Gimme Books!!
May 18, 2005 10:14 PM   Subscribe

I need book recommendations pronto!

I'm moving to Nashville in two days sans girlfriend. Therefore, I need a laundry list of books to pick up at the library to entertain me throughout the lonely weeks to come. Seeing as how every book recommendation I've gotten from AskMe has been great, I'd figure I'd try to get some more.
Stuff I enjoy:
The Stand or anything with an apocalyptic tilt. Dhalgren is another book of this type that I greatly enjoyed.

I'm currently really enjoying Battle Royale.

I like science fiction if it's not to nerdy. I've truly loved everything that I've read by Richard Paul Russo.

I really get into horror novels, especially those by Robert McCammon and Ghost Story by Peter Straub. I really,really like anything by Lovecraft or any Lovecraft mythos-inspired work.

I'm a big military history buff and love nearly anything related to WWII or Vietnam. I find first-person narratives extremely fascinating.

Other authors that I also enjoy: Vonnegut, Palahniuk, David Foster Wallace, and Neil Gaiman.

If any of these spark any mental relations please give me a recommendation. I've looked at so many amazon lists that my eyes have nearly begun to bleed.
posted by ttrendel to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you liked The Stand, you would probably enjoy King's Dark Tower series. Seven fat ones should keep you pretty busy.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:32 PM on May 18, 2005

It's technically a YA series, but Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy should be right up your alley. More recently, I found Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell very absorbing.

On the lighter side, have you read Terry Pratchett? The Discworld series encompasses about a billion slim novels that are funny, philosophical, entertaining-as-hell reads. My favorites are Soul Music and The Truth, but they're all good. And of course, there's the novel he cowrote with Gaiman, Good Omens.

As far as writing about Viet Nam, if you haven't, read O'Brien's The Things They Carried, and if you want to try some really good poetry, Komunyakaa's Dien Cai Dau.

Good luck with the move, and happy reading!
posted by melissa may at 10:32 PM on May 18, 2005

Have you read Ender's Game?
posted by scarabic at 10:38 PM on May 18, 2005

Have you read the "Tomorrow, When The War Began" series by John Marsden? About seven books in the series, originally published as children's books but reprinted for adults as well.
posted by lucien at 10:39 PM on May 18, 2005

Coupland's Girlfriend in a Coma is pretty apocalyptic; the end gets a bit preachy, if you can stomach that, it's still a pleasant read.

If you like historical WWII stuff that's still sufficiently pulpy to read away easily, try Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. A nice mix of history and tech.
posted by fvw at 10:40 PM on May 18, 2005

I like science fiction if it's not to nerdy. I've truly loved everything that I've read by Richard Paul Russo.

After my own heart. Besides Russo the other sci-fi writers that can keep me hooked are Stanislaw Lem and Jack Vance. Lem is kind of cerebral. Vance is pure fun. In particular, I think I read Planet of Adventure and The Demon Princes almost in one sitting even though they are each a series.

If you like apocalyptic I'd recommend Vargas Llosa's War of the end of the World. It doesnt matter whether you like anything else Vargas Llosa has written (I'm not a real fan) because its unlike anything else. Its a 600-page page-turner.
posted by vacapinta at 10:50 PM on May 18, 2005

Thanks for all the great suggestions so far. I could never really get into the Dark Tower series, but perhaps it is time to give them another try. I've read 5 of the Discworld novels and have never really gotten into them either. Perhaps it was the ones that I read. I do love Good Omens though, great book.
Thanks for reminding me of The Things They Carried, melissa may. A friend recommended that ages ago and I've never been able to remember the name or author until you mentioned them.
Although I really liked Snow Crash, I've been really intimidated by Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Are they as difficult to get into as they seem? Thanks again and keep them coming!
posted by ttrendel at 10:52 PM on May 18, 2005

If you like David Foster Wallace's fiction you'd probably also like Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I haven't read his other works so I can't comment on them ... also, have you read Wallace's nonfiction? A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again struck me as profound, absorbing, and hilarious. (But then I was sold on that book from the first essay, which was about tennis, trigonometry, and tornadoes ... the title essay, about taking a cruise, was also tip-top.)

