I like my books like I like my art, postmodern.
July 22, 2010 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Another request for book recommendations. My snowflakeness? After years of not having a huge reading appetite, I think I understand that I really dig postmodern writing.

Books I've enjoyed recently:

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Loved the blurring of author as a character and persona, awareness of writing and word choices, and the reader as participant and character. Also enjoyed the setting and playful nature. Only slightly ashamed at reading kids books.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Also enjoyed the author as a character (err, sorry, coincidentally having the same name), awareness of readers and unique storytelling. Digging the magical realism.

The Manual of Detection By Jedediah Berry. Liked the quirky riffs off noir style pulp. You might call the writing style cerebral, or literary.

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine. Was enjoyed, but maybe a bit too maximalist. I could have really used a flow chart or a family tree or three.

Things that will kill a book for me:

Science fiction which feels the need to "prove" or at least make plausible crazy plot devices. I don't care how the human-vaporizer gun works, I want to know the implications of a society that has that technology, what issues you're going to explore with it, etc.

Junk-food books. All respect to my mom's murder mysteries, or dad's sci-fi pulp. I'm not really looking for books solely as entertainment, like Dan Brown books. I'll go watch an episode of Jersey Housewives for shocking plots and outrageous characters. I like books that are literarily written, but enjoyable.

And, as a counter to that last point, I'm not a huge fan of literary grand-standing, or imposing unlikeable works. Hemingway makes me fall asleep, Kafka, gouge my eyes out. I'm not saying I need a happy ending, but I'm not particularly interested in literary masturbation. I don't need to look at how awesome your writing is.

Shallow female characters. 'nuff said.

So, there we have it. I apologize for seeming snobby, but well, thats what these kinds of questions are all about after all. I'd appreciate any help in getting me to love reading again. Thanks!
posted by fontophilic to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
You might like David Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
posted by backwards guitar at 11:12 AM on July 22, 2010

Have you tried any Paul Auster?
posted by lakersfan1222 at 11:18 AM on July 22, 2010

This is probably off-topic since it's not postmodern or anything, but your sci-fi comment made me think of Ursula K. LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven. She's very much about telling a story that happens to be sci-fi rather than explaining how everything in the world is supposed to work.
posted by ymendel at 11:19 AM on July 22, 2010

Paul Auster: The Book of Illusions, or The New York Trilogy.

I am pretty sure he's your man
posted by lakersfan1222 at 11:19 AM on July 22, 2010

Iain M. Banks is sort of a go-to guy for Science Fiction that is more about the society and the culture (heh) then about how the ray guns work (although I wasn't wild about his latest novel).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:40 AM on July 22, 2010

David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest is the pinnacle of postmodern literature, in my opinion, though it has few of the qualities you specifically mentioned, and it's also 1100 pages long, so it's probably not a good starting point. It's something to work towards, though.

A similar work in scope is Roberto Bolano's 2666, which is absolutely brilliant, though, again, doesn't use a lot of the devices you mentioned enjoying. Still brilliant.

Nabokov's Pale Fire is a brilliant (though often dry) book. The titular Pale Fire is a 1000 line poem allegedly written by a man named John Shade - Shade has died, and the actual 'novel' takes the form of notations on the poem written by a self-appointed (and possibly insane) literary executor named Charles Kinbote. Kinbote claims to be a deposed king, and he believes that the poem is actually about his life, though all evidence points to the contrary, and it's sort of a fascinating book. Like I said, it can get really, really dry, but it's still awesome.

Mark. Z Danielewski's House of Leaves is sort of a postmodern take on the horror novel, and, well, it's definently postmodern. It plays with the layout of the text a lot - here's a picture of one of the craziest examples, though it does a lot of other interesting stuff, too. A lot of people say it's tremendously scary (though I am not one of those people), so if that possibility turns you off, reconsider - especially if you have any sort of phobias involving of labyrinths, closed in spaces, or the dark.

Vonnegut if, of course, brilliant, especially Slaughterhouse-Five. You owe it to yourself to read that novel if you haven't.

