Please recommend me some reading material
April 6, 2007 4:19 PM   Subscribe

I've recently realised that I'm into certain types of fiction books. Please recommend some other books/authors I might find interesting.

The books seem to have the following themes - how people react to each other/relationships between people (Captain Corelli's Mandolin, The Lord Of The Rings), various methods of healing (Earth's Children) and how people interact with the physical world/nature (Ray Mears Bushcraft books/SAS survival books/books on indigenous peoples).

I've found this out by studying the books I read and reread - Captain Corelli's Mandolin has both healing and relationships stuff, for example, while the Earth's Children series has all three elements. It's important that they are realistic sounding (or are even completely realistic).

I'd prefer fiction, but nonfiction is also very acceptable, provided it isn't in the format of a highschool textbook. I hated them when I was young, I certainly don't want to read them for pleasure. :D I'm looking for something that I can enjoy reading for pleasure.

Another thing I find interesting are "Armageddon" type books, where people are put into difficult situations, and are left to sink or swim. Bonus points for telling me what this says about my inner life. :D Also, I wouldn't be averse to them containing information on the spiritual aspects of the characters.
posted by Solomon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (55 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
You might be interested in Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

It has the interpersonal, and interacting with a post-apocalyptic physical world/nature.

I'm doing a bad job of selling it. But check it out.
posted by lekvar at 4:31 PM on April 6, 2007

Best answer: Try How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, it meets all your criteria and has a really remarkable, fresh voice. Don't be put off by the YA label, it was an incredibly sophisticated read.
posted by headspace at 4:37 PM on April 6, 2007

Best answer: I just read "Alas Babylon" by Pat Frank. It was written in the 60s and has held up pretty well, I think. It's an apocalyptic story that focuses on one small group of people in particular. I've read it several times and enjoy it each time.
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:46 PM on April 6, 2007

Best answer: I recommend this because it seems to have fallen off the radar lately, but was an incredibly good read: "Into the Forest" by Jean Hegland. Post-apocalyptic, and very much a coming-to-terms with the physical world tale where the main characters (two sisters) are forced to sink or swim... or starve or adapt, as is the case in the book. Don't know where it would fall on your "healing" scale, but three out of four ain't bad.
posted by CMichaelCook at 4:46 PM on April 6, 2007

Seconding RustyBrooks.
(And get an ooold copy from a second-hand bookseller, if just for the cover art!)
posted by Dizzy at 4:49 PM on April 6, 2007

I recommend "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell. The book is about a group of friends that explore a new planet. Lots of good relationships and also some survival topics when on the new planet. From my description it sounds really sci-fi, but it is well written and believable. There is also a sequel, but I haven't read it.

I also enjoyed "Alas Babylon" that RustyBrooks mentioned.
posted by meta87 at 4:51 PM on April 6, 2007

"Dr. Neruda's Cure For Evil" by Rafael Yglesias. It's a novel about a psychoanalyst who believes he has found a way to diagnose evil as an actual disorder, and experiments with a chilling method of treatment. He tells his own life story as a way to justify the results.
posted by hermitosis at 4:59 PM on April 6, 2007

I would recommend both "The Diamond Age" and "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson. They are futuristic, adventure, and self-discovery books. Very good.
posted by nikksioux at 5:00 PM on April 6, 2007

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, meets all your criteria. The same is true of Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.
posted by melissa may at 5:06 PM on April 6, 2007

Norman Rush's Mortals and Mating
posted by loosemouth at 5:14 PM on April 6, 2007

Riddley Walker, best post-apocalypse novel bar none.
posted by Abiezer at 5:15 PM on April 6, 2007

Maybe too obvious a suggestion, but The Stand by Stephen King is a post-apocalyptic, small groups of survivors band together, some spiritual aspects, kind of book.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:16 PM on April 6, 2007

Ender's Game by Andrew Scott Card is the first of a series of (I think) six books which explore both personalities and new worlds.
posted by anadem at 5:18 PM on April 6, 2007

This isn't the most super-original-literary recommendation but it seems like you'd enjoy Life of Pi. (sink or swim situation + spiritual aspect, is why it jumped out at me)
posted by furiousthought at 5:27 PM on April 6, 2007

What about the Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer?
posted by lemuria at 5:28 PM on April 6, 2007

The Color of Distance, by Amy Thomson.
posted by jamaro at 5:30 PM on April 6, 2007

You may be interested in "Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science" by Atul Gawande. (He just came out with a new book as well, but I haven't read it yet.) It's definitely about healing, possibly not as much about your other topics.

For your other topics, perhaps Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series -- the first book is Dawn. I feel like it is the most realistic alien contact story I have ever read. It is an Armageddon story and people have to push themselves to their limits to survive.

