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The Booklist 2005 Project

In the past, this has been my method for determining my reading list:

  1. Go to library
  2. Wander over to "new releases" section
  3. Judge books by cover
This has led me to some great stuff. Unfortunately, it has also resulted in long stretches of mediocrity.

One of those stretches was the year affectionately known as 2004, and I said as much in my annual recap. But then, as an afterthought, I asked readers to send me recommendations for future reading.

And boy-howdie, did I get 'em. And it would be a shame to let them go to waste. So this year I'm going to try the Booklist 2005 project, and try and plow through the majority of the books that were endorsed by dy readers. And although I was terribly lax about writing book reviews last year, I intend to comment on every B2K Project novel I read on these virtual pages.

Here is my current list of a dozen (Update: now 20) books. Below it are some 25 more, that I will add to the list if they receive seconds from commenters. And if you know of something that really, really ought to be on here but isn't mentioned at all, you can put that in the comments as well. (Although, given the rate at which I read books, the list as it stands is probably sufficient to keep me in fiction until 2008).

The Current List
(i.e., books that received a second and/or intrigued me)

  • Annals of the Black Company, Glen Cook [Read first 20 pages, didn't like. May try again later.]
  • Civilwarland in Bad Decline, George Saunders [Done!]
  • Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell [Done!]
  • The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon [Done!]
  • Eastern Standard Tribe, Cory Doctorow [Done!]
  • The Elementary Particles, Michel Houellebecq
  • Freedom & Necessity, Stephen Brust and Emma Bull
  • Game of Thrones, George Martin [Have -- trying to find a sufficient block of time to read]
  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  • Gringos, Charles Portis [Don't like -- abandoned.]
  • Hardboiled Wonderland And The End Of The World, Haruki Murakami
  • House of Leaves, Mark Z. Dainielewski [Done! One of my favorite books of all-time!]
  • An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
  • Oracle Night, Paul Auster [Done!]
  • Oryx and Crak, Margaret Atwood
  • Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke [Yeah, it was okay ...]
  • The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon [Enjoyable, but not fantastic]
  • The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger [Done!]
  • Wicked: The Life And Times Of The Wicked Witch Of The West, Gregory Maguire

(i.e., books in need of a second)

  • The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
  • Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
  • Dirt Music, Tim Winton
  • The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, Minister Faust
  • Facing the Music, Larry Brown
  • The Fermata, Nicholson Baker
  • Little Children, Tom Perrotta
  • The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
  • McCarthy's Bar, Pete McCarthy
  • The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Pattern Recognition, William Gibson
  • Pest Control, Bill Fitzhugh
  • The Plot Against America, Philip Rothv
  • Seven Types of Ambiguity, Elliot Perlman
  • Sock, Penn Jillette
  • Star of the Sea, Joseph O'Conner
  • Sunshine, Robin McKinley
  • The Towers of Trebizond, Rose Macaulay
  • When the Nines Roll Over, David Benioff

P.S.1. These are all fiction recommendations, because that's what I specifically asked for in my recap. But, if suggesting brand new titles, non-fiction is also welcomed.

P.S.2. Feel free to warn me away from any books I am considering if you're so inclined. You guys are picking these, so the more input the better.

Posted on February 16, 2005 to Books


You should seriously consider addind a Bill Fitzhugh on to the list. I think Organ Grinders or Pest Control would be right up your alley

Posted by: Katie on February 17, 2005 12:33 PM

I just read Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubenstein, about a bank robber in post-Communist Hungary. It is a very fun, fast non-fiction read.

Posted by: Megan on February 17, 2005 12:43 PM

I wonder about "Hardboiled Wonderland And The End Of The World." How well did this translate to english? Anyone know?

Posted by: ephon on February 17, 2005 12:45 PM

George Martin wrote a wonderful series, but it's not to everyone's taste. It is epic fantasy, and when I say 'epic', I'm not joking around. If you tend to get attached to characters, this is not the book for you.

Posted by: Josh on February 17, 2005 12:50 PM

Oryx And Crake is excellent. Both disturbing and wonderful.

You are missing Altered Carbon from your list, which is one of the most enjoyable n=books I've read in years.

Posted by: dan on February 17, 2005 12:51 PM

You might want to add a couple of the short stories by Harlan Ellison. The ones that I would recommend are: "The Sky is Burning", "The Wimper of Whipped Dogs", "Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans", and "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream". Most of them are pretty short, but pack a visceral punch. I highly recommend them.
Good luck with your reading list!

Posted by: Lani on February 17, 2005 12:54 PM

I was about to recommend House of Leaves, but was pleased to see that it was already on the list.

I would remove Wicked, as it's really more of a novelty than a novel. If it were physically possible, I would gladly trade the time that I spent reading it for 6 extra hours of random library book reading.

Posted by: Lynn on February 17, 2005 12:56 PM

I thought Wicked was fantastic. It might help, I guess, if you have childhood memories of the original books to be played with. Or something.

Posted by: yensen on February 17, 2005 12:59 PM

i will second anything by evelyn waugh, i love his writing.

i would question the mark haddon choice... it was ok, but i didn't find it terribly impressive. i would lump it with the stretch of mediocrity.

Posted by: greta on February 17, 2005 1:02 PM

I am not too sure what the rules for these recommendations are - is there a year limit, style of fiction, name of author?

but for the lack of knowing better, I recommend these:

Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson. Not for its geek value (it starts off all about computers and what-not which I don't mind, but some might) but for the interesting look into Summerian myths and thoughts on speech and language development.

Da Vinci's Code by Dan Brown. Everyone says this book is great, I personally found the story boring. I did, however, get mesmerised by the factual information used in this book. A whole plethora of Art History and interesting new tid-bits of information about famous paintings.

Dr Kay Scarpetta Series by Patricia Cornwell. There are about 10 books at the moment. They rock my world. Unfortunately other books by this author suck.

An Asian at My Table by Raybon Kan. Raybon is a New Zealand comedian and is very funny.

Posted by: Lana on February 17, 2005 1:06 PM

The Berrybender series by Larry McMurtry, beginning with "Sin Killer". About an aristocratic English family touring the American West, it is surely one of the *oddest* oaters you'll ever come across. Again, if you tend to get attached to characters, this may not be your best chcoice.

Posted by: Sue on February 17, 2005 1:10 PM

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt = must read.
And I second The Age of Innocence.

Posted by: Lauren on February 17, 2005 1:10 PM

I definately second _Snow Crash_, great book!

I will "first" _The Sparrow_ and _Children of God_ two books that make up the best "first contact" sci-fi story I have ever read.

_The Hyperion Cantos_ are another excellent sci-fi series, this one of four books. Space Opera writ large, a great mix of wonder, terror, and love.

If you are looking for Non-Fiction I recomend _A Distant Mirror_ and/or _The Guns of August_ by Barbara Tuckman. These are excellent history books about the 14th century and the start of WWI (respectively).


Posted by: Chris on February 17, 2005 1:14 PM

Yea, the Da Vinci Code is not that great in my opinion either. My personal theory is that it appealed to so many people because it made them feel clever, but all he really did was hit you over the head with the foreshadowing.

If you haven't read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri and you only want to read one, I recommend it rather than The Namesake. I liked The Namesake, but Interpreter of Maladies blew me away.

I'm less that thrilled with Cory Doctorow's writing, but he's de riguer I suppose.

Posted by: spygeek on February 17, 2005 1:14 PM

"Freedom and Necessity" was okay, but didn't earn a permanent place in my library, unlike all of Steven Brust's "Vlad Taltos" books. I will second the first three of the "Black Company" books, but I can't testify to any of the other ones.

Oddly enough, I haven't been reading much fiction lately. If you decide to dig into some non-fiction, I've recently read and would recommend "Pipe Dreams" and "The Smartest Guys in the Room", both of which concern the rise and fall of Enron. "Reefer Madness" by Eric Schlosser has given me rebuttal material to all the 'muricans who rant incessantly about immigrants. "Party of One: A Loner's Manifesto" will make you feel less weird if you are a true loner.

Posted by: C. on February 17, 2005 1:17 PM

I wholeheartedly recommend The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. I'm just finishing up the third book now, and I have enjoyed the books immensely so far.

Posted by: JP on February 17, 2005 1:19 PM

Seconding The Song of Ice and Fire series. Beautiful, beautiful.

Posted by: Laura on February 17, 2005 1:20 PM

Cloud Atlas is on the short list, and that's all that really matters.

Posted by: Greg on February 17, 2005 1:23 PM

May I recommend Little Children by Tom Perrotta...interesting characters and plot from the author of the book that the movie "Election" was based on. It'll make you think about how you will act around your neighbors as "Squirrely" grows up!

Posted by: Steve on February 17, 2005 1:32 PM

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is an excellent choice. I would happily second George R R Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series as well. I love how he creates complex characters. I love how he is not afraid to put them through the mill, and to let them develop and change. It's epic stuff, and never dull.

Posted by: Mae on February 17, 2005 1:40 PM

I can not recommend Civilwarland In Bad Decline highly enough: that guy is crazy. Crazy cool. Mimi Smartypants thinks so, too. An extra bonus about this book: it's short stories! So it's great for bus reading and other in-between times.

Posted by: leen on February 17, 2005 1:45 PM

P.S.! Pattern Recognition is great for about the first 4 chapters: cool ideas about brands and marketing and logos and stuff. Then it all goes to hell and feels like a really long episode of Alias. So probably don't put it up there on the main list, unless you find half-a-copy.

Posted by: leen on February 17, 2005 1:49 PM

Curious incident is well worth reading. Really shows how exceptionally frustrating it must sometimes be to live with someone with Aspergers.
Mcarthys bar is a great gentle read and wander thru Ireland. You must read the biog of Nick Drake, by PAtrick Humphries, if only to introduce yourself to his beautiful music.

Posted by: dave t on February 17, 2005 1:51 PM

Oryx and Crake isn't bad, but The Blind Assassin is a considerably better example of Atwood's work. (It might take you until 2008 all by itself, though.)

Posted by: Brendan on February 17, 2005 1:54 PM

The George Saunders was pretty good, at least good enough to cause me to seek out his other collection of short stories.

Benioff was an "eh". Enjoyable enough to read but seems to be something that will date itself very easily.

Loved Paul Auster's Oracle Night. But I love almost everything he writes (favorites: The New York Trilogy, In the Country of Last Things, The Book of Illusions)

I've had both The Corrections and Orynx and Crak on the shelf for months now, but can't bring myself to read either.
Instead I've opted for the newest T.C. Boyle (The Inner Circle) to be followed by the last part of the Neal Stephenson Baroque Cycle Series.

Posted by: missy on February 17, 2005 1:54 PM

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000844.html was enough to keep me from reading "the DaVinci Code."

I heartily recommend "Wicked."

I'd be curious to see what you say about "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night." I listened to an unabridged reading and thought the first half was brilliant and the second half just -- odd.

