Help a picky reader find more authors
September 3, 2010 3:52 PM   Subscribe

I have a very narrow taste in fiction, and I'm running out authors. Overall, I like how things are written more than what they say. But even given that, I'm terribly picky. Help me find more authors to love!

Authors/books I love:
Boris Vian
Harry Matthews
The Bone People
Don DeLillo
Tom Robbins
Jonathan Safran Foer
Ryu Murakami
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Joseph Heller, Borges, Burgess, Tolstoy, Dosteovsky, [and other various 19th C Russian authors]: (liked, didn't love these)

If I haven't exhausted the entire oeuvre of each of the above authors, I already plan to. But most of these authors are dead (so I'll catch up with all of their stuff quickly) and I'm having trouble finding others that compare.

As far as I can explain, I care more about how a book is written than how interesting the story is, but not to the point of abstraction or complete surrealism. I hated Gilbert Sorrentino (Mulligan Stew), and the one Robbe-Grillet book I read made me feel empty. Also didn't like (for less specific reasons): Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, Jonathan Lethem, Christopher Moore, Steig Larsson. I'm striking out on a whole lot of modern authors.

Any suggestions? I'd really love some new authors to fall completely in love with, but individual books are fine too. I read through some similar AskMe posts, and I think I'm going to try out Pynchon and Eggers. But who else?

Also: fiction only, please! I'm much less picky about non-fiction.
posted by hopeless romantique to Writing & Language (48 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Paul Aster
posted by griphus at 4:01 PM on September 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Have you checked out Marilynne Robinson? She's one of the first authors to spring to my mind when I think about caring how something is said. Gilead is amazing, amazing, but Housekeeping is my personal favourite. Here's a passage from it to whet your appetite (it's fine, imo, standing alone, but you might want to know that the person narrating it is Ruth, a young girl who has recently lost her mother):
Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds laid however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water - peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing - the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.
posted by fight or flight at 4:04 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

David Foster Wallace
Milorad Pavic
posted by freshwater at 4:05 PM on September 3, 2010

Salinger, Joyce, Beckett, Gogol.
posted by milarepa at 4:06 PM on September 3, 2010

I only know about half the authors you list; I like most of them, but also like some of your didn't like list, so not sure exactly what direction makes sense... nonetheless,
have you tried Kobo Abe or Victor Pelevin?

And for more familiar names, what do you think of Faulkner, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Henry Miller, Cormac McCarthy, Salman Rushdie, or Milan Kundera?
posted by mdn at 4:07 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kazuo Ishiguro? Especially Never Let Me Go.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:08 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Paul Auster for sure. Moon Palace is one of my all time favorites.
Bohumil Hrabal - Too Loud a Solitude
posted by Wolfie at 4:09 PM on September 3, 2010

Alejo Carpentier? Specifically...

Disclaimer: It's been forever since I've read it; it was around the same time that I read a bit of Garcia Marquez and Borges, so it came to mind. Please don't hit me if you think it's awful.

Mrs Supercres loves the prose in Orhan Pamuk's Snow.
posted by supercres at 4:12 PM on September 3, 2010

Oh, also check out some Native American novels, particularly Momaday's "House Made of Dawn" and Marmon Silko's "Ceremony." We have similar tastes and those books are amazing to me.
posted by milarepa at 4:13 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try Pushkin and Ishiguro.

Also worth a try because it is great: Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools.

Seconding Kundera, too, particularly The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

Ernest Hemingway is underrated because of his obnoxious attitudes, but the man could really write. Try A Farewell to Arms or The Sun Also Rises and see what you think.

One more lovely writer in terms of style, and sometimes content: Wallace Stegner. Try Angle of Repose.
posted by bearwife at 4:13 PM on September 3, 2010

Your question caught my eye because I'm also very picky about writing, and often get much more enjoyment from the language than the story itself. Also, I HEART Nabokov and Garcia Marquez.

Reading Eggers made me want to punch myself in the face. That said, there are two writers that spring to my mind: Mark Helprin and Annie Proulx. Mark Helprin's writing is, in my opinion, magical. Lush and gorgeous and transports you into worlds that are hyperreal. Annie Proulx's writing falls on the opposite end of the language spectrum. Her writing is sparse, raw, and brutally honest. I think it's beautiful.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:18 PM on September 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far! These all sound great.

-I've read (and loooooved) Unbearable Lightness of Being. I read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting after that, but I thought it was too similar to the former.

-I read Faulkner a while back; he's on my list to check out again. Same with Woolf.

