Recommend a novel!
March 22, 2012 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest the most riveting, distracting, absorbing fiction!

In April I will be flying for the first time since I asked this question in 2004, and going on my first vacation in two years. While I think I'm pretty mentally prepared for the flight, I want to get sucked into a great novel during it to keep my mind busy - something that I can continue reading by the pool on vacation.

I am not a snob and absolutely fine with suggestions of popular fiction, as long as it's good! Suggestions?
posted by amro to Writing & Language (63 answers total) 120 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if you have read the Hunger Games trilogy yet, but they are the most intensely absorbing books I've read in ages. Definitely worth a look!
posted by chatongriffes at 5:26 PM on March 22, 2012 [22 favorites]

The Stand by Stephen King.

Straight into the action, no long character introductions and backgrounds. Not a "horror" book in terms of gore or anything. Also long, so no risk of finishing it on the flight there.
posted by trialex at 5:29 PM on March 22, 2012 [13 favorites]

The Dome by Stephen King is pretty good too. Anne Tyler, Amy Tan, John Irving, John Grisham, basically airport fiction (sorry writers, I love you but you are on the bestseller racks which I why I am calling you airport fiction) is there for a reason. Absorbing and time passing.

You should read something really light by the pool though, literally and figuratively, your arms can get tired holding books up over your eyes to block the sun. Candace Bushnell, Jennifer Weiner, those are beachside reads.
posted by bquarters at 5:34 PM on March 22, 2012

I recently read The Help on a long plane ride. I know it doesn't seem like this book would be riveting, but it is certainly absorbing and distracting. You immediately get absorbed into the characters and in getting to know them. The writing in this book is excellent.
posted by daydreamer at 5:34 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

LeCarré does that for me. Especially the earlier ones, and, no matter whether I've read them before or not.
posted by Namlit at 5:35 PM on March 22, 2012

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is one I read in one sitting. Maybe not lighthearted vacation reading, but it's the very definition of absorbing.
posted by denriguez at 5:40 PM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I don't read much fiction and I typically read in short spurts. I read Forest Gump in two sittings (It's short anyway). It's a completely different animal from the movie.

Also And the Ass Saw the Angel. Riveting, but fucked up. Without spoiling anything, just let me say: Inbreed Jesus.
posted by cmoj at 5:42 PM on March 22, 2012

The Stand - yes. But a heap of pages -- maybe a good candidate for an e-reader for plane travel.

Cold Mountain was maybe the last novel I read that kept me really riveted. Oh -- also, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, but I know he's not for everyone.

If you want the slightly trashier side of the library (it is vacation, after all...) those Philippa Gregory books (Other Boleyn Girl, etc.) are absorbing and fun. Nothing like a little treachery, beheading, and bodice-ripping to make the time fly!
posted by pantarei70 at 5:45 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've heard that Shogun by James Michener fits the bill.
posted by mollweide at 5:46 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Lonesome Dove.
posted by Mavri at 5:51 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

I could not put down Room, by Emma Donoghue. I also cannot put down Tana French or Susan Hill's mysteries. And Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, but you need to order that from the UK because the Canada/US publisher decided to delay it 3 months. I second The Hunger Games. The Rook, by Daniel O'Malley.
posted by jeather at 6:10 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I just finished The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey's take on Jane Eyre set in the 1950s-60s. Wonderful.

Less highbrow but excellent are the crime novels of Denise Mina, in particular Garnet Hill. I read that when I was sick and I got so into it I kept forgetting to blow my nose.

In Judgment Day, by Ruth Rendell, the author gives away the crime, perp, motive, and victims IN THE FIRST SENTENCE and you still can't put it down.
posted by scratch at 6:16 PM on March 22, 2012

The Hunger Games, yep, and there are 3 of them! I just finished the last one, now what?? I popped in to this thread to find my next reading obsession!
posted by thinkpiece at 6:17 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]
posted by cyndigo at 6:33 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, that should have linked to a recent similar question with lots of good answers.
posted by cyndigo at 6:33 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am about halfway through 1222 and it's a great book so far.
posted by get off of my cloud at 6:36 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. Could *not* put it down.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:36 PM on March 22, 2012

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:40 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ultimate time/brain sucker: Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.
posted by Leezie at 6:42 PM on March 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

I was pleasantly surprised by Katie Ward's Girl Reading. Each chapter is a story woven around a real picture of a girl reading a book from the 14th century to the present, and while I enjoyed reading it, I did not expect the ending at all. If you want to experience the same "raised eyebrows" feeling, just read the publisher's synopsis and the blurbs, and don't even look at the Amazon reviews, which are full of spoilers.

