Recommend some great books for me, please. (MetaFiction?)
June 29, 2006 2:30 PM   Subscribe

I need some recommendations for great fiction. And yes, I've read all those other threads.

I've been reading political non-fiction for too long. I need some new fiction/writers to sink my teeth into. My favorites (in some particular order, but only the first few, really) Kerouac, Ginsberg, David Foster Wallace, Annie Proulx, Don Delillo, William T Vollman, David James Duncan, Rick Moody, Jim Harrison, Chuck Palahniuk, Peter Mattheisen, Ken Kesey, John Steinbeck, Ben Marcus, Richard Russo and, when I can handle his wiseassiness without wanting to backhand him across the room, Eggers.

To a lesser (yet no less significant) extent: James Joyce, Pynchon, Celine, Irvine Welsh, Dostoevsky, Douglas Coupland, Georges Perec, Hubert Selby.

I'm also into short fiction of the Raymond Carver/Hemingway type and love short stories. If by perusing the list above you think you might have someone I'd love, bring it.

I'm currently reading "Cloud Atlas" and "Wind Up Bird Chronicles," if that helps. They're both going slowly, but I've been pretty busy at work (where I can actually read, but with frequent interruptions which make the whole endeavor strange and unsatisfying.)

No recommendation smirked or snarked at! (by me, that is...)
posted by nevercalm to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
have you read jorge borges?

how about julio cortazar?

you might like italo calvino.

And it's possible you missed non-catcher-in-the-rye salinger. Seymore: An Introduction is a must read in my opinion.
posted by milarepa at 2:35 PM on June 29, 2006

Seems like we have a lot of authors in common. Have you ever read anything by Barry Gifford? His novels like "Wild At Heart", "Baby Cat-Face", and "Sinaloa Story" are all dark, powerful and (comparatively) snack-sized. His format of short chapters and wild leaps in time and tone make each book a sort of collection of stories in its own right.

Another book I try to get all my friends to read is "Arc D'x" by Steve Erickson, as well as his shorter novel "Rubicon Beach".

Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, starting with "Justine", is an intense favorite of mine.

Also, I am just finishing up the VALIS trilogy by Philip K. Dick, which I can't recommend more heartily.
posted by hermitosis at 2:36 PM on June 29, 2006

oh, and I think you should read the first part of Gogol's Dead Souls as well. Wonderful.
posted by milarepa at 2:38 PM on June 29, 2006

Philip K. Dick. We Can Build You, Flow My Tears the Policeman Said, A Scanner Darkly
posted by Ironmouth at 2:39 PM on June 29, 2006

Donald Barthelme's shorts should be on your list if Moody, Pynch & Carver are. And they are mostly very short.
posted by neustile at 2:43 PM on June 29, 2006

The Method Actors by Carl Shuker (he thanks DFW in the acknowledgements)

Under the Skin by Michel Faber

Super-Cannes by J.G. Ballard

Contempt by Alberto Moravia
posted by mattbucher at 2:44 PM on June 29, 2006

Michael Chabon completely and utterly rocks.
posted by shallowcenter at 2:49 PM on June 29, 2006

If you have never experienced the joy that is Matt Ruff ... you really should.

Fool on the Hill is absolutely wonderful and ..

Set this House in Order is also very good.
posted by duckus at 2:51 PM on June 29, 2006

First, I'd finish Cloud Atlas and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle -- one at a time, especially if you're having trouble focusing on them. They're absolutely stunning books, but they do require an investment.

As for a recommendation, how about short stories by George Saunders -- for example, Pastoralia.
posted by macrone at 3:01 PM on June 29, 2006

A Heartbreaking work of Staggering Genius - Eggers
Maidenhead Revisited and Tom Ryder's School Days - Waugh
posted by parmanparman at 3:02 PM on June 29, 2006

I should have mentioned Anthony Trollope and his great-granddaughter Joanna Trollope. Wonderful writers.
posted by parmanparman at 3:02 PM on June 29, 2006

With a respectable body of work and having just written a new novel (and coming out later this month with a new collection of short stories!), Haruki Murakami is always a fascinating read. Based on your list of authors, I'd recommend checking him out. There's a collection called Vintage Murukami that includes some short stories as well as excerpts from his novels, a good way to start getting into his writing. Macrone mentioned Murukami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is also excellent.
posted by marxfriedrice at 3:13 PM on June 29, 2006

David Mitchell's earlier Ghostwritten and #9 Dream were also very good; I liked Ghostwritten better than Cloud Atlas.

