Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Desperate Cry For Help or, Your Host Asks for Book Recommendations

You know what's worse than a reading slump? Being able to read just about anything and not enjoying any of it. And that's where I've been for most of this year. I've read about 30 books since January (which is actually a bit low for me) and of them, perhaps four or five were genuinely enjoyable reads, books that captured my attention as opposed to just being a way to get through spare time. Truly joyous reading experiences, which used to be a staple of my life, have become vanishingly rare.

Which is where you, faithful AtWQ readers, come in: I want book recommendations. And not just good books. Not interesting or entertaining or diverting books. I want fantastic books. I want the books that made you grateful for their existence, the books that kept you up until 3 AM and made you late for work, the books you pressed into the hands of all your reading friends the moment you turned the last page. I want your all-time favorite books. Any genre, any style, any length, old or brand new. I'm in the mood for fun and plotty, but not so much so that there's nothing else to the book. I want something well-written, with interesting characters, and hopefully something to say--a few peas of meaning hidden under the french fries of plot. In short, I want a really good book.

So, if you would be so kind as to leave a comment (preferably with a bit more than a title--tell me what the book is about and why you love it as much as you do) I would truly appreciate it. And, lest I be accused of taking without giving, here's a recommendation of my own:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

What's it about: Two Jewish cousins in 1940s New York who invent a successful comic book character. Also magicians, escapist acts, the Holocaust, true love, homosexuality, the history of comic books in America, radio serials in the late 30s and early 40s, New York's bohemian art scene at around the same time, and Antarctica.

Why it's one of my all-time favorite books: Because Chabon achieves a near-perfect blend of rollicking adventure (and his ability to turn something as mundane as two young people meeting at a party into an adventure is nearly magical) and intense character exploration. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a novel about escape, which is sometimes necessary and sometimes destructive, and Chabon makes an exhaustive, fascinating study of this theme. It's also funny, romantic, and a heartfelt an ode to comic books and their history that managed to capture the heart of even this reluctant comic book reader.

OK, your turn.

33 comments:

Jon Rosebaugh said...

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

What's it about: Set during the Napoleonic wars, it begins in a place familiar to anyone who's touched "Master and Commander" -- in the heat of a naval battle. However, this is a world that has intelligent dragons (which are capable of speech), but which inexplicably seems to have followed the exact same course of development, even though dragons have been used for war since ancient China. If you can suspend that disbelief, though, you're in for quite an enjoyable story. I haven't a head for keeping lots of names straight, so I can't tell you if the battles "work", but I can assure you the character interactions do.

Why it's an all-time-favorite: Well, to be quite honest, I don't know if it will be. I only just read it last night, you see. But I think it will be; the characterization is superb, and I think it might be getting into some amusing political shenanigans soon, in one of the next few books. It hasn't got a hidden moral, unless you count the obvious sorts of things ("don't be an ass", etc), but all the same I think you'd likely enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

The last book that I've ordered people to read was Andreas Eschbach's The Carpet Makers (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0765314908/sr=8-1/qid=1149783988/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-0628357-6667932?%5Fencoding=UTF8).

I rattled on about it here: http://buymeaclue.livejournal.com/239859.html

Fred said...

Two favorites:

Leviathan by Paul Auster

What it's about: The back copy says it's "about friendship and betrayal, sexual desire and estrangement, and the unpredictable intrusions of violence in the everyday." It's also an exploration of the role that coincidence and chance play in our lives, like most of Auster's work, and how events and our interpretation of them can intersect or collide.

Why it's an all-time favorite: Well, pretty much because of everything above. It's also a really well told, entertaining story.

A Prayer for Own Meany by John Irving

What it's about: "Owen Meany, the only son of a New Hampshire granite quarrier, believes he is God's instrument; he is."

Why it's an all-time favorite: There are some books you wish were longer, not because they don't reach a satisfying conclusion, but because you feel like you've lived with the characters, grown accustomed to them, and you want more. Owen Meany was that kind of book for me. It's such a rich novel, Irving at his best, and I was genuinely sorry to see it end.

Fred said...

More recently read and recommended:

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Anonymous said...

