What should we read to be entertained and enlightened?
September 12, 2007 2:01 AM   Subscribe

Please help this slacker choose a startlingly good book group book TODAY.

So my task for the spare minutes of this week so far has been to choose a book for the next meeting of my book group, but I've been worked like a dog for the past couple of days and haven't had time to do the proper trawling of the old interweb to make a considered choice. And now one of the members is pestering me for the choice so she can buy it in time to take on holiday on friday. So would anyone care to make a recommendation? The choice needs to be made before the day is out!

We're a small group of interested and (I hope) intelligent readers, but we're not very academic about the whole thing, so basically like books which are stimulating reads without being dumb page turners in the da vinci code mould. Intriguing style and/or content is a must. And if it can prompt a wider discussion not limited to a purely literary context (as did a million little pieces, particularly after the whole (non-)fiction furore) then that's just perfick.

My last choice (Edward St Aubyn's Some Hope) was multilaterally despised, somewhat unfairly I thought, so I'm looking to impress this time with a stunning left field choice. What little-known gem should I plump for?
posted by thoughtless to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (38 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (like Harry Potter for adults), or if you've read that already, her newer book Ladies of Grace Adieu. Or perhaps Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black, or Arthur & George by Julian Barnes. I love any Thomas Pynchon but he's not to everyone's taste.
posted by methylsalicylate at 2:35 AM on September 12, 2007

You don't mention whether you are looking for fiction or non-fiction, but as a non-fiction reader almost exclusively, my suggestions will be focused on that.

I'm not sure what you would consider a left-field choice - admittedly, each of the below are fairly mainstream so apologies for not answering the question directly.

I have recently read Al Gore's Assault on Reason and been very impressed. There are a lot of talking points, as you can imagine.

Also, A Long Way Gone certainly stirred a great deal of emotion.

James Surowiecki's The Wisdon of Crowds offers much food for thought.

Lastly, Brian Greene's Fabric of the Cosmos was very challenging and could have been better read in a group so there would be a greater chance of understanding the subject in greater depth.
posted by mooders at 2:37 AM on September 12, 2007

Intriguing style and/or content is a must.

The Wasp Factory

Time's Arrow
posted by googly at 2:41 AM on September 12, 2007

Seconding "Time's Arrow" for intriguing style.
posted by bunglin jones at 2:46 AM on September 12, 2007

I recently finished (and loved) All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well. It's a newish book by a first-time novelist called Tod Wodicka. It's a very well-written tragi-comic tale with an unusual setting populated by fascinating, large-as-life characters.
posted by misteraitch at 2:55 AM on September 12, 2007

Fiction: No Country for Old Men, non-fiction: The Antropology of Turquoise. Good luck!
posted by ersatzkat at 4:03 AM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

And an interesting compainion-type read to The Wisdom of Crowds: A Mind of its Own - How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:05 AM on September 12, 2007

ken follett's Pillars of the Earth
posted by pearlybob at 4:07 AM on September 12, 2007

For scads of fun in behavioral science, try Quirkology by Richard Wiseman.

For over twenty years, psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman has examined the quirky science of everyday life. In Quirkology, he navigates the backwaters of human behavior, discovering the tell-tale signs that give away a liar, the secret science behind speed-dating and personal ads, and what a person's sense of humor reveals about the innermost workings of their mind-- all along paying tribute to others who have carried out similarly weird and wonderful work. Wiseman's research has involved secretly observing people as they go about their daily business, conducting unusual experiments in art exhibitions and music concerts, and even staging fake séances in allegedly haunted buildings. With thousands of research subjects from all over the world, including enamored couples, unwitting pedestrians, and guileless dinner guests, Wiseman presents a fun, clever, and unexpected picture of the human mind.