Posted by: enfanta on February 17, 2005 1:58 PM

Some of this may be old hat, but I've been taken with two authors recently: Nicholson Baker and Michael Chabon.

Nicholson Baker: I enjoyed "The Mezzanine" which is quite short and pretty much all footnotes.* My favorite of his, though, is "The Fermata," about what one might really do if blessed with the ability to stop time.

Michael Chabon: "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" won the Pulitzer, so there's that, but I'm mostly impressed with Chabon's versatility. "Kavalier and Clay" is pre-WWII NYC, "Summerland" is sci-fi, and "The Final Solution" is a must-read for anyone who loves Sherlock Holmes-like detective fiction.

* But it's fiction, so the footnotes are really digressions and so the whole thing ends up kinda like a web page where you can hop around and follow what you're interested in. Really. You've gotta read it to believe it.

Posted by: Dug Steen on February 17, 2005 2:03 PM

There's a YA book I'd recommend if you want to get away from adults-only fiction. It's the Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. I also read her newer book, Inkheart, which was good but not as engaging. I will also recommend anything by Dumas (the father) if you haven't already plowed through those. Count of Monte Cristo & 3 Musketeers especially.

Posted by: ranger on February 17, 2005 2:04 PM

I'll second Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
Best book I read last year. However I did find the length overwhelming at times. It's not a quick paced story.

Posted by: Rachel on February 17, 2005 2:06 PM

I'll second "The Sparrow", but not "Children of God", which did a big disservice to the first one.

A warning about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: the beginning is really slow. I think it's the best book I read all year (Cloud Atlas is up there, too), but it took a while to get into.

I'll also suggest _The Time Traveller's Wife_.

Posted by: wolfangel on February 17, 2005 2:12 PM

Wicked is an excellent read. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell is definetely a committment (I have a copy waiting to be read), as it is quite long. I just finished The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant and if you have any knowledge of 15th century Italy, you'll appreicate the historical accuracy. It's a very quick read, although very predictable at times.

Posted by: Jess on February 17, 2005 2:13 PM

Re: The Da Vinci Code

I didn't read it for the story or for his writing; I read it because I wanted to know his theories regarding the big MM. I enjoyed it quite a bit because of that, though I certainly admit the rest of it ain't great.

Posted by: Anonymous on February 17, 2005 2:14 PM

Most amazing little-known American novel of the last 25 years: Little, Big by John Crowley. Impossible to over-recommend.

If only one Murakami, make it Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

I think Diamond Age is better than Snow Crash, but maybe that's just me.

Anything you can find by Steve Erickson.

Posted by: marco on February 17, 2005 2:17 PM

The Lovely Bones is a great first novel by Alice Sebold. Slighly unbelievable toward the end, IMHO, but worth the read.

I'd also highly recommend The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. A fascinating premise about time travel. I was hooked from the first paragraph.

Love the site, by the way. Long time reader, first time poster.

Posted by: Kerri on February 17, 2005 2:18 PM

My recommendation was first published in 1999, but I just got to it. It is Plainsong by Kent Haruf.
I've only recommended it to one friend so far, because I do wonder if it is just a perfect book for me and my taste.

Posted by: Michael on February 17, 2005 2:20 PM

I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell -- I moped after finishing it. Life seemed pale without my nightly chapter or two.

If you haven't encountered China Mieville's particular brand of steampunk, go read Perdido Street Station. The buildup is slow, but once you hit the tipping point you realize how important all the details are.

Posted by: Melissa on February 17, 2005 2:23 PM

I hereby second Robin McKinley's Sunshine. It's different, but an awesome read. But then, I love all her stuff.

Posted by: Christina Holland on February 17, 2005 2:37 PM

Michel Houellebecq's "The Elementary Particles" will undoubtedly blow your mind. I had to read it a second time before I could recommend it to anyone. It has some rough edges and tons of graphic sex (I mean tons), but it rewards close reading (did I mention that it has tons of graphic sex?). This review of his latest book ( http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/?030707crbo_books ) made me get a copy.

Posted by: baitsell on February 17, 2005 2:42 PM

I found "Wind up Bird Chronicle" to be completely incomprehensible, knowing as little as I do about Japanese culture. It didn't teach me anything about it, either.
If you've never read Wharton, go with "Ethan Fromme" before Age of Innocence, to get a sense of her style/cynicism first. "Time Traveller's Wife" is interesting, beautiful, and devestating...but also fluffy, which is an impressive feat.

Posted by: Teresa on February 17, 2005 2:43 PM

If you've read any other Gibson, Patter Recognition isn't worth it -- it rehashes/resuses a lot of themes, character types, and plot devices as other Gibson. If you haven't read Gibson before (doubtful) read Neuromancer and Count Zero instead.

Posted by: Anonymous on February 17, 2005 2:46 PM

I'll fourth or fifth (what are we up to here?) the Martin series. It's so well done that he's made it hard to get interested in other books, so much so that I've read his series 3 times thus far.

I will suggest The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. It's a very smart blend of historical fiction, time traveling, and a very strange cast of characters.

Posted by: Eric on February 17, 2005 2:46 PM

You really must add "Otto has a birthday party" by Todd Parr and "Raindrop, plop!" by Wendy Cheyette Lewison. They're must-reads in my household.

Posted by: Owen on February 17, 2005 2:48 PM

I second "McCarthy's Bar." It's a really funny tale of his journey between pubs in Ireland. Good read.

Posted by: Bryen on February 17, 2005 2:49 PM

Not just Max's First Word, but any and all the Max and Ruby books by Rosemary Wells. Also her Voyage to the Bunny Planet box set.

Posted by: Margaret on February 17, 2005 2:53 PM

I would highly recommend Brideshead Revisited. I re-read it recently about 10 years after the first read and understood it in a completely different way.

The Corrections is brilliant. I'd also suggest The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon and Atonement by Ian McEwan.

Posted by: Andy on February 17, 2005 2:55 PM

One River by Wade Davis
Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West, by Cormac McCarthy
Yonder Stands Your Orphan, by Barry Hannah.

Posted by: mister anchovy on February 17, 2005 3:09 PM

I know your gamer friends are telling you that "Game of Thrones" is, like, the Best Book Ever... But it's not. Trust me.

Though, now I am much better equipped to describe strands of auburn hair caressing sun-dappled cheeks, purple doublets and velvet cloaks concealing vigilant blades of the finest steel.

Do yourself a favor and read something good, like Sam Lipsyte's "Home Land".

Posted by: MrChucho on February 17, 2005 3:10 PM

I'd also second Robin McKinley's Sunshine, and second The Sparrow and Children of God as well (both of them).

Snow crash was not my favorite of Neal Stephenson's. Actually, one that he wrote under the name of Steven Bury makes interesting reading - Interface - and I liked his early ecoterrorist novel, Zodiac, quite a bit.

My plug for a good comedy would be To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, found in the SF section. This was brought to mind by the similarity to the title of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which it probably has nothing at all to do with, but it's a great read nevertheless.

Great topic - I'll have to take the list with me on my next trip to the bookstore.

Posted by: Diane on February 17, 2005 3:18 PM

I vote yes to Pattern Recognition, no to Lovely Bones and Instance of the Fingerpost. Pears can write but he can't plot, Sebold is just too naive. Gibson is at his best when he abandons the future, imho. Out-of-left-field: Harpur-and-Iles crime novels by Bill James.

Posted by: JornB on February 17, 2005 3:25 PM

I read Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series and enjoyed it wholeheartedly. BUT. It's not finished yet. It's very much right in the middle of things. And as a Robert Jordan veteran, I can't help but raise a little red flag for that.

So if you can keep yourself otherwise occupied, book-wise, for the next few years, then I'd advise waiting. Just in case.

Posted by: Yet another goddamn Matt on February 17, 2005 3:32 PM

This non-fiction book is a great read. I couldn't put it down.

Posted by: Duane on February 17, 2005 3:35 PM

Glen Cook & George Martin are 2 of my favorites, they are masters of grim fantasy with George being the grimmest of the two but I can't recommend the enough. Glen has some wonderfully snarky and sarcastic characters that I really get attached to. If you like anti-heros at all, you'll really enjoy the Black Company books.

I just finished the Iain Pears Fingerpost book and loved it! At the beginning I found myself not really being that into it but it builds in the coolest way and by the last half of the book, I was utterly addicted. All in all that's a great list, I look forward to the reviews.

Posted by: Sam on February 17, 2005 3:38 PM

Some Canadian influence (not that I'm biased, but Canadian fiction is often a much more entertaining read than American) - descriptions ripped from Amazon:

Shelby by Pete McCormack (and also Understanding Ken if you can find it)
"Shelby Lewis, neurotic medical school hopeful, accidentally drops out of college and experiences life-or rather, in this bizarre and comical tale told by McCormack, allows life to get the better of him. Roaming through uncharted territory, giving up the strict order he previously placed on his life, Shelby falls for a woman who is a feminist stripper by night, crystals and tarot New Age eccentric by day. He tries to make sense of the odd group of characters he falls in with, including roommate Eric, lead singer in a band called Smegma Bomb!, and his parents, who are disappointed that they will not have a doctor for a son. Throughout, Shelby grapples with the changes he is experiencing as he haplessly wanders from one situation to the next. McCormack definitely has a gift for the absurd and for comic dialog with a bite. From musician to pseudopsychotherapist to library assistant in a public library, Shelby sees all, does all, but does he know all? The reader will have to decide."

Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow
"Seriocomic novel by Saul Bellow, published in 1959. The novel examines the midlife crisis of Eugene Henderson, an unhappy millionaire. The story concerns Henderson's search for meaning. A larger-than-life 55-year-old who has accumulated money, position, and a large family, he nonetheless feels unfulfilled. He makes a spiritual journey to Africa, where he draws emotional sustenance from experiences with African tribes. Deciding that his true destiny is as a healer, Henderson returns home, planning to enter medical school."

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, by Mordecai Richler.
"Duddy -- the third generation of a Jewish immigrant family in Montreal -- is combative, amoral, scheming, a liar, and totally hilarious. From his street days tormenting teachers at the Jewish academy to his time hustling four jobs at once in a grand plan to "be somebody," Duddy learns about living -- and the lesson is an outrageous roller-coaster ride through the human comedy. As Richler turns his blistering commentary on love, money, and politics, The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz becomes a lesson for us all...in laughter and in life."

A Chorus of Mushrooms, by Hiromi Goto
"The novel tells the story of three generations of Japanese Canadian women lives in Canada, who seeks their special identity: the grandma who refuses to give up from her Japanese roots (and who hides salted squid in her pockets...), her daughter Kaiku who wants to be "real" Canadian and therefore refuses to speak Japanese, and the grandchild, Murial-Morasaki who is in a quest for her Japanese roots and who struggles to find a cultural identity somewhere between the two.
This vivid life (and love) story is integrated with Japanese folk legends."

