Fictional nerds
August 18, 2016 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books with nerdy protagonists, especially academically inclined nerds. Any genre, though I'm especially interested in fiction about the real life of a nerd. I'm interested in middle grade, YA, and adult. It can be mystery, fantasy, or science fiction. Examples of what I'm looking for: I enjoy Flavia de Luce's interest in chemistry in the series by Alan Bradley. As far as realistic fiction goes, I like the style of the Princess Diaries though Mia's not as nerdy as what I'm looking for. I'm particularly interested in protagonists who like math. Thanks!
posted by azalea_chant to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Connie Willis's Bellwether
posted by Kriesa at 1:01 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's science fiction and more for nostalgic 80s nerds, but "Ready Player One" has a VERY nerdy protagonist.
posted by xingcat at 1:04 PM on August 18, 2016

Holly Goldberg's Counting by Sevens.
posted by praemunire at 1:11 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl springs to mind.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 1:11 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I just finished "The Rosie Project", and liked it immensely. The protagonist is a professor of genetics, but he is definitely a nerd.
posted by sarajane at 1:11 PM on August 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz might fit the bill.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:14 PM on August 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

  • "Newsflesh" trilogy by Mira Grant - This wasn't my cup of tea, but it may fit the bill for you. A group of citizen-journalist teens are hunting for the truth in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.
  • Seconding Fangirl if you don't mind treacly sweet.
  • Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Alexander - Haven't read this yet, but judging by the summary, it might tick the right boxes.
  • Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt - This is stretching it, as it's not speculative. This book is mainly about a girl's understanding of her uncle's death from AIDS (in the 1980s). She is a "nerd" in the sense of how she interacts with her world, more than anything, although she does have a love for medieval history. Very authentic character voice.

posted by iamfantastikate at 1:21 PM on August 18, 2016

Oops, my "it can be mystery, fantasy or science fiction " perhaps reads wrong. I'm especially interested in non speculative fiction (and maybe even biography) but speculative is also ok.

And now I'll be off so as not to threadsit.
posted by azalea_chant at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2016

The main protagonists in Matt Ruff's fantastic new novel Lovecraft Country are bookish researchers for a fictional version of the Negro Motorist Green Book. More working class intellectuals than traditional academics, but compelling dorks all the same.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2016

I think it's one of his weaker books but if you want math John Green's An Abundance of Katherines certainly has it. The awkward young protagonist is an angsty math nerd who was tested as a "prodigy" but struggles with translating that into something that actually has meaning. It actually has an appendix from a mathematician going over some of the math mentioned in the story.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2016

Gwynneth Jones's Life is a near-future novel largely about a researcher. As someone who spends a lot of time around researchers, it struck me as a pretty dead-on portrait in many respects. She's not a "nerd" in the sense of, like, writing Batman fanfic and going to cons, but she's a nerd in the sense that she's spontaneously, substantially interested in science, eccentric in her understanding of the world and someone who prioritizes pursuing her ideas and beliefs over figuring out how to be social.

I tend to feel that Wittman in Tripmaster Monkey: His Book is a nerd - he tries very hard to be a bohemian hipster dude, but it does not come naturally to him.
posted by Frowner at 1:28 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Many Neal Stephenson books might work here--especially Cryptonomicon, but also the Baroque books and Anathem. I think he infuses too much machismo into his nerdy protagonists to place them in "real life" but there are lots of fun & satisfying depictions of characters who have a lot of math on the brain & in the brains of their family members.
posted by miles per flower at 1:32 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
posted by FencingGal at 1:36 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

and maybe even biography

If you're including biographies, you might enjoy Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.
posted by Kriesa at 1:40 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

If biographies are in, you can add The Boy Who Loved Math (Paul Erdos).
posted by praemunire at 1:47 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman
The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers
posted by Daily Alice at 1:57 PM on August 18, 2016

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez (originally written in Spanish but the English translation's great) is a fun and atmospheric mathematical thriller featuring a PhD logic/math student. It's also a nice representation of the experience of studying your beloved subject abroad (with admittedly more murders than you'd expect).
posted by pickingupsticks at 2:05 PM on August 18, 2016

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars is a great buddy book for a YA audience about an unlikely friendship between two nerdy kids told from the perspective of one of them, Leonard, a slightly "portly" kid who gets along with his parents but no one at school. It's science-y in that the kids have to try to figure out some interdimensional stuff, but most of it takes place in the real world and there's a lot about Leonard's inner life. He is not, however, that academically inclined. Lot of good science-y stuff going on in A Wrinkle in Time.
posted by jessamyn at 2:29 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jo Walton's book Among Others seems like it might. The heart of the book is finding family and a sense of self through reading SF and also through fandom. The book itself is also a fantasy (set in the modern world).
posted by PussKillian at 2:35 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Artemis Fowl - on the young end of YA. More "genius/young Tony Stark" than nerd, but they are fun reads.

