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June 5, 2009 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I crave a great novel that's as addictive as a popcorn movie. Please recommend me some literary page-turners.

I'm constantly on the lookout for books that are escapist/engrossing in the sense that I can't wait to see what will happen next...but I can't stomach Dan Brown and his ilk. I've put down, or found tedious, many 'general fiction' novels that have been recommended to me as classier than the usual airport pulps (i.e. John Le Carre, Henning Mankel, John Irving).

Thus: what are some novels that you'd find in the literature section that are well-written and psychologically nuanced, but also with a healthy dose of plot? (That rules out stuff that's absorbing in another way, like The Waves.) Any subject matter would be fine: in the past, novels as different as Middlemarch, Disgrace, and Blindness have scratched this itch of mine. What else?
posted by Beardman to Media & Arts (103 answers total) 235 users marked this as a favorite
War and Peace (seriously).
posted by Prospero at 11:31 AM on June 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Anything by Wilkie Collins.
posted by Punctual at 11:34 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

David Mitchell.
posted by Gotham at 11:35 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anything by Martin Millar.

Foucault's Pendulum, by Eco
posted by bunnycup at 11:35 AM on June 5, 2009

~ Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
~ Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
~ The Plague by Albert Camus
~ The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
posted by litterateur at 11:36 AM on June 5, 2009

I'd try Margaret Atwood, in particular Oryx and Crake and The Blind Assassin. Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible is quite engrossing as well.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I found myself routinely staying up until 4am reading War and Peace because I couldn't put it down. On preview, I see I'm not the only one.

Also, it isn't one novel but the 20-volume Aubrey & Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian is engrossing, escapist, well-written and with a healthy dose of plot.
posted by ambrosia at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I just finished The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian. I couldn't put it down, I literally stayed awake way past my bedtime just to read it. I was exhausted the next day but SO worth it.
posted by msali at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I seem to remember Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier being an engrossing read when it was assigned in English class. Ditto for One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Anthem by Ayn Rand. And I know, I know, people on this site love to hate Ayn Rand, but I think Anthem was a really nice story about discovering individuality. YMMV.
posted by Night_owl at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

also, check out Anthony Trollope.
posted by ambrosia at 11:38 AM on June 5, 2009

The Moor's Last Sigh (Salman Rushdie)
posted by katillathehun at 11:39 AM on June 5, 2009

If you haven't read it already, you might like All the Pretty Horses. I recently finished it and found it to be a compelling and intriguing story. McCarthy's a very interesting writer (though I didn't care for "The Road" much).

On the lighter (read: less literary) side, I also recently enjoyed Rain Fall, which I gather is part of a series.
posted by jjsonp at 11:40 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding War and Peace, get this translation.

I bet Dumas will come up in the comments, but don't fall for it, he is just stage coach inn pulp.

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, Clockers by Ricard Price, Les Miserables, The Way We Live Now.
posted by shothotbot at 11:40 AM on June 5, 2009

Oh, and ditto on DuMaurier's Rebecca, which reminds me: The House on the Strand
posted by katillathehun at 11:40 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Two words: Italo Calvino.

Try If On A Winter's Night A Traveller first, then go for Invisible Cities, then get on to Cosmicomics and then finish up with his early work.

I guarantee you a fantastic several month's reading.

Also look into Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall.

You can thank me later.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 11:41 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Crime and Punishment is one I couldn't put down, both times I read it. And nthing War and Peace (the parts on Tolstoy's theory of history can be a little dry). Anna Karenina is more engaging.

For Whom the Bell Tolls made me miss my stop on a train ride.
posted by chiefthe at 11:42 AM on June 5, 2009

"Well-written, but with a healthy dose of plot" pretty much defines Dickens. I'd recommend starting with Nicholas Nickleby if you want something more action-oriented, David Copperfield if you'd prefer something more psychological.

Also, George Eliot has written lots more novels than Middlemarch.
posted by Bardolph at 11:45 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

the 20-volume Aubrey & Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian


Remember how you felt the first time you read The Hobbit or Robinson Crusoe as a kid? The exhilaration I felt while reading the Aubrey/Maturin novels is as close to that sense of wonder as I have ever experienced as a fiction-reading adult.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:45 AM on June 5, 2009 [7 favorites]

Brighton Rock
posted by puckish at 11:48 AM on June 5, 2009

It might or might not be your cup of tea, but I'm in the middle of a reread of T.H. White's The Once and Future King (last read about 15 years ago) and I'm totally floored by the combination of humor, insight, and action-and-adventure. It's pretty goddamned absorbing. Be warned though, that it starts out really lighthearted and fun (the first section skirts on the edge of ridiculous) and gets progressively heavier and grimmer (although the heavy and grim sections are still great).
posted by COBRA! at 11:53 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

James Ellroy
posted by The Straightener at 11:55 AM on June 5, 2009

Try Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.
posted by juliplease at 11:57 AM on June 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'll put in another little push for Cormac McCarthy, if only because it's the most recent in my own reading. Unlike the above poster, I thought The Road was incredible, and am currently reading and enjoying The Crossing. And Dan Brown he is not, obviously.
posted by kingbenny at 11:58 AM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Booker prize winner The White Tiger is pretty page turny.
posted by Artw at 12:01 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise and Tender is the Night.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 12:01 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

If, after reading the above, you want some literary humor to cleanse your palate with, check out John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize winning "A Confederacy of Dunces".

