summer reading
June 15, 2005 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any suggestions for good new books? I like Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, books about language, and California history. Please no tragedies! Weighty is okay, just not something that's going to make me hate my fellow humans.
posted by slimslowslider to Media & Arts (27 answers total)
I've recently discovered Willa Cather. Have you read her? Her language and topics are deceptively simple; there are complex themes there, waiting to be found. Try My Antonia and the one about the professor's house (forgot the name, but may simply be The Professor's House).

Also try Wallace Stegner. Angle of Repose involves some California history (and Idaho, if I recall correctly). Stegner's Crossing to Safety is also excellent. Stegner may lead you to Ken Key and Wendell Berry and that cadre of authors. They're all pretty good. (I wish more people would ignore Kesey's Cuckoo's Nest in favor of Sometimes a Great Notion. Wendell Berry can be dry, but he's an interesting read: a "farmer-philosopher".)

The above recommendations have been tailored to the examples you provided in your question. I can't leave without my obligatory suggestion of nautical fiction, though. It's surprisingly good. Start with the historically based Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy (by Nordhoff and Hall), and if you like it, check out Patrick O'Brian's stuff.

More later if anything occurs to me.
posted by jdroth at 9:05 PM on June 15, 2005

Ken Key

What happened there? A stuck key I wonder? Should be Ken Kesey, obviously.
posted by jdroth at 9:12 PM on June 15, 2005

Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe. And Steinbeck's stuff, especially East of Eden, would be up your alley.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:18 PM on June 15, 2005

David Mitchell has written three awesome books.

Cloud Atlas would be the one I would suggest.

Well, I'd suggest all three.
posted by xmutex at 9:55 PM on June 15, 2005

John Steinbeck's comic California novels--Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat. John Muir's writing about the Redwoods and natural environment. Mark Twain's Roughing It.
posted by LarryC at 10:17 PM on June 15, 2005

A brand-new, second-hand recommendation: David Hosp's Dark Harbor.
posted by cribcage at 10:56 PM on June 15, 2005

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
What genre's do you prefer?
posted by Kilovolt at 11:27 PM on June 15, 2005

Response by poster: I generally prefer fiction, but I also like nonfiction about cultural movements or history. I am an art major, so I am interested in books about or relating to art (no Da Vinci Code!) I like writers who use language in interesting or humorous ways. I loved "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tim Robbins, I like Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show), also Anne Lamont. I have read all of the Steinbeck-it's required in CA schools (yes, all of it), Kerouac, Salinger. I'm looking for something similarly American-ish. I very much appreciate all of the suggestions so far! More more more!
posted by slimslowslider at 11:56 PM on June 15, 2005

Response by poster: Also, I get "The New Yorker", but I dislike the fiction because it is always about dead siblings or a similarly depressing theme. I always enjoy the "Personal History" articles or ones about people with odd jobs. If that helps at all...
posted by slimslowslider at 11:59 PM on June 15, 2005

Art, interesting language, and a focus on California... what about maybe some Sam Shepard? The play "True West" might be a place to start, or really either of the short story-travelogue-monologue-poem compiliations: I like "Crusing Paradise," though "Great Dream of Heaven" might be a more even collection.
posted by .kobayashi. at 12:31 AM on June 16, 2005

The most American-ish author I know is (paradoxically?) Nabokov. Have you given him a try? Pale Fire will give you plenty of language used in interesting or humorous ways, and Lolita is, of course, the Great American Novel....
posted by mr_roboto at 1:14 AM on June 16, 2005

Slimslowslider, I really think you'd enjoy My Antonia. And Stegner. Other books that have occurred to me overnight include: Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres (though it gets tragic; it's a modern retelling of King Lear), Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (vastly superior to the film; his language is wonderful), Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes (some tragedy, but also an hilarious personal history), and maybe (just maybe) Proust's Swann's Way (which can be quite difficult, but is filled with wonderful insights).

I also think you might like some short fiction: Lorrie Moore, Andrea Barret, or, perhaps, the wonderful Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction.

Finally, I retract my earlier recommendation of nautical fiction. It really doesn't mesh with what you're asking for. (It is great stuff, though.)
posted by jdroth at 5:36 AM on June 16, 2005

Maybe David Foster Wallace? A lot of people hate him, but he definitely meets your language-play criterion, and I've enjoyed his books a lot-- his essays as collected in "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" are great, and of his fiction, "Infinite Jest" is the obvious winner. His stuff also does relate to cultural movements: there's a lot of cultural theory stuff in "A Supposedly Fun Thing", and "Infinite Jest" is interesting as a reflection on postmodern and, for lack of a better word, post-postmodern lit.