In British fiction, I'd suggest the following:

Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
" The novel is Rhys's answer to Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë's book had long haunted her, mostly for the story it did not tell--that of the madwoman in the attic, Rochester's terrible secret. Antoinette is Rhys's imagining of that locked-up woman, who in the end burns up the house and herself. Wide Sargasso Sea follows her voyage into the dark, both from her point of view and Rochester's. It is a voyage charged with soul-destroying lust. "I watched her die many times," observes the new husband. "In my way, not in hers. In sunlight, in shadow, by moonlight, by candlelight. In the long afternoons when the house was empty.""

Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks
"Readers who are entranced by the sweeping Anglo sagas of Masterpiece Theatre will devour Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks's historical drama. A bestseller in England, there's even a little high-toned erotica thrown into the mix to convince the doubtful. The book's hero, a 20-year-old Englishman named Stephen Wraysford, finds his true love on a trip to Amiens in 1910. Unfortunately, she's already married, the wife of a wealthy textile baron. Wrayford convinces her to leave a life of passionless comfort to be at his side, but things do not turn out according to plan. Wraysford is haunted by this doomed affair and carries it with him into the trenches of World War I. Birdsong derives most of its power from its descriptions of mud and blood, and Wraysford's attempt to retain a scrap of humanity while surrounded by it. There is a simultaneous description of his present-day granddaughter's quest to read his diaries, which is designed to give some sense of perspective; this device is only somewhat successful. Nevertheless, Birdsong is an unflinching war story that is bookended by romances and a rewarding read."

You can also likely find a lot of these on abebooks.com (network of used bookstores)

Posted by: Darren on February 17, 2005 3:43 PM

I'm going to have to second Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliott Perlman. Its a great read!

And if I may suggest a new book: Only Forward by Michael Marshal Smith. This book, everyone should read!

Posted by: jen on February 17, 2005 3:47 PM

McCarthy's Bar was very good. But more nonfiction as it tells the story of the author travelling around Ireland. very enjoyable read with a good feel for the country.

Posted by: Mary on February 17, 2005 3:57 PM

a hearty second for Shadow of the Wind. i saw Zafon recently at Elliot Bay Books and he was pretty much wonderful. anyone who has loved a book should read it. otherwise it's unclassifiable; it's in its third year as a Spanish bestseller without ever having a marketing strategy beyond passionate word of mouth. it's one of the best books i've ever read - and can millions of Spainiards really be wrong?

Posted by: Jennifer on February 17, 2005 4:06 PM

It's already on your main list, but you will read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in half a day, and you won't be sorry. It refreshing, and made me want to read more new books, something I can't say often.

Posted by: ec on February 17, 2005 4:10 PM

I love Atwood, but Oryx and Crake was awful. The only way I can understand the praise it sometimes receives is that the reviewers have never been exposed to the thoughtful science fiction that's being written these days.

Posted by: Tim at Mooselessness on February 17, 2005 4:34 PM

Hi, I've never posted before but I think this is a great question. I'm also always looking for new authors, so thanks for putting up the list, and to everyone else who commented.
Someone recommended "To Say Nothing of the Dog" and I wholeheartedly second it, it's tons of fun and one of the better books I've read in awhile. It helps if you've read "Three Men in a Boat" first, however.
I really enjoyed "The Eyre Affair" by Jasper Fforde and all of the sequels. Great adventure/comedy/semi-fantasy with huge emphasis on literary jokes.
You've probably read this at some point in your life, but if not, "The Once and Future King" by T.H.White is perhaps my all time favorite.
"Till We Have Faces" is a great character study by C.S. Lewis. I know none of these are new novels, but they could be new to you. :-P
Ok, that's it. Enjoy!

Posted by: Allison on February 17, 2005 5:14 PM

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

absurdly well-written book, you _must_ read this.

and, what's more, there's a tv series with the same name that's really a 9-hour-long FILM, as in Movie, that's even better in some aspects.

been on my re-re-re-re-reading list for 25 years now, revisiting the Film once every 3 years or so, enjoying every line and/or frame tremendously.

so, here's your Book _and_ Film for 2005 :-)

Posted by: H. Snel on February 17, 2005 5:34 PM

I hated Corrections by Jonathan Franzen SO so so so very much. I wanted to like it, there was so much good press. I slogged through the first 30% or so. Unrealistic characters, none of whom I had any sympathy for, doing unrealistic things. I still have the book sitting here on the shelf, so if you really want it, I would be happy to let it go to someone who might actually enjoy it. I live in Seattle and would gladly hand it off to a friendly home.

Posted by: kerewin on February 17, 2005 5:37 PM

I completely forgot to mention that I am LOVING the book Sideways by Rex Pickett. Even more so than the movie. Of course, I am a major wine dork so it was likely meant to be.

Posted by: kerewin on February 17, 2005 5:39 PM

Oh, yes, To Say Nothing of the Dog (Connie Willis) is highly thirded. I'd put Allison's suggestion as a command: this book HAS to be read immediately following Three Men in a Boat: To say Nothing of the Dog by Jerome K. Jerome. Also second her suggeston of "The Once and Future King." (T.H. White)

Posted by: Margaret on February 17, 2005 5:40 PM

I'd like to second "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri, I just finished that one.

Oh, and "To Say Nothing of the Dog" was one of my favorite books that I read last year. And I recommend "Resume with Monsters" if you haven't read that yet (William Browning Spencer or Spencer Browning, I can never remember the order of his names).

Also, if you'd like my copy of "House of Leaves" you're welcome to it, I could not get through that book. Send me an e-mail if you want it!

Posted by: Larisa on February 17, 2005 5:47 PM

I haven't read Paul Auster's "Oracle Night," but I did read his "Book of Illusions." A friend recommended it to me, and it was the best fiction book I've read in years.

By the way, I'm delurking to post this, and I dig your site. Keep up the great posts!

Posted by: Hoyt on February 17, 2005 6:12 PM

NO to Pattern Recognition -- I wrote a thesis chapter on it and it just really doesn't hold up. If you're interested in logos/branding/marketing, _The Savage Girl_ by Alex Shakar is much better.

Another one to consider is _The Bridge of San Luis Rey_ by Thornton Wilder. 127 pages, beautiful writing, interesting ideas. Tony Blair read the last page of it during Britain's ceremony to honor the citizens they lost in 9/11.

Posted by: maggie on February 17, 2005 6:38 PM

I third (or fourth?) "The Sparrow"--it was probably my favorite book this year.

I also liked "Perdido Street Station" by China Mieville, but I thought his "The Scar" was even better.

"The Da Vinci Code" was horrible; the ideas in it were interesting but you can find them elsewhere and not have to deal with his hideous writing.

As for nonfiction, "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell was fascinating, as was "Emperor of Scent" by Chandler Burr, which is partly about the science of how we smell things and partly about how the scientific community is not as noble as we might think, but mostly about a really interesting guy.

Posted by: Jenne on February 17, 2005 6:49 PM

I started House of Leaves last month, and it annoyed me off so much I had to stop halfway through it. But everyone else loooooves it, so maybe I'm just retarded.

Posted by: Sarah B. on February 17, 2005 6:53 PM

I second (again) Lovely Bones. I really enjoyed it and while it was a little far-fetched and somewhat creepy at times, I thought it was uplifting as a whole. Plus it's a fairly easy read. Also, if you want to read something of Dan Brown's, read Angels and Demons. It's much better than DaVinci Code.

Posted by: Ryan on February 17, 2005 6:59 PM

Cory Doctorow's "Eastern Standard Tribe" should jump to the top of the list, because it's a very short read.

And Cory is a severly underrated author. EST takes a couple of hours to read, tops, and it's free as in beer.

Posted by: Jake on February 17, 2005 7:07 PM

I second (or third or fourth) The Lovely Bones. It definitely requires the reader to embrace a "suspension of disbelief" in order to fully enjoy it, but is a stunning and emotional read nonetheless.

Also, it's Peter Jackson's next film project...

Posted by: Christina on February 17, 2005 7:12 PM

I'd recommend Red Thunder by John Varley. Good sort of...resurect the space program with deus ex machina stuff.

Posted by: Digger on February 17, 2005 7:30 PM

Oh yes. Lovely Bones was a very good read. And, although it's a little out of season, I highly recommend "The Stupidest Angel" by Chris Moore. Great stuff.

Posted by: greentuna on February 17, 2005 7:41 PM

I most definitely second The Age of Innocence. It may look like a chick's book, and it is ... but under all that I was fascinated by the detail to the social structure and niceties of the time/era/society.

The Lovely Bones-Also second it. Not as much as Age, but still a good read.

Posted by: HappyFunBall on February 17, 2005 7:43 PM

I vote No on both Strange and the Corrections.

Yes to the Mysterious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Posted by: taleswapper on February 17, 2005 7:53 PM

Yay for "Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold!! I love this book. Alice's writing is clean and crisp. What's interesting about this book is that the main character is deceased and is narrating the story as if she was an onlooker but in a non-scary, non-hokey way. Your list is getting pretty long or I'd recommend you also read "Lucky" which is by the same author. They're both quick reads which is a plus.

Posted by: daisigirl on February 17, 2005 7:54 PM

As far as a request for good nonfiction, I'd try The Cold War, A Very Short Introduction, Robert J. McMahon. He presents a concise and interesting picture of the Soviet US interactions in under 200 pages. In addition to the hoards of fiction already mentioned take a look at Kinky Friedman (what a name) or C.S. Forester (wrote The African Queen, and Beat to Quarters).

Posted by: Kate on February 17, 2005 8:10 PM

HUGE recommendation for "Perdido Street Station" -- so original and yet so accessible. I was smiling the whole time I read it (except for the parts where I was almost crying) because I was just so thrilled to have found such an amazing new (for me) voice/mind.

+ Strange & Norrell (also stunningly original yet strangely familiar)

+ Curious Incident (remarkable insight)

+ Lonely Bones (as a father, my emotional reaction to this book almost forced me to stop reading)

++ any Cory Doctorow (new one on the way, too)

+ Fermata (but you'll feel slightly dirty afterwards)

- Fingerpost (tried vainly to get caught up in it, but couldn't even finish)

- Plot Against America (interesting, but if I'm going to read Alternate History, I like it to be a bit more ambitious, like Harry Turtledove (he can't really write, but boy can he think))

And in the Non-fiction department, I am on a huge Bill Bryson bender right now (especially loved In A Sunburned Country).

Posted by: Rock Steady on February 17, 2005 8:17 PM

I would put Wicked back on. I quite enjoyed it - yes, part of the interest of the book is in it's subject matter, but it's well written and interesting plot-wise as well.

Oh, and another recomendation for Oryx and CrakE. Anything by Margaret Atwood (a Canadian like myself, to boot) is worth looking into. I hear the Handmaiden's Tale is quite good, and if you put it on your candidates list, I'm sure someone will second that.

Posted by: Amatheran on February 17, 2005 8:22 PM

Wow. Never actually commented here before, despite the fact that I am a very frequent reader of yours. But, looked over your booklist and I must very highly recommend Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I've always been a fan of her books, and I own all of them, but when I read Sunshine it blew me away. By far the best book I read in 2004 and if I read it again in '05 it will probably still be the best . . .

