Vacation Reading Recommendations?
July 17, 2008 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Can you all help me with some summer vacation reading recommendations? I trust your tastes implicitly. Helpful guidelines inside.

Planning a nice quiet summer vacation this year with lots of downtime for reading. I seem to be at a loss for what to take. My all time favorite vacation book was John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. Also like Douglas Coupland and Michael Chabon. Hunter S. Thompson. John Fante. (Not really looking to depress myself on my vaction though.) Guess I'm looking for some good dark, black humor that I can dive into easily. Thanks in advance.
posted by Otis to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Jonathan Lethem: start with Motherless Brooklyn or Fortress of Solitude. His most recent, You Don't Love Me Yet, is lighter and imho not as good as the other two I mentioned, but perhaps good for a summer read.
posted by aught at 7:50 AM on July 17, 2008

If you're looking a funny book, look no further than Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Funniest book ever. And if you like that, feel free to try his other books, but none of them are quite as good as Lamb.

Oddly enough, I'm about to finish A Confederacy of Dunces today!
posted by Grither at 7:58 AM on July 17, 2008

The Summer He Didn't Die
posted by timsteil at 8:03 AM on July 17, 2008

Given your list I think you would greatly enjoy Catch 22 if you haven't yet read it. Also David Foster Wallace's The Broom of the System is great for dark humor, one of the few books that has actually made me laugh out loud while reading.
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 8:03 AM on July 17, 2008

Some good dark humour also by Christopher Moore, A Dirty Job
posted by perpetualstroll at 8:06 AM on July 17, 2008

Actually yes, if you're going to have a LOT of time to read, and decide to give Christopher Moore a try, I would read A Dirty Job first, then read Lamb. I think A Dirty Job was my favorite of his non-Lamb books...
posted by Grither at 8:07 AM on July 17, 2008

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
posted by mattbucher at 8:12 AM on July 17, 2008

King Dorkis an easy summer read. Sortof darkish but funny.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 8:14 AM on July 17, 2008

Neil Gaiman. I'm not into fantasy or gothy stuff at all, but I really enjoyed both American Gods and Anansi Boys. I don't think I would consider them as... "solid" isn't really the word I'd use, but it's good enough... as the books you've mentioned, but they're cheeky and sarcastic and interesting without being twee or simplistic. Some similarity to ACOD in terms of the dialogue style, etc., and it flows very nicely. In other words: great for vacation.

I always recommend the two McSweeney's pulp anthologies, too, which include short stories by the likes of Chabon and his pals. Check this and this out. Very readable and rereadable :)
posted by Madamina at 8:28 AM on July 17, 2008

If you enjoyed John Fante, you'd probably like Raymond Chandler. Dark, black humor? Check. Easy to dive into? Check.
posted by chez shoes at 8:45 AM on July 17, 2008

I've recommended this to Dunces fans before: Fathead by Robert Lesser. Darker and stranger than CoD, but a hell of a read.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:03 AM on July 17, 2008

Oh and Carl Hiaasen's and Tim Dorsey's books are darkly humorous with some incredibly amusing characters.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:07 AM on July 17, 2008

Well, I recommend him all the time, so I might as well do it again.

Roberto Bolaño.

His books can be hilarious at times, in a very dark way. I made a post linking to his stories some time ago, which is one place to start. The Savage Detectives is his masterpiece (though 2666 is coming out and is supposed to be amazing) but I recommend starting with his short story collection: Last Evenings on Earth.

Also, Donald Barthelme. Hilarious short story writer. Can't recommend him highly enough. MetaFilter's very own Jessamyn collected a bunch of his stories on her website. I suggest you start there, see if you like it and then get one of his story collections from a bookstore or library.

Finally, Haruki Murakami. If you haven't read him, you should. Start with either Norwegian Wood (if you prefer realistic fiction), A Wild Sheep Chase (if you lean towards the fantastic) or Hard-boiled Wonderland (if you're a science fiction kinda guy).
posted by Kattullus at 9:08 AM on July 17, 2008

-Ryu Murakami
I strongly suggest Coin Locker Babies. It's not really funny in 'ha ha' sense, but definitely in a strange way. It's dark, beautiful, and all around crazy. Great for summer reading, you could lose hours at a time to it.

-Haruki Murakami (no relation to the former Murakami)
Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of The World is a real treasure. Not as dark as Ryu's work. Both this book and the above one have subtle elements of sci-fi if you're into that, too. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is his most popular book (at least, in the States). I haven't read it, but people have compared its style to that of...

-Tom Robbins
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamsas. A pretty wild ride, full of mystery and prose to make you laugh out loud. There's a born-again ape involved.