I'd like to second the O'Brien recommendation.
posted by Tuwa at 10:58 PM on May 18, 2005

Forget all that. Just (re)read Dickens, from Pickwick to Drood. If you haven't already done it, you'll be amazed, and if you have, you'll love doing it over again.
posted by TimothyMason at 11:04 PM on May 18, 2005

I recommend Jeff Noon's Vurt. If you like psychedelic, science-fiction-meets-electric-koolaid-acid-test weirdness, I highly recommend this novel.

What's nice is that its a short read also, although I'm guessing from memory that it's around 350 pages hardback. I read it in a day.

I'd also recommend some others, but judging from the previous comments, you got a list already.

If you are perhaps also a big IDM genre fan of music also, Plaid's Double Figure almost syncs up musically to the final chapters. I had a religious media experience with the combination... good times.
posted by Vicarious at 11:12 PM on May 18, 2005

If you like Lovecraft, you'll love Thomas Ligotti. He's like a twinkling, Burroughs- and Nabokov-inflected Lovecraft. Except, he's himself, obviously. He runs quickly in and out of print, though, and his new book isn't going to come out fast enough for your trip, so that may be a wild goose chase at this precise second.

Barring Ligotti, The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll, Weaveworld by Clive Barker, and Zod Wallop by William Browning Spencer are all terrific excursions into dark fantasy, and eminently readable besides.

As for Vietnam, I'd highly recommend The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, but you may well have already read that. Either way, it's a terrific book.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:57 PM on May 18, 2005

If you like David Foster Wallace's fiction you'd probably also like Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Perhaps this is true in many folks' minds, because they're both young brown-haired white guys writing about the same time, but I don't think they could be more different as writers. I love the DFW and couldn't be bothered with another page of Eggers. Let him edit and publish. He seems to be good at that. A writer he's not.
posted by scarabic at 11:58 PM on May 18, 2005

My current recommendation of the moment is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. There is a bit of a gimmick to how the story is told, but it is a fun gimmick, and a great story/exploration of story telling.

I've also been recommending Perdido Street Station by China Mieville a lot. So I probably so do that as well. Consider it recommended.
posted by aspo at 12:01 AM on May 19, 2005

A lesser-known cousin of The Things They Carried is a novel called Paco's Story, by Larry Heinemann. It's more about returning to life after Vietnam, but incredibly raw and pentrating.

If you want lots of guns-firing bang-bang-bang cool shit, go for Dispatches, by Michael Herr.

Those three are what I would call the heart of American literature concerning that war.
posted by scarabic at 12:03 AM on May 19, 2005

Also: I second the Jeff Noon recommendation.

Steve Alyett is also a lot of fun. Hyperviolent, ultra-witty insta-quote explosion type of stuff.

Slaughtermatic is a good time. The over-arching plot is...well, there's an incredibly clever conceit, and a hundred great ideas,'s mostly an exercise in beautiful and hysterical language.

On preview: ooh, Dispatches. That's a good one, scarabic.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:04 AM on May 19, 2005

Try Joe Haldeman's War Year, if you can find it.

And Mark Frauenfelder's The World's Worst: A Guide To The Most Disgusting Hideous; Inept, And Dangerous People, Places, And Things On Earth is exactly that, and funny as hell.

Second fvw with Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.
posted by Marky at 12:38 AM on May 19, 2005

Semi-nerdy warrish apolcalyptic sci fi? Look no further than SM Stirling's Conquistador and Islands in the Sea of Time [links go to my reviews]. Both of them involve time travel.

In the first, a man discovers a portal to San Francisco circa a few thousand years ago in his basement [yes, a little hokey] and sets up a business smuggling the riches from the unspoiled world into the present day one. People start to catch on when cops find a California condor in a warehouse that is genetically unrelated to any existing living condor. Lots of "how you'd make a society from nothing" logistical questions since people have settled in the older California using only what they can bring back.

Islands has a more straightforward premise: something happens to Martha's Vineyard and the rest of the world goes back to the 1200's [?] while MV stays in the present day. Of course, the power grid doesn't work and they can only use what's available to maintain society. Power-mad Vineyarders go try to take over other lands, encounter odd people in other lands, wars start etc.