Those are my favorites, but, of course, there's always more.
posted by JimBennett at 11:40 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I haven't yet read the books you've mentioned, but a couple of things popped out at me:

"awareness of readers and unique storytelling" reminds me of The French Lieutenant's Women by John Fowles. From the wiki entry:

En route, Fowles the novelist discourses upon the difficulties of controlling the characters, and offers analyses of differences in 19th-century customs and class, the theories of Charles Darwin, the poetry of Matthew Arnold, Lord Tennyson, and the literature of Thomas Hardy. He questions the role of the author — when speaking of how the Charles character “disobeys” his orders; the characters have discrete lives of their own in the novel.

Also "magical realism" and "I could have really used a flow chart or a family tree or three." leads me to recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Thankfully, Marquez does provide a sprawling family tree. You'll need it to tell all the characters apart. Many of them have almost identical names.
posted by marsha56 at 11:40 AM on July 22, 2010

My girlfriend reminded me to recommend The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, which is really short and pretty amazing.
posted by JimBennett at 11:45 AM on July 22, 2010

If you dig magical realism, you need to check out Haruki Murakami.
posted by spinto at 11:45 AM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I actually just recommended George Saunders in another thread recently:

One of the few writers who can actually make me laugh out loud. Here's "I CAN SPEAK!", the first story in the collection In Persuasion Nation. If you like it, consider picking up the book.

His stories are generally about the sort of bizarre state of modern consumerism, so their premises are usually completely absurd but just-barely-plausible enough that they might actually be realistic. Like, think Hooters, the restaurant chain -- utterly weird concept, pitched to the lowest common denominator, still somehow accepted as reasonable by society at large. That's sort of ground zero for what he writes about. (The linked story, above, is written as a letter from a sales rep to a disgruntled customer about a product that makes it sound as if one's baby is talking.)
posted by Greg Nog at 11:45 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gary Shteyngart's The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Jean-Phillipe Toussaint's Television, Cesar Aira's How I Became a Nun and Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (one of the most perfect books I've ever read). Castellanos' Senselessness is really good, though I found it kind of an unpleasant read because the narrator is pretty despicable.

I'm just starting Joshua Cohen's Witz and haven't formed an opinion on it yet, but I'm a few pages in and think it will be great (if daunting for its length).

I nth the Auster recommendations, also suggest Chris Adrian's The Children's Hospital (really loved it, it's beautiful, sad, funny and magical) and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Mitchell has a new book coming out this fall, I believe.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 11:47 AM on July 22, 2010

I also endorse everything JimBennett recommends and also want to add the books of Javier Marias. Start with All Souls and A Heart So White, then move on to the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 11:50 AM on July 22, 2010

Cloud Atlas is phenomenal. Mitchell's new book is already out, actually, but it's not very postmodern. Still a great read, though.
posted by JimBennett at 11:51 AM on July 22, 2010

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
posted by Mertonian at 11:53 AM on July 22, 2010

Seconding ymendel, but really anything by Ursula K Le Guin is good. She has a short story book called The Birthday of the World that is fantastic, especially the one called "Solitude".
posted by wayland at 11:54 AM on July 22, 2010

Seconding Wallace, Pynchon and Murakami. Raising a couple of the old-school guys postmoderns: John Barth, especially Lost in the Funhouse and Giles, Goat Boy; Don DiLillo, especially Libra and White Noise; and William Vollman, especially The Rainbow Stories. Some of their stuff is a bit scholarly, but its all a lot of fun anyway.
posted by rtimmel at 11:58 AM on July 22, 2010

Previously; I'll stick with my suggestions there.
posted by holgate at 11:58 AM on July 22, 2010

Martin Amis. "London Fields" sort of messed me up. I never really got through "Time's Arrow" before I lost it, but I found it interesting enough in the beginning.
posted by Gilbert at 12:01 PM on July 22, 2010

nthing Paul Auster, especially New York Trilogy, Book of Illusions, and Oracle Night. He's also one of my biggest literary heroes.
posted by litnerd at 12:04 PM on July 22, 2010

On preview, yes to DeLillo's "Libra." And have you ever read Ellroy's "White Jazz?" Not sure if it's exactly postmodern, but the sentence structure and the jumps in perspective tended to give me a bit of the same rush.
posted by Gilbert at 12:05 PM on July 22, 2010

I've also got Macedonio Fernández's The Museum of Eterna's Novel on my wish list (review here and it appears to be up your street; it's contemporary with Svevo's Zeno's Conscience and O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman, all of which are worth reading, and are very funny.
posted by holgate at 12:06 PM on July 22, 2010

Second Cloud Atlas, which if you're not familiar with it is written like a Russian matryoshka doll: each story that you read appears as a text in the next. I also can't recommend Infinite Jest and House of Leaves enough. (I slept with the light on for a few nights after reading House of Leaves).

