Book recommendations for my Mom
September 23, 2015 7:48 PM   Subscribe

Since my mum got her Kobo ereader, she's been bingeing on the classics but finding the latest recommendations offered by Kobo and Goodreads don't interest her much. She's 76, hates gratuitous bad language, sex, and overly wordy or convoluted language. I've told her that Metafilter is full of bright and knowledgable people; ready to help.

So far, she's enjoyed the complete works of: George Elliot, John Galsworthy, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Wilkie Collins, John Galsworthy, Luisa May Alcott, Thomas Hardy, Elisabeth Gaskell, Henry James, Alexander Dumas, George Gissing, and Anthony Trollop.

...she got far less enjoyment from: Tobias Smollett, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Walter Scott, Melville, Stevenson, F. S. Fitzgerald

She doesn't seem interested in Vonnegutt, Gabriel Garcia Marques or anyone else I can think of (my knowlege of modern authors is pitiful)

She does enjoy John Grisham, Jeffery Archer, and Coleen McCullaugh (and others that she can't remember at the moment)


P.s. -she hates violence, (though she loved Breaking Bad) and has no interest in sci-fi or fantasy.
posted by bonobothegreat to Writing & Language (45 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I just read two books that she might like by Nevil Shute, A Town Like Alice and Trustee from the Toolbox. Both were written in the 50's and are vaguely about nice people getting to live happily ever after, after much effort. They are quite different though, the first is more an epic, the second the one story, so it's worth trying both.
posted by kjs4 at 7:58 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

E.M Forster?
posted by solarion at 8:04 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I bet she'd like the novels of Robertson Davies. Tempest-Tost is very light and funny if you're looking for something charming.

Also, the lightly fictionalized memoir Lark Rise To Candleford is very enjoyable.
posted by Frowner at 8:06 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

My mom really liked The Time Traveler's Wife, Devil in the White City, and something else that I think had the word bee in the title. Those are the three she's talked about the most in the last few years. (I haven't read them, I couldn't tell you what they're about.)

Not super helpful I know, however, my mom has never cared for Vonnegut and she hated 100 Years of Solitude so much she's gone out of her way to remind me what a terrible recommendation that was for her several times, so their tastes may be similar.
posted by phunniemee at 8:07 PM on September 23, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:13 PM on September 23, 2015

Anne Tyler, Eudora Welty.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:16 PM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'd try Edith Wharton and Willa Cather, and also the Diary of a Woman Homesteader.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:23 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Georges Simenon's romans durs (not his Maigret novels, basically) are crazy delicious. There may be exceptions to the rule -- 'Dirty Snow' gets pretty violent -- but if I were sending my mother novels I'd definitely be sending some Simenon.

On the "classic" side, there's a Zola novel here and there that may fit the bill. 'The Belly of Paris' may be a good place to start, featuring working class characters and the Les Halles markets.
posted by mr. digits at 8:26 PM on September 23, 2015

Oh, and as long as I'm flapping my gums, some Capote: 'The Muses Are Heard' (nonfiction) features an American opera crew entering the Soviet Union.
posted by mr. digits at 8:31 PM on September 23, 2015

Stella Gibbons (as in Cold Comfort Farm). Most of her extensive back catalogue is not available in ebook form, but you can get a few.

It's also worth checking for adult novels by childhood favorites. I find Frances Hodgson Burnett's books for grown-ups fascinating for somewhat anthropological reasons, for example.
posted by yarntheory at 8:39 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I say you can't go wrong with Three Men in a Boat.
posted by fings at 8:41 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I introduced the Aubrey-Maturin series to my mom and she ended up devouring all 20 of them. They're historical fiction set in the early 1800s following a British naval ship captain and his doctor. My mom's father was in the navy, so that might have contributed to the appeal to her a little, but mostly she liked the historical setting, the nautical language (she was so proud when she told me she could name all the different types of sails on one of those old three-masted ships), and the not overwhelming but still interesting pacing of the adventures.

The movie Master and Commander is based on one of the books, but I didn't particularly like the movie while still loving the books.

Might be worth trying just one of the series, since if she likes it you don't have to worry about finding her more books for a while! I loaded up all 20 onto my Mom's Nook and it lasted her a couple years. The books are mostly independent but follow the same characters and you really get attached to them. It was also nice that I really enjoyed them, too, so we could read them together and discuss.
posted by losvedir at 8:49 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hunh, I came in here to recommend Letters of a Woman Homesteader thinking nobody else would have heard of it.

A while back I read a bunch of the early Pulitzer winners. Of those, I'd definitely recommend The Age of Innocence and The Bridge of San Luis Rey to someone with your mom's taste, perhaps Laughing Boy as well. Honey in the Horn, Gone with the Wind, and Now in November were also interesting reads in different ways, though I'm less certain they'll suit her classical leanings.