Frindle - ~4th grade reading level. Word nerd, not really math nerd.

October Sky - YA. One of my favorite books. Rocketry and poverty in the Cold War era. Not fictional but has a great narrative.

American Prometheus - Biography of Oppenheimer.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! - a fun read about Richard Feynman's mathy misadventures (biography)
posted by TomFoolery at 2:45 PM on August 18, 2016

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt is about a mother and son who are polymaths.
posted by clavicle at 2:59 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Starglass and its sequel Starbreak by MeFi's own Phoebe North include plant biology nerdery. YA and excellent.
posted by jillithd at 3:27 PM on August 18, 2016

You may prefer The Man Who Loved Only Numbers to the other Erdos book above, if you'd like an adult book. Also, One Plus One by Jojo Moyes. Second Counting by 7s. Also, The Thing About Jellyfish.
posted by bookworm4125 at 3:29 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recommend Jacques Futrelle who created a very cerebral detective, The Thinking Machine. My favorite work of his is The Problem of Cell 13, where the detective very creatively escapes from a prison cell as a challenge. Available online, all of his works are in the public domain. The author died aboard the Titanic.

I've entertained myself over the years constructing ways to break out of impossible-to-break-out prison cells.

Also, I've written a novel where Nikola Tesla serves as the detective: A Predator's Game.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:36 PM on August 18, 2016

Richard Powers' book the Gold Bug Variations.

A bit esoteric is the French murder mystery based on some of the characters who were at IHES during the 80s. It isn't in print in English so far as I can tell. It is very much a roman a clef.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:44 PM on August 18, 2016

Not sure if somebody with autism would be considered a nerd. I don't want to be insensitive to anybody, but there probably is at least a little overlap in The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.
posted by willnot at 3:45 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

The two main characters in Nabokov's Ada.
posted by BibiRose at 6:24 PM on August 18, 2016

LeGuin's The Dispossessed features a protagonist who's a physicist and a philosopher. I'm not sure if "nerdy" is the right word here. But it's definitely a good book.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:30 PM on August 18, 2016

The Secret Diaries Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 and a Half by Sue Townsend are hysterical. They are YA.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:53 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and Eleanor and Park both feature nerds, though the female protagonists in both are more literary nerds than math nerds. But Park is a math nerd.

Also John Green's Abundance of Katherines has its own math equation to explain love (and a SUPER MATH NERDY protagonist), and Looking for Alaska is about a kid obsessed with quotations. All YA fiction, and all freaking AWESOME.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:41 PM on August 18, 2016

Isn't the guy from The Perks of Being a Wallflower a bit of a (literature) nerd?
posted by Skyanth at 3:56 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Geekomancy is fantasy/sci-fi, but fairly nerdy.
posted by rich at 5:29 AM on August 19, 2016

"I'll Give You The Sun" by Jandy Nelson is YA about twins who are art nerds. I loved it.
posted by jillithd at 7:28 AM on August 19, 2016

Microserfs, alongside a fair chunk of Douglas Coupland's output.
posted by Leon at 8:12 AM on August 19, 2016

Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman, book of my heart (and my user name!). Main character is a teenage girl who's obsessed with old books about the occult, and there's a major subplot involving keeping those books in circulation at the local library.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:32 AM on August 19, 2016

Possession by A.S. Byatt: two Victorian lit academics unravel the secret romance of two major Victorian poets. Part postmodern/present-day, part metafictional/historical. Majorly nerdy in a humanities-PhD way -- really revels in it -- and gets to the heart of what it feels like to dedicate your life to studying someone else's works.
posted by stellarc at 9:29 PM on August 19, 2016

Light hearted nerdy YA girl at the heart of Penny Reid's elements of chemistry series
posted by Wilder at 4:43 AM on August 20, 2016

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