Intelligent, clever, recent novel suggestions?
September 16, 2007 3:07 PM   Subscribe

What are some intelligent, very clever (funny is OK, but not necessary) recent novels that are readable but not trashy? Think along the lines of Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Avoiding verbosity (Rushdie) and anachronism (The Great Gatsby, etc.), what's left?

(forgive me if there have been a million questions on this topic - I searched forever and found very little applicable material)
posted by stvspl to Writing & Language (52 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
 
Different genre, but the Discworld books are widely considered to be very witty and extremely readable.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:11 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks for reminding me -
also, I can't stand scifi / fantasy books. Just not for me.
posted by stvspl at 3:12 PM on September 16, 2007


A thought A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius was laugh-out-loud funny and almost addictive, and thankfully read it while being unaware of the Eggers Backlash. I'd also recommend The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and Carter Beats The Devil.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 3:16 PM on September 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


you might enjoy:

john burdett's bangkok 8
yann martel's life of pi
nicole krauss's the history of love
gary shteyngart comes recommended, although i haven't read him yet.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:22 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Both of Shteyngart's novels are really good, in that they are extremely clever and funny without being obnoxiously self-important, as many novels of this type can be. Absurdistan was possibly funnier than Russian Debutant, but also maybe a little less substantial.
posted by ch1x0r at 3:23 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books make me laugh, they're clever, they're not verbose, they're readable, and the writing is good. They're not science fiction or fantasy. They do have a touch of parallel universe, though, and they're not highfaluting literature.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:24 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


I haven't read either of the examples you give of things you like, so I don't know. But have you tried Library Thing's Book Suggester?

It's worked pretty well for me. And I noticed that one of the books it recommends based on one of your examples is by the author of your other example, so it might work pretty well for you, too.
posted by Flunkie at 3:27 PM on September 16, 2007 [6 favorites]


Fantastic site, there, Flunkie.

Shyteyngart looks great, right up my alley. And too bad about the Eggers backlash because I've heard a lot of good things about that book; thanks for reminding me.
Great job so far, keep them coming!
posted by stvspl at 3:29 PM on September 16, 2007


Also, Murakami? I love, love, loved Hard-Boiled Wonderland At The End Of The World.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 3:33 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seconding Murakami.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 3:37 PM on September 16, 2007


Also, Murakami?
Murakami was the first that sprung to my mind when I read "intelligent, very clever, recent, readable".

Like I said, though, I haven't read either of your examples, so I restrained myself from saying anything about him. But now that the subject's been broached, I can't hold myself back!
posted by Flunkie at 3:38 PM on September 16, 2007


you might like "Why Not Me?" by Al Franken.
posted by slavlin at 3:40 PM on September 16, 2007


Chris Bachelder's Lessons in Virtual Tour Photography is both extremely clever and completely free.
posted by silby at 3:47 PM on September 16, 2007


Jonathan Coe's books are extremely clever, and The Winshaw Legacy: Or, What A Carve Up! is also very funny (very dark, satirical humor - the book is both a send-up of Thatcherian conservatism and a murder mystery). I like all of his books a lot (The Rotters Club is probably my second-favorite, followed by The House of Sleep, but the rest are not particularly amusing.
posted by dropkick queen at 3:49 PM on September 16, 2007


Try Londonstani.
posted by Hash at 4:12 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Complicity by Iain Banks? (or any of his other novels)

You might also like Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
posted by knapah at 4:15 PM on September 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson; you don't get many books from contemporary authors more intelligent than Markson is.
posted by matteo at 4:22 PM on September 16, 2007



A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius was laugh-out-loud funny and almost addictive, and thankfully read it while being unaware of the Eggers Backlash

hands down best book of the last 20, 30 whatever years. the "backlash" comes from people who are simply more interested in hipster politics than actual good writing. No one with any actual taste or discernment about what good writing is would have anything much bad to say about that book.

Also, "youth in revolt" by CD Payne is freaking hilarious.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:30 PM on September 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


I second Complicity.

I strongly recommend Edward Docx's The Calligrapher - intelligent *and* funny. (Winner of SF Chronicle book of the year 2004 or some such accolade I believe.)

His second, more serious (i.e. non humour) novel has been listed for the Booker prize this year. It's available in the UK as Self Help but not until beginning of 2008 in the US, much to my chagrin, where it will be called Pravda.
posted by NailsTheCat at 4:31 PM on September 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


coming back to second david mitchell. genius.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:52 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Israeli author Etgar Keret's "The Bus Driver who Wanted to be God" and "Dad Runs Away With The Circus" are a sobering view about a life perceived to be in a constantly impending danger of (self-)destruction.
posted by limon at 5:00 PM on September 16, 2007


I recently read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time - but I found it a little....annoying.