Seconding the Poisonwood bible; it is very focused on people's relationships to each other and nature (and the peril of ignoring them).
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:34 PM on April 6, 2007

Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler deals with relationships and healing. Healing people physically and emotionally, healing the earth, and a different approach to interacting with nature and still being "civilized."

Seafort Saga by David Feintuch. Wikipedia's summary, "The books are set in a future human society that is largely dominated by unified Christianity. The main protagonist is a naval officer who strives always to do his duty, both to the navy and to his God, at great personal cost."
posted by who squared at 5:35 PM on April 6, 2007

I really enjoyed The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk. I think it meets all of your criteria:

"In ecologically devastated mid-21st-century California, San Francisco is a precariously maintained oasis, its society based on egalitarianism and environmentalism, its deeply spiritual populace possessed of psychic and mystical powers. Drought-plagued southern California suffers under an oppressive, militaristic, technocratic regime that spouts a perverted Christian ideology. After 20 years of uneasy peace, the south's armies mass to invade the north, whose militantly nonviolent denizens must decide how to defend themselves without compromising their pacifism."
posted by kimdog at 5:36 PM on April 6, 2007

Margalo Epps beat me to it. Xenogensis = Lilith's Brood = three separate books called, Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago.
posted by who squared at 5:37 PM on April 6, 2007

"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card is a good book, as is it's companion, "Ender's Shadow". "Speaker for the dead" is sort of a sequel, but really stands better alone. All the other sequels to both books (there is a Shadow series and a Speaker series, for lack of better names), well, they range from okay to "wash your brain out with soap" awful.
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:38 PM on April 6, 2007

You might be interested in Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

Oh God no. Oryx and Crake is an awful, awful, bloody godawful book. Poor characterization, a laughable plot, and Atwood's customary bizarro attitudes towards sex. Ugh. No.

Guy Gavriel Kay (The Fionavar Tapestry, The Lions of Al-Rassan, The Last Light of the Sun, The Sarantine Mosaic, Tigana, etc etc) definitely explores interpersonal relationships within his books. And they're almost always quite complex.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:08 PM on April 6, 2007

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto.

I recommend this book to just about everyone and so far everyone seems to love it. It's easily one of my favourite books and I keep picking it up to read it over again. It definitely fits within the theme of how people deal with other people.

posted by DrSkrud at 6:30 PM on April 6, 2007

Michael Flynn's The Wreck of the River of Stars is a science fiction book about a spaceship crew who really don't get along, and wind up in a dire situation largely because of it. It hits 2 of your criteria and I think it's quite well written.
posted by Quietgal at 6:35 PM on April 6, 2007

I'd wait and determine your own opinion of Oryx and Crake, rather than listen to close minded denouncements. It is certainly a scifi novel, and you did not specifically express an interest in that type of fiction. However it centers around a man placed in an post-apocolyptical Armageddon situation. He believes himself to be the last (fully) human alive. The characterization of Snowman is unique, and it is somewhat difficult to follow at first. But imagine that you believe yourself to be utterly alone. For months slowly starving to death, unadapted to this brave new world. The shambles of society being reabsorbed by nature. His fragmented internal monologue reflects the trauma of this new situation.

His past involvement with Oryx and Crake, unravels haltingly, yet sensuously. Atwood reveals how the alternatingly hellish and paradisal present came to be. I found the development of their triangular relationship fascinating, along with the world that Atwood fashions around them. There are a few weak plot moments, but the value of the whole outweighs those missteps. Her questions of enviromentalism, technological convenience, self-deification, and ultimately the meaning of paradise are all relevant and crucial to our future.
posted by amileighs at 6:55 PM on April 6, 2007

Ender's Game by Andrew Scott Card

uhm, Orson Scot Card

I would recommend

The Rift by Walter John Williams
A man searches for his estranged son in the middle of the New Madrid Fault quake that destroys the midwest

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling
on a particular day in march 1998 all high energy reactions, gunpowder, gasoline, etc don't work right. Chaos ensues.
posted by Megafly at 7:03 PM on April 6, 2007

Check out The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian. It's about a medical student who is in a Children's hospital that is kept afloat by an angel after the entire Earth is drowned in seven miles of water. It's got relationships, healing, survival, armageddon... and it's absolutely brilliant. I can't recommend it enough.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 7:20 PM on April 6, 2007

Pierre, or the Ambiguities by Herman Melville is a fascinating take on human relationships and the way decisions made for bad reasons or on faulty evidence can rip your life to shreds. It's also screamingly funny in places. Melville is surprisingly readable once you get your brain in the right gear.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:21 PM on April 6, 2007