I'm glad you enjoy Murakami! You'll like his short stories, too, I bet.
posted by luriete at 3:19 PM on June 29, 2006

You'd probably also like Robertson Davies-- the Deptford Trilogy in particular. He's more from the "old school" and not discussed so much in contemporary circles, but once you read him you can see his influence in the works of many of the authors mentioned above.
posted by Harvey Birdman at 3:25 PM on June 29, 2006

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is among my all time favorite novels (and anything by her I found fantastic). If you like historical fiction, Dorothy Dunnett is my favorite - dense but fabulous. I also second Robertson Davies and would add John Gardner (October Light is my favorite).
posted by bluesky43 at 3:35 PM on June 29, 2006

If you want to try something a little different, I recommend Herman Melville. Moby Dick and his later short stories (especially Bartleby the Scrivener) have a almost post-modern feel to them. Moby Dick is full of weird asides in a way that reminds me a little of Infinite Jest. I just finished reading Moby Dick for the second time and found it very satisfying.

I also recommend staying the course with Murakami. Wind-Up Bird is probably his most serious work but is also one of the strangest. His other novels span the gamut from earnest romance (Norwegian Wood) to very bizarre (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World).

My own tastes have a fair overlap with yours so I'll also suggest A.S. Byatt (a master of language and a very serious writer) and Richard Powers (deeply interested in science and an acute biographer of alienation in modern life).
posted by pombe at 3:42 PM on June 29, 2006

I would second Chabon (Chabon = God, in my book) and also add the following:

- Ali Smith, "The Accidental"

- Vladimir Nabokov, anything (to start you could try "Pale Fire," "Pnin," and "Lolita" first)

- Milan Kundera (to start you could try "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," "Immortality," and "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting")
posted by hazelshade at 3:45 PM on June 29, 2006

You might like Steven Wright (not the comedian)..

Meditations in Green is about being in the Vietnam war (which he was, but I have no idea how autobiographical it is).

And M31: A Family Romance is really, really good, and very creepy.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 3:47 PM on June 29, 2006

Just a quick correction on the Waugh recommendation a few comments up -- the book is called "Brideshead Revisited," not "Maidenhead Revsited" -- but close!
posted by hazelshade at 3:47 PM on June 29, 2006

If your other interests are politics, as mine are, you could try Orwell (1984 and Animal Farm I'm sure you've read, but the Road to Wigan Pier is great). Other novels with political or utopian/dystopian themes are The Napoleon of Notting Hill (GK Chesterton), Brave New World and The Island (Huxley), and A Place of Greater Safety (Hilary Mantel).

My personal favourite is Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. A selection of one- or two-page portraits of impossible cities, as told by 'Marco Polo' to the 'Great Khan'. Some short extracts from it here.

(I love 'Maidenhead Revisited'! Look out for its sequel, 'Second class return to Slough')
posted by athenian at 3:49 PM on June 29, 2006

Jernigan and Preston Falls, by David Gates, which I re-read over and over again--they're that good.
posted by scratch at 4:20 PM on June 29, 2006

Here are a few suggestions. I am recommending these not just because I like them, but because, based upon the writers you said you like, I think you will like them.

Philip Roth: I ignored Roth for too many years thinking he was just a boring white male writer in the Updike mold. I couldn't have been more wrong. His fiction is some of the most brilliant and challenging stuff being written today. I especially recommend The Counterlife, Sabbath's Theater, and American Pastoral. (Incidentally, you said you like Celine, and Roth has said in interviews that his later works were very inspired by Celine --- and influence you see very explicitly in Sabbath's Theater.)

Harold Brodkey: I never hear anyone talk about Brodkey. But his writing is really great, very idiosyncratic, with a kind of Whitmanesque expansiveness. Runaway Soul, his big monster of a novel, is worth reading; Stories in an Almost Classical Mode is a good introduction to his work; and I also recommend Profane Friendship, a shorter novel set in Venice.

Evelin Sullivan: Sullivan is a hugely talented novelist whose books haven't gotten the attention that they ought to. Her novel The Correspondence (a book centered around a correspondence between two literary friends) and Games of the Blind (a story of sexual abuse and obsession) are terrific.

Arthur Nersesian: He writes really funny novels about down-and-out New York City bohemia. I'm in the middle of reading his book The Fuck-Up, and it is great stuff. Despite the fact that he depicts a kind of desperation on the part of his characters, there's something very warm about his stories of the hand-to-mouth bohemian life. I think his books Chinese Takeout and Unlubricated are excellent as well.
posted by jayder at 4:36 PM on June 29, 2006

Umberto Eco. I'd start with The Name of the Rose.

