End of Summer Reading List
August 18, 2006 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I think that I overdid it with the partying this month, and I feel a lot less intelligent. Also, I've been reading nothing but graphic novels and zines for a couple months. I was wondering if someone could recommend some books that I would enjoy and that would kickstart my brain again. A list of literature I'm into follows.

Despite his flaws, one of my favorite authors is John Barth.

I'm very much into Russian literature (Erofeev, Chekhov, Bulgakov). I'm also fond of the dada/absurdist Russian plays of the 20s and 30s but have had trouble finding them. There may be a followup AskMe about those.

I'm still smitten with the Beats and Hunter Thompson but I don't know if there's anything new for me there.

I enjoy biographies/autobiographies on iconoclastic weirdos (Joe Ezterhas, Lisa Carver, Andy Kaufman).

As for comics I like Sam Kieth, Dave Sim, Harvey Pekar and Alan Moore.

And the last really good book I read was "The Princess Bride"

Your suggestions don't have to reflect or expand upon those influences (feel free to open my mind) but extra points if they do.
posted by elr to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.

Here are various reviews: 1 down the page|2|3

I've been pimping it to everyone I know. Very much in the vein of The Princess Bride.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 12:00 PM on August 18, 2006

If you like Russian lit and the avant-garde works of the '20s and '30s, you might like a number of central European writers of the same general period -- Stanislaw Witkiewicz, Bruno Schulz, Robert Walser, Bohumil Hrabal, and Robert Musil all immediately spring to mind. (Oh, and Kafka, too.)
posted by scody at 12:09 PM on August 18, 2006

Well, in terms of big, complicated, epic books that require a lot of mental engagement, the two that I have read that come to mind is:

-- Infinite Jest , by David Foster Wallace (orginal soft cover)-- -- probably one of my favorite reads to date, and I am re-reading it again right now (which probably will not be the last time) -- also available in hardcover. Both editions are available used on Amazon for ~$8-$10 shipped. I could comment further, but read the reviews on Amazon -- the first and second reviewers ("Crystal Eitle" & "C. Shanafelt") say it better than I could -- just a fantastic, serious, silly, and wonderful book.

-- Underworld, by Don DeLillo -- Great book, epic, wry, funny, and touching. You can get it used on Amazon for ~$8 shipped

Infinite Jest takes a long while to read, and Underworld is not that much shorter -- both were a big challenge and I was really glad I took them on. Give them a shot! They will massage your brain and give you a great place to escape!
posted by wonderwisdom at 12:16 PM on August 18, 2006

I love John Barth (I wrote a final paper on 'Lost In The Funhouse').

Might I suggest anything by Tom Robbins (besides even cowgirls get the blues). My favorites are Skinny Legs and All, and Half Asleep In Frogs Pajamas. He is not really related to anything you listed, but I also enjoy Russian Lit, the Beats, weirdos, and The Princess Bride. Tom Robbins is also good because if you've been partying too much your brain is probably pliable enough to wrap around his style. My other favorite author is Haruki Murakami.
posted by nadawi at 12:20 PM on August 18, 2006

I dunno whether it follows from the other authors you mention, but whenever I absolutely, positively gotta kickstart the old brainpan, I break out the Borges.

It gets you thinking in exactly all the ways graphic novels and zines don't.
posted by furiousthought at 12:20 PM on August 18, 2006

Little, Big or Engine Summer, John Crowley
Set This House in Order, Matt Ruff
Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:21 PM on August 18, 2006

I'd recommend good ol James Joyce if you haven't gotten around to him yet. It's like weight lifting for reading, anything else goes by rather smoothly after.

And I'd give some caution for Infinite Jest, while it is quite good I had a great deal of difficulty reading any books for several months after finishing it, it is quite overpowering. I had thought I was just going through a period but I read online of other people having the same difficulty after reading it.
posted by bobo123 at 12:34 PM on August 18, 2006

Some J G Ballard.
posted by wackybrit at 12:36 PM on August 18, 2006

Move backwards with the Russians? Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gogol?
posted by LarryC at 12:57 PM on August 18, 2006

You could finally read some Rimbaud ;)
posted by ruby.aftermath at 1:07 PM on August 18, 2006

I second the Eastern Europeans. They like their doom served with a side of funny, and it's just surreal to read them. Hrabal especially is great, try "I Served the King of England," and "Too Loud a Solitude." Kundera's greatest book is "Unbearable Lightness of Being," and "Book of Laughter and Forgetting" is quick and brilliant.

