Read any good books lately?

Moderator note: while there are several draft posts in the queue, none are, as yet, ready to go today, so there will be fewer posts than usual (which is totally fine; this isn’t a “Hurry up and finish your posts!” post. I hate how many times I have to say “post” when talking about posts). We’ve had a truly impressive output these past few weeks, and it’s only to be expected that we can’t keep up that pace all the time. I’ll try to balance it out as best I can–probably publishing only two or three posts (aargh!) a day on slower days, and in the meantime, everyone keep writing and submitting at whatever rate works for you.

Back to the title: seriously, please recommend books to me. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to read anymore, so when I do, I like to be sure that I’m not going to waste it on books that are just kind of meh. I always try to get recommendations from friends, but most of them are in the same boat as me right now. Tell me about your favorite books! Recent favorites, old favorites, whatever. I’ll read anything that’s good.

And because it only feels fair to give some of my own: the authors I’m loving most at the moment are Mary Roach (hilarious nonfiction about a variety of touchy topics), Tana French (fantastic, character-driven murder mysteries), Kate Morton (for all your “This would make a great BBC miniseries” needs), and Junot Diaz, because duh, you already know he’s awesome. And I think the last book I read that really stuck with me in a “Oh god, what does anything even mean” kind of way was Michel Faber’s Under The Skin.

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58 Responses to Read any good books lately?

  1. old man fatima says:

    Anything at all by Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Salman Rushdie will do it for me, I can read the same sentence like 30 times it’s all so gorgeously written. I’m reading a book right now called The Pyrates by George McDonald Fraser, which is super fun and silly and reminds me a lot of the Princess Bride. Written very tongue in cheek. I recommend it heartily.

    • Simon Spidermonk says:

      Yes to both those guys! The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Rushdie was especially excellent, I thought, so much so that I gave my copy away in a fit of enthusiasm and now regret it. Also, I’ve been meaning to reread Love In The Time Of Cholera for a few years now.

      • old man fatima says:

        I keep lending out copies of The Moor’s Last Sigh and never getting them back. I think I’m the leading purchaser of that book. Next copy I buy is getting chained to my bookshelf…

        Don’t reread Love in the Time of Cholera, test out some of his other work! Of Love and other Demons is great, as is 100 Years of Solitude (duh). Autumn of the Patriarch is an absolutely amazing piece of work, but it is so difficult to get through because its basically one long sentence. Also, some of his short stories (Blacaman the Good, Vendor of Miracles; The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World; A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings) are just breathtaking.

        • One of my proudest moments back when I taught writing at a university was when I had my Freshman Comp class read A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings and finally, after an hour of discussion wherein I reassured them that it was okay if they were confused but I still wasn’t going to accept “I don’t know” as an answer, one of them finally raised his hand and said timidly, “Is he…maybe…making a point about…religion…??” I could have wept with joy. (I loved those kids, but they were not exactly the nation’s best and brightest.)

        • Simon Spidermonk says:

          I’ve read 100 Years of Solitude (yep, it was great). Coincidentally, I saw Of Love and Other Demons in the used book store about a week ago and had it in my hand to buy it, then decided to get The Holy Sinner by Thomas Mann instead, which I haven’t even opened yet. I started Autumn of the Patriarch once, a long time ago, and didn’t get very far, but I’m probably more patient in my old age. The Moor’s Last Sigh is another good Rushdie one, but they’re all good (with the exception of Fury – didn’t like that one). I’m pretty sure The Moor’s Last Sigh is the one that ends with the main character wishing that everyone would just calm the fuck down; it would solve so many problems. That springs to mind pretty regularly.

        • flanny says:

          I too 100% prefer 100 Years of Solitude to Love in the Time of Cholera. But I am also a heartless unromantic, so . . .

        • turnuptheac30 says:

          I really liked Love in the Time of Cholera but I hated both of the main characters and didn’t want them to end up together. His writing was so beautiful that it didn’t matter.

          Rushdie has been on my list for awhile, But I haven’t gotten around to him yet. I even have a few of his books but they are packed up in storage right now.

