Book recommendations, please!
January 20, 2016 10:59 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for book recommendations. Specifically, books that have gorgeous writing.

I'm talking about books that have passages or phrases that are so good and so perfect that you go back to read them multiple times. Passages that almost feel like they have a physical effect on you.

The example I always use for this is the last paragraph of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Death Constant Beyond Love, which was like a punch in the stomach. And this from Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Examples of other books/authors where I've noticed this are The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, pretty much anything by Nabakov, Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, most things by Camus and Shoeless Joe by W.P Kinsella.

As you may be able to tell, I LOVE magical realism. I also love southern gothic. The books don't have to be from those genres, I'm just mentioning it here as a reference.

I won't rule out older books or classics, but I prefer more modern literature.

Additional factor - I would prefer book lengths of short to normal size. Longer books are always harder for me to get all the way through because usually something comes up in my life that causes me to set it aside for awhile and by the time I can get back to it, I've kind of forgotten a lot of the details and I don't want to start all the way over. So books that can be read in a few sittings are best.

Books I have and am planning on reading: The Master and Margarita and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Books I have started in the past, enjoyed, but not finished (because other things came up - see above) are: American Gods, The Book Thief, A Visit From The Goon Squad and Never Let Me Go. I will probably start these over at some point, but am just mentioning it here to rule them out as recommendations (unless someone would like to emphatically recommend that I push any of them to the front of the list).

Main priority: excellent writing/prose. Pretty much everything else is secondary.
posted by triggerfinger to Writing & Language (82 answers total) 114 users marked this as a favorite
 
For old school and accessibility, Jane Eyre is one of the best.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:02 AM on January 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


Anything by Catherynne M. Valente, although if magical realism and Russia are your things, Deathless is the obvious first choice. The Orphan's Tale duology is my favorite of her adult works, although it's fairy tale rather than realism. (And perhaps obviously, her Fairyland books are YA and may not be quite what you're in the mood for, although they do the Victorian intrusive narrator thing splendidly and are gorgeous.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:04 AM on January 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


You might enjoy Cherie Priest, especially her Eden Moore trilogy, which is Southern Gothic and has some lovely writing. It's more on the spec fic side than magical realism, though. Also, first person, FYI.
posted by pie ninja at 11:07 AM on January 20, 2016


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
posted by soelo at 11:09 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


One of the most beautiful books I've had the pleasure of reading is Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars. I don't want to give anything away: but it's a fast read, and it's an incredibly beautiful novel.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:10 AM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


Colum McCann. I think all his books are beautiful, but Dancer, Let the Great World Spin, Transatlantic, and Thirteen Ways of Looking are all really gorgeously written. His early collections Everything in This Country Must and Fishing the Sloe-Black River are beautiful as well, but maybe harder to find in the US (I'm not sure).
posted by mrfuga0 at 11:14 AM on January 20, 2016


W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn
posted by gyusan at 11:14 AM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. I listened to the audiobook, and I don't know if I would have made it through if I'd read it, but I loved it listening to it. An amazingly intricate story and well-told story about the New Zealand gold rush of the 1800's.

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett. My favorite book of Patchett's and fitting in the "magical realism" genre.

Villette, by Charlotte Bronte. Perhaps my favorite book of all time. Dense and pretty sad, it's a book I still return to to reread passages, 20 years after my first read.

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes. Barnes is an amazing observer of human habit and relationships. I adore all of his books and this one is especially good.

Someone, by Alice McDermott. I cried at the end of this book which has never happened to me before. A pretty simple but moving tale of an ordinary woman's life.

Pym, by Mat Johnson. Fun and funny magical realism. A great light and enjoyable read about a group of African-American explorers who travel to Antarctica in search of the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe.
posted by scantee at 11:17 AM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Ian McDonald, Desolation Road (a bit longer, but added because it’s like Garcia Marquez on Mars)
posted by miles per flower at 11:18 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Richard Flanagan, Narrow Road to the Deep North
posted by superfluousm at 11:25 AM on January 20, 2016


Khaled Hosseini's And The Mountains Echoed & A Thousand Splendid Suns - I wept reading both. Also, ANYTHING by Jhumpa Lahiri - she's SUCH a beautiful writer.