Both are a little hokey but Stirling is a stickler for historical details in a way that makes them worthwhile reading. Islands has a sequel that I couldn't get into as much because it was much more war-based and less society-based and was a lot of military maneuvering which might be right up your alley.
posted by jessamyn at 2:45 AM on May 19, 2005

Again: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. No blurb needed: just pick it up, you won't be disappointed.
posted by koenie at 2:54 AM on May 19, 2005

I'll second Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. It's going to be made into a movie, so get a jump on everyone and read it! Most os the rest of the series isn't as great, but Ender's Shadow re-tells the first book from a different character's perspective, so it's kinda cool.
posted by efalk at 3:23 AM on May 19, 2005

didn't greg bear recently write a sci-fi apocalypse book? there was a review somewhere saying it wasn't anything like as "nerdy" as his previous work (which i took to mean it was bad, but it sounds like you might like it). review here (not read it myself).
posted by andrew cooke at 3:56 AM on May 19, 2005

oh, but that's not a recent book. so i'm confused.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:59 AM on May 19, 2005

Said it once, I'll say it again: pick up anything and everything by Haruki Murakami, especially Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It's a much more...personal take on apocalyptic fiction. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is also brilliant, and alot of it deals with the Japanese memory of WWII, so it's probably right up your alley.
posted by MostHolyPorcine at 4:16 AM on May 19, 2005

Ender's Game is great, but you will finish it in, quite literally, four hours or so. I'll second Dispatches, Dickens, and Murakami too--esp. Dickens and Murakami.

Other books that come to mind:

William Gibson: Neuromancer
D.F. Wallace: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
Kafka: Collected Short Stories (esp. The Metamorphosis and The Trial)
Bruce Sterling: The Diamond Age
Philip K. Dick: Flow My Tears the Policeman Said
Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye
posted by josh at 5:06 AM on May 19, 2005

Author Boyle, T. Coraghessan.

Title Water music / T. Coraghessan Boyle.

Imprint New York : Penguin Books, 1983, c1981.

Description 437 p. : map ; 20 cm.

Series The Penguin contemporary American fiction series

Note Originally published: Boston : Little, Brown, 1981.

Subjects Park, Mungo, 1771-1806 -- Fiction.

ISBN 0140065504 (pbk.)


Author Plaster, John L.

Title SOG : the secret wars of America's commandos in Vietnam / John L. Plaster.

Imprint New York : Onyx, 1998, c1997.

Description viii, 383 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 18 cm.

Series Onyx military nonfiction ; AE 9508

Note Reprint. Originally published: New York : Simon & Schuster, c1997.

Bibliography Includes bibliographical references (p. 366-370) and index.

Subjects Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975 -- Commando operations -- United States.

ISBN 0451195086 :
posted by drakepool at 5:08 AM on May 19, 2005

Adam Johnson, Parasites Like Us (novel) and Emporium (short stories). 20-something white guy contemporary literary fiction, but with a post-apocalyptic bent. Could be a good crossover to 2 of the tastes you mentioned.
posted by matildaben at 6:02 AM on May 19, 2005

For your WWII side, I highly recommend Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson. It's a true story about a group of shipwreck divers who discover a German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey.

And also along the WWII front but in the fiction realm, I second the recommendation for Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. It's one of my favorite books and a gripping read. I wasn't able to get into the other Baroque Cycle books that go along with it, so I can't recommend those.

I've also enjoyed the Ender's Game series. Have you ever tried Ray Bradbury? I would classify his stuff as "sci-fi, but not nerdy". If not, I recommend Martian Chronicles or Illustrated Man to start, or you could just pick up his 100 Most Celebrated Tales book.
posted by geeky at 6:26 AM on May 19, 2005

If you like Vonnegut's style & you like WWII (or at least novels set during that time & place), you might try Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:33 AM on May 19, 2005

A somewhat obscure but excellent WWII memoir is With the Old Breed, by Eugene Sledge. Give it a look.
posted by scratch at 6:47 AM on May 19, 2005

Anything by Tim Powers, F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack series, and some of the alternate history stuff by Harry Turtledove. You should be able to find the latter two at your local library, the former at a decently stocked bookstore.

Powers' stuff is really good. Hell, it's groin-grabbingly good. Most of it involves the secret world around us, a world where there are metaphysical "kings" tied to the land (Last Call, where a game of poker with Tarot cards helps determine the fate of the American West and Drawing of the Dark, where a special beer aids in the battle of East vs West as the Turks seige Vienna), magic is a thing of the air that abhors the earth (On Stranger Tides, which was Pirates of the Caribbean written 20 years before the movie, is a story of magical pirates and the death and rebirth of Blackbeard, Anubis Gates which is a story of time travel and wizardry in early modern England), and spies are all around us (Declare, a cold war spy novel wherein the Soviets unleash an ancient force to guard Mother Russia).