Crazy plot populated by just as crazy (but charming) New Orleans characters.

HIGHLY recommend.
posted by willmize at 12:05 PM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz

Palace Walk
Palace of Desire
Sugar Street

An engrossing family drama set in Cairo over the first half of the twentieth century. Very readable and fascinating.
posted by readery at 12:08 PM on June 5, 2009

Dracula and Middlesex are both pageturners (though in different ways)
posted by rmless at 12:11 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

a fraction of the whole is a very funny recent novel by steve toltz. i laughed a lot, by myself.
posted by iamnotateenagegirl at 12:12 PM on June 5, 2009

Another vote for "War and Peace."


Here's an eclectic list. To me, what all these books have in common is that they are (a) well written in terms of prose style, (b) contain 3D characters, (c) have continually moving plots, (d) are not impenetrable (e.g. they can be enjoyed on the surface, without getting into literary theory).

"Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry
"The Queen's Gambit" and "The Hustler" by Walter Tevis
"The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins
"Watership Down" by Richard Adams
"1984" by George Orwell
"Amy and Isabelle" by Elizabeth Strout
"Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden
"A Kiss Before Dying" by Ira Levin
"The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nightime" by Marc Haddon
"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë
"House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton
"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger
"Rule of the Bone" by Russell Banks
"Prep" by Curtis Sittenfeld
posted by grumblebee at 12:13 PM on June 5, 2009 [6 favorites]

2nding Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. You absolutely CANNOT put it down.

I also loved Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich.
posted by cachondeo45 at 12:16 PM on June 5, 2009

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie by Peter Alson

and when I've got nothing else that interests me I go back to my favourite...

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
posted by selton at 12:19 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Contemporary lit, but more 'lit' than 'gen fic': I just finished A Mixture of Frailties by Robertson Davies (and without having read the earlier parts of the trilogy). I say this as a huge fan of James Baldwin's writing; esp. Another Country.
Second Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.
posted by tamarack at 12:23 PM on June 5, 2009

Previously. And previously. It sounds like you're looking for literary fiction works with strong plots. My favorite author for this is Michael Chabon. I loved his Adventures of Cavalier and Clay and Yiddish Policeman's Union.

Both have exciting plots full of excitement, loss, and longing, but still feature beautiful writing and well developed characters. Yiddish Policeman's Union is essentially a literary reworking of the noir detective story, inspired by this idea.

Also, since you people will care when the philistines at my office did not: the author of White Tiger was my college roommate.
posted by hhc5 at 12:27 PM on June 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

"Pillers of the Earth" by Ken Follett
"The Island of Doctor Moreau" by H.G. Wells
"The Golden Compass" by Phillip Pullman (I'm not a fan of the sequels)
"Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell
The Musketeer books by Victor Hugo
"The Remains of the Day", "When We Were Orphans" and "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro
"Plain Song" by Kent Haruf
"She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb
"A Game of Thrones" and the other Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin
"This Perfect Day" by Ira Levin
"The Human Factor" by Graham Greene
"Lisey's Story" by Stephen King (a cut above the usual King)
"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
"The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski
"Shadow Divers" Robert Kurson (non-fiction, but definitely a page turner)
"Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett
"Life of Pi" by Yann Martel
The Claudius books by Robert Graves
posted by grumblebee at 12:36 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

2nding Chabon.

Also, if you take many people's advice here and read "War and Peace," please note that it alternates between a plot-and-character-based novel and a philosophical text. I enjoy the essay chapters, but if they're not your boat, you can skip them and not miss anything in terms of pure story.
posted by grumblebee at 12:38 PM on June 5, 2009

My few that I go back to time and time again and never get sick of:

Diamond Age, Snow Crash by Neal Stephensen
Vurt by Jeff Noon
Blindness by Jose Saramago
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Fragile things, Smoke and Mirrors, American Gods, and (not a novel) the Sandman Comics by Neil Gaiman
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Stephen King's Gunslinger books
Anything written by Kurt Vonnegut

Gotta disagree with the War and Peace, though, I made it through it, and generally enjoyed it, but I woudn't call it a book I couldn't put down.
posted by katers890 at 12:38 PM on June 5, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut
posted by chicago2penn at 12:40 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was the first book to keep me up (way!) past my bedtime in several years. The characters are fantastic, the plot is gripping, and I loved the writing style.
posted by vytae at 12:41 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin and/or Winter's Tale. Personally, I like Winter's Tale better, but they're both pretty damn unputdownable. I'm also going to nth the suggestions for Patrick O'Brian.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:41 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding very much The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Also, McCarthy's Blood Meridien. Should be required reading in high school.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:42 PM on June 5, 2009

Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
posted by Aznable at 12:43 PM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Two of my favorite authors are John Irving and Douglas Coupland. With that in mind, I'd recommend:

"Microserfs" by Douglas Coupland. After reading this, if you like it, I'd move on to "Life After God", "Girlfriend in a Coma", "Generation X", and "Shampoo Planet", in that order.

Also, I'd have to 2nd the Gunslinger series by Stephen King. A *little* pulpy, yes, but MAN is it an epic journey. I struggled a little through the first book, but after that, I just hung on for the ride.