Stuff that should suit --- Thackery's Vanity Fair, Anna Karenina, and Madame Bovary. Don't know if she's much for detective novels, but I suspect she might like Dorothy Sayers --- try Gaudy Night, practically no violence but absolutely oddles of "plucky, introspective heroine ponders social injustices of her era" a la the Brontes or Austen.
posted by Diablevert at 8:50 PM on September 23, 2015

My old and old-fashioned mum read all the Alexander McCall Smith The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books and quite enjoyed them. She must have enjoyed them because I just checked the wiki and there are like fifty of the things.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:06 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Norah Lofts
posted by janey47 at 9:12 PM on September 23, 2015

Agatha Christie and P. G. Wodehouse. Lots of books, great fun, pleasant characters to follow.
posted by irisclara at 9:24 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:28 PM on September 23, 2015

Barbara Pym, May Sarton, Elizabeth Taylor, E.M. Delafield and Penelope Fitzgerald. I'd also check out the Persephone Books catalogue.
posted by peripathetic at 9:30 PM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

My grandmother, who is 91 and has both strong opinions and similar restrictions, really enjoyed Jane Gardham's Old Filth and Andrea Levy's Small Island. She also really liked Vladimir Nabokov's memoir, Speak Memory (she was displeased to discover that his other books were full of sex and convoluted language).
posted by bibliotropic at 9:32 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

If she's not put off by the "children's books" label, I'm betting she would love reading -- or re-reading -- the whole Little House series. Mr K and I read them out loud recently, and they were marvelous. Each book is a little more complicated, as Laura gets a little older, and is full of details and (mildly) exciting adventures. And she's so spunky!
posted by kestralwing at 9:40 PM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is more on the YA side of things, but Eva Ibbotson's historical books like A Countess Below Stairs, A Company of Swans, and the Reluctant Heiress are light historical novels that are well written and very enjoyable.
posted by gnat at 9:48 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Someone beat me to Wharton but that's what I logged in to post. Other ideas might include Henry James, Marilynne Robinson (would go for Gilead, Home and Lila before Housekeeping maybe), and the Naples books by Elena Ferrante. Also perhaps Steinbeck?
posted by vunder at 9:56 PM on September 23, 2015

Perhaps too light or too staid, but the Mitford series is a lovely, slow read.

Daphne Du Maurier is good. Rebecca is my all time favorite book.

I consistently recommend Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistletop Cafe and will continue to do so until someone breaks down and reads it.

And I'll second the Aubrey-Maturin series. Delightful and amazing writing.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:33 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Anne of Green Gables series would keep her busy for awhile.
posted by kjs4 at 11:32 PM on September 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm thinking Out of Africa would fit her requirements.

Also, The Complete Stories of Truman Capote. Trust me.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 11:39 PM on September 23, 2015

I've re-read the Aubrey-Maturin series several times, but years ago when my father introduced me to Patrick O'Brian I had trouble with the first volume of the series. I would recommend that your mother start with the third volume, H.M.S. Surprise, and then circle back to the beginning. The dialogue is wonderful, the social commentary is absorbing, and Maturin's adventures really make the series.
posted by Agave at 1:19 AM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Perhaps Patrick Gale? He's a modern British author, but is well described as an:
"English rural moralists. Think Austen, Hardy or Murdoch" (from a review of one of his books).

Possibly also Mary Wesley, in a similar vein. Though perhaps too much sex? Her obituary from the Telegraph summarises her as follows:
"Mary Wesley's books were generally set in the West Country, in the war or pre-war period, and peopled by upper-middle class characters with names such as Piers, Calypso and Cosmo. Her skill at organising interconnected lives and loves, and her meticulous rendering of clipped drawing room chit-chat tempted some reviewers to make fanciful comparisons to writers such as Jane Austen.

But there was a darker side to Mary Wesley's writing. For though she wrote within the conventions of the traditional English novel, beneath the comedy of manners and the inconsequential and dispassionate style, there lay a tangled web of brutality, incest, homosexuality, murder, suicide, cruelty and illegitimacy.

Mary Wesley refused to make any concessions to the sort of harmless narrative that might be expected from someone of her age, and her books were explicit in their sexual content and language: "The young always think that they invented sex and somehow hold full literary rights on the subject", she once observed."

Both are very readable.
posted by yesbut at 1:50 AM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

From Project Gutenberg:
Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant is one of my favourite 19th century novels. The heroine is a large confident young lady who ruthlessly organizes the social life of her country town.

The Making of a Marchioness (also known as Emily Fox-Seton) is probably the best of the adult novels by Frances Hodgson Burnett mentioned above. Another good one is The Shuttle.

Persephone books don't issue many e-books, but some of my favourites are available through Kobo:
Miss Buncle's Book and Miss Buncle Married by D. E Stevenson are about a naive youngish woman in the 1930s who bases the characters in her book on her neighbours. Miss Pettigrew lives for a day is another 1930s comedy, about a governess who gets sent by mistake to work for a night-club singer.
posted by Azara at 3:46 AM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

As far as classics go, Somerset Maugham is very readable and also very good - Razor's Edge is pretty delightful and a good place to start. Basically a comedy (in the sense of not being a tragedy, not in the sense of being particularly funny although the character of Elliot is a comic masterpiece) with a mix of philosophy/spirituality.

