This book made you love books, right?
May 28, 2012 8:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a book that is so wonderful it will renew my joy for reading. Books that don't make you want to sit in a library and luxuriate in the ability to absorb impossibly lovely stories need not apply.

This question is highly subjective, of course, but the goal is clear: to rejuvenate my taste for a well-told story after a really, really intense semester. I don't care if this book is one part of a series with lurid sex scenes or high-class piece of literary fiction. I can appreciate flowery language and the barest bones of English. Fantasy, scifi, romance, realistic fiction - doesn't matter.

That said, the novel does have to be approachable and, once approached, digestible. I'm afraid attempting Infinite Jest at this time would cause an implosion of some kind. I'd prefer suggestions are kept to post-1950. My favorite novel is Middlesex. I really like romantic subplots, but they're totally not necessary.

Thanks, guys.
posted by goosechasing to Media & Arts (74 answers total) 230 users marked this as a favorite
Michael Chabon is your man.
posted by miles1972 at 8:12 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Brothers K, by David James Duncan. The shortest long book you'll ever read.
posted by themanwho at 8:17 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Somerset Maugham's short story collection does this for me.
posted by infini at 8:20 PM on May 28, 2012

The post-1950 books that remind me why I love books include Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife (seems like it has a complicated narrative structure, but actually quite easy to follow; romantic subplot); Carlos Ruis Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind; and the significantly less hoity-toity but possibly best of all, Lois McMaster Bujold's The Warror's Apprentice.
posted by willbaude at 8:20 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ah, sorry, didn't notice the post 1950 in your question. And on preview, seconding Lois McMaster Bujold's books.
posted by infini at 8:21 PM on May 28, 2012

If you love reading, Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series is a good bet. The first in the series is The Eyre Affair. There is a romantic sub-plot.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:23 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

I adored Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Or there is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (the sequel has just come out; I haven't read it yet). Cloud Atlas. Faithful Place by Tana French.
posted by jeather at 8:24 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Bashfully seconding The Time Traveler's Wife. Great literature maybe not, but solidly good and definitely a well told, engrossing story.
posted by telegraph at 8:24 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

John Irving, maybe even some Pat Conroy. I'd keep to the first three-quarters of their work. Anything by Ann Patchett or Barbara Kingsolver.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:28 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Master and Commander and Post Captain are two of the most amazingly funny, witty, literary, rippingly good books I have ever read.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:29 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The one I recommend to everyone who hasn't read it: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
posted by jeri at 8:30 PM on May 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

On preview, you want books, not authors. Here goes: A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp, The Great Santini, The Lords Of Discipline, Bel Canto, The Poisonwood Bible and The Prodigal Summer.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:31 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconding Chabon. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policeman's Union are my favorites. William Gibson's Pattern Recognition is another I've read multiple times, one of the best books I have read in any genre.
posted by ljshapiro at 8:33 PM on May 28, 2012

For me, Wayne Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. Every time I open that book, I end up sinking into it like it's a warm bath.
posted by peppermind at 8:41 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll second Chabon, and add Neal Stephenson-- Cryptonomicon or Anathem. Nothing wrong with the Baroque Trilogy, but it was a big commitment. (Not as big as reading Master & Commander/Post Captain turned out to be, and that was an amazing ride.)
posted by Sunburnt at 8:50 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell.
posted by Madamina at 8:52 PM on May 28, 2012 [17 favorites]

Ender's Game if you haven't read that yet. Ender's Shadow if you have.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
posted by ramenopres at 8:53 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Any of Mark Helprin's books, particularly A Soldier of the Great War. Or Memoir from Antproof Case.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:53 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

The Secret History
posted by SisterHavana at 9:01 PM on May 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

Terry Pratchet, specifically Night Watch.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:03 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis does this for me. It's the book that I read when I'm feeling burnt out on reading, and it always makes me want to read more. It's my desert island book, and is on every ereader and phone and computer that I touch, just in case I end up needing it.
posted by MeghanC at 9:15 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

A S Byatt's Possession
posted by brujita at 9:22 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding Bel Canto and Wolf Hall.
posted by gaspode at 9:25 PM on May 28, 2012

The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and The Walled Orchard by Tom Holt, are the books I turn to when I am sick of books, to renew my love for the written word and the images it can evoke in the mind.
posted by The otter lady at 9:37 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Michael Swanwyck, "The Dragons of Babel".

