Book and TV recommendations for me and my sweetie
April 22, 2016 11:25 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I like reading books together and talking about them, but man--do we have different tastes! I like slow moving, detail oriented things and he likes big, interesting ideas. Any recommendations?

My sweetie and I have dramatically different taste in pop culture. We want to find something we can enjoy together. I tend to enjoy slow moving, detail oriented stuff that focuses on daily life and is largely character driven; I really like The Last Policeman Trilogy, Scandinavian crime (soooo slow moving!), Patricia Highsmith, Halldor Laxness, and Karl Ove Knausgard (I know, I know). My husband likes science fiction, especially hard sci fi, with interesting ideas and conflicts, and explorations of ideas. A sense of place is really important to him in his reading. He likes M. John Harrison, Neal Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Slipsteam is an area of obvious overlap for us, but I prefer Joe Meno, Kelly Link, and Charles Yu, whereas he likes Iain Banks and China Mieville. We are totally open to genre.

We both have liked:
--The Southern Reach Trilogy (this is, like, the Gold Standard. We both really, really liked it)
--McMafia by Misha Glenny and Agent Zigzag by Ben Mcintyre (both non fiction)
--Deep Space Nine, but we both acknowledge it's kind of dumb
--Galaxy Quest
--Blade Runner
--We have both enjoyed-ish A Song of Ice and Fire; I think a lot of our enjoyment is that we everyone we know is also reading the books so we can talk about it with them. I like the show but he doesn't like it because it replaces the mental images he had of the books/characters.
--Battlestar Galactica, although I think my husband was pretty bored with it near the end.
--In The Woods and The Likeness by Tana French--I've continued to enjoy the books in the Dublin Police series, but my husband really liked Cassie, and he was sad to hear she's not in the other books, and isn't too motivated to read them. I also think they're less magical/unreal, and am not sure he would like them.
--David Foster Wallace's essays

Some things we've tried:
--We watched 3 and a half seasons of The Wire and he found it too depressing to continue. I finished it on my own to be a completist, but OH MAN the last season was not good.
--We tried to read an Iain Banks novel together (the one with the refugees at the Scottish (?) castle) but neither of us liked it.
--He likes Neal Stephenson. I WANT to like Neal Stephenson but just can't.
--I thought he would like Charles Yu, but nope.
--I love Never Let Me Go but he didn't
--My husband used to really like TC Boyle (and we've read a lot of his books together) but then some switch happened and he started finding him unbearable and depressing. I kind of agree with him.

I recently recommended John LeCarre books to him but he finds them boring, slow moving, and difficult to follow; he also had a complaints that they “could take place anywhere”--that is, there was no information about the places were the action was happening. I read some M. John Harrison at his recommendation, but didn't enjoy them; I found the writing style awkward and the overall tone kind of pseudo-profound. 

Any recommendations? Looking specifically for TV series or books.
posted by Ideal Impulse to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I recently recommended Denise Mina's Garnethill Trilogy to my son and his partner. They're both enjoying it immensely, and have, like the two of you, different tastes.
posted by mareli at 11:35 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

K.J. Parker's Engineer and Fencer trilogies.

Ian Tregillis's Milkweed Triptych.
posted by Etrigan at 11:38 AM on April 22, 2016

This might be out of left field, but what about movies by Zhang Yimou? I'm thinking specifically of one of my all time favorites: "The Curse of the Golden Flower." He did "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" too.

Yimou's films are GRAND and GORGEOUS, but they also have beautiful details and really engaging stories (sometimes they may move slowish, but they pick up with lots of fabulous martial arts).
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:54 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you liked Southern Reach, maybe try other Jeff VanderMeer novels for the same mix of huge idea and slow build? I can thoroughly recommend his Ambergris books, especially Shriek: An Afterword.
posted by monster truck weekend at 11:56 AM on April 22, 2016

Stephen Mitchell, specifically Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks.
posted by matildaben at 12:00 PM on April 22, 2016

I tend to enjoy slow moving, detail oriented stuff that focuses on daily life and is largely character driven // My husband likes science fiction, especially hard sci fi, with interesting ideas and conflicts, and explorations of ideas. A sense of place is really important to him in his reading.


I'd bet money on you both liking A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (I haven't read the sequel yet).

Ursula Le Guin is almost too obvious a suggestion (either Left Hand of Darkness or Dispossessed) - her whole thing is basically "hard anthropology SF because yes anthropology is TOO a science" which just hits all my buttons.

