A week's worth of reading in one suitcase
May 4, 2012 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Help me optimize my vacation reading! I’m headed out to the Outer Banks next month, and there’s nothing on the agenda but reading and relaxing. I’m having trouble coming up with a week’s worth of new reading material that won’t take up significant space in our truck, though. Can you recommend me lengthy or dense books--in other words, books that will give me maximum entertainment minutes per page--that are still fun vacation reading?

Books that fit my criteria:
The Baroque Cycle, Cryptonomicon, and Diamond Age
Lolita and Pale Fire
House of Leaves
Reclaiming History (should have saved this for vacation, but I couldn’t wait)
Team of Rivals
Margaret George’s historical fiction; Memoirs of Cleopatra or Autobiography of Henry VIII

Books that are already on the list:
Infinite Jest (attempt #2, would love something cheery to balance this out)
Blackout, by Mira Grant

Most important: I really cannot handle sexual violence. So Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Deliverance, etc is right out.

I don’t like magical realism, Vonnegut, or Game of Thrones

Popular nonfiction, like Mary Roach or Erik Larson, generally doesn’t take me long to read—great for normal circumstances but not ideal for this trip

From previous suggestions to similar questions, I’ve read:
Never Let Me Go
The Road
Hunger Games
Cloud Atlas
The Night Circus
On Beauty
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Special Topics in Calamity Physics
In Cold Blood, Reamde
World War Z
American Gods
An Instance of the Fingerpost
The Historian
The Name of the Rose

Any of these would be great re-reads, but I'd love some new suggestions too. Fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels--it's all fair game.
posted by House of Leaves of Grass to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any book recommendations, but my favorite thing about owning an ebook reader (Kindle in my case) is that I can pack 1,000 books into my coat pocket (no suitcase required!). And the battery will last your entire trip, and more, on just one charge. Just a thought.
posted by Grither at 6:39 AM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Kindle is the obvious answer, but not everything is on there yet (I can't get Life: A User's Manual, which is a hyuuuge book). I'm a very fast reader - I read five books on my last nine-day holiday - so I feel your pain.

I really liked Glenn David Gould's Sunnyside - huge, epic, sprawling and rooted in history as it's a fictionalised account of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Rin Tin Tin and other silent age stars. It's like watching a film with a cast of thousands.
posted by mippy at 6:42 AM on May 4, 2012

good god get an ereader. this is the definitive use-case scenario
posted by MangyCarface at 6:44 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: But to answer your question, Anathem
posted by MangyCarface at 6:45 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: If you loved Lolita and Pale Fire, you may love Ada, and it certainly satisfies your density criterion.
posted by willbaude at 6:46 AM on May 4, 2012

Response by poster: I knew I forgot something! I do not have an e-reader and will probably not be buying one before this trip, mostly because I'm stubborn and am emotionally invested in physical books.
posted by House of Leaves of Grass at 6:46 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A non-exhaustive list of stuff I've read recently that was both dense and awesome:

A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge
Kraken, China Miéville (his other books might be too violent)
Stoner, John Williams
To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis (light and fun)
Watership Down, Richard Adams (if you haven't read this, you HAVE TO)

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, Anne Fadiman
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth, Richard Fortey
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:52 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: First, I'm dismayed that you consider Erik Larson as pop fiction.

Good recommendation for you: Drood by Dan Simmons. 784 pages of descriptive brilliance.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:57 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: War & Peace is a wonderful and rewarding novel. I haven't read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, but they typically do an outstanding job translating Russian literature.
posted by exogenous at 7:00 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Don't laugh at me, but Ulysses. I came to it cold - without the voices saying 'It's unreadable! You'll never finish it!' in my head, decided to read it as poetry, and went from there. It's dense but it's funny. And if you have nothing much else to do, then it's the perfect time to see how you get on with it. (If I was off for a similar vacation - and I have an eReader, I'd take Proust. Can you read Proust on the tube in 20min chunks? Probably not.)
posted by mippy at 7:00 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Moby Dick
Under the Volcano
The Red and the Black
The Leopard
The Charterhouse of Parma
Blood Meridian
To mention a few.
They all have claws, my way of describing books that rake at you, slow you down, draw you in and make you experience them deeply.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:06 AM on May 4, 2012

I think the sexual violence ban interdicts "Blood Meridian"
posted by thelonius at 7:11 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Strongly recommend Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. Its sequel (Bring Up the Bodies) is being released on 8 May in the US and 10 May here in the UK. Awesome.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:17 AM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is my favorite, and it looks like you like Russian literature. How about some Faulkner? The Sound and the Fury or Light In August would do. Edith Wharton is also fairly dense but a fun read; The Custom of the Country is great.
posted by anotheraccount at 7:24 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Far Pavilions, by MM Kaye. Historical fiction, very popular in the '80s, about a Victorian-era British soldier, raised in India and sometimes able to pass as Indian, who falls in love with an Indian princess. Lots of detail and good melding of war/actual history with many compelling relationships.
posted by Madamina at 7:26 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Sense of Wonder compiled by Leigh Ronald Grossman is an anthology containing a ton of top-rate science fiction. 1000 pages of it, in approximately 5 pt. font, with minimal margins. This is probably one of the physically densest books available. (Oh, here is the table of contents.) (I haven't actually looked at a copy myself, but the reviews are pretty interesting, and the ebook price is actually quite nice.)
posted by anaelith at 7:27 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: I commonly recommend Gormenghast. It looks like fantasy, but is more grotesque. There's no magic in it.

