WANTED: Excellent, yet easy reads
November 7, 2014 11:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to start by admitting that my interest in reading went from avid bookworm to "I don't even want to read this considerably lengthy text message." That being said, I'm about ready to jump back into literature. So where do I start?

To give you guys some frame of reference, my favorite works include Lolita, F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories, Dan Brown (I hate to admit this, but I also very much do not not hate to admit this)... There's a lot more.

To give you even more of an idea, I have not read even close to as many "classics" as I should have throughout my high school years, mostly thanks to accelerated, teach-to-the-test AP English classes.

I need fast-moving, grabs-you-by-the-shirt collar-type stuff. My interest dissipates pretty quickly if I detect even the slightest bit of something boring...
posted by ourt to Writing & Language (44 answers total) 130 users marked this as a favorite
Italo Calvino's novella The Baron in the Trees is absolutely delightful.
posted by steinwald at 11:13 AM on November 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

If you liked Fitzgerald, you'll like his friend Ernest Hemingway.
posted by Etrigan at 11:22 AM on November 7, 2014

Michael Chabon's Kavalier & Clay. If you're used to feeling "proper literature" requires some degree of self-sacrifice, this will feel like the biggest guilty pleasure read ever .. except it's also a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and definitely qualifies as "proper literature".
posted by kariebookish at 11:22 AM on November 7, 2014 [10 favorites]

My first thought was something with a bit of mystery or eeriness would be good to get you immediately engaged. So on that note I'd recommend Wool by Hugh Howey; it's written in five parts and each one is a little longer and gets a little deeper into the mystery of what's going on. You might also like In the Woods by Tana French, a well done and creepy Irish police procedural.
posted by something something at 11:25 AM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

After a considerably rough time mentally, this former PhD in literature student ended up getting back into reading via Jackie Collins (I also am and am not ashamed to admit that) she kept me interested and now I am back to reading full swing!
posted by catspajammies at 11:25 AM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Daniel Handler's The Basic Eight.
posted by dilaudid at 11:25 AM on November 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

This list "Books To Read If You Like Dan Brown", should keep you busy for a while.

Oh, there's this list as well.

What the heck? Another list?

Never apologize for loving good page turners!
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 11:28 AM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt.
posted by janey47 at 11:29 AM on November 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

"The Daughter of Time" by Josephine Tey is masterful, and sucks me in immediately every time.

All of the books in the Special Agent Pendergast series by Preston and Child would be good choices. Think Indiana Jones meets Nero Wolfe in a creepy New Orleans setting. But very smart writing, definitely not "junk food" like people perceive Dan Brown to be.
posted by jbickers at 11:29 AM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed both Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies - I read Wolf Hall in less than 24 hours while also managing to work a full day and get some sleep. I did not expect to enjoy them since they'd been so widely praised and won the Booker.

Mara and Dann is not my favorite Doris Lessing by any means, but I did find it extremely gripping.

I personally find both Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House really gripping - maybe give OMF a try first, as I remember being really, really surprised by the creepiness of the beginning sections when I read it in my early twenties. Dickens really is not difficult.

I'm not sure how you're defining "boring" - I assume it doesn't just mean "lack of explosions and child abusers" - but I also found many of Robertson Davies's novels to be pretty immersive - in particular The Deptford Trilogy and Tempest-Tost, which is lighter but very funny.

I wonder if you might also enjoy The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Muriel Spark's other work - I remember reading them at a very fast clip in my late teens.

Also, 1982, Janine is a book with...er...a lot of porn in it, but perhaps that will make it gripping? I think it's a really terrific novel - unlike a lot of novels about middle aged white men and their sexual fantasies, I don't think it's just some gross proxy wish-fulfillment for the author, and in fact I think it's a pretty feminist book. (I like Alisdair Gray a lot, but I think his other books might be less fast-paced if you're not already into him. Lanark is pretty creepy and that is kind of gripping in itself, though.)

Also, why not read some James Thurber? The Thirteen Clocks and The White Deer are so funny.

If you like novels of manners and sadness at all, Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming Pool Library is really good - again, I read it straight through right away.
posted by Frowner at 11:30 AM on November 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

I like the same books you like. Here's the latest one that grabbed me. It's 400-something pages and I read it in less than a week... on my phone. And I have a full-time job so somehow I found time to devour this thrilling, well-written novel: Child 44. It's part one of a trilogy and it's soon to be a major motion picture. Try not to read too much about it, just dive in. It's set in Stalinist Russia and it's part political/spy thriller with some mysterious crime thrown in. Way better writing than Dan Brown but that same pace where it just grabs you!
posted by Soda-Da at 11:39 AM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wolf in White Van is pretty short (took me just a couple days to get through it) but it's a really excellent book.