  2. I’m reading a filthy bad YA book called “Grasshopper Jungle.” I recommend reading absolutely anything else.

  3. pickpocket says:

    Has anyone not read Jack Handey’s The Stench of Honolulu yet? That book gave me great joy. After that I read The Time Machine Did It by Simpsons writer John Schwartzwelder, which was also very funny. I’m now almost finished with A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley which has some great insights and turns of phrase but is difficult to recommend due to its somewhat retrograde racial and sexual language and attitudes. It’s also a little too meandering after a great opening.

    • flanny says:

      I did read it! And I think I finished it, and while I liked it, I think I could have enjoyed myself just as much with a compilation of Deep Thoughts.
      Are you planning on reading Exley by Brock Clarke?

      • pickpocket says:

        I enjoyed how there were definitely some deep thoughts mixed into the narrative at points, like, “the more you flip something, like a pancake, the more flippable it becomes.” I hadn’t heard of the book Exley or its author before. Is that something you’ve read?

        • flanny says:

          I haven’t read Exley but I read Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by the same author and I enjoyed it. I’ve picked up Exley the book, but since I don’t know anything about Exley the man, I was intimidated to read it.

        • pickpocket says:

          I’ll check out the Clarke novel my next trip to a place of books, I do enjoy reading things thematically related

      • Casey says:

        Flanny, did you read “What I’d Say to the Martians”? It is a compilation of hilarious essays with some “Deep Thoughts” greatest hits mixed in. Here is the eponymous essay:

    • mordonez says:

      I don’t know that I’d hold those sorts of things against A Fan’s Notes. While a product of it’s time, I’m sure that Exley himself wouldn’t have claimed to be a model for how anyone should think or behave. It’s a vivid, funny, terribly sad self portrait of a depressed alcoholic. As such, not for everybody.

      However! I just found out that there’s a movie version starring Jerry Orbach, apparently? I had no idea!

      • pickpocket says:

        I take that point and it’s an issue that I haven’t really resolved for myself yet. You can definitely see that he is self-aware about some of it, but that doesn’t make it less cringe-inducing. It’s tricky because there seems to me to be no critical distance between author and narrator. I agree that it’s very funny in spots. I particularly like the Mr. Blue chapter.

  4. mordonez says:

    I really enjoyed a few recent sci-fi ish titles (which, to be honest, is where I tend to gravitate).

    Ann Leckie’s “Ancillary Justice” is, especially for a first novel, quite an achievement. In introducing a new “world”, it stays pretty far away from “and of course, you know that in this world, [exposition]” territory. The plot is pretty clever, the characters have nuance, and the book raises issues of societal power arrangements, morality, and a little Rashomon-esque stuff, sort of, that I can’t really describe (because spoilers).

    While not new, Daniel O’Malley’s “The Rook” is a little lighter, and is also an outstanding achievement in first novel-dom. I think it is the best possible outcome from this basic premise: woman wakes up with amnesia, slowly realizes that she works for a secretive government organization that handles all of the “things that go bump in the night” occurrences for the UK.
    It is a heck of a good time.

    I am also highly anticipating Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman, to be released here somewhat after the May 22 UK release (sigh). If you would like to read some other smart, funny…let’s say speculative fiction, go out and get The Gone Away World and Angelmaker.

    In comparison, I also just read a piece of dreck called “The Deaths of Tao” by Wesley Chu, almost entirely because I read the first book in the series. A somewhat interesting hook, but somehow executed with almost sub-Dan Brown level hamfistedness.

    • summerestherson says:

      I love The Rook! I read it twice in like 6 months. It’s so much fun! It’s like X-Men meets Men in Black meets Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series meets I don’t know what! I’m eagerly anticipating the next book!

      • mordonez says:

        Aargh he has not updated his blog since September! How dare he like his day job enough (??) to not quite and get us the next book posthaste?

        In addition to Harkaway, there is new Joe Abercrombie and new Lev Grossman on the horizon, though.