It was just released in the US last week, so no one will have read it yet. I loved it!
posted by happyturtle at 4:41 AM on September 12, 2007

The Song Before It Is Sung (disclaimer: written by my father) which has had excellent North American reviews.
Alternatively anything by David Mitchell, but especially Cloud Atlas.
posted by roofus at 4:44 AM on September 12, 2007

JR Moehringer: "The Tender Bar" and Nick Flynn "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City" both blew me away.
Both memoirs that read like novels and are packed with stuff to talk about. Families, Fathers and Sons, life, alcohol, failure, success, love - you name it. Made me laugh, weep and think about myself.
posted by ollsen at 4:46 AM on September 12, 2007

Vladimir Nabokov's 'Speak Memory'. Autobiography, literature and so much more.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 4:47 AM on September 12, 2007

I really like Nadine Gordimer's books. They're fiction and deal with issues in South Africa (I think she's won the Nobel Literature Prize ). I especially like the House Gun, and None To Accompany Me (the last one is a little more about family relationships than her previous ones, although post-apartheid South Africa still looms large).
posted by bluefly at 4:50 AM on September 12, 2007

Discovery of Heaven by Dutch author Harry Mulisch.
posted by AwkwardPause at 5:01 AM on September 12, 2007

It's in the 'teen' section, but my god it's an amazing book:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Pick it up and read a couple of sentences. You'll be hooked.
posted by cooker girl at 5:06 AM on September 12, 2007

The Road.
posted by futility closet at 5:54 AM on September 12, 2007

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

It's an interesting look at the world through the eyes of an autistic teen boy... kinda touching also. Plus, it's won some awards, if that's important to you.
posted by mpls2 at 5:58 AM on September 12, 2007

Mariette In Ecstasy

When you're done, tell me what it was really about.
posted by DarkForest at 6:15 AM on September 12, 2007

Not really unknown, but The Kite Runner
posted by zackola at 6:17 AM on September 12, 2007

The Magus by John Fowles

Like many of the reviewers on the Amazon page suggest, do NOT read the summary on the back of the paperback...I see someone recommended just tearing it off and throwing it away.
posted by JaredSeth at 6:32 AM on September 12, 2007

It's a youth book, but The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane was absolutely awesome and would really lend to some great discussions.
posted by Sassyfras at 6:33 AM on September 12, 2007

Oh oh yes, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Awesome book, which leads to awesome discussions.
posted by Meagan at 6:38 AM on September 12, 2007

Oh, if you're into memoirs that show something of a lack of honesty or self-insight, you might try The Cliff Walk or Hard Travel to Sacred Places. While not rigorously honest, in my opinion, they were both at least somewhat entertaining.
posted by DarkForest at 6:42 AM on September 12, 2007

If nonfiction is ok, Mountains Beyond Moutains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World is an awesome book.

It is both a gripping true story and an incredibly eye-opening book on the topic of extreme poverty and our responsibility towards those affected. Reading it was a life-changing experience for me.

Somehow, it manages to be an engaging read, while also being informative and challenging our beliefs on the topic of poverty. It's pretty much guaranteed to stimulate plenty of discussion.
posted by greenmagnet at 6:47 AM on September 12, 2007

Yann Martel's Life of Pi might fit the bill, if you guys haven't read it already.
posted by splendid animal at 6:49 AM on September 12, 2007

A Wild Sheep Chase or any other Murakami book. Murakami has a hip, unique style. His books are always a little "left-field" yet accessible. It went over really well at my book club. Those who didn't love it were at least intrigued, and it stimulated interesting discussion.

I don't think there's anything out there quite like Murakami.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 6:57 AM on September 12, 2007

Give them Roy Jenkins Churchill. Now there is some healthy holiday reading.

Actually, Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies is a quality book from Mr. Churchill's heydays that I would heartily recommend.
posted by bernsno at 6:59 AM on September 12, 2007

I second The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (the author is Mark Haddon), and add Peter Carey's Illywhacker which I am currently enjoying, and also recommend Iain Banks' The Crow Road or Whit (not sure I would throw The Wasp Factory at an unsuspecting group). David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is also quite a good book.
posted by aught at 7:07 AM on September 12, 2007

Nthing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Life of Pi, and the Kite Runner.

