In need of a book to be obsessed with
April 14, 2017 1:47 PM   Subscribe

It's another book recommendation question! MeFi, I need a book that is completely engrossing; something to fall in love with, something I can't put down, something that makes my heart feel like it's expanding not un-painfully. Notable reads that scratched this itch for me in the past include The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Black Jewels Trilogy (Anne Bishop), Freedom (Franzen) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Help!

I'm open to works of fiction from pretty much any genre that fit this bill. A romantic element is not strictly required but is encouraged.

While I've read them in the past, at the moment I'd like to avoid anything that requires David Foster Wallace, Pynchon, or Blood Meridian McCarthy-level heavy lifting. Escape is desired, and while I'm willing to put in some work I'd like the story to take me away.

Other stuff I've recently read for context: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Tenth of December, The Goldfinch, Oryx & Crake, Life After Life, The Windup Girl, All the Light We Cannot See, The Orphan Master's Son, A Visit From the Goon Squad, Tinkers, Middlesex, Purity, The Corrections, The Center Cannot Hold.

Looking forward to your suggestions!
posted by sevensnowflakes to Media & Arts (65 answers total) 141 users marked this as a favorite
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson, is one of the best books ever written. The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King, is insane as well. Start with The Gunslinger and work your way through.
posted by Slinga at 1:49 PM on April 14, 2017 [8 favorites]

Wolf Hall sounds like it might be your cup of tea.
posted by praemunire at 1:50 PM on April 14, 2017 [8 favorites]

I've recommended him here before, but I think Nick Harkaway may be in your wheelhouse. I started with The Gone-Away World (which is kind of Mad Max-y), but based on what you've enjoyed, I think Angelmaker (a quirky spy novel - which makes sense given he's John Le Carre's son) may be more up your alley.
posted by Ufez Jones at 1:58 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have just read and loved about half of the books you just listed, so I feel like we have similar tastes. Some books I loved also that might be up your ally include: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Blind Assasin by Margaret Atwood, and The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich.
posted by Grandysaur at 2:02 PM on April 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

If "escape" doesn't have to mean happy, the novel Every Man Dies Alone is great. It's based on the true story of a working class couple in Berlin who dropped anti-Hitler postcards around the city. Primo Levi called it "The greatest book ever written about the German resistance to the Nazis."

Also, seconding Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.
posted by FencingGal at 2:03 PM on April 14, 2017

Stoner by John Williams.
posted by holborne at 2:03 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

How about A Stranger In Olondria?
posted by Frowner at 2:04 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

At a guess, Winter's Tale might be up your alley.
posted by Sokka shot first at 2:04 PM on April 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

Your situation clearly calls for Little, Big by John Crowley.
posted by Daily Alice at 2:05 PM on April 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

What about going a bit backwards in time?

How about:
Edith Wharton's House of Mirth
Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman
Steinbeck's East Of Eden
John Irving's World According to Garp or Prayer for Owen Meany
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera or 100 Years of Solitude

perhaps The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach?
posted by vunder at 2:08 PM on April 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

I would recommend two of my favourite books: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber and Possession by AS Byatt (both Victorian-ish, so YMMV if you prefer books set in the 20th/21st Century).
posted by featherboa at 2:14 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
posted by backwards guitar at 2:20 PM on April 14, 2017

Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai.
posted by AtoBtoA at 2:21 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of heart-swelling in Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow (and its follow up Children of God). I guess these fall into a sort of science fiction category, but there's a lot of social history, linguistics, religion (the Jesuits are more or less the engines keeping the books' pace), and Russell's prose is just... heart-swellingly good on its own.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:38 PM on April 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

China Mieville's The City and The City, or Embassytown, or Kraken. (three different books, not one absurdly long title.)
posted by Occula at 2:38 PM on April 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

I recently tore through (and loved) Michael Chabon's Moonglow. It's family history, mystery, a love story--it was beautiful.
posted by stellaluna at 2:38 PM on April 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

A few more:

Jonathan Lethem: Fortress of Solitude or Motherless Brooklyn
Steve Toltz: A Fraction of the Whole
Junot Diaz: Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
posted by vunder at 2:40 PM on April 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't feel like it's too much heavy-lifting but it might be borderline but Richerd Powers sometimes does this for me and The Gold Bug Variations might do it for you. The Time Traveler's Wife, if you haven't read it, is good for that full-heart feeling.

