Summer reading for strange tastes?
May 23, 2008 10:24 PM   Subscribe

What author should I delve into next?

I've made a habit of trying a new author each summer (life on an academic calendar, time more my own) the past few years. This began after reading Auster's New York Trilogy and rediscovering a love of fiction. Not all fiction, though. My tastes seem to run pretty contemporary and towards the strange. I found Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle perplexing but engrossing and was enthralled by Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. (Thank you so much, Lost, for turning it into the coffeehouse snob's novel of 2006.)

A friend suggested Delillo to me, but White Noise left me cold. I found Ian McEwan so annoyingly pristine I just wanted to crank up some Napalm Death after twenty pages. Make of that what you will.

I know tastes and critical trends run in many directions. I'm just curious what anyone who might have read and enjoyed any of these would suggest.
posted by el_lupino to Writing & Language (36 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
italo calvino, and stop whining already
posted by ChickenringNYC at 10:39 PM on May 23, 2008

damn you Chikenring, I came here to say that. *sobs inconsolably*
anyway, start with his If on a winter's night a traveler
posted by dawson at 10:47 PM on May 23, 2008

Denis Johnson (Jesus' Son)
Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon)
Don Delillo (Underworld) It really is better than White Noise

Personally, I'm rereading Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey series (it's not really contemporary fiction, though). It is really really really good summer reading. I'm on "Post Captain" right now, the second book of the series, and it is a wonderful book (Jane Austen for men). Every single paragraph in the first part of the book is laugh-provoking. Super stuff.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:51 PM on May 23, 2008

May I recommend David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green?
posted by Panjandrum at 10:54 PM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tom Robbins.

Start with Another Roadside Attraction and work your way up from there.
posted by phredgreen at 10:57 PM on May 23, 2008

and for some weirdly cool speculative fiction, check out Jeff Noon, in particular Vurt and Noon.
posted by dawson at 11:04 PM on May 23, 2008

I meant Vurt and Pollen. Noon is his freaking name. me go away now.
posted by dawson at 11:05 PM on May 23, 2008

You left this way too vague. Everyone's just going to recommend their favorite author.

That said, if you liked Murakami, Wallace manages the whole "perplexing but engrossing" thing well in Infinite Jest I know!!!!! Don't make fun. But he's kind of just riffing on Pynchon. Gravity's Rainbow.

Both authors have a more immediately appealing voice than DeLillo, who is a little monotonous for my tastes.

But... Contemporary and strange? Have your read Rushdie? Midnight's Children is weird as fuck, and an absolutely massive accomplishment. A great, great book. And if you like that, The Satanic Verses is a challenging but rewarding read.

I second Cloud Atlas.

I'm reading more Murakami (I wanna get to Underground) this summer. And maybe some Henry James.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:22 PM on May 23, 2008

You should go to Librarything

Create a free (up-to-200-books) account with either all your books, or all your favorite books listed. LT makes it easy to browse similar libraries. I have all my books listed and my closest match shares 80 of the 412 books in his collection with me.

You can do the same thing selecting favorite authors. I have 12 favorite authors listed, and only two people have six favorite authors in common with me.

These people clearly have excellent taste and I've found a bunch of interesting new authors by browsing their bookshelves.
posted by pseudonick at 11:34 PM on May 23, 2008

I recommend GoodReads instead of LibraryThing. I used LibraryThing and switched. You can do the same thing pseudonick suggested there. Whichever website you pick, I agree you'll find some great stuff that way.
posted by Nattie at 11:46 PM on May 23, 2008

Seconding Gravity's Rainbow as a good summer read. I liked The Crying of Lot 49 more though.

I'll bet you'd enjoy Jose Saramago. Baltasar and Blimunda is probably the most "strange." Also check out The History of the Siege of Lisbon, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.

And finally, my favorite summer reading project was to go through all of Nabokov's novels, in chronological order. Pale Fire might be up your alley.
posted by Fin Azvandi at 12:05 AM on May 24, 2008

Reading as much Philip K. Dick as you can, as fast as you can, will take you to strange mental places. He's not a great author, I wouldn't say, but he had a lot of great ideas. I think I read something like twenty of his books in a little over a month and definitely recommend it to anyone.

It's really fun to read someone like PKD because he's so drastically inconsistent. Sometimes he'll write a really good book, sometimes he'll write a really bad book, and sometimes he'll write a book that starts out amazing and then veers off in a completely stupid direction. You feel like you're really getting into his head, you can spot repetitions and patterns in his themes - it's a joy.

Don't know if he's contemporary enough for you, but he's got you covered on strange.
posted by crinklebat at 12:37 AM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've just picked up on a husband and wife writing team from the sixties: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Try the 10 novel "Martin Beck" detective stories.