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
posted by heartquake at 11:29 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


You sound like an ideal Olga Tokarczuk reader.

Angelica Gorodischer might also be a really good fit.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:32 AM on January 20, 2016


I love Barbara Kingsolver's sentences. The Bean Trees is short and one of my very favorite books. The Poisonwood Bible is long but I couldn't put it down both times that I read it. A-mazing writing.

I just finished H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and it is just beautiful. It's a memoir but it reads like a novel.

If you can handle war and soldiers, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

And my very favorite book, which introduced me to the idea of gorgeous sentences that make you stop and catch your breath: To Kill a Mockingbird.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:33 AM on January 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


Of course, until I got to that paragraph in your question, I was internally screaming Master and Margarita, which is probably my favorite book, so I think we have some similar taste. Because of that, I'm going to hit left field and recommend Vonnegut, specifically Slaughterhouse Five to start. The writing is witty, quick, and absolutely touching. And plenty of magical realism.
posted by General Malaise at 11:33 AM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


I understand it's pretty uncool nowadays, but Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale worked for me
posted by fairmettle at 11:33 AM on January 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
posted by CarolynG at 11:34 AM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is one of the most strikingly gorgeous books I've read in years.

The Bully of Order by Brian Hart is another one, and I'm genuinely shocked it wasn't nominated for a Pulitzer but so it goes.

I loved The Country of Ice Cream Star, one of the only novels I've read in the past few years that's truly a poet's novel in the sense that the reading process is so, so deeply instructive about the magic/mechanics of language and syntax.
posted by tapir-whorf at 11:39 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Go back and read those four books you missed before!

Also Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides
And Patrick Suskind: Perfume
posted by mochapickle at 11:39 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
Pale Fire, Nabokov
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino
posted by ejs at 11:41 AM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


Jose Saramago - Blindness, Death With Interruptions, and The Elephant's Journey. His books are never too long and he's known for his very, very long and beautiful sentences.

Isabel Allende - Island Beneath the Sea. Another very beautiful writer. Island Beneath the Sea is the one I just finished reading. Beware, it's very beautifully written but the subject matter is intense. There were passages I reread quite a few times but sometimes I had to put the book down because it was just a little too much.

I'll second Shirley Jackson. We've Always Lived in the Castle is sublime.
posted by Neronomius at 11:41 AM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


J.F. Powers is famous for having written so little over a long career—something like a few thousand words a year. Part of the reason is that he clearly labored over each sentence. His early stories—which are now collected in one volume, but are in collections like The Presence of Grace and Prince of Darkness—are almost self-consciously beautiful, while his novels (Morte D'Urban is the one he made his name with) are a little more restrained.

To see if you have a taste for his work I recommend "Lions, Harts, Leaping Does" or "See How The Fish Live," two of his best short stories.

Finally: It's older, but when I think of beautiful writing what comes to mind is always the first half of Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night.
posted by Polycarp at 11:44 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Check out Mary Doria Russell's writing. It's what I call gorgeous. She writes inspired fiction (sometimes in the realm of science fiction, sometimes historical fiction), and her background (PhD in biological anthropology) is a wonderful complement effortless prose imbued with a studied background in liberal arts and religion (raised Catholic, converted to Judaism). The Sparrow and Children of God are in my top ten books, and I re-read passages from them on an almost weekly basis. I like the Sparrow so much that I went through the trouble of getting a copy autographed so I won't lend it out (I have a spare lending copy).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:46 AM on January 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'm talking about books that have passages or phrases that are so good and so perfect that you go back to read them multiple times.

This is how I felt reading The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, particularly the first book Justine.
posted by shelleycat at 11:50 AM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


We have very similar literary interests, I think. And so, I recommend anything by Helen Oyeyemi: Mr. Fox and Boy, Snow, Bird in particular. Gorgeous writing and a touch of magical realism.