Another recommendation is the Thursday Next series, by Jasper Fforde. It's kind of a series of police procedurals, except large portions of them take place inside literature. They play with all sorts of literary conventions, cliches, and the text itself, in too many ways to describe. On the other hand, once you strip away all the postmodernism they are basically junk-food books, so you may not like them.
posted by vogon_poet at 12:08 PM on July 22, 2010

Infinite Jest. Yep. I mean, I'm like a broken record about the book, but as far as pomo lit goes, it is the king.

Others: Pynchon, Borges, Calvino, Gaiman, Kesey, Zadie Smith.

I'm also surprised no one has mentioned William Gaddis.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:08 PM on July 22, 2010

Oryx and Crake
posted by pyro979 at 12:14 PM on July 22, 2010

I came in to mention A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius as well. There's a wonderful bit of surreal meta-fiction in the middle (for those who have read it: the part with the friend in the hospital) that you'd probably appreciate.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2010

Absolutely Haruki Murakami!
posted by occidental at 12:27 PM on July 22, 2010

I wholeheartedly recommend Remainder by Tom McCarthy.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:31 PM on July 22, 2010

Mentioned before, but Vonnegut Vonnegut Vonnegut. Breakfast of Champions especially.
posted by kpmcguire at 12:55 PM on July 22, 2010

You might enjoy Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn if you liked Foer.
posted by Beardman at 1:16 PM on July 22, 2010

Nth Cloud Atlas and Infinite Jest. Calvino's Invisible Cities is a must. The Raw Shark Texts is fairly entertaining. Maybe Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum. China Mieville's The City & The City.
posted by thermogenesis at 1:19 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love Infinite Jest, but if you don't want imposing, grand-standing books, then avoid it. Wallace is definitely one of the top names in "post-modernism," so any discussion of the style will mention him... but judging by the rest of your post, I don't think he's exactly what you're looking for.

nthing Vonnegut, especially Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. Vonnegut is very aware of the reader, and inserts himself into the plot of many of his novels. Plus he has a great sense of humor.

Aimee Bender - Literary magic realism. I hesitate to say "modern fairy tales"--even though that's how she's often described--because her characters read like fully fleshed people. Has a couple novels and and a couple short story collections.

Jennifer Love Hewitt Times Infinity by Kevin Fanning - I know, I know, a book about the lady from Ghost Whisperer? Really? YES REALLY. Read the Goodread reviews and tell me it doesn't sound awesome.

And if you're not above reading Young Adult Fiction, I'd be remiss if I did not recommend The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Not really post-modern, but it's that book that I can't help but recommend every chance I get.
posted by Ortho at 1:28 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aimee Bender - Literary magic realism. I hesitate to say "modern fairy tales"--even though that's how she's often described--because her characters read like fully fleshed people. Has a couple novels and and a couple short story collections.

Having just read "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake," I do not recommend it. Perhaps one of her earlier things. Willful Creatures was pretty good.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:33 PM on July 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all! If you've got more suggestions, bring 'em on!

I'm adding most of these to my Worldcat list and figuring out which libraries I can get these from.
posted by fontophilic at 1:51 PM on July 22, 2010

No one has mentioned Donald Barthelme yet. He writes really interesting quirky fiction. Some is great and some seems a little twee. I have enjoyed Snow White, his book of short stories called Amateurs and Overnight to Many Distant Cities. I have also made a fan page of sorts where you can read a lot of his stories online if you want to.

Other people you might like include Robert Coover (Briar Rose especially) who some people feel is a little out there, and Richard Brautigan (The Abortion especially, maybe too poetic) adn Umberto Eco (Name of the Rose). I'm also sort of nuts about Steven Millhauser though he's not really postmodern but has a weird hypervigilant writing style that I love and I also love pomo stuff, so maybe you'd like him.

