Help me keep my nose inside a book all summer
May 16, 2009 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I need to compile my summer reading list ASAP. Please give me some suggestions.

Two years ago I asked for some book suggestions and MeFis, as always, turned out to be great at just that. This time I'm looking for books to keep me entertained all during the summer, as I'll have a lot of free time (I'm a teacher and master's student).

I like fiction novels, long-ish, and prefer if they're recent books (as in, "not in the mood for oldish classics").

Books I've read and liked (some of them because I learned of them in here in the Green):

The Historian
I Know This Much Is True
The Time Traveller's Wife
The Kite Runner
Life of Pi
Pillars of the Earth (and) World without End
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Books I read and didn't like very much:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay
The Loser's Club
(I think amazon suggested that one, and it sucked)

I figure whoever's read any of these recognizes them without needing the author.

I know there's already tons of questions about books here, but in this community with lots of types of readers, I'm hoping you can help a lot better than Amazon's "people who bought this, also bought this."
posted by CrazyLemonade to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I liked "The Historian" very much. How about "The Eight", by Katherine Neville? It came out in the 80s, I think, but it's still an entertaining read. She released a sequel last year called "The Fire" that isn't nearly as good, but does use the same characters.

Also, I love recommending "The Outlander" series by Diana Gabaldon. One part time travel, one part historical fiction, one part romance, and currently six books strong (seventh is out this fall). Do not be alarmed by the only excerpt Amazon has for the first book; it's not really a good representation of the series.
posted by olinerd at 10:46 AM on May 16, 2009

Your two short lists are great in terms of what kind of literature you're looking for. My problem is that there are titles on both lists that I love and dislike, so please take my suggestion with a grain of salt.

I like Peter Carey and his recent book, My Illegal Self is pretty good.

Joan Didion is quite good. Her non-fiction book about some personal tragedies is excellent and intelligent.

Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose is worth a read even if it doesn't quite fit your recent fiction criteria.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:54 AM on May 16, 2009

Based on your list, you will adore "White Teeth".
posted by mahoganyslide at 11:03 AM on May 16, 2009

A few that spring to mind:

The Historian (on preview: seconded!)
The Corrections
Bel Canto
posted by scody at 11:08 AM on May 16, 2009

Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley is probably right up your alley.
Also John Irving--especially A Prayer for Owen Meany and Cider House Rules. But really any of his stuff.
posted by stray at 11:10 AM on May 16, 2009

seconding White Teeth.

if you liked Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, try the History of Love. it's similar without being a rerun (and was written by Foer's wife!)

the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is hilarious, a pretty easy read, and touching too.

i'll recommend the Red Tent, too. it's incredibly empowering (it's now a common gift at bridal and baby showers among my friends).

Brick Lane was a pretty good read. One Big Damn Puzzler is hilarious (i recommended it the other day in a thread).

if you want to read a beautiful, compelling collection of short stories, check out the Secret Lives of People in Love. it's in my top 3 books of all time. so wonderful.

i'll shut up now.
posted by gursky at 11:12 AM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if you like period fiction and mysteries, maybe the Erast Fandorin series by Boris Akunin, which takes place in Russia during the late 19th century. I believe six of them have been translated into English now (my personal favorite of the bunch is The Death of Achilles).
posted by scody at 11:13 AM on May 16, 2009

Empire falls? It's sad, but . . . nice I think
posted by Think_Long at 11:28 AM on May 16, 2009

Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games is both very long and very absorbing.

Thirding White Teeth.

Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls are both fine historical novels (warning: seriously non-upbeat).

It sounds like you'd enjoy pretty much anything by Kate Atkinson.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:41 AM on May 16, 2009

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell.

The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson. (And I recommend this as a person who does not enjoy alternate history stories. Beware that you have to pay a bit of attention while reading it, though.)
posted by Houstonian at 11:46 AM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you haven't read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, here's your chance!
posted by arco at 11:48 AM on May 16, 2009

seconding Kate Atkinson and John Irving.

Also: Johnathan Frantzen, Barbara Kingsolver, and Tom Robbins (especially Still Life with Woodpeck, Skinny Legs and All, and Jitterbug Perfume).

I personally don't like the Outlander series by Gabaldon, but I think I'm the only one. So give that a try too. I want to like it. The books are huge with an epic storyline and she just keeps writing them.
posted by dchrssyr at 12:08 PM on May 16, 2009

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith is one of the best books I've read recently. Also, if you're looking for something a bit more creepy - The Ruins by Scott Smith is great.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:12 PM on May 16, 2009

Oh yeah, Child 44 is really engrossing. I was so into it that I read the whole thing in about 3 days, though, so be forewarned that it might not last long!
posted by scody at 12:25 PM on May 16, 2009

I recommend Robertson Davies here a lot - I love his stuff. going from your list, I'd suggest starting with the Deptford Trilogy, and if you like that, just keep going with the rest of his stuff - it's all wonderful; each book stands alone, but they do overlap a bit so you'll a bit more out of them if read in series, great characters and a bit of magic realism.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:26 PM on May 16, 2009

I hereby second the following as very worthwhile reading material: ...Dog in the Night, Jonathan Strange..., ...Rice and Salt.

I just finished reading GRRM's A Song of Fire and Ice series. He's finished the first four (of seven) and if you start now you'll be ready for the fifth one when it comes out in September. If you like epic fantasy, it's pretty interesting.