A more recent one you might both enjoy is Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and the sequels.


The X-Files! It has some of the same 90s TV stuff that you may not have liked about DS9, but it's definitely character-driven SF with interesting ideas (though not every episode really counts as SF (or as 'an interesting idea' for that matter)). If you're not totally sold on the idea, pick some eps from a 'best of the X-Files' list and try it out. It's one of the greats for a reason.

You should also definitely check out Firefly if you haven't, especially considering it's only 12 or 13 episodes long.

Actually, on the same note, you must check out Wonderfalls! It might seem like a slightly off-kilter recommendation, since "woman starts hearing stuffed animals talk to her" isn't necessarily SF, but based on your various overlapping likes I have a feeling you'd enjoy it, and it's also only 13 episodes long.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:01 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you tried watching the first season of True Detective?
posted by capricorn at 12:09 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

In the non-SF TV realm, depending on how you feel about lots of televised violence, Fargo and Hannibal were both quite good and balanced your desire for character-driven with his desire for idea-driven - both shows have definite points of view which are expressed mostly through conflicts between the various characters. Maybe also The Fall (with Gillian Anderson) but it may veer into the same 'too depressing' territory as The Wire.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:12 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

It also occurs to me that you might both really enjoy the Aubrey–Maturin series (aka the Master and Commander books), which do an amazingly evocative job of establishing the setting on a macro and micro scale - you really do feel like you know what it's like to be on those ships - plus they're just FUN. Great central friendship, and some naval battle scenes that are as gripping as anything I've ever read.

One big caveat, though: if at any point you think "I wish they'd stop explaining how [excruciatingly specific detail of the ship] works," just skip ahead to when they stop talking about it! This is totally allowed. It's like skipping the three-page-long songs in the Lord of the Rings books - I appreciate the time and effort that went into it but it is not what I'm here for.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:19 PM on April 22, 2016

I think you both might really enjoy Erik Larson's books, which typically cover big exciting events and topics and time periods, with super meticulous attention to detail (including incredible citations and references).
posted by DuckGirl at 12:30 PM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Maybe you could try Wolf Hall--it's got a ton of delightful period detail, but it's set in a time of incredible political and intellectual crisis in England, from the point of view of one of the key players.
posted by praemunire at 12:40 PM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Haha! I should have mentioned that I LOVE Wolf Hall but my husband described it as "another one one of your impenetrable books about the Tudors."
posted by Ideal Impulse at 12:53 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

A random smattering of suggestions that might work for you:

showbiz_liz suggested the Master and Commander books, but (philistine that I am) I find Naomi Novik's Temeraire books even more fun because it's Master and Commander with dragons. Definitely character driven but lots of action, and I found the sense of place to be great, particularly since the series ranges not just through Napoleonic Europe, but also South America, China, Africa, and Australia. The first one is His Majesty's Dragon. I also completely, completely loved her recent fantasy standalone, Uprooted.

I just read Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which I found utterly delightful. It's sci fi, but very character driven. It may not be hard enough for your sweetie as there's a lot of handwaving about how FTL travel works, but if he's willing to give it a go, it's a lovely book. Also a really interesting take on different species and their customs, etc., which felt a little like the delight of reading Cetaganda, if that's one of your husband's LMB favorites.

As far as LMB, have you tried her work? I find her writing to be so, so character driven. It's not slow, but it's often quietly beautiful. If you haven't read them, you might consider Ethan of Athos and the 3-novella series Borders of Infinity. Veering away from the Vorkosigan Saga, have either of you tried her Chalion books? I think The Curse of Chalion and the ones that follow would certainly tick all your boxes, and if your husband already likes LMB, he might be willing to settle in for a slower ride given that it still deals with big ideas and has a great sense of place.

You could also try the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, either the books (though I've never been able to convince my husband to read them) or the TV series (which he will watch). Enough action for your husband, interspersed with enough slow meditations on family and detailed descriptions of daily life for you (especially in the books), perhaps?

Nthing Vernor Vinge - he does a beautiful combination of slow, descriptive, character-focused writing and really hard sci fi.

How about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as a more "literary" fantasy romp? A friend said the BBC miniseries is also quite good.

As for Neal Stephenson, have you tried some of his less out-there works? Jumping right into Diamond Age is a big shift, even for people who already love sci fi, but how about his new Seveneves or Cryptonomicon or (a favorite in our house) The Big U?