It's the sequel to his wonderful book "The Iron Dragon's Daughter". I don't think you have to have read that to enjoy "Babel", it's set in the same world but is very different.

It's a book of stories in stories. The best moment, for me, is when the main character is sitting in front of a library doing some research. One of the stone lions flanking the stairs is reading over his shoulder, and begins to talk to him about what he's reading and why. And then goes off on a tangent where he tells the story of how continental drift separated him from his pride of stone lionesses back when Pangaea started to break up, what happened when the continents bumped into each other again and reunited them, and the apocalyptic future that will someday result.

There are other digressions, other stories occupying their fractal part of the main story. That's the one that sticks in my mind.

The world is familiar yet bizarre, and Swanwick's prose carries you through it joyously. There's a lot left lingering in your mind afterwards, but it's never hard to read.
posted by egypturnash at 9:38 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Elizabeth Kostova has written 2 novels, both of which are very, very interesting. They were the only two books in recent memory to really grab hold of my attention (and this comes from someone who reads quite a fair bit).

The Historian was her first book, focusing on vampires. Tightly-written and imagery-rich.

The Swan Thieves was her second effort, and better written as well. This has a lot of artistic themes in it, and may be more relatable to everyday life.

Either book you pick, it'll be a fantastic experience.

I've also been reading David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary, though I hesitate to recommend it because it's quite short. If you don't mind that, the writing style is beautiful.
posted by titantoppler at 9:52 PM on May 28, 2012

I most recently had this feeling with Patti Smith's wonderful memoir, Just Kids. It's such a loving piece of literature -- draws you into the clumsy hipness of city/art life and introduces you to people who made that tangle alive and vital for Patti. If you have any interest in early punk, art, or kids in the big city, I would recommend diving into it.
posted by elephantsvanish at 9:57 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin
posted by bongo_x at 10:02 PM on May 28, 2012

The Secret History, The Corrections. Anything by Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road or his short stories, not "beautiful," necessarily, but completely absorbing). I've heard a lot of people say things like this about Jeanette Winterson. Also not post-1950, but Wuthering Heights is so impossibly beautiful I just can't. Dune is a great story. I don't quite get there with Murakami, but a lot of people do. And if you can get your hands on Takako Takahashi's short stories, they're incredible. Incredible!
posted by stoneandstar at 10:10 PM on May 28, 2012

The most beautiful and enjoyable book I've read recently is Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus to the point I'm evangelical about it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:13 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It's a "literary" mystery, with lots of suspense (and a creepy hint of the occult) but also beautiful language and a really magical sense of place -- you really feel as if you're walking the streets of post-WWII Barcelona with the young narrator. And the entire theme of the novel is the power and magic of books! So lovely.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 10:14 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I read Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler during a particularly difficult semester at college, and it helped renew my interest in fiction.
posted by metabrilliant at 10:15 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 10:28 PM on May 28, 2012

Nthing Lois McMaster Bujold.

City of Thieves is set in the siege of Leningrad, and it's utterly absorbing.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 10:38 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've often said that Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine turned me back on to reading. The whole concept is one that wouldn't work in any other medium.
posted by knile at 11:13 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I, too, loved Kavalier & Clay.

I also recommend "Crossing to Safety" and "Angle of Repose" by Wallace Stegner. They're both excellent books, perfect for the situation you're describing. It's a character-driven book, where K&C is more plot-driven, I'd say. Both Stegner books are stories of marriages and long friendships; you see the characters grow and change, and the way they relate to each other develop over time.

I love Stegner because his voice is so clear; the writing is relatively simple, yet evokes beautiful scenes from the American West and builds complex, relatable characters.
posted by pompelmo at 11:14 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

Anything by Louis de Bernieres, Isabel Allende or Richard Ford.

2nding The Mezzanine and the Poisonwood Bible and nthing The Time Traveller's Wife.
posted by neilb449 at 11:39 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Marguerite Duras "The Lover"
posted by rhizome at 11:55 PM on May 28, 2012

Before I read your entire question, I was thinking Middlesex! But since that's your favorite already, I join the others who say Bel Canto.
posted by mochapickle at 12:51 AM on May 29, 2012

n+1thing Lois McMaster Bujold.