Seconding Little Big (and Aegypt) and Winter's Tale and maybe adding The English Patient or Housekeeping.

I don't know if these books work for anyone who isn't a Vermonter but Howard Frank Mosher's books do this for me. The Fall of the Year and On Kingdom Mountain are both great for this.
posted by jessamyn at 2:45 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Try Undermajordomo Minor, Patrick deWitt for an other-worldly experience. Also by the same author, The Sisters Brothers
The Sympathizer, Viet Than Nguyen - best book I read last year, funny, grisley, intense and wondrous.
City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
Tuesday Nights in 1980, Molly Prentiss
Underworld, Don Delillo
posted by lois1950 at 2:47 PM on April 14, 2017

You've read The Goldfinch, so you know Donna Tartt is amazing; I suggest her other books, "The Secret History" and "The Little Friend." She writes a book every 10 years, and they're all terrific.

Umberto Eco might be heavier than what you're looking for, but on the other hand, he might not. I'll recommend "Foucault's Pendulum" to anyone.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:51 PM on April 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Fingersmith - Sarah Waters (contemporary take on the Victorian potboiler, very hard to put down)

The Custom of the Country - Edith Wharton (it is incredibly entertaining how much Wharton despises her social-climbing heroine)

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke (the early 19th century w/ magic)

How to be both - Ali Smith (at first glance it does appear a little gimmicky, but is really a pretty fast read)

What about other books from the authors you've listed? 1Q84, A God in Ruins, Lincoln in the Bardo, The Secret History, etc. I enjoyed Atkinson's detective series (starts with Case Histories) more than Life After Life, and 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore are my favourite Murakamis.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:51 PM on April 14, 2017

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears - completely engrossing as requested.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 2:54 PM on April 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich.

Its grim and yet I could not put it down. I've read and loved many of your list.
posted by Ftsqg at 2:57 PM on April 14, 2017

Sooo many good books were listed here! I love you guys. Just want to add The Nix by Nathan Hill, Heft by Liz Moore, Jutterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins and American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
posted by Neeuq Nus at 2:57 PM on April 14, 2017

I can't decide if this fits in with the stuff you've liked, but man The Mothers by Brit Bennett was this sort of book for me.

Fitting in more with what you listed would be John Irving, mentioned upthread.
posted by freezer cake at 3:04 PM on April 14, 2017

You and I are book twins! I highly recommend Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - very engrossing and moving. I'd also give the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante a try. They are slower paced, but meditative and involving in a Kundera-ish way. Plus there are 4 books in the series so you won't devour them as quickly as Station Eleven.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 3:06 PM on April 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

Is it possible no one's mentioned the Elena Ferrante Neopolitan novels?
I'm jealous of anyone who still gets to read My Brilliant Friend for the first time.
posted by flourpot at 3:06 PM on April 14, 2017 [8 favorites]

Jinx! :)
posted by flourpot at 3:07 PM on April 14, 2017

You've read The Goldfinch, so you know Donna Tartt is amazing; I suggest her other books, "The Secret History" and "The Little Friend."

I am so jealous of anyone who has not read TSH, and who still gets to experience it for the first time.

Let's see, I should also recommend something. Roberto Bolano, "The Savage Detectives", or John Fowles "The Magus". "The Magus" gets off to a slow start, but keep reading.
posted by thelonius at 3:21 PM on April 14, 2017

We also have similar taste. Books to be obsessed with:

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
My Struggle (1-6) - Karl Ove Knausgaard
posted by coraline at 3:38 PM on April 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Glad to see someone recommended Station Eleven. Also, I think Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, which just captured me. And possibly The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, which I couldn't put down.
posted by suelac at 3:39 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I loved The Goldfinch and found it completely engrossing.