We haven't seen/read it yet, but the TV show The Expanse and the novels it's based on come highly recommended from a friend who likes DS9, Neal Stephenson, LMB, Battlestar Galactica, etc.

And, this is way out in left field, but we've currently been loving listening to and discussing Hamilton, the musical. You both might hate it, but we really love it.

Good luck!
posted by bananacabana at 1:11 PM on April 22, 2016

If you're into comics/graphic novels, Carla Speed McNeil's Finder series fits both criteria.
posted by fifthpocket at 1:16 PM on April 22, 2016

showbiz_liz suggested the Master and Commander books, but (philistine that I am) I find Naomi Novik's Temeraire books even more fun because it's Master and Commander with dragons.

They're definitely not as 'literary' in feel as the MoC books, but yeah the Temeraire series is incredibly fun, and my mom (who likes most of the authors you like) really enjoyed them after I recommended them to her.

(I think you might like Outlander but I suspect your husband wouldn't, based on the other stuff he doesn't like)
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:22 PM on April 22, 2016

Solaris is the first thing that came to mind- book and two movies, but the audiobook is my favourite.

Also in audiobooks- Divided Kingdom, a thoroughly strange, utterly absorbing, slipstreamish slow character book full of detail and ideas. I'm recommending the audiobook specifically because it's a wonderful reading. It's similar in a way to Never Let Me Go, mind you, so it depends on why your husband didn't like it! It might be a little dream-like for him. If it's too dreamy, maybe Brave New World?

How about Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell? I'm not nuts about the TV adaption but both the audiobook and the book itself utterly wonderful.
posted by Erasmouse at 1:28 PM on April 22, 2016

A subscription to Harper's Magazine.
posted by TheCavorter at 1:30 PM on April 22, 2016

Babylon 5, the DVD sets are cheap in used media stores and the tone and breadth of the commentaries and features will take you into a thousand year timeline where characters become more evolved and their hero cred gets greater in every chapter. Well supported on the web with many sources of insight into the cult it has gained.
posted by Freedomboy at 2:24 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Since you both enjoyed DFW's essays, here are a few books of essays that you might give a whirl:

Pulphead, by John Jeremiah Sullivan

Hella Nation (or Generation Kill), by Evan Wright

Stranger Than Fiction, by Chuck Palahniuk (I like but don't love Palahniuk's fiction but I LOVE these essays)
posted by janey47 at 2:31 PM on April 22, 2016

Treme. Don't read a lot about it, I had a hard time finding anything that didn't have alot of spoilers. Done by the same folks as The Wire. Amazing cast, great music (even though it's not music l would seek out, it's so perfect in this story). Set in New Orleans, you can't get much more sense of place than this. It only ran for a few seasons so you don't really get a chance to get tired of it. Has some sad parts but also lovely upbeat parts. It has long stories too, not everything wrapped up at the end of each episode.Give it a try. I checked it out of the library but it's probably out there on one of the services.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:44 PM on April 22, 2016

If you do Master & Commander, which I agree will probably suit, feel free skip the second one, where they spend basically the whole book on land and it's REALLY BORING and makes you think the rest of the series may equally suck. But NO FEAR, they go back to the sea and it gets exciting again.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:47 PM on April 22, 2016

David Mitchell (not Stephen) is excellent. I'd suggest trying to start with The Bone Clocks but all of his books are connected and I also really like Ghostwritten.

If you haven't read China Mieville's Embassytown, you have a treat in store. In terms of Iain Banks, try The Bridge or The Wasp Factory.

How about Margaret Atwood's MacAddam trilogy? Oryx & Crake is amazing and the books just get better and better.

Recently Mr Bookish and I really, really got into Sense8 and we are currently binging on Fringe. Obviously The X-Files if you haven't already seen the series.
posted by kariebookish at 2:49 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

oh, also, if you like The Likeness, I'm pretty sure you'll like The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
posted by janey47 at 2:55 PM on April 22, 2016

I am mostly like your husband but I also like stories that dig into characters, especially when I feel like they're saying something about how humans work, and portray a setting (one which is in some way relevant to understanding the world I live in now) in a way that lets me grapple with the ideas that structure it.

