What great novel have you read recently?
March 15, 2010 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Dear MeFites, what fabulous book recommendations can you give me for a week of becoming one with the sand? I will have about 5 days in paradise and my plan is to read as many books as possible.

I prefer fiction to non-fiction, and I really cannot handle horror or anything too scary. I have recently read "The Song is You" which I loved. Favorite novelists include John Irving, Milan Kundera, Joyce Carol Oates, Barbara Kingsolver... But I have read all of Irving's work as well as Kundera's. Haven't made my way through everything by Oates yet (given that she writes something new every 4 months or so!).

I'm also open to having my first airplane novel be something a little more "one night stand"-esque. I have started vacations reading things like "The Firm" and "Pillars of the Earth" -- there's really nothing like a gripping, fast, easy to delve into novel to get me in the mood for a week of doing nothing but turning pages and turning over... I am a fast reader so I plan on bringing about 9-10 books with me (and as the week progresses more thought-provoking fare will definitely be welcome).

Thanks so much!
posted by ohyouknow to Writing & Language (31 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
For a good mindfuck set on a tropical isle, I'll recommend The Magus by John Fowles.
posted by JaredSeth at 11:26 AM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When I first started Donna Tartt's The Secret History, people stopped me on the subway to express jealousy that I was reading the book for the first time. No wonder: it was so engrossing that I inhaled it over a day.

Books that are similarly compelling: Chris Cleave's Little Bee, Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. The last book is enormously sad, but maybe if I'd taken a break from it long enough to eat a decent meal I wouldn't have been so knocked down by the ending.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:33 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. I read dozens of books a year of all genres and this one has remained memorable long after its final pages. This book begs to be read. Promise that after you finish it to pass it on?
posted by BigBwana at 11:33 AM on March 15, 2010

Have you read any Richard Russo? Some of his writing can be similar to Irving's. My favorite (and his best-known) is Empire Falls.

If you're looking for something all-consuming but well-written, I'd recommend Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie McDonald. A gorgeous book.

(I wouldn't bother with Barbara Kingsolver's latest, Lacuna -- I found it really dull.)
posted by cider at 11:36 AM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: The authors you mentioned are all my favorites, too, except Kundera (whom I haven't read, but will have to now). My favorite airplane/beach novelists are Jodi Picoult (I'd recommend The Pact or Nineteen Minutes, though I have liked most of her books), Chris Bohjalian (Midwives), or Carol Cassella's Oxygen: A Novel. All of these I found impossible to put down.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:38 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend Paul Theroux's The Elephanta Suite or Geoff Dyer's Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi.
posted by mattbucher at 11:38 AM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I was up all night. She has a new book out called The Swan Thieves, too.

Have you read the Stieg Larsson books (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo et. al. -- the second one is about to come out in paperback on the 23rd and the third is about to be released in the US)? The first one was great, but it does have a violent aspect, both physically and sexually, that might be just over the line for a beach read. But it didn't get overly bad for me, because everybody who needed to get saved got saved and everybody who needed to get in trouble got in trouble.

The Eight is like The Da Vinci Code, if Dan Brown didn't deserve to get kicked in the head every ten minutes for being such an awful writer. Katherine Neville just released the sequel to The Eight called The Fire.

When you get into the still-gripping-but-more-thought-provoking time, The Sparrow is fantastic. Kind of similar to Avatar in some ways -- citizens of Earth interact with creatures on a similar-to-Earth planet as they suss out whether it would be suitable for habitation -- except that... well, let's just say that Avatar is my cinematic Da Vinci Code, and there you go. And, again, it has a sequel -- Children of God.
posted by Madamina at 11:44 AM on March 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

I haven't read any of the authors you listed, but I really liked Jane Eyre when I read it a few months ago.
posted by wondermouse at 11:45 AM on March 15, 2010

Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge by Evan Connell are, by far, my two favorite fiction novels. The stories are written not as a single flowing storyline but short vignettes that represent the lives of a upper-middle class American couple. I cannot recommend the books enough.
posted by thebestsophist at 11:58 AM on March 15, 2010

I read Corelli's Mandolin on a beach in Thailand in five days once. It was about perfect.

PS. Avoid reading The Beach at all costs. It's concentrated tropical paradise mood ruination.
posted by missmobtown at 12:04 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Middlesex is the novel I would take with me if I were stranded on a desert island and could only read one book for the rest of my life.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:08 PM on March 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Read Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters. It's the best book ever.
posted by chunking express at 12:16 PM on March 15, 2010

My wife says Sea of Poppies is the best book she's read in a while.
posted by chunking express at 12:18 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're not into scary, I'd skip "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", I had to put it down less than halfway through (I am more easily scared than almost anybody, your mileage may vary.) The best thing I've read recently is The Dream of Perpetual Motion, by Metafilter's own Dexter Palmer.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:28 PM on March 15, 2010

I just finished and loved both of these :

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Both really clever interesting takes on magic/fantasy with fascinatingly well-thought-out worlds. Name of the Wind is more in the swords+sorcery vein, and Johnathan Strange is more about Victorian-y 'English Magic'.
posted by frankdrebin at 12:38 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nick Hornby's High Fidelity is hilarious and easy to read in an afternoon
posted by lizbunny at 12:44 PM on March 15, 2010

Lev Grossman's The Magicians would be a great beach read. Think Harry Potter meets The Secret History (mentioned upthread) meets Less Than Zero meets C.S. Lewis.