Shards of Honor and Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold, for exactly the reason you give for loving the Chabon (which I also love). The prose is not nearly as stylish as Chabon's, but Bujold makes up for it, imo, with her insight, compassion, humor and glitterings of wit, and moments that just whack me behind the knees with their view beyond the horizon.

Sherwood Smith

Anonymous said...

Shards of Honor and Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold, for exactly the reason you give for loving the Chabon (which I also love). The prose is not nearly as stylish as Chabon's, but Bujold makes up for it, imo, with her insight, compassion, humor and glitterings of wit, and moments that just whack me behind the knees with their view beyond the horizon.

Sherwood Smith

Rachel said...

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

What it's about: "You too will marry a boy I choose" said Mrs Rupa Mehra to her younger daughter. Think Jane Austen in post-partition India.

Why it's an all-time favorite: It's more like moving to 1950s India for a few years than merely reading a book. Politics, economics, shoes, true love, tragedy. Every time I reread it - and few books stand up as well to multiple reads - I fall in love with a different character, and my heart gets broken again. It's also extremely funny.

If you like it you may also like: Mating by Norman Rush (think Jane Austen in the Peace Corps) and the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian (think Jane Austen told from the point of view of Frederick Wentworth).

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

What it's about: Giant extraterrestrial spiders join forces with capitalists to overcome fascism.

Why it's an all-time favourite: Three brilliantly-described civilizations smash into one another with far-reaching effects. Politics, economics, antigravity, true love, tragedy. One of the giant spiders reminds me of my father. Michael Frayn once said: "In a good play, everyone is right." This book is a bit like that.

If you like it you may also like: A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge (the sequel, written earlier); Consider Phlebas, by Iain M. Banks (the other pinnacle of hard-SF).

A few more suggestions: Pnin, by Nabokov; The Redundancy of Courage, by Timothy Mo.

Lazygal said...

A friend of mine called late last night to thank me for recommending Keri Hume's The Bone People. "Kerewin Holmes is a painter and a loner, convinced that "to care for anything is to invite disaster." Her isolation is disrupted one day when a six-year-old mute boy, Simon, breaks into her house. The sole survivor of a mysterious shipwreck, Simon has been adopted by a widower Maori factory worker, Joe Gillayley, who is both tender and horribly brutal toward the boy. Through shifting points of view, the novel reveals each character's thoughts and feelings as they struggle with the desire to connect and the fear of attachment."

It's one of those books I recommend to people, they resist reading it and then, when they finally do, they love it.

Anonymous said...

I’ve got a lot of books which might fit what you’re looking for. Assuming that you’ve read Lord of the Rings and The Book of the New Sun and Little, Big, here are some of my other favourites:

John Cowper Powys – A Glastonbury Romance: The Wikipedia plot description says that the book’s about “... the relationship between the modern world and Glastonbury, hub of numerous Grail legends and (according to some legends) the original Isle of Avalon. Early in the novel mystic John Geard becomes mayor of Glastonbury and attempts to turn it into the centre of a Grail-worshipping religion for the 20th century. At the same time an alliance of Anarchists, Marxists, and Jacobins try to turn Glastonbury into a commune while capitalist Phillip Crow mines the legendary Wookey Hole mines for tin and tries to industrialise the village. Other plotlines include those of the vicar Mat Dekker and his son Sam, jaded outsider John Crow, and the seemingly bipolar Welsh antiquarian Owen Evans.”

Why I love this book: Cowper’s voice and sensibility. His style, unlike anything I’ve ever read elsewhere; elliptical and encyclopaedic, unafraid to focus obsessively on an idea, the opposite of lyrical yet nevertheless compelling. His understanding of his characters, their background, their dream-lives, their repressions, their religious ideas, their sexuality, everything. The incredible comprehensiveness of his vision, a true literary omniscience; he’ll show a scene from the points-of-view of the human characters, of an owl flying by overhead, of an ant on a leaf nearby, of the unseen ghost of a Roman soldier who died two thousand years ago on that spot, and of the unknowable elemental forces which will never be mentioned again but whose conflict drives the whole of the book.