Beck, an enigmatic, unhappily married character arguably set the trend for the world weary detective characters we see proliferating book shelves today.

Should be a decent summer read.
posted by baggymp at 1:31 AM on May 24, 2008

Leon Uris' debut novel Battle Cry (1953), the story of a battalion of Marines during World War II received favorable reviews from both critics and readers. In 1953 Uris went to Hollywood to write the screenplay of the novel. Subsequently he wrote an original screenplay western, Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957). The film depicted the defeat of the Clanton Gang by Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

The Angry Hills (1955) was an account of the Jewish brigade from Palestine that fought with the British army in Greece in World War II. In 1956 Uris covered the Arab-Israeli fighting as a war correspondent. Two years later appeared Exodus. Exodus became an international publishing phenomenon, the biggest bestseller in the United States since Gone with the Wind. Exodus dealt with the struggle to establish and defend the state of Israel. The birth of a new nation was depicted through several characters but the story of an American nurse and an Israeli freedom fighter formed the nucleus of the work.

For the next novel Uris collected material from the Memorial Archives in Warsaw and interviewed the survivors of the Holocaust. Mila 18 (1961) was set in the midst of the Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Nazis in 1943. The title of the novel referred to the address of the command post for the Jewish resistance in the city.

In 1964 Uris and his British publisher were sued for libel by a Polish doctor, Wladislaw Dering. He claimed that Uris had mentioned him by name as one of the surgeons who had committed atrocities against the Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz. The court ruled against Uris but ordered Dr. Dering to pay the legal costs of both sides. He was awarded only a halfpenny for damage. The incident provided basis for the novel Q.B. VII (Queen's Bench Seven), which was published in 1970 and dealt with British legal practices.

The background of Topaz (1967) was like from a spy story. An exiled French diplomat, who did not support DeGaulle's foreign policy, approached Uris with papers containing information about French Intelligence Service. The publication of Topaz caused a serious conflict inside the French government.

Trinity (1976) was based upon Uris' Irish experiences. While living in Dublin, he had written a photo-essay entitled Ireland, a Terrible Beauty (1975). Trinity was a chronicle of a Northern Irish farm family from the 1840s to 1916, whose fate is connected with two other families, one representing the British aristocracy and the other coming from Scotland. The central characters are a young Catholic rebel and a Protestant girl, who try to find their own place in the country divided by religion and wealth. The story of the Larkin family continued in The Redemption (1995). These two are my favorite works by Uris.

In The Haj (1984) Uris returned to the lands of Palestine. It depicted the lives of Palestinian Arabs from World War I to the Suez war of 1956. Uris was threatened by some extremist Arab groups, although this time the tragedy in the Middle East was seen through the experience of the Arab nations.

Mitla Pass (1988) was a semi-autobiographical account of the Sinai campaign of 1956. On the eve of the '56 Sinai War, the protagonist joins the Israeli forces. He is parachuted to the key junction of Mitla Pass, deep behind enemy lines.
posted by netbros at 1:31 AM on May 24, 2008

Iain Banks - The Wasp Factory or The Bridge (or Crow Road or Espedair Street if you don't want too weird)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:00 AM on May 24, 2008

Said it before.. and i will say it again.

Cormac McCarthy... and Nthing David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:30 AM on May 24, 2008

Geek Love.
The Sheep Look Up.
And seconding Italo Calvino. If If On A Winter's Night A Traveller strikes you as a little precious and contrived, don't give up on him until you've sampled Marcovaldo.
posted by flabdablet at 3:04 AM on May 24, 2008

Agreed that there's not enough to go on here, other than just spouting favorite books/authors.

If that's the game, let me second McCarthy, Robbins and Stephenson. DeLillo is good but definitely hard to get into sometimes, so don't worry about that. (see also Foster-Wallace, David). And at the risk of starting a flame-war, I have to dis-endorse Gaiman. The man wrote great comic books, but the novels are full of way too much klunker dialogue and trope-rehashing for me.

Maybe some Borges?
posted by rokusan at 3:19 AM on May 24, 2008

Finnegans Wake of course. Read it aloud.
posted by Sitegeist at 4:24 AM on May 24, 2008

Boy, these threads really do turn into "I will plug my favorite author regardless of the tastes expressed by the poster" don't they?

Anyhow, based on the datapoints of early Paul Auster and Murakami, and Flann O'Brien, I would certainly second the David Mitchell recommendations. You might also try the rest of Auster's books (don't read his most recent, Travels in the Scriptorium, unless he becomes one of your favorite authors, however).