I just read "All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy, and there was some really good writing in it. I liked it. But I wouldn't call it a "page-turner." Just my 2 cents.
posted by Spyder's Game at 12:49 PM on June 5, 2009

Jumpa Lahiri is engrossing to me, but I like short fiction. It's a pager-turner in a non-traditional sense. They are short stories, but once you've gotten through one, you HAVE to read the next one because she's just wowed you so much that you can't wait to see what she does next. Then you grab your hankie, dab your eyes, and keep going. (Multiple links below.)

Interpreter of Maladies
Unaccustomed Earth

Her novel, The Namesake, is also wonderful - and while it is engrossing, it was not as engrossing as her short work.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:51 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jonathan Lethem's _Motherless Brooklyn_ and _Fortress of Solitude_; also, most of Richard Powers' books, in particular his most recent _The Echo Maker_. Don DeLillo's _Underworld_.
posted by aught at 12:52 PM on June 5, 2009

Ooh, that's right. Vonnegut. I especially liked Cat's Cradle. And Dickens is pretty solid, too. I remember my eighth grade self loving David Copperfield. And Mutiny on the Bounty, while not by a terribly famous author, is a fictionalized take on an actual event. I don't see that it has won any awards or been taught in schools, but it was pretty good.

And what about mysteries? Agatha Christie's novels, especially the ones featuring Hercule Poirot are good light reads while still being well-written.
posted by Night_owl at 12:53 PM on June 5, 2009

I dunno grumblebee, that sounds scary. I'd say by the time anybody gets to the philosophical chapters of War and Peace, they'll already be hooked and feeling generous enough for anything (on preview I see this may be a lie, or at least exaggerated), and those chapters are pretty light/readable/interesting anyway. That book is a page turner as much as any book ever was, and certainly as addicting as any popcorn movie, so another vote!

And I guess since we've already brought out the big guns I can mention the Brothers Karamazov too. The first 200 pages or so are a whirlwind and it doesn't let up much. And I agree with the Ice and Fire books, although whatever their covers say I'm not sure they're at all "literary." I'm sure they would suffice for Beardman's purposes though.
posted by flavor at 12:54 PM on June 5, 2009

Perhaps it makes me a weirdo, but I've always felt this way about Kafka, particularly "The Trial" and "The Metamorphosis." And at one time I had this awesome QPB collection of his short fiction - a lot of which was very short - and it was a very compulsive experience, dipping into and out of each of those surreal little bits.
posted by jbickers at 1:04 PM on June 5, 2009

Nthing Geek Love. Don't let the title bore you; it's not about our modern kind of geekery, and you won't be able to put it down.

Same w/many of the other books mentioned here (I mean, great suggestions all around), but what I really came here to say was:

Also, since you people will care when the philistines at my office did not: the author of White Tiger was my college roommate.
posted by hhc5 at 3:27 PM on June 5 [+] [!]

That is awesome.

Also, that is exactly the kind of feeling I have with most of my workplace conversations. "Harumph. Well, Metafilter would care."
posted by sa3z at 1:08 PM on June 5, 2009

Anything by Raymond Chandler.

Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott.
posted by bonecrusher at 1:19 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

'Winter's Tale' and 'A Soldier of the Great War' by Mark Helprin are quite gripping. Helprin has a very poetic descriptive prose style that makes them a pleasure to read.
posted by elendil71 at 1:21 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara. "Puts" you in Gettysburg better than any history text.
"Hyperion/Fall of Hyperion" by Dan Simmons Read both. Complex. Deep characters in a SF/Horror double crossing plot.
"Dune" by Frank Herbert. Very complex. Lots of lies, power change, and back stabbing to keep track of.
"Childhood's End" by Arthur C Clarke. Humans are "uplifted" by a diabolical figure.
"The Sun Also Rises" by Hemmingway. Page turner if you are interested in the "magic" of Hemmingway. A great example of his incredible abilities. Not the usual "tension building" novel.
"The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" by John LeCarre. Good jaded spy novel written by a good jaded spy.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 1:34 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kurt Vonnegut
Ian McEwan, esp. Atonement or On Cheshil Beach
Umberto Eco, esp. The Name of the Rose or Baudalino
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Salmon Rushdie
Junot Diaz
Carlos Ruiz Zafon, esp. The Shadow of the Wind

Maybe not as "literary," but I think Jodi Picoult writes pretty good fiction.
posted by motsque at 1:38 PM on June 5, 2009

I'll second the Count of Monte Cristo as being the very definition of a literary page turner. If you do check it out, get the Penguin Classics edition which is a fresh translation that is both more faithful to the text and more accessible in its language.
posted by CheshireCat at 1:43 PM on June 5, 2009

Nthing Anthony Trollope, especially the Chronicles of Barsetshire. Also think about Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, a huge, wonderful novel.
posted by RussHy at 2:03 PM on June 5, 2009

Yeah, I love the philosophical chapters in "War and Peach," and I also love how the novel flips between them and the narrative chapters. But some fiction readers don't want to be bothered with essays, and it's worthwhile info for them that you can follow the story if you skip the non-narrative chapters.
posted by grumblebee at 2:07 PM on June 5, 2009

Anything in the bizarre universe of Murakami should keep you hooked, my personal favorite is Kafka on the Shore.