Powys wrote in the first half of the 20th century. Of all his books, A Glastonbury Romance is his most famous, and from what I’ve seen, his best. It, and his writing in general, is not for everyone. But those who like it, like it a lot. This is the first paragraph:

“At the striking of noon on a certain fifth of March, there occurred within a causal radius of Brandon railway-station and yet beyond the deepest pools of emptiness between the uttermost stellar systems one of those infinitesimal ripples in the creative silence of the First Cause which always occur when an exceptional stir of heightened consciousness agitates any living organism in this astronomical universe. Something passed at that moment, a wave, a motion, a vibration, too tenuous to be called magnetic, too subliminal to be called spiritual, between the soul of a particular human being who was emerging from a third-class carriage of the twelve-nineteen train from London and the divine-diabolic soul of the First Cause of all life.”

If you like that, there’s a thousand pages more waiting for you. (Although not all of it in such a high style.)

Um. I will try to be briefer for the rest.

Iain Sinclair – I don’t really have a specific book to recommend. I started with Lights Out for the Territory, a book of nonfiction essays, but I find all of Sinclair’s books to be of a piece; that’s not to say that they repeat themselves, only that they seem like different pieces of a single work, out of sequence and capable of being read in any given order. Note that I did not say a single story; narrative is very tenuous in Sinclair’s work. It’s there, but it’s his style that hits you and that compels me to read him. It’s terse, dense, clipped, and explosive. Sinclair deals a lot with what might be called the Matter of London; the city’s history, and the odd allusive links within that history. Sometimes he does this in nonfiction, sometimes in novels or poetry. Downriver won some awards, and is probably his best fictional piece; it’s nominally sf, too.

John Milton – Paradise Lost: An epic poem retelling the story of the creation of the world, a war in heaven, and the corruption of humanity (not necessarily in that order). I love this poem because it’s a powerful vision, a re-imagining of myth that makes the story live; I love it because the writing is perhaps the best sustained use of words on the printed page in the history of the English language; I love it because there are so many subtleties, complexities, and moral questions raised and hinted at; I love it because the telling of the story is so sharply constructed, and because it’s so well-done that even though you know every step of the way what’s going to happen and when, it still catches you by surprise.

Alan Moore – From Hell, A Disease of Language, Voice of the Fire: The first of these books is the Jack the Ripper killings presented as a symbolic meditation on society, history, gender, and myth. The second is a collection of two stage shows about (roughly) magic and the past which Moore put on, adapted into comics by Eddie Campbell (also Moore’s collaborator on From Hell), publoished here along with an interview Campbell conducted with Moore. The third is a prose novel, really a collection of linked short stories, which lays out the history of Moore’s home town through beheadings and Templars and witches and recurring symbols extending through time. Moore is one of my favourite living writers. His use of language is precise and powerful, his understanding of the world is profound enough to get lost in, and the construction of every one of his pieces is as keen, elegant, and perfect as a mathematical equation.

The English Romantics – Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, and Keats. All of them are great, or had moments of greatness. All of them can blow off the top of your head with their words. All of them are utterly distinct one from another. All of them, in one way or another, radical in their life and especially their works: Blake’s mythopoeic epics, Wordsworth’s nature-worship, Coleridge’s erudite supernaturalism, Shelley’s allegorical politics, Byron’s mordant gothic supernaturalism (and subversive wit), Keats’ sheer blossoming of talent with language. All of them deserve to be called visionaries.

Hope this helps you. God knows, there’s more where these came from.

Take care,
Matthew Surridge

RichM said...

Saturday by Ian McEwan

It follows a single day of a London neurosurgeon, a decent and talented man, which starts out with an almost offhand conflict but ends with a harrowing threat to his family. The choice that he makes in the last few pages is one that not every reader might have gone with if he or she were in the place of the protagonist, but the author skillfully helps us understand how it comes directly from his deepest convictions. Plus, he writes beautifully.

An anti-recommendation: you might want to give Chabon's first novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh a pass, or at least do not automatically boost it to the top of the stack until after your run of disappointing books has passed. It has its moments, now and then, but I didn't think it really earned "buy-in" on the part of this reader.