Right now I am completely and utterly in love with the writing of Cormac McCarthy. Simple prose, but piercingly intelligent. Read 'The Road' - his most recent. It also won the Pulitzer Prize this year.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 5:16 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Etgar Keret is pretty interesting.
posted by sweetkid at 5:33 PM on September 16, 2007


When it comes to clever and intelligent try:
Brock Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn
Jennifer Egan's The Keep
Keven Brockmeier's A Brief History of the Dead
posted by jodic at 5:36 PM on September 16, 2007



A thought A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius was laugh-out-loud funny and almost addictive... I'd also recommend The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and Carter Beats The Devil.


Wow, I can't agree with BeaucoupKevin any more. Three fantastic books.
posted by Overzealous at 5:51 PM on September 16, 2007


I really like American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:59 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seconding Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. If you like that, there's Bangkok Tattoo and the recent Bangkok Haunts. IMO they meet the clever requirement, and there's definitely some funny in there too.

For funny/clever overload (in a good way), pick up John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise.

If you like spy thriller type stuff, I highly recommend Barry Eisler's John Rain series. I don't buy a lot of books (big library user), but when a new Rain novel comes out, I'm first in line to get it.
posted by altcountryman at 6:50 PM on September 16, 2007


Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness. A witty, true, raw novel about a teenage girl growing up in a small Mennonite community.
posted by freem at 7:00 PM on September 16, 2007


It’s not a novel, but I really enjoyed Miranda July’s recent book of short stories: No One Belongs Here More Than You. The book has a really clever website. I first heard of Miranda July in the June 11/18, 2007 issue of the New Yorker. In that issue, she had one very funny short story, Roy Spivey, about a housewife who happens to get a seat next to a famous actor on an airplane. Unfortunately, this story isn’t online. However, her other piece from that issue, Atlanta, is online. It’s about how she directed and acted in a one-woman movie about a twelve-year-old swimmer at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 7:16 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


I nth Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It is funny, clever, and thought provoking.

I would also suggest the following:
Stanley Crawford- Petroleum Man
Manil Suri- The Death of Vishnu
Dave Eggers- What Is The What
Marina Lewycka- A Short History of Tractors In Ukrainian
Christopher Buckley- Thank You For Smoking
Steve Kluger- The Last Days of Summer
Ann Patchett- Bel Canto
Lucy Kellaway- Who Moved My Blackberry?
Yann Martel- The Life of Pi

That should get you started.
posted by reenum at 7:23 PM on September 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Richard Russo's Straight Man is one of the most enjoyable and entertaining books (not already on this list) that I've read in a while. His other books are good too. One of them even won an award.

I also just read and enjoyed Geraldine Brooks' March, although it's conceivably too anachronistic for you.

Also, nthing Murakami.
posted by dseaton at 7:31 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Anything by Neil Gaiman.
American Gods and Anansi Boys in particular.
posted by robotot at 7:43 PM on September 16, 2007


I have to put a vote in against Cloud Atlas, personally. I realize it's not really the question, but I thought I'd just put in that I thought that book was pretty bad, barring one story. I personally prefer the verbose and and what you refer to as "anachronistic," so it may be ridiculous for me to give my advice, but I'd advise against Cloud Atlas.

For modern novels, though, I'd recommend A Soldier Of The Great War or Winter's Tale, but not both - they're a bit much when put next to each other.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:25 PM on September 16, 2007


A friend of mine loved Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel. I read it and I wasn't as super excited as he was, but there you have it.

Murakami: yay.
posted by hapticactionnetwork at 8:34 PM on September 16, 2007


Seconding Richard Russo. I was just headed into this thread to recommend Straight Man.
posted by expialidocious at 8:44 PM on September 16, 2007


hands down best book of the last 20, 30 whatever years. the "backlash" comes from people who are simply more interested in hipster politics than actual good writing.

I didn't even know of any backlash when I read this book years ago, and I hated it. HATED it. It is very possible for reasonable people to dislike that book on nothing but its own merits.
I'm also a bit perplexed at the reccs for Murakami as "readable." I found Hard Boiled Wonderland... interesting... but mostly perplexing and unemotive in that very Japanese way. Plus it is a little bit sci-fi-ish.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:47 PM on September 16, 2007


Right now I am completely and utterly in love with the writing of Cormac McCarthy. Simple prose, but piercingly intelligent. Read 'The Road' - his most recent. It also won the Pulitzer Prize this year.