Along with others here, I’m going to recommend the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with One Hundred Years of Solitude being my favorite. I also found Of Love and Other Demons to be very compelling and deeply touching.

As you might be gathering I enjoy a touch of the surreal with my literature and Salvador Placentia brings that dimension to The People of Paper.

House of Leaves soundly freaked me out, but was in my hands constantly.

While I’m not usually one who is much for fantasy books, the characters in George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and the subsequent Ice and Fire books are well written and very compelling.

I also really enjoyed Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and it is my favorite of her writings.

Happy Reading!
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 2:13 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I loved "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry. You may not, but I also really like Dennis Lehane (I like everything [save for "Shutter Island"] but his latest, "The Given Day", is more literary than pulpy) and Richard Price's "Clockers"
posted by backwards guitar at 2:20 PM on June 5, 2009

Well if others are going to mention Stephen King novels, how about The Stand. It is big and epic and very much a page turner.
posted by mmascolino at 2:23 PM on June 5, 2009

I promised myself I wouldn't mention Stephen King, since that has a poor reputation of not being literature. But you know I've said before and I will say again, IT by King is beautifully woven and you will find yourself swallowed whole by the monsters in your imagination.
posted by Night_owl at 2:36 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think Richard Russo's "Empire Falls" fits the bill. Full of great characters, a good story, and won the Pulitzer in '02 (I think).
posted by PFL at 2:37 PM on June 5, 2009

Ooh, Sarah Waters. She writes gothic-ish novels set in various time periods that are centred around gay female characters.

She's really the definition of a page-turning author to me, with several plot twists that have made me stop dead, stare at the page and then go back and reread the previous chapter to make sense of it again. She has a real knack of moving the plot along while at the same time her books are filled with the sort of historical detail that's a real joy to be immersed in. I've eagerly devoured everything she's written.
posted by cryptozoology at 2:44 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Highly oringial plot (the devil visits 1930s Moscow), extremely entertaining, with a large dose of satire that is apparently quoted by Russians to this day. It seems the great Russian works are usually good page-turning classics.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:52 PM on June 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Time Traveler's Wife certainly strikes me as appropriate. I also loved The Air We Breathe.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:54 PM on June 5, 2009

To add to the lifetime of reading above:

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Sometimes a Great Notion is amazingly introspective, but very readable.
Blood Meridian is very, very violent, but engrossing and it really sticks with you when you're done.

Best of all, neither of these books are terribly long, so you can enjoy others as well.
posted by elder18 at 2:56 PM on June 5, 2009

Stephenson's already been mentioned, but IMO his best plotted page-turner is the epic Baroque Cycle trilogy.

Sewer, Gas & Electric is hilarious, delightfully referential, and features a rip-roaring plot. One of the better recs AskMe's provided me in the past.

My curation of the books already mentioned:

Cloud Atlas
The Name of the Rose
Geek Love
The Amazing Adventure of Cavalier & Clay
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Dark Tower series, as well as The Stand.
Life of Pi

There's a lot of good stuff mentioned, but these are the ones I read in one sitting (per, of course, for the series).
posted by carsonb at 3:07 PM on June 5, 2009

Mario Vargas Llosa!!! - try The War of the End of the World, or Feast of the Goat, but everything he writes is brilliant. Those two are just particularly page-turney-blockbustery, because they're so long & richly detailed.

Otherwise, Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. Semi-autobiographical, and a bit amateurish in style, but an utter page-turner.

And what others have said: eg Rushdie, Mistry, Marquez, Bulgakov (especially), Dostoevski, Calvino and some of Eco. Indian authors, in particular, seem to do literary pageturners very well; others to look out for include Upamanayu Chatterjee & Vikram Chandra, but there are at least half a dozen more up there with the likes of Rushdie & Mistry.

Has anybody mentioned Michael Ondaatje yet?

And for something slightly different, Daniel Pennac's Belleville series - a fun & quirky twist on detective literature, and a massive hit with the French.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:22 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't recommend Shogun by James Clavell enough. I'm not sure it is "literature", but it is certainly a complex, long highly entertaining book that everyone I have ever recommended it to has loved. It's up there with Ender's Game in that regard, though I wouldn't recommend that to everyone. I would recommend Shogun to anyone who loves fiction with a compelling plot.

I'll nth the Count of Monte Cristo (supposedly Bill Clinton's favorite book according to one account I heard) and Bel Canto.

On the scifi front, Dune is a classic and I find it to be a page turner.
posted by slide at 3:25 PM on June 5, 2009

I thought The Prestige was a great page turner. The movie is also great, and different enough to not ruin the book.

I also agree about George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, its a great story that happens to be set in a fantasy world.
posted by miscbuff at 4:35 PM on June 5, 2009

Most everything I would suggest has been covered (and 2nding Neil Gaiman's "American Gods"), but I'll throw a couple of left-field ones by Terry Pratchett out there. I realise he's not everyone's cup of tea (particularly with the fantasy settings), but to me these two meet your description of a literary "great novel that's as addictive as a popcorn movie":

"Small Gods" - bored the hell out of me the first time I read it, but the more I read it the more I realise it's both a bloody brilliant satire and a treatise on the nature (& dangers) of belief. Worthy of comparison with Swift at his best.

