Intelligent page turners
July 22, 2007 6:56 PM   Subscribe

Recommend some bed-time and weekend fiction or non-fiction reading that will keep me enthralled after a long day or a long week

I'm looking for page-turners, no specific genre, but nothing dry, hard to get into or especially long. Definitely need something plot driven. Probably set in the present, maybe political or business thrillers, maybe something else altogether... Bonus if the books are intelligent, literate, and teach me something about the world...
posted by objdoc to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I really enjoy Dick Francis for this - detective stories set (predominantly) in the English horse-racing world. Slightly formulaic, but that only bothered me on occasions when I read three of them in a weekend and could really notice the similarities.
posted by jacalata at 7:16 PM on July 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Kurt vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions
Robert Asprin's Myth directions
George Orwell's 1984
Alan Moore's V for Vendetta
posted by PowerCat at 7:28 PM on July 22, 2007

Elizabeth George mysteries (and I'm not usually such a mystery person).
posted by paleography at 7:38 PM on July 22, 2007

I don't know if you'd call it particularly literate (though it is smart), but I found Joseph Waumbaugh's The Choir Boys to be completely irresistible.
posted by Gilbert at 7:42 PM on July 22, 2007

Maxx Barry, also known as Max Barry. "Company" is his best work, followed by "Syrup" and then "Jennifer Government." All are both political and business thrillers.
posted by brina at 7:51 PM on July 22, 2007

I've been evangelizing about Under the Banner of Heaven, a riveting book about murder and Mormons. And everyone I've turned onto the book has become an evangelist too. Nothing like nonfiction that you can't put down.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:03 PM on July 22, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War, (currently being adapted for an Aaron Sorkin movie), a non-fiction narrative written like a fiction thriller about a cocaine-addicted Congressman and embittered Greek CIA agent who got the US involved with the Taliban in getting the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 80s.
Confederates in The Attic, a travelogue about America's Civil War legacy, complete with crazy reenactors and Klan meetings.
Most of my other reading is too wonky, so ... :)
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:06 PM on July 22, 2007

I always recommend, as a compelling page turner, No Safe Place by Richard North Patterson.

It is really good, and rises way above the normal low standard of even best-selling political thrillers.

I also have enjoyed the business thrillers of Joseph Finder, particularly Paranoia, in which a low-achieving twentysomething slacker is recruited to pose as a tech whiz so that he can infiltrate and commit corporate espionage at a big monolithic tech company. It sounds cheesy, but it was pretty damned suspenseful ... "unputdownable" as they say.
posted by jayder at 8:10 PM on July 22, 2007

I really, really enjoyed The Righteous Men when I read it last autumn. It's about a murderous conspiracy based on ancient Jewish mysticism, and the intrepid-but-ill-equipped rookie newsman who must unravel it to save his family.

It's really smart, with a well-presented world-wide scope. It tickled my brain and it actually interfered with a European bus tour I was on. "I don't wanna see Vienna, I want to finish this chapter!"
posted by chudmonkey at 8:10 PM on July 22, 2007

Older books could include Boswell's Life of Johnson; Rats, Lice, and History by Hans Zinsser; and the new translation of Cervantes's Don Quixote by John Rutherford, in which we learn that the book was indeed meant to be a madcap comedy about a guy who gets too caught up in one specific genre of fiction and begins to imagine he is part of it.
posted by watsondog at 8:11 PM on July 22, 2007

For a while I read Henning Mankell's books about Swedish cop Kurt Wallander - a well regarded crime series. Maybe start with The White Lioness.
posted by meech at 8:57 PM on July 22, 2007

I found Cormac McCarthy's The Road to be quite a page turner. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I read it, either.
posted by cabingirl at 9:19 PM on July 22, 2007

Moscow to the End of the Line by Venedikt Erofeev or The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. They are probably my favorite books of all time.
posted by Paleoindian at 9:35 PM on July 22, 2007

Charles Willeford's THE MACHINE IN WARD ELEVEN and especially THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY. The former is a collection of short stories dealing with unsound minds and the latter is a brilliant noir novel set in the world of art criticism. Willeford is currently my favorite writer and I highly recommend checking out his work: its the apex of pulp/noir fiction. Very intelligent writer that lived a colorful life (he was a tank commander in WWII, a professional boxer, a horse trainer, an art critic, and an English professor at the University of Miami).

Warning: some might consider his stories sick and twisted, I consider them to contain uncomfortable truths about the human condition.

You can pick the above books (used) up for a couple of dollars at Amazon and they are a great introduction into his ouvre.
posted by cinemafiend at 9:44 PM on July 22, 2007

The Rider by Tim Krabbe. The entire book is the first person narrative of a rider during a fictional european road race (bicycles). So good I read it in one day and immediately went back to page one to start it again.

Second the Jon Krakauer recommendation, everything he published is superb.
posted by Manjusri at 10:30 PM on July 22, 2007

Will Storr vs. The Supernatural or The Snakebite Survivors Club or Newjack are all excellent non-fiction books. I ended up reading the Will Storr book just based on the author's bio : "....dressed up as a woman to impress the transsexual leader of radical pro-suicide campaigners,......been arrested and deported under armed guard from Los Angeles." Try Kitchen Confidential too if you haven't read it yet.
posted by philad at 10:46 PM on July 22, 2007

Devil in the White City- about the first Worlds Fair and also a very scary serial killer

Sophie's World- a novel that will teach you the entire history of philosophy AND ALSO delivers an insane plot twist near the middle

Both are amazing, both are easy to get into and both are page turners.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:26 AM on July 23, 2007

I highly recommend The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It's written in first-person from the point of view of a boy with autism, and is by turns maddening, funny, and heartbreaking. If you have ever known anyone with autism, a lot of it will probably ring true.

