July 30, 2014 8:34 AM   Subscribe

There is nothing quite like reading a book I really love. Help me find some more books I really love. (Fiction edition)

I haven't really read too much since college, but when I find a book I like I love to read. Can you recommend me some? This is a list of books that I've loved in the past (a partial list, I've just brainstormed them):

-A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. I loved this book. One of my favorites ever.
-God of Small Things, by Arhundati Roy. Same, loved it. I especially like her writing style.
-On Beauty, by Zadie Smith. I also liked White Teeth
-Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. But I tried to read another book by her recently and really disliked it.
-The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood. I read this a while ago (as a teeager) but I remember it being hilarious and has stayed with me. Other books by Atwood have not grabbed me.
-Coming of Age in Mississippi, by Anne Moody. It's been a while since I read it, but I remember it being really engrossing to me.
-100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I also like Love in the Time of Cholera. I am a little hesitant to add these to the list, because while I like these books, a lot of the books written in the style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez don't really grab me. They're a little too sweeping and removed from their characters. (For instance, I'm reading a book called 'Galore' by Michael Crummey right now that reminds me of that style somewhat and I'm having a hard time getting through it.)

So, maybe someone can recogize themselves in my tastes and recommend me some great summer (and winter, spring and fall) reading?

I'd say I like--
-Good, interesting characters and character development
-an engaging writing style, not too hard to read
-looking back over that list, apparently themes of colonialism/post-colonialism, or maybe just strong cultural and/or political themes in general.
posted by geegollygosh to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I'm reading Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee right now. I think you might like it.
posted by GrapeApiary at 8:38 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you read The Shipping News? Annie Proulx's style is a little jarring at first, but once you get the rhythm of it it rolls right along. Interesting characters; lovely style; the setting (coastal Newfoundland) is as much a character as the people are.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:39 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recommend Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day especially).
posted by something something at 8:41 AM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm thinking Louise Erdrich for you and Anne Patchett. Maybe The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.
posted by BibiRose at 8:42 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I definitely agree with Coetzee--Disgrace was an incredible read. I might also recommend Rushdie, especially Shame. Another idea for a good postcolonial novel that would probably fit here would be Hilary Mantel's A Change of Climate, although everything she writes is wonderful and should be devoured, especially Beyond Black.
posted by mittens at 8:45 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett.

It hits all three requirements. It's breathtaking.
posted by mochapickle at 8:45 AM on July 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

I like a lot of the same books and authors - so you might like Anne Lamott (her earlier works - like Hard Laughter or Rosie), perhaps Red Tent (Diamant), Joy Luck Club (Tan), or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
posted by umwhat at 8:45 AM on July 30, 2014

Recent ones in this vein: Tell the Wolves I'm Home (coming of age, AIDS); We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (coming of age, animal rights).

Coetzee seems like the guy for you. Foe is a re-telling of Robinson Crusoe. Allll kinds of colonialism.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:47 AM on July 30, 2014

A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin.
posted by gaspode at 8:48 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

A few more: Geraldine Brooks, The People of the Book; Tea Obreht, The Tiger's Wife. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.
posted by BibiRose at 8:50 AM on July 30, 2014

There are Franzen haters all over the internet, but I've enjoyed all of his novels and I think he's great. They all fit your criteria, but the cultural/political themes are North American and largely environmental/ethical, with some class-economic and gender-sexuality themes as well. He's a white man with loads of privilege, but his narratives generally stay far away from the "philandering English professor" genre of white man fiction.

Freedom is the most recent one and I didn't want it to ever end.

The Corrections might be better-known and he got some flak for turning down an Oprah's Book Club inclusion for it.
posted by magdalemon at 8:54 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also came in to say Bel Canto.

Adding Nicole Krauss's The History of Love
posted by Mchelly at 9:17 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm currently reading The Scent of Wet Earth in August by Feryal Ali Gauhar. Definitely fits your post-colonial, striking characterisation and narrative criteria.

I think you'd like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as well. Start with Half of a Yellow Sun, or maybe her most recent, Americanah.
posted by mymbleth at 9:39 AM on July 30, 2014

Palace Walk(The Cairo Trilogy).
posted by BibiRose at 9:41 AM on July 30, 2014

You might enjoy E M Forster's 'A Passage to India' and Paul Scott's 'Jewel in the Crown' series, both set in India during the days of the Raj.
posted by littlegreen at 9:48 AM on July 30, 2014

Take a look at David Mitchell. Amazing characters, stories, and prose/voice. My three favorite novels of his are:
Cloud Atlas - there are 6 different stories 'nested' in this novel, spread out across time & geography, but thematically linked. each has a very different writing style and extremely compelling characters.

Black Swan Green - a year in the life of a 13 year old boy in a posh town in England, 1982. Super well done.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. It's the late 1700s a Dutch clerk accepts a position with the Dutch East India Trading Company, at trading post that is Japan's only "window on the world." corruption and intrigue ensues.

you could also enjoy Michael Chabon, who wrote:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay - comic book illustrators pre- and post-world war ii, great characters, great friendship.
The Yiddish Policeman's Union: imagine that european jews established Israel in Alaska right before WWII. On the eve of when the territory reverts back to Alaskan control, an alcoholic detective stumbles on a murder mystery involving chess, the savior, and the end of the world.

and Jonathan Lethem, who wrote:
Fortress of Solitude - kids growing up in Brooklyn in the 1980s. comic books, graffiti, race/class.
Motherless Brooklyn - an orphan with tourette's joins the mob. a detective novel emerges.
posted by entropone at 10:03 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nadine Gordimer is a careful, but not florid, prose stylist (and Google is your friend for the stray Afrikaans word).