Posted by: Beth on February 17, 2005 8:46 PM

I'll give a vote for Kavalier and Clay. A great read about an early comic book writing team.

I wasn't HUGELY impressed by House of leaves, but it's definitely an interesting read.

And I can't really vote for Coyote Kings or Sock, since I'm the one who recommended them in the first place. Otherwise, I would heartily vote for them. Again.

And if anyone hasn't said any Christopher Moore, I'd go for that as well...

Posted by: Jago on February 17, 2005 9:36 PM

I would not recommend "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time". It's not bad, it just wasn't quite worth my precious little reading time (I have an infant, too - and a 4 year old...reading time is sparse!). If you still want it, you can email me at smithL98052ATyahooDOTcom and I'll send it to you, gratis. I had to read it for book club, and since I didn't like it much, I've had trouble persuading anyone else to borrow it.

I would highly recommend one already on your list, "The Time Traveler's Wife". I also read it for book club and absolutley loved it. You can't have my copy because my "borrow" list is already 3 people long and I've bought it for 2 birthday gifts besides.

I would also recommend "The Lovely Bones". The premise is a bit disturbing, but it's dealt with in (I think) such a redeeming way. My favorite review says, "The Lovely Bones is the kind of novel, that, once you're done, you may go visit in a bookstore and touch on the binding, just to remember the emotions you felt while reading it." And THAT is exactly how I felt about it. I absolutely fell in love with the dad in this book, and loved the tale itself.

Lastly, if you have not read "The Life of Pi" (I don't know, because I'm a new dy reader), DROP EVERYTHING ELSE ON YOUR LIST AND READ IT. RIGHT. NOW. Truly amazing.

I'm serious about the Curious Incident. I'll gladly send it your way if you want it.

Posted by: Leah on February 17, 2005 10:24 PM

I second quite a few of those on your list. Have to say though, I preferred Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" to "the Little Friend". The ending of the Little Friend annoyed me to no end- felt like a bit of a cop out. Maybe it's just me.

Posted by: taf on February 17, 2005 10:28 PM

"Wicked" and "Till We Have Faces" had a lot of potential but I think they both derailed somewhere along the way. I just didn't feel fulfilled after finishing them, but they were interesting enough that I spent time afterward thinking about all the more interesting ways things COULD have gone. You might want to put these off until you don't have another book in mind to read.

Posted by: Anonymous on February 17, 2005 10:33 PM

You won't go wrong with Haruki Murakami in any language.

Posted by: Mayinwinter on February 18, 2005 12:13 AM

I was intrigued by House of Leaves by Mark Z. Dainielewski, and even managed to get a third of the way through. But while it is an interesting conceit, as entertainment it leaves a lot to be desired. The hidden clues flew over my head - I couldn't spot anything of interest burried beneath the surface - and I got bored of waiting for something to happen. Not that things didn't happen, but nothing to live up to the initial premise.

Posted by: wetwebwork on February 18, 2005 12:27 AM

McCarthy’s Bar got me some funny looks for bursting out laughing on the train. Highly recommended.

Star of the Sea wasn’t too bad. Well worth reading though perhaps not a list topper.

One of the best reads of last year for me was ‘The Dark Heart of Italy’ by Tobias Jones.

I keep similar reading wish list s of books that I know I’ll never have time to read. It would be the only good thing about receiving a mid-length prison sentence.

Posted by: Lung the Younger on February 18, 2005 12:35 AM

"House of Leaves" is a gripping horror but definitely a book more people start than finish. It’s (literally) labyrinthine writing and inscrutable meta layers make it feel too much like an writing exercise at times. If you’re someone who gets “stuck” when reading i.e., can’t be arsed finishing the book your reading but are unwilling to start a new one, then you may want to give this one a warning flag. However in its favour it’s one of the few books I’ve read in recent years that have actually scared me.

I can’t recommend “Star of the Sea” enough – probably the best book I read last year. Joseph O’Conner (Sinead’s brother fact fans) takes the truisms and tropes of period drama and makes them fresh again. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Posted by: Pollo on February 18, 2005 1:40 AM

The Lovely Bones is superb - well-written and a page-turner, but it is terribly sad so just be fore-warned. I definitely second it. Sebold's other novel is similarly sad and uplifting but a bit too creepy for me.

Anything by Edith Wharton is good, but I liked Ethan Frome a lot better than The Age of Innocence. I enjoyed Wicked, Til We Have Faces, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (though that one takes a second read to really get it all in).

I'd like to nominate the best books that I read last year: War Crimes for the Home by Liz Jensen (hilarious, just get past the first couple of chapters and you're good), The Rule of Four by Caldwell & Thomason (DaVinci Code for the literate), and the works of P.G. Wodehouse if you've not tried him yet.

Posted by: Mags on February 18, 2005 2:06 AM

Fiction: Skip Brideshead Revisted - it's just a long grovel to the British aristocracy. Fine for those who think inherited wealth and family connections make a better world for the rest of us.
Two great books last year were Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime and "The Eye of the Lynx : Galileo, His Friends, and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History"
by David Freedberg. Non-fiction, but simply astonishing and engrossing to anyone with an interest in how the human race began to use observation, experiments and logical deduction to free itself from a religiously ordained view of the natural world.

Posted by: Philip on February 18, 2005 2:21 AM

Don't bother with "The Lovely Bones," it is facile and poorly written, imo. Most of the books look great though, I am really excited to read "The Cloud Atlas" myself.

Posted by: Rebecca on February 18, 2005 5:22 AM

I second the suggestion for Pest Control by Bill Fitzhugh. One of the funniest books I've ever read. Also, if you're still looking, I'd reccommend Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson. Or anything else by him, for that matter.

Posted by: Nathan on February 18, 2005 6:35 AM

Definite yes:

Time Traveler's Wife--just finished it, and thought it was outstanding. I suspect, though, that she won't have another particularly good book in her.

McCarthy's Bar--if you've spent any time in Ireland, it's particularly good. Laughed out loud in a few places, mostly just smiled a whole lot. If you're looking for a plot, though, you're out of luck, as it's mostly vignettes.

The Instance of the Fingerpost--it's a hell of a lot of book--almost three books, really. Very well written. It's hardly new, but very good.

Not necessarily recommended:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time--I didn't like it all that much. It was just thin, and seemed kind of forced. I give the guy props for making a very credible effort to give a view into the mind of an autistic, but it started to feel like a gimmick about halfway through. You should probably read it yourself just to be sure.

Posted by: bikeboy on February 18, 2005 7:16 AM

- George Martin is overrated. i didn't enjoy his first three from this series.

- The Three Musketeers

+ Ethan Frome

+ the Max books by Rosemary Wells for the S (especially if you want to affirm rascal-ness)

+ The Pentagon's New Map. non-fiction. most interesting recently-published book i read this year. if you're intrigued at all you can check out Barnett's website at www.thomaspmbarnett.com.

Posted by: Sean on February 18, 2005 7:21 AM

The Corrections was horrible. I threw it away, something I consider to be a terrible fate for any book, but I felt it was a piece of pulp with no redeeming value.

The Instance of the Fingerpost was tiresome. Avoid.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrrell very much - the segment with York Minster was what pulled me in, as I went to school there and it seemed an entirely likely history of the North of England.

The Lovely Bones was a good read, but not a great work of fiction.

If you are willing to read some non-fiction, I highly recommned the very entertaining Seven Daughter of Eve about how he discovered that all northern european women are descended from seven women. Really fascinating.

I also recommend Wise Children by Angela Carter. Clever and well-written. About twins from the "wrong side of the blanket" in an acting family in early 20th century London.

Recently I finished the final book in the Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series by Patrick O'Brien, and they were wonderful. Another 20 books is probably not what you are looking for, though!

Posted by: Hilary on February 18, 2005 7:22 AM

Also--I feel obligated to pan, as hard as I can, Game of Thrones. If you like unoriginal fantasy based loosely on what went on during the War of the Roses (complete with family names that ring of the real British ones) that leaves a huge open ending for the next book in the series, then you'll like it.

I thought it was shite.

Or course, I hate fantasy trilogies and series quite a lot, after having been suckered into so many by a decent first book.

Posted by: bikeboy on February 18, 2005 7:28 AM

Delurking because I just can't resist a request for book recommendations.

If you find yourself hankering for some anti-establishment non-fiction ('cause you're just not angry enough with the state of the world), I highly recommend "It's the Crude, Dude" by Linda McQuaig (I know, the title makes it sound like a Michael Moore wannabe book, but she's a terrific investigative reporter with a real flair for writing) and "The Corporation" by Joel Bakan (or you could just rent the DVD). And, they're both Canadians, eh.

Posted by: Ingrid on February 18, 2005 7:43 AM

I heartily second "Pattern Recognition" & "Jonathan Strange..."

"The Corrections" is highly overrated - don't bother.

My recommendation: Not recent but essential reading for all humans - "Earth" by David Brin.

Posted by: Charles on February 18, 2005 7:56 AM

I second Little Children -- depressing in some ways, but really, really interesting. A scary look at suburbia.

Someone else mentioned that they liked "Secret History" by Donna Tartt beter than "The Little Friend." I agree with that. I thought "SH" was much better.

Posted by: Rosemary on February 18, 2005 8:07 AM

Oh, and "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond. It makes you feel really smart.

Posted by: Ingrid on February 18, 2005 8:21 AM

I recommend staying away from Nicholson Baker's "The Fermata" or, rather, be forewarned you might as well go visit a Web site offering amateur porn. I read it because I was intrigued with the idea of stopping time, purely for perverted reasons. It seems Baker has the same fantasy. Talk about a waste of time. I could've just read my own journals... What? Why are you looking at me like that?

Posted by: Deadpan on February 18, 2005 8:27 AM

3 things:

1) As others have mentioned House of Leaves is a bit of a pain in the arse to read. Not to be attempted in 10min session on the toilet. Good story, not great. More of a 'concept book.'

2) The Lovely Bones >> Two thumbs up.

3) The new Harry Potter book comes out this summer! Woohoo.


Posted by: amy on February 18, 2005 8:29 AM

For fiction; "The Toy Collector" by James Gunn.

Non fiction; "Sean & David's Long Drive" by Sean Condon.

I see "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson on your list. It's done really well in the Books on CD version. So I'd recommend that if you use audio books when communting or working out.

Posted by: Amy on February 18, 2005 8:29 AM

It seems like you've got plenty to go on, but it's hard to resist throwing my two pennies at you:

"The Namesake", by Jhumpa Lahiri, is a good book, but her pullitzer-winning collection of stories, "Interpreter of Maladies", is better.

George Saunders is like no one else. Funny, sad, satiric, insightful. I see that his "Civilwarland in Bad Decline" has made it. You should also read my favorite book of his, "Pastoralia".

Michael Chabon's "Kavalier and Clay" is long but well worth it.

My only naysaying would be against "The Plot Against America". Roth is a genius, but not in that book. Try "Portnoy's Complaint."