For fascinating historical/political non-fiction, try The Tiananmen Papers, a primary-document-driven look at the events in People's Square. Just about anything by Daniel Boorstin. Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis was fantastic too.

You'll be in the South, so here are two Southern Lit choices:

A Confederacy of Dunces, which may be one of the funniest novels ever written.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find, short stories by Flannery O'Connor

And one wildcard: The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
posted by jquinby at 7:36 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Illuminatus!
posted by empath at 7:53 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: The Six Wives of Henry the VIII
Under the Banner of Heaven
Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (I read that one sitting on the beach in the Outer Banks)

Sounds like a great vacation - beach and reading!
posted by MrsMGH at 7:57 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: If you like Neal Stephenson, Umberto Eco, and historical fiction in general, why not read one of Stephenson's major influences? Thick, glorious, historically accurate down to the last damn detail, edge-of-your-seat, emotionally wrenching, hilarious and, best of all, there are sequels!
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:57 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: If you liked American Gods you will love Good Omens, although it might be a quicker read than you are looking for. It's very entertaining.

Have you read John Steinbeck's East of Eden? One of my all time favorite books. The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg is so beautifully written you will want to read it slowly and more than once.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by myselfasme at 8:06 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard is long and excellent.

Underworld by Don Delillo would also be great!


The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction
Continental Drift by Russell Banks
Lord of the Barnyard: Killing the Fatted Calf and Arming the Aware in the Cornbelt
Against the Day
posted by theuninvitedguest at 8:10 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Remainder by Tom McCarthy
Little, Big by John Crowley
The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
Old Filth by Jane Gardam
and my top pick
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
posted by minervous at 8:22 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Since you like Margaret George, I'm going to recommend Sharon Kaye Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, about Richard III.
posted by zoetrope at 8:30 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: If you like Mira Grant, you may also enjoy Seanan McGuire, as they are the same person.
posted by woodvine at 8:35 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: You know, having recently finished Measuring the World, I'm surprised that it doesn't get more love on this sort of AskMe question. It strikes me as the sort of book that would be right up your alley, and the respective alleys of several other MeFites.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:17 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Also, if you wanted dense, as operationalized by page numbers (the last recommendation is jam-packed with ideas, but is only about 250ish pages), I have to say that I love love loved Pynchon's "Against the Day" all out of proportion with the respect-but-not-adoration that I've had for all his other books. It's a crazy jostling narrative, but all the takes on popular early-20th century genre fiction (Westerns, adventure novels, spy stories, Horiatio Alger tales) ensures that it's all entertaining, even when it threatens to lose the thread. And there's a joke or twist to delight upon on nearly every page.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:24 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Have you read Gore's Sammy's Hill? It's a perfect vacation read filled with steamy sex and politics!
posted by lotusmish at 10:32 AM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? If a more dense non-fiction book is good, Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea. It's much heavier than Mary Roach etc. I second Wolf Hall and Russian literature.

What about The Pillars of the Earth? I found it was pretty slow-reading, but fun.
posted by jeather at 12:23 PM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: On trips like this I usually try and read a classic that I haven't read before. Maybe Barchester Towers? Or Middlemarch? Or North and South? Victorian novels are so packed that they usually require concentration so they're ideal reading for when you've got a chunk of time.

Also seconding the Charterhouse of Parma rec. it's one of my all time favourite novels. I'm with you on preferring the physical book, no matter how heavy it is to lug. I've never managed to finish a book on my iPad.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:56 PM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Oh and a random rec for one of my favourite no fiction books: The Forbidden Bestsellers of Prerevolutionary France by Darnton. It's mind boggling and informative at the same time.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:57 PM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: Columbine by Dave Cullen. Not super long, but super good.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:08 PM on May 4, 2012

Best answer: CAVEAT: Sexual violence is not a particular trigger of mine, so I might not be remembering instances of it in books I've read longer than about a year ago. On the other hand, I think there are livejournal communities that you can ask, "Does book x have trigger y?" and someone who has read the book will tell you for sure one way or the other.

The Night Circus
If you liked this one, I think similar books might be The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman, in terms of content, and The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian and The Ghost Writer by John Harwood in terms of mood.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:32 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks a ton, everyone. I'm filling up my hold list at the library right now!
posted by House of Leaves of Grass at 8:04 AM on May 7, 2012

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