Yup, another book-recommendation post.
August 3, 2010 2:13 AM   Subscribe

Now that I finally have some free time on my hands (research proposal is in, huzzah!) I'm looking for something to read that is not affiliated with my degree. The academic in me adores footnotes in fiction. Also, books that blend genres, and particularly ones that feature strange/big cities. I usually read urban fantasy/weird/new weird/steampunk. The following elements make me take notice: magic, science, esotericism, religion, myth, historical influence. Not a big fan of comedy.

The last book I read which fulfilled me on absolutely every level was Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I prefer psychologically-inclined darkness to horror, but I admit to being an avid fan of Clive Barker circa The Great and Secret Show. I love novels that play with formatting and outlay, but next confession is that I had trouble with House of Leaves, but maybe that was because the book made me physically uncomfortable. The idea, I thought, was tremendous, but perhaps not that well executed.

Looking forward to your suggestions, and thanks.
posted by New England Cultist to Writing & Language (44 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
John Crowley's Ægypt books probably fit about 5/6 of your elements. They're by no means light reading though.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:21 AM on August 3, 2010

I'm reading Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente right now; it's nothing short of amazing.
posted by KingEdRa at 2:23 AM on August 3, 2010

And maybe Dan Simmons' "Drood", which is a sort of psychological horror-mystery featuring Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens. It's well-written and entertaining.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:29 AM on August 3, 2010

Infinite Jest = infinite footnotes.
posted by nothing too obvious at 2:34 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is the urban fantasy novel that immediately came to my mind.

I haven't read Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close myself (although I loved Everything Is Illuminated and recommend it to everyone I meet), but I've heard good things about it, and it does employ visual writing (but not as extreme as in House of Leaves).

I liked Charles Stross' Saturn's Children, which on the surface is a sci-fi novel about a robotic courtesan, but which has a lot of really interesting ideas about space travel (specifically, how difficult it is). I know that's not strictly within your guidelines, but your description made me think of it.
posted by neushoorn at 2:35 AM on August 3, 2010

For a blending of genres set in weird cities, try China Mieville's The City and The City. No footnotes but the world building is excellent, dropping you into a murder mystery / conspiracy plot set in two very strange, intertwined cities.
posted by metaBugs at 2:49 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The City & The City
posted by Daily Alice at 2:50 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Palimpsest really is amazing, but it's also very NSFW. I preferred her earlier pair of novels.

I really enjoyed The Magicians by Lev Grossman. It plays off lots of other fantasy novels - it can be fun looking for the references, some of which are more hidden than others. My wife didn't like it, though: the lead character is a bit hard to sympathise with.

Speaking of unsympathetic characters, you might try Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. It's a densely allusive series set in a future so distant that our era is less than myth. It's science fiction, and fantasy, and quite wonderful.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:55 AM on August 3, 2010

Devil in the white city

If u have not read them, you are denying yourself.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:58 AM on August 3, 2010

You might quite like The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas
posted by DanCall at 3:30 AM on August 3, 2010

If you haven't read it already, Dune fits your bill nicely. And is awesome.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:41 AM on August 3, 2010

Perhaps consider getting yourself a foot noted/annotated copy of some Shakespeare?
posted by biffa at 3:55 AM on August 3, 2010

Also by Neal Stephenson, check out Anathem. Don't remember if there are many footnotes, but there are appendices. All of the themes you list are carefully intertwined, too.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:08 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Second China Mieville's The City and the City, which is very entertaining, and his Perdido Street Station is also worth a look.
posted by WPW at 5:23 AM on August 3, 2010

Infinite Jest will be all that and more for you -- if you're willing to work a bit at it. I read it as part of the "Infinite Summer" reading group last year; their archives will help immensely: http://infinitesummer.org/
posted by wisekaren at 5:47 AM on August 3, 2010

Second Anathem.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:47 AM on August 3, 2010

After reading your first paragraph, I was certain you'd mention Perdido Street Station in your second. Since you didn't... I'm 2nding that, and Nthing The City and the City. Two very different books by the same author, both about strange and wonderful cities. Based on your post I'd give a higher rec to Perdido Street Station.
posted by Roommate at 5:51 AM on August 3, 2010

Came here to suggest Grossman's The Magicians, so I guess I'll second it now.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:08 AM on August 3, 2010

Dan Simmons' "Drood"

Drood left me cold, even though I usually enjoy Simmons' work.