Nic said...

I'll second _A Suitable Boy_.

Continuing on the Anglo-Indian theme, you might try _Fasting, Feasting_ by Anita Desai. Beautifully-written two-part novel about the daily lives and quiet disappointments of a pair of Indian siblings struggling to find their places in society: an unmarried sister at home in India, a younger brother studying in the US. Wonderful characterisation.

I suspect you've already read some or all of the following, but all are highly recommended:

- Mary Doria Russell, _The Sparrow_. First contact gone hideously wrong, Jesuits in space, compelling central mystery, and heartbreak galore.

- Dorothy Dunnett, _Lymond Chronicles_. Best historical fiction ever; six volumes. Mid-sixteenth century nobleman, somewhat of the Shining Prince archetype, travels Europe and is embroiled in more political machinations than any one writer ought to be able to juggle. Gripping stories with an extremely strong sense of historical place and mindset, and so clever you'll need to read everything twice.

- Guy Gavriel Kay. _The Lions of al-Rassan_ is my favourite of his, but _Tigana_ is also particularly excellent. Densely-plotted, lyrically-written historical fantasy, filled with thought-provoking themes and fabulous characters. Definitely page-turning (and tear-jerking...).

Others: Michel Faber, _The Crimson Petal and the White_; Margaret Atwood, _Alias Grace_; Mikhail Bulgakov, _The Master and Margarita_. All of which are historical novels of one sort or another. Hmm. ;-)

Jodie said...

I was also going to recommend 'A Suitable Boy' and I'd also add that 'An Equal Music' by the same author is great (really quick overview: a man and woman meet again after years apart and come together through their music).

More recommendations are:
'Gould's Book of Fish' - Richard Flanagan

It's really hard to sum up so I'll just tell you why I love it. It's mind bending and it damn near shattered my brain as it is a troubling, confusing book. It's amazingly well written and with a vibrant cast of characters and it features a man who believes Victor Hugo is a god. What's not to like?

Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay:

A school trip goes horribly wrong when three girls and a teacher go missing in the outback.

I adored it because it was such a great example of a quintessentially British society thriving in a completly idfferent country. The early parts about the boarding school are like an adult version of Mallorey Towers but alongside this quaintness there's the mystical powers of the Hanging Rock and the Australian setting.

The Piano Tuner - Daniel Mason

Omg this book is brilliant. An expert piano tuner is ordered to the jungle to retune an excentric general's piano. It's hard to exaplin why this book is so great other than that it's beautifully written, it really is wonderful.

The Virgin Suicides - Jeffery Eugenides

I prefer this to Middlesex although I did enjoy that book as well. There's just something so strangely beautiful about this chronicle of the girls and their suicides. The collection of tiny pieces to make a picture that is little more than a piece itself.

Quick but enjoyable reads:
Empress Orchid - Anchee Min (a strong historical novel told from a female perspective).

The Pirates!In an Adventure with Scientists (the sillyest pirate book ever, great fun)

Driving Over Lemons - Chris Stewart (the first drummer for Genesis chronicles his move to an Andalucian farm in a delightful humourous travel abroad book).

phaedress said...

Seven Types of Ambiguity
by Elliot Perlman
Not to be confused with the book of the same name by William Empson, a dense exploration of verbal nuance. Perlman's book, however, refers extensively to Empson's.

This was my favourite book of the year, and I'm trying to think of what to say that's not a spoiler. Think Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying", if the charaters were exceptionally erudite and very much grounded in the issues of the day. It's immediate. It's real. It's complicated in narrative style and profound in emotional impact.

ca said...

Second Shards of Honor and associated series, with a major caveat: I love it, for the record, but it *is* sort of romance-fluffiness, if interestingly-plotted (and with glimmers of deepness underneath) romance-fluffiness. I honestly don't think Shards is written fabulously well-- but keep in mind it is her first book-- they get exponentially better as they go along, I think, and by the time the series gets to Mirror Dance/Memory I think it's phenomenal, for the reasons Sherwood Smith gives above. Those books really are an all-time favorite of mine.