The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison is the best fiction I've read in a few years.
posted by amery at 4:37 PM on June 29, 2006

A few fantastic authors I've discovered fairly recently that you may like:
Will Self
Graham Joyce (The Tooth Fairy is fantastic)
Nick Walker (especially BlackBox)

Umberto Eco is great. I recommend The Island of the Day Before
posted by zerokey at 5:05 PM on June 29, 2006

I seem to like many of the same authors as you and would strongly second the Richard Powers recommendation (and suggest starting with Galatea 2.2 or The Gold Bug Variations).
posted by sad_otter at 5:35 PM on June 29, 2006

Gabriel García Márquez.
posted by oxford blue at 6:18 PM on June 29, 2006

Max Frisch: Man in the Holocene, Homo Faber, I'm Not Stiller. Read more than 10 years ago... the stuff stayed with me like a barely remembered dream (in the best of ways).. from someone who also likes Italo Calvino, Eco, Marukami, Roth, Updike and John Le Carre.
posted by kitmandu at 6:30 PM on June 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

You might try Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin.

The Red Horse by Eugenio Corti (in Italian if you can). He also wrote the same story in memoir, if the fiction requirement gets stale

Steven Millhauser can be diverting, but a little goes a long way. The gimmicks can get wearing, and I can't read him at all any more, but if you've never tried him, he might warrant a glance. Go for the short stories.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:37 PM on June 29, 2006

Martin Amis? I went off him after "Time's Arrow", but yeah, I'm really surprised Amis hasn't been mentioned.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:22 PM on June 29, 2006

If you should pick up A Winter's Tale, also try John Crowley's Little, Big. They are very different novels, but I first read them at about the same time and they both affected me similarly. Upon rereading, I found Crowley held up much better than Helprin.
posted by lhauser at 8:23 PM on June 29, 2006

Lydia Millet (specifically, "Oh Pure and Radiant Heart")

Donald Antrim (specifically, "The Hundred Brothers")
posted by gwint at 8:44 PM on June 29, 2006

Another vote for Chabon, and since you've "read the other threads" you've read me recommending Helene DeWitt ad nauseum.
posted by vito90 at 9:36 PM on June 29, 2006

Barry Lopez? Thom Jones (short story book The Pugilist At Rest)?
posted by ruff at 10:35 PM on June 29, 2006

Malcolm Lowry: Under the Volcano.
posted by misteraitch at 10:44 PM on June 29, 2006

I second Jorge Luis Borges. His primary medium is short fiction, specifically fictional-non-fiction and magic realism. I've had Labyrinths for a number of years and could read it back to front all day.

To be more specific about his style: I think someone once wrote that Borges' short fictions are amazing outlines for stories, but Borges never fleshed them out into longer works. They aren't character stories or stories about the human condition – they're just tight and intellectual but subtly infused with an ominous sense of a fearsomely powerful force that is heedless of the characters.

I'll also second Gabriel García Márquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude, considered his greatest work, is a magic realism history of a family in a fictional town in Colombia. The best exemplification of the style of the book that I can think of is that one of the (many) characters is constantly followed by a swarm of yellow butterflies. Love in the Time of Cholera is probably the greatest love story ever told. That's not the best way to suggest a book, I know, but it's not sentimental, and is actually wonderfully gross at times. It details the life of a man who pines for his first love but who nonetheless experiences many permutations of love throughout his life.

You might also be interested in Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, which is funny and has an interesting alternate history of the Passion. I just finished William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, but I only suggest that if you have an interest in a dense literary history of the Civil War.
posted by bitpart at 11:46 PM on June 29, 2006

I second Nabokov. Especially Ada and Lolita. I love Saramago's All the Names and Blindness. I'd also recommend all of the big names you never bothered checking out or gave up on after a few pages. You can get a free buffet at
posted by stavrogin at 12:09 AM on June 30, 2006

I would suggest, to you and to anyone else with a similar question, that you join LibraryThing; the recommendations (separated into fiction and non), once you've entered your collection, are astonishingly good.
posted by languagehat at 7:00 AM on June 30, 2006

I'll second the Thom Jones book, The Pugilist at Rest, and his two other books as well: Cold Snap and Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine. All are short story collections. His work is kinda dark, kinda macho. Some war stories, some boxing stories, but a lot more than that, too. Very powerful writer, and often funny as hell.

And since it was on the bookshelf next to the Jones' books:
Dispatches, by Michael Herr, is not fiction per se, but a pretty surreal book about the Vietnam war. I think Coppola borrowed a lot of the tone of this book for Apocolypse Now.

Also, I picked up a collection of Joseph Conrad's work awhile ago and I've been slowly making my way through it -- really an exceptional writer, and though it takes more concentration to read the old-school guys, it is a very rich experience.
posted by Bron at 7:22 AM on June 30, 2006

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