In the same Eastern European vein, I've been reading poetry by Wisława Szymborska, and she's funny, vulnerable, and so Polish you can hardly stand it. "View With a Grain of Sand" is a good place to start.
posted by zoomorphic at 1:08 PM on August 18, 2006

I think I am on the same brainwave as nadawi. I also like all of the books that you like and was also planning to recommend Tom Robbins and Murakami.

I suggest Still Life With Woodpecker by Robbins and South of the Border West of the Sun by Murakami.

Also, read this.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 1:08 PM on August 18, 2006

The two smartest and best written books I've read in a long time:

Devil in the White City
Guns of August.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:12 PM on August 18, 2006

John Crowley's The Translator is very interesting, and has a Russian poet (and maybe something more) as one of it's central characters.

A more oblique reflection, but a gorgeous book, Doug Hofstadter's Le ton beau de Marot has many reflections on poetry and translation, including Evgeny Onegin.
posted by crocomancer at 1:21 PM on August 18, 2006

I second croutonsupafreak's recommendation of The Devil in the White City. It's a non-fiction tale of the chief architect of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and a serial killer that had his own site near the fairgrounds used for his killings. That was the book that really started my kick of loving non-fiction books, especially ones that are as interesting as it.

Somewhat along the same vein is Under the Banner of Heaven, also another fascinating non-fiction read about two Mormon fundamentalists (the sect that still practices polygamy) who murdered the baby and wife of one of their younger brothers, and claimed God told them to. It delves into some history and explanation of the Mormom faith, which to me was interesting.

Of course, YMMV with both of these books, but still, I highly recommend them.
posted by mrhaydel at 2:10 PM on August 18, 2006

Some of my favorites:

Dostoevsky: "The Idiot" and "Brothers Karamazov"
Milan Kundera: "The Unbearable Lightness of Beeing" and "The Joke"
Mordecai Richler: "Barney's Version"
Heller: "Catch 22" and "Picture This"
Nabokov: "Lolita"
Vonnegut: "God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater" and "Mother Night"
posted by barrakuda at 2:13 PM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend some David Mitchell. After I read Cloud Atlas, I passed it along to my whole family, and we all loved it, even though we have diverse tastes. His new book, Black Swan Green, was just longlisted for the Booker Prize (Cloud Atlas was shortlisted when it came out).
posted by anjamu at 2:23 PM on August 18, 2006

I second scody's suggestions. You may already be familiar with him, but I would add Daniil Kharms, with his grotesque, fragmentary prose, to the list of Russians.

If you like Barth, you may or may not like Donald Barthelme's playful and collage-like short stories and novels. Not that two authors are really all that alike, but they are both American, they're both labelled "postmodern," and their names both begin with 'barth.'

Two earlier authors of metafictional novels that I endorse to anyone who will listen are Felipe Alfau and Flann O'Brien. The publisher of Alfau's Locos says this about the novel:
Felipe Alfau creates a mercurial dreamscape in which the characters--the eccentric, sometimes criminal, habitues of Toledo's Cafe of the Crazy--wrench free of authorial control, invade one another's stories, and even turn into one another.
Aspects of this description could apply equally well to O'Brien's first novel, At Swim-Two-Birds. O'Brien's second novel, The Third Policeman, is a masterpiece, and I wish I had the time to say more about it.
posted by cobra libre at 2:54 PM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

John Irving is often strange, entertaining and creates interesting situations/characters.

Though he isn't similar to others you've mentioned in your question, as far as I'm familar with them anyway.
posted by selton at 3:27 PM on August 18, 2006

This is a bit from left field given your preferences, but I found much solace + brain-workout during my partying days from William Faulkner. The Sound and the Fury and the Wild Palms, in particular. He's as philosophically penetrating as the Russians and everything is always in ruins, which resonated strongly with my mindset at the time. His incredibly long sentences, while seductively lush and sensuous, require one to follow the twists & turns of a single, drawn-out thought -- like following a baroque melody. Plus there's an undeniable psychedelic/visionary/apocalyptic quality to much of his writing -- his characters occupy quite delirious and unsober (if inevitably tragic) extremes of their desires & psyches; as such, the worlds he creates always *feel* on the verge of slipping out of the real and into some sort of hallucinatory reverie straight out of revelations. Again, matched my party-addled psyche quite well.