You have, of course, read A.S. Byatt's Possession, right? Very sure, deft writing (the part where the pompous-academic style was parodied was awesome!), a plot, poets and poetry, including poems ostensibly written by the poets in the story... a favorite of mine.

To Kill a Mockingbird-- since you aren't in the US presumably you didn't have to read it in high school like we did? It's about what it means to be human, to grow up, to love (in all *but* the romantic sense, as it turns out), to live in the South several generations ago, with all that that implies. It's nominally about racism, but... not really. It's really about kids and families and communities. I know, I'm totally crappy at writing book recs. It sounds awfully sappy, but it isn't at all. This is one of my favorite books, ever.

The stories of Cordwainer Smith. I would start with the collection The Rediscovery of Man (the short one, NOT the complete-story-collection which has a lot of clunkers too), which oddly enough isn't available on amazon.com but is on amazon.co.uk, and which has all the best stories. They're quirky, fun (he likes to play with language a lot), romantic, layered-- they're good if you're looking for something fun, and equally good if you're looking for something deeper. My best friend, who doesn't read much sci-fi, read these and was bowled over by their brilliance.

Martin said...

Schooling by Heather McGowan

I bought this book on a whim based on the Jonathen Lethem cover quote. It was a book I knew nothing about and one I approached with no preconceptions. It blew me away. The best thing I read in 2004. Astonishing stream of consciousness novel told from the perspective of an adolescent girl at a Welsh boarding school.

Anonymous said...

Howdy,

Since you and I are very different in our reading interests I'll just state that sometimes a fella can feel that a scholary, journalistic, poetic, or even religous work can be meaningful, deeply challenging, and life changing. ("A guide to the preplexed" by Maimondes comes to my mind. And even, dare I say it? The Jew in the Lotus by Roger Klements).

But since you wanted fiction:

Kurt Vonnegut - I read everything of his and I'll be the first in line to buy his biography when it's published. Try "Breakfast of champions". It's the first of his I read. Life-changing wit and characters. And as funny as Hitler giving a blow-job to 500 pounds gorrila.

"White Noise" by Don DeLillo.

"Monkey or a journy to the west" I read it in Hebrew and don't know what's the best translation is. This is what I found though:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1570625816/002-7907221-8669601?v=glance&n=283155

"Indian Killer" by Sherman Alexie -Nobody is as sensetive, funny, ernest, lucid, and sexy as Sherman Alexie is in writing stories involving Native American people. When "Ten little Indians" came out in Hebrew I bought like five copies to share around.

Edward Gorey once said that this book is the perfect story. I tried reading it once in Baltimore and couldn't handle it. You night be able to though:)
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1570625816/002-7907221-8669601?v=glance&n=283155

Take care and keep in touch:

Hagay

Liz said...

I'm really not sure if what I like will be what you like, so I'm jsut going to recommend things anyway and you can choose.

I second the earlier recommendation of The Sparrow, although I suspect you may have already read that and I've forgotten whether you're on the side of rightheadedness or not.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson remains one of my all-time favourites. I love the characters, I love the intensely geeky matter, I love the split between the two timelines and the interlinks between them, and I love each and every overly detailed random digression Stephenson makes.

I've read Sharpe's Eagle by Bernard Cornwell half a dozen times. It's the first one he wrote and I think it's still the best. It's a tale of how Richard Sharpe, ruthless soldier-type, fights against the French in the Napoleonic Wars while also fighting a war against all the foppish officer types who don't know what real soldiering is about. It's fairly predictable, it's not beautifully written, and it takes a few liberties with the history, but it is amazingly fun.

Mae Travels said...

Hi Abigail,
I made a list for you:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/listmania/fullview/R3CYWL8LXE2CV4/103-5336391-2416614

Mae

Becky said...

The People of Paper by Salvador Placencia. A simple summary of the plot is beyond my powers, but it's ultimately about dealing with a lost love. There are immigrant flower pickers fighting a battle against Saturn, Mexican wrestlers, Rita Hayworth, and a baby Nostradamous. It's got a lot of textual tricks happening, but those are not just gimmicks; the structure serves a narrative purpose. I was actually wary of it at first, but soon found myself so caught up in it that when I resurfaced two days later I felt like I'd been in there a week. I've been recommending it to everyone ever since.