Just a heads-up, though, if you don't want depressing, stay the hell away from his latest collection of short stories, "Oblivion". Ouch.
posted by ITheCosmos at 6:11 AM on June 16, 2005

Misleading Titles Dept.: Adam Langer's Crossing California has nothing whatsoever to do with the state of California (title refers to California Avenue in Chicago). BUT: It's wonderful!!! It's sort of a coming-of-age story set in the 1970s--I say "sort of" because the main characters are young, but there are no big fat epiphanies at the end. It's funny as hell and I particularly like the snappy dialogue.
posted by scratch at 6:42 AM on June 16, 2005

Jose Saramago...a Portuguese author whose works have been brilliantly translated into English. Try "Blindness" or "The History of the Siege of Lisbon." The latter one involves a lowly proofreader who, on a whim, deliberately inserts an error into a history book.
posted by Brian James at 6:43 AM on June 16, 2005

there's been a lot of book threads here - most recently one on "summer reading". you might want to search the archives.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:07 AM on June 16, 2005

John Barth specializes in word play, plus he has an interesting take on the world. Weighty. Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum might be of interest to you. Haruki Murakami. I can't think of anything Californian. . . Maybe something will come to me.
posted by ashbury at 7:16 AM on June 16, 2005

I know this is going to sound odd, but Jessamyn West has some really good classic fiction about early settlers in California when everyone was growing oranges. She's a very skilled writer and all of her characters, even the losers, have a certain dignity and integrity to them that I really enjoy reading about. I suggest the State of Stony Lonesome and South of the Angels.

On a more word-playish note, I always recommend the short stories of Donald Barthelme. Many are linked off of my page here and you could check out either of his collections entitled 60 Stories and 40 Stories respectively.
posted by jessamyn at 7:26 AM on June 16, 2005

I recently finished Drop City by TC Boyle. I quite liked it. Large parts of it are set in California around 1970. The rest is set in Alaska and the book contrasts the two quite consciously. Basic plot is that a bunch of hippies move from their CA commune up to Alaska to start another commune. The book also follows a hunter/trapper who lives in Alaska. The two stories come together.

I thought it was very much about America, and about California. The notions of frontier and freedom, responsibility and society were all glossed in various ways. It wasn't a perfect novel, but it was fun to read and reasonably smart. I'd very much recommend it given what you wrote in your question.

I'd also recommend Gold, or Sutter's Gold, by Blaise Cendrars. Cendrars is getting republished, and is worth a read in general. He was one of those between-the-wars French knockabouts you hear so much about. (Ok, maybe not.) Anyway, the book is a novel about Sutter, whom you no doubt know of from previous reading. I read it many years ago, but I recall it being pretty good, and certainly right up your alley. I think it would make a great companion to Roughing It. (Poke around on Amazon for it, there are several editions available used, I'm not sure if it's in print.)
posted by OmieWise at 7:28 AM on June 16, 2005

John McPhee - Annals of the Former World - nonfiction about the geology of California and the Western US.
posted by matildaben at 7:40 AM on June 16, 2005

David Foster Wallace?

Bleh. Try Haruki Murakami.
posted by a thousand writers drunk at the keyboard at 8:32 AM on June 16, 2005

Lolita is, of course, the Great American Novel...
That reminds me: David Mamet once said he thought Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy was the Great American Novel. It's hardly new, however. (Nor are many of the above suggestions).
posted by cribcage at 9:25 AM on June 16, 2005

I like Truman Capote, as well. I also really appreciate the works of Patricia Highsmith and Shirley Jackson. There's some tone to them that causes them to be linked in my head, an undercurrent of well dressed darkness, maybe?
posted by redsparkler at 9:36 AM on June 16, 2005

Pynchon's Vineland and Denis Johnson's Already Dead are very California-rific. And both authors write pretty sentences.
posted by sad_otter at 10:19 AM on June 16, 2005

matildaben writes "John McPhee - Annals of the Former World - nonfiction about the geology of California and the Western US."

Anything by McPhee is great.
posted by OmieWise at 10:43 AM on June 16, 2005

Michael Chabon, any and all

Kent Haruf - "Plainsong" (he has a new book, "Eventide," that takes place in the same town, but I haven't read it yet)

And I second David Foster Wallace ("Infinite Jest" and "A Supposedly Fun Thing..." especially)
posted by papercake at 12:50 PM on June 16, 2005

Response by poster: I don't know if this is a "best answer" question. I would like to thank everyone for their thoughtful responses.
posted by slimslowslider at 1:05 PM on June 16, 2005

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