Take Me Away
February 8, 2015 11:10 PM   Subscribe

I've got a 2 week staycation coming up, and I need some solid novel recommendations. I don't care about genre at all -- I just want something totally gripping, well-written and transporting.

Books I've read in the past that are completely in line with what I'm looking for include The Goldfinch, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Pillars of the Earth. My favorite authors include John Irving, Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates.

I haven't had the luxury of time to really read the way I used to, so while I normally would happily add what I call cheap one night stands to the list (stuff like Grisham's The Firm), I'd prefer something with a little more meat to it.

So basically, if you loved it and could not put it down from the moment you read the first page, please do tell! You know how much I trust your judgment.
posted by ohyouknow to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
I found THE ORPHAN MASTER'S SON to meet your three criteria handily. As a Pulitzer winner, maybe it's too much of a gimme recommendation, but -- phwoar.
posted by blueshammer at 11:18 PM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

I always recommend Cocktail, by Heywood Gould, but nobody ever reads it. It's criminally underrated because of the movie.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:22 PM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
posted by janey47 at 11:56 PM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Does it have to be a novel? Because the Dragon Age games are as good as novels and VERY engrossing. They definitely fit your criteria of "gripping, well-written and transporting."

If you insist on novels, then I'd say that so far everything I've read by Margaret Atwood fits that criteria as well.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:57 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I recommend China MiƩville's The City & the City to basically everyone I meet. Are you also interested in reading more non-fiction? If so, I think you'd like any of Mary Roach's or Jon Ronson's books.
posted by neushoorn at 12:03 AM on February 9, 2015 [8 favorites]

David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks.
Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests.
Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings.
JK Rowling, The Casual Vacancy.
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven.
Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You.

Seconding Margaret Atwood, specifically The Year of The Flood.
Seconding A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:33 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I was coming in here to recommend The City and The City too. It is GRIPPING!
posted by feets at 12:36 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Junichiro Tanizaki's "The Makioka Sisters". One of my favorite books ever. Rich and gripping.

Keeping with Japan, you could go back a thousand years and read the first novel ever written: Murasaki Shikibu's "Tale of Genji". It's not necessarily an easy read, but you get drawn in and it's a real treat for the mind.

Thanks to learning about her on MeFi, I just finished reading Colleen McCullough's "The Thorn Birds". 700-odd pages that are very hard to put down! It's light on the psychological side, to the difference of the two other novels, but it is a read that transports you to Australia.

Marguerite Duras' works are wonderful. I'm partial to "Whole Days in the Trees", "Moderato Cantabile", and "Love".
posted by fraula at 1:25 AM on February 9, 2015

I am easily bored reading fiction, but when I picked up The Cloud Atlas, I made a vacation into a stacation, much to the chagrin of the family. Absolutely mesmerizing. Don't be thrown off by the movie, that's basically 'Where's Waldo' with Tom Hanks as the Waldo. It has nothing to do with genius narrative presented in the book.
posted by ouke at 2:19 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

Margaret Atwood's trilogy is excellent, though you may enjoy starting the trilogy with Oryx and Crake.

You mentioned Grisham, John Burdett's Bangkok 8 gave a sense of place that took the edge off of winter. Completely different from Atwood.
posted by childofTethys at 4:03 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Our high school freshman Honor's World History class was assigned The Thorn Birds by a nun who was easily in her 50s. We all read it and did not complain. Michener and Uris were good, but not as compelling.
posted by childofTethys at 4:10 AM on February 9, 2015

My perennial recommendation for exactly this situation: A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin.
posted by gaspode at 5:23 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you liked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, here are a couple sciencish ones:

John Vaillant, The Tiger and The Golden Spruce (two standalone books, both transporting)
Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies (history of cancer)
posted by quaking fajita at 5:31 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

You mention The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is one of my favorite books ever. This makes me think you might like other investigative non-fiction books, so along those lines, but with a more light-hearted and humorous touch, I'll recommend three Jon Ronson books: Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, and Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries.