One more: Erasure by Percival Everett. It's about a black professor known for his dense, academic writing who gets fed up with the attention surrounding a new novel hailed by all as a gritty and realistic depiction of African American life (title: We's Lives In Da Ghetto) and writes a vicious satire of it (included in the book) under a pen name. His book is, of course, immediately celebrated and he has to deal with the ensuing attention. It's a favorite because it's so biting and makes me laugh even though it deals with very serious issues.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Thank you, everyone, for these great recommendations - keep 'em coming! I'm planning a trip to the used bookstore on Sunday, and I can see that I'm going to have a long list of titles to look out for.

A few responses:

I read A Prayer of Owen Meany a few years back, Fred. I remember liking it but also being quite puzzled by it - which is largely the same reaction I had to The World According to Garp. Bel Canto is a book that disappointed me - I didn't care about any of the characters.

Rich, I agree whole-heartedly about The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. After the fantastic Wonder Boys and the superb Kavalier and Clay, it was quite a disappointment.

Nic and Liz, I read The Sparrow not long after it came out and liked it quite a bit (although in recent years I've come to wonder about it - I'm not so sure that it would hold up to a rereading). The sequel, Children of God, was quite dreadful and unnecessary.

Ca, I have, of course, read Possession. It remains one of my absolute favorite novels. As, Liz, is Cryptonomicon.

Anonymous said...

I've got two.
The first is no insiders' tip: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. It is about an unnamed man who suddenly gets thrown out of his (very) normal life. He is forced to find a special sheep that is neccessary to an industrial tycoon with seedy contacts.
It is a very bizarre tour through modern Japan, full of strange characters and grotesque incidents.

The second is somewhat less known - it's an oldtimer (1921): Figures of Earth by James Branch Cabell. It's about a young swineherd who is about to become a great hero - but his motto is: "Mundus vult decipi." He doesn't lie, he just implies greatness where nothing is. But actually, it's more about human relations.
A very ironic and pikaresque story about an opportunist.

Oliver Kotowski

Niall Harrison said...

I've kinda resisted making an actual recommendation, since I have a sneaking suspicion our tastes don't actually overlap that much when it comes to the best of the best; but I'd be very interested to see your thoughts on Kim Stanley Robinson (as per our discussions about Ryman). Him, or some Stephen Baxter, anyway. :)

ca said...

Okay, I have a couple more that you may have read.

Mid-career stories by James Tiptree, Jr. (The early ones are a bit frothy, and the very late ones are way too depressing without being quite as good.) But only if you are in the mood for dark and depressing-- her stories tend to be about love and death. ("Love is the plan the plan is death" is... one of the best, an excellent story about aliens, and the title kind of sums it up.) I kind of think of these as in the same category as Pink Floyd (if you listen to that music) or Veronica Mars-- extremely good, but dark, and not what I need to be soaking up if I'm in the mood for light and upbeat. But when I'm in a sort of blackly humorous mood-- perfect.

The Dragon Waiting, John M. Ford. I am a complete sucker for Ford in general, but this one is the one I will recommend to others. Alternate history in which... there are certain kinds of magic, and Emperor Justinian in particular changes the course of history in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The book is not about him, but rather about (mostly) England in the time of Richard III. It may be easier to read if you have an English history book by you.

Because I adore Cordwainer Smith so much, I'm going to belabor this point and suggest particular stories you might want to start with: "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard" and "The Ballad of Lost C'mell" are the ones I see most frequently anthologized (the former is available in the Norton Anthology because it's a favorite of LeGuin's), and are both excellent introductions to his quirky universe.

Niall Harrison said...

Oh god yes, Tiptree! Get yourself a copy of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever immediately.

Niall Harrison said...

Oh god yes, Tiptree! Get yourself a copy of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever immediately.

ca said...