Burger's Daughter is an epic exploration of race and politics in South Africa in 50s - 70s. Also family themes and the exquisite evocation of the Veldt (countryside) which Gordimer brings to all her work.

July's People explores what happens when the power shifts.

Also Toni Morrison! Beloved is heartbreaking and fabulous and historical and universal.
posted by Jesse the K at 10:03 AM on July 30, 2014

Maybe Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. She's got others, of course, including Pulitzer Prize winner Interpreter of Maladies, but I didn't read that one yet, so can't recommend.
posted by lyssabee at 10:05 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Julie Orringer's "The Invisible Bridge"
posted by backwards guitar at 10:14 AM on July 30, 2014

I recommend Arcadia, by Lauren Groff.
posted by redfoxtail at 10:46 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

David Mitchell is a great recommendation, and I absolutely agree on Bel Canto.

My first thought was The Map of Love, by Ahdaf Souif, which is a favorite of mine and hits all your requirements.

Also check out Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill, which should also please you.

You might really like the Bangkok series by John Burdett, beginning with Bangkok 8, with the benefit that, if you really like it, you've got several more to read.

Some people think that Shantaram is one of the best books ever. I'm not among them, but I liked it and generally if you liked A Fine Balance, Shantaram should appeal to you. I'm more a fan of Sacred Games, which also has some similarities and is a fun and very long read, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
posted by janey47 at 10:56 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Lots of these look great. I'm so excited for my next library trip!
posted by geegollygosh at 11:01 AM on July 30, 2014

I second the David Mitchell, Annie Proulx, and Kazuo Ishiguro recommendations. My current fave is Kate Atkinson, especially her Jackson Brodie books. Try the last one first, "Started Early, Took My Dog". After finishing that one I read it again a few days later. Atkinson is an observer of human nature on a par with Jane Austen or George Eliot.
posted by Agave at 11:06 AM on July 30, 2014

I loved some of the books you listed. Try these:
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr - exquisite storytelling.
White Tiger, Aravind Adiga, a fierce story of modern India
The Tilted World, Tom Franklin
The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin
posted by lois1950 at 11:40 AM on July 30, 2014

One commonality through the books you've enjoyed is in the writers—all are voice-heavy. That is, the prose is distinctive and the authors are strong and distinctive in the way they handle exposition in particular. Along those lines:

Julie Orringer, mentioned above, is a very engaging writer. In addition to The Invisible Bridge, you might also try her short story collection How to Breathe Underwater.

I'm also partial to Charles Baxter—he has a beautifully subtle prose style that can be completely immersive. My favs are First Light and Shadow Play (the two earliest of his novels), but they're all varying flavors of good.

If that's right, some of the authors mentioned above (who are great) don't necessarily fit, e.g. Chabon (who's a mensch) or Coetzee, who's a real driver of narratives rather than a sentence-to-sentence writer.
posted by migrantology at 11:46 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you me? That's like an item by item list of books I've enjoyed and authors I've liked/disliked works from. Strange.

Anyway, here are some suggestions, probably easily found at the library:

E.L. Doctorow's books, Billy Bathgate and Ragtime. Doctorow can manipulate time the way Garcia Marquez does, but unlike other magical realists and magical realist wannabes, he's not prone to swoopy, gloss over detail writing at the expense of character development.

If you like short stories, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, and Louisa Valenzuela will be right up your alley as well.

For non-fiction, Hilary Mantel's autobiography Giving Up the Ghost will knock you back--as will Jeannette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 12:11 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: One commonality through the books you've enjoyed is in the writers—all are voice-heavy. That is, the prose is distinctive and the authors are strong and distinctive in the way they handle exposition in particular. Along those lines:

If that's right, some of the authors mentioned above (who are great) don't necessarily fit, e.g. Chabon (who's a mensch) or Coetzee, who's a real driver of narratives rather than a sentence-to-sentence writer.

This might be accurate, as the last time I tried to read Coetzee (a long time ago, I believe "Disgrace"), I didn't get through it. But that was when I was a teenager, so I'm going to give him a fresh try. I can't speak to Chabon. I do know that I tend to decide if I like books within the first chapter or so, so maybe I am drawn more to voice than to overall story and subject.

Are you me?
Hah! Maybe. I'll definitely be looking into your suggestions anyway.
posted by geegollygosh at 12:16 PM on July 30, 2014

I just recently finished reading Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall and really enjoyed it. I could hardly put it down. I believe it hits all of your "likes" - great characters, not hard to read, strong cultural themes (takes place in the south during the early 60s).
posted by geeky at 12:22 PM on July 30, 2014

You sound a lot like me. I did an English degree that focused on post-colonial literature, particularly from India and South Africa. The themes I love are around identity trauma, memory, community, reconciliation, and transformation, and these two countries tend to produce authors who write powerfully about those themes. So I have lots of suggestions.

Coetzee is tough at first, and I think Age of Iron is a good one to start with. Disgrace is in my top five favourite books though, and it's absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful.

Andre Brink's Imaginings of Sand is also great as a starting point. And Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions is wonderful too.

Anything by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is fabulous. I just finished One Amazing Thing and it made me feel all of the feelings. Also, Jhumpa Lahiri is great, as is Anita Desai. I'd start with The Namesake and Fasting Feasting.

I also liked A Good Indian Wife and The Space Between Us and If Today Be Sweet and Secret Daughter too - all are good quick reads.

I have more if you end up liking those - just gmail (same name as here) or memail me. :-)
posted by guster4lovers at 4:53 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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