Help me compile a list of 100 books to read
December 30, 2013 7:39 PM   Subscribe

This year one of my goals is to read two books a week, help me make sure I get the good ones!

Background: Undergraduate degree in Literature but that was over 10 years ago now and I've fallen hard off the reading wagon. I have a list of the novels and authors I already like, if you know any others I might enjoy based on them please do say, but I'm also looking for people's favourites, books they found significant, life-changers, and things that were particularly meaningful to you. Would like to read more women authors as I'm badly lacking them, and if you have any non-fiction tips please drop them here too! I'm going to draw up my list and start on the 1st. Let's do this!

Stuff I already like:

Jonathan Safran Foer
Angela Carter
Samuel Beckett
Lorrie Moore
Kurt Vonnegut
F Scott Fitzgerald
David Foster Wallace
Bret Easton Ellis
Flannery O Connor
Lionel Shriver
Graham Greene
J D Salinger
Sylvia Plath
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Vladimir Nabokov
Franz Kafka
Albert Camus

Thank you in advance, lovely mefites
posted by everydayanewday to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 127 users marked this as a favorite
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
posted by glaucon at 7:41 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If you're looking for something a little lighter, especially in terms of women authors, I really really recommend Agatha Christie; her books are interesting and intriguing and often absolutely delightful (except some of the later ones when she gets weird and kind of paranoid). Feel free to MeFi mail me if you want more specific suggestions!

Similiarly, if you like Charlotte Perkins Gilman and are looking for more female authors you could check out Shirley Jackson. I really liked We Have Always Lived in the Castle which I think could be to your taste based on what you've said.

Oh and Brideshead Revisited is fantastic and I think you could really like that too, based on the aesthetics of some of your preferred authors. Also, it is a really good book so totally worth your time no matter what.

Have fun!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:50 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Perhaps some Margaret Atwood? The Blind Assassin, Alias Grace, The Handmaid's Tale and the Oryx and Crake trilogy -- all highly recommended.
posted by imalaowai at 8:04 PM on December 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: One of my favorite literary theorists once swore to me that he was done with reading long books. That might be a strategy for ensuring you hit your reading targets. Here are some shorter classics (~210 pages max) that I've loved:

Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight
Françoise Sagan, Bonjour Tristesse
Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:08 PM on December 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

I always recommend Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) as one of my all-time favorite pieces of capital-L literature. I also liked Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig) a lot when I was younger, as a book unafraid to talk about big ideas, though my fondness for it has faded somewhat over time. You may appreciate it nonetheless.

Dictionary of the Khazars (Milorad Pavic) is a really interesting book that's quite unlike anything you've probably read before (its chapters are meant to be read in any order). If nothing else it can be a bit of a palate cleanser.

My all-time favorite collection of poetry is Actual Air (David Berman -- yes the one from Pavement and the Silver Jews) though I admit I'm not very well-read in poetry at all. There're some great lines there, particularly in Self Portrait at 28 and Governors on Sominex. I wish I could find my copy.
posted by axiom at 8:09 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Shirley Jackson and Brideshead Revisited. And Virginia Woolf, on preview! Mrs Dalloway is relatively short and so lovely.

If you like JSF, there is a strong chance you will like the works of his wife, Nicole Krauss; it's been a while since I've read her, but A History of Love and Great House I seem to recall have a similar sweeping-yet-intensely-personal emotional sensibility to them that characterize what I like so much about Foer.

Have you read Michael Chabon? Wonder Boys put me in mind of Bret Easton Ellis, for whatever reason, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay bears some strong similarities to Foer's work as well (if only in "historical scope, themes of Jewishness and familial love").

Also, Donna Tartt! The Secret History is a classic, and quite reasonably. The Goldfinch, from this year, is amazing, though; it's long, so it might take you more than half a week, but it is well worth it, and the story is compelling enough that you won't feel it's time wasted.

I love all of the authors you've mentioned, so I will be keeping a close eye on this thread.
posted by jeudi at 8:12 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Kenzaburō Ōe
Tove Jansson
Roberto Bolaño
Imre Kertész
Louise Erdrich
Michael Dorris
Ursula Le Guin
Vasily Grossman
William Steig
Wallace Shawn
Yoko Tawada
V.S. Naipaul
Arundhati Roy

Compiled based only on "I found these books amazing" + "they seem to have some overlap with your interests"
posted by latkes at 8:14 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Some favorites of mine (life-changers for me) that I think you might enjoy:

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru

Gallowglass, by Ruth Randell (under the pen name Barbara Vine)

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Forsythe Saga by John Galsworthy

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Letham

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Light in August by William Faulkner

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

The Trial by Franz Kafka

If you're interested in Shirley Jackson, you might also like:

Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects)

Tana French (In the Woods, The Likeness)
posted by rue72 at 8:46 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I love lots of your list! These were recent favorites for me (I'm focusing on recent because you seem well-covered for the 20th century):

The Orphan Master's Son - a completely engrossing story set in a country/culture that I knew very little about, but told in such a way that I felt right there with the characters all the way. Hands-down the best novel I read this year.