Post apocalyptic: Girlfriend in a Coma, by Douglas Coupland. Some of his later stuff is just terrible, but this is my favorite of his novels.
posted by sugarfish at 7:37 PM on April 6, 2007

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler is an apocalyptic near-future story of a teenaged girl (rather tomboyish and thoughtful PK who invents her own religion) and her relationships with the people around her while they try to escape from society's collapse. I just finished reading it about fifteen minutes ago and it's fantastic. There's a sequel, Parable of the Talents, which I haven't started yet.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:40 PM on April 6, 2007

Re how people interact with the physical world/nature...books on indigenous peoples --

James Houston's Confessions of an Igloo Dweller. (See also.) Fits your bill, and it's definitely an enjoyable read.
posted by kmennie at 8:00 PM on April 6, 2007

The classic Clan of the Cave Bear was the first book that came to mind. But you have probably already read it.
Jose Saramago's Blindness explores relationships between people when society breaks down due to most of the population of earth becoming blind.
The non-fiction book Lady Franklin's Revenge by McGoogan explores the facinating life and relationships of Lady Franklin around the world. I immediately followed that book with Simmon's The Terror a well-researched fictionalised retelling of Franklin's last voyage that explores Inuit belief systems as welll as how facing death affect group dynamics (to put it mildly). It is a cold, cold book so it would be perfect for a humid summer day to cool off with. MacDonald's Curse of the Narrows, the Halifax explosion of 1917, describes in minute detail the events of the largest man-made disaster before Hiroshima focusing on the medical needs of the injured and dying.
Personally, I am really into true life stories of women in the Canadian wilderness, so the non-fiction writings of Catherine Par Traill and her sister Susannah Moody (two somewhat upperclass English women that came to the backwoods of Canada in the early 1800's) are facinating, with native lore, incredible difficulties and stubborrn personalities. Gray's Sisters in the Wilderness explores them in further detail.
If Atwood's Oryx and Crake doesn't float your boat than perhaps her Handmaid's Tale would be more accessible.
Now I am off to find my copy of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, you made it sound good! Ohhh, and that Children's Hospital sounds good too (but I don't own it).
posted by saucysault at 8:02 PM on April 6, 2007

William Nicholson's The Society of Others meets most of the criteria you mentioned: interesting (though difficult) relationships, self-discovery, survival. I enjoyed it although I think that the relationship work and characterisation is more satisfying in authors like Jonathan Coe (House of Sleep, The Rotter's Club) and Michel Houellebecq (Atomised, Platform). The latter have some of the “healing” elements but not much of the world/nature themes you mention. A sense of “the end of things” is palpable in Houllebecq, and the biggest part of his charm, I think.
posted by ads at 10:29 PM on April 6, 2007

It's maybe a little pulpy, but Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is full of both the relationship stuff and the healing angle.
posted by padraigin at 10:40 PM on April 6, 2007

Best answer: You might be interested in some of the books recommended for the question I asked a little while ago. There are some post-apocalyptic books in there, some non-fiction in there, and some others too.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:02 AM on April 7, 2007

You've had lots of suggestions - but would you be able to clarify what you mean by "realistic"? Obviously historical fiction is ok because you mention Jean Auel. Is fantasy/sci-fi ok?
posted by paduasoy at 1:38 AM on April 7, 2007

The Republic of Love by Carol Shields. It is a beautifully written novel about relationships. The story centres around two people whose lives are connected through family and friends, but they don't know it. They don't even meet until about 1/3 of the way through the book!

Shields' most well-known work is probably The Stone Diaries, but in my opinion, The Republic of Love is much better.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:34 AM on April 7, 2007

Not at all realistic (at least in the fantasy bit of it) but The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson features a protagonist with leprosy, which is probably fairly uncommon. His leprosy is "healed" when he goes to an alternate world. Lots of relationships between people (some of them a bit icky, IMHO) and lots of interactions with physical world/nature.

In my opinion, a great deal of the plot and characters are in the Lord of the Rings vein.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:31 AM on April 7, 2007

Ooh, yes, seconding Covenant.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:36 AM on April 7, 2007

Totally agree about Parable of the Sower, meets almost all of your criteria. Riddley Walker is also excellent but warning, written in an invented language that takes some time getting used to. Cormac McCarthy's new book The Road is another fantastic trip to the end of the world. I don't read or recommend Card because his politics are so right wing. But hey, there's always the library.

