Examples of amazing but still accessible writing?
October 3, 2014 9:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm not a smart man. But I do enjoy well written things. But well written books, poems, articles or whatever sometimes seem to be to hard to get into. Anyhow I would love to have examples of what people find to be amazing, creative and perhaps unique in the form of the written word. I don't care if it is famous or not. The best of the best of accessible yet amazingly written works. Thanks!
posted by tarvuz to Writing & Language (45 answers total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
I recently read The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger, and I described it to a friend as being so expertly written that you don't notice the writing, you just fall into the story. I think it's a perfect example of accessible, good writing.
posted by jaguar at 9:09 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:25 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.
posted by milarepa at 9:43 PM on October 3, 2014

Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler is the story of a reader (you) trying to read a book called If on a winter's night a traveler ... or something. It's a singular book whose pleasures I think are quite accessible.
posted by Lorin at 9:43 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon is about autism and very well done. I've got a review on my personal site if you want my take on it.
posted by iamfantastikate at 9:50 PM on October 3, 2014

The writing style and characters in China Mieville's The City and The City are very straightforward—in a lot of ways it reads like a genre detective/thriller novel—but that's just the framework for an absolutely remarkable feat of world-building. I will say that the less you know going in the better, but give it a shot. I haven't been able to get it out of my head in the best of ways.

For poetry, try the following examples from Frank O'Hara, Seamus Heaney, Sharon Olds, David Shumate, and Hannah Stephenson.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:12 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

John O'Donohue's Anam Cara batted me about the head and shoulders with his genius for the written word.

If you would like to read beautifully crafted Zen writing you need look no further than Janwillem van de Wetering. Simple, beautiful, funny as hell and it leaves you for days thinking.
posted by jet_silver at 10:13 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

Colin Bruce's two books using Sherlock Holmes stories to explore ideas in physics and social science.
posted by fallingbadgers at 10:14 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I think you would not regret giving this a shot. Simply written, emotionally compelling, one of the best things I've ever read. I've started reading Blood Meridian by the same author, and I'm absolutely compelled by how well he paints pictures with his words, in really unique and groundbreaking ways. It's a very violent world that he depicts, but I'm convinced that he earns the story he tells by how well he tells it.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:21 PM on October 3, 2014

The stories of Raymond Carver also come to mind. Sparse, plainly written, emotionally devastating stories. A perfect antidote for longer works and their many moving parts.
posted by Lorin at 10:22 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

You also might like Isaac Asimov. Foundation series, but also his short stories. So well done and ahead of his time.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:22 PM on October 3, 2014

Anything by Ernest Hemingway. His simple language tells dramatic stories. That wouldn't be unique if others didn't depend on flowery language.
posted by whoiam at 10:26 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, Mark Twain. (I'm not clear on whether you're looking for contemporary stuff). But he said the following:

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English―it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them―then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

posted by whoiam at 10:32 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Sun literary magazine. Accessible yet amazing pretty much sums it up.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 10:35 PM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't know if this will be to your taste, but it's one of the most beautifully written books I know, and it's definitely accessible: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.
posted by tomboko at 10:37 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe some microfiction?

"The Orange" by Benjamin Rosenbaum
"The Man Who Shouted Teresa" by Italo Calvino
Five Stories by Lydia Davis
"The Boat" by Robert Walser
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:38 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

John McPhee - legendary nonfiction writer - writes simply and cleanly. You could start with Levels of the Game, a short but gripping book about a single tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:40 PM on October 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Alexander McCall Smith (ladies no. 1 detective agency)
Alan Bradley (Sweetness at the bottom of the pie)
Shyam Selvadurai (Funny Boy)
posted by chapps at 10:50 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can find a copy of Again, Dangerous Visions, maybe in a library, you should read "With the Bentfin Boomer Boys on Little Old New Alabama" by Richard A. Lupoff. I guess the closest description I could come up with for it is: Science Fiction as it would be written by James Joyce, but that's not very accurate.

For one thing, it's a lot less opaque than Joyce.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:50 PM on October 3, 2014

Billy Collins is a very good poet, and is incredibly accessible to boot. You might enjoy Sailing Alone Around the Room.

Hemingway is a great recommendation. Like Collins, he uses very plain, straightforward language to create his stories - but they're still incredibly engaging and powerful (at least I think so).
posted by sockermom at 10:51 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
Flannery O'Connor's short stories
Philip Levine's poetry

Happy reading!
posted by tackypink at 11:08 PM on October 3, 2014

Fante, Bukowski, Celine, Hamsun, the early mid 20th century American novelists already mentioned (Hemingway, Steinbeck, Dos Passos), Vonnegut, Hawthorne, Harrison, Mcguane, McCarthy.

All terrific, all accessible, all rousing tale tellers. All white men, which maybe is something I should work on.

And my hero Jack London.
posted by notyou at 11:34 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, yeah, screw all these dead white guys! Don't get me wrong: I love them, of course. And I've read them, of course, but for something truly amazing, creative, and unique, head to Argentina and read (in translation, of course) Julio Cortazar's ("Axolotle" and "The Night Face Up") and Luisa Valenzuela's short stories (Clara or The Lizard's Tale). Read Jorge Luis Borges's short stories (Ficciones is a good collection, translated) and his poetry, like this (from You Learn):

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,

And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child [...]
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 1:57 AM on October 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Their writing is simplicity itself, but I have always found Richard Ford and Howard Norman to be some of the best general stylists I've read. Every sentence has the elegance of a piece of woodwork put together by a master carpenter; spare, refined, not ostentatious or flashy, or modish.