"Going Postal" - maybe it's because I spent 20 years as a tech in a government -> privatised telco, and saw everything in this book (and more!) actually happen, but this one too is a brilliant satire. Warning: many don't like this one, I suspect because bits of it upset the nerd contingent (who are less-than-subtle yet quick to anger).
posted by Pinback at 4:36 PM on June 5, 2009

Phillip K. Dick's "Valis" trilogy is a page turner (Valis, The Divine Invasion & The Transmigration of Timothy Archer).

Whole-heartedly agree with the recommendations above of Mark Helprin's "Winter's Tale" and "A Soldier of the Great War" --writing is just beautiful.

Also recommend John Crowley's Little, Big. Again, beautiful writing with a huge, fantasy laden plot and memorable characters.

The Gormenghast trilogy by Melvyn Peake--haunting story, and very addictive.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 5:08 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Cure for Death by Lightning - Gail Anderson-Dargatz
American Gods - Neil Gaiman
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:10 PM on June 5, 2009

Anything by Milan Kundera up to and including Immortality (but read Immortality last).

Any of Hermann Hesse's major novels (Demian, Siddhartha, Narziss and Goldmund, Steppenwolf, The Glass Bead Game). Colin Wilson said the first 4 are essentially the same story in different settings and Steppenwolf is the strongest of the lot (and my favorite of the 4).
posted by K.P. at 5:39 PM on June 5, 2009

Pale Fire by Nabokov for sure! It starts out with a 1000 line poem. The rest of the book is notes on the poem. It's beautiful writing and an intriguing story that keeps you awake you wondering long after the book is done.

Also, if you haven't read Sherlock Holmes, do yourself a favor a pick up a cheap Barnes and Nobles copy of the complete series. The stories are brilliant, and the answers to the riddles will keep you turning the pages all night.
posted by Kevorama at 5:52 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Isabel Allende, the House of the Spirits.
Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda.
posted by dreamphone at 6:02 PM on June 5, 2009

-The Life of Pi -a fabulous read. My 15 y/o daughter read it after me and kept screaming "is this TRUE?!!!"
-The Aubrey Maturin series -is great once through. Some of them are great 4 or 5 times through, but not all of them.
-Rebecca -was great about 10 times, but I'm older now.

And adding:
-Reading Lolita in Tehran-it is a memoir, not a novel, but parts of it are stunning
-The Lovely Bones-a haunting story about loss and survival

This is my very first AskMeFi post!!
posted by SLC Mom at 6:11 PM on June 5, 2009

Is it wrong if I pimp Vonnegut's Mother Night--surprisingly poignant, and one of the more straightly-written Vonnegut novels, and what a novel it is--on the green for the nth time?

Seconding anything by Dumas (for all the minor flaws, the man knows his way around giant, engrossing, hugely satisfying ride-into-the-sunset plots) and The Time Traveler's Wife, which takes one sci-fi-ish conceit to the heights of characterization.
posted by shadytrees at 6:13 PM on June 5, 2009

Frankenstein. If you only know Hollywood, you're missing out. It's moody, thrilling, and explores moral issues somewhat ahead of its time.
posted by quarantine at 6:44 PM on June 5, 2009

Very subjective question, but my all time favorite page turners are:
Hard Boiled WOnderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami and
The Fools Progress by Edward Abbey.
posted by Seamus at 7:00 PM on June 5, 2009

The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards.
posted by so much modern time at 7:05 PM on June 5, 2009

Oh, also, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. You will never want it to end.
posted by so much modern time at 7:06 PM on June 5, 2009

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
posted by meggie78 at 7:44 PM on June 5, 2009

Robertson Davies' Fifth Business. Enthralling from the first page; there is not a boring second.
posted by jokeefe at 7:53 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

John le Carré as classy airport pulp? No, really, he is anything but.

His talent is so much more robust than those he's often lumped with at that airport pulp station (Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, etc.) you mention.

Tedious is apt, for some, but for me, he's high challenge. I read him out loud to get the voices he burnishes into each character.

I can honestly think of few authors, living or dead, that possess his power of characterization.

The Mission Song is the most accessible of his recent novels and is quite good.

Please try him again, or maybe watch him for an hour on Charlie Rose.


Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan is another you might enjoy. Funny and literary and just plain great.

Shteyngart's the great-great grandson of Nikolai Gogol.

Yes, that Nikolai Gogol! He of Dead Souls fame.

What's that you say? You haven't read Dead Souls? It's shorter and a lot more fun than War & Peace, if not exactly comparable.


Extra credit.

1. Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess.

Say Burgess and people think Clockwork Orange. Bzzt! His greatest by far is Earthly Powers. It was so good I rationed myself 30 pages a day. The notorious opening line: "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

2. Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater
posted by foooooogasm at 7:53 PM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maxim Gorky: My Apprenticeship

"This work is a dark and terrible portrait of Russia under the tsars at the end of the 19th century. But it shows how an individual can succeed in keeping his self-esteem and escape a certain intellectual death, here mainly through a passion for reading and knowledge."