I second Catherynne M. Valente's Deathless and also recommend her most recent non-YA novel, Radiance.
posted by 2or3things at 11:58 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nth Cat Valente. When I think magical realism and great writing, I think Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson. None of their books I've read was on the long side.
posted by xenization at 12:25 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Virginia Woolf said in her diary that her novel The Waves was the "greatest stretch of mind I ever knew", and its effect on me was profound; it was the assigned reading for the second week of a class I took once, but it took me almost the entire semester to read it because I had to stop every couple of paragraphs and stare off into the distance as her words echoed and reechoed in my mind, my inner eye was taken over by the images they inspired, and goosebumps rippled back and forth across my body. I'm actually a little afraid of that book, and approach it only with trepidation.
posted by jamjam at 12:26 PM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


Lolita, Nabakov discussion here
The House of The Spirits, Allende
The Sixteen Pleasures, Hellenga
posted by j_curiouser at 12:28 PM on January 20, 2016


The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

It is intense and difficult and has some of the most achingly beautiful prose I've ever read. Won the Booker Prize in 1997.
posted by chaoticgood at 12:38 PM on January 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


You're getting tons of great suggestions, so I'll just mention Salman Rushdie, which is what immediately jumped out at me from your description. His writing has the same effect on me that Marquez' does, where he just stops me in my tracks and I have to reread some perfect passage over and over again.

Probably start with Midnight's Children or The Satanic Verses, but I honestly can't think of any of his books that isn't beautifully written.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:40 PM on January 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


Mercè Rodoreda
László Krasznahorkai

Seconding W.G.Sebald too.

And early Nathalie Sarraute (especially 'Tropismes').
posted by remembrancer at 12:42 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Looks like I just got beat to this punch but, absolutely, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. One of the best books I've ever read.
posted by dnash at 12:48 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


have you tried Proust?
posted by monologish at 12:59 PM on January 20, 2016


I was going to mention Rushdie, also. Partial to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, but also Satanic Verses. The word I think of when reading him is "technicolor."
posted by mneekadon at 1:01 PM on January 20, 2016


Came in specifically to recommend Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet. Glad to see I'm not the only one!
posted by rebekah at 1:12 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sherman Alexie's Reservation Blues is my personal gold standard for magical realism. Deeply witty and poetic.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Shocked not to see it mentioned yet! Definitely on my list of "go back and reread again and again" books.
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee is a beautiful, compellingly written dystopian novel.
posted by duffell at 1:16 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Animal Family by Randal Jarrell is a YA novel that is exquisitely written. A quick read which I highly recommend.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:35 PM on January 20, 2016


Seconding Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, and adding David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. (I see David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas has also been recommended, but I have not read that one yet. I am looking forward to it, though!)

Both books are long, but if you like magical realism and beautiful writing, I predict you will love them both.
posted by merejane at 1:38 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


As you may be able to tell, I LOVE magical realism.

Guy Gavriel Kay: Last Light of the Sun, the Lions of Al-Rassan, others.

His prose is freakin' wonderful.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:53 PM on January 20, 2016


The Gormenghast novels, by Mervyn Peake
posted by littlesq at 1:57 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Michael Ondaatje.
posted by miles1972 at 2:06 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Georgette Heyer has wonderful writing.
Also Daphne Du'Maurier.
And Ian McEwan.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:25 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, lordy, yes, Ian McEwan. Atonement left me speechless. (No spoilers!)
posted by mochapickle at 2:34 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Amitav Ghosh? The Ibis Trilogy is good, but I also really loved the Glass Palace. Here he is in conversation--partly about the language itself.
posted by Gotanda at 3:08 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ctrl-F Housekeeping.

Dang, what is wrong with you people?

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.
posted by matildaben at 3:08 PM on January 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


Seconding Michael Ondaatje, with a particular recommendation for In The Skin of a Lion.