I love it when you get a writer like this, I always feel like, "oh yes, I'm in a safe pair of hands, here."
posted by smoke at 3:04 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Primo Levi's If This Is A Man (US title Survival in Auschwitz)
John Hersey's Hiroshima
Truman Capote's In Cold Blood
Steinbeck's Cannery Row
Most of W H Auden
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:18 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wallander mysteries by (Swedish authors and co-authors) Henning Mankell, Sjowall & Wahloo.
posted by ambient2 at 4:34 AM on October 4, 2014

Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy is very accessibly written although it is enormous. It's a fantastic novel - I revisit it periodically just because I want to submerge myself in that world over and over again. Don't be put off by the size!
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:20 AM on October 4, 2014

Anything by Simon Garfield or Simon Winchester. They are both British authors who write non-fiction that is interesting and comfortable to read.

Ted Simon is a British journalist who rode a motorcycle around the world. His memoirs- particularly Jupiter's Travels, Riding High, and The Gypsy in Me- are fascinating.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:32 AM on October 4, 2014

Wallace Stegner uses words so well I keep a copy of Angle of Repose nearby for when I just want to read "words". He does plots/situations and characters well, also, but his sentences are magnificent.
posted by uncaken at 5:37 AM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: E.B. White's essays. Try Once More To The Lake.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:41 AM on October 4, 2014

Enjoy yourself. Look up the books written by Woody Allen. Also Calvin Trillan.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:09 AM on October 4, 2014

This is pretty obscure, but I love The Longest Cave, which is about the exploration of the huge cave system that Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is part of.

In poetry, every time I read any part of Pablo Neruda's Residencia en la Tierra I want to crawl inside it and curl up and never come out.
posted by dorque at 6:15 AM on October 4, 2014

Michael Chabon
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:46 AM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Good Rat by Jimmy Breslin
posted by andreap at 7:04 AM on October 4, 2014

A Mencken Chrestomathy - Some pieces are a bit dated, but most are as true today as they were back then. It's a big book but most pieces are short (2-4 pages) and many of them are hilarious. The man's command of the English language is astounding.

Sandkings by George R. R. Martin - This might be the perfect short story.
posted by doctor tough love at 7:34 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like to recommend Spider Robinson for this. If you can find a copy of The Callahan Chronicles, it's a great collection of short stories. Callahan's Crosstime Saloon is kinda like the show Cheers, but with aliens and talking dogs and time travelers. The books included in the collection are also available separately and Spider has also written short novels in the same universe. Check out his non-Callahan books for reading more "real" sci-fi which is still pretty accessible.

For not sci-fi, I recently read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks. It's written from the perspective of the imaginary friend of a young boy who may be on the autism spectrum. It's at once funny, touching and heart-wrenching.
posted by MuChao at 9:15 AM on October 4, 2014

Subscribe to the New Yorker. Steady stream of fiction, poetry, non-fiction, cartoons, etc. Skip as much as you like - there'll be more next week. My son used to read it as a middle- and high-schooler, drawn in by cartoons, and then reading articles as he got interested.

Just started reading Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain, and the writing is not stellar, but I think it fits in the category of very engaging, and worth reading.

I quite like fiction that teaches history while telling a good story. Herman Wouk's Winds of War & War and Remembrance is an excellent example.
posted by theora55 at 9:55 AM on October 4, 2014

Patrick Leigh Fermor.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:06 PM on October 4, 2014

In addition to what's been mentioned, when I'm reading Amy Hempel, I have a lot of those moments where you have to set the book down for a second and just look at the ceiling and think about what you just read.
posted by ftm at 1:16 PM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I suggest David Foster Wallace's short pieces. Here's one that I enjoyed. There is of course the famous lobster piece. He's written about a wide range of things, from tennis to his neighbor's reactions to 9/11 - here are a bunch of them assembled.
posted by microcarpetus at 2:56 PM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Anything by Jorge Luis Borges. I think he is one of the best writers ever. Start with either his Selected Fictions or Selected Non-Fictions. It doesn't matter which because both have selections that border on fantastic. The virtue of either of those collections lies in the short-story format. You'll get a great dose of tremendous craftsmanship that may push your limits a bit but in a very manageable portion.
posted by Slap Factory at 4:17 PM on October 4, 2014

The Rattle Bag is a really diverse anthology of poems from around the world (edited by Seamus Heaney & Ted Hughes, who knew a thing or two about poetry!). One I pluck from the shelf repeatedly over the years...
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 5:14 AM on October 5, 2014

If you are interested in non-fiction--particularly science, history, and psychology--the entire purpose of Damn Interesting is to provide interesting, accessible, accurate, and non-hyperbolic non-fiction articles with emphasis on storytelling and copyediting. The catalog has accumulated hundreds of articles in the site's ~9 years...a good place to start is Absolute Zero is 0K.

Disclaimer: I am affiliated with DamnInteresting.com; apologies if self-posts are frowned upon in this context.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 8:54 AM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The 'Very Short Introductions' series from the Oxford University Press is a series of books that give ~100 page introductions to a lot of famous philosophers, scientific concepts, art movements, and other topics. They aim to be comprehensive and accessible, and all the ones I have read have been incredibly good reading if you are interested in non-fiction.
posted by Lifeson at 9:13 AM on October 8, 2014

« Older Stew would be funny but...   |   Searching for a YA book about fortune... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.