Seconding Saunders, Murikami, Calvino, Borges and Pynchon [though I find him hit or miss, many people love him.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:10 PM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't know if I really understand the genre - postmodern? Hmm.

I came in here to recommend Sam Beckett's superb trilogy (Molloy / Malone Dies / The Unnameable), and also his fantastic epic How It Is; but now I'm thinking you're looking for writing with stories and characters and plots, which are not really things that feature heavily in Beckett's novels. Still, I think it'd be worth giving them a try – they're pretty great, and they're quite postmodern.
posted by koeselitz at 2:47 PM on July 22, 2010

Came in to nth Murakami, Barth, DeLillo, Barthelme, Calvino and Saunders. Also, Milan Kundera seems up your alley. I would recomend starting with some of Wallace's shorter fiction, before considering Infinite Jest.

If you liked Everything is Illuminated, I think you'd like Nicole Krauss' The History of Love. I don't know that it fully fits the "postmodern" description, but it's phenomenal.

I've really enjoyed Aimee Bender. I'd also recomend Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison. It's not quite post-modernism, but she does something really interesting with form and I found it intriguing. Also, the postmodernists we're recommending are almost all male, just trying to throw in something interesting written by a female. Hopefully I'll come back with more later.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 4:26 PM on July 22, 2010

I totally forgot about Kevin Fanning - in addition to Jennifer Love Hewitt Times Infinity, read The Location Scout. It's a phenomenal example of short fiction.
posted by JimBennett at 5:30 PM on July 22, 2010

Check out authors and titles from NYRB, Dalkey Archive Press, and New Directions for "edgy", more obscure or big-D Difficult Literary Theory-type or outsider-art-style/marginalized voices fiction. And don't be put off by the time period a work was written, which is a mistake I think lots of people make--Wedekind, Louis-Paul Boone, and Robert Walser are just the first examples that spring to mind for me of work that is very avant-garde and not particularly contemporary. Some other authors spanning all kinds of categories of time and position off the top of my head that come to mind, but my god there are millions: Aimee Bender, Borges, Diane Williams, Deborah Levy, Emily Prager, Janet Frame, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard (The Atrocity Exhibition, for one), Zoran Zivkovic, Goncharov, Olive Schreiner, Olive Moore, Julio Cortazar, Jose Saramago, J.M. Coetzee (stuff like Elizabeth Costello), James Joyce, William Faulkner (yes really), Lydia Davis, Andrea Barrett, Amy Hempel, Jose Donoso, Ines Arredondo, that guy who wrote The People of Paper, Pynchon...
posted by ifjuly at 8:22 PM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Phillip Roth... oooh, Roth... yeeess...

Definitely Murakami (there seems to be an AskMe Murakami fan club apparent from a few recent posts) and Calvino, as well.
posted by copperbleu at 1:37 AM on July 23, 2010

You might like Jennifer Egan's stuff. Look at Me is especially good.

Another Dave Eggers book (a novel): You Shall Know Our Velocity! Great blurring of the line between "truth" and storytelling, narrator and reader, to great emotional effect.

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien. You think it's going to be a mystery, and then, a few pages in, you realize it's a mind-bending meditation on war, political power and the psyche.

Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides. This is a postmodernist book masquerading as a American immigration epic.

Don't laugh, but Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King (really!) is quite postmodernist, with lots of blurring the lines between truth and fiction, the figurative and the literal, and was shockingly thought-provoking. (And really, I'm not trying to look like a Literary Kool Kid by being all "can you believe Stephen King wrote something good?" He's an excellent storyteller, but his style is usually much more traditional and straightforward. He really stretched his narrative style here, and I dug it)

Finally, not a book, but if you ever get the chance to see Angels in America, do so - a really great postmodern epic.
posted by lunasol at 10:44 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jesse Ball, The Way Through Doors. Nthing Calvino and Barthelme. Also John Barth. Flann O'Brien. Eric Kraft has a sentimentality that doesn't go with most post-modernism, but the stuff he does with personality, voice, memory, and narrative is pretty wonderful.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 4:36 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

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