Mrs. Jeffamaphone just finished the four Twilight books and I'm on the fourth one now. It's kinda banal, but I found the mythology she created to be mildly interesting. It's a quick read, if nothing else.

Some other decent stuff I've read recently and would recommend: The Crimes of Paris, Gods Behaving Badly, A Lion Among Men (book three in the Wicked series, all of which are quite good).
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:49 PM on May 16, 2009

I also recommend Kate Atkinson. My favorite of hers is Human Croquet.

One of my favorites is Haven Kimmel. She is most well known, I think, for her memoir A Girl Named Zippy, but she has also written three novels. They are truly wonderful books. Start with Something Rising (Light and Swift).
posted by apricot at 1:22 PM on May 16, 2009

The Name of the Rose, or Foucault's Pendulum might work.

For added fun, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole, is also epic, in a different way. And The Lord of the Banyard, by Tristan Egolf.

I must say Plutarch's Lives or Herodotus' History qualify for the epic / historic component and are surprisingly fun and easy to read.

Or hell, Ulysses can fill a summer by itself. An arduous one.
posted by varoa at 1:40 PM on May 16, 2009

A vote for John Irving - The World According to Garp.
posted by puckish at 1:47 PM on May 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all for the suggestions, keep them coming.

Also, I don't know where everybody got the idea that I want big, epic stories (probably from my mention of Pillars of the Earth?). I will take a look at some of the ones you're suggesting, but I really also like stand-alone books and won't necessarilly want to commit to series.

Looks like it's going to be a very interesting summer so far, so thanks again.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 4:52 PM on May 16, 2009

Only read a few on your list, but here are few that I've enjoyed that match your description:

Left Hand of Darkness
Not sure if you are into sci-fi, but Ursula Le Guin is a great writer. Interesting gender issues on planet who's inhabitants are uni-sex most of the time.

Titus Groan
First in the Gormenghast Trilogy. Very strange, engrossing characters in an creepy castle.

Perdido Street Station
Steampunk/Fantasy novel that is a real page turner. Trippy and twisted world inhabited by many strange creatures. Great descriptions of the polluted dystopia.

Norwegian Wood
I love this author. Very character driven. Also check out another of his; Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

A fictional account of a man seeking enlightenment during the time of Bhudda. This book made me want to be a river ferryman.

Master and Commander
I know you said you aren't too interested in series, but if you are at all interested in the Age of Sail, then you will love this. Packed so full of nautical info and great adventure.
posted by meta87 at 7:17 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. A wonderful read, light but engrossing.
posted by JujuB at 7:52 PM on May 16, 2009

I second Bel Canto - at first I thought I didn't like it, but then I became more and more absorbed. It's one of those books that stuck with me, and it won awards, I think.

I just finished The Kite Rider (not to be confused with The Kite Runner). Interesting story - a 12yo boy in 13th-century China who rides on a kite to test the winds before ships leave on a voyage.

A Year in the Merde and In the Merde for Love were funny and interesting - a British guy gets a job in France and finds out what the French are like.

I can't discern if you're male or female. Women might like Love Walked In and Belong to Me (sequels). They're light, but well-written, good stories, and fairly developed characters. Same with Dream When You're Feeling Blue, but then I like anything by Elizabeth Berg; it's about a Chicago family during WW2. I also liked The Namesake - about a Bengali family's adjustment to settling in the U.S.

Do you ever read memoirs? The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is hilarious. Three Weeks with My Brother is another great memoir, even though I don't like the author's other books. And Under the Tuscan Sun, which the movie can't even hold a distant candle to. I've recommended these three to others, male and female, and they've loved all of them.

I also second Joan Didion's book that someone mentioned, if you're in the mood for it - the title is The Year of Magical Thinking. Having experienced a tragedy in my own life, I identified with her feelings and reactions.
posted by onemorething at 7:53 PM on May 16, 2009

seconding Siddhartha (wonderful!) and The Year of Magical Thinking (achy & thoughtful).
posted by gursky at 1:36 PM on May 17, 2009

So, hmm, blurring my eyes at this book list, you like books with complexity in characters / emotions / relationships, and you prefer historical novels with maybe some spookiness?

I'll second Robertson Davies (and that the Deptford Trilogy is a good place to start) and John Irving, and I'll add Ursula Hegi's Stones From the River and Edward P. Jones's The Known World. If you've never tried any Philip Roth, you might try something like American Pastoral. Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres keeps coming to mind, and next on my reading list is one that might also appeal to you, The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman.
posted by salvia at 4:01 PM on May 17, 2009

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This was recommended to me by Mefites (here) and I absolutely loved it. Very engrossing. One blurb describes it as the wit of Jane Austen combined with the world building of Tolkien, another as "the drawing room social comedies of early 19th-century Britain infused with the powerful forces of English folklore". The only other fantasy type books I've read were Narnia and Lord of the Rings, and I'm not usually a huge fan of the genre, but this was a really great book.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a really great story, well written, and engaging. I read it ten years ago now, but I still think and dream about the characters occasionally.
posted by mosessis at 5:02 PM on May 17, 2009

If you haven't read A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, I definitely recommend that. It was a fantastic book well before it made it onto Oprah's Book Club.
posted by yawper at 10:02 AM on May 20, 2009

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