-Re: Kafka and Gogol - that's what I meant by "various 19th C Russian authors". Took a class in college, read a lot of that.
posted by hopeless romantique at 4:20 PM on September 3, 2010

Alvaro Mutis - The Adventures & Misadventures of Maqroll
Javier Marías - Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me and A Heart So White
posted by misteraitch at 4:20 PM on September 3, 2010

Chris Adrian! Chris Adrian!

Other possibly good fits:

Alsadair Gray, Flann O'Brien, Bruno Schultz, Orhan Pahmuk, and Alice Munro. (Oooh, Alice Munro!) Kelly Link might be worth a try, too: Give her three pages, and you'll know whether you like her.

On the Native American front, I'll add Thomas King to the list. Green Grass, Running Water is a marvel.

As far as one-shots go, I can't recommend Jan Potocki's Manuscript Found in Saragossa highly enough. It's good enough to eat. The current Penguin edition is quite good, though apparently there was a better edition several decades ago.

Also, I don't know which other Russian authors you've tried, but if you haven't read Gogol yet, do it know. I predict that you will be BFFs. I also predict that you and Cervantes will also get along wonderfully.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:22 PM on September 3, 2010

George Saunders, Umberto Eco

and a dead guy, Julio Cortazar
posted by carsonb at 4:23 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lydia Davis - End of the Story
Lynne Tillman - American Genius
Vanessa Place - La Medusa
Stephen Dixon - Interstate

These are all sorely underrated American authors. These works are all experimental and philosophical, but not to the point of abstraction (which seems to be a trend in what you like). They are extremely well-written and stylistically distinct, but not plot heavy (which seems to categorize the authors you dislike).
posted by fryman at 4:24 PM on September 3, 2010

Fernando Pessoa, Richard Flanagan, Maggie Nelson, maybe Lydia Davis, the aforementioned Marilynne Robinson, maybe early Jeanette Winterson? maybe Ron Hansen? maybe Etgar Keret? maybe David Markson? maybe Muriel Spark? maybe Padgett Powell? maybe Tove Jansson's adult novels? How do you feel about Nicholson Baker? How do you feel about Lorrie Moore? Penelope Fitzgerald? I'm throwing spaghetti here, but I think some of these might stick; I'll return if I think of more.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 4:29 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, I may get laughed out of AskMe, but Louis Sachar.
posted by carsonb at 4:30 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Julio Cortazar
posted by Joe Beese at 4:35 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Calvino and Saramago are two of my absolute favourite writers. I would recommend:

W.G. Sebald - The Rings of Saturn
Tom McCarthy - Remainder
Lisa Robertson
posted by oulipian at 4:39 PM on September 3, 2010

Seconding Marilynne Robinson! Also beautifully written: Fall On Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald and Eleni, by Nicholas Gage.
posted by idest at 4:39 PM on September 3, 2010

I could have written the same question. Here are a few that might strike a chord:

Felipe Alfau (Locos)
Georgi Gospodinov (A Natural Novel)
Stefano Benni (Margherita Dolce Vita)
John Hawkes (Blood Oranges)
Yevgeny Zamyatin (We)
Robert Coover (Pinocchio in Venice)
Dorota Maslowska (Snow White and Russian Red)
Juan Filloy (Op Oloop)
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 4:41 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Marguerite Duras
posted by Allee Katze at 4:45 PM on September 3, 2010

I think that we have roughly similar tastes. I am not sure how to explain it, but I guess it can be considered slipstream, surrealist? I loved Borges, Calvino, Nabokov (though I'm not sure how he fits into this current theme of books!) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I liked Saramago, Tolstoy, Dosteovsky and Ryu Murakami. I found Perec and DeLillo wayyy too self-involved and posturing.

It would seem to me you would have liked Haruki Murakami. Which book did you read anyway? FYI I loved Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and Blind Woman, Sleeping Willow, not so much the others. I also didn't like David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, but I LOVED his Black Swan Green and number9dream, the latter possibly the one of the best books in the world.

Other books/ authors in the same theme:

Claude Levi-Strauss's Tristes Tropique (more like a lovely rambling autobiography, but very beautiful. I'm not a fan of what is essentially a long essay myself, but this was amazing)

Phillip K Dick's Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (in the vein of Calvino, Kafka)

Paul Auster (I personally disliked his books for its pseudo-intellectualism, but it's in the same theme. Reminds me a little of Perec, though I can't really explain why)

Kazuo Ishiguro (someone here already mentioned him, but I came here to specifically recommend "The Unconsoled", which reminds me of Kafka's The Trial)

speaking of which, Kafka's The Trial

Robert Bolano's 2666 (modern masterpiece)

China Mieville's The City The City (and *not* his other books)