Smilla's Sense of Snow is a book I have read again and again because it's so beautifully written.
posted by raw sugar at 3:08 PM on January 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Please read Finny. Honestly, I'm tearing up thinking about reading about it. It's not a particularly "WOW, new!" book, its amateur, easy-to-read, but its beautiful in its engaged realism. I love complex, sweeping novels, particularly by Murakami, but this one just knocked me off my feet in it's simplicity.
posted by Marinara at 3:09 PM on January 20, 2016


Tillie Olsen, if you don't have enough recommendations already. All of her works are lovely.
posted by frumiousb at 3:29 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hild, by Nicola Griffith. Here's an excerpt.
posted by dhruva at 3:29 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Lost Books of the Odyssey: A Novel by Zachary Mason.
posted by BWA at 3:38 PM on January 20, 2016


A lot of good ones in this thread from the blue, including this passage from Les Miserables:
Jean Valjean advanced, carefully avoiding the furniture. At the far end of the room he could hear the even, quiet breathing of the sleeping bishop.

He was almost completely dressed in bed, because of the cold Basse-Alpes nights. His head was tilted back on the pillow in the unstudied attitude of sleep. His face was lit up with a vague expression of a contentment, hope, and happiness. It was almost a radiance, a luminous transparency, for this heaven was within him: it was his conscience.

Jean Valjean stood in the shadow, erect, motionless, terrified. He had never seen anything like it. The moral world has no spectacle more powerful than this: a troubled, restless conscience on the verge of committing a crime, contemplating the sleep of a just man.
And Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer will give you some good leads. You can skip right to her "List of Books to Read Immediately" for a good start. It was through this book that I discovered the majesty of Rebecca West's prose:
Princip heard the noise of Chabrinovitch’s bomb and thought the work was done, so stood still. When the car went by and he saw that the royal party was still alive, he was dazed with astonishment and walked away to a cafe, where he sat down and had a cup of coffee and pulled himself together. Granezh was also deceived by the explosion and let his opportunity go by. Franz Ferdinand would have gone from Sarajevo untouched had it not been for the actions of his staff, who by blunder after blunder contrived that his car should be slowed down and that he should be presented as a stationary target in front of Princip, the one conspirator of real and mature deliberation, who had finished his cup of coffee and was walking back through the streets, aghast at the failure of himself and his friends, which would expose the country to terrible punishment without having inflicted any loss on authority. At last the bullets had been coaxed out of the reluctant revolver to the bodies of the eager victims.
posted by AceRock at 3:46 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Little Big by John Crowley. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon. Also recommend Helprins Winter's Tale. Finally, anything by Isak Dinesen.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 3:54 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell. Non-fiction. The story of a boy and his otter.

This was the first book I ever read where I noticed the prose as being separate from the story.

Also, an ambivalent recommendation for Tanith Lee. I don't remember which book I started with, but the prose was breathtaking. It whirled me along through about two thirds of the book, until I realized I didn't like any of the characters.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:13 PM on January 20, 2016


David Mitchell has been mentioned upthread, but not his excellent first novel, Ghostwritten. That has got some really beautiful writing in it.

The God of Small Things was also mentioned, and I'll second it. Be forewarned that it is legitimately heartbreaking.

Wolf In White Van by John Darnielle has some astonishing prose.

And while it's rough going, Moby Dick has one of my favorite opening passages of any book.
posted by zchyrs at 4:16 PM on January 20, 2016


So long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell
posted by she's not there at 4:22 PM on January 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Seconding Jeanette Winterson, especially Lighthousekeeping. I've gone back and read that a few times, and it inspired me to write something short of my own immediately after reading it, which very few books do.

If you can handle intense, heartbreaking topics, The Bone People by Keri Hulme has incredible beautiful lush writing.

I really liked Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi. Again, heavy topic (the Holocaust), but such deep observations about people and their habits.
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 4:27 PM on January 20, 2016


Already Dead by Denis Johnson.
posted by O. Bender at 4:31 PM on January 20, 2016


I see someone else already recommended Calvino's If on a winter's night, but I'll also put in a recommendation for his Invisible Cities as well. Just gorgeous and absorbing, and not long at all.
posted by yasaman at 4:51 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow, these are fantastic answers and so much more than I expected! I especially love that there are so many authors that I didn't already know about. I've spend the past almost hour and a half looking up on Amazon every book I haven't already read. A few questions, if anyone feels like answering:

I've read Slaughterhouse Five and loved it. I haven't read any other Vonnegut though and would be interested in a second recommendation if anyone has one.

