Book Me Quickly
May 20, 2010 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Need something engrossing for about 14 hours of travel, pronto.

Help. I have a long, long travel day tomorrow and seem to have hit EMPTY on my things to read tank. Unexpected.

I'll take fiction, whether lit or historical, scifi or anything else, as well as nonfiction, humor... heck pretty much anything as long as it stands a good chance of sucking me in and occupying my brain for a long stretch.

Writers I might recommend to myself, knowing myself, if I hadn't already read everything they have published: Vonnegut, Robbins, DeLillo, DFW, Pynchon, Rushdie, GGMarquez, Coupland, WGibson, Atwood, Stephenson.

It's been a rough couple of days (family stress, travel, more stress) so something non-depressing and most of all engrossing would be nice. I have an iPod touch and laptop with me, and internet until tomorrow, so I can download anything if I do it in advance.

Amazon/Kindle books are okay, either text or audio, don't care which... as are any free or cheap PDFs or MP3s or other things I can DL or cache for the trip.

Thanks in advance, smart people!
posted by rokusan to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Not reading material, but 9 beet stretch or The CONET Project are the sort of thing that long travel days are made for; I recommended them to a friend who took the Amtrak from New York to LA.
posted by holgate at 9:58 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

You could try Vargas Llosa's War of the End of the World, which I found completely engrossing.
posted by vacapinta at 10:00 PM on May 20, 2010

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay engrossed me for quite a few hours. It isn't the happiest thing I've ever read, but I wouldn't call it depressing.
posted by MadamM at 10:01 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, duh. Cloud Atlas and/or Ghostwritten. (The former being a better book, the latter being topical appropriate; both are magnificent.)

Dark horse candidate? Little, Big.
posted by minervous at 10:01 PM on May 20, 2010

The Bugle is a great satirical news podcast put out by John Oliver (of The Daily Show) and Andy Zaltzman. It's published weekly and there are 115 episodes so far, so just the past several months worth would easily last the whole trip. Alternatively you could start at the beginning.

iTunes has episodes going back a ways, but for older episodes you can use the archive menu on The Bugle website ("hear previous bugles").
posted by jedicus at 10:04 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you read any Discworld, by Terry Pratchet?

They are to fantasy what Hitchhiker's Guide is to sci-fi. But, in all fairness to Mr. Adams, I think that the Discworld books are far, far better stories. They're funny less on the whacky-shit level, and more on the satire and wordplay level. Furthermore, they're entirely non-depressing, light, and totally and completely engrossing--to the point where I generally finish them in about two days because I can't put them down.

The Color of Magic is the first Discworld book, although I don't think it's nearly as funny as the later ones. Also, the collection as a whole doesn't go in any particular order. Instead, there are subseries involving particular characters which have a chronological order. Here's a reading order map that makes what I mean more clear.

I recommend the Night Watch subseries (Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch and Thud!). They're mysteries, have some of the most excellent characters, deal with the deeply entertaining city of Ankh-Morpork, and are medium-high to high in funniness quotient. I introduced my wife to the Discworld with Guards! Guards!, and, despite not having read anything else, promptly fell in love with Pratchet's work as a whole.
posted by Netzapper at 10:09 PM on May 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I can't seem to find a digital edition (admittedly not searching all that hard iykwim), but if you can track down a copy of William Gaddis' The Recognitions it'll suck you right in. The beginning's a bit slow, but the whole thing is rich on every page like the best of Pynchon and DFW.

Lighter fare, more along the lines of Stephenson's shorter books, but no less engrossing was Dexter Palmer*s recent book The Dream of Perpetual Motion. (Kindle edition linked)

My absolute favorite downtime video (I fit all of season one on my smartphone!) watching choice is James Burke's Connections.

Also, here's a bouquet of unused parentheses: (((((((((((((((∪)))))))))))))))
* MeFi's own!
posted by carsonb at 10:12 PM on May 20, 2010

Ever tried Dickens? "Bleak House." NOT a depressing slog through poor houses, but a gripping story of endless lawsuits as the lawyers eat up the principal, forbidden love, secret love, unrequited love, neighborhood feuds, shipwrecks -- man, this book has everything! "David Copperfield," "Great Expectations" and "Hard Times" also excellent. These were originally written as serials, and if you can get into the swing of the language, they will grab you and not let you go.

