Summer Reading You Want to Finish
May 22, 2013 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Summer’s here. In need of amazing novel recommendations. Particulars within.

The semester is over. Huzzah! Now I have some time for leisure reading, and I find myself craving novels—something immersive, mind-blowing.

AskMe is always so swell about book recommendations, so I put it to you all: What was the last jaw-on-the-floor incredible novel you read? Or, one you recommend to everyone else, regardless of their personal tastes, with an earnest “You have to read this!”

Caveats: No love stories. Stories with a touch of the fantastical or off-beat are particularly welcome, though not required. Otherwise, fire away. Thanks!
posted by xenization to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 139 users marked this as a favorite
Bleak House. You won't want it to end.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:46 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Murakami at his most Murakami-ish.
posted by fifthrider at 7:48 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
posted by sweetkid at 7:49 AM on May 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

The Passage by Justin Cronin fits your bill.
posted by King Bee at 7:50 AM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I loved Reamde.
posted by something something at 7:51 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

"The Feast of the Goat" by Mario Vargas Llosa. Obligatory warning! Contains some disturbing violence and sexual assault.
posted by thelonius at 7:52 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dark: Ablutions by Patrick DeWitt.

Fantasy: The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop.

Love in Dystopia: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shytengart. It's not really a love story. You'll see.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 7:52 AM on May 22, 2013

The new Dan Brown book is out now - Inferno
posted by SpringRobin at 7:55 AM on May 22, 2013

Well, if you combine immersive, mind-blowing, fantastical, and off-beat you arrive at Dhalgren, which was my summer read a few years ago. Or, alternatively, Gravity's Rainbow. Both are great summer read projects... not newly-written novels, but of course I can't know what you've read.

I also second Bleak House.
posted by selfnoise at 8:01 AM on May 22, 2013

I just finished reading The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper. A bit fantastical and very fast paced.
posted by BrianJ at 8:04 AM on May 22, 2013

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:08 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you don't mind a large touch of the fantastical (like, sledgehammer-to-the-head-kind-of-touch), my go-to recommendations these days are both super-immersive and have only the slightest tinge of romance to them:

The Rook (spy-thriller + supernatural)
The Monster-Blood Tattoo trilogy (A Boy's Journey in a completely original fantasy world)

If you only want a touch of fantasy and a full helping of mind-blowing:

The City and The City (what if two separate cities occupied the same space, and there was a murder reaching across them?)
posted by Rock Steady at 8:11 AM on May 22, 2013

Martin Dressler, by Steven Millhauser
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:12 AM on May 22, 2013

Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis
The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold (look past the horrible cover)
posted by Chenko at 8:15 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]
posted by Jacen at 8:16 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Cloud Atlas or The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. After finishing each of them, I literally closed the back cover and had to sit in silence for a while.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. Stayed up LIT-RALLY all night reading it. (Her followup, The Swan Thieves, was pretty disappointing in comparison.)

The Eight, by Katherine Neville. (Note: There are people who happen to get together, but under no circumstances would I call it a love story. Also, the sequels suck ass.)
posted by Madamina at 8:17 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

It was a pair of books: Connie Willis's Blackout/All Clear.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:21 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

These are a little dark, but...

The Ruins by Scott Smith

Why the Tree Loves the Ax by James Harris
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 8:21 AM on May 22, 2013

It's from 2006, but I recently read Dave Egger's What is the What and was blown away by it.
posted by coraline at 8:22 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kate Atkinson's latest, Life After Life.
posted by davemack at 8:23 AM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's really hard to recommend stuff without knowing what you've already liked.

The Etched City, by KJ Bishop. Weird, wild, wonderful. Also violent, surreal, and reminded me of a Western crossed with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and a lot of Aubrey Beardsley.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. Really great YA about two women, a civilian pilot and a spy, during WW2. Heartbreaking.

Deathless, Catherynne Valente. A retelling of a Russian fairytale that I literally could not put down.

