are many ethical ways towards an aesthetically pleasing shelf. One possibility: choose a favorite minor press, imprint, or multi-volume series with an interesting and uniform design philosophy, then work towards gathering a complete run. If you like American history and literature, the old Sentry Editions are a viable choice. The original Anchor trades were beautifully curated, and the first couple hundred were designed by Edward Gorey. If you're a Patrick O'Brian fan, collect the entire 21-volume run of the Aubrey-Maturin novels. (Don't get the box set; the re-set text was hardly proofed.)
posted by Iridic at 1:23 PM on March 11, 2009

Vintage Contemporaries! Don't those show up in American Psycho or something?
posted by box at 1:33 PM on March 11, 2009

Where to begin...

Definitely lots of Dostoevsky (Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, Demons, Crime and Punishment)
Bulgakov - Master and Margarita
Kundera - Unbearable Lightness of Being (and anthing else)
Capote - anything
Suskind - Perfume
Heller - Catch-22
Graham Greene
Nabokov - Lolita
posted by barrakuda at 4:33 AM on March 12, 2009

1. The Iliad by Homer, Fagles tr.
2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean Dominique-Bauby
3. The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman
4. Me Write Book by Graham Roumieu
5. The Caretaker and the Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter
posted by Alex Voyd at 5:04 PM on March 12, 2009

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