Whether or not you've watched the movie, Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell is great. It was in 2011 what The Road by Cormac McCarthy was to me in 2008 (which I read in one sitting because I could not put it down) but it may a bit bleak as a holiday read.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky, in my opinion, contains one of the most intriguing narrators in contemporary fiction (and I love the paperback cover!), while Stoner by John Williams is almost perfection in a novel.

One of my favourite new books is Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, the first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize.

If you've read the Hunger Games (engrossing, if you haven't), you could look to Divergent by Veronica Roth or Delirium by Lauren Oliver for your next dystopian YA fix. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green is another YA novel that received a lot of press. A bit of a weeper as it's about teenagers with cancer, and not one that I loved, but I like checking out what people are raving about.

I also adore My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell--eccentric English family move to Greece, acquire equally eccentric Greek friends and a menagerie. One of the funniest books I've read, and I always go back to it whenever I need a pick-me-up.

Have a great vacation!!
posted by peripathetic at 6:45 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Suggestion: e-book reader. I have a Kindle, and it's great to have an entire library in your hand when facing a long trip. "Hunger Games" not floating your boat? Switch to "The Wind in the Willows." Or "Longitude." Or "The Far Side of the World." Or "World War Z." Or whatever tickles your fancy at that moment. It's great not to have to "commit" to one book in advance of a trip.
posted by SPrintF at 6:54 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova was very riveting.
posted by eleslie at 7:06 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding "The Historian" and "The Road," although yes, "The Road" is very disturbing.

I bombed through most of Embassytown in one day. It was fantastic.

I'm currently reading The Sisters Brothers and am loving it. Also violent, but not like "The Road."

I would also recommend The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
posted by elizeh at 7:16 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson. It's a psychological thriller.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy may make you feel like you're being punched in the stomach repeatedly but it is riveting.
posted by mleigh at 7:16 PM on March 22, 2012

I can't believe I'm the first to put the Game of Thrones series A song of Ice and Fire
posted by ibakecake at 7:26 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Let me second Shogun by James Clavell. While many of the books above are great in my opinion, I've never met a book that had the mass appeal of Shogun. I have recommended it to many different people who have very different tastes, and to date, every one has loved it. I'm talking people who read only non-fiction, people who prefer scifi/fantasy, people who like literature, everyone has enjoyed it. It's not great literature, just a remarkably entertaining and fascinating read. Also, it's about 800 pages, so it represents at least a few days of entertainment.
posted by slide at 7:39 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dorothy Dunnett's historical fiction tends to suck me in and spit me back out many hours later. They're full of twists and turns and fascinating, complex characters you can obsess over. I prefer her House of Niccolo series, since they're slightly easier reads in terms of style, but both the Niccolo and Lymond books are terrific reads.

Neal Stephenson's Anathem is also seriously engrossing, especially if you're a fan of scifi. Great worldbuilding, and despite its truly epic length, I could barely put it down.
posted by yasaman at 7:42 PM on March 22, 2012

Flicker by Theodore Roszak - it's been at least 15 years since I read it, and I still think about it from time to time.
posted by rfs at 7:43 PM on March 22, 2012

Came in to mention The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, but elizeh beat me to it. I don't think there's a book that I've enjoyed more. Chabon reads so effortlessly.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is also definitely toward the top of my list. The dialog in this book is second to none (although if you don't know a bit of Spanish it might be hard to catch all the nuances).

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is a really great piece of historical-spanning-to-futuristic-post-apocalyptic fiction. It's hard to describe without giving away too much, but lots of fun and very well written.
posted by erstwhile at 8:17 PM on March 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Franzen's Freedom unexpectedly gripped me all the way through a long bus ride so I second that recommendation. I also find that mystery novels make the time fly by--I love Donna Leon's Brunetti mysteries, set in Venice, and have recently discovered Agatha Christie (late to the party, I know).