Altered Carbon is great summer sci-fi reading. Like watching an action movie! Immersive sex, violence, and cool technology all the way through.

If you like summer reads with lots of off-beat fantastical stuff, though, and haven't read Neil Gaiman's American Gods yet, then leap straight for that.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:26 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Raw Shark Texts was so awesome that it had me crying in a plane (aaaaawkward).
posted by bq at 8:35 AM on May 22, 2013

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, Neal Stephenson.
Sci-fi future but very engrossing, lots of fascinating characters (and some dense technical stuff, but mostly presented quite well).
posted by Glinn at 8:36 AM on May 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Seconding Blackout/All Clear and also Doomsday, also by Willis. I sobbed through the last fifty pages or so of All Clear, just fyi.

I never really want any of Bujold's Vorkosigan novels to end either.
posted by kalimac at 9:04 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

City of Thieves by David Benioff. A novel set during the Nazi siege of Leningrad by one of the guys who produces and writes the Game of Thrones series on HBO. Beautiful, funny and horrifying novel. I recommend it to everybody.
posted by zzazazz at 9:12 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is the best novel I've read in awhile. (Caveat: scenes of child abuse)
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:15 AM on May 22, 2013

It's an old one, but I just read Every Man Dies Alone and it absolutely crushed me.
posted by saladin at 9:20 AM on May 22, 2013

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a great book, and very immersive. Although depending on how fast you read, it might take up quite a chunk of your summer.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, first of three, with the third coming out later this summer. Really fun, not too serious, but great writing and engaging characters.

The Quantum Thief, currently two books, I believe there's a third coming. The second was even better than the first, in my opinion. It tosses you in the deep end and lets you figure out what's going on.

The Name of the Wind has been recommended about a million times on MeFi, but for good reason. Again, the first two of three are out so far.
posted by duien at 9:20 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, I haven't read it, but I've heard great things about the first two books in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast series. From what I've heard, they would absolutely fit your requirements.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:22 AM on May 22, 2013

China Miéville's The City & The City
posted by neushoorn at 9:25 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meaney.
posted by BenPens at 9:57 AM on May 22, 2013

I cannot put down Little, Big by John Crowley right now. It's transportative. I also recently loved We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen. Sort of a Danish One Hundred Years of Solitude.
posted by Polyhymnia at 10:39 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

BTW If you do wind up reading Justin Cronin's "The Passage" as recommended earlier -- and also recommended herewith -- I would also suggest you plan on diving into its sequel, "The Twelve," relatively quickly. It's a wonderful book in its own right but I would have enjoyed it even more if I'd read its predecessor more recently than year before last. Enjoy!
posted by Infinity_8 at 10:43 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:48 AM on May 22, 2013

Seconding: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, american gods, lessons in calamity physics.
Adding: a fraction of the whole, the book thief, 100 years of solitude
posted by meijusa at 10:58 AM on May 22, 2013

I'm gonna recommend a different Connie Willis book, Passage. I don't recommend reading a bunch of her books in a row, because in my opinion some of her more annoying writing quirks and prevalent tropes get really grating after a while, but as individual books, I find them impossible to put down.

I also found Neal Stephenson's Anathem to be unputdownable last summer.

And for historical fiction, I love Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolo series, which starts with Niccolo Rising. Really immersive historical fiction set in 15th century Europe, with complex and fascinating characters.
posted by yasaman at 11:07 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shirley Jackson, "We have always lived in the castle."
Zadie Smith, "On Beauty." (Warning: Lots of subplots driven by lust and/or romance, though emphatically not a Love Story)
Peter Carey, "Illywhacker."

