Some books are more equal than others
July 28, 2010 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Recommend me titles that will get me to love literature again.

My story: When I was fifteen I read Ulysses; when I was sixteen I attempted Finnegans Wake. I tackled Beckett a year later. Both are breathtaking writers; but they each demand an enormous effort. The time I spent with them was time missing a lot of easier, more enjoyable classics.

I feel that although I love reading and am willing to follow books deep down literary rabbit holes, I haven't got as broad a knowledge of literature as I ought to. And the only books I attempt tend to be ones that leave me exhausted. Gravity's Rainbow, Remembrance of Things Past, Infinite Jest, etc. So I'm more used to approaching books as challenges and not simple joys, while I'll listen to music and watch movies for simple fun.

I'd like to change that.

What're books in the literary pantheon are easy-breezy reads that'll get me hooked and move me onto other pieces? Books that come to mind as I ask that, for reference, are titles like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Brave New World and Oryx and Crake. I'm willing to experiment, but I really would like works that you think will hook me from the first line. Books I'm not afraid to pick up for casual entertainment.
posted by Rory Marinich to Writing & Language (67 answers total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett's hardboiled detective fiction is both well-written, from a literary standpoint, and genuinely fun. It's a bit formulaic, especially Hammett, but if you can get past that, they're a blast.
posted by griphus at 9:13 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Crying of Lot 49, despite being Pynchon, is really easy to read and was surprisingly fun.

1984 is a classic. I don't know if I'd call it breezy, but it's similar to Brave New World in a lot of respects, though I prefer it.

Vonnegut, especially Slaughterhouse Five or Cat's Cradle. Very funny, very serious, very literary.

Catcher in the Rye, the Great Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea, Of Mice and Men, The Sun Also Rises, if you haven't read them.
posted by JimBennett at 9:17 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gosh, it seems like I recommend this one every time someone asks for book recommendations, but I really love it.

Crome Yellow, by Aldous Huxley, is short, funny, clever, A NOVEL, and (for me) got me back into the reading-for-pleasure groove after I finished college and (finally!) and free time.
posted by phunniemee at 9:22 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I found Donna Tartt's The Secret History to be easy to pick up/hard to put down, etc. David Mitchell's Black Swan Green is also really readable and excellent.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:22 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

^...and finally HAD free time. WOO, free time!

I've also become really fond of the Sherlock Holmes books and stories, TC Boyle short stories, and went through a couple months where I devoured a stack of Vonnegut. All great stuff.
posted by phunniemee at 9:24 AM on July 28, 2010

We, by Zamiatin -- a 1924 Russian novel like Brave New World or 1984, but more in love with imagery. There is an older and a more recent translation -- I like the stiffness of the older translation; the newer is more poetic.
posted by jb at 9:25 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Famished Road by Ben Okri.
posted by ovvl at 9:29 AM on July 28, 2010

I always recommend Lolita in these threads because it's so breathtakingly beautiful to read, engrossing from start-to-finish (the chase part drags just a little) and as soon as you put it down you flip it over and start again from the beginning.

Doesn't matter if you read it already, one must read Lolita at least once a year.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:30 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about short stories?
Raymond Carver. Alice Munro. Henry James (a bit old-fashioned but fun if you're into dialogue and "scandalous" happenings). Nabokov has also written some short stories and his novels (imho) are great, fun reads too, never mind if you don't get the massive amount of allusions (pale fire, lolita, laughter in the dark, etc.).

Philip K. Dick is great (especially if you're in a srew-lit-101-and-so-called-literary-"canon" mood).

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is one of Le Carre's defining works.

Zadie Smith, also great (I found that I liked On Beauty better than White Teeth but ymmv).
posted by scribbler at 9:31 AM on July 28, 2010

Also, Flatland, a story starring a stuffy, Victorian, two-dimensional hero.

My husband has recently loved Jerome K. Jerome for his humour -- definitely entertaining, and not sloggish. One of his short stories was probably the inspiration for both We and Brave New World; his most famous work is ThreeMen in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog).
posted by jb at 9:33 AM on July 28, 2010

I came to suggest Lolita and We. Both excellent. Catch-22 is long but quick.