Posted by: Kris on February 18, 2005 8:37 AM

i'm sure someone else has mentioned this already, but almost anything by italo calvino is worth reading if you haven't before. on the plus side, a book like "invisible cities" or "castle of crossed destinies" are short enough that you could blow through them in less than a week!

Posted by: zach. on February 18, 2005 9:12 AM

You need to add A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. It's a big one, though, but completely worth it!

Posted by: natasha on February 18, 2005 9:15 AM

without reading anyone elses comments I will send a vote to promote The Namesake. I am iffy on The Lovely Bones-I love and hate it simultaneously.
I do thank you for the list and appreciate the fact that I share the same book strategy of going to the new release section in the library and flipping through jackets.

Posted by: nancy on February 18, 2005 9:21 AM

also after reading some comments I agree that Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies is better than The Namesake and I usually hate short stories.

Posted by: nancy on February 18, 2005 9:28 AM

Too Beautiful for You : Tales of Improper Behavior by Rod Liddle – Fiction (dark British humor)

Although I haven't read this yet, and I and stress yet, I fully intend to as soon as it is available at our local library (our library is a little behind the times)

Read reviews at amazon.com:


Posted by: jennifer on February 18, 2005 9:32 AM

I *highly* recommend these 2 books:

1. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

2. A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

Posted by: Candice on February 18, 2005 9:37 AM

I found The Corrections to be really, really annoying, and not in the way that House of Leaves was. House of Leaves was annoying, but it was legitimate - I don't think Danielzswki (I know I misspelled his name) was showing off - he was doing something, and it didn't always succeed, so it was irksome, but not flaunting for sake of demonstrating his cleverness whereas the Corrections was show-off annoying, and also not very interesting. Lovely Bones was way too precious for me - it was creepy in a precious way and it was precious in a precious way and overall, I found it precious.

Someone up there suggested John Crowley's Little Big, which is one of the best books I have read, and I still don't know *why* it is so good. Another good recommendation up there was Altered Carbon. AS Byatt's Babel Tower series continues to be finely written and very engaging. Perdido Street Station and The Scar were both great. Iron Council was slower moving, but some of the writing just shimmered. Literally anything at all by Jonathan Lethem is worth reading at least once, and probably more than once. Vikram Seth is great. A Suitable Boy is brutally long, but his nonfiction, especially the one about hitchhiking across china and thru tibet was very accessible and An Equal Music was gorgeous.

Rose MacCauley's Towers of Trebizond - how did you come up with that?

Posted by: annie on February 18, 2005 9:37 AM

Matt, I'll give a hearty second to "Pest Control" by Bill Fitzhugh. Humor along the lines of Chris Moore and Carl Hiaasen. Good stuff.

Posted by: Kirk Starr on February 18, 2005 9:45 AM

i really liked reading "Shogun" my James Clavell.. it's an oldie, but a goodie. It's kind of like The Last Samurai, but more so.

Posted by: Shad on February 18, 2005 9:50 AM

Well, it looks like you have plenty to keep you busy, but I'll add two of my recent favorites anyway:

"Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates" - Hysterical and Perfect.

"A Prayer for the Dying" - Brief, Brutal and Brilliant.

Posted by: Alonzo Mosley on February 18, 2005 9:51 AM

I know you've already bumped it up to the varsity list, but I thought I'd reiterate that Houllebecq is excellent. Read it about sandwiched between some of those other books you have up there and you'll appreciate its fearless, unique, brilliance even more.

Although you aren't taking new nominees, I thought while we were on the topic I'd plug New York Review of Books's collection. So many great books have slipped through the cracks over the years. Browse through some of their titles for something different, and try and help break this dependence on publishercrats and their book reviewing minions.

Two recommendations from the list: Blaise Cendrar's "Moravagine."

and Andrei Platonov's "The Fierce and Beautiful World"

Posted by: Zach on February 18, 2005 10:02 AM

Edith Wharton is so. very. boring. I don't recommend reading anything by her unless you are cruely forced to by an English teacher.

Lovely Bones is wonderful though (with a slightly meh ending) I highly, highly recommend it.

Posted by: Kimberly on February 18, 2005 10:08 AM

Add my vote for "Kavalier and Clay." Chabon's other book that one should read, apparently not mentioned above, is "The Wonder Boys." The movie's not bad either. "Summerland," I should note, is indeed SF, but it's more of an adolescent novel. It's less Harry Potter, more "His Dark Materials," but much sunnier and more fantastic than both.

I read Lahiri's "The Namesake" in a form that seemed to me like a complete story in The New Yorker fiction issue from a couple years ago-- great story and writing, but I'm not sure, having read what I have, that there's a point in getting the book myself.

Connie Willis' "To Say Nothing of the Dog" is a same-universe sequel to her "Doomsday Book," which is also an excellent read, if somewhat darker. The gist of the universe is that time travel has been discovered, but it's largely useless for the usual wish-fulfillment, so people use it for arcane historical research. The second one's pretty funny, but both have Willis's great gift, IMO: her antagonists are generally just well-meaning but infuriatingly self-involved characters. I love them.

I'll second Donna Tartt, as necessary. I'm about 1/3rd into "The Little Friend," but "The Secret History" was so good, I've bought, over the years, 3 copies to re-read and then pass along to friends, who do the same.

As for my own recommendations, I'm trying to get through all of Joseph Conrad, and can recommend a couple: "The Arrow of Gold," set during the first Carlist War (Spain 1870s), "The Rover," Conrad's only book set in the Napoleonic days of the late 18th century, and the short, pleasantly supernatural "The Shadow-Line." "Lord Jim," of course, tops the list.

Posted by: LAN3 on February 18, 2005 10:30 AM

I thought The Age of Innocence was a great and touching book, and a fascinating portrait of New York City life in the Gilded Age. It's actually the only Wharton I've yet read, so I can't compare it to Ethan Frome or others. (Although consider that it won her the Pulitzer Prize.)

Additionally, it was one of only 3 books that ever have ever made me cry.

Posted by: wildsoda on February 18, 2005 10:34 AM

While I've enjoyed many of the books on the list (and am intrigued by many more), I cannot recommend "Game of Thrones" highly enough! I know, it's already on the main list, but you should commence reading it immediately.

The only downside -- after devouring the first few books in the series, you'll find that George RR Martin is still writing the next ... after like 3 years. It's almost cause for despair, until you realize that it means you'll have time to read them all again...


Posted by: David Nett on February 18, 2005 10:34 AM

I've recently discovered China Mieville and the first in his fantasy series, Perdido Street Station. The reviews say he reads like a combo of Dickens, Kafka and Neal Stephenson, and I think there's a hint of Jonathan Carroll in there as well. (And if you haven't read Carroll, you should.) It's also been referred to as "steampunk," though I hate that term, and the book owes as much to fantasy traditions as to the "historical science fiction" that spawned steampunk.

The book's setting is the city of New Crobuzon, which comes across as a kind of Victorian London, complete with grit, grime, smoke and filth, with a population of humans, semi-humans and non-humans, all living under a repressive municipal authority. It takes about 20 pages to really get into it (at least, it took me that long), but once it gets going, it's compelling. I've just moved on to the follow-up, The Scar, and Mieville has just released a third book set in or around New Crobuzon, The Iron Council. Highly recommended. (By me, at least.)

Posted by: Dan Someone on February 18, 2005 10:39 AM

I had originally seconded "Eastern Standard Tribe" by Cory Doctorow, but now that some time has passed I'm thinking I enjoyed his first, "Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom", more. I agree his writing could improve, but his ideas are just so much fun.
Digger, I'm glad you enjoyed "Red Thunder" by john Varley. It made me sick. I was an insatiable fan of his for many years and I'd highly recommend any of his previous efforts EXCEPT "Red Thunder". The distracting product placement alone made it read like a soulless Hollywood screenplay.
I just finished reading Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, and that was a lot of fun.

Posted by: Robin on February 18, 2005 10:46 AM

Pattern Recognition was okay, but not one of his better efforts. Re-read the Bridge and Neuromancer books instead.

Also: The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. THAT will keep you busy for 2700 pages.

Posted by: patrick on February 18, 2005 11:17 AM

I strongly recommend Miriam Toews' "A Complicated Kindness", because it is beautifully written and funny and about Mennonites and angry teenagers. And it's award-winning, in Canada at least.

Posted by: Emily on February 18, 2005 11:50 AM

"McCarthy's Bar" is non-fiction: quite a fun tale of visiting namesake bars in Ireland. In a similar vein, Tony Hawks' "Round Ireland With a Fridge" begins (of course) with a bar bet, and results in hitchhiking around Ireland with a mini-fridge in tow. He takes it surfing. Nuff said.

Posted by: Megan on February 18, 2005 11:51 AM

Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. Best read of 2004 or most other years for me.

Posted by: molly on February 18, 2005 12:04 PM

I recently read "Portrait of a Killer" by Patricia Cornwell re: Jack the Ripper's identity. She has some pretty good arguments, although I'm not about to go to England and spend years trying to refute her claims. I'll take her research under advisement. Good book, though.

Posted by: crabbyjill on February 18, 2005 12:04 PM

I recommend "The Quincunx" by Charles Palliser.

It's a bit older (from 1990), but worth a read if you like intricate, Dickensian tales of inheritance, poverty, and woe set in 19th century London (and, really, who doesn't).

Plus how many books have you read with a word in the title that starts with "Q" and sounds vaguely dirty?

I don't want to say much about it for fear of giving something away, but I can't recommend it highly enough.

Posted by: Rob on February 18, 2005 1:05 PM

All the Murakami books are more than adequately translated. They're great! read them!

Posted by: w1nt3rmut3 on February 18, 2005 1:28 PM

_The Theif Lord_ is not that great. Her style is patronizing and rudimentary. There are some interesting plot elements don't read it unless you're bored.

And if anyone else reads this, stop recommending _Kavalier and Clay_! Don't you read this blog?
Matthew probably read that book before you did!

Posted by: Ash on February 18, 2005 1:36 PM

The Black Company series is great. Be warned that I also tend to call it "The Crack Company" though, because once you start reading it, you will have a hard time stopping until you've finished all nine books.

I second "Pattern Recognition". Gibson always has interesting stuff in his books--he can turn a descriptive phrase like no one else. Since this story is set closest to present day, it's probably best to read it soon before his descriptions of internet related activities get too stale. After you're done reading it, you can join the crowd over on williamgibsonboard.com and chat about it. Not to mention, notice that your site has turned up several times in the "Look what the internet hath brought us today" thread. :-)

Posted by: heavyboots on February 18, 2005 1:55 PM

I'll second "Resume with Monsters", wonderfully dark theme (although I must admit to a having a penchant for Lovecraft).

Posted by: Jason on February 18, 2005 2:15 PM

The Lovely Bones was a fantastic read. Read it for book club a couple of years ago and it's one we still talk about occassionally.

Posted by: SuzanH on February 18, 2005 3:07 PM

Please read Murakami!!! "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle" or "A Wild Sheep Chase" are both super!