As for what this says about you, the fact that ten people so far have favorited this seems to imply that you're a rather typical Mefite. Maybe the bigger question is what does it say about us?
posted by Toekneesan at 8:10 AM on April 7, 2007

Armageddon + Relationships:
Cormac McCarthy's The Road

Healing + Relationships:
Gain and The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (though this one is fairly abstract, so I'm not sure if it meets your realism criteria)
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
posted by sad_otter at 8:15 AM on April 7, 2007

Obviously historical fiction is ok because you mention Jean Auel.

Nitpick: that's pre-historical fiction.

posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:40 AM on April 7, 2007

I second Alas, Babylon as a post-apocalyptic novel that has aged well, and raise you The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham as one which has aged even better. 28 Days Later borrows heavily from the latter.

I also highly recommend The Aubrey-Maturin novels, to anybody but particularly because of the relationships, dealing with nature, and sinking or swimming. The series as a whole reminds me of The Lord of the Rings in that it paints a picture of its world so richly detailed and absorbing that you almost feel you inhabit it.

As an aside:
"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card is a good book, as is it's companion, "Ender's Shadow". "Speaker for the dead" is sort of a sequel, but really stands better alone."

While I agree with the recommendation, and the disdain for the rest of the series, I would reverse the place of Speaker and Shadow. Speaker for the Dead is truly the companion work to Ender's Game, which is really an extended preamble to Speaker, and is completed by it. Ender's Shadow is one of those revisionist sequels that comes out years later and fundamentally rewrites the original story. Always leaves me feeling betrayed by the author, especially when the original was so good.
posted by Manjusri at 12:07 PM on April 7, 2007

You might enjoy Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. It's got the interpersonal relationships and there's healing at the end of the book. There's lots of interaction with the physical world as Sophie cleans Howl's castle and explores the different places outside the magical doors. I read it yesterday and enjoyed it very much. (the movie is okay, but imho, the book is much better).
posted by snowleopard at 5:41 PM on April 7, 2007

Some of these books about animal / people relationships fit the bill.
posted by salvia at 8:10 PM on April 7, 2007

Best answer: A) Watership Down.

B) You need to get yourself on Goodreads.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:32 PM on April 7, 2007

You have really got to read pretty much anything by Ursula LeGuin, but start with The Dispossessed or The Left Hand of Darkness.
posted by nax at 1:28 PM on April 8, 2007

I would strongly recommend against Thomas Covenant. I do so only because the book (I only bothered with the first one) really pissed me off and I'd hate for anyone else to have to go through that.

Let's just say you can choose to believe he's in alternate universe or that he's stark raving mad. Trust me, he's stark raving mad. And, he's evil but not in a good way.
posted by who squared at 6:55 PM on April 8, 2007

Response by poster: You've had lots of suggestions - but would you be able to clarify what you mean by "realistic"? Obviously historical fiction is ok because you mention Jean Auel. Is fantasy/sci-fi ok?

Yep, perfectly OK. Nonfiction is OK too, but I like books with some life, not just a list of facts. I'd like to thank everyone who has made a suggestion so far. I'll definitely be looking into getting some of these books when payday rolls round.
posted by Solomon at 4:04 PM on April 9, 2007

who squared, I actually completely agree with you. I enjoyed the first book I think but ended up getting really pissed off at the main character by the second one. I'm pretty sure he's meant to be an intentionally unsympathetic character--probably because Donaldson believes that it would be unrealistic for a character like him to be likable. Nonetheless, it definitely meets the criteria set and, who knows, maybe Solomon will actually like it.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:40 PM on April 9, 2007

David Brin's The Postman. Just avoid the movie like it was made of Hitler.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 4:15 PM on November 1, 2007

Seconding Girlfriend in a Coma. Post apocalyptic, about relationships between people, character-driven, and just plain good. Don't listen to sugarfish though, all of Coupland's books are worth reading.
posted by kpmcguire at 10:37 AM on November 2, 2007

If you haven’t yet read A Story like the Wind & A Far-Off Place by Laurens van der Post, I suspect you’d enjoy them. They’ve got all the healing/in-nature/getting-along-with-aliens/what-to-do-when-the-world-ends stuff in spades, and the plentiful magic comes from a sympathetically observed real-life culture, not from fantasy, which adds a certain something.

The Disney version, of course, did these epic books no justice whatsoever; they’re unforgettable for their many fans, while the flick was out of my memory almost before it got in: A magnificent squandering of film rights!
posted by dpcoffin at 1:33 PM on November 2, 2007

Response by poster: If anyone is interested, I'm working my way through the list, buying the books when I can afford to.

I'm afraid that I have to agree with dirtynumbangelboy though. I hated Oryx and Crake. Sorry guys.
posted by Solomon at 1:59 PM on November 11, 2007

Well, you can't win 'em all.
posted by lekvar at 11:00 PM on November 11, 2007

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