The Trial (Kafka)
The Stranger (Camus)
The Fall (Camus)
Fathers and Sons (Tergenev - a wonderful, woefully under appreciated Russian novel)
posted by resiny at 9:33 AM on July 28, 2010

Pretty much any GK Chesterton. The Man Who Was Thursday is wonderful.
posted by resiny at 9:35 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Doesn't matter if you read it already, one must read Lolita at least once a year.

If you like Things Happening, don't feel bad if you start spacing out around the middle part of it, however. It ranks right up there with The Hours (although infinitely better written) for long descriptions of nothin'.
posted by griphus at 9:35 AM on July 28, 2010

2nding Vonnegut, Hemingway, Twain. Also: Consider short stories.

Also also: Are you only interested in books that are Established As Important, or would you pick up, say, Deb Olin Unferth's Vacation, Lydia Davis's Break It Down, or Tao Lin's Eeee Eee Eeeee?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:35 AM on July 28, 2010

J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country single-handedly got me back into reading fiction after a long, long time away.

NYRB has reprinted quite a few literary page-turners, so their catalog is worth browsing - some places to start: As a Man Grows Older, The Fountain Overflows, On the Yard. The Faber Finds series is also full of gems.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gene Wolfe's New Sun, Long Sun and Short Sun series are, I think, the best examples of literary science fiction. I also really enjoyed his Soldier series as well.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2010

Also, seconding A Secret History, which I started reading on the subway and not one, not two, nay but three strangers stopped me to express jealousy that I was reading it for the first time. It's well-written, freaky almost immediately, and once you hit the last twenty pages you'd miss your mother's funeral to get to the end.

I also loved White Teeth and Wind Up Bird Chronicle, and reread both again recently and was surprised that even though I now noticed some minor, annoying flaws of narrative and voice, I still compulsively read them within a week.

A Mercy by Toni Morrison does that Faulknerian thing where she privileges narrative over plot so you don't know what the hell is going on for the first few pages, but it's just a beautiful read of the early days of slavery.

Also throwing in Atonement, Middlesex, and a hearty recommendation of Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (so funny! And while I only sort-of know your internet style, I think you'd just love it's pop culture references and Diaz's hilarious meta-narration),
posted by zoomorphic at 9:40 AM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Anything by Kazuo Ishiguro, but especially The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.
posted by something something at 9:40 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, the book that I have had the most fun thinking about in the last several years of reading is, hands-down, Remainder by Tom McCarthy.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:44 AM on July 28, 2010

For some fast and twisted reading, I highly recommend Jim Thompson. His books are short and thrilling so you can plow through them in a night if you want. My personal favorite is Savage Night. The Killer Inside of Me is great as well, and I think its generally regarded as his best book.

In the same-ish vein, I can't recommend Patricia Highsmith enough. Though The Talented Mr. Ripley always gets mentioned, I found it pretty slow going for the first 80ish pages. You said you wanted something to hook you from the get-go. You could try The Tremor of Forgery instead.

Finally, it seems you like big, complex books. You should definitely give Evan Dara's The Lost Scrapbook a look. It's postmodern and experimental and all that, but I found it incredibly compelling from the start. He also has another book out, The Easy Chain, but I found it much harder to sink into those waters.

I don't know if any of these are in any "literary pantheon," but if they aren't, then that pantheon isn't worth a damn.
posted by fryman at 9:50 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Lolita.

I also would recommend If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino. I kept thinking it was about to lose me and then it kept not doing that. It's a wonderful love letter to the act of reading books, and it never takes itself too seriously.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:57 AM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

i feel like a broken record because I always have the same recommendation

Jorge Luis Borges

but thats because he is *that* awesome.
posted by nihlton at 10:02 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also came in to recommend Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut.