Have you read any Jeff Vandermeer?
posted by zamboni at 6:23 AM on August 3, 2010

I'd second the Jeff Vandermeer recommendation, especially the Ambergris trilogy; they hit most of your list. Steampunk-flavored mysterious city, genre blending (especially Finch), play with formatting, and City of Saints and Madmen is heavy on the footnotes/pseudobibliographies in the latter parts.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 6:48 AM on August 3, 2010

Every "I want a book" thread should include a recommendation of Italo Calvino, so here it is. Invisible Cities or If On A Winter's Night A Traveler might interest you. Neither one is a novel in the traditional sense (which is either a plus or a minus) and they are both quick reads.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:53 AM on August 3, 2010

Master and Margarita?
posted by Suciu at 7:07 AM on August 3, 2010

John Fowles' The Magus

Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age

John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor
posted by Bourbonesque at 7:26 AM on August 3, 2010

China Mieville! First Perdido Street Station and The Scar, both set in the same world. Then The City and The City, followed by Kraken for an unrelated huge dose of weird magic set in modern London.
posted by esoterrica at 8:08 AM on August 3, 2010

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss fits a lot of your criteria: magic, science, myth, history, dark...No big cities though. Also it's long and engrossing, and it's the first of a trilogy so there will eventually even more to love.
posted by CheeseLouise at 8:44 AM on August 3, 2010

Little, Big by John Crowley

The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

Devices and Desires by K.J. Parker

Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (you don't have to read all of it)

and seconding China Mieville, The Magicians, Anathem, Name of the Rose, Possession, Oscar Wao, and Infinite Jest.
posted by exceptinsects at 9:04 AM on August 3, 2010

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is presented as straight historical fiction. It's got footnotes and it's definitely weird.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:38 AM on August 3, 2010

Steven Hall's Raw Shark Texts.
It's House of Leaves lite (in terms of the formatting hijinks), kind of.
Less "Blair Witch House" and more "Jaws + The Matrix" if that makes any sense.
posted by juv3nal at 10:37 AM on August 3, 2010

Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray. It's half weird urban fantasy, half artist's bildungsroman in post-WWII Scotland, and all wonderful.
posted by Kattullus at 11:47 AM on August 3, 2010

You would enjoy "The Anubis Gates" by Tim Powers.
posted by grizzled at 12:16 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've recommended it before and I'll recommend it again. The Etched City.
posted by chairface at 12:20 PM on August 3, 2010

Oracle Night by Paul Auster

Inamorata by Joseph Gangemi
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:43 PM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all, some great suggestions. Read Diamond Age and If On A Winter's Night A Traveler earlier this year as part of a course. Liked them both but Calvino appeared to have lost the thread to Traveler near the end. Still enjoyable though.

Some of the suggestions made me literally squeal because they look so good. And I forgot to mention that metaphysics can be thrown in the pot as well. Though many people picked up on that anyway.
posted by New England Cultist at 4:02 PM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: Damn, looks like Inamorata by Joseph Gangemi may be out of print.
posted by New England Cultist at 4:25 PM on August 3, 2010

piling on with the China Mieville love.
posted by Joad at 7:07 PM on August 3, 2010

Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy has most of the elements you mentioned (at least, it's urban fantasy with plenty of science, magic, and footnotes). Admittedly, it is intended for teenagers, and I haven't read it since I was one, but I remember it being fantastic/complex at the time.
posted by Starmie at 7:13 PM on August 3, 2010

Count me as a grump that loves this kind of thing, but didn't care for Perdido Street Station or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

John Crowley's Little, Big
Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose
Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan and Gormenghast
Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History
E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros
M. John Harrison's Viriconium
Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates
posted by Paragon at 2:21 PM on August 4, 2010

Check out this massive list by a conspiracy RPG writer. He calls the genre "eliptony."
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 6:35 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

According to Hite, eliptony is a "…word that encompasses the occult, the fringe, the pseudoscientific, the New Age, the magickal, the Fortean, and so forth…". The list is going to cover some of the territory that the OP is interested in, but in the form of reference books. (I was going to say "non-fiction", but that's not exactly the right word, given the subject material.)
posted by zamboni at 7:09 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: cheers ollyollyoxenfree :)
posted by New England Cultist at 2:43 AM on August 7, 2010

Response by poster: zamboni - reference texts make my mouth water. Cheers :)
posted by New England Cultist at 2:11 PM on August 7, 2010

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