I also recommend:
"A House in the Country" by Jose Donoso
"Hopscotch" by Julio Cortazar
"The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon

If you like complicated, slightly surreal, labyrinthine stuff, then these are the books for you!

Posted by: Kathleen on February 18, 2005 3:13 PM

The Thief Lord is good but it's very light. Something you might want to save and read to the squirrelly when he's about 9 or 10. (Or read together.)

Posted by: mythboy on February 18, 2005 3:43 PM

If you want to read a 'kids' book try Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. Far superior to Thief Lord or Harry Potter


hmmm - 4 books are listed at above URL!!

Posted by: mythboy on February 18, 2005 4:00 PM

I also second "Pattern Recognition"--a couple other people have already, but I wanted to balance out the nos.

"Plot Against America" was OK but not great. It's certainly an interesting premise, but the ending was a little forced (he wanted the alternate history to phase back into the actual timeline). I'd put it on the backup list.

I want to add to the support for Connie Willis's "To Say Nothing of the Dog" as well as Neal Stephenson. A quick guide to Neal:
If you want a quick read, "Zodiac" is great.
If you want a fairly quick read that has some serious geek cred, go for "Snow Crash."
"Cryptonomicon" has even more geek cred, and is better than "Snow Crash," but it's a bit long.
The "Baroque Cycle" is interesting historical fiction featuring Newton, Lord Marlborough, William of Orange, and contemporaries. I can't speak to historical accuracy, but it's a decent story wrapped up in Stephenson's interest in the establishment of the modern system of banking/economics. However, it's a bit slow-starting; I would test the waters with "Cryptonomicon" first.

Posted by: ruds on February 18, 2005 4:00 PM

Hi! I'm another first time poster. Loving the site!

I can second the recommendations for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Wicked: The Life And Times Of The Wicked Witch Of The West, and definitely the The Song of Ice and Fire books. Although I agree with another post that it might be worth waiting till they are complete. Martin also has a couple of related short stories affectionatly referred to as The Adventures of Dunk and Egg that are some good reading. I will also second another post's recommendation of Life of Pi.

Posted by: Shane on February 18, 2005 4:46 PM

I hate when I dislike a book that I think I should like. I can hate the Da Vinci code and feel good about it - it is, afterall, only one step removed from that Left Behind garbage, but I really thought I should like The Curious Incident...and I didn't. I couldn't even finish it. Maybe because I was in the middle of a string of novels featuring oddball protaganists. I dunno, I just couldn't stand the kid.

Even though it's very trendy right now, I would still recommend The Kite Runner.

I would demote Cavalier and Klay unless you have nothing to do for two weeks.

I haven't read it yet, but everyone in my office is still yapping about Middlesex and The Time Traveler's Wife, but I think the latter is a chick book. I also recommend Snow Crash.

And who can put down He's Just Not That Into You?

Posted by: Tinabug on February 18, 2005 5:25 PM

The Handmaiden's Tale, by Margaret Atwood!

Posted by: Amatehran on February 18, 2005 5:28 PM

What, is there nobody else to second Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance"? I was moved to read it after listening to a book talk about it on the radio. There was supposed to be a phone-in discussion, but no discussion ever got started because caller after caller only said the same thing when they phoned. It was all variations on, "When I picked up this book and started reading it, for 3 (or however many) days, my family, my job, all my physical surroundings disappeared. While I was reading it, I lived in the book, not in the real word." Quite a recommendation. I was not disappointed.

Posted by: Margaret on February 18, 2005 5:58 PM

Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn.

This is the only book I've ever read where I can't describe it to someone as "you know, kind of like [insert name of some other book]."

I've been sitting here for a while trying to figure out how to describe the book such that you'll read it, but, I just can't. Everything falls short. Just go read it.

Posted by: emily on February 18, 2005 8:02 PM

I would elevate Jhumpa Lahiri, although I actually liked her book of short stories (Interpreter of Maladies) better than The Namesake.

She uses really clear prose and the stories rely on really tight structure, which is great, and they deal a lot with cross-cultural India-America immigration themes, which make good subjects.

Posted by: Lauren on February 18, 2005 9:47 PM

Oh, also, I highly second the post that suggested Philip Pullman's 'Dark Materials' series for children's books. Those are great reads.

Posted by: Lauren on February 18, 2005 9:50 PM

I recommend against Nicholson Baker's "Fermata", currently on the "looking for a second" list. I love some of Baker's books, but "Fermata" is one of his worst -- simply bad pornography. If you've never read his "The Mezzanine" or "U and I", put them on the list.

I second the recommendation for William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition".

Posted by: Jack Bross on February 19, 2005 5:55 AM

I second (third?) "A Fine Balance".

I enjoyed "Straight Man" by Richard Russo.

In the short story category, "Dress Your Family in Corduory and Denim" by David Sedaris and "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" by Alice Munro are wonderful.

Posted by: hez on February 19, 2005 6:00 AM

i second "the plot against america" assuming it hasn't been seconded already

and if it has, i still second it

p.s. there's no "v" in roth

Posted by: upyernoz on February 19, 2005 8:05 AM

"The hollow chocolate bunnies of the apocalypse" by Robert Rankin.

Good stuff.

Posted by: damion on February 19, 2005 8:34 AM

I second "The Lovely Bones" and "The Namesake." I also highly recommend "The Apprentice" by Jacques Pepin, especially for the foodies out there. It is rich and wonderful reading, and there are recipes to compliment each chapter.

Posted by: Liz on February 19, 2005 8:50 AM

it says on your sidebar, your obsession is bicycling, if that is the case you should enjoy The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa by Neil Peart (better known as the drummer/lyricist of the band Rush).

Posted by: stacie on February 19, 2005 8:52 AM

Not that you'll see this (comment no. 150) but try Joey Goebel's "Torture the Artist." A dark comedy that addresses the idea that great art must be inspired by great suffering.

Tell me what you think about the ending; I have my own opinions, of course.

Posted by: anna on February 19, 2005 10:49 AM

Definately read "A Song of Ice and Fire" series by George R.R. Martin. It can get slow sometimes, but it's definately the best series I've ever read. Also try "God's Debris" by Scott Adams. It's very thought provoking.

Posted by: Adam on February 19, 2005 10:53 AM

oh crap, crap, crap. how can i NOT de-lurk when there's so much book-smack flying about???

thanks for putting this up, btw, as i now have to go read "instance of the finger-post" and "life of pi" and "house of leaves" and all these other books that have somehow evaded attention so far.

yet it strikes me that there may be an obvious ommission in the selections thus far, one perhaps worth considering, as it blends both "pee-in-pants funny-ha-ha" with "mind-ripping science-fictional reconstrual of human-history." that sort of thing, ya know?

i'm blathering on (aparently) about good omens by neil gaiman and terry pratchet. link.
anybody seen that before?

...and if we're going to add older items to the list, why not "the last voyage of somebody the sailor" by john barth?

oops, back to lurking...

Posted by: markus on February 19, 2005 10:59 AM

I'm going to second "Sock" by Penn Jilette. He's developed a bizarre writing style that's peppered with song lyrics and pop culture references, and strange sentence structure - which suits the narrator, a sock monkey, very well. One of the best books I read last year, highly reccommend it.

Posted by: Doctor Teeth on February 19, 2005 11:30 AM

I'm a regular reader, but have never commented before.
I just wanted to second "Dirt Music" and anything else by Tim Winton, particularly "Cloudstreet" which is my favourite so far.

Posted by: alice on February 19, 2005 3:16 PM

Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. Excellent on so many levels - touching, hilarious, thoughtful.

Third to Sock by Penn.

Anything by Charlie Stross.

Most sutff on this page (apolgies for the wimpout) http://www.locusmag.com/2005/Issues/02RecommendedReading.html

Posted by: Chris Beck on February 19, 2005 4:32 PM

If you're going to read something by Margaret Atwood, make it The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid's Tale, or Cat's Eye. Oryx and Crake was ok, but not one fo her best.

Do NOT read The Lovely Bones, whatever you do. Has to be the worst book I read in 2004 - badly written, obnoxious ending, generally irritating and bad. I cannot begin to express how much I hated that book and how much I want those several hours of my life back.

I second The Plot Against America or any Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint being another good one.

Posted by: Suzanne on February 19, 2005 4:36 PM

I just finished pattern recognition and it was pretty interesting. I would not say "greatest book ever" but I very much enjoyed reading it while sitting on the beach.
I also agree with the George RR Martin reccomendations.

Posted by: dan on February 19, 2005 4:58 PM

I saw someone recommend Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaimen. I've just got to say that any book by Neil Gaimen is as good as gold. American Gods, Smoke and Mirrors, Stardust, The Sandman novels, just pick anything; you can't go wrong!

Posted by: Shane on February 19, 2005 10:25 PM

I'm not sure about Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, since I haven't finished it. But the reason I own that book at all is because of The Blind Assassin - that book I recommend very highly.

I also think that Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon are excellent books.

Posted by: Eddie on February 20, 2005 12:27 AM

Run, as fast as you can from the corrections. It is one of the worst books I couldn't finish reading. I hated it so much I inadvertantly left it on the roof of my car and drove away, sending it flying into an intersection. And that wasn't the worst part of it. The worst part was that I had to go and retrieve it because it was the book of choice for a book club I left shortly after that for similarly other really bad choices.

And if that isn't enough to make you want to run, it was an Oprah selection. Need I say more?

Posted by: beth on February 20, 2005 12:58 AM

I tried scanning all the comments to see if this was on here, but didn't see it (I also gave up reading 2/3 of the way through): I'm more of a nonfiction reader, but in the memoir & science writing vein. So if you're looking for nonfiction that's not history writing, and particularly for good writing and a sense of humor, I suggest Augusten Burrough's three memoirs (Running With Scissors, Dry, and Magical Thinking), and anything by Bill Bryson or Oliver Sacks. They're all good writers who will leave you thinking, and I read all of them quickly (I'm normally a slow reader).

Posted by: Jenn on February 20, 2005 10:10 AM

Regarding Pattern Recognition: the initial criteria seemed to be "books recently published" or something along those lines. Indeed, Neuromancer trumps PR--yet I found the storyline compelling for its dwelling in the moment, or the moment just to come.

And if you have only a limited amount of time, I would pick up Handmaid's Tale over Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and Portnoy's Complaint by Phillip Roth over The Plot Against America.

Oh, aye, Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri is the better work... and yet, I have passed on several copies of The Namesake only to find them returned to me fetchingly sporting sticky notes with "Don't miss!" and " a MUST read" from someone further along the reading circle who didn't know I initiated the proceeding!

I agree with Teresa that The Time Traveler's Wife is "interesting, beautiful and devastating--but also fluffy"-- so it hasn't quite made my "foist on everyone I know" list, whereas these...