Then, when you enjoy reading again, take on One Hundred Years Of Solitude.
posted by Night_owl at 10:03 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some books I have found to be 'easy reads' and enjoyed a lot (ymmv), by writers who "do something with words" (I don't know what the hell that means either.):

The Gathering by Anne Enright.
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

Almost everything by John Barth (his early stuff hasn't held up so well, though they remain interesting as examples of what they are), Chimera is still good and too often overlooked,
Hemingway's short stories (wonderful; his novels, not so much.)
Almost everything by Italo Calvino (If on a Winter's Night... especially)
Everything by Garcia Marquez

Some people who you didn't mention, and who some claim are 'hard reads' but I don't find that difficult: Virgina Woolf, Borges, Faulkner.

Literary popcorn that I feel shouldn't be missed: John Irving (late things only), everything by Willa Cather (My, Antonia is a favorite.), Larry McMurtry (early stuff only)

Sorry; I thought this would be a very short list until I started making it. I hope somewhere in there there is something new to you.
posted by Some1 at 10:05 AM on July 28, 2010

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:08 AM on July 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Seconded, but be careful with the translation you get. I'd suggest blowing an AskMe to find the "best" one.
posted by griphus at 10:10 AM on July 28, 2010

This is a sexist statement, I know, but the female classic writers tend, on a whole, to care more about spinning a good yarn that's plot and character based than literary experimentation and prose density. I can't think of many greater (simple) pleasures than curling up with the Brontes ("Wuthering Heights," "Jane Eyre"), Jane Austen (anything, but try "Emma," "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice" to start with) and Edith Wharton ("House of Mirth").

Great, readable male writers are F.Scott Fitzgerald ("The Great Gatsby" is my favorite novel), Mark Twain ("Huckleberry Finn" is bliss) and George Orwell ("1984", essays and "Animal Farm"). If you like his prose style, Dickens can be a fun page-turner.

You also might try some classic "dime novels," such as the Three Musketeer books and "The Moonstone," by Wilke Collins, which is one of the most fun novels you'll ever read.
posted by grumblebee at 10:30 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you read other Murakami? Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is fantastic, as is Norwegian Wood (though there's no weirdness like in Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Hard-Boiled Wonderland.

Michael Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is one of my favorites, and you get sucked into the character's lives right off the bat.

Nthing short stories - and very, very much recommending Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. I've read a few of the stories over 20 times. Murakami's book of short stories (The Elephant Vanishes) is entertaining, though not as good as his novels. You'll recognize Tuesday's Women (though the cat's name is different).
posted by SugarAndSass at 10:39 AM on July 28, 2010

If you would like to read something that is an enormous amount of fun and very easy to read, I can recommend any novel by Lois McMaster Bujold, but particularly her recent "Sharing Knife" trilogy. So much fun. You have no idea.
For a more thought-provoking writer, there is of course Ted Chiang (who was recently discussed in the blue) and his anthology "The Stories Of Your Life and Others" which I consider to be the finest work of SF every written.
posted by grizzled at 10:39 AM on July 28, 2010

nthing Lolita - just read the first page and try not to be hooked. Also I read The Satanic Verses because it was an Important Book and was shocked by how much fun it is to read.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:47 AM on July 28, 2010

"In the Time of Our Singing" by Richard Powers is an excellent book, highly recommended by myself and everyone I've met who has read it. Long, but not dense to read like Nabokov, nor high-energy to follow like Pynchon.
posted by lover at 10:53 AM on July 28, 2010

Some more very readable American classics (includiing at least one by American expatriate):

The Call of the Wild
O Pioneers
My Antonia
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (and Adventures of Tom Sawyer too)
Elmer Gantry
The Turn of the Screw
A Farewell to Arms
Little Women
Catch 22

Some more very readable classics from outside the American oevre not already mentioned:

Crime and Punishment
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Lord of the Flies
Treasure Island
The History of Tom Jones
The Pickwick Papers
posted by bearwife at 11:07 AM on July 28, 2010