Lost at Sea is a collection of essays related only by the loose theme of being "mysteries" to some extent. Them is also a collection of essays, but more tightly connected and interconnected, while The Psychopath Test is a single work. They did for me exactly what you are describing: gripping, well-written, and transporting.
posted by The Deej at 5:38 AM on February 9, 2015

Night Film: A Novel by Marisha Pessl
In the Garden of the Beasts by Eric Larson
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 5:51 AM on February 9, 2015

I just finished The Last Policeman by Ben Winters. It's the first time in months that a novel has grabbed me like this - I couldn't wait to get back to it. First in a trilogy.

+1 for Night Film, too.
posted by jbickers at 5:59 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't believe I forgot this earlier, but another non-fiction rec: Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, which is about climbing Everest. I couldn't put it down.
posted by neushoorn at 6:19 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Into Thin Air is one of those books you'll never forget, so I second that.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:37 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Elizabeth Gilberts, ' The Signature Of All Things", her first foray into fiction is the best new book I have read in a year. ( I am envious of your stay-cation, I hope it is wonderful).
posted by haikuku at 6:56 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Patrick Rothfuss's "The Name of the Wind" is well written and gripping, and I recommend it to everyone.
posted by hought20 at 6:58 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wolf in White Van did it for me, and it's short enough that you'd have time for more books.
posted by rikschell at 7:56 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing The Tiger by John Vaillant.
posted by holborne at 8:00 AM on February 9, 2015

Agree 100% with gaspode's recommendation. A more formulaic novel I often suggest is Allan Folsom's "The Day After Tomorrow." Ludlumesque, but great fun.
posted by CincyBlues at 8:05 AM on February 9, 2015

If you like fantasy at all -- AT ALL -- Joe Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy, starting with The Blade Itself, will hang the moon for you. It's the first thing he ever wrote, and it is disgustingly brilliant. I was almost angry at the end of it, it was so good.
posted by Smells of Detroit at 8:22 AM on February 9, 2015

Another vote for David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. It is a more recent novel by David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas. I also third Into Thin Air -- it was absolutely gripping.

Two other non-fiction recommendations: Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken or her earlier book Seabiscuit. Unbroken reads like a novel -- a completely transporting one!
posted by merejane at 9:41 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've read many of these books and of those agree with most recommendations I've seen here, so I'll add a couple (of many) that occur to me that haven't been mentioned yet (that I've bought several times, loaned out, etc., bought both in paper and digital). Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, and Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. These are also books that I've read more than once, and I don't do that much, as I have a ridiculously huge stack of to-be-reads, and an ever-shortening life.

One book by Margaret Atwood that completely and utterly drew me in that seems not to be mentioned much is Alias Grace, which I might like more than any of her other work, and I pretty much love everything she's written.

I'm forgetting many other worthy favorites, but I do have to mention that if you liked "The Goldfinch," I'd say you should definitely check out "The Secret History" if you haven't. I was definitely absolutely hooked and reading waaaaaay too late into the night on that one, but possibly it doesn't age that well. Hard for me to evaluate since it was certainly a novel of "my time."
posted by taz at 12:30 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding Atwood's Oryx and Crake trilogy, and recommending the Wool trilogy by Hugh Howey. Totally engrossing.
posted by Specklet at 1:22 PM on February 9, 2015

If you liked the Dragon Tattoo series, Gone Girl is similarly gripping and pulpy, and very well-written.
posted by sideofwry at 5:24 PM on February 9, 2015

Connie Willis's Doomsday Book. The medievalism of Pillars of the Earth, plus cool time-travel and medical science subplots. Fantastic book.
posted by rednikki at 8:35 PM on February 9, 2015

Marge Piercy's Gone To Soldiers completely fits the bill. Enjoy!
posted by cyndigo at 6:27 PM on February 10, 2015

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