This is all I can come up with right now -- If I think of any more, I'll post again!
posted by moiraine at 4:51 PM on September 3, 2010

A few more ideas:

Clarice Lispector (Hour of the Star)
Andras Palyi (Out of Oneself)
William H. Gass (Omensetter's Luck)
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 4:57 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Richard Powers, Gain
Jim Crace (I've loved everything so far, especially Quarantine)
James Robertson (The Fanatic, Joseph Knight, The Testament of Gideon Mack)
Adam Thorpe, Ulverton
Richard Flanagan, Gould's Book of Fish
Shirley Hazzard, Transit of Venus

Of nineteenth-century British novelists, I'd suggest George Eliot.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:58 PM on September 3, 2010

Gina Berriault, Diane Williams, Mary Gaitskill, Amy Hempel, The Tin Drum, Janet Frame (The Edge of the Alphabet is a good place to start), Sabbath's Theater or American Pastoral, Violette Leduc, Chapel Road by Louis Paul Boone, Harold Pinter, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Osamu Dazai, Kenzaburo Oe (I called him the antidote to Murakami in another Ask thread), Yukio Mishima, Envy by Yuri Olesha, Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Elizabeth Costello and The Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee.
posted by ifjuly at 5:04 PM on September 3, 2010

Genet and Celine and Proust too, now that I think of it. And possibly the sensual Colette stuff--Pure and the Impure, My Mother's House and Sido, etc.
posted by ifjuly at 5:06 PM on September 3, 2010

Stanislaw Lem, the guy who wrote Solaris, has written a lot of science fiction that always struck me as Calvino-like. I like many of the authors who you like and am also sort of nutty for Donald Barthelme. He's a very specific sort of writer and possibly too quirky along a Vonnegut path for you, but pick up his book of short stories, Amateurs, and see what you think.
posted by jessamyn at 5:08 PM on September 3, 2010

Oh, and Huysmans' Against Nature. It could go either way, but you miiight like Robert Walser too. Ohoh! And The Leopard, which in parts vaguely reminds me of Kundera and Saramago and Calvino somehow.
posted by ifjuly at 5:08 PM on September 3, 2010

Flann O'Brien, definitely. I'll probably think of others.
posted by languagehat at 5:09 PM on September 3, 2010

G'ah, keep thinking of more sensual slinky writing. Ines Arrendondo's Underground River and Other Stories, Fleur Jaeggy's Last Vanities (like if Carson McCullers' southern gothic aspect got twisted up into something much darker and more ornamental), and Jose Donoso's The Obscene Bird of Night.

I love that someone mentioned Louis Sachar of all people, by the way. And Clarice Lispector! Swoon.
posted by ifjuly at 5:10 PM on September 3, 2010

Response by poster: I was going to mention Flann O'Brien in my original list: I really liked The Hard Life, but I tried reading The Third Policeman (one of his most noted books), and found it too surreal. Although reading that first made Mulligan Stew a little more palatable, since I knew where Sorrentino was getting some of his material from. Given that, I don't think I'd like At-Swim-Two-Birds very much.

Tried reading 2666. Got bored somewhere in the middle of the fourth story, make it a bit into the fifth before giving up.

The fact that I haven't heard of most of these authors makes me really, really happy. I've got a lot to check out.
posted by hopeless romantique at 5:21 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Woah, I can't believe no one's pointed out the elephant in the room.

From your list, it seems like you've a thing for the Oulipo, so there's always the rest of the list here. I don't know how many of those write fiction or are available in English, but it's a place to start anyways.
posted by juv3nal at 6:39 PM on September 3, 2010

Heh. oulipian even commented and didn't mention 'em. The first rule of the Oulipo is we don't talk about the Oulipo?
posted by juv3nal at 6:40 PM on September 3, 2010

Response by poster: Oulipo's in my tags, plus I've written a post on them. Didn't think of just perusing the list, though :)
posted by hopeless romantique at 6:56 PM on September 3, 2010

oulipian even commented and didn't mention 'em.