The Jackson is short and simple and so intense that it makes the rest of the world go away. The other two are big and woolly and immersive. All three are at least a little dark heavy cathartic, but in a good way.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 11:11 AM on May 22, 2013

Seconding Little, Big.
posted by Pistache at 11:31 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the Round House by Louise Erdrich and Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (YA).
posted by mermily at 12:35 PM on May 22, 2013

Two books I've read lately have stayed with me, and I've been recommending them to friends:

The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff: A young grad student returns to her home town (based on Cooperstown, NY) after a rocky research trip. While she is nursing her wounds, she decides to occupy herself by doing some research into her complicated family tree. The structure of the novel is unusual and interesting--the present-day narrative is interspersed with historical documents like diary entries and old photographs. I enjoyed this novel a lot. Groff has since written another novel, Arcadia, which I also loved, but it's very different in tone and subject matter--it's about a child who is born into a hippie commune in upstate New York (based loosely on the real commune The Farm).

Come, Thou Tortoise, by Jessica Grant: Audrey (aka Oddly), a young woman living in Oregon, must return home to Newfoundland after her father has an accident. While trying to cope with the new circumstances, Audrey begins investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding the family she grew up in. The protagonist/narrator is not neurotypical, although we never find out the exact nature of her difference. Some of the chapters are narrated by her tortoise, who has to go live with friends while her owner travels back to Newfoundland. I am sure this sounds unbearably twee but I really did not find it so. I started reading this because someone recommended it to me--I wasn't too sure if I'd like it, but I could not put it down once I started it! I started reading it more and more slowly toward the end because I didn't want it to finish.

(I just realized the similarities between these two books--young woman moves back home and uncovers family secrets! They do have similarities but are quite different in tone, and you will not feel like you're reading a repeat if you read them both, one after the other.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:33 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I recently completely adored The Golem and the Jinni.
posted by jeather at 2:56 PM on May 22, 2013

Welladay. I guess I'll recommend the complete and uncut edition of Stephen King's The Stand. Trashcan man's part is expanded (is there a sadder character study?) and the whole thing offers that absorbing reading experience you're looking for.

I'm currently re-reading it, and still finding it chilling, moving and very sad at times, and (of course) horrific.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 4:17 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're not opposed to moving away from high-brow selections and are truly in the mood for a can't-put-it-down novel, you can't go wrong with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It's definitely in the pop lit category and has been getting a lot of mainstream play -- for good reason. It's a fast, dark, addicting read.

After staying up way past my bedtime to finish Gone Girl, the next day I immediately purchased Flynn's two previous novels: Dark Places and Sharp Objects - both of which I read (and greatly enjoyed!) within the next week.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 9:16 PM on May 22, 2013

The fantastical read that impressed me most recently - so much so that semi-recommendations are leaking out all over the place, and I probably ought to get it off my chest - is Kim Newman's Anno Dracula and its sequel The Bloody Red Baron. An earlier iteration of the idea that Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is drawn from - that different fictions co-exist in the same world - this posits a version of Dracula in which the Van Helsing gang were defeated and Dracula makes his way to London, seduces Queen Victoria and becomes Prince Regent.

Even better (because the tropes are less over-worked) is the sequel The Bloody Red Baron, which extends the idea to World War I. And I have the third in the series - Dracula Cha Cha Cha, which is apparently set in the films of Fellini and James Bond books - waiting for me. I'm saving it up for a special occasion. A fourth book - Johnny Alucard - is due out later this year. After the summer at any rate.
posted by Grangousier at 3:13 AM on May 23, 2013

If you haven't yet gotten into Iain M. Banks' Culture novels, it's high time to get on that. His non-SF books (which he publishes under Iain Banks, mostly) are also great. Consider Phlebas, the first Culture book, has some excellent action set-pieces and some decent Big Ideas to chew on.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:24 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar. I've never read it, but I'm preparing myself to.
posted by gabem at 11:01 AM on June 4, 2013

McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Gabo's Cien años de soledad. Not very recent, though. Oh and if you're ok with a not-so-short story collection, David Foster Wallace's Oblivion is pretty decent.
posted by papafrita at 7:58 PM on June 4, 2013

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