Famous books that are easy to get into.
September 24, 2010 6:03 PM   Subscribe

What are some famous and/or culturally influential books that are not hard to dive into?

I'd like to start reading more.

I'm a 23 year old male.

I'm most interested in reading some of the famous books from the 20th century that are easy to dive into.

Some things I might try: Catcher in the Rye sounds interesting, 1984 looks intriguing, Fahrenheit 451 seems powerful, and the movies based on Philip K. Dick's stories (Minority Report, Blade Runner, Total Recall) are awesome.

If you're coming up with too many books to count, just tell me about three books that had a big impact on you.
posted by mtphoto to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
The Crying of Lot 49
A Canticle for Leibowitz
posted by jingzuo at 6:08 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The novel that Blade Runner is based on is actually called "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" and yeah, that's a really good read.

As for a few other easy titles, I'd suggest Animal Farm by George Orwell, or The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.
posted by sarastro at 6:10 PM on September 24, 2010

Cat's Cradle
Slaughterhouse 5
All Quiet on the Western Front
Magister Ludi
Nicholas and Alexandra
Common Ground

posted by jgirl at 6:12 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Catch 22. I just finished rereading it for probably the tenth time and it's never gotten old.

Also I've found Kurt Vonnegut's novels exceedingly good and easy to get into-- if you've read his, I think you'd enjoy Catch 22 a lot.
posted by actionpact at 6:13 PM on September 24, 2010

The Grapes of Wrath
Catch-22 (again)
The Quiet American
posted by tracicle at 6:17 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

My two go-to recommendations for exactly this sort of thing:

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (short, brilliant novella -- a story-within-a-story about the colonization of Africa; it was also the basis for the movie Apocalypse Now)

James Joyce, Dubliners (these are his short stories, written before he began his experiments in style -- very readable, if subtle, but do not be put off by his reputation as impossible to read)
posted by scody at 6:22 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Definitely try 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. Since you're 23, Catcher in the Rye might seem immature to you, but Franny and Zooey could be right up your alley. Also, Vonnegut is eminently readable.

This seems a little strange, but you should pick up a recent translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh, especially the one by Danny P. Jackson. It reads astoundingly like a modern story and, as the first "quest story" we know of, it was definitely culturally influential. I finished it in like an hour and a half.
posted by wayland at 6:25 PM on September 24, 2010

Brave New World
....will probably be back to name more later
posted by adrianna aria at 6:36 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You mentioned Philip K. Dick, so I'll suggest The Man In the High Castle. It's about an alternative world where the Nazis won... But it's actually better than it sounds. It's the novel that made him famous, iirc. (I also recently read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which I believe is more famous, but it was a bit more difficult to follow.)
posted by meese at 6:40 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

To Kill a Mockingbird.
posted by rtha at 6:42 PM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

Honestly, it sounds like you've missed out on a lot of the great literature that is usually covered in high school English class (in the US, at least). So I would seek out reading lists for high school English classes and go from there. It's rare for a typical high school to jump into books that are particularly hard (e.g. a lot of high schoolers read Dubliners, very few read Ulysses).
posted by telegraph at 6:46 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yesssss Vonnegut! I felt exactly like you did when I was your age (a whole 5 years ago) and I found Vonnegut to be very accessible as well as entertaining. I recommend starting with Cat's Cradle, and if you like that, read Slaughterhouse-Five. After that, take your pick. The library will probably have a few others.

Also, 1984. Honestly, I kind of hated Brave New World, but maybe I'm in the minority on that one. I liked 1984, though. As for Catcher in the Rye, while I could appreciate it when I read it last year, I think I would've liked it more if I'd first read it as a teenager. But I did enjoy reading both that and Franny & Zooey. Shamefully, I didn't read either book until after JD Salinger died.

And if you didn't read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in school, that one was one of my favorites.
posted by wondermouse at 6:48 PM on September 24, 2010

The Lord of the Rings
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:51 PM on September 24, 2010

The Great Gatsby
The Count of Monte Cristo
posted by anaelith at 6:54 PM on September 24, 2010

I would not read The Crying of Lot 49 if you are just getting into reading. Pynchon isn't a super-easy read.

Seconding Vonnegut and Orwell.
posted by gaspode at 6:54 PM on September 24, 2010

(OK, Count of Monte Cristo is 19th century, but it's famous and easy to read and most translations will feel fairly modern in writing style.)
posted by anaelith at 6:57 PM on September 24, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale
The Color Purple
posted by fuse theorem at 7:02 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Influential? Not sure. Scarily culturally insightful? Certainly.
posted by YamwotIam at 7:10 PM on September 24, 2010

Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick are perfect if you're looking for easy to get into and extremely readable but thoughtful, relevant books.