  5. flanny says:

    I think we talked about this on VG before, but has anyone ever seen Junot Diaz speak? He’s great. I love him even more in person than I do on the page. See him if you have a chance!
    If you like murder mysteries that are more fun & cozy-style than gritty, I want to recommend my very favorite series, the Hilary Tamar mysteries by Sarah Caudwell. They take place in the 80s and they follow a group of young barristers and an Oxford history professor as they solve crimes related to their law clients. There’s only four in the series and I think they’re out of print, but you can grab them online or at used bookstores. (Some editions even have Edward Gorey covers, and I’m trying to collect those.) My sister and I reread the whole batch at least once a year and mourn that there aren’t any more. They’re beautifully written and very funny and have good plots. If I could write a book like Sarah Caudwell, I would be a very happy person indeed.

  6. Harry Potter is always a solid choice.

    • Like 90% of the time when I’m all “I’m going to read something new today!” I end up rereading Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings again instead. They’re like comfort food.

  7. bubblestpb says:

    “Dirty Wars” by Jeremy Scahill is a fascinating, though depressing, read about the US Special Forces over the last two decades.

    I always recommend something by Jose Saramago or Haruki Murakami if it’s fiction you want.

  8. msmessica says:

    Have you read the Poisoner’s Handbook? I think as a Mary Roach fan you would enjoy it, lots of fun murder and science. I also really liked American Rose by Karen Abbot which is a fascinating Gypsy Rose Lee biography that also covers some of the history of burlesque in New York. I also read Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. The historical flashbacks in the book are much better than the modern storyline weaving them but it was a great read overall. Other magical realismish I read Night Circus and while the ending was a bit blah the worldbuilding of that crazy ass circus is very rich and fun to picture.

    If you want some light reading mystery stuff I picked up the Erin Solomon books by Jen Blood during a kindle sale to read on my commute and while the love triangle was like, “seriously, ugh,” I found the actual mystery in the first book very interesting the next two I still finished because the overall mystery, I assume, will be wrapped up in the planned fifth book but they weren’t as good. I just started the first Claire Dewitt book by Sara Gran and I like it so far.

  9. Wallflower says:

    I really enjoyed Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt and The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson (recommended by a fellow Monster). I’m currently reading The Book Thief and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children but I just started so I don’t know how they are yet. I love book recommendations!

  10. artdorkgirl says:

    The last novel I finished before school started back up was Neil Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, which frankly has grown on me since I finished it. If you enjoy very british things, the Discworld Series is always fun and fast. I would start with the third or fourth book in the series though, as the first 2 are a bit slow going and not as funny (and also, there really isn’t a reading order per se, but I enjoy doing things in order, so…).

    • mordonez says:

      Love Diamond Age. Maybe he will one day figure out how to write endings. I really enjoyed his post-Baroque Cycle books (Anathem and Reamde). So for those that need new doorstops (or e-doorstops) to read, hard to go wrong with Mr. Stephenson.

    • hotspur says:

      I enjoyed Snowcrash but also felt somewhat exhausted by it. Consequently I have Diamond Age on my kindle but fear it.

      • artdorkgirl says:

        I LOVED Snowcrash and suffered through the Baroque Cycle, although i found enough good in it that I’m happy I read them. The Diamond Age, I felt, was sort of a slog for me in the beginning because I knew “important things” were happening but putting the pieces together was a bit slow. And I’m still conflicted about the ending. But I would recommend it.

  11. collin0truckasaurus says:

    I’m still in the middle of GOT, so I’ll recommend anything by Douglas Coupland. Great great great.

  12. Casey says:

    The most engrossing thing I’ve read in the past year was probably Bill Bryson’s “A Short HIstory of Nearly Everything.” It’s a great overview of the birth of the universe, our solar system, the earth, the evolution of scientific thought, sociology, etc., BUT it is really funny and reads like an awesome uncle is clueing you in to all of this fascinating stuff that you’ve always kind of wondered about. I would recommend it big time to anyone that hasn’t picked it up.

    Lately I’ve been reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (I must be entering my second teens) and Rinzler’s “Making of Star Wars” book, which is just comfort food, really.

  13. gradstudentsaretheworst says:

    Just read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas). A Dutch trade accountant falls in love with a Japanese handmaiden in late 18th century Japan. Simple set up, but it’s a rumination on the philosophical questions of science vs. faith, open vs. closed societies disguised as an adventure story. While Cloud Atlas strung together 6-7 stories across time and place, Thousand Autumns visits and revisits side characters, giving their perspective on the events taking place and the myriad consequences our motivations and actions have on others. Mitchell is an astoundingly talented young(-ish) writer, and the novel is poetically written and excellently researched (Mitchell thanks a sabbatical at a Dutch academic society in his references).

