Help me pick a work of modern literature to write about.
February 23, 2010 9:24 PM   Subscribe

What novel, published in the last five years, will keep my interest and be not-too-overly-verbose as to make my job harder (I have to write a paper discussing it's literary merits)?

For my AP Literature class, I am required to read a novel, published in the last five years (from 2005 onward), and write a paper discussing its literary merits. I'm already quite an avid reader, and I have a large list of prospective books -- so hopefully the hive mind will help me narrow it down.

Some Guidelines:
*Has to be published after 2005, however, it can't be a work published posthumously, way after it was written (think the "new" Nabokov work).
*If the book was written in 2004, example, in Japanese, but was published in English in 2005, I CAN write about that.

Books I am considering (but am not limited to!):
-Until I Find You (John Irving) - I am a big fan of his work, but I wonder, even with his more popular works (Cider House, Owen Meany) if they would be easily discussed in a literary context, even if they could be considered works of literature.
-Kafka On the Shore (Haruki Murakami) - I've read a few of his short stories, and I'm a fan, but I worry that it might go over my head, with all the "metaphysical" aspects.
-Inheritance of Loss (Desai) - Heard a few good things about it, but that's about it.
-The Sea (Banville) - Also have heard a few good things about it, and it sounds interesting.
-Man Booker Prize winners or Pulitzer Prize winners
-Any "worthy" (I know, I know) book you've enjoyed.

Again, thanks so much for your help. Let me know if you've read any of these books, and feel free to recommend books that YOU particularly liked. They don't have to be overtly "scholarly".
posted by makethemost to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what you mean by "merits," but I think Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin" is an amazing novel.
posted by R_Kamidees at 9:34 PM on February 23, 2010

Well, 2666 is damn long, but it'd hold the interest of a mashed potato and it came out in English translation in late 2009. I couldn't put it down, and had terrifying, disturbing dreams the whole time I was reading it.
posted by crinklebat at 9:34 PM on February 23, 2010

Yeah Murakami definitely _won't_ be over your head. I thought Kafka was a bit over-rated, not his best, but certainly it would be easy to write about.
posted by smoke at 9:35 PM on February 23, 2010

Kamidees: that is also a book I was considering very seriously, but there are a few other people in my class that chose it, and I suppose I wanted to take the road not taken. But your suggestion is well received.
posted by makethemost at 9:36 PM on February 23, 2010

+1 for 2666, especially the first and last parts, though I hesitate to call it "not overly verbose."

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell would be a good one, I think, but it was published Sept 2004 according to Wikipedia, so I guess that's out.

Year of the Flood? I quite enjoyed it and it seems fairly relevant to several on-going debates in the public discourse.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:40 PM on February 23, 2010

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a book I loved whose narrative style is both extremely flashy and extremely readable. It is certainly "literary." I think there's a lot to say about how and why it was put together.

It's about a high school senior, which I assume is what you are -- that could be a point for or against it, I suppose. She is brilliant but rootless, possibly in more ways than one. I thought it was really interesting.
posted by grobstein at 9:46 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach?

I've generally hated Ian McEwan's books, but On Chesil Beach was lovely: it charts the very early relationship between a newly married couple and provides an ambiguous but fascinating view of their pasts (together and before they met).
posted by prettypretty at 9:48 PM on February 23, 2010

Your instincts about Irving are right, it's not literature.

Have you heard of Dave Eggers? What Is The What is amazing - it' about a child soldier remembering his struggles to get out of Sudan.

If you end up cruising the prize winning lists, don't forget about Orange, which usually features contemporary writers.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 10:04 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll second prettypretty's suggestion of McEwan's On Chesil Beach—totally readable, humane and complex, and a fairly short read. My favorite by McEwan.
posted by cirripede at 10:12 PM on February 23, 2010

You could consider Philip Roth's more recent novels (probably the ones that aren't part "collections" about a particular character.)
posted by sentient at 11:25 PM on February 23, 2010

T. Coraghesson Boyle is very readable, yet literary author.

I just realized that I haven't read any novels published since around 2000 (White Teeth, the Corrections).
posted by KokuRyu at 11:25 PM on February 23, 2010

Thank you everyone. I have decided to go with The Sea, simply because the themes (from what I've read about the book) interest me. However, your numerous suggestions will not go unnoticed. I'll probably get to these books sometime soon. Thanks!
posted by makethemost at 11:25 PM on February 23, 2010

Just putting in a late vote for What Is The What, mentioned above. As well as being one of the most moving accounts of a civilian experience of war I have ever read, it raises interesting questions about the nature of biography and fiction. Well worth an essay, but even more worth a read.
posted by him at 1:26 AM on February 24, 2010

Your instincts about Irving are right, it's not literature.

Wait, why is Irving not literature?
posted by Omnomnom at 2:10 AM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your instincts about Irving are right, it's not literature.


It might not be what you consider literature, but finding it unfit to discuss its literary merits? I am confident that it is possible to write about the merits of any Romance novel from the airport shop - you might not find a lot of positive things to say about it and that will still be a good exercise in literary criticism.
posted by Glow Bucket at 2:35 AM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Feh. Snobbery. Irving fits most of the definitions of literature--or even all of them, depending on your wholly subjective opinion of his prose. Seconding what Glow Bucket is saying--as a teacher, I would have loved to read a paper where a student defines what "literary merit" means and analyzes what about a book does or does not meet this criteria.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:09 AM on February 24, 2010

Could you describe a little better what you mean by "not-too-overly-verbose as to make my job harder"? I'm getting caught there because I would have thought that phrase would have ruled out Kafka on the Shore, what with all it's blahdeblah about Hegel, and Col. Sanders, and whatnot.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:58 AM on February 24, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz is wonderful, I can't recommend it enough.
posted by Kattullus at 6:15 AM on February 24, 2010

Throwing my hat in the ring for Zadie Smith's On Beauty, published in 2005.
posted by thepalephantom at 6:52 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really liked "When We Were Romans" by Matthew Kneale, which has a memorable precocious boy as narrator, told in a very authentic voice. It's both a sweet growing-up story and a harrowing tale of mental illness.

(Sucks that both Orhan Pamuk's "Snow" and Russell Banks' "The Darling" are both 2004 books. Pity.)
posted by jeffmshaw at 7:37 AM on February 24, 2010

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Restless by William Boyd

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

Those are three of my absolute favourites of the last few years.
posted by fso at 7:56 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Gentlemen of the Road" by Michael Chabon is a sort of pastiche of old adventure stories, but very well-styled (as are, I guess, all of his books). It's not quite genre literature* but it would really lend itself to writing on that angle. Also, it's a tremendously fun read, and would provide a nice change from people writing about heavy, writerly books.

* OK, it kind of is, but it's still awesome. And when I used a book like this as an undergrad, I never heard a professor complain.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:13 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

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