The Silent Tower, by Barbara Hambly.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:53 AM on May 29, 2012

How about People Of The Book by Geraldine Brooks? March is also fantastic. Both have romantic subplots, and are very well written.

You might also enjoy Irving Stone's The Agony And The Ecstasy if you haven't already read it.

nthing Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
posted by yaymukund at 1:12 AM on May 29, 2012

How about Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy? Three for the price of one!

Richard Powers writes great big idea things too. I particularly liked The Echo Maker, but his others are all worth a spin.
posted by ZipRibbons at 2:13 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Perhaps too pop-ish for your requirements, but I've always found Ian Rankin's Rebus books to make me giddily happy about reading - so atmospheric, so quick and so understatedly funny. His other books are good too. Come to think of it, not lovely, but certainly ripping yarns in enjoyable prose. Sorry if it's off the mark.

How about The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle? I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, after an exhausting semester of my own.
posted by undue influence at 3:25 AM on May 29, 2012

The Invisible Bridge - Julie Orringer
The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Seconding "A Fine Balance"
posted by backwards guitar at 3:36 AM on May 29, 2012

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, in which the Queen becomes addicted to reading.
posted by jonnyploy at 3:43 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came to suggest the Book Thief and the Historian (I didn't love the Swan Thieves). So seconding those.
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:08 AM on May 29, 2012

Little, Big
posted by Daily Alice at 5:06 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I came to Mark Helprin with A Winter's Tale which is great if you like New York, and some history.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:09 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came here to suggest Ender's Game but I was beaten to it. (Seriously, read it. So great.) Instead I will suggest the following books:
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman (not a hard read, but such amazing visuals and really engrossing)
- The Godfather by Mario Puzo (the book is SO SO SO GOOD and better than the movie(s))
- Most things by Michael Crichton (not hard reads, but generally really good stories and fun)
- Cloud Atlas may be a little heavy, but it is really good
- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
- The Forever War
- The Harry Potter series (Burn through the first two, and then the books get REALLY good)
- Jitterbug Perfume
posted by gwenlister at 5:12 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

2nding Perfume by Patrick Susskind and, ignoring your 50s cutoff and because good writing occurs in non-fiction also, pretty much any of George Orwell's shorter pieces, "Selected Essays" is a good place to start.
posted by epo at 6:07 AM on May 29, 2012

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
posted by Dolley at 6:13 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed The Art of Fielding so much. I was afraid it would be pretentious but instead it really embodied what I enjoy about a novel--compelling characters, suspenseful plot, and just all-around good writing.

Around the time I read Fielding, I also read Eugenides's The Marriage Plot, which you should give a try if you haven't already. Different from Middlesex and not quite as good but still really enjoyable.

I also loved Amor Towles's The Rules of Civility and Cristina Alger's The Darlings--both about characters navigating wealthy New York society, though many years apart.
posted by mlle valentine at 7:06 AM on May 29, 2012

Seconding Little, Big. Beautiful language and, even though it's been six months since I read it, I found myself thinking about it unprompted this morning :-)
posted by primer_dimer at 7:12 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing Time Traveller's Wife or The Book Thief. John Irving is my favourite author and of all his books, I would suggest Cider House Rules as the best combination of craft and plot. However, like a previous poster, I am evangelical about Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. Those are my among my favourite books of the last 50 years.

Someone else suggested Pat Conroy and The Price of Tides is a wonderful, epic book, certainly in my top 10 novels. However, it will break your fucking heart. Both Time Traveller's Wife and Cider House Rules pack equivalent emotional punch with less futility of tears.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:49 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun" is the book you're after.
posted by Ipsifendus at 8:54 AM on May 29, 2012

Every summer I seem to read one book that really blows me away and starts me on a hunt for something similar. A few from the past:

- White Noise by Don Delillo (I hesitate to recommend this because some people hate this book, but it's now my favorite book of all time. I re-read it every year).
- This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes
- Continental Drift by Russell Banks
- Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz (ridiculously inventive short stories)
- On Beauty by Zadie Smith (I think you might like this one if you like Middlesex)
posted by theuninvitedguest at 9:15 AM on May 29, 2012

Middlesex is my second-favorite book is - my all-time favorite is Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. They are quite similar and I can't imagine that anyone who loves Middlesex wouldn't also love Midnight's Children.