Also, was just captivated by Peter Cameron's Coral Glynn, which it is an odd and menacing read, so perhaps not best for the poolside.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:35 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

And: Lev Grossman's The Magicians is also a good captivating read--I have heard people call it Harry Potter for adults, and that's not inaccurate, but I don't think it does justice to its rich complexity. It really resonated with me since I read it shortly after graduating college, and I think its whole magic story is really a metaphor for that, but I suspect it will resonate regardless of whatever your current circumstances may be.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:38 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, did I say Michener? I meant Clavell. I haven't actually read Shogun, but numerous people have told me it's completely engrossing.

And Games of Thrones would do the trick, too, I bet.
posted by mollweide at 8:58 PM on March 22, 2012

Farthing by Jo Walton. Finished it tonight. Total page turner, fun and super smart.
posted by latkes at 9:10 PM on March 22, 2012

Everything by Christopher Moore. Bloodsucking Fiends comes to mind but all of his books seem to have a bit of a love story, a bit of a mythological-ish sort of creature (vampires or whatnot), and all are super funny, clever and fun.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:29 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
(wonderful historical fiction)

Lolita by Nabokov
posted by spbmp at 9:45 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for something long and juicy and a wee bit trashy and historical and kind of Downton Abbey-ish, I recommend Penny Vincenzi's No Angel, and its two sequels. VERY soapy. Not great literature in the sense that it's tremendously soapy, but super readable and well-done. I can't really concentrate on Great Literature on a plane or when people are bringing me cocktails, myself.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:03 PM on March 22, 2012

Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. Anything by John Irving.
posted by ellenaim at 10:11 PM on March 22, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is amazing and I was genuinely sad when it was over. Totally engrossing.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:44 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

It might be an obvious suggestion and you'll have already read them, but I found Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy very compelling.
posted by lizabeth at 12:51 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been deeply absorbed in Pear Shaped and Into the Darkest Corner for the past week. So deeply absorbed I considered hiding in the bathroom with my Kindlw so that I could finish them. I wouldn't call them fluffy but they are definitely vacation appropriate.
posted by like_neon at 2:41 AM on March 23, 2012

Glenn David Gould's Sunnyside is brilliant - an epic film in book form, with Rin Tin Tin and Chaplin.

I also found American Psycho riveting, but I read it when I was eighteen so it may have just been the violence. Nth The Help - sometimes soapy books are great for travel (I'm currently reading Rona Jaffe's The Best Of Everything on the tube, and wishing I could go home, run a bath and race through the last third.)

Also, a really obvious suggestion - I've just started reading the Dragon Tattoo series and it is indeed absorbing. Incredibly rapey, but I'm getting hooked on it as I often do with crime and thrillers (I should read more!)
posted by mippy at 4:58 AM on March 23, 2012

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.
posted by Flannery Culp at 4:59 AM on March 23, 2012

Oh - it's teen fiction, but the Jessica Darling series that starts with Sloppy Firsts.
posted by mippy at 5:08 AM on March 23, 2012

Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. I didn't find books 1-3 brilliant, per se, but 4-13... yeah, pretty much!
posted by Jacen at 6:22 AM on March 23, 2012

I just plowed through Zadie Smith's On Beauty, which has been out for several years. Highly readable and smart.
posted by prior at 6:55 AM on March 23, 2012

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

I'm working on this one right now based on a recommendation from either this site or a list I saw somewhere on the net and I have to say that I am about 1/4 of the way through it and I find it strikingly not absorbing. There's something about it that is inaccessible, but I am going to stick with it for a while and see what happens. Of course, it's all subjective.

I was gripped by "We Need to Talk About Kevin" mostly because of the dense and beautiful writing, maybe not so much by the story itself but the way it was told. It was depressing but delightful.

I think that this book has been mentioned many many times, at lease once by me, but "Drop City" by T.C. Boyle was unforgettable. Nthing "The Road", also unforgettable, and brilliant. "The Hunger Games", wow.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:19 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Middlesex by Eugenides is crazy interesting and riveting throughout.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:20 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs had me hooked in the Prologue!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a lot of fun if you're a fan of '80s pop culture or video games.