Haddon's most recent book, A Spot of Bother, is also good. It's about family relationships and the tensions between parents, children, and siblings. It took me longer to get into this one than The Curious Incident, but by the end I found it to be a page-turner.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:48 AM on July 23, 2007

For books where you also learn, I like historical fiction. Unfortunately, as anyone who, like me, read the stuff in middle school can tell you, historical fiction is a shield for much softcore porn. All of the books I am going to recommend here are loaded with icky sex scenes. Some of these are books I read around 15-18 years ago, so you know they must have been good if I still remember them, right?

Pillars of Fire by Ken Follet is a very interesting piece on the development of cathedrals, I think in France, as they developed from your standard thick building of stone to the soaring cathedrals we think of now. Very interesting, very neat look at medieval/renaissance Europe. I have no idea how accurate it is, but it is indeed a page turner. Warnings: icky sex, sadism, sexual assault.

The Physician by Noah Gordon tells the story of a guy from medieval London who travels to the Middle East to study medicine. Christians aren't allowed, so he pretends to be a Jew. Warnings: alcohol, forced sex.

Gary Jennings writes a bunch of these as well. You might like Raptor about a hermaphrodite during the Roman Empire (warning: hermaphrodites, include a somewhat queasy hermaphrodite-on-hermaphrodite sex scene) or The Journeyer, a historical take on Marco Polo (warning: pedophilia).
posted by Deathalicious at 1:32 AM on July 23, 2007

Anything by Ursula LeGuin, particularly the Earthsea series. Pacy yet highly intelligent fantasy, dealing with death and mortality among other themes. I'm not generally into genre fiction as a lot of it is so crappy, but LeGuin is a genuinely fantastic writer.
posted by sundress at 4:06 AM on July 23, 2007

Lately I've been recommending Krakatoa by Simon Winchester, and Dragon Hunter (about my personal favorite dashing zoologist, Roy Chapman Andrews). If you're looking for good short reads, the "Best American -fill in the blank- Writing" series is often good. (Best Science Writing 2006)
Also as an aside, any book by Winchester on CD will satisfy your need to hear a snobby British accent.
posted by ikahime at 7:02 AM on July 23, 2007

I highly recommend "the shadow of the wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zaffon - a brilliant book. I couldn't put it down.

Same with "The Great Gatsby" by F Scott Fitzgerald.

nth the Wind up Bird Chronicles. also recommend anything really by Margaret Atwood - particularly the Blind Assassin.

Ooh and the Susan Cooper books are amazing - particularly "The Dark is Rising".
posted by jonathanstrange at 7:31 AM on July 23, 2007

Good on Manjusri for mentioning Krabbe. "The Vanishing" was another thrilling haunting read for me.
posted by Gilbert at 9:30 AM on July 23, 2007

Alan Furst. Great WWII (and interwar) European spy novels. They're simply delightful.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 5:41 PM on July 23, 2007

I loved Ironfire by David Ball (published in the UK under the much better title The Sword and the Scimitar. Set in Malta in the 1500s it features wonderful characters on both sides of the struggle between Christendom and the Ottoman Empire. By the time the Great Siege of Malta ends, you won't want to say goodbye.
posted by Quietgal at 9:21 PM on July 23, 2007

Yay! Someone else who likes Dick Francis! His books do get formulaic, but they definitely keep you involved. Bonus learning: his heroes have all different kinds of professions, so reading one of his books can teach you about glassblowing or meteorology, as well as horse racing.

I like historical fiction a lot, so YMMV, but I love Gillian Bradshaw. She writes historical fiction set in some of the more ignored bits of the history of the Roman Empire. I can reread them again and again...
posted by MadamM at 11:28 PM on July 23, 2007

Anything by Sidney Sheldon. Particularly page-turning is If Tomorrow Comes

Chuck Barris' Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is simply amazing
posted by barrakuda at 4:57 AM on July 24, 2007

Vox is a good book that can be read in one sitting. Monica gave it to Bill.
posted by Brian James at 7:44 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich was really, really hard to put down.
posted by nitsuj at 2:37 PM on September 21, 2007

I never had been much of a mystery person, but I've really started to get into some writers lately. To me, mystery or thriller is the definition of page turner now. So here are some of my favourites.

Agatha Christie is amazing. But don't just read the Poiret or Miss Marple stories. Those are good, but the really great stuff comes from her adventure / spy novels. She traveled around the Middle East with her archaeologist husband, so her depictions of Middle Eastern life between the wars are pretty vivid. I especially recommend They Came to Baghdad and The Man in the Brown Suit. Couldn't put either of them down.

My other favourite is Ian Rankin and his Detective Rebus series. They are all set in Edinburgh or around Scotland and, as many have said before me, the city is often the main character of the book. Gives insight into life in modern day Scotland, plus good writing and page turning plots.

Also, I'll second Sophie's World. The history of western philosophy written as a mystery / suspense novel. You can't get much better than that.
posted by mosessis at 8:23 AM on September 24, 2007

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