Yes! Her Smoke Rose Up Forever has all the best ones.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

OK, just so you know how much living in Israel sometimes sucks - I went to the used bookstore on Sunday, armed with a list as long as my arm. Of that list, I found a princely sum of one - one! - book in the used bookstore, and that was A Suitable Boy, which I don't believe I've ever not seen in just your average Steimatzky's (Israel's sole importer of English-language books, by which I mean Dan Brown, Danielle Steele, and a couple of others).

On the plus side, I found a copy of North and South and it's going like gangbusters.

Psybre said...

I must second the recommendation of The Master and Margaritta (Bulgakov) and suggest Steve (not Steven) Erickson's Arc D'X for when you are in the mood for the surreal. Reading it felt like a long story written by Harlan Ellison (while channeling Kathy Acker, dancing together with her as each character enters, arguing with her as each exits the stage).

amber said...

My recommendation is The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It's usually found in the Literature section of the bookstore, but could easily be placed in Science Fiction as well.

The Time Traveller's Wife is the story of Henry who suffers from time travel, as though it were a disease. Just as epileptics are prone to sudden seizures, Henry is prone to unexpected shifts in time. While he's happily enjoying life in 1984 he'll suddenly shift back to 1967, or forward to 2006. The book chronicles his life and relationship with a woman named Clare, who lives life in a linear fashion. Henry's time shifts usually take him to a place that has an emotional attachment for him, such as the first time he met Claire, or the death of his mother. In some cases the read and Henry don't understand the emotional attachment to a particular event until much later in the novel, which creates a lot of the book's intrigue.

Why do I love this book? I think it's amazing. It's the most original take on time travel that I've ever read. The author clearly explains how the time travel disease works without bogging the reader down with pages and pages of explaination. The main characters are well drawn and I think Niffenegger really captures the way a loving couple behave and interact with one another. She also has a wonderful way with words, able to make you laugh or stab you right through the heart with a single sentence. For me this book was definately a page turner that kept me up late into the night. Hope you enjoy it!

tikitu said...

Two oldies that you've probably already read, but if not you must (if only so we can hear what you think of 'em): A Canticle for Leibowitz (at LT), and Riddley Walker (LT).

Both near-future post-nuclear-holocaust. Canticle treats Catholicism as seriously as The Sparrow, but with much more wry humour (why I love it, I guess -- the writing certainly isn't stellar). This one qualifies as a light read.

Riddley, on the other hand, is a linguistic exercise, written as a diary in a future-projected dialect of English. It's not gimmicky like A Clockwork Orange, it's an essential part of the story: what it gives (and what I love about it) is total immersion into the mind of the character. Absolutely no infodumps, no "As you know your father the king", and so on. If you don't like it, though, you'll hate it. (Oh yeah: the story you get is worth telling, it's more than just the linguistic gimmick. But if you don't like the gimmick, you won't get to the story to enjoy it.)

Also a story collection I'm particularly fond of, Strange Dreams edited by Stephen R. Donaldson. (Contents list at Locus.) The criterion for inclusion was simply, stories Donaldson liked. And his taste seems to be better when reading than when writing. (Perhaps I should say "different", to avoid offending fans.)

Final word of thanks: I've been slowly working my way through your top recommendations, and they're spot-on right down the board. Thank you for taking the time to help us find the good stuff.

Stuart Douglas said...

Of the City of the Saved by Phil Purser-Hallard. It's ostensibly a spin-opff from a TV tie-in series, but outstrips it's apparent humble origins to become a truly outstanding first novel, full of wonderful ideas beautfully presented and scintillating prose serving a memorable and massively ambitious plot and setting.

Mechshafah Katana said...

So, I realize I'm a year and a half late on this, but I just discovered the blog and have been reading back through it. Absolutely fasinating, and a great procrastination tool.
I recomend the Thursday Next series (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten and First Among Sequels) by Jasper Fforde. They're set in an alternate England, the first four in the eighties, and the heroine works for the Litterary dectitives. In the first one, she has to go into Jane Eyre. There's quite zany, but a ton of fun.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Hi there,

Thanks for the recommendation. I've read the first three TN books, and though I found them inventive, I wasn't terrifically impressed with the writing or plotting. I think Nic from Eve's Alexandria has the first book (and the others, though she hasn't read them yet) pretty dead to rights in this entry.

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