Someone mentioned Barbara Pym - I recommended her to my own mother - mannered English village life (vicars and tea galore) but with a deliciously sharp, snide edge. Jane Austen without any weddings at the end, I think somebody said. Excellent Women might do the trick.
posted by oneaday at 4:27 AM on September 24, 2015

Seconding Three Men in a Boat, and perhaps some Arthur Conan Doyle?
posted by usonian at 5:55 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Angela Thirkell. She wrote a long, frequently funny, set of books that take place in Trollope's Barchester, but in the 1920 - 1940's period.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 6:17 AM on September 24, 2015

Does she like modern cozy mystery series at all? I can suggest Monica Ferris/the needlepoint mysteries if so. They are about nice Minnesotans who solve crimes and run a needlepoint shop. Violence is largely off-screen, and the characters have surprising depth for a cozy series.

If she is OK with Regency, Georgette Heyer writes excellent, relatively complex romances.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:20 AM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

She might like M.C. Beaton's mysteries (and there are lots of them to get through if she does!). I always recommend these books to people because both I and my 90-year-old grandma love them. :) She has two main series, one focused on a Scottish police officer and the other on a retired ad exec-turned-PI in the Cotswalds. The violence is never over-the-top, and the characters are very engaging.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:32 AM on September 24, 2015

I think if you mixed John Grisham with Colleen McCullough you would get Jodi Picoult.
posted by puddledork at 7:24 AM on September 24, 2015

Georgette Heyer's Regency novels are incredibly detailed, delightfully witty and they improve with every re-read. I'd recommend them without hesitation.
posted by h00py at 7:51 AM on September 24, 2015

My mom really enjoys the Aunt Dimity series by Nancy Atherton.
posted by lemniskate at 8:01 AM on September 24, 2015

Rules of Civility. So, so good!
posted by lyssabee at 8:27 AM on September 24, 2015

Given her enjoyment of George Eliot & Henry James, I'm going to assume that the "overly wordy or convoluted language" constraint is about opacity rather than complexity of language. If she's exhausted the 19th century English-language realists & romantics, she could move on to the French ones: Balzac, Stendhal, Sand, Flaubert. Or the Russians - Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, maybe Chernyshevsky. Or she could read letters or biography of some of the novelists she's already enjoyed. Does "all of Gaskell" include the biography of Charlotte Bronte?

For contemporary authors, I'd second Elena Ferrante and Marilyn Robinson and add Jane Smiley - most of her work is less dark than Thousand Acres, the one she is best known for..
posted by yarrow at 9:10 AM on September 24, 2015

The Archy McNally series by Lawrence Sanders. They're fun, enjoyable capers with no bad language, violence, or sex. Murder scenes are artfully described with no overt graphic descriptions and romantic scenes stop at a kiss, leaving the reader to decide what "...and the rest of the evening was delightful" means.

I'd stop reading at book 7 though because the author who took over the series for book 8 and beyond is far more risqué.
posted by _Mona_ at 9:19 AM on September 24, 2015

Edna Ferber! I was surprised at how much I enjoyed So Big when I read it last winter.
posted by suelac at 9:57 AM on September 24, 2015

Response by poster: This is fantastic! Nowhere else could I have found such knowledgable, helpful people. These recommendations sound right up her alley and will give her many new avenues to explore.

I could "right answer" every one of them.....any and all additions still welcome.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:33 AM on September 24, 2015

Based on her likes, I would try Mary Elizabeth Braddon - she wrote page-turners around the same time as Collins. Lady Audley's Secret or The Doctor's Wife are good ones to start with.

I'd also second Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant - to me it reads like a lost Jane Austen novel.

Seconding Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and adding Daddy Longlegs by Jean Webster as a companion piece to it.

And they're a bit racy (but I'm pretty sure they still count as no sex or bad language), but she may just love Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, and its sequel But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes
posted by Mchelly at 1:33 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding Willa Cather. Beautiful pristine prose.

Also West into the Night by Beryl Markham.

Modern: I think Julian Barnes is hysterical.

If she likes Colleen McCullough she should try Philippa Gregory.

A.S. Byatt is a little more "literary" but awesome.
posted by DarthDuckie at 5:20 PM on September 24, 2015

More like Colleen McCullough, who I actually remember as being fairly "sexy" but not really erotica or anything: James Clavell. or James Michener.
posted by DarthDuckie at 5:24 PM on September 24, 2015

Forgot one of my favourite books! The Summerhouse Trilogy by Alice Thomas Ellis. Apart from Persephone Books which I mentioned earlier, your mother may also enjoy a lot of the Virago Modern Classics.
posted by peripathetic at 7:22 PM on September 24, 2015

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