Seconding One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest also.
posted by houndsoflove at 7:13 PM on September 24, 2010

Great suggestions so far. If you want to read a classic that should only take you an hour or two, check out The Postman Always Rings Twice.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:16 PM on September 24, 2010

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince and Wind, Sand and Stars.
Albert Camus: The Stranger.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:19 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (or anything by Twain, really)
posted by benzenedream at 7:29 PM on September 24, 2010

Graham Greene, The Quiet American
Rudyard Kipling, Kim
Lafcadio Hearn, Kwaidan
posted by No-sword at 7:37 PM on September 24, 2010

As much as I love Catch-22, it is not an easy book to get into. If you are prone to putting down books that don't grab you right away, put off Catch-22 for a while. It takes a while to really start making sense. The payoff is there, though.

Vonnegut's stuff is great. As long as you don't start with "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater" you'll be fine.
posted by i love cheese at 7:52 PM on September 24, 2010

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran- it's more prose than novel, but it is famous, easy and profound.

Aside from that, I've had the best time with Kurt Vonnegut, as others have mentioned. I'm 25 and have a silly sort of humour that is perfectly tickled by him. I also find his novels to be great re-reads, which is a lot more than I can say for a majority of the books I've read.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:11 PM on September 24, 2010

I'm naming these because they're all famous/influential books that I read on my own for pleasure and enjoyed, rather ones I read in the context of a class:

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek
Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
posted by deanc at 8:25 PM on September 24, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera.

Also, I couldn't disagree more with the suggetions to dive into Crying of Lot 49 and the Heart of Darkness. Those aren't easy reads like the books you listed.
posted by oreofuchi at 8:36 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hmm, I don't think Heart of Darkness is difficult; I read it in high school and loved it, and taught it when I was in grad school to my freshman English lit classes, and it generally went over well with my students... but certainly, as with most literature, YMMV (I'm one of those people who thinks Catcher in the Rye borders on awful, for example).
posted by scody at 8:47 PM on September 24, 2010

William Gibson: Neuromancer
Jack Womack: Random Acts of Senseless Violence
posted by digitalprimate at 9:05 PM on September 24, 2010

john steinbeck. cannery row is a lickety-split read and is AMAZING.
posted by quiteliterally at 9:33 PM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Of Mice And Men", John Steinbeck.
"Play Little Victims", Kenneth Cook.
"What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted", Alan Duff.

They're easy to read, but oh-so-powerful story-telling. (The first two still give me goosebumps when I remember how shocked I was after finishing them.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 9:33 PM on September 24, 2010

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Dune by Frank Herbert

I couldn't put either of them down.
posted by amillionbillion at 9:57 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Remains of the Day.
posted by painquale at 10:14 PM on September 24, 2010

Since the novels are being well-covered, here are some nonfiction works that meet your criteria (20th century; popular or culturally influential; easy to get into)

Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, David Simon
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt

On the fiction side, I would add

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy O'Toole
Clear and Present Danger, Tom Clancy
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (easy to get into, though long)
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
posted by pineapple at 10:22 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

i think a good way to wet your whistle for 20th century lit would be with short stories, poems, and plays. a nice quick one- or two-sitting munch. anything by any of these people:

plays - joe orton, harold pinter, sam shepard
poems - ee cummings, billy collins, charles bukowski
short stories - j.l. borges, john cheever, p.g. wodehouse

any of these will lead you as if by magic to your next cool book.

if you want a novel, jesus, there's so many. couple off the top of my head: 'at swim-two-birds' by flann o'brien, 'wise blood', flannery o'connor. there's *so much* good work out there it's insane.
posted by facetious at 10:22 PM on September 24, 2010

Fareheight 451 sounds great to start with - Bradbury's great. Of Mice and Men is also an easy and very powerful read - plus, all of a sudden you'll get the Abominable Snowman from Looney Toons. To Kill A Mockingbird is fantastic as well. All three of those are books that I read in high school, books that I wouldn't have picked up on my own, and found easy to read, powerful, and just wonderfully written. They are do-not-miss books.

(And it's not as influential, but Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of the best books I've ever read. Just amazing.)
posted by maryr at 10:27 PM on September 24, 2010

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson.

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler.

Short Stories, by Ryonosuke Akutugawa.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.

Anything by John Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men makes a nice start.

The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester (sci fi).

The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin (sci fi).

The Bloody Chamber or Nights at the Circus, by Angela Carter.

If on a Winter's Night A Traveller, by Italo Calvino.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John Le Carre.

Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami.

Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann.

Rock Springs, by Richard Ford.

Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith.

Collected Ghost Stories, by M.R James.

I, Claudius, by Robert Graves.

Ashenden, by W. Somerset Maugham.

The Collector, by John Fowles.

Wild Swans, by Jung Chan.

Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis.