Haha... well, if you're already reading Perec, Queneau, Roubaud, Calvino, Mathews... you probably know about Oulipo.
posted by oulipian at 7:06 PM on September 3, 2010

Andre Dubois III
Czeslaw Milosz
Annie Proulx
posted by easy, lucky, free at 7:20 PM on September 3, 2010

Hmmmm ... our tastes are not exactly the same, but we have significant overlap. Suggestions from my bookshelf:

- WG Sebald (anything -- I suggest you start with Austerlitz, and proceed from there to Rings of Saturn)
- Virginia Woolf. Try Orlando if you haven't already. I've found that her most commonly recommended works (Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse) are not my favorites, but I loved Orlando beyond all reason -- it felt Calvino-esque to me.
- A.S. Byatt (Possession, The Children's Book)
- Philip Roth (try The Human Stain)
- Leslie Marmon Silko (Almanac of the Dead is mind-blowing)
- Doris Lessing (her style fluctuates wildly -- try Memoirs of a Survivor)
- Jeanette Winterson (Written on the Body)
- Raymond Chandler (I'm totally serious. He's a masterful stylist.)
- George Eliot.
- Proust.
- Try China Mieville's The City and the City (I don't think you'd like his others, but I do think you'd like this)
- No, no, no to the Eggers! You will not like him, I can almost guarantee it! Nothing against the guy -- I just don't think he fits the bill. Try Rick Moody or Zadie Smith instead.
posted by ourobouros at 8:27 PM on September 3, 2010

As per some of your oulipo/French writers, have you read Nadja by Andre Breton? He definitely fits into the style, but if you've read Perec and Queneau, you're probably well aware of him. And Alfred Jarry (although, I've only read the Ubu plays). Do you like Camus? I love Camus. I can't believe you haven't read him, but on the off chance that you haven't, you must. Once again, I'm sure you've read Jean Cocteau. Have you read his protege, Raymond Radiguet? Radiguet is one of my favorites, and he fits very much into the style you like, so I would give him a go. There's not much to choose from.. so, I'd go with whichever of his books you find first. I loved The Devil In The Flesh. Umm.. Jean Genet?

French writers are (or were for a long time) my first love.. another favorite for a long while was Samuel Beckett.

I wish I could find something similar to Bulgakov (besides Bulgakov).

(Personally, I love Raymond Chandler, but I consider Dashiell Hammett the better writer.)
posted by Mael Oui at 10:01 PM on September 3, 2010

Gould's Book of Fish, by Richard Flanagan, maybe. And also maybe V.S. Naipaul's Enigma of Arrival.
posted by sepviva at 10:22 PM on September 3, 2010

John Crowley from Aegypt on…
posted by dpcoffin at 9:19 AM on September 4, 2010

I agree with Mishima, disagree about Zadie Smith, and thought it might worth mentioning Michel Houllebecq as well, only because you bring up being disappointed that the second book you read by Kundera was too similar to the first... If you're interested in something different, Houllebecq is certainly trying to take the reader out of a comfort zone, and he's a good/interesting writer (I read "The Elementary Particles", can't comment on other works)
posted by mdn at 9:54 AM on September 4, 2010

All of the writers I came in here to mention have been mentioned already (but let me emphatically second David Markson, because he was at the top of my list. Just don't start with 'This is not a Novel.' Start with 'Wittgenstein's Mistress.') but you might consider another strategy that has worked for me: figure out what publishers you generally like. When you're randomly browsing at the bookstore, this can be incredibly useful in figuring out what to pick up. And, just because I've already done this for myself, I'll point out that FC2, Dalkey Archive, New Directions, and Coach House Books are probably relatively reliable picks for you, though the last skews more toward female authors, which are kinda underrepresented on your list.
posted by dizziest at 10:21 AM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: though the last skews more toward female authors, which are kinda underrepresented on your list.

Which doesn't mean I don't enjoy female authors, just that I haven't found many (although I just read The Bone People last month, and mmmm that was so good.)

Thanks again for the suggestions! I've got quite a list now.
posted by hopeless romantique at 5:55 PM on September 4, 2010

Spinelli and Spider Robinson are two writers who I think just have a gift for turn of phrase. Spinelli is young adult; Spider Robinson crosses genres but tends towards scifi. They don't exactly mesh with the rest of your list but their writing is excellent so...couldn't hurt.
posted by eleanna at 12:02 AM on September 5, 2010

Which doesn't mean I don't enjoy female authors, just that I haven't found many.

Totally understood! I realize on re-reading that my comment sounds a bit critical, but I certainly didn't mean it that way. Was just thinking about which presses you might like or not, and I realized in the process of thinking it through that Coach House might not be the perfect match I was thinking it was... Anyway, they publish some fabulous women, and are definitely worth investigating. If you prefer specific names, Nicole Brossard and Gail Scott are both great.
posted by dizziest at 6:15 AM on September 6, 2010

2nding Orhan Pamuk's Snow. I also enjoyed My Name is Red by Pamuk.
posted by natasha_k at 10:30 AM on September 7, 2010

« Older Slightly wounded ultrarunner needs Nurse Nancy.   |   Live Bookmark feed failed to load. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.