Your incredibly absorbing summer reads, omnivore edition 2022
July 24, 2022 8:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm on staycation in a week and want to spend a good part of my time in my backyard, off the internet and social media, with my nose jammed into a book that I can't put down. Y'all have steered me right before and now I'm asking you to do it again.

I see quite a few requests for reading recommendations and have picked up some good titles, but none of them quite hit what I'm looking for, which is fairly fat, truly mesmerizing reads in pretty much any genre. I'm open to anything, although in the past it's been hard for me to get into high fantasy or detailed family sagas. I have a relatively high tolerance for dark material. Fiction and non-fiction both welcome, as are works in French or in translation. I don't care about publication date, either--if you are prepared to recommend it in 2022 I will read it in 2022!
posted by rpfields to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
 
My favorite few books of late...

Sea of Rust (2017) by C. Robert Cargill
Planetfall (2015) by Emma Newman
Finder (2019) by Suzanne Palmer
The Freeze-Frame Revolution (2018) by Peter Watts

Also if you aren't familiar with her Aliette de Bodard is a French-American SFF writer whose work you might enjoy.
posted by dgeiser13 at 9:01 AM on July 24 [4 favorites]


You very well might have read it, but if like me (until recently) you haven't, The Secret History lives up to its reputation for "ferociously well-paced entertainment."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:03 AM on July 24 [11 favorites]


The last few books I found absorbing were Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen, Memorial by Bryan Washington and both novels by Brit Bennett (The Mothers and The Vanishing Half). Oh and also The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. Also if you’ve never read Song of Solomon for whatever reason, definitely recommend you remedy that ASAP.
posted by vunder at 9:03 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]


I don't know if this fits your interest level, but last night I finished Lucinda Berry's The Perfect Child. It's not light reading, but it was definitely difficult to put down. She has quite a few other titles, but IMO, if they're anything like this, they need spaced out with lighter things.

Probably not in your wheelhouse, but I highly recommend Raven Kennedy's Plated Prisoner series. It's not a typical fantasy or romance... in fact, I've had a tough time finding something else to accurately compare it to. Incredibly well done implementation of a survivor escaping an abusive relationship, perfectly placed in a fantasy setting. Series is not yet complete, in case that matters.

While the Plated Prisoner books are dark, they're nowhere close to as dark as The Perfect Child. It's compelling & disturbing, at the same time.
posted by stormyteal at 9:17 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]


Just finished an early Emily St John Mantel novel that I hadn't realised existed. The Singer's Gun. Thought it was great, a good vacation read.
posted by jebs at 9:44 AM on July 24 [3 favorites]


During my own recent vacation, I could not put down Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land. Part historical fiction (Constantinople in the 15th century, Idaho from the mid 20th century through the present day), part speculative fiction (a generation ship seeking survival after Earth has suffered unrelenting climate related disasters), purely wonderful. Engaging, moving, and delightful!
posted by little mouth at 9:55 AM on July 24 [8 favorites]


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt fits your description. I actually read it for a second time on vacation a while back.

Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life is a thicc booc, but opinions vary widely, for various reasons, about whether it sucks or doesn't. Also, while not a family saga, it is a years-long close friends saga.

I find the novels of Theodore Dreiser absorbing, and they're fattish. Obviously there are Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, but for lesser-read ones, I recommend The "Genius".

More recent are Deacon King Kong, by James McBride, vivid and entertaining, involves the community living in and around a housing project in Brooklyn.

The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben Winter, about what happens when people know the world is going to end on a certain day very soon. I wouldn't call it SF or speculative, though, because of how Winter concentrates on the most quotidian aspects of such a situation.

Then We Came to End, by Joshua Ferris, is very funny. (In this case "the end" is not the end of the world.) The humor is a lot like Catch-22 in tone (sample line: "We liked having our time wasted, but we didn't like wasting it on things that weren't worth wasting it on."). I'll recommend Catch-22, too, as hysterically funny, but it's just so sexist--there's a (non)character known simply as "Nately's whore." This itself is clearly meant to be funny, but.