Paul Auster's New York Trilogy (and the rest of his novels if you like that); Don Delillo's White Noise, Mao II, and Underworld; Pynchon's Crying of Lot 40, Vineland, and the new one, Inherent Vice are relatively accessible; Michael Chabon, Richard Powers, Lorrie Moore, Jonathan Franzen, Nicholson Baker, Arthur Phillips, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Rick Moody, Cormac McCarthy, Peter Carey, Jim Crace, and Jonathan Lethem's novels. Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Someone upthread was talking about "literary" science fiction and mentioned Wolfe, who is fine though occasionally maddening, but others are Samuel Delany, especially (in terms of literariness) Nova, Triton, Dhalgren, the Neveryona books, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (despite the fact its sequel has never been published, still worth reading); Thomas Disch's Camp Concentration, Collected Stories, and On Wings of Song; Joanna Russ's The Female Man; Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness, Wind's Twelve Quarters, and The Dispossessed. Of more recent sf/fantasy writers, I'd call these novelists "literary": Christopher Priest, Sean Stewart, Octavia Butler, Ian McDonald (particularly River of Gods, Cyberiad Days, Brasyl, and the new one, The Dervish House), John Crowley, Tim Powers, Ian McLeod, Gwyneth Jones, and Geoff Ryman and all worth seeking out. People always mention Philip K Dick in threads like this but he's very uneven so look at ratings or reviews before picking his stuff up; much is distinctly NOT literary, but written fast to make a living.
posted by aught at 11:08 AM on July 28, 2010

You might dig The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Walks a line between fiction and non-fiction and is really accessible. It's more contemporary lit than pantheon lit (as are many of the suggestions above), but it's really good.
posted by that's candlepin at 11:11 AM on July 28, 2010

If you never have before, try Moby-Dick. It gets a bad rap as one of the old grey horses of American literature, but that thing is a ripping yarn.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:16 AM on July 28, 2010

Also if you never have, try some Byron. Don Juan is fairly accessible, funny as hell, and easy to pick up and put down (but much easier to pick up).
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:18 AM on July 28, 2010

Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy.
posted by BibiRose at 11:25 AM on July 28, 2010

Envy by Yuri Olesha is one of my favorite short lit books. Funny and breezy, fascinating characters, and a really interesting look at Soviet life.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:25 AM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.
posted by BibiRose at 11:30 AM on July 28, 2010

I love reading Alexandre Dumas, especially while I'm traveling. Two years ago I read The Count of Monte Cristo during an offroad motorcycle trip from Canada to Mexico. Last summer I read The Three Musketeers during a solo motorcycle trip to Colorado. I picked up The Man in the Iron Mask today from the library, in advance of a long weekend trip through the twisty roads of Kentucky and West Virginia.

Dumas' writing feels very modern and approachable, and he writes great stories with heroes and villains, damsels and turncoats.
posted by workerant at 11:55 AM on July 28, 2010

Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle by Nabokov for some alternate history trippiness.
posted by Allee Katze at 12:17 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
David Copperfield
Great Expectations
And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, 'cause I recommend this all the time, but A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
posted by marsha56 at 12:29 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are some books which I recognize as "great" without really enjoying. There are other writers and works I revisit again and again with pleasure and anticipation.

Jorge Luis Borges, the short stories.
G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday.
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone.
Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo.
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day.
Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country and Master of Go.
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun and Kafka on the Shore.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden and Cannery Row.
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita and Pnin.
Kurt Vonnegut, particularly Slaughterhouse Five.
Gene Wolfe, particularly The Book of the New Sun, Peace, and the short stories.

I hope you enjoy; these are among my favorite novels.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:33 PM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another vote for Lolita. I would also throw in a very strong suggestion for Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
posted by scody at 12:34 PM on July 28, 2010

Digging the recommendations for Lolita and Envy; the latter reminded me someone ought to mention Master and Margarita. Gogol's notoriously wry short stories. Possibly Einstein's Dreams too, oh oh, and Sabbath's Theater, American Pastoral, and Portnoy's Complaint. You might like Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman too. And Mishima's The Temple of the Golden Pavilion or Tanizaki's famous and somewhat sleazy stuff. Richard Powers, Jonathan Lethem, and Donald Barthelme often seem to appeal to a certain kind of guy reader that sounds vaguely like you, at least in my experience.
posted by ifjuly at 12:35 PM on July 28, 2010