Highly seconded ( books here mentioned that I have actually pressed into the hands of people for whom I care )
* Cloud Atlas
* The Curious Incident etc.
* Jonathon Strange etc.
* Pest Control by Bill Fitzhugh
* The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
* Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin Series
* The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
* Cormac McCarthy (anything he has written)
* Conrad (ditto)

Specifically Sci-fi
* The Sparrow and Children of God

*Bill Bryson (anything he has written. Laugh out loud funny-- except for A Short History of Nearly Everything, which frightened the bejesus out of me)
*McCarthy's Bar (though 'Round Ireland with a Fridge is a fun read as well)
*Guns, Germs and Steel" as well as "Collapse" by Jared Diamond

Children's/Young Adult
* anything by Rosemary Wells
* His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman --an outstanding, moving trilogy, IMO much better, though in an altogether different category based on length alone, than The Thief Lord

I liked, but they remain foistless, so to speak

* Yonder Stands Your Orphan by Barry Hannah
* Henderson The Rain King by Saul Bellow
* Wide Sargasso Sea by John Rhys
* Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
* The Hyperion Cantos

I was disappointed by
* Wicked by Gregory Maguire
* The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen

Good on you for what Markus describes as "book-smacking"! I am fond of the process AND the title. Thanks for the opportunity to read recommendations-- I am off the track down some Murakami.


p.s. I heartily endorse Markus' choices of The Voyage of Somebody the Sailor by John Barth and Good Omens by Neil Gaimen and Terry Pratchett is a carb-loaded delicious read!

Posted by: Smac40 on February 20, 2005 10:47 AM

I highly recommend "Lovely Bones". Also, the Margaret Atwood book is "Oryx and Crake" (not Crak).

Posted by: erika on February 20, 2005 11:55 AM

I don't know how to read, I just wanted to say HOLY CRAP MOST COMMENTS EVAR.

Posted by: brittney on February 20, 2005 4:36 PM

Hey Matthew, can you stand yet another opinion from yet another person who's been reading your site forever but has never commented before?

Two of my least favourite novels of the past 10 years are on your lists:

The Lovely Bones: Gah, what an awful book. And I wanted to like it, I really did. It's not even that the quality of the writing is bad; it's much deeper than that. This book is suffused with a kind of creepy spiritual and psychological dishonesty, and the fact that so many people love it is intensely depressing to me. Also, incoherent storytelling, characterization, etc. Almost worth reading anyway, in a slow-motion-train-wreck kind of way.

House of Leaves: Okay, here the writing is just plain bad. I honestly read the first 50-odd pages of this book believing it was a cruelly clever parody of painful, first-year-creative-writing-class fiction. You can imagine my disappointment as I slowly realized that no, the author was totally serious. It's a terrific premise -- shame about the execution. The unfortunate thing about this book is it may put you off experimental fiction, most of which is much better than this.

All right, with THAT out of the way, put me down as another vote in favour of The Corrections and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Also Perdido Street Station if you like scifi (I can't get round the goofy made-up jargon, but it's a smart, well-written book).

And two books I haven't seen mentioned here that I think you would really like:

253 by Geoff Ryman (which began life as an interactive online novel: http://www.ryman-novel.com/)


The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

Okay, that's my tuppenceworth. Love yer blog!

Posted by: Nadia on February 20, 2005 5:01 PM

My recommendations:

Against All Enemies -- Richard Clarke
Plan of Attack -- Bob Woodward
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them -- Al Franken

Just kidding -- Bush proved that incompetence in foreign affairs doesn't matter, so let's move on to fun books! I think Pest Control is okay, but Fitzhugh is a pretty clumsy writer. I loved Fortress of Solitude too.

Posted by: Buck on February 20, 2005 5:12 PM

I'll second The Namesake - twice if I could. Brilliantly written, she has this style that's simple but incredibly elegent and perfectly to the point. If you already know what's going to happen she doesn't waste time telling you.
After finishing it I've never felt more hopefull and hopeless about life at the same time. One of the very very few books that actually changed my perspective on my own life. Just incredible.

Quick comment on House of Leaves - saw someone on here bash it for the first 50 pages. Yes, the first half is very slow going and could be a seen as a little.... collegey/pretentious. But once you get to the second half you physically will not be able to put it down nor sleep until you've finished. It's the inventiveness and sheer amount of work that went into it that's the most enjoyable part.

Anyway, looking forward to reading your reviews.

Posted by: Nurhan on February 20, 2005 9:05 PM

Haven't read through these comments yet, but I wholeheartedly second PEST CONTROL as being hysterical good fun! What happens when a pest control technician is mistaken for a hit man?

Posted by: mrgrooism on February 20, 2005 10:46 PM

I also loved THE STUPIDEST ANGEL" by Chris Moore, which is another half-a-day read that is well worth it, definitely laugh-out-loud funny. The pattern of recommends is coincidental, I'll also second GOOD OMENS.

If you can find it, the funniesy nonfiction book I've ever read is HARPO SPEAKS, the autobiography of Harpo Marx. YOU MUST ALL READ THIS! You'll never again be able able to keep a straight face when introduced to someone with the last name of Fleming. Anyone for a game of Pinchie Winchie?

Posted by: mrgrooism on February 20, 2005 11:08 PM

"Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell is amazing, I'm just finishing it off at the moment.

Posted by: David on February 20, 2005 11:41 PM

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Posted by: jammy on February 21, 2005 3:05 AM

Unable to read all the comments but I second the "Altered Carbon" nomination, plus add the new Simon Green series about the Nightside - starts with "Something from the Nightside". Another series is by Glen Cook (who does the Black Company books) about a PI in a fantastical world - think Dashiell Hammet writing Grimms Fairy Tales, they all have a form of metal in the title such as "Sweet Silver Blues".

Posted by: Brian on February 21, 2005 8:06 AM

Oh, and you should check out Octavia C. Butler's "Xenogenosis" series, assuming you're into sci-fi.

The series includes, "Dawn," "Adulthood Rites," and "Imago."

Small books.Good stuff. Easy reads.

Posted by: anna on February 21, 2005 8:37 AM

UPDATE: I earlier recommended Too Beautiful for You: Tales of Improper Behavior by Rod Liddle not having read it. Well, after that post, I couldn't hold out for the library so I went and bought it and began reading it. I still recommend it, but it's dark. Very clever though.

Other recommendations:
Gathering Blue
The Giver

all by Lois Lowry. They're kind of a continuing saga. These books are marketed toward older youth, but they're some of my favorites even as an adult. Definitely easy reads and terrific stories.

Posted by: jennifer on February 21, 2005 9:01 AM

Non-fiction: "Seabiscuit"

Laura Hillenbrand writes her socks off. This amazingly well-written book is even more impressive when you learn what the author had to go through to write it. My how that young woman suffers (crippling vertigo and chronic fatigue) -- and yet she shines.

Posted by: Wendamatica on February 21, 2005 9:11 AM

You really should read The Lovley Bones by Alice Sebold. It is a little gruesome at first with the rape and death of a young girl but it is a REALLY good book. Honest.

Posted by: Allison on February 21, 2005 9:24 AM

I am not even going to try to read all the comments, so if this duplicates, apologies in advance. I can recommend The Corrections, Lovely Bones and Wicked. I have also read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire which I enjoyed more than Wicked.

Posted by: WindyLou on February 21, 2005 10:00 AM

I have to recommend The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad. And Pattern Recognition, although anything by the gifted William Gibson isn't going to disappoint; the man's a genius. His novels are techno-spyish-mysterylike-social thingies, and a really involving read...

Posted by: Iliana on February 21, 2005 11:10 AM

I second/fifth/sixth/whatever The Age of Innocence -- it's brilliant. And so is The House of Mirth, actually. Seriously. To paraphrase someone above, looks like chick book, reads like (cynical, incisive) butter.

Posted by: Mike on February 21, 2005 11:35 AM

I haven't read Seven Types of Ambiguity but my father warned my against it. He got halfway thru and then stopped reading it as he said it was just too depressing.

Posted by: twb on February 21, 2005 12:38 PM

I second "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond. It presents theories, based on geography and available flora and fauna, on why western civilization advanced faster than areas like the New World, sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, etc.

Posted by: Eric on February 21, 2005 3:06 PM

I suggest Iron Council, by China Mieville. Also, I haven't read any of Steven Brust's collaborations, but his books on his own are quite outstanding. He's always challenging himself to do something new.

Posted by: Andrew on February 21, 2005 4:41 PM

If you can find a reasonably priced copy (or get one at your library), check out Iain M. Banks' _The Player of Games_. It's a revisionist space opera about a highly revered game player who is sent to an alien culture to play the game of his life. Funny, thought-provoking, and just plain smart. Banks is a genius.

I heartily concur with those recommending Pullman's "His Dark Materials" series. In the fantasy vein, I also recommend _The Briar King_ by Greg Keyes, which kicks off his Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series. The characters are so well drawn I couldn't wait to dive into the second book (but haven't yet, since I only recently acquired a used hardcover).

_House of Leaves_ contains some of the most interesting, creepy writing I've ever read, but I wish I had skipped over the parts about the guy who works in the tattoo parlor -- those are the ones that seem amateurish and silly -- and just read the good bits about the family in the house.

Posted by: Abbi on February 21, 2005 5:03 PM

Hee hee, back to second some more!

Abbi's Player of Games nomination is a great suggestion! If you want a fun scifi read, bump this way up the list.

Also, Altered Carbon is quite good too. Very interesting future he's created and some enjoyable gumshoe detective/ninja worked into the mix.

Posted by: heavyboots on February 21, 2005 8:02 PM

First off, I really liked "Perdido Street Station", but the two other books (King Rat [seems *real* derivative of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere"] & The Scar [just kind of a letdown, the ending is inconclusive and getting I couldn't really relate to the main character]) I read by China Mievelle were sort of a letdown.

Also, if you liked the other Gibson books, you'll probably like "Pattern Recognition", just don't expect all of the trappings of cyberpunk that made his earlier stuff so cool to read.

Anyway, "The Professor & the Madman" by Simon Winchester was pretty interesting non-fiction, if you don't mind some really really really obscure words and more than you ever wanted to know about grammar. It's about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.

An older book that you might want to check out come next Halloween is the really kick ass book "A Night in the Lonesome October" by Roger Zelazny. It's told from the viewpoint of Jack the Rippers dogs and manages to Frankenstein (both Doctor & Monster), the Wolfman, Dracula, and H.P. Lovecraft and if that doesn't make for one ass kicking book I don't know what does.

Posted by: Big Wang Glick on February 21, 2005 11:06 PM

Sock is not worth your time. I read it for a class and the novel comes up lacking. Thank God, Penn is famous or it would have never been published, huh?

Kick that off and either go with the Andre Dubus III novel The House of Sand and Fog or Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.

Posted by: Shawn on February 22, 2005 4:16 AM

I'd third or fourth the recommendations for Perdido Street Station, Kavalier and Clay, and Geek Love (I forgot until I saw it recommended just how good that book is), but Oryx and Crake is very overrated. An interesting premise, but the book comes up short by about 100 pages - too many ideas aren't fleshed out at all and the whole story comes to a rapid and untimely close.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces", which is an incredibly brutal and honest autobiographical story about the author's experience in rehab.