One of my favorite TV shows that hit all the right buttons was the first couple of seasons of Mad Men. If you are younger than 80 years old, then of course you know the myth of The Sixties, and their genesis in the boring, staid, utterly uncool, (etc. etc) Fifties Adult generation. Well guess what, those guys got a bad rap, because the baby-boomer world view is based on their parents in the suburbs. What Mad Men does in those first few seasons is to show you the grown-up world of 1960, as top-notch as it appeared to those who were riding high in it, but also show its weaknesses that gave rise to 60s youth rebellion. And it's also got those great complex characters that everyone talked about. I think after a few seasons, your husband will like it less, because it gets away from Anthropology and turns into Soap Opera (i.e. the only reason you're watching this episode is to find out how they resolve the cliffhangers from the last one). But seasons 1 and 2, man, they combined sense-of-place with idea-inspiring in a way few other shows ever did.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:07 PM on April 22, 2016

Mr Bookish just added Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Clay to the list - fantastically evocative of the period with a dash of the fantastic. Maybe try Ian McDonald's Dervish House as well - a thriller of sorts set in a near-future Istanbul with layers of technology, mythology and culture.
posted by kariebookish at 3:12 PM on April 22, 2016

Mmmm, maybe Carnivale might flip your wickets. Fair warning, the "ending" is satisfying in a way but was not totally planned to be the ending, so it has a loose thread character to it that might annoy you both. It takes place during the Dust Bowl/Depression but is not historical, per se. It's a fantasy story about the nature of evil. Ronald D. Moore of BSG/DS9 fame was the EP.
posted by xyzzy at 3:51 PM on April 22, 2016

George Saunders - I think you guys would like both his essays and his longer fiction. The essays are not as good as DFW's (whose are?), but they're fun and some would be good jumping off points for discussion. I love his fiction and my taste is an amalgam of yours and your husband's - his stories and novels usually have a great sense of place, good character building, and are often surreal in the same sort of morbidly funny way as the Southern Reach trilogy.

Very strongly seconding the Margaret Atwood MaddAddam and David Mitchell recommendations!

I also never get tired of recommending Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music. Lots of daily life detail, and it blends sci-fi with a hardboiled detective story. It's one of my favorites!

I think The Master and Margarita, The Effect of Living Backwards, and Omon-Ra all might be great choices or one of you might hate them. But, I like them all and they remind me in some ways of books on your likes list.
posted by snaw at 4:02 PM on April 22, 2016

How did I forget Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow - totally science fiction with some not-quite-but-close-to-Stephenson levels of technical detail but such amazing characters and emotional depth. I had it recommended in one of my asks, and I think about it often. I'd recommend not reading too much about it beforehand - it has a lot of surprises in store and it would be a shame to spoil them.
posted by snaw at 4:12 PM on April 22, 2016

Being a Joyce kind of person, I would recommend Ulysses to start and Finnegans Wake as the real test... These are books to read aloud and to share. Full of details, there are guide books to help with those, and both resting on a few big ideas. Take a look, you never know...
posted by njohnson23 at 6:41 PM on April 22, 2016

I strongly recommend The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein. There are four books now, and she's working on the fifth. The story is very deceptive at first, in that you think it's one sort of fantasy/sf and it turns out to be another. The Steerswoman order is a group of scholars who crisscross the known world to expand knowledge and share it with everyone. However, the wizards won't share their knowledge, which is deeply frustrating, and then turns into something much more dangerous. The sense of place is acute and the characters are full-fleshed and interesting. Give Bel and Rowan a try; I think you'll both like them.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:33 PM on April 22, 2016

My suggestions are A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, and Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. They're all slow moving, detail oriented, and heavy on strangeness and sense of place--but also brilliant. Roadside Picnic in particular is frequently compared to your favorite, the Southern Reach trilogy, but it also has a mild crime novel vibe to it.
posted by Wobbuffet at 9:57 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Gunslinger, by Stephen King. It's a pretty quick read, but it has great details and a complex world where a lot is happening. If you like it, it's the first of seven increasingly-thick novels and a movie has just been confirmed; but it stands alone quite well. If you like Game of Thrones you should enjoy it.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:29 PM on April 22, 2016

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin and Little Big by John Crowley might work for you. I remember both as slow and atmospheric though it's been many years since l've read them.
posted by BoscosMom at 6:03 PM on April 23, 2016

I just finished reading Peace by Gene Wolfe, and it made me think of your question. Beautifully written, and leaves you with lots to think about and interpret.
posted by Mchelly at 10:51 AM on April 25, 2016

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