F. Paul Wilson lives squarely down the street from Lovecraft and his Repairman Jack series is really good action/horror fun. Mercenary vigilante vs the powers of oblivion. Yay!

The volumnous Harry Turtledove has several What If? series out there. What If aliens invaded in the height of WWII? What if the South won the Civil War (he covered the 1880s, WWI, and now is starting in on WWII)? What if major wars (Civil War and WWII) happened in a world of magic and dragons?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:51 AM on May 19, 2005

Flabbergasted that no one suggested the sci-fi comedy The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It's the start of a five-book series, but it works fine without reading the rest. Neil Gaiman wrote Don't Panic, the best book about Douglas Adams (superior to the biography of Adams). Gaiman's book was just a guide to the many incarnations of Hitchhiker's.
posted by NickDouglas at 7:19 AM on May 19, 2005

I was coming in to suggest Jonathan Carroll, and I see Sticherbeast has already done so. Carroll's works are dark and funny and often surreal, and highly addictive. Looks like the Nashville Public Library owns: After Silence, Bones Of The Moon, From The Teeth Of Angels, Kissing The Beehive, The Marriage Of Sticks, Sleeping In Flame, Voice Of Our Shadow, White Apples, and The Wooden Sea, and there isn't one of those titles I wouldn't recommend.
posted by donnagirl at 7:44 AM on May 19, 2005

If you like Lovecraft, read the guy who did it better: Clark Ashton Smith. Assuming you haven't already.
posted by Decani at 7:53 AM on May 19, 2005

If "apocalyptic" includes "post-apocalyptic," Walter Miller's A Canticle for Liebowitz is considered the classic of post-apocalyptic science fiction. And rightfully so.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:53 AM on May 19, 2005

Thanks so much everyone. These should keep me busy for quite awhile.
posted by ttrendel at 8:07 AM on May 19, 2005

No one has mentioned George Saunders yet? One of his stories (and one of my favorite ones ever) can be read online, here.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:40 AM on May 19, 2005

I third Stephenson's Cryptonomicon - much less daunting than the Baroque Cycle and contains all the elements you're looking for. I also second George Saunders (especially Civilwarland in Bad Decline) and Haruki Murakami.

I also suggest (and can't believe no one has mentioned yet) J.G. Ballard. Start with his short stories. If you find that you like his idiosyncratic style (many don't), then move on to some novels, like Super-Cannes or High Rise. If you're really into him, read Crash - but its definitely an acquired taste.
posted by googly at 8:57 AM on May 19, 2005

Second War of the End of the World. It is a semi-fictionalized account of the rise and fall of a religious enclave in the new republic of Brazil in 1895 or so. There's a primary-document type book called Rebellion in the Backlands, by da Cunha, that may also strike your interest if you love War.

Apocalyptic: The Plague Tales and Burning Road, both by Ann Benson, which simultaneously tell the story of a man discovering a cure for plague in the 1300s and the rise of a drug resistant staph in early 2000s. On the Beach, by Nevil Shute, about people's last days in Australia after a nuclear holocaust in the North.
posted by whatzit at 9:05 AM on May 19, 2005

Re: Baroque Cycle. Keep in mind that Stephenson wrote it as one book. So the rule that 1/3 of the book is development is true, making Quicksilver sometimes hard to get through. It's definitely the least good of the three, the second one being the best.
posted by whatzit at 9:07 AM on May 19, 2005

For Vietnam, I recommend Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War. He was a platoon commander with the first group of Marines who landed in landed at Danang in March 1965 and left as a shell-shocked veteran sixteen months later. I thought this reader comment was a pretty good endorsement:
I landed in "Chu Lai" with the Marines on May 7, 1965. Do you want to know what it was like? Read this book.
Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie is also very good, and Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History is a good overview of the conflict.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:22 AM on May 19, 2005

I'd second Cloud Atlas, or anything by Mitchell for that matter, he's become my new favorite.
posted by btwillig at 9:24 AM on May 19, 2005

I'm a big military history buff and love nearly anything related to WWII or Vietnam. I find first-person narratives extremely fascinating.