OK, so by the end you want to slap the main character. But basically, really fun and totally engrossing.
posted by kestrel251 at 12:53 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is fantastic. With the exception of Jane Eyre and Middlesex I haven't read any of your suggestions yet -- but I can't wait to dig in!
posted by ohyouknow at 12:59 PM on March 15, 2010

I read People of the Book as a summer lazing book. It's, as the name would suggest, a great book for people who love books.
posted by chatongriffes at 1:05 PM on March 15, 2010

Very, very long, but engrossing: Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games.

Kate Atkinson's novels are a lot of fun. You might enjoy her detective trilogy about PI Jackson Brodie, Case Histories, One Good Turn, and When Will There Be Good News?

Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger is creepy, but not in a full-blown AAAARRRRGGGH sort of way. Of Waters' other novels, I enjoyed Fingersmith the most.

Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.

Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls are two of the best historical novels I've read in some time, but there's a high gloom-and-doom quotient in both of them (especially Redemption Falls).

There's this historical subsubgenre about magicians, of which Carter Beats the Devil is one of the more enjoyable.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:22 PM on March 15, 2010

Just started reading A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz. Phenomenal book, so far, and if the critics are right, it won't let up. It's apparently got a bit of globetrotting; it's funny as cuss; Steve Toltz reminds me of Roald Dahl in scope, humor, and storytelling ability.

However, it's a little misanthropic so far, and almost dementedly funny -- on a couple of occasions, I've turned to the back cover to examine the author's picture and say to him, "you're a sick, funny bastard." If these things put you off, then...
posted by the NATURAL at 1:39 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never read The Song is You, but the Egyptologist, by the same author, is strong, moves quick, is gripping, etc. It's also very funny at times.

I just read Angels by Denis Johnson and it was also very good.
posted by dervish at 3:46 PM on March 15, 2010

If you love John Irving, you may want to read Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum if you haven't already. If I remember correctly, the Tin Drum was Irving's favorite novel and he learned German just to read the novel in it's original language.
posted by eisenkr at 3:57 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm late to the party, but I'm going to jump in and suggest my all-time favorite book anyhow: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. It takes a few chapters to get into, but once you hit that point, it's terribly difficult to put it down. Seriously, an amazing book.
posted by MeghanC at 4:17 PM on March 15, 2010

Did you say paradise? Paradise News by David Lodge is humorous and serious in turns and one of the themes of the book is how Hawaii is made up to be a paradise on earth and tourists prepare themselves for a perfect holiday, which obviously doesn't exist. He may not be a stylist, but he's funny, considerate, can create a character and knows how to make you turn a page. Give him a try.
posted by ersatz at 4:17 PM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: Two recent reads that I loved and highly recommend are Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at The Bottom of the Pie and Martin Zusak's I Am The Messenger. I also think Tess Gerritsen and Charlaine Harris make for entertaining, fast reading. I could go on and on, but those are my first thoughts. Enjoy!
posted by katemcd at 7:55 PM on March 15, 2010

Response by poster: So far the total for all of these great recommendations (on Amazon) is close to $200! Impressive!

I can just hear my mom's voice telling me that money should never be an option when it comes to literature... Or perhaps it's simply time for me to get a library card. At any rate, these are all definitely finding a way into my brain.

Keep 'em coming!
posted by ohyouknow at 10:43 PM on March 15, 2010

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

Absolutely beautiful book. It is a bit on the long side, but completely worth it.
posted by pwicks at 7:16 AM on March 16, 2010

Seconding Lev Grossman's The Magicians. Most of the time the characters are getting drunk, and the rest of the time they do magic.
posted by MeowForMangoes at 12:06 PM on March 16, 2010

YES! to:

The Magicians
Winter's Tale
Sarah Waters
The Sparrow

I would also suggest:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao--kind of violent but really so good.
This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams--online ARG becomes REAL LIFE!!
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield--gothic but not too creepy, just right for a beach read
The Brothers K by David James Duncan--a family saga with baseball (but not dull)
Remainder by Tom McCarthy--a weird little book about a guy who has a head injury and then reality doesn't seem real so he tries to reconstruct it...well, it's hard to explain but it's awesome
The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt--NOT related to the Tom Cruise movie, and not really about samurai.
posted by exceptinsects at 7:36 PM on March 16, 2010

Response by poster: Okay I'm still on vacation but wanted to stop by to say thank you. I'm halfway through the eleven books I brought with me, and so far the favorites were Oxygen (by a mile) followed by the Pact. But that's just us (and so far). Thanks again. My friends keep asking me how on earth I was able to compile such a diverse pile of novels at a moment's notice, and I've been (inexpertly) trying to explain the wonders of MetaFilter...
posted by ohyouknow at 8:04 PM on April 1, 2010

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