C.P. Snow: The Masters

"Published in 1951, The Masters is considered "the best academic novel in English". I was also unaware that it is Snow we have to thank for the familiar idiom "the corridors of power". Snow delineates perfectly the privileged, enclosed world of the Cambridge college in 1937 as the fellows gather to elect a new master. The machinations begin as the last master lays dying and never was loyalty, treachery, and ambition so clearly defined with so little distraction from the life that must have been going on outside the college walls."
posted by aquafortis at 9:40 PM on June 5, 2009

Dorothy Dunnett. Two long brilliant series, one set in the 12th I think, one in the 15th century. I bought the Niccolo series in hardback and am deeply hesitant to buy the Lymond ones because they will suck away weeks of my life.

Lindsey Davis, Elizabeth George and Sara Peretsky have long mystery series that are excellent and should be read from the first novel.

I found Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy engrossing, as well. Other books that have seen me standing in the shower trying to wash my hair with one hand while I held the book just out of the spray so I could keep on reading are:

Mary Gentle's Ash series (up to the end) and Grunts
Murakami's Wind-up Bird Chronicles
Geoff Ryman's books, especially the Child Garden
George MacDonald Fraser's books other than the Flashman series. I love those, but have read them so often I can dip in and out of them. His Pyrates and Mr America though had me spellbound.

Those are the ones I have in hardcover on my shelf as books I can read and re-read.

Seriously - Dorothy Dunnett blew my mind. The scope of the books and the characters is enthralling. I also recommend the Aubrey/Maturin books. I have the very last one on my shelf unread so that the series never finishes for me.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:43 PM on June 5, 2009

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt is engrossing and combines modern and historical romance with literary detective work and the unearthing of buried secrets... yum!

Nthing Patrick O'Brian. In addition to being a masterwork that I re-read once a year or so, it also provides a fascinating alternate angle on Jane Austen's world, covering a lot of the stuff that propriety forbade her from writing about.

Someone else recommended Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, which is compelling but deeply depressing. I would suggest instead (or in addition) any of his 'entertainments', such as The Confidential Agent or Ministry of Fear, which are thrilling falls down the cold war era rabbit hole.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The House of Mirth, and The Portrait of a Lady, though the latter two are fairly dark.

I also loved, loved, loved Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees, but if it doesn't grab you right away, don't force it.
posted by sumiami at 10:46 PM on June 5, 2009

Anna karinana
Jane Eyre
Wuthering Heights
Gone with the Wind
Bel Canto
Mistress of Spices
Circle of Friends
posted by fifilaru at 11:08 PM on June 5, 2009

whew! Metafilter, you're so literary!

Another vote for the already-mentioned Bel Canto, many books by Vonnegut, Master and Margarita, Life of Pi, many books by Kundera, War and Peace, many things by Murakami...

And I would add:
White Noise by Don Delillo (and probably you'll like other things by him as well)
Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
What is the What by Dave Eggers
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran
The Remains of the Day and the Unconsoled by Ishiguro
several books by Toni Morrison
several books by James Baldwin
posted by aka burlap at 1:22 AM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Anything by Iain Banks, but especially Complicity, which I read in one sitting
Anything by Tim Willocks but especially Green River Rising, which, you've guessed it, I read in one sitting.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:41 AM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

as an afterthought, might as well throw in a vote for:

Jean Echenoz - eg Cherokee, I'm Off (published as I'm Gone in the US) or Piano

Raymond Queneau - eg Witch Grass, We Always Treat Women Too Well, or Zazie in the Metro.

funny, crazy French.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:45 AM on June 6, 2009

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

And, slightly less classy but compulsively readable: anything by Robertson Davies (start with the Cornish Trilogy).
posted by ourobouros at 6:38 AM on June 6, 2009

foooooogasm and I apparently have similar tastes.

Le Carre is an amazing writer. I was a little skeptical when I read a blurb by Philip Roth hailing A Perfect Spy as "the best British novel of the second half of the twentieth century," but having read it, I couldn't agree more. It is an astonishing, deeply literary page-turner. (In fact, I heard echoes of A Perfect Spy in Roth's I Married a Communist, which is another can't-put-it-down masterpiece.)

And like foooooogasm says, Sabbath's Theater is great. I can't think of any living U.S. writer whose books are so consistently brilliant.
posted by jayder at 8:24 AM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can't believe nobody's mentioned The Historian yet! I'm not generally a fan of creepy-crawly stuff (this is a continuation of the Dracula story) but I was literally up all night. For a good reason :)

I know you don't want to go the sort of Dan Brown route, but The Eight is a wacky-global-historical-conspiracy book that's actually good and doesn't make you want to throw the book across the room.

Not a personal recommendation, but a friend of mine who works in a bookstore swears by Ken Follett. Having seen his books only in the bestseller racks next to the likes of Danielle Steel, I'm a bit skeptical, but I'll probably get to them myself sometime this summer.

I really liked Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books, but they're not really the sort of edge-of-your-seat thick books you're getting here.
posted by Madamina at 10:23 AM on June 6, 2009

Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris (but don't touch any of the awful Hannibal Lecter fanfic novels Harris wrote afterwards).
The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen.
The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Le Carre's George Smiley novels .
Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut.
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood.
No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy.
Canal Dreams, by Iain Banks.
posted by hot soup girl at 2:30 PM on June 6, 2009

London by Edward Rutherfurd
The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
The Books Thief by Markus Zusak
Fortune's Rocks by Anita Shreve
Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Gramercy Park by Paula Cohen
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
posted by shimmerstory at 3:54 PM on June 6, 2009

I'm reading in GermanMeasuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann right now and find it very engaging. It's about Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauß.