Theotherguy has it. I couldn't put The Road down - in fact I read the whole damn thing in one sitting (about four hours) which is a feat that I have never done with anything longer than a comic book!
posted by wfrgms at 8:52 PM on September 16, 2007


Seconding C. D. Payne's Youth in Revolt, if you want to laugh out loud again and again.

I'd also recommend anything by David James Duncan, particularly The Brothers K - it's intelligent, honest, funny, painful, and beautifully written.
posted by vytae at 9:01 PM on September 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


I just started Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and it looks great.
posted by lukemeister at 9:02 PM on September 16, 2007


I think alot of these are really great books. So I'll n-th Eggers, Mitchell and Murakami.....

but I have to second ' Youth in Revolt ' by CD Payne. Very funny, and strange.
posted by mrgreyisyelling at 9:14 PM on September 16, 2007


Different genre, but the Discworld books are widely considered to be very witty and extremely readable.

Thanks for reminding me -
also, I can't stand scifi / fantasy books. Just not for me.


Personally, that's why I enjoy Terry Pratchett's stuff. It's technically shelved as Fantasy, yes, but the use of fantasy cliches and such isn't for the purpose of escapism or to hide sloppy writing, but rather to hold a crooked mirror up to the real world and expose it as being ripe for parody.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:16 PM on September 16, 2007


Wow, everyone's answers are so fantastic. Thanks!!
I should have explained - I need these novels to read at my MINDNUMBING job at, ironically enough, a library. 9pm-1am on weekends.
On a suggestion from some above reader, I started Nicole Krauss's "The History of Love". Fantastic so far, 150 pages in.

Thanks to everyone who continues to respond - I'll be all set for the rest of this semester, I think :)
posted by stvspl at 10:44 PM on September 16, 2007


It's too late to read through all of this, but read Jonathan Safran-Foer's other book (Everything is Illuminated) if you haven't. Some of the stuff from Alex's point of view is straight-up laugh-out-loud funny.

Also, you know that Jonathan Safran-Foer and Nicole Krauss are married, right? I read both of his novels, and hers (all awesome), and realized that they are rather similar. And then looked it up.

Also Also, someone mentioned Kavalier and Clay. I second wholeheartedly. Actually, more or less all of Michael Chabon's books fit the clever, recent, readable mantra that you're going for.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:10 PM on September 16, 2007


seconding anything by jasper fforde.
definitely kavalier and clay
not recent - but start re-reading all of kurt vonnegut. sirens of titan is my favorite.
great thread!
posted by prophetsearcher at 3:43 AM on September 17, 2007


"Science fiction.

Tale, fable, allegory.

Philosophical novel.

Dream novel.

Visionary novel.

Literature of fantasy.

Wisdom lit.

Spoof.

Sexual turn-on.

Convention dictates that we slot many of the last centuries' perdurable literary achievements into one or another of these categories.

The only novel I know that fits into all of them is Halldor Laxness's wildly original, morose, uproarious Under the Glacier."

from Susan Sontag's introduction.

I wouldn't let the science fiction label put you off of it. I wouldn't have described it as science fiction, myself, but maybe that's just an indication of how blinkered my idea of the genre is.

Amazon.
posted by felix grundy at 5:21 AM on September 17, 2007


Love Monkey by Kyle Smith is one of the few books that made me laugh out loud. It's essentially "Lad Lit", so it might be too trashy for your tastes.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:27 AM on September 17, 2007


Jeffrey Eugenides -- Middlesex
posted by junkbox at 6:31 AM on September 17, 2007


The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills.
posted by hecho de la basura at 8:10 AM on September 17, 2007


suprised nobody mentioned Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
posted by canoehead at 1:29 PM on September 17, 2007


Straight Man by richard russo.

Academic spoof.
posted by lalochezia at 4:38 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Another Richard Russo fan here. I have liked everything he has written.

Just read and liked One Thousand Splendid Suns by the author of Kiterunner. Loved it!
posted by RodeoclownGirl at 9:37 PM on September 19, 2007


I have to recommend Donald Antrim's The Hundred Brothers. Extremely funny and witty writing, if a bit bizarre.

Also check out The Verificationist if you like his style.
posted by pilibeen at 3:34 PM on September 20, 2007


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