Other possibilities: Steve Erickson (not Stephen Erikson), Stephen Wright's M31 and Going Native, Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, yes any Jorge Luis Borges, you might give Latin Magical Realists like Garcia Marquez and Julio Cortazar a try, maybe David Cameron's Andorra, Gene Wolfe's Peace, pretty much any Christopher Priest, Peter Carey, if you want to get a taste of Pynchon start with Crying of Lot 49 rather than Gravity's Rainbow, and I would also add a second to Iain Banks' The Bridge for initial your data points.
posted by aught at 6:46 AM on May 24, 2008

I love the works of Auster and Murakami very much (haven't read O'Brien, for no good reason, even read At Swim, Two Boys back when it was published) and the last author I fell for haaaard was Roberto Bolaño. I made a post back in January where I collected his online short stories and it's a good place to start. Read a few of them, if you like them, the amazing Savage Detectives is available in most bookstores.

Since I'm recommending Spanish-language writers I can't help but mention Javier Marías, whose A Heart So White I read and enjoyed recently. All Souls is probably a better place to start. Currently I'm reading Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games, not far in but so far it's very good.
posted by Kattullus at 7:13 AM on May 24, 2008

Response by poster: You left this way too vague. Everyone's just going to recommend their favorite author.

Which would be fine in this case, assuming people weren't completely ignoring the few conditions I mentioned. I didn't have a terribly specific need here.

Many fine suggestions and many thanks to all for them!
posted by el_lupino at 7:25 AM on May 24, 2008

Lots of good things here, but think one person missing might be Umberto Eco. Try Foucalt's Pendulum, first ten pages you might think you're reading the DaVinci code, by 20 you'll realise you're reading something a lot more intresting.
posted by munchbunch at 7:51 AM on May 24, 2008

Has William Burroughs sunk down below the horizon too far to count as contemporary for you?

I don't even like him, but his influence is deep, ubiquitous, and undeniable, and his brilliance was so great that the mere afterglow still suffuses the entire literary landscape-- and no one is stranger.
posted by jamjam at 10:05 AM on May 24, 2008

Witold Gombrowicz!
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:20 AM on May 24, 2008

Or perhaps Witold Gombrowicz!
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:32 AM on May 24, 2008

Anything by David Mitchell.

Cloud Atlas is my personal favorite, but number9dream, Ghostwritten, and Black Swan Green are all equally wonderful. He likes to have characters and such that appear in all the books.

FWIW, I just finished the New York Trilogy and loved it... but, I'm also a DeLillo fan. (Try Underworld.)
posted by reductiondesign at 10:35 AM on May 24, 2008

I loved The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno, Tabloid Dreams by Robert Olen Butler, and The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead. Oh, and House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski (although parts of it are annoying).
posted by overglow at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2008

This is actually *not* my favorite author, but based on your criteria:

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.
posted by vertigo25 at 10:53 AM on May 24, 2008

You want weird? Try Joyce Carol Oates' Female of the Species. No Napalm Death after that...

(It is a short story book, however, as most of her work).
posted by neblina_matinal at 10:57 AM on May 24, 2008

I think aught and Kattullus have come closest to what you're looking for. Erickson, Wright, and Bolano are great suggestions (as are Gombrowicz, Cortazar, Calvino, Pynchon, Dick, Wallace, Danielewski, and Mitchell).

Other contemporary possibilities in this vein: Victor Pelevin, DBC Pierre, Alasdair Gray, Gary Shteyngart, Jeanette Winterson, Orhan Pamuk, Genichiro Takahashi, James Kelman, some of J.M. Coetzee. These aren't necessarily my favorites, but they do, in my mind, comprise a loose transnational fellowship of writers who've managed to find a way to shed the stricter dictates of realism without becoming too brittle (i.e., almost anything written in or around Brooklyn) or too literary (i.e., most of American postmodernism). Slightly older versions of this would include Angela Carter, Samuel Delany, Raymond Queneau, Nabokov, some of Georges Perec, Nathanael West, Felipe Alfau, and, of course, Borges and Kafka.
posted by dyoneo at 10:58 AM on May 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would enthusiastically recommend the great, underexposed Richard Yates. Start with Revolutionary Road or The Easter Parade. You'll know right away if you want to read more. Ford, Carver, Cheever, McGuane, etc. are all great too.

I would caution against reading anything by Danielewski unless you are the kind of person who actually uses the word "PoMo" in conversation with your fellow freshmen.
posted by inoculatedcities at 12:24 PM on May 24, 2008

If you liked Murakami you should read Kenzaburo Oe's A Personal Matter.
posted by The Straightener at 1:00 PM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Tom Robbins though I'd start with "Still Life With Woodpecker," his third book and move forward. If you like him then I would go back to "Roadside" and "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues." IMO. As for contemporary and strange, you really can't go wrong with Paul Di Filippo.
posted by Max McCarty at 10:16 PM on May 24, 2008

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