Anything by Irish writer Tana French, who writes crime/psychological novels often praised for their literary merit.

Normal Mailer's The Executioner's Song is a chonker--500-600 pages in paperback--and absorbing, and surprisingly not terribly irritating, being as how it's Mailer.

Honoree Fannone Jeffers' The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois (800-some pages!) has gotten stellar reviews and won awards, but I haven't read it yet, so no personal recco.
posted by scratch at 9:59 AM on July 24 [4 favorites]


For non-fiction the Dawn of Everything by David Wengrow and David Graeber is a very gripping read and just fascinating. I feel one can tell that they began the book project out of enjoyment of research and writing together (as opposed to in order to climb an academic career ladder).
posted by 15L06 at 10:10 AM on July 24 [5 favorites]


All of the "murderbot" short stories / novellas ASAP. Start with "All Systems Red." Despite the tag, it isn't really about a murdering bot. But about a sentient awkward robot who is just trying to find their place in the galaxy (while people are trying to murder their favorite humans).
posted by ellerhodes at 10:26 AM on July 24 [15 favorites]


Not thick, but truly could not put down, trying to finish at 2am desperately falling sleeping on my Kindle: One of us is lying and One of us is next, both YA, Karen M. McNamus, and The Marvelous, Claire Kann, all three YA.

For your fantasy and gripping family saga at the same time, you want the October Daye books by Seanan McGuire. #16 comes out this fall. Also, there's short stories and novellas. If you're up for a little more urban and little less high fantasy, her Incryptid books feature plenty of family drama and rotating narrators.
posted by joycehealy at 10:54 AM on July 24 [6 favorites]


On the sci-fi/speculative side: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson and the Silo series by Hugh Howey are both stories that I didn't want to end... and, because of their length, didn't, for quite a while.
posted by pjenks at 10:59 AM on July 24


I just finished The Library Book by Susan Orlean. It's one of those that I really wish I could wipe my memory and enjoy it fresh all over again.
posted by susandennis at 11:06 AM on July 24 [4 favorites]


(Looks like Howey's books are about to broadcast as an AppleTV+ series, so better borrow those quick or suffer the dreaded library Hold Times currently seen with, e.g., the Slow Horses series... another of my favorites)
posted by pjenks at 11:09 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]


It's old, but I just read The Wall by Marlen Haushofer and found it absolutely gripping. It's dystopian but also not unlike some misanthropes' idea of paradise. It's quite a different thing, but the closest comparable book I can think of for it is Wittgenstein's Mistress.

If you're looking for something light, fun and many thousands of pages long, The Expanse novels and novellas a pretty great. They're not anything special writing-wise, but the writing is good enough to not be off putting and the characters and plotting are excellent.

A bit darker are the Planetfall books by Emma Newman. They're nominally a series and I think I'm glad I read them in order, but each book can be read as a standalone novel. Recommended to me on here (and I see others have already mentioned them, so consider this an enthusiastic seconding!)

Finally, another AskMefi recommendation - Catfishing on Catnet. It's YA and so, so fun. It's a very quick read but has a sequel that's also great.
posted by snaw at 11:10 AM on July 24 [4 favorites]


Nonfiction:
Charles Mann, 1491
William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis
Mike Davis, City of Quartz
posted by derrinyet at 11:14 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]


The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwall was hard to put down and sticks in my mind. It's first of a trilogy set in Saxon Britain; I haven't got the next in the series yet .
posted by anadem at 12:26 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]


I'd try Arkady Martine's Teixcalaan books, A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace: science fiction that is murder mystery, political intrigue, little mouse in the big city, romance and first contact all in one (or, two, actually). The series is (apparently) complete in two volumes, so it's all there, no waiting!
posted by lhauser at 1:30 PM on July 24 [9 favorites]


Barbara Kingsolver is a treasure. I've read perhaps half of what she's written, as I tend to go after/into books when I come across them in Life, or they come across me.