I'm going to for sure get Dictionary of the Khazars, which seems VERY intrguing. However, there are two versions - a male version and a female version (!?). I want to buy used copies and the female version is more expensive - does it matter if I buy the male version?? I'd google it but I don't want to inadvertently spoil any part of it for myself.

Lots of these suggestions I've read already and loved (The Poisonwood Bible, Disgrace, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, We Have Always Lived In the Castle, Blindness, The God of Small Things, Smilla's Sense of Snow and a few others); some I own but haven't read yet (Cloud Atlas, Winter's Tale, Atonement - half read); and a there are a few that I'm frankly surprised I haven't read yet (If On A Winter's Night A Traveler, ANY Salman Rushdie book, wtf).

My Amazon cart now has a couple dozen books in it and though I'm going to try to narrow it down to five or so for this purchase, I'll save the rest of them to come back to when I get through my current batch. If anyone else has any suggestions, please keep posting them, as I'll keep adding them to my wishlist.

I am SUPER excited to start these and EXTRA SUPER excited about The Country Of Ice Cream Star in particular, because, 1) it was compared to Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2) I feel like it might remind me a little of The Sound and the Fury, one of my all-time favorite books, and, 3) magical realism + dystopian sociey = PURE SOLID GOLD.

I'll mark as best answers the ones I end up buying for the first batch, but these are all excellent answers so far and have well exceeded my expectations! Thank you! :)
posted by triggerfinger at 5:13 PM on January 20, 2016


For more Vonnegut I'll throw in Cat's Cradle.

And The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker made me stop and marvel a few times per page.
posted by holmesian at 5:28 PM on January 20, 2016


FWIW Mezz is under 150 pages
posted by holmesian at 5:29 PM on January 20, 2016


OK, well, you're doing fine with these answers.
But I'll offer something from the early 60s, about the 40s, that's far from magical realism, but is the finest writing I've ever seen. It's sparse, so when an adjective comes up, it means something.
Mrs Bridge, by Evan Connell.
posted by LonnieK at 6:07 PM on January 20, 2016


I recommend you try Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.
posted by gudrun at 6:42 PM on January 20, 2016


If you like Cormac McCarthy, I wonder if you've tried Jim Harrison. I like some of his sentences. Maybe start with Dalva or The Road Home (which opens, "It is easy to forget that in the main we die only seven times more slowly than our dogs").
posted by salvia at 7:24 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


A Stranger In Olondria by Sofia Samatar.
posted by RakDaddy at 8:05 PM on January 20, 2016


Atonement - half read
I encourage you to go back to it. There are narrative changes that I thought were pretty amazing. The first half is a tough slog, but the last 1/2 to 1/3 completes it.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:08 PM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


For southern gothic, try Wise Blood and short stories by Flannery O'Conner (if you haven't already read her).
posted by toska at 9:39 PM on January 20, 2016


Nthing Dictionary of the Khazars. So beautiful- and my goodness, magical- it brings a tear to my eye just to think of it.

Male or Female version doesn't especially matter- the difference is very subtle, just a single passage in the whole dictionary. And it IS set out like a dictionary. Amazing reading experience, like nothing else you'll ever read.

Beck, I better go fish my copy out now!
posted by Philby at 12:43 AM on January 21, 2016


Moby Dick wouldn't normally be called magic realism, but there's definitely some common ground there in the almost supernatural powers ascribed to the whale, and the writing is absolutely gorgeous.
posted by peppermind at 4:28 AM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


The most gorgeous book I've ever read, both for the beauty of its prose and the specificity with which it describes human emotion, is A Death in the Family by James Agee. This is the prologue.

If you're looking for something short and beautiful, two books by Denis Johnson come to mind. Train Dreams and Jesus' Son. Train Dreams is a single story told in a novella. Jesus' Son is a series of interconnected short stories, possibly all about the same guy, an aimless loser named Fuckhead.