  14. summerestherson says:

    I mentioned it above, but the Thursday Next series is so much fun! Basically anything by Jasper Fforde is guaranteed to be really fun for a bookworm with a penchant for the fantastic. So! The Thursday Next series is about this woman in an alternate timeline UK (there’s all kinds of weird little changes, like we’ve figured out how to bring back extinct species, but we also don’t have jet travel) who works for England’s “weird shit” policing division. She discovers an ability to literally jump into books and adventures are had. The first book is called The Eyre Affair and she and Rochester are like best buds, it’s so great. Highly recommend!

    I also started reading Wolf Hall the other day and I’m really enjoying it so far!

  15. hotspur says:

    I am still plodding through Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein. I got through about 40 pages at the laundromat — much of that was a speech about the aesthetics of sculpture letting me know that Heinlein hates abstract modernism, and some more was very awkward talk about sex — so I’m 40 pages closer to reading something else instead. This book, oof. I think it single-handedly has killed the science fiction genre for me, for the rest of 2014 at least. That’s a shame, because I found some cool sci-fi things the past couple years. One that I’d recommend to anyone* is Poul Anderson’s High Crusade. It is quick and strictly entertaining — sometimes I forget that a book can just be fun. It is about aliens who land in Medieval England, hoping to wave around a ray gun and terrify the primitives into quick subjugation. But they have fucked with the wrong barony and instantly it does not go smoothly for them. Another book I’d prolly suggest is The Anubis Gate by Tim Powers, which maybe transcends the genre. It has time travel and magic in it, but it definitely cares more about the characters and settings.

    *I actually did recommend High Crusade to a friend who reads a lot of sci fi & fantasy and he hated it. He said it wasn’t realistic. This from a guy who loves tales about how the fate of the elf world hinges on the bravery of one wizard battling a dragon army or whatever? Sure. High Crusade is not of the realism school. Don’t expect Frank Norris you guys.

  16. Sota says:

    I wish I could show off with some sort of fancy book I have been reading, but really I’ve been doing a bunch of mindless reading lately. It’s winter…im just looking for an escape.

    Most recently, I have been reading the Divergent series so I would be prepared for the upcoming movies. Frankly, I am unenthused. If you want your Hunger Games novels blended with the teen angst of Twilight, then this series is perfect for you. I was into book 1 and liked it…book 2 was just total meh…now Im halfway through book 3 and im just desperate for this series to end.

    On a separate note, if you haven’t yet read Mindy Kaling’s book, I highly recommend it. It’s a total beach read, finish in a day sort of scenario, but highly entertaining and funny.

    • FRQ says:

      I’m glad you posted this, because I was just about ready to ask about the Divergent series. A small circle of people I know have been raving about it, but I’m not really interested in another YA series (the fact that I read The Hunger Games was a fluke).

      I don’t have much in the way of book recommendations, as I don’t really get a chance to read. I’m already behind on TV shows, video games and movies, and like a broken record, I once again have to mention the incessant flow of stories from my RSS feeds. I got David Sedaris’ new book a couple weeks ago and it’s been sitting in my tablet collecting e-dust. If I ever get around to it, I may or may not recommend it.

    • Commentatrix says:

      I agree about Divergent. I couldn’t even tell you anything that happened in Book 2. And I wasn’t even that into Book 1. The premise was interesting, but the plot doesn’t really live up to the attempted Big Themes of the novel.

  17. Commentatrix says:

    Though these books are not super recent, I would like to say that I would read anything Marilynne Robinson ever writes. Gilead and Home are just achingly beautiful. I still haven’t gotten around to reading her first novel, Housekeeping, though. Because in my mind I’ve been saving it for a special occasion. I was also really impressed with A Visit from the Goon Squad a few years ago. I haven’t read anything that stayed with me quite the same way since.

    I also read a good YA novel called Eleanor & Park recently. Teen love done right. I recommend it if that’s the sort of thing you might like to read. Plus the ’90s!