Good choices depend on who's in your club, though. I attended a book club meeting where Jodi Picoult's book My Sister's Keeper was discussed. Not everyone loved the book, but the discussion was great. Most of her books are on sort of controversial/interesting/timely topics, so even if you don't really like the way she writes or whatever, there's good, interesting things to talk about.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:21 AM on September 12, 2007

I highly recommend British novelist Pat Barker. The Regeneration trilogy: Regeneration (1990), The Eye in the Door (1993), The Ghost Road (1995). Ghost Road was awarded the Booker prize. Regeneration went over well with my book group.
posted by theora55 at 7:23 AM on September 12, 2007

Pillars of the Earth and Cloud Atlas are both excellent books, but a bit long for a book club assignment. If you want something funny, informative, and surprisingly (somewhat) contemplative, try the Know-It-All by AJ Jacobs. It's not very deep but it's a good read. I read it six months ago and I'm still recommending it to my friends.
posted by kidsleepy at 7:28 AM on September 12, 2007

I just finished Cormac McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN and was completely blown away. One of the best works of fiction that I have ever read - McCarthy's writing is brilliant in this work .

I believe this work marked the beginning of McCarthy's shift toward a lean, economic style of writing (see NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THE ROAD) from the opulent writing of his earlier works. I tried to read his SUTREE and the eloquence of his style was far too rich for my literary palate and I stopped before the first page. That page made Faulkner read like Hemingway...

BLOOD MERIDIAN has quite the reputation though, so I don't believe that it is a true "choice from left field."

My "choice from left field" would be Charles Willeford's THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY - its an extremely intelligent pulp novel and should provoke some interesting discussions on the relationship between art, hype, and criticism. Very well written
posted by cinemafiend at 7:59 AM on September 12, 2007

It was mentioned a few questions up, but I have to bring it up again (and again, and again)

American Gods, Neil Gaiman. (would link, but can't access amazon.com here at work)

Thoroughly amazing story, so much so that I read it twice, back to back -- and I NEVER do that, ordinarily.
posted by Adelwolf at 8:14 AM on September 12, 2007

As we approach the end of the Second Gilded Age, I'd be thinking in terms of The Great Gatsby for a book group.

(By the way, did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald's full name is Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald? Gatsby is certainly an interesting counterpoint to his distant cousin and namesake's creation.)
posted by jamjam at 8:43 AM on September 12, 2007

The last book my book group read that I truly enjoyed was Ella Minnow Pea. I think it easily fits into the entertaining and enlightening category. It's an allegory about language and politics, with some humor thrown in. I remember it being kinda short, which was good for busy readers like me.
posted by dr. fresh at 8:57 AM on September 12, 2007

Now I'm not very good at internet lingo but I'm going to have a try: ersatzkat ftw.

Following a bit of a discussion with the group, and some investigation as to whether we could get a copy (it looks like it's not published in the UK), I've decided on the Anthropology of Turquoise; it meets all our criteria and sounds fascinating, also very different from anything we've read before, which on reflection is quite important.

But thanks everyone for all the suggestions - I know I'm going to keep coming back to this list for personal reading, and there were a number of them that I didn't choose only because of their excessive length, which bothers the group but not me. So: ta!
posted by thoughtless at 10:04 AM on September 12, 2007

Just a note on Pillars of the Earth and Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell: bleh. Both are, as mentioned, excessively long and would be really hard (I think) for a book group to get through. Pillars of the Earth keeps getting mentioned in all these "must read!" threads, but I found reading it was like getting bashed over the head with a wooden board. The writing was so....boring as to be, frankly, painful. Jonathon Strange was good, certainly, but could've been several hundred pages shorter.

Of course, totally my opinion, YMMV, majority rules, etc., etc.
posted by bibbit at 1:18 PM on September 12, 2007

yay ella minnow pea!
posted by kidsleepy at 1:36 PM on September 12, 2007

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