You can listen to an excellent reading of the title story from The Things They Carried here.
posted by marsha56 at 12:36 PM on July 28, 2010

And a big yes to Slaughterhouse-Five, which reminds me: every single similarly-minded (as in, needs to be engaged but likes literature) guy I've given a copy of The Tin Drum to has ended up raving to me later about it. It instantly grabs you; Oskar is one of the more compelling and memorable characters in recent literature...
posted by ifjuly at 12:37 PM on July 28, 2010

Song of Solomon
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter


Remains of the Day
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Little Women
posted by marsha56 at 1:01 PM on July 28, 2010

I'm casting another vote for Vonnegut because there can never be too many. Slapstick is my personal favorite, but it's hard to go wrong here.

If you liked Oryx and Crake, other Margaret Atwood novels would also be a great starting point (her short stories don't hook me as much). The Handmaid's Tale is a modern classic that I could barely put down once I'd started it. I also have great love for The Robber Bride and Cat's Eye.

You might also check out T. Coraghessan Boyle. Both his novels and his short stories have a way of drawing you in. His novels usually involve lots of characters who are all interconnected in some way that slowly becomes clear over the course of the story. Try World's End and see what you think.
posted by spinto at 1:28 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Atwood's The Blind Assassin
Voltaire's Candide
Stephenson's Cryptonomicon
Jim Thompson's whatever (I saw some rec'd above)
McCarthey's Blood Meridian
Moore's Like Life
Chabon's whatever
Kjaerstad's The Seducer
posted by dervish at 2:09 PM on July 28, 2010

If you take up the British Victorian & Edwardian literature selections, follow it up with Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, which starts with The Eyre Affair. It's an incredibly fun sci-fi series for lit geeks chock full of off-hand (and obvious) nods to canonical works.
posted by smirkette at 2:17 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

My Name is Asher Lev
Cat's Eye
posted by marsha56 at 2:42 PM on July 28, 2010

Lots of great books are short. I finished BolaƱo's By Night in Chile, which is 130 pages or so, a few days ago and I'm still thinking about it. Heart of Darkness is similarly short. The Bridge of San Luis Rey I read in one sitting in a library after picking it out of a shelf. There's plenty of great short novels.
posted by Kattullus at 8:01 PM on July 28, 2010

Cannot recommend Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell enough. It is beautiful and impossible to put down and just... stunning. Ack. So good.

I also would have to repeat the suggestion of more Murakami... Sputnik Sweetheart is his shortest novel, but no less beautiful (and I clearly love it, as it's my MeFi name). That being said, all of his books are brilliant, and in my opinion, his short stories are even better.

Yes yes yes to Lolita.

I'm at a weird point with The Brothers Karamazov. I picked it up and started reading years ago and couldn't put it down for two days... and then halfway through, even though I was fascinated and loved everything about it, I put it down to focus on schoolwork... and I could never go back. So, I recommend it IF you have time to focus on it and get through it.
posted by SputnikSweetheart at 1:33 AM on July 29, 2010

If you liked White Teeth, try 28a by Diana...gah, can't find it now. I found Jasper Fforde way too...cute? twee? for my tastes. I prefer number9dream and Ghostwritten to Cloud Atlas as well.

I've struggled with reading in the past few years and so have gone modern and read some of the good American writers from the past few years - AM Homes, Ken Dornstein, Tom Perotta. Also, non-fiction that reads like fiction - any ethnography or extended journalism really does it for me.

The best lit-fic I've read in some time was Linda Grant's The Clothes On Their Backs.(Previous contender was Dan Rhodes' Timoleon Vieta Come Home.) It's a lovely book, with really evocative description of everything from the multicultural, multiple-occupancy of London to disappointing affairs to the rustle of a vintage dress. I've also heard good things about David Peace's Red Riding Trilogy, though am yet to give it a go.
posted by mippy at 6:07 AM on July 29, 2010

I'd recommend The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell) and Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell). I consider them both very much in line with Oryx and Crake (one of my favorites)
posted by citywolf at 12:19 PM on July 29, 2010

I have read E.M. Forster's Howards End many, many times and never once tired of it.