As for Eastern Europeans, if you're feeling particularly misanthropic, maybe consider the aphoristic essayist E.M. Cioran. (Proceed with caution, and approach with an ironic distance -- he's extraordinarily dark, and at least seems to gravitate toward pessimistic resignation rather than rebellion).

If you feel like taking a brief excursion into French territory, I'd recommend Huysmans' Against Nature, which chronicles a period in the life of an extreme eccentric; Oscar Wilde called it the strangest book he had ever read.

Also, what about Beckett? Can't think of anything in particular I'd recommend, as I haven't read anything of his in a very long time . . .
posted by treepour at 3:33 PM on August 18, 2006

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
Homeland, Sam Lipsyte

Those both came to mind. For some reason I equate them with the heart-on-a-sleeve style that often accompanies graphic novels.
posted by GilloD at 3:56 PM on August 18, 2006

When I was having trouble concentrating a few years ago, a long stretch of Henry Miller saved me. Tropic of Cancer, Plexus, Sexus, The Oranges of Heironymus Bosch. They might be a nice transition from graphic novels to other stuff. I wish somebody would make graphic novels out of those, now that I think of it.

Also check out Playboy's list of the 25 sexiest novels ever written.
posted by Aghast. at 4:39 PM on August 18, 2006

Barthelme is a great answer. Others that I've enjoyed (and Barth is probably my second favorite author) are Kobo Abe, Emanuel Carare and Paul Auster.
posted by klangklangston at 4:55 PM on August 18, 2006

Yeah, I'd go with some of the stronger current prose stylists that would allow (perhaps require) you to savor their words. Good suggestions above; another is anything by Vikram Seth.

I also second LarryC, ruby and treepour: Go back in time and challenge yourself with the démodé — Austen, perhaps, or even the Bard.
posted by rob511 at 5:25 PM on August 18, 2006

How about A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:50 PM on August 18, 2006

mark z danielewski's house of leaves

paul auster's new york trilogy

orhan pamuk's the black book

milorad pavic's landscape painted with tea
posted by juv3nal at 6:59 PM on August 18, 2006

I too enjoy Barth and Barthelme, and I happen to know an exceptional Barthelme resource.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:53 PM on August 18, 2006

If you think you've partied too much, Amis's Money will make you feel much better about yourself.
posted by rachelpapers at 8:20 PM on August 18, 2006

i_am_a_Jedi, I really liked The Lies of Locke Lamora as well, but comparing it to Princess Bride? Not so much. Lies is much darker (to describe it without spoilering), with a fair quantity of profanity and fairly graphic descriptions of unpleasantness. Don't get too attached to anyone you meet. There's definitely some humor in there, though.

My favorite personal recommend is The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay. Historical fantasy with some romance, some action, humor, sweeping epic bits, and nice plotting. Plus really cool characters. One of my all time favorites by a (sadly) lesser known fantasy author.

Hmm. Looking at a description of Chimera by Barth I get the impression that he's updated old stories/myths/fables. Sort of in that vein, with humor, are Tom Holt's books. Imagine Terry Pratchett retelling the legend of the Flying Dutchman in modern times, for example.

You might try playing with AlexLit as well. It's heavy on the sci/fantasy, but I've yet to find a better book recommender. On a similar thread, someone recommended an author search on LibraryThing as a useful tool for locating people with similar tastes. Here's the the search for John Barth.
posted by booksherpa at 9:52 PM on August 18, 2006

The books I've enjoyed most over the last few months:

David Mitchell, Black Swan Green
Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved
Imre Kertesz, Fatelessness
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
John McPhee, A Sense of Where You Are

And, if you haven't read them, you are in for a treat with Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov.
posted by josh at 3:12 AM on August 19, 2006

Alan Mendehlson, The Boy From Mars
The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death
by Daniel Pinkwater
These might jumpstart your brain, but they will certainly jump start your will to live and your sense of adventure.
posted by TheCoug at 10:52 AM on August 19, 2006

Check out Tristessa by Kerouac.
posted by feloniousmonk at 7:37 PM on August 20, 2006

I second the recommendation for Cloud Atlas--very Barthian and playful, with a little Nabokov thrown in for good measure.

(Speaking of which, if you haven't read Nabokov's Pale Fire, I recommend it. Lots of clever post-modern games in it.)

Another playful, smart book of recent years: The Egyptologist, by Arthur Phillips. The narrative voice is very funny, and delightfully unreliable.
posted by yankeefog at 4:00 AM on August 22, 2006

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