    I also liked Justin Cronin’s The Passage when it came out, but I’ve been putting off reading the sequel that came out last year (?) because it’s just such a behemoth of a thing. Plus I hardly even remember all the characters from the first book, and there’s no way I’m re-reading that OTHER behemoth of a thing.

    • taoreader says:

      I’m glad you brought up Marilynne Robinson. I keep meaning to read her, and I keep forgetting!

    • I loved The Passage and HATED the sequel. I was so disappointed. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but to me it seemed like he went from something really unique and innovative in the first one to a big ol’ mishmash of tired, stereotypical post-apocalyptic/sci-fi tropes in the second.

  18. taoreader says:

    Wow, Monsters are such smart, savvy readers! I love all these book ideas, including the lighter fare.

    I’ve read so many good books lately. These are all on my kindle.

    In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: So amazingly written. First book of journalism written using fiction techniques. Which led me to:

    Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clark: Smart, detailed portrait one of the greatest and most famous authors of the 20th century

    Seven Deadly Sins by David Walsh: The years-long effort by the author to expose Lance Armstrong’s illegal doping. A pretty damning portrait of a great athlete who turns out to be a bully and a liar.

    The Orphan Master’s Son: Incredible. Can’t say enough wonderful things about this book. An orphan climbs the brutal ranks of North Korea’s political and military system to work next to the Dear Leader himself. A story of fate and love.

    Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright: Includes a comprehensive biography of L. Ron Hubbard. As balanced as any book can be that clearly illustrates how this “religion” bleeds money from people, manipulates believers, and ruins lives.

    Zelda: A Biography by Nancy Milford: An engaging portrait of Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. A story of marriage, professional jealousy, illusions smashed, and madness.

    • artdorkgirl says:

      I want to read Zelda, partly because I’m a sucker for stories where the people are insane, but also because it seems like she got a raw deal it the Fitzgerald myth and I’d like to see how and why. And I promise (to you Kelly, whereever you are!) that I will read Going Clear.

      • taoreader says:

        I agree about Zelda. This book gives a lot of insight into what she put up with being married to Fitzgerald. She also did so much writing herself, which Scott often took credit for. They loved each other, but their marriage was a hot mess.

  19. Commentatrix says:

    Somewhat unrelated question apropos of posting:

    What’s the story behind Casey’s post titled “Let’s Cheer Up Drake”? I keep seeing that in the Dashboard and have been wondering what’s wrong with Drake for over two weeks! IS HE EVEN STILL IN NEED OF CHEERING UP ANYMORE?

    I figured that there must be an administrative reason why that’s not been published yet, but my God, I can’t take the suspense anymore! The wooooaaaaarld neeeeds to kneeeeeoooooow!

    • Ha! It was a time-sensitive post that I didn’t realize was time-sensitive because I’m dumb, so by the time I was ready to post it I realized, oh shit, that happened last week. So I asked him if he still wanted me to post it and he said it was no big deal. (It was about Macklemore at the Grammys.)

  20. Commentatrix says:

    Ohhh, I think I know this! Was it about those quotes he gave to some magazine about Macklemore’s faux-pology to *only* Kendrick Lamar?

    • Commentatrix says:

      Ugh, reply-fail…

    • Yeah. I read the title of the post and assumed it was about his song lyrics, so I left it because at that point, there were a lot of submissions about stuff that had to go up right away. I am not, as the youths would say, “with it” when it comes to music or music industry news.

  21. turnuptheac30 says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of books that fall under the ‘memoirs of food blogger’ category. It’s a strange genera, I know. My favorite so far has been “My Berlin Kitchen’ by Luisa Weiss. It’s about the daughter of an Italian woman and American man growing up mostly in Germany and how this multicultural background impacted her sense of home and how she used cooking to ground herself whenever she felt out of place/homesick.

    I actually liked my most recent book club book as it involved neither Nazis or cancer. It was ‘Of Bees and Mist’ by Erick Setiawan. It’s magical realism that’s really not as good as the masters of that category but it was a fun read, imo.

    And I finally got around to reading ‘Mansfield Park’ and I don’t really know how I feel about it. I think I liked it? But I also think the whole Mr Crawford thing was total bs and Edmund was kind of a prick.

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