The Millenium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first one) by Stieg Larsson is great.

Seconding The Night Circus.
posted by stampsgal at 8:31 AM on March 23, 2012

posted by starman at 8:48 AM on March 23, 2012

The Terror - Dan Simmons

It's a novel about a journey, but not on a plane, but on a ship. Great, seemingly true and not-true storytelling.

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

Riveting, absorbing, excellent writing.
posted by Kruger5 at 9:04 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just finished Neal Stephenson's latest, Reamde, and it sucked me in immediately and didn't let me go until I was finished--I pretty much only took breaks to work, eat, sleep, and let my heart rate get back down to normal, as it's pretty suspenseful.

If the thought of Neal Stephenson makes you cringe after his last few books, note that this one is very, very different from The Baroque Cycle or Anathem (none of which I could get into). It's set in current times, does not require absorbing a ton of new information or understanding obscure concepts or terms, and moves very quickly--despite being a Very Long Book.

Feed by Mira Grant is another sucks-you-in sort of book, and one of my favorites from the last couple of years. There's a sequel, Deadline, so you can pick that up to keep reading if you finish the first one.

Ready Player One by Ernie Cline is also a very engaging read, but if you're a fast reader, you'll be done with it pretty quickly.

Nthing Lev Grossman's The Magicians (and sequel).
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:30 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you haven't read them, Vonnegut's novels are really engrossing, and written in little bursts of prose. You can read them on a very light level and still appreciate the message. Breakfast of Champions for sure, but also Sirens of Titan and others. I found Bluebeard completely captivating as well.

And while certainly wouldn't recommend Murakami's latest, his earlier Wild Sheep Chase or Hard-Boiled Wonderland might be up your alley.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:22 AM on March 23, 2012

American Gods (Neil Gaiman). Read it twice. Both times in under a week. It is so very good.
posted by that's candlepin at 11:03 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

nthing "Bluebeard" by Kurt Vonnegut. Good call, kafkaesque!!! One of my favorites from years ago, I had completely forgotten about it...

I also thought that "The Fixer" by Bernard Malamud was engrossing
posted by lakersfan1222 at 11:16 AM on March 23, 2012

Oh, and "The Moviegoer" by Walker Percy, another engrossing read, maybe not so much gripping as engrossing.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 11:17 AM on March 23, 2012

Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.
Hands down the best book I've ever read.
posted by krieghund at 12:34 PM on March 23, 2012

Came in to suggest Name of the Wind but was beat by krieghund. It's really long, incredibly absorbing, and yes, the best book I've ever read. It's been a couple months since I read it and I can't get it out of my head. If you finish it, you'll probably want to have the sequel (Wise Man's Fear) ready to go so you don't have to wait in agony to continue the story.
posted by meggan at 1:31 PM on March 23, 2012

seconding Divergent - a smattering of inspiration from Harry Potter and some parallels with Hunger Games, but it's very much it's own story and incredibly engrossing. I'm a little embarrassed to admit I read the entire thing in one sitting. Also thirding Name of the Wind - my husband could barely put it down each night.
posted by gatorae at 3:24 PM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes, had to come back to see what other suggestions had been given. I completely second "Middlesex" and "Cloud Atlas."
posted by elizeh at 9:09 PM on March 23, 2012

Nthing Reamde times a thousand! Perfect vacation read-a thousand pages long, compelling, smart, fast paced and funny.
posted by purenitrous at 8:04 PM on March 24, 2012

The Reapers Are the Angels: A Novel by Alden Bell

I just read this a few weeks ago: fantastic story, well told, great pacing (nothing wasted), lovely language. This is the kind of story that sucks you in within the first couple pages. I read it in a day and couldn't put it down.
posted by crayon at 12:52 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens, Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
posted by cherrybounce at 6:47 PM on March 26, 2012

nth'ing Kavalier and Klay and Shogun. Putting in a good word for the crime fiction of Richard Price and George Pelecanos. Glen David Gold's Carter Beats The Devil was a great read I haven't seen mentioned.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:07 PM on March 26, 2012

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