Emperor of All Maladies - I know a 'biography of cancer' sounds a little dry/depressing, but this book, oh my god. It is so good. The story is fascinating, and the author is brilliant at explaining complex things so that they are crystal-clear yet still retain their complexity. He comes across as genuinely in awe of how cool his subject matter is, and as the reader you can't help but share that feeling.
posted by ella wren at 8:56 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Add some Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry is my favorite.

Also some John Irving, mmmm.
posted by mibo at 9:21 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'll focus on women authors here, since you asked about that specifically. Also, most of these books are short enough to read in 3 or 4 days, provided you're a fast reader.

I am a big reader and generally don't like to name favorites of anything but I'll go ahead and say that if you have not read A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley that should definitely be on your list. It is my favorite novel and with good reason.

I also think Ann Patchett's work - particularly The Patron Saint of Liars and Bel Canto - should not be missed.

And Karen Russell's Swamplandia! is a good read.

Don't miss Olive Ann Burns's Cold Sassy Tree. Or I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Both are a bit off the beaten path but are very good and I think you'd like them based on your question.

Finally, Jhumpa Lahiri's novels are excellent, particularly The Namesake.

Oh! One more! A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Fun, interesting little novel.
posted by k8lin at 9:30 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I loved Arcadia by Lauren Groff; I think you might like it too, given the authors on your list.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:42 PM on December 30, 2013

So I really liked Self Help by Lorrie Moore and also really liked:

The Night in Question by Tobias Wolff
Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard (or Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Round House by Louise Erdrich
and Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (Wild card) (It's good though.)
posted by mermily at 9:50 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I generally like fantastic/magical stuff with a high literature bent, like Vonnegut or Kafka (who I noticed on your list and I also love), so you might like a couple of my favorites from that genre:

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino: Calvino takes some scientific descriptions of how the universe was formed and builds myths and short stories out of them.

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges: another collection of short stories. Borges can be a little pretentious but he's very inventive and I really love his stories in spite of that.

Blindness by Jose Saramago: Saramago reminds me of a Vonnegut who works in the fantasy genre instead of the sci-fi genre. This novel is about a plague of blindness that spreads across a nation. It gets pretty bleak at points.

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares: A fugitive tries to hide away at a forbidden island. Strange things happen.
posted by john-a-dreams at 9:54 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende--also her Eva Luna
posted by Anitanola at 11:54 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few awesome Canadian writers to add to your list: in terms of some women, there's Carol Shields (you could start with The Stone Diaries, but it's all good: Larry's Party, Happenstance, Unless) and Alice Munro, fresh off her Nobel win I teach both Munro, and Barbara Gowdy's Helpless, which is also fascinating. Not women, but also try Robertson Davies (The Deptford Trilogy, or at least start with Fifth Business; The Salterton Trilogy, The Cunning Man [best last line of a literary career ever] - the trilogies each get you three books closer) and Timothy Findley (The Wars, The Piano Man's Daughter, Headhunter).

Not Canadian, but the most recent novel I've read that has really stuck with me is Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. It was short or long-listed for a bunch of prizes, and it's both hysterically funny and achingly sad. For a short, quick read that's also in that sweet spot between humour and pathos, another book I love to teach is Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
posted by ilana at 12:46 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I loved Stoner by John Williams, and I think you might too.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 12:49 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Because I cannot not recommend these:
- Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
- pretty much anything by Dorothy L Sayers but you might like to start with Murder Must Advertise; if you read the ones with Harriet you really should go Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman's Honeymoon. Unless you like spoilers or something.
- Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones (her others are also good but this one is just superb, though I think hard to really get on a first read) (also I don't know if you are one of the sorts of people that cannot stand speculative fiction; this is arguably one of her most realistic though also not)

Vagina by Naomi Wolf - some bits better than others, but altogether some really amazing stuff in there.
Bluebird by Ariel Gore which is about women and happiness and depression and all kinds of fascinating things, not actually depressing.