I'm awfully damned glad that The Lacuna found my hands. Almost certainly my favorite book she's written. It's hefty even in paperback, it's impeccably researched, it's a huge story, or I guess more accurately it's a huge lot of stories interwoven, she takes fictional characters and weaves them into really interesting stories, it's got some back and forth in it, you're not handheld into the stories, the stories are going and you're going to walk right into them.

It's beautiful. It's Capital A Art. It's heartbreaking but it's not going to leave you sobbing, I'm not going to give you a spoiler but just know that these people you come to love aren't thrown off a cliff or forced to eat at Applebees.

I read it twice, maybe three times, have since purchased it on Audible -- I've got a lot of her books through them, it's really a fine thing to be lying here on my couch and have Kingsolver read to me, gives me the book as she heard it in her head while writing it IE this much of a pause behind a comma that could have maybe been a semi-colon, hearing it as she did when writing it is a luxury that I can damn sure afford, even when I couldn't afford t. Yes, I know I'm supposed to hate Amazon but facts are facts, they grew so huge so fast because they've done a lot of things really well...

Anyways. Kingsolver. The Lacuna. If not this week, make room for it, because you want to be happy.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:53 PM on July 24 [5 favorites]


Recent reads that I keep recommending to people


Science Fiction with a healthy dose of body horror: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley (and The Stars are Legion by her as well) and The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw

A Vietnamese refugee's take on Vietnam, well sort of: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (haven't read the follow up yet, The Committed)

A sweet love story/time travel mystery: Time Was by Ian McDonald

Just finished Last Exit by Max Gladstone, not sure how to describe it. I really liked how the story was told but I wanted to like the ending more than I did, if that makes any sense.
posted by aspo at 8:11 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]


I just read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo in about 2 1/2 days, and then cried my eyes out.

(I have some Questions about some of the themes but I feel like it's popular enough there will be interviews, so.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:29 PM on July 24 [2 favorites]


Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejía

a riveting and suspenseful thriller about the mysterious disappearance of a boy and his stunning return ten years later. There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned. Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later...the son appeared.

The main character is a compelling, sharp, capable young woman working to make sense of her own past. Great book. Couldn't put it down. The moment I finished I wished I never had read it, so I could read it again for the first time.


The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Imagine a page turner like The Davinci Code, but with far more depth, better dialog, thoughtfulness.


Nthing Murder Bot mentioned above.


Memoir from Antproof Case by Mark Helprin.

Obviously I am a big fan. This book is hilarious and beautiful and sad and exuberant.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:48 PM on July 24 [3 favorites]


Two novels I have recently found satisfyingly absorbing are The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley, alternative history with a twist, and Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford, following five young Blitz victims through the 20th-century lives they never got the chance to live. (Not as grim as that may make it sound.)

On the non-fiction side, I found Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang engrossing. It's about Chinese migrant workers, the (mostly) girls and young women who move from countryside to city to work in the factories. It's a few years old (2008), but still feels very relevant.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:42 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]


I keep recommending The Unspoken Name and The Thousand Eyes by A.K. Larkwood. They are really just amazing and I don't feel like they're getting the recognition they deserve. Sci fi / fantasy with dark parts, light parts, high adventure, a little - not too much - queer and straight romance and fantastic worldbuilding.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:26 PM on July 25 [3 favorites]


I loved The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock. It's blackly funny, cheerfully profane and utterly compelling from cover to cover.
posted by Paul Slade at 5:30 AM on July 26 [1 favorite]


Barbara Kingsolver - The Poisonwood Bible. It's spectacular. If you like historical fiction, Nicolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnet (and the subsequent books) are great. And seconding the Murderbot series, and adding Piranisi both of which are among the best books I've read in the last five years.
posted by bluesky43 at 1:14 PM on July 27 [4 favorites]


If you like pulp, the Dungeon Crawler Carl series is awesome.
posted by Kosmob0t at 2:24 PM on July 27 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Thanks everybody, I am in the process of acquiring many of these. More welcome if anyone has them.

I just burned through the mystery Local Gone Missing by Fiona Barton in two days. It is a cracking good story by a very skillful author, and my only regret is that I didn't save it for next week's staycation.
posted by rpfields at 7:58 PM on July 30


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