I would also give Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami a try. He's a great author to get into and this is one of his more accessible books.
posted by signsofrain at 11:40 AM on November 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't have a specific recommendation for you, but I'll give you a tip: read Young Adult literature. It's generally written to keep teens interested, so it's not boring or a slog to get through, it tends to be fast-paced and not too challenging. Maybe stop by the Teen section of your local library and look for things that look interesting to you.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:41 AM on November 7, 2014 [10 favorites]

I just read (in one pretty short sitting) The Drop by Dennis Lehane. I think he meets all your requirements.
posted by lyssabee at 11:44 AM on November 7, 2014

Blake Crouch's Wayward Pines trilogy is a great page-turner. Can't recommend the other stories published via Amazon Worlds that are technically fan-fic, though - haven't read any of them.

While reading Richard Farr's The Fire Seekers (The Babel Trilogy #1), I was actually thinking "Wow, this is what DaVinci Code could have been!"
posted by stormyteal at 11:53 AM on November 7, 2014

if Angels & Demons is one of the Dan Brown ones you like, you'll love Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series. Same type of historical, page turners.
posted by TravellingCari at 11:54 AM on November 7, 2014

The Crimson Petal and the White! It's a brick of a book, but it's so wonderfully immersive and detailed that you just have to know what happens to Sugar.

Another great brick: Stephen King's The Stand

I love the suggestion to read YA stuff. There's so much wonderful YA right now. You might like the pace of The Hunger Games trilogy (which I read in a whole weekend). For something more literary, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, which is beautifully written and absolutely gripping.
posted by mochapickle at 11:56 AM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

If we're talking Alasdair Gray (and Frowner, there's a Ally Gray retrospect at Glasgow's Kelvingrove museum at the moment - you need to visit us!!), I'd recommend Poor Things over another other Gray book simply because it's fast-paced, snarky and is a pseudo-feminist take on Frankenstein.
posted by kariebookish at 11:57 AM on November 7, 2014

I think The Last Policeman trilogy will fit your needs nicely. I think this trilogy has the best ending of any book I've read in a long time.

Also, on a completely different vein, Ready Player One is a great, easy read too.
posted by sacrifix at 12:00 PM on November 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding Haruki Murakami. He really draws you in and it's beautifully written but so easy to read. I wouldn't go with Norwegian Wood, though. It's his most straight forward and could maybe bore you? (Though I liked it.) I'd go with Kafka on the Shore or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
posted by saul wright at 12:01 PM on November 7, 2014

Response by poster: I'm writing every single recommendation down and am going to do a Bucket List-type reading challenge for myself over the next year.

Keep 'em comin', guys, I appreciate this so much!
posted by ourt at 12:05 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oryx and Crake was my way out of a depression induced reading impairment some years ago. Smart, funny, fast paced, surprising, beautifully written yet definitely a page turner. And if it works for you, too, there's an entire trilogy to get sucked into!

The Time Traveller's Wife and Gone Girl were also easy reads while being pretty nifty and well written.
posted by sively at 12:16 PM on November 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

Nthing the suggestion to go YA -- tons of excellent stuff. I have been using the Diversity in YA recommendations to fill my reading list. I've read 2+ dozen of their recommendations so far, and have enjoyed every single one.
posted by zebra at 12:20 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have a look at this FPP.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:28 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ender's Game, definitely
Connie Willis books
Lexicon by Max Barry
posted by Redstart at 12:38 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I found "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" to be a very quick, easy but enjoyable read. I don't read much, but somehow I read that entire book in one sitting. It's popular book and well-received by critics, and written from the perspective of a kid, so very easy to read.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:38 PM on November 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm reading The Good Soldier Ċ vejk right now and think it suits your description pretty well. It's a big book, but don't let that put you off -- it's fast-moving and told in little episodes. Plus it's hilarious.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 12:41 PM on November 7, 2014

My interest dissipates pretty quickly if I detect even the slightest bit of something boring...

I'd recommend The Great Wide Sea, which is hands-down one of the most gripping books I've read (don't let the sailing discourage you if you're not interested in it; I wasn't either but still enjoyed it immensely).