Not military, but looks into the lives of smoke jumpers. Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire is one of the best books you'll ever read.
posted by weston at 9:39 AM on May 19, 2005

David Weber's Honor Harrington series is fun military Sci Fi, although he does get a bit too concerned occasionally with the tech.

David Drake's Hammer Slammer series is more military Sci Fi, but much, much darker, (Drake served in Vietnam, and it shows) about a mercenary troop.

Anything by Paul Fusel that I've read has been interesting. He served in WWII, and writes non-fiction historical works.

It isn't strictly military history, but John Julius Norwich's History of Byzantium, available in the full 3 volumes or in a one volume abridged version, is the most fun I've had in years. Well-written, with an excellent eye for the scurilous.

Elizabeth Moon's Paksennarion trilogy is a bit uneven, but the first book is excellent military fantasy. By the end, it is grand Good vs. Evil opera, which isn't my thing.

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigian books are hilarious, character-driven, well-written, manic space opera. Most definitely not horror or apocalyptic, but they are military.
posted by QIbHom at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2005

Phillip K. Dick - VALIS, Ubik, Divine Invasion

James (?) Steakley - Armor, Vampire$

I'll second the Cryptonomicon, Iliked it, but it's long.

And I really liked the Dark Tower books by Stephen King.
posted by jefeweiss at 10:05 AM on May 19, 2005

i'll second all of Mieville, all of Jeff Noon, all of Dickens, and there's a book of short stories by the Dhalgren guy (Delany?) that's excellent. I just finished an Engines of Light trilogy by Ken Macleod that was pretty good, and a fast read. And you should read Chabon--Kavalier and Clay, and his others, and Peter Carey's books--especially Tristan Smith, and the latest, My Life as a Fake. (all really engrossing) : >
posted by amberglow at 10:35 AM on May 19, 2005

Re: Vietnam
Michael Herr - Dispatches (Apocolypse Now had scenes loosely based on this)
David Maraniss - They marched into Sunlight
posted by adamvasco at 10:47 AM on May 19, 2005

Most of my standard recommendations have already been made. If you appreciate Lovecraft-mythos works with a touch or humor, you might really enjoy Resume with Monsters by William Browning Spencer.
posted by tdismukes at 11:03 AM on May 19, 2005

Blindness by Jose Saramago has been mentioned here several times, and it's one of my favorites. Intelligent, apocalyptic, a bit depressing, a bit uplifting, but it's fantastic any way you slice it.

Also, Palahniuk's new short story collection, Haunted, hit stores a week or three ago. If you've gone through his other stuff, maybe check that out.
posted by rfordh at 11:45 AM on May 19, 2005

Well, if you like WWII and have plenty of free time, how about tackling Gravity's Rainbow?

And I'll throw my lot behind Cloud Atlas and Cryptonomicon, as well.
posted by sad_otter at 12:14 PM on May 19, 2005

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan, sci-fi detective story. The author isn't terribly kind to religion though so be warned.
posted by cm at 12:46 PM on May 19, 2005

Mike Nicol: Horseman
Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian
posted by willpie at 2:36 PM on May 19, 2005

also second these-
Neal Stephenson: The Diamond Age
Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon
William Gibson: Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive

also try out-
Bruce Sterling: Schismatrix Plus
Greg Bear: Eon
Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
posted by zenorbital at 2:52 PM on May 19, 2005

Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff is completely fascinating; it's about a guy with multiple personality disorder who builds a house in his head where all the personalities can live together. It's very suspenseful and weird.

If you like swashbuckly stories, Dave Duncan's books about the King's Blades are light reading and super fun.

I second the recommendation of Shadow Divers and would add Into Thin Air if you like adventurous nonfiction.
posted by exceptinsects at 3:28 PM on May 19, 2005

If you like Foster Wallace, you may also enjoy Donald Barthelme. Jessamyn has a page of Barthelme goodness here. He is the hotness.
posted by hot soup girl at 6:54 PM on May 19, 2005

Of course, I must second the Vance Demon Princes recommendation.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:56 PM on May 19, 2005

If you like Lovecraft, then I hope you like Poe as well. Try The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. Brilliant man.
posted by Lush at 9:10 PM on May 19, 2005

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