I'm glad to see that Burgess' Earthly Powers and Rushdies The Moors Last Sigh have been mentioned already.

I found Harry Mulisch' The Discovery of Heaven a literary pageturner.
posted by jouke at 8:30 AM on June 7, 2009

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold.
posted by crLLC at 2:28 PM on June 8, 2009

Smilla's Sense of Snow.
posted by mecran01 at 7:19 PM on June 10, 2009

seconding Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Worth calling out of work to finish.
posted by maca at 12:14 AM on June 11, 2009


"War and Peace" - 8
Kurt Vonnegut - 7
- "Cat's Cradle" - 2
- "Mother Night" - 1
Salmon Rushdie - 5
- "The Moor's Last Sigh" - 2
Patrick O'Brian - 5
Cormac McCarthy - 5
- "All the Pretty Horses" 1
- "The Road" - 1
- "The Crossing" - 1
- "Blood Meridien" - 2
- "No Country For Old Men" - 1
"Bel Canto" - 5
Stephen King - 5 (though the OP doesn't like King)
- "The Stand" - 2
- "Lisey's Story" - 1
- Gunslinger books - 3
- "It" - 1
Alexander Dumas - 5
- The Musketeer books - 1
- "The Count of Monte Cristo" - 3 (Penguin Classics Edition)
"Life of Pi" - 4
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - 4
-"One Hundred Years of Solitude" - 2
- "Of Love and Other Demons" - 1
Italo Calvino - 4
- "If On A Winter's Night a Traveler" - 1
- "Invisible Cities" - 1
- "Cosmicomics" - 1
- "The Baron in the Tress" - 1
"Geek Love" - 4
Kazuo Ishiguro - 4
- "The Remains of the Day" - 4
- "When We Were Orphans" - 1
- "Never Let Me Go" - 2
- "Unconsoled" - 1
"A Game of Thrones" and the other Ice and Fire books- 4
John Le Carre (even though the OP specifically said no LeCarre) - 4
- George Smiley books - 1
- "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" - 1
- "The Mission Song" - 1
- "A Perfect Spy" - 1
Haruki Murakami - 4
- "Kafka on the Shore" - 2
- "Hard Boiled Wonderland" - 1
- "End of the World" - 1
Umberto Eco - 3
- "Foucault's Pendulum" - 1
- "the Name of the Rose" - 2
- "Baudalino" - 1
"Anna Karenina" - 3
"Rebecca" - 3
Robertson Davies - 3
- "Fifth Business" - 1
- "A Mixture of Frailties" - 1
- The Cornish Trilogy - 1
Michael Chabon - 3
- "Adventures of Cavelier and Clay" - 2
- "Yiddish Policeman's Union" - 1
Neil Gaiman - 3
- "Good Omens" - 1
- "Fragile Things" - 1
- "Smoke and Mirrors" - 1
- "American Gods" - 3
- Sandman Comics - 1
Wilkie Collins - 2
- "The Moonstone" - 1
David Mitchell - 2
- "Cloud Atlass" - 2
"Les Miserables" - 2
Martin Miller - 1
"The Plague" - 1
Margaret Atwood - 2
- "Oryx and Crake" - 1
- "The Blind Assassin" - 1
- "The Handmaid's Tale" - 1
Anthony Trollope - 2
- "The Chronicles of Barsetshire" - 1
Dickens - 2
- "Nicholas Nicholby" - 1
- "David Copperfield" - 2
"Clockers" - 2
George Eliot - 2
- "Daniel Deronda" - 1
"Wind up Bird Chronicles" - 2
Fitzgerald - 2
- "The Great Gatsby" - 1
- "Tender is the Night" - 1
- "This Side of Paradise" - 1
"Wuthering Heights" - 2
"House of Mirth" - 2
Ken Follett - 2
- "Pillers of the Earth" - 1
"Catch 22" - 2
"Gone With the Wind" - 2
"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" - 2
Neil Stephenson - 2
- "Diamond Age" - 1
- "Snow Crash" - 1
- Baroque Cycle - 1
Terry Pratchett - 2
- "Small Gods" - 1
- "Going Postal" - 1
"The Sparrow" - 1
Mark Helprin - 2
"A Soldier of the Great War" - 2
"Winter's Tale" - 2
Jonathan Lethem - 2
- "Motherless Brooklyn" - 2
- "Fortress of Solitude" - 2
Don DeLillo - 2
- "Underworld" - 1
- "White Noise" - 1
Bulgakov - 2
- "The Master and the Margarita" - 2
"The Time Traveler's Wife" - 2
Rohinton Mistry - 2
- "A Fine Balance" - 1
"Earthly Powers" - 2
"Dune" - 2
Michael Ondaatje - 2
- "The English Patient" - 1
"Jane Eyre" - 2
Milan Kundera - 2
"Sabbath's Theatre" - 2
Toni Morrison - 2
Ian Banks - 2
- "Canal Dreams" - 1
"The Poisonwood Bible" - 1
"The Children's Hospital" - 1
"Anthem" 1
"Rain Fall" - 1
"Sacred Games" - 1
"The Way We Live Now" 1
"The House on the Strand" 1
"The Raw Shark Texts" - 1
"Crime and Punishment" - 1
"For Whom the Bell Tolls" - 1
"Vineland" - 1
"James Ellroy" - 1
"The White Tiger" - 1
"A Confereracy of Dunces" - 1
"The Cairo Trilogy" - 1
"Dracula" - 1