Revolver by Sedgwick was also quite the page-turner.
posted by johnofjack at 1:41 PM on November 7, 2014

If you have Amazon Prime, I dare you to watch the pilot episode of Bosch, based on Michael Connelly's best-selling series, and not have a burning desire to find out who killed the young boy. The answer is of course, found in the book, City of Bones.*

Only the pilot episode is available so far, so no excuse to watch 10 hours of TV in one sitting.

*The publisher is unfortunately part of the Hachett/Amazon dispute, so if want a new paperback copy ASAP, you might have to head to B&N for a copy.
posted by invisible ink at 2:49 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal. Don't bother with the fourth novel.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:00 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

This isn't one recommendation, but Yann Martel wrote a series of letters to PM Harper, enclosing a book with each and the letters are basically short essays/recommendations of the book. Because PM Harper is a busy guy, all the recommended books are around 200 pages or less. You might find some interesting recommendations there.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:52 PM on November 7, 2014

I think you'd like anything by Graham Greene. He's a great combination, both literary and very good with plots and characters.

I also really love someone I see very rarely mentioned nowadays: George Bernard Shaw. What better way to wade into literature than through reading his very witty dialogue. I particularly love his *Man and Superman*, which includes my all-time favorite depiction of Satan himself, and his *Saint Joan*, about Joan of Arc. One of the miracles of that play, in my view, is that he makes the Church authorities opposed to Joan fully developed human beings, and manages to make their point of view compelling. If you try him, don't skip his equally witty prefaces, though I suggest you read them after you read the play.

Joseph Conrad's *The Secret Agent*, about anarchist terrorists in London, is also gripping and wonderful.

I picked these as examples of writing that has literary depth and artful language, while also being great fun on the level of plot and character on the first read through. Great question, and I hope you find something you really end up liking among these answers.
posted by Philemon at 4:00 PM on November 7, 2014

P. G. Wodehouse stuff always makes me laugh out loud. The Jeeves and Wooster collection is an excellent example of the unreliable narrator. Also Graham Greene, as mentioned above, is a great recommendation.
posted by tractorfeed at 4:04 PM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

You want Peter Quinn.

If you want funny, you want Donald Westlake's Dortmunder books. If you don't care about funny, you want Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark's Parker books. Two sides of the same coin, equally readable.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:09 PM on November 7, 2014

This is where we suggest our favorite books? One of mine is Black Oxen by Elizabeth Knox
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:03 PM on November 7, 2014

Harry Crews, Car
Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts; Day of the Locust
Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood
Toni Morrison, Home
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:47 PM on November 7, 2014

The Book of Lost Things by John Connoly
To Kill a Mockingbird and My Antonia are short reads with beautiful prose.
I always liked the genre of novels where you watch the characters struggle with a hard life - Cannery Row, The Jungle, How Green Was My Valley, The Beautiful and the Damned.
Could never stand Fitzgerald. Only tolerated Hemmingway.
Not a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, but I really liked Ocean at the End of the Lane and Good Omens.
Really liked Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and A Dirty Job.
posted by plinth at 5:49 PM on November 7, 2014

I love a lot of the recommendations here - The Secret History, Child 44, Curious Incident..., The Time Traveller's Wife - all great books.

Currently I'm just finishing up the first book (Annihilation) of The Southern Reach Trilogy and I love it. It's an easy read that's mysterious and creepy but even more importantly for me, it's short. I've been trying to read books that are shorter so I can read them in a few sittings because I've found that if I get sidetracked with something else, the book is forgotten about, even if I've generally been enjoying it. Along those lines, I will also recommend (already linked above, I think) What to read when pressed for time
posted by triggerfinger at 6:01 PM on November 7, 2014

Drop City
posted by vitabellosi at 9:03 PM on November 7, 2014

Would recommend Summerland by Michael Chabon instead of/in addition.
I don't like sports but the baseball aspect did not bother me at all.
posted by andreap at 7:09 AM on November 8, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (recent Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction) is very much a page-turner. It's long, but I see that as a bonus, when something is so fun to read.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:56 AM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Name of the Wind. Absolutely. I don't generally like fantasy, but this is just such a beautifully constructed and compelling world, with no detail left out. Take some pages to actually begin the story (it reads a bit more heavily before that), but then it's like a more mature Harry Potter (in can't-put-down-ness, not in content).
posted by taltalim at 7:19 AM on November 17, 2014

The Name of the Rose.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:17 PM on November 17, 2014

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