Finally, in the realm of southerners, As I Lay Dying by Faulkner is a piece of magic. It's a short but difficult read, and includes one of my favourite lines:

"It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That's how the world is going to end."
posted by Fireland at 5:17 AM on January 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yasushi Inoue, Tun-Huang (Tremendous, a stunning achievement)
William Gaddis, Agapē Agape (because JR, which I love like a mother tiger, is longer than you indicate)
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water, The Broken Road (Such writing! On foot from Holland to Constantinople, 1933-34 )
Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt (It's long but rewarding; beautiful and moving)
Yaşar Kemal, Memed, My Hawk and They Burn the Thistles (Yes! Read, read them!)
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:19 AM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I love Joan Didion's nonfiction. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live is worth digging into. It contains her first seven volumes of nonfiction. Each volume is normal book length. Together they make quite a tome.

Great writing though.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:25 AM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Check out John Banville, an Irish writer often compared to Nabokov for his gorgeous prose. The Infinities very much veers into magical realism and I think you'd love it. I haven't read The Sea, though it is typically the book he is known for and likely worth checking out.
posted by veery at 6:25 AM on January 21, 2016


You might also like others among Peter Høeg's books. The autobiographical Borderliners is harrowing but the writing is just short of miraculous, and though reviews for The Quiet Girl were mixed, I loved it. It's probably the most Smilla-like of his later work.

Mikael Niemi's Popular Music from Vittula and Yuri Rythkeu's A Dream in Polar Fog are both great. Ice and snow seem to inspire beautiful prose in any language.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:46 AM on January 21, 2016


Annie Dillard has some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is astounding.
posted by orangesky4 at 6:57 AM on January 21, 2016


Jane Urquhart's novels fall into this category for me. At least once a week I go back and read the prologue to Changing Heaven just to remind myself how amazing simple language can be.

I find Kathy Acker contextually difficult to read, but her language is beautiful even when I don't understand what she is writing.

Definitely agree with Jeanette Winterson as well.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell made me weep like a baby. No other book has moved me to tears.
posted by archimago at 7:39 AM on January 21, 2016


some fantastic suggestions here. One I would add is Damage by Josephine Hart. I re-read this book for the prose alone every few years. The opening alone is worth it.
"There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives. "Those who are lucky enough to find it ease like water over a stone, onto its fluid contours and are home... An efficient dissembler, I gently and silently smoothed the rough edges of my being. I hid the awkwardness and pain with which I inclined toward my chosen outline, and tried to be what those I loved expected me to be."

And the poetry of the language throughout.
posted by Megami at 9:41 AM on January 21, 2016


For further Vonnegut reading I'll second Cat's Cradle and throw in Player Piano, Sirens of Titan, and Galapagos. They're all short, fanciful reads.
posted by ejs at 12:38 PM on January 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ray Bradbury, esp. the short stories.
posted by dancing leaves at 6:02 PM on January 21, 2016


Adding my agreement about The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

The Wife of Martin Guerre by Janet Lewis Winters. It's a slim volume, exquisitely, finely written.

Winter's Tales and Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen. Gem like story telling.

Possession, by A. S. Byatt
posted by nickyskye at 10:40 PM on January 21, 2016


So I ended up going to the used bookstore today so I could save on shipping and ended up buying more books than I had planned. I'm super excited to get started on them when I finish The Master and Margarita. They also didn't have some that I wanted to buy (e.g., The Sparrow, first book of The Alexandria Quartet, and a few others), so as soon as I finish the ones I have (I'm a moderately fast reader), I'll come back and go through this list again for the next batch. I've marked as best answer the ones I was able to get today. Thank you again, you've all given me such great answers! These will keep me busy for quite awhile!
posted by triggerfinger at 5:59 PM on January 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Fugitive Peices by Ann Michaels is a beautifully written book that has stuck with me for many years.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 4:48 PM on March 22, 2016


Jo Walton's My Real Children is beautifully written; she really has a gift with words. It's a quick read, but heartbreaking.
posted by duffell at 12:14 PM on June 27, 2016


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