If you liked Oryx and Crake, you might want to check out Atwood's companion piece, Year of the Flood. It takes place in the same world, at around the same time, but instead of being told from Jimmy/Snowman's point of view, it's narrated by characters who have connections with him and Crake.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:22 PM on July 29, 2010

Jim Dodge - Stone Junction

Light, fun, *interesting* fiction that's not relying on people thinking it's high literature to get them to read.
posted by talldean at 5:13 AM on July 30, 2010

Don Quixote. It is humorous and a page-turner despite its length. Moreover, you can read into it as much or as little as you like and it's one of the most important (and best) books in western literature.
posted by ersatz at 6:25 AM on July 30, 2010

Not established as "important" but still considered literary and definitely something I found a joy to read was The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston. The title alone caused me to pick it up and I didn't put it down until I'd finished reading it less than a day later.
posted by notcomputersavvy06 at 8:44 PM on July 30, 2010

I don't have the attention span for novel-length texts but, recently: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. A friend lent me a copy, but it seemed like such a tedious read that I'd put it off for, oh, two years. Then finally we were required to read it for class, so I hunkered down to it. Surprisingly, it was quite involving. The same friend recommends Vonnegut, so I should really get around to reading those, too.

Seconding Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
posted by pimli at 3:19 AM on July 31, 2010

A lot of the books here are good, but not exactly what I'd call easy-breezy. Anyway, Stephen King. If, like me, you skipped him at age 13, and if you can move past the fact that everyone else pooh-poohs him because they read him at age 13, you're in for an enveloping, fun read. He has a huge oeuvre (though he sometimes relies on repetitions of the same tropes) and an impressive ability to draw the reader into the story. I'd recommend you skip his more recent books and start with The Shining. Bonus is that you can find his books in spades for incredibly cheap at any thrift store. We're talking a quarter each.

Seconding The Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye by Atwood, both of which were better stories than Oryx and Crake. You might also try some excellent YA novels. Philip Pullman comes immediately to mind. Oh, and Lev Grossman's The Magicians, which was one of the most addictive books I've read in the past year. Oh, and Joyce Carol Oates. She's another writer with an impressive sense of story and plot whose writing tends to be fairly effortless, and likewise makes for effortless reading.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:48 PM on July 31, 2010

I just re-read Mark Helprins "Soldier of the Great War", and now I'm settling in to "Winters Tale" again. He is a pure and poetic treasure to read. These books are both long but well worth the effort. I also second anything by Atwood. Clever and dagger sharp.
posted by venbear3 at 12:36 AM on August 1, 2010

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. I've tried some of his other books but this, one of his earlier works, a story of a young man growing up in Chicago, has an amazing and powerful prose style.

nth'ing Catseye by Atwood.

Short stories by Alice Munro, John Updike, John Cheever, William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, Donald Barthelme. For this, pick up a used English lit anthology (e.g. Modern Short Stories). You'll likely get most of these authors and more for $5.
posted by storybored at 8:18 PM on August 1, 2010

In poking through my books looking for sometime to read this weekend it occurred to me to come back here and add Alastair Grey, J.G. Ballard, and Ian Watson to the list of "imaginative and literary."

I also meant to mention, since I qualified the Philip K. Dick recommendations, which titles I think are best-realized of his works: The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (though that's a weird read post-Blade Runner), Flow My Tears The Policeman Said, Martian Time-Slip, A Scanner Darkly, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. And maybe VALIS, though it's more full of autobiographical crazy than the others, if I am remembering correctly.
posted by aught at 2:02 PM on August 2, 2010

Robertson Davies, esp. the Deptford trilogy.

It's all about saints and magicians and Jungian analysis and very readable and not pretentious yet very full of things.
posted by exceptinsects at 9:13 AM on August 3, 2010

« Older How do I go about getting a promotion?   |   Investment adivce for a 39 y/o clueless guy! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.