Easy reads with literary flourishes
January 3, 2021 5:42 PM   Subscribe

I need some recommendations for books that are easy to get through but are satisfying to read for me: lyrical prose, non cliched plots, allusions, experimental techniques, etc.

Examples I’ve enjoyed: House of Leaves, Cloud Atlas, A Gentleman in Moscow (nothing too experimental in the last, but I liked the prose and the way the chapters got long in the middle).

Fiction, nothing requiring concentration or background knowledge, nothing too “feel-good” or trite, but shouldn’t be too dark or confusing either.
posted by redlines to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
posted by unstrungharp at 5:45 PM on January 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Orchardist was fairly acclaimed but easy to read. Some bad things happen, but it's not like a gruesome thriller or with an overriding dark view of human nature.
posted by slidell at 5:57 PM on January 3, 2021

The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel. I loved it—found the story very compelling and also thought the prose was beautiful.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:13 PM on January 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

The White Tiger is a page turner that won the Booker prize.

Gatsby's copyright expired this week in the U.S. and is always worth rereading.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:20 PM on January 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Elizabeth Gilbert's the Signature of All Things
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:21 PM on January 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet. A child does die in it, which I generally hate as a literary device, but it isn't exploitative here at all and the book is not dark although it does deal with that intense grief. The passage with the flea alone is worth the price of the book.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:26 PM on January 3, 2021

I just finished Piranesi, which IMO is perfect for this. It's also ~250 pages, which is great.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:27 PM on January 3, 2021 [13 favorites]

Good suggestions above. Would add, This Is How You Lose the Time War.
posted by Gotanda at 7:11 PM on January 3, 2021

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

Both are short story collections, easy to pick up and read one or two to see if you like them.
posted by JonJacky at 8:09 PM on January 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

I just reread And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (in a day and a half). I read it for the first time in my seventh grade English class. It’s a spooky murder mystery and a total classic.
posted by Night_owl at 8:13 PM on January 3, 2021

I really enjoyed The Past by Tessa Hadley. I thought it was well written and I loved the sense of place.
posted by dolphitems at 8:17 PM on January 3, 2021

How to Be Both by Ali Smith
Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

To me, these are all successfully innovative in form without losing heart, warmth and readability.
posted by vunder at 8:20 PM on January 3, 2021

The French Lieutenant's Woman.
posted by shadygrove at 8:40 PM on January 3, 2021

If you haven't read Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, I recommend that all the time for people looking for something a little along these lines. Often called the first real detective novel, but it's more complex and weird than that, and a total page-turner.

You may also enjoy The Scapegoat, by Daphne Du Maurier - or Rebecca, if you haven't read that. Both excellent page-turning plots but also very well-drawn and original characters and situations.

If you want something a little weirder... perhaps The Magus, by John Fowles - I see shadygrove just recommended The French Lieutenant's Woman, which I've heard is great, but haven't read. The Magus is strange and mysterious with some fascinating setups and twists. I would only say, read the "original" and not "a revised version," as the latter as I understand it adds nothing of value, and possibly compromises the original in some ways.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:02 PM on January 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think it hits all of your criteria except maybe “too dark” (though the scenes described would flash by in the background as scenery in an episode of Game of Thrones by modern standards): the Lamentation of Ur ^ is one of the most ancient texts we have, concerning the devastation of the city of Ur by a storm and its subsequent sacking by invaders.

It starts off a bit repetitively, probably because the literary style is modeled on pre-written religious hymns or something like that, but I figure that's ultra-retro enough to go all the way around and fit “experimental techniques”.

(Also, I should mention, most of the personal names you run across are the names of gods and goddesses. In cuneiform there's actually a character 𒀭 that marks the name of a deity but I guess the academic translators don't mark it up that way in English because they figure the only people reading it will already be familiar with the pantheon of Sumerian/Akkadian gods, or something.)
posted by XMLicious at 10:33 PM on January 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

You might try some Murakami - I've lost my enthusiasm for his writing over time, but, at their best, his books provide a good ratio of literary reward to readerly effort. Maybe try something like A Wild Sheep Chase or Sputnik Sweetheart.