Nthing the Poisonwood Bible. A Fine Balance is excellent but also very, very depressing. Actually, in general, I've found that Indian (or Indian Diaspora) authors are some of the best for this kind of writing. Another good one is Jhumpa Lahiri.

If you've never read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, definitely put that on your list.
posted by lunasol at 9:16 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and nthing A Secret History and The Historian.
posted by lunasol at 9:18 AM on May 29, 2012

Jo Walton's Among Others.
posted by Lynsey at 9:35 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Recently Cutting for Stone did this for me after a very stressful semester. Big, rich, smart, romantic, and engrossing.
posted by bookish at 11:59 AM on May 29, 2012

I can't believe no one else has mentioned this yet, but I would recommend the song of ice and fire books. They are utterly engrossing, easily digestible. (I'm assuming here the post 1950 requirement means written post 1950). I have been reading several hundred pages a day because I cannot put them down.
posted by pink_mint at 3:19 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez.
posted by brappi at 10:27 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pale Fire by Nabokov.
Nthing Cloud Atlas. A fantastic book with interesting structure that manages to tell an engrossing story. Calvino is great, but his stories are a bit formalized.
I may in the minority that loved Oryx and Crake by Atwood.
posted by benzenedream at 11:14 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Grass by Sheri Tepper
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Orientation and Other Stories by Daniel Orozco
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr
Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
posted by phonebia at 2:24 AM on May 30, 2012

I had that reaction to The Enthusiast by Charlie Haas. (Try to find a copy with the Book Club guide in the back.)
posted by kristi at 10:16 AM on May 30, 2012

I've been recently enjoying Geoff Dyer's books, namely Yoga for People That Can't be Bothered To Do It and But Beautiful if you're into jazz (and surrealism)

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Marukami (one of his lesser known works but that left me feeling whole and satisfied)

Seconding a Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Utterly engrossing.

Anything by Orhan Pamuk. The Museum of Innocence shattered me.
posted by northxnorthwest at 4:17 AM on May 31, 2012

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is the queen of contemporary romance. What I love best about her books are the believeable, three-dimensional characters and the laugh-out-loud humor. The sexy times are there, but not the focus of the plot. Two of her recent books I've enjoyed are What I Did For Love and Natural Born Charmer.
posted by stampsgal at 8:15 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're not particularly squeamish, Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted.

If you are squeamish, stay far far away from it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:40 PM on May 31, 2012

Seconding Zadie Smith if you liked Jeffrey Eugenides, her first book White Teeth has also received a lot of attention, including a BBC miniseries. And it has several romantic subplots.
posted by kettleoffish at 10:19 AM on June 1, 2012

Cloud Atlas, as someone already mentioned, took me on such a wonderful journey that I literally mourned when I got to the last page. The particular tale "An Orison of Sonmi-451" moved me to tears. The whole book is wonderful, though.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 11:15 AM on June 1, 2012

Metafilter is the best place for book recommendations!

Most of what I would have said are already in here so I'll just add my vote in for:

Bel Canto
The Poisonwood Bible
City of Thieves
The Secret History

A few other books I've read that I've gotten totally engrossed in:

Love Medicine
The Ruins
House of Leaves
Life of Pi
Child 44
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit
posted by triggerfinger at 6:56 AM on June 5, 2012

When I think of "impossibly lovely", I think of the stories of William Trevor. Trevor is one of those author who lends actual authenticity to all the cliches about Irish writers and their purring poetics and warm earthiness and a plangent, rolling melancholy. I don't hear too many people talking about him anymore, but I have entire feelings that I associate only with reading William Trevor stories.
posted by mykescipark at 7:55 PM on July 28, 2012

in no particular order:
- Danilo Kiš [anything really, but Garden Ashes & A Tomb for Boris Davidovich]
- John Hawkes [Second Skin]
- William Gass [Omensetter's Luck]
- David Markson [Wittgenstein's Mistress]
- Malcolm Lowry [I lied, this is tops, technically published in '47]
posted by KrzysztofJCN at 9:16 AM on December 25, 2012

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