Don't know how fast you read, but any of Donald E. Westlake's books starring John Dortmunder and his friends should hold you for a whole day. Twisty plots, funny gags, and crystal clear writing will keep you reading "just one more chapter...."

Any Thomas Perry book at all, although the Jane Whitefield books are my favs. "Postwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus" by Orson Scott Card.

All these books are available on Kindle.

Hope these help you have a good trip!
posted by kestralwing at 10:14 PM on May 20, 2010

House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende
posted by bluedaisy at 10:21 PM on May 20, 2010

I read two books recently which really hooked me in and kept me reading long beyond when I should have been doing other things. Fluke by Christopher Moore and The Philosopher's Apprentice by James Morrow. Probably most like Atwood and Stephenson in your list and definitely engrossing.

The audiobooks of Terry Pratchett's work are great if you lean that way. Particularly the ones read by Nigel Planer. We got the mp3 disks out of the library but you can probably buy them for download somewhere. Lots of podcasts these days offer one free download to with a keyword from their podcast (um, I think I've heard the ads on The Moth and TAL recently), that might be a good way to snag a couple of free books to listen to.

I also love the Science of Discworld books for a reasonably light and general science nonfiction book, the first one in particular covers a bunch of different things about how the world works.
posted by shelleycat at 10:21 PM on May 20, 2010

The Steig Larsson trilogy (Girl with the dragon tattoo) are surprisingly unputdownable.
posted by at 10:34 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

John Fowles, The Magus and/or The French Lieutenant's Woman.
posted by chinston at 10:51 PM on May 20, 2010

The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay? The Yiddish Policeman's Union, both my Michael Chabon, are pretty engrossing. You might also like The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander.

Also, World War Z.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:51 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Noirish sci-fi: Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan
Contemporary sci-fi: The Player of Games by Iain M Banks. I love all his books, this is the first sci-fi and a great page-turner too. My other favourite by him is Consider Phlebas, which is space opera I guess. But not the trite, badly written stuff you usually find.

All sci-fi recs from me, because sci-fi is my weak spot, and these three are serious page turners!
posted by Joh at 11:07 PM on May 20, 2010

I really like the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. I think Mr. Nix has made one of the more engrossing fantasy worlds out there.

Sure, it's young adult fiction possibly also geared towards girls, but it's good! I got the recommendation for it from a (male) friend and read through all three of the books in as fast as I could get them from the library. And then I read them again about a year later.

Discworld books are great if you enjoy groaning at puns and want something fluffy and silly and yet somehow sometimes thoughtful and meaningful. It is another excellently put-together fantasy world.
posted by that girl at 11:08 PM on May 20, 2010

i am finding craig ferguson's "american on purpose" to be hilarious so far, and it just came out in paperback, so light, too. heh.
posted by koroshiya at 11:12 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

For 14 hours I would go for the 700+pagers you may not read if you don't read them in one massive slog (ymmv). These are the long airplane ride reads I have enjoyed:

Thomas Pynchon's V
Ulysses by James Joyce
2nding Bleak House by Dickens
Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Tristram Shandy by Sterne
1001 Arabian Nights (translated by Burton)
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Gutenberg Project has the older works, of course.
posted by benzenedream at 11:37 PM on May 20, 2010

This is a most singular problem, and though he be a bit eccentric I am confident I have just the man to solve it. Quick, into that hansom cab! 221B Baker Street, on the double!

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: First series of Holmes stories; best stories include "The Red-Headed League" and "The Speckled Band."

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes: Second series; best stories include "Silver Blaze" and "The Musgrave Ritual."

The Hound of the Baskervilles: The best Holmes novel! Londoners would queue up by the dozens at newsstands for the latest issue of The Strand magazine when this was being serialized...sounds like just the thing to make it through a long day of travel.

All links above are to free Kindle downloads of the books.
posted by cirripede at 11:44 PM on May 20, 2010

The Broken Teaglass.