And I recently read Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk which is, in part, a murder mystery, while also being rich in literary ideas and and with excellent characterization. I didn't find it hard going at all.

And another vote from me for Susanna Clarke's Piranesi.
posted by misteraitch at 1:54 AM on January 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Maybe anything by Michael Ondaatje but I've only read three, so I'll stick to those: In the Skin of a Lion, The English Patient, and Warlight.

The first two are loosely related since they share a couple of characters, the third stands alone. All three could be called historical novels since Ondaatje incorporated the result of extensive research in each. All three play with time and are told from different viewpoints.

In the Skin of a Lion is episodic, dealing with the migrant experience in Canada (Toronto, etc.) mostly between WW1 & WW2. I liked the movie adaptation of The English Patient because I thought it caught the spirit of the book. Warlight is mostly set in England after WW2. "The past is never dead. It isn't even past." (Faulkner, of course)

It could be that my effort to maintain an even tone is overdone. I love these books. They are easy to read and rereading makes them better.

Damn, look at the time. Must go so I'll add Life After Life by Kate Atkinson without an explanation.
posted by kingless at 5:06 AM on January 4, 2021

Check out Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It is not light - it's about slavery - but it's ultimately a hopeful book.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:43 AM on January 4, 2021

I often think of Abraham Verghese's books. He is a physician by training and his prose is beautiful and easily read. His first is a memoir, My Own Country. The second, The Tennis Partner, may be a slightly fictionalized memoir.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:55 AM on January 4, 2021

Take a look at Nicole Krauss, especially Great House
George Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo is either exactly what you're looking for or totally the opposite, depending on what you consider an easy read (and the audiobook is fantastic).

Seconding Life After Life
posted by Mchelly at 6:59 AM on January 4, 2021

Convenience Store Woman by Sayak Murata felt easy but satisfying to me.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:40 AM on January 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being
Brandon Hobson, Where the Dead Sit Talking
Evan S. Connell, Mrs. Bridge
Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers
posted by Miss T.Horn at 11:54 AM on January 4, 2021

Also, Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore
and Barbara Comyns, The Vet's Daughter
posted by Miss T.Horn at 11:55 AM on January 4, 2021

Ooh, I love this kind of book. Here's a few that I've read recently that I think fit the bill:

- The Marrow Thieves by Cheri Dimaline (Apocalyptic future scenario, so can be depressing, but ultimately uplifting. Technically YA but reads beautifully.)
- Circe by Madeline Miller (Reminded me that the Greek myths were the original "weird" stories.)
- In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (A semi-autobiography which is written super creatively, as long as you don't mind things feeling like a horror novel. TW for emotional abuse).
posted by Paper rabies at 12:56 PM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also, thirding Piranesi!
posted by Paper rabies at 12:57 PM on January 4, 2021

I also loved A Gentleman in Moscow for its prose.
You might try Atonement. The artistry of the writing astounded me. It is on the darker side though.
Just for fun, consider Master and Commander. It is certainly different. I picked it up in a bookstore and it opened to a passage about carving a bad ham and I was hooked. Just delightful. The rest of the series has its weak spots, but the language is always marvelous.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:05 AM on January 5, 2021

Lately I have been searching out very short, well-written novels. Some I have enjoyed: Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal; Convenience Store Woman and Earthlings by Sayaka Murata; The Aunt Who Wouldn't Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay; My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. (All right, that last one is very dark and a little confusing and certainly not for everyone) Also, David Benioff's short novels, City of Thieves and The 25th Hour.

With Murata, I think you should read Convenience Store Woman first. Murata has kind of an outsider sensibility. I am guessing the fact that Convenience Store Woman was her US debut is no accident.
posted by BibiRose at 6:09 AM on January 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Autobiography of Red by Ann Carson
Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman
The Curative by Charlotte Randall
posted by Gin and Broadband at 7:18 AM on January 5, 2021

NW by Zadie Smith has a compelling story about Londoners, with a few Modernist experimental bits woven in. I really enjoyed it.
posted by Concordia at 12:36 PM on January 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Karen Russell's story collection Orange World and Other Stories.
Ted Chiang's story collection Story of Your Life and Others
posted by the sobsister at 11:51 AM on January 7, 2021

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