-Paul Auster
Moon Palace is the only book of his I've read, but I loved it so much I read it twice in a row. It's supposedly mostly an autobiography, and if that's true the man lead a pretty amazing young life. It made me fall in love with New York City all over again in a strange, beautiful way. Essential to read in the summer.

-Kurt Vonnegut
Anything. Anything at all. He's dark humor's half-crazed uncle.

-Chuck Palahnuik
Invisible Monsters or Survivor.

snip of user review of Survivor:
"SURVIVOR begins on its final page, and shoots backwards towards page 1, always reminding you of its approaching demise. Along with the novel, the narrator is apporaching his own demise, as he pilots a commandeered airplane waiting for it to crash and explode. In order to preserve his life story, he is speaking into the black-box on-flight recorder, hoping to wipe himself out and attain immortality at the same time.

What is his problem? Well, he is the last survivor of a suicide cult, a former indentured servant in the "real world". He also narrates of his tranistion from nobody to media messiah back to nobody. In it, Palahniuk takes on a wild ride through a satire of modern society in all its little nuances. Everything from Lobster eating to TV networks gets raked over the coals in this incediary novel."

If I think of any more, which I'm sure I will, I'll come back to post. Have fun!
posted by self at 9:10 AM on July 17, 2008

I have a feeling you might like Hilary Mantel's Fludd, and Beyond Black (and perhaps others by her, but these are the only two I've read so far). These are quite different from each other, but both are feasts of British veddy dry, black humor in bleak and desolate settings, that yet zing with life and wit. Her novels are definitely wickedly sly celebrations of all that is absurd (and blind and pigheaded) in the human soul, but remain surprisingly tender, and more than a touch surreal. Much more. I loved both of these because they are like nothing else I've ever read, and both are on my will-read-more-than-once list, though I will say that, I think, with both of them - more so with "Back to Black" - the journey is more important than the destination, or in other words, it's not the plot so much as the characterizations and observations that drive the story.

(btw, It seems sort of fitting that the author lives in a flat at the top of an old Victorian Asylum.)

You might also like House of Sleep (I love this book; give me gloomy, unsettling old houses overlooking the sea and bizarre storylines any day!), and/or What a Carve Up (for a blast of smart '80s semi-slapstick crazy) by Jonathan Coe.
posted by taz at 9:24 AM on July 17, 2008

Summer calls for some good travel reading --- I highly recommend Tim Cahill. Jaguars Ripped My Flesh is good, as is Pecked to Death by Ducks. Cahill reads like fiction, and yet it's all TRUE!

Also seconding Raymond Chandler.

And if you haven't read it already, The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy is funny/irreverent with a protagonist who is charming/exasperating.
posted by headnsouth at 9:24 AM on July 17, 2008

I must have made this recommendation 50 times on AskMe, but Foster-Wallace's Infinite Jest is really worth it. Funny as hell, and about right for a 10 day - 2 week holiday.
posted by roofus at 9:30 AM on July 17, 2008

"I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" by Tucker Max. WARNING: You must turn off your moral compass if you're going to read this book. Once you've read book, read about the lawsuit here.

P.S. This guy's name suits him perfectly.
posted by webhund at 9:32 AM on July 17, 2008

You've probably already read it, but Lolita is delightful.

I'll second the Infinite Jest recommendation, but if you don't have space in your luggage for that brick, David Foster Wallace's collections of short stories and essays are definitely worth reading as well.
posted by sinfony at 11:30 AM on July 17, 2008

'Satan Wants Me' by Robert Irwin is pretty funny, especially if you have some familiarity with recent esoteric groups and movements (particularly Crowley). And, yeah, it's kind of dark.
posted by BigSky at 1:38 PM on July 17, 2008

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
posted by kbuxton at 2:32 PM on July 17, 2008

roberto bolaño's the savage detectives? the structure makes it easy to pick up and put down. it's warm, sometimes funny, but not at all sentimental.
(his 2666 is awsomer still, but not out til november, and perhaps not the best choice is you want an undepressed vacation)
nyt review
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 3:31 PM on July 17, 2008

Thank you for all the great suggestions so far. I've had a good time investigating them all. I'll check back in afterward and report on what I ended up with.
posted by Otis at 4:57 AM on July 18, 2008

Must agree with all the suggestions for Christopher Moore. Lamb is by far the best.
Catch 22 would be a great choice as well.
Also, try The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. It was recommended to me around 12 years ago and I kept putting it off because I was wary of the war aspect. Finally read it about a month ago and it was spectacular.
posted by ezabeta at 8:34 PM on July 29, 2008

King Dork really hit the spot. That was a great read. Thanks again for all the other suggestions. I still have a stack of books to read.
posted by Otis at 3:56 PM on August 25, 2008

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