I could go on and on but that will probably do for now.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:50 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Julie Orringer - The Invisible Bridge or How to Breathe Underwater (Short stories)
posted by backwards guitar at 3:29 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. Short, lean, moving.
posted by Dolley at 5:30 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It is long, but it is a page-turner.

Another long book, but my all-time favorite novel: Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin. If you like magical realism (or think you might), it is an amazingly beautiful book.

From this 1983 review: "There's far more that I would wish to say about the book - so much more that I find myself nervous, to a degree I don't recall in my past as a reviewer, about failing the work, inadequately displaying its brilliance. . . . Not for some time have I read a work as funny, thoughtful, passionate or large-souled. Rightly used, it could inspire as well as comfort us. 'Winter's Tale' is a great gift at an hour of great need."

I also agree with the titles of many of the Amazon reviews: "Sheer Insanity and Gorgeous Magic," "Still astonishing after all these years," and "A standout on any top 10 books of all time list," to give just a few examples.
posted by merejane at 7:12 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few additional woman-authored books that I haven't seen mentioned yet that I really enjoyed:

Zadie Smith - White Teeth

Susan Choi - A Person of Interest

Rivka Galchen - Atmospheric Disturbances
posted by The Gooch at 7:43 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Liar's Club by Mary Karr.
Seconding Bel Canto and Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett!
posted by lettuce dance at 7:52 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

  • Kobo Abe (start with "Woman in the Dunes", then try the way-left field "Secret Rendezvous")
  • "Time and Again" by Jack Finney - time-travel novel written in the 1970s about travel back to 1880s New York. Loved the style, the reasoning behind the time travel, and the method.

posted by laze at 8:01 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

The MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood.
posted by just_ducky at 9:32 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Love it!! I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle based on recommendations here and I sobbed like my granny died. I have The Handmaid's Tale and Gone Girl on deck for next week.

Non-fiction: I love everything Barbara Erenreich ever wrote. I've been talking up Nickeled and Dimed for years.

Also The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion. I think it would be even harder for me to read now that I am married. Great book.

And in the interest of history, I've also got The Feminine Mystique. I wonder if my grandmother, or my mother read it back in the day? Makes me feel connected to history, in a way.

And they are not great lit but I read The Hunger Games books in like two days and they are certainly well-written. Sometimes I like to read whatever's popular, just to be included in the discussion - but these books are killing it for a reason, and it's not just Jennifer Lawrence.

I'm making a list too!
posted by polly_dactyl at 9:59 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I made a Goodreads list of "excellent short reads" and a few of my favorites this year were:
Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban
True Grit by Charles Portis
Take Three Tenses by Rumer Godden
The African Queen by CS Forester

I know 3/4 of these are by male authors, but they all have awesome female protagonists.
posted by exceptinsects at 10:57 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have some thoughts. I imagine that if you're going to try to read 100 books, from time to time you're going to want some stuff that is easy to burn through to keep your numbers up. So while I am only putting titles and authors that I love, it's also an eye toward quickness of read.

Joan Didion's non-fiction. "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" and "The White Album" are as great as they are reputed to be, but I think that her writing is excellent in "After Henry" and, in particular, "Political Fictions."

Joan Didion's fiction. She's a bit of a one-trick pony thematically and aesthetically here. I would suggest "Play It Like It Lays" and "Book of Common Prayer" above the others, but "The Last Thing He Wanted" is a pretty good read as well. Bleak stuff, but the kind of writing that you can really sink into if you like it.

Marilynne Robinson. Her book "Gilead" was life-changing for me, but from other readers I have heard that it's difficult to wade through if you don't have at least some passing familiarity with the Bible and or Christian concepts. Her book "Housekeeping" is absolutely beautiful and lacks that one question related to "Gilead."

Octavia Butler. I really enjoyed "Kindred" as a kind of science/speculative/historical fiction genre hybrid. It makes for a really visceral and upsetting read, but also a compelling one, about American slavery. I've heard her book "Parable of the Sower" is also great, and am about to read it soon, so I can MeMail you when I'm done if you'd like.

Margaret Atwood. Ditto others' suggestion here, though bear in mind that some of these books are longer.

Shusaku Endo. If you like Graham Greene, it stands to reason that you will like Endo. I enjoyed "Volcano" and am planning to read "Silence" next.

Ursula K. LeGuin. Not sure if you're a fan of the science fiction genre from your post, but her books "The Dispossessed" and the "Left Hand of Darkness" are great explorations of gender and society, and her writing is great even to those of my friends who do not enjoy the genre.