Since you've read Oryx and Crake, have you read a Year of the Flood and MaddAddam? I liked YotF best, personally.

Others that have scratched a similar itch:

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
The Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling
The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:39 PM on April 14, 2017

A Man Called Ove. A quick but darling read.
posted by gryphonlover at 3:49 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're up for a massive tome, Dickens' Bleak House is, imo, under-read and under-rated. It's long and has a lot of characters, but is so damned good that they're pretty easy to keep track of.

Anything by Tom Robbins grabs me and suits me!

Perhaps Anne Rice's The Witching Hour (though it mentions a number of generations, so when I read it I like to jot down a list of names to help me keep oriented) or - this might be further afield, but it's kind of medium (as opposed to high) fantasy with plenty of moderately explicit romance and an enjoyable, easy read - the Kushiel's Dart books.
posted by Occula at 3:50 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is very different from Kavalier and Clay, but was similarly powerful, and I liked the writing even more.
posted by Gorgik at 3:57 PM on April 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay might work for you.
posted by Prof Iterole at 3:59 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm marking everything as best answer because you guys are the best. I have read many of the recs already; y'all are hitting the nail right on the head.

I particularly loved Stoner, which everyone here should totally read if they haven't already.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 4:05 PM on April 14, 2017

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis -- or, for a story set in the same universe but completely different tonally, Doomsday Book.
posted by bettafish at 4:09 PM on April 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

OMG The Goldfinch gave me such a book hangover! I've also read The Secret History, and it was also engrossing. I'd also recommend The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

I recently read this book called Swamplandia! by Karne Russell and I got so deep into it. I ended up with it recently at my book club's holiday white elephant swap. You get really deeply invested in the main character and her family.

In a completely different direction, I randomly read Pines by Blake Crouch, and I read it faster than anything I have read in the past decade. It's a mystery with a sort of supernatural/dystopian angle, and I could not put it down. I then lent it to my BFF who read it on a cross-country plane ride, and she downloaded the other two books onto her Kindle and finished the trilogy on the plane because she couldn't stop reading!
posted by radioamy at 4:39 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Add my voice to Vunder's and Freezer Cake's when it comes to recommending John Irving.
He seems to have fallen out of favor in the past few decades, but in the 80's, he was a darling.

-The World According to Garp
- The Hotel New Hampshire
- The Cider House Rules
- A Prayer for Owen Meany
and A Son of the Circus remain permanent favorites of mine.

He spins a yarn like Dickens, and I mean that in the best way possible.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 4:49 PM on April 14, 2017

Seconding Foucault's Pendulum. It was daunting to me before I finally got around to it, and I loved it.

Maybe the Southern Reach trilogy?

And if you haven't read it, Dune!
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:03 PM on April 14, 2017

The Aubrey-Maturin sequence, by Patrick O'Brian, are wonderfully engrossing from my point of view. They're 19th-century naval fiction on the surface, but the portrait of the times is very vivid, and they definitely seem to transcend that genre quite a bit. I suggest starting with Master and Commander, or perhaps HMS Surprise. The audiobooks are a delight, if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by Alensin at 5:27 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

John Gardner might float your boat. The Sunlight Dialogues. Mickelsson's Ghosts. Grendel is a great short one that can be ingested in a weekend.
posted by vrakatar at 5:30 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (which I see has been mentioned already).
posted by mmw at 5:34 PM on April 14, 2017

1q84 by murikami is amazing, long, great for escapism reading and even has romatic overtones too.
posted by chasles at 5:50 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Anna Karenina!
posted by 826628 at 6:27 PM on April 14, 2017

Two books that knocked my socks off that haven't been mentioned yet:

- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfeld
- The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

In some ways they're very similar (female protagonist finds herself casually investigating a mystery relating to books/authors, with some clever twists thrown in), but they're still so different and individually satisfying that I can confidently say that each book stands on its own merits, rather than impressing me because of their commonalities.


- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (I despair that I can never again read this for the first time)
- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (so heartwarming!)

And even though many books already mentioned deserve repeated mentions, I'm saving mine for East of Eden. Now THAT is a book you can sink your teeth into.
posted by phatkitten at 6:51 PM on April 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also Middlemarch by George Eliot.

And during a very stressful year, I decided to reread all of Jane Austen's novels. If you haven't read them recently, I highly recommend any and all of them.
posted by FencingGal at 7:10 PM on April 14, 2017

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It's a gorgeous book and utterly engrossing. You just fall into her world. I've given it as a gift a half dozen times and it's been universally loved by recipients.
posted by fshgrl at 7:17 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing To Say Nothing of the Dog. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean (set at a college), Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer is a long connected story of an imaginary empire. Freedom and Necessity by Steven Brust and Emma Bull. Sorcery and Cecilia by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede are both adventures told in letters.
posted by azalea_chant at 7:53 PM on April 14, 2017

Ooh and Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books.
posted by azalea_chant at 7:56 PM on April 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Pretty much anything by Colson Whitehead. I read his first novel The Intuitionist, which gobsmacked me with its gritty reality and its surreal approach. I'm about to start his latest book The Underground Railroad, a story about escaping slavery using an actual underground railroad, and which just won the Pulitzer. He's really something.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:45 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by iiniisfree at 10:45 PM on April 14, 2017

Oh, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease give The Fortress of Solitude a try. I love that book so very much.
posted by old_growler at 12:23 AM on April 15, 2017

I was spellbound by Passage by Connie Willis. Staying up late, couldn't stop reading it. Just one of the most enjoyable books in forever for me.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 1:31 AM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

hmmm...literary, heart-expanding, compelling...

vernon god little, dbc pierre.

disturbing at times-sex, violence, assault, drugs, poverty. also fucking funny and life-affirming.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:47 AM on April 15, 2017

The Tidewater Tales by John Barth. It starts out feeling like "Oh I feel so bad for these privileged people and their first-world problems" which is a little off-putting, but it quickly gets deeper and a lot more interesting. And it's a story about storytellers telling stories, so there's a lot of variety.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 3:11 AM on April 15, 2017

Angela Carter's Wise Children - warm, funny, fantastical. There are romances but the focus is more on family relationships.

Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage series, starting with Pointed Roofs. Not sure about this one as it may not to be to your taste. Long, sometimes dull, stream of consciousness, but I found it gripping. There is a romance element, or relationship anyway.

Winifred Holtby's South Riding. About a headteacher in the 1930s - local politics and romance.

Seconding Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Possession, The Crimson Petal and the White and Fingersmith.
posted by paduasoy at 5:51 AM on April 15, 2017

So many great books here but missing THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO.

On less of a mic drop note, I am finding The Circle an engrossing read.
posted by athirstforsalt at 5:59 AM on April 15, 2017

The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov. One of my favorite books. (Okay, I have a lot of favorite books, but it really is a great book.)

Also Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.
posted by litera scripta manet at 11:54 AM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

The best book I read last year was The Buried Giant (Kazo Ishiguro), and it ticks your boxes.

Mentioned above that I would second:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

All three are easy, more-ish reads that will not un-painfully expand your heart.
posted by postcommunism at 3:27 PM on April 15, 2017

A book I absolutely savored was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
posted by poppunkcat at 5:40 AM on April 16, 2017

I also loved Kundera's The Joke and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Seconding Underworld & The Master and Margarita.

A few others that I found utterly captivating:
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell
Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian
Already Dead (or really anything) by Denis Johnson
posted by gennessee at 4:04 PM on April 17, 2017

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Get it in ya, it is unputdownable.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:48 PM on April 20, 2017

I just picked up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and it's quite engrossing! Also a book told in letters, set just after WWII.
posted by azalea_chant at 8:34 PM on April 28, 2017

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