"Middlesex" - 1
"A Fraction of a Whole" - 1
"Lonesome Dove" - 1
"The Queen's Gambit" - 1
"The Hustler" - 1
"Watership Down" - 1
"1984" - 1
"Amy and Isabelle" - 1
"Memoirs of a Geisha" - 1
"A Kiss Before Dying" - 1
"The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nightime" - 1
"Catcher in the Rye" - 1
"Rule of the Bone" - 1
"Prep" - 1
"Master Butchers Singing Club" - 1
"The Secret History" - 1
"Bright Lights, Big City" - 1
"Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie" - 1
"The Island of Doctor Moreau" - 1
"The Golden Compass" - 1
"Plain Song" - 1
"She's Come Undone" - 1
"This Perfect Day" - 1
"The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" - 1
"Shadow Divers" Robert Kurson - 1
The Claudius books by Robert Graves - 1
"Vurt" - 1
"Blindess" - 1
John Irving - 1
Douglas Coupland - 1
- "Microserfs" - 1
- "Life After God" - 1
- "Girlfriend in a Coma" - 1
- "Generation X" - 1
- "Shampoo Planet" - 1
Jumpa Lahiri - 1
- "Interpreter of Maladies" - 1
- "Unaccustomed Earth" - 1
- "The Namesake" - 1
Richard Powers - 1
- "The Echo Maker" - 1
"Mutiny on the Bounty" - 1
Agatha Christie - 1
"The Brothers Karamozov" - 1
Kafka - 1
- "The Trial" - 1
- "The Metamorphosis" - 1
Raymond Chandler - 1
"Ivanhoe" - 1
"Killer Angels" - 1
Hyperian books by Dan Simmons - 1
"Childhood's End" - 1
"The Sun Also Rises" - 1
Ian McEwan - 1
- "Atonement" - 1
- "On Cheshil Beach" - 1
Junot Diaz
Carlos Ruiz Zafron - 1
- "The Shadow of the Wind" - 1
Salvador Placenta - 1
- "The People of Paper" - 1
"House of Leaves" - 1
"Song of Solomon" - 1
Dennis Lehane - 1
Sarah Waters - 1
"The Air We Breathe" - 1
"Sometimes a Great Notion" - 1
"Empire Falls" - 1
Mario Vargas Llosa - 1
- "The War of the End of the World" - 1
- "Feast of the Goat" - 1
"Otherwise, Shantaram" - 1
Upamanayu Chatterjee - 1
Vikram Chandra - 1
Daniel Pennac's Belleville series - 1
"Shogun" - 1
"The Prestige" - 1
Phillip K. Dick's Valis trilogy - 1
"Little, Big" - 1
The Gormenghast Trilogy - 1
"The Cure for Death by Lightning" - 1
Hermann Hesse - 1
"Pale Fire" - 1
Sherlock Holmes stories - 1
"The House of the Spirits" - 1
"Oscar and Lucinda" - 1
"The Lovely Bones" - 1
"Lolita in Tehran" - 1
"Frankenstein" - 1
"The Fool's Progress" - 1
"The Memory Keeper's Daughter" - 1
"Lucifer's Hammer" - 1
"Absurdistan" - 1
"Dead Souls" - 1
"My Apprenticeship" - 1
"The Masters" - 1
Dorothy Dunnett - 1
Linsey Davis - 1
Eizabeth George - 1
Sarah Peretsky - 1
Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy - 1
Mary Gentle - 1
Geoff Ryman - 1
George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series - 1
"Possession: A Romance" - 1
"Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" - 1
"Portrait of a Lady" - 1
"Mistress of Spices" - 1
"Circle of Friends" - 1
James Baldwin - 1
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" - 1
"What is the What" - 1
Tim Willocks - 1
Jean Echenoz - 1
Raymond Queneau - 1
"A Suitable Boy" - 1
"The Historian" - 1
"The Eight" - 1 (though the OP doesn't like Dan Brown)
Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books - 1
"Silence of the Lambs" - 1
"The Corrections" - 1
"London by Edward" Rutherfurd
"The Tea Rose" - 1
"Year of Wonders" - 1
"The Books Thief" - 1
"Fortune's Rocks" - 1
"Apathy and Other Small Victories" - 1
"The Thorn Birds" - 1
"Gramercy Park" - 1
"East of Eden" - 1
"Measuring the World" - 1
"The Discovery of Heaven" - 1
"Carter Beats the Devil" - 1
"Smilla's Sense of Snow" - 1
posted by grumblebee at 8:57 AM on June 11, 2009 [10 favorites]

A lot of novels we know today were originally published in serial form.
Vanity Fair and Kim were fun and engaging.

Couldn't vouch for the guy, but I burned through VS Naipaul's Bend in the River and Guerrillas.

More recently, Ed Park's Personal Days.
posted by minkll at 11:08 PM on September 5, 2009

I'm late to the party. Robertson Davies: Fifth Business, The Manticore and World of Wonders (a trilogy). Best not to read them back to back, though.
posted by cranberrymonger at 3:23 PM on February 7, 2010

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