The Plague, by Albert Camus.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote.
posted by smoke at 10:30 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are some great books posted here already, but some of them are not what I would describe as "easy to dive into" as per your request. So, I'm going left field:

Jonathan Livingston Seagull
The Alchemist
Ender's Game
The Power of One
posted by acheekymonkey at 11:10 PM on September 24, 2010

If you are prone to putting down books that don't grab you right away, put off Catch-22 for a while.

First two sentences of Catch-22 -

It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him.

It grabbed me. 14 years old. Lahaina, 1974.
posted by philip-random at 1:05 AM on September 25, 2010

-Ray Bradbury's short stories are very good, and they're often referenced in pop culture (especially "A Sound of Thunder"). The Golden Apples of the Sun and The Martian Chronicles are my favorite collections.
-2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke, was written concurrently with the film. It makes a lot more sense.
-Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land is another popular, influential sci-fi book. You might want to take it with a grain of salt, though.
-And how have we forgotten Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? It's fantastic.
-Already mentioned: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, All Quiet on the Western Front, Slaughterhouse 5, The Great Gatsby, The Stranger, Neuromancer, Watership Down, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Gorky Park, The Plague, and Ender's Game.

If you'll allow me to recommend some books that aren't from the 20th century:
-The Count of Monte Cristo (previously mentioned) and The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
-Candide by Voltaire
-Any of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
posted by clorox at 1:10 AM on September 25, 2010

Oh, and The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth. It hits a sweet spot in the cloak-and-dagger department somewhere between the over-the-topness of James Bond and the relative mundanity of le Carré.
posted by clorox at 1:24 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Flowers for Algernon (the original short story is, IMO, better than the novel version)

The suggestions for Phillip K Dick are interesting, because although i think his stuff is relatively easy to read, i don't find all the weird symbolic stuff to be easy to understand. Which is part of what makes PKD great...
posted by nml at 3:40 AM on September 25, 2010

Very good question. I'm pretty picky in this way, and for me Catch-22, Catcher in the Rye, and Fahrenheit 451 were "easy reads" for me. I recently read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep recently, and I have to tell you, it's pretty different from the movie. (But then I saw the movie again, and really, really enjoyed it, which I didn't the first time around).

Count of Monte Cristo is loooong, but entertaining and plot-driven, so that's a possibility.

The Stranger, Mother Night also possibilities, favorites of mine, and pretty short, as I recall.

Neuromancer, Confederacy of Dunces, Death in Venice, Lord of the Flies are examples of things I DIDN'T find easy to get into, although I probably would enjoy Neuromancer as a film/comic, and Death in Venice as an idea/short story. I do really bad with descriptions. Lord of the Rings being another example of something I kind of slogged through.

Take these with a grain of salt, obviously, not everyone has the same tastes.
posted by Busoni at 6:24 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know what? Chuck Palahniuk is really easy to read, and arguably influential. Try Fight Club and Survivor. Also in this vein: try the Godfather as well.

Incidentally, it's my opinion that Fight Club the movie is slightly better than the book, and that the Godfather the film is vastly superior (but really because the book is very pulpy and the film is so monumental). I think my opinion here isn't all that controversial.
posted by Busoni at 6:30 AM on September 25, 2010

Not so much books but authors who could be of interest
Tom Wolfe; Tom Robbins; Richard Brautigan all eminently readable.
posted by adamvasco at 6:35 AM on September 25, 2010

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson. His style is so distictive, that you'll spot his influence in a lot of other writers forever after.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:24 AM on September 25, 2010

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
The Cider House Rules or The World According to Garp - John Irving
posted by elsietheeel at 9:22 AM on September 25, 2010

Slaughterhouse-Five gets my top vote. Super easily readable while still important and thought-provoking.
posted by ifjuly at 9:35 AM on September 25, 2010

TREASURE ISLAND - Robert Louis Stevenson. It does not read like a 19th century novel; just crisp, engrossing narrative from page one.

Squire Trelawney, Doctor Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17� and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow Inn, and the brown old seaman, with the sabre-cut, first took up his lodging under our roof.
posted by philip-random at 9:58 AM on September 25, 2010

It does not read like a 19th century novel

by which I mean, it doesn't get all tied up taking three pages to describe what a pirate ship looks like, or Long John Silver's nose. It keeps moving. The diction, wording etc are, of course, very 19th century, hence much of the appeal.
posted by philip-random at 11:00 AM on September 25, 2010

Oh boy.

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
Siddartha - Herman Hess
The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay
The Great Gatsby (which has already been mentioned multiple times, appropriately so)
Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer
Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts (but this is more of a personal preference)
The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollen
posted by northxnorthwest at 5:53 AM on September 26, 2010

« Older What's healthier: 90% lean buffalo or a leaner cut...   |   She snooped in my Gchat and read unflattering... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.