George Saunders. I don't love his writing - having only read "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline" - but I gather these books are short, quick to read, dystopian, etc. and, as an added benefit, will make you conversant in a contemporary writer that critics and writers alike seem to think is really important.

David Mitchell. Both "Black Swan Green" and "Cloud Atlas" are really good.

James M. Cain. You can read "Double Endemnity" or "The Postman Always Rings Twice" in like two hours, and they're great!

Manning Marable. For non-fiction, his book "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" is a really, really great biography, and a really useful book to read for a better understanding of this really amazing person and his very recent historical context. This is a longer book, but I can't recommend it enough. (While you're at it, Malcolm x and Alex Haley's "Autobiography of Malcolm X" is so important, and truly an enjoyable read.)

Milan Kundera. You asked about life-changing; his book "The Joke" actually did make me a different and better person! Good book.

Reinhold Niebuhr. His book "The Irony of American History" is not a theological book really, though he's a theologian. I found it a useful framework for thinking about this country (I'm assuming here you live in the U.S., admittedly), and if it seems dated I would say it has a kind of currency because supposedly Barack Obama really likes the guy.

Mary Roach. Any of her books make a hat-trick for your stated purposes: female author, non-fiction, engrossing enough that you can always turn to one to get yourself one book closer to your goal.

Banana Yoshimoto. Ditto people's suggestion, particularly on "Lizard" and "Asleep."

George Orwell. "Homage to Catalonia." Read it.

Alice Walker. "The Color Purple." Read it.

Books about historical moments. For lack of a better genre term, I think the following non-fiction books are all really interesting: "The Professor and the Madman" by Simon Winchester, about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary; "The Devil and the White City," about Chicago's World's Fair and the simultaneous rise of a serial killer there; and "The Ghost Map," by Stephen Berlin, a history of Victorian London, cholera, and epidemiology all at the same time (you don't have to be an anglophile to like this book, it's really interesting).
posted by kensington314 at 1:01 PM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

A fun sci-fi time travel romp: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
posted by 1367 at 10:41 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should definitely check out A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. It's one of the most hilarious and delightfully written books I have ever read (and we share many of the same favorite authors).

It's also somewhat depressing because the author committed suicide after nobody would publish his book. His mother kept at it and finally managed to get the book published. He ended up winning a Pulitzer posthumously.
posted by thebots at 1:47 AM on January 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I came here to suggest Mary Roach and it looks like kensington314 beat me to it. All of her (non-fiction, pop science) books are great.
posted by rossination at 9:08 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing so many of the ones mentioned above but also, anything by Kazuo Ishiguro, especially Never Let Me Go

Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart, and the rest of the trilogy
posted by darsh at 11:40 AM on January 2, 2014

Best answer: Candide by Voltaire
Rasselas by Johnson
Siddhartha by Hesse
Collected Short Stories by Roald Dahl
Straw Dogs by John Gray
A good Penguin collection of Maupassant short stories
Complete Saki by Hector Hugh Munro (Saki)
Hunger by Knut Hamsun
A Confederate General From Big Sur by Richard Brautigan
Both Don Barthelme collections (40 Stories, 60 Stories)
Day Of The Triffids by Wyndham
Ask The Dust by John Fante
Too Loud A Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
A Prayer For The Dying by Stewart O'Nan

These are all oldish, though your tastes are similar to mine. I guess I would also recommend Kazuo Ishiguro, one of the few "literary" authors I can stomach. Once I'm done with my Henning Mankell I'm starting on the Margaret Atwood post-apoc trilogy, which I constantly hear good things about here on MF.

If you dig Salinger for the same reasons I do, you would in all likelihood enjoy Bukowski.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:01 PM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

For non-fiction, you might consider Jon Krakauer -- either Into Thin Air or Into the Wild. I also recommend The Wave by Susan Casey.

For classic fiction, you might add Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now. It's shockingly modern.

For fiction by women, you might consider Ruth Rendell's The House of Stairs. It's often described as a mystery, but I don't think of it as a genre novel. It's really beautiful. If you like Jane Austen, you might consider reading Letters to Alice on First Ready Jane Austen, by Fay Weldon. It has the advantage of being both an epistolary novel AND very funny.
posted by OrangeDisk at 2:14 PM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Elliot Perlman "Seven Types of Ambiguity"
Philip Roth "The Dying Animal"
posted by 4midori at 12:07 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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