Also, yeah, The Abhorsen Trilogy is great.
posted by gudrun at 12:38 AM on May 21, 2010

I would defintely definitely second Terry Pratchett. The novels are clever, fun, engrossing, and just a bit escapist (which sounds like it would fit the bill). They've always been perfect for travelling for me - I mean, I get to the airport and decide that I don't really fancy reading the slightly more academic things that I've dutifully put in my bag for the entire long haul flight so I inevitably stop at the bookshop and pick up some new Pratchett....

As for non-fiction, Malcolm Gladwell could suit. Or lots of varied magazines - just go down to a newsagent and pick up a stack that could include things you are interested in, things you've always wanted to learn a bit more about, and things that are fluff/fun.
posted by lumiere at 1:32 AM on May 21, 2010

A Game of Thrones from A Song of Ice and Fire series. George RR Martin.
posted by iamabot at 1:33 AM on May 21, 2010

I would recommend staying away from Pratchett. Some love his work, some hate it... I can't stand it. I want to like it but the prose just sticks in my throat somehow.

Peter Watts (of recent US border kerfuffle fame) has his works online under a CC license. I recommend Blindsight (nominated for a Hugo award in '06) and Starfish. Starfish is the first in a trilogy, so you might want to grab the others too as they're free. Well crafted, hard, noir science fiction with interesting and believable characters.
posted by handee at 1:56 AM on May 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, guys. I'm downloading a couple of these now.

(I can read Metafilter to kill boring hours when there's Internet, sure but it's useless I'm off the grid. When are they gonna print a book version of this thing?)
posted by rokusan at 2:04 AM on May 21, 2010

Response by poster: Also, off to bed and then gone so I won't see any later suggestions. But I'll check back anyway!
posted by rokusan at 2:05 AM on May 21, 2010

On the humorous / sci-fi side, if you haven't read the Douglas Adams 'hitchhikers guide to the galaxy' series, they're an easy read, not depressing, and I've often gotten in a state of not putting the books down. And viral, so should be easily obtained in e-book form.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 3:08 AM on May 21, 2010

If you want something engaging and intelligent but doesn't necessarily require a lot of thought on your end, then you should definitely pick up some Terry Pratchett.

I'd recommend starting with Equal Rites, Guards! Guards!, Wyrd Sisters, and The Light Fantastic.

Of course, this is predicated on your not being familiar with Pratchett, which you very well may be.
posted by zizzle at 3:25 AM on May 21, 2010

You listen to the Savage Lovecast by Dan Savage, yes? One of the best podcasts out there.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:29 AM on May 21, 2010

Two of the longer books I've enjoyed are "Cloudsplitter" by Russell Banks (historical fiction about John Brown, and I'm not normally a historical fiction guy) and "Forever" by Pete Hamill.
posted by Atom12 at 6:44 AM on May 21, 2010

If you haven't read Iain M. Banks, I recommend that you get your hands on all of his Culture novels. They aren't really a series (if you don't like that sort of thing), so much as a series of standalone books in the same universe. You can read them in any order, but I recommend starting with Excession.

Great combination of light, engrossing SF and fantastic writing.
posted by 256 at 8:15 AM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I picked up Karl Marlantes's "Matterhorn" two days ago and haven't been able to go to sleep on time due to staying up till 4 am every night. Absolutely incredible Vietnam War book. Huge, engrossing, devastating. It's incredible.
posted by mixer at 8:26 AM on May 21, 2010

Thirding Terry Pratchett. Also, during a blue patch several months ago I blazed through a dozen Agatha Christie books, and found them to be pretty ideal for the task-- which was surprising. I've never been interested in that genre, but it definitely occupied my brain...
posted by asimplemouse at 10:10 AM on May 21, 2010

Hilary Mantel's The Place of Greater Safety (hist.lit./French revolution) is unputdownable, as is her new one, Wolf Hall. Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo etc.), likewise. And I am fourthing Terry Pratchett, and would suggest maybe starting with his Neil Gaiman collaboration, Good Omens.
posted by caligari1 at 8:26 PM on May 21, 2010

Douglas Adams has a lesser known non-fiction about travel and endangered animals called "Last Chance to See" that I lovelovelove. Bill Bryson has some great, funny travel stories, plus "A Short History of Nearly Everything," which is good if you like science and humor. Both of these authors do great readings on the audio versions of their books.
I just reread Orson Scott Card's books and really enjoyed them, too.
posted by lorax at 11:18 PM on May 21, 2010

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