Posted by: Michael Reuter on February 22, 2005 7:47 AM

I'm the one who recommended the Black Company series in the 2004 recap comments, and I'm glad to see it got a few seconds (er, I guess that'd be a second and a thir and a fourth, etc.). And as Brian said, Cook's other series (the Garret, PI novels) are also very good. He writes characters very well, and I love character-driven stuff. Garret's sort of a '40's gumshoe-type PI in a fantasy setting.

I listed Black Company because it's my favorite fantasy series. So I guess as another recommendation, I can list my favorite sci-fi series ever: Dan Simmons' Hyperion novels. I don't often re-read books, because my "to-read" list is so long. But I've read all of the black company books 3 times (and the first 3 books an additional time or two), and the Hyperion series twice. And I'm slowly working my way through the Game of Thrones series yet again, but that one's already on the list.

Oh, and here's one more recommendation, this time on where to get the books. I really like the sci-fi book club for picking up a whole series, because they put all the books together in an omnibus. They have all of the Black Company novels and all of the Garret novels together. I don't think they carry Song of Ice and Fire or the Hyperion books, but they do have lots of Terry Pratchett which is always a good thing (and another good recommendation).

Posted by: Skane on February 22, 2005 8:12 AM

Fitzhugh's "Pest Control" is well written and extremely funny. I'm trying to gird my loins to read Roth's "Plot Against America," because everything I've heard and read about it indicates that it's eerily appropriate to our times. Also, Roth is simply one of the best American writers (though he is a misogynist, which comes out clearly in his writing).

Posted by: Dr. Beads on February 22, 2005 8:24 AM

I'll comment on the titles I've read. I won't suggest any new titles, as you have enough to keep you busy.

Oryx and Crake is no good. Wicked is ok but not much better. Both are fairly absorbing and quick reads, but both are too transparent and neither digs deep enough into its respective themes to provoke much thought. Since you claim to be frustrated with mediocrity, I hope you'll steer clear of these.

The Fermata is one of my very favorite books of the last few years, though it's certainly not for everyone. My mother would call it vile and horrid. I can't wait to read your review of it.

Posted by: corbin on February 22, 2005 12:09 PM

like other lurkers, the topic of tangible media in the blogosphere got me all excited...thanks everyone for the suggestions too; even if they don't make the main list, some of them have made mine. Speaking of which...

Mezzanine is definitely more enjoyable than the Fermata, but if you think that one's randy you should (or shouldn't, I guess) check out Vox.

House of Leaves is an interesting, albeit unsolvable (for me) pandora's box...maybe another three read-throughs or so will elucidate things.

Pattern Recognition has some interesting thoughts, but has a largely pedestrian plot

on the topic of superquick literary jolts, Neal Pollack's faux rock-doc Never Mind the Pollacks was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

ok back to work, thanks again for the suggestions

Posted by: Quinn on February 22, 2005 12:13 PM

wtf? I recommend Altered Carbon, and like 4 people second it, and it's not on your list yet. :)

I hate spam, so here's my email address SECRETLY ENCODED to prevent pork products!

dan DOT walkowski AT gmail DOT com

Posted by: dan again on February 22, 2005 12:30 PM

I'll second "Pattern Recognition" and the previous commenter's suggestion of "Altered Carbon," but you must put "A Game of Thrones" to the top of you too-be-read list. ;-)

Posted by: Jesse on February 22, 2005 2:03 PM

I second Pattern Recognition. Really enjoyed it. I somewhat enjoy cyberpunk, not a die hard fan, and this one was much less fantasy-ish. I can't put my finger on it, but he created a really great mood... I dunno.... vibe... in this book. A great combination of cold aloofness and intimacy in the main character.

Posted by: de-lurking on February 22, 2005 4:22 PM

If you're willing to try something very different, I strongly recommend Ann-Marie MacDonald's "Fall On Your Knees". It's a few years old and absolutely not for everyone, but I thought it was unforgettable. The simplest way to describe this book is as a gothic "Little Women" - but that just doesn't do justice to the dark complexity of the story. Really a well written, haunting book.

Posted by: Beth on February 22, 2005 5:10 PM

On the lighter side, check out "Love Monkey : A Novel" by Kyle Smith. Laugh out loud funny and a 24 hour read. Also, anything by Anne Lamott; my favorite so far is "Hard Laughter." And finally, Baker's "The Firmata" is worth the time, and it IS vile and pornographic.

Have a nice day.

Posted by: Kara on February 22, 2005 11:35 PM

as a french reader, I don't know most of the books you mention in your list, but I'd leave the Houellebecq book at the bottom of the optional extras, despite the noise around the book, it is not much worth (cheap provocative thrills), and the author lately got into very unpleasant racist comments about Islam being the dumbest religion of them all, his next book is very ambiguous about pedophilia and sex tourism etc. That's the kind of dude.
Imo, it shouldn' belong in a list that features Philip Roth and J. Franzen.
Enjoy your reading.

Posted by: southern forg on February 23, 2005 2:51 AM

God, I loved AGE OF INNOCENCE. I was actually assigned it for an American Novel class I took at the University of East Anglia, but I read it straight through because I LIKED it! I vote for that one!

Posted by: Elle Wiz on February 23, 2005 5:31 AM

I second the Fermata.

Posted by: Melissa on February 23, 2005 7:30 AM

Okay, I think "The Fermata" now deserves a bump to the top: it's been "seconded" by several people, and even those who've recommended against it have offered these glowing reviews: "amateur porn," "vile and horrid," and "bad pornography!"

What more could you ask for?!

Posted by: Dug Steen on February 23, 2005 7:45 AM

I'm not sure if anyone else here has mentioned it, or if you have even read it yourself. The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery should literally go straight to the number one list of books you need to read, and be read before anything else in your life. It's an amazing "children's" book that not only will you love, but you will love reading to your kid. The story is so popular that it is the number 2 selling book of all time, only beat out by the bible. Art from the book is also on french money.
I could go on and on and on about it, but once you read it you understand the glory that is this book. Plus since it is a kid's book, it will probably take you about 20 minutes tops to finish it.
I mean I would honestly be willing to place money bet that you would fall in love with this book if you moved it to the top of the list of books to read.

Also, I know House of Leaves is already on your "to read" list, but I still recommend it anyway. Really amazing book, and if you can locate it try flipping through the book. Once you see how the type is set you will understand why you NEED to read this book.

Posted by: mindsuckr on February 23, 2005 10:06 AM

Some words on Sci-Fi:
The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons, mentioned above, is absolutely fantastic cool awesome, and you'll be thanking your stars that all four books are out, because it would be agony to have to wait for the next one.
Those books are: "Hyperion" and "The Fall of Hyperion," which are paired together, and followed decades later by "Endymion" and "The Rise of Endymion."
His current book, "Ilium," features Greek Gods reenacting the Iliad on Mars. It will hopefully be wrapped up in this year's "Olympos," because I'd hate to wait another 2 years to see how it turns out.

Someone mentioned Iain [M.] Banks' "The Player of Games." Excellent book, and one of the several excellent books of The Culture. My favorite is "Use of Weapons," and there are other good ones, plus a couple of filler books. "Consider Phlebas" is the first, though it's set some 800 years before most of the others.

Iain Banks is evidently good friends with fellow Scottish writer and fellow recovering Marxist, Ken MacLeod, who wrote "The Fall Revolution" series: "The Star Fraction," "The Stone Canal," "The Cassini Division," and "The Sky Road," which span about 1000 years and a few hundred light years. It's a absolutely rich brew of politics, technology, and humanity. Fantastic reading. He also wrote the 3-book "Engines of Light" series which I have not read, but look forward to.

Tony Daniel wrote the exquisite books, "Metaplanetary" and "Superluminal," and hopefully more, novels of an interplanetary war between a horrifying totalitarian inner-planet system, and the progressive, liberty-endowed outer moons. Both are endowed with amazing nanotech called Grist, the kind of tech that connects planets together with cables (yes, very strong physical cables), spread people's personalites across the solar system, and let humans grow into massive clouds of rock. "Superluminal" didn't finish the story, but the next book should be another amazing read-- wait for it to come out before you start "Metaplanetary."

Seriously, man-- where are you going to find time to read all this with a young child around?

Posted by: LAN3 on February 23, 2005 11:19 AM

Vamped by Daniel Sosnowski. Quite funny and took an unconventional and entertaining approach to the much abused subject of vampires.

The Innamorati by Midori Snyder. Just plain good.

And a warning about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I work in a library where we have had tons of requests for this book. Once people check it out only about half of them finish it. I tried reading it and simply couldn't make it through the damn thing (and I hate not finishing books). It was about as exciting as a table water cracker. Thick as the unabridged Webster's dictionary too. Makes for a great doorstop though.

Posted by: charis on February 23, 2005 6:51 PM

Thought of one more. The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. Wickedly clever!

Posted by: charis on February 23, 2005 6:53 PM

I didn't like Oryx and Crake. I'm not even sure why I finished it because I really didn't care about what was going to happen. Boring would be a good description.

Are you looking for something new or are you willing to go back a few years? I just finished The Cider House Rules by John Irving and thought it was pretty good. Even better by Irving is The World According to Garp.

My favorite book of all time is The Stranger by Albert Camus. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend that you do. It's simplicity is deceiving.

Posted by: Steve on February 23, 2005 9:50 PM

Here's one you should know and love, especially with a kid on the way up. It's fun bedtime reading, and the language is charming on its own. Good luck finding a copy in print somewhere, but you seem like the resourceful type.

The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber

dont' be fooled, it's only 70 pages long so it should be a fast read/review; and get an copy illustrated by Marc Simont.


Posted by: Tom on February 24, 2005 11:00 AM

The Lovely Bones is well worth a read. When my son was born (the day before your Squirrelly in fact), it was difficult to get into any good books. I was exhausted, life seemed at an end (you remember), and it had to be something to *really* catch my attention. This one did. And the Curious Incedent of the Dog... was also a good read, but I see its already made your list.

Posted by: Nicola on February 24, 2005 11:32 AM

I'll second Gibson's Pattern Recognition - here's a review if you want to see if you want to read it: http://grubbstreet.blogspot.com/2003/09/novel-pattern-recognition-pattern.html


Posted by: Jeff Grubb on February 24, 2005 1:15 PM

If you like the Wicked Witch book by Macguire, then I think you will also like Mirror, Mirror. That is my favorite by him at least

Posted by: Jessi Beach on February 25, 2005 11:09 AM

Loved Wicked.
Hated the Corrections.

Also recommend The Brothers K by David James Duncan (see reviews on Amazon)

Posted by: dayment on February 25, 2005 4:49 PM

I have 2 year old so my trips to the library involve running in, going to the express area and randomly grabbing a book. In the 20 seconds it takes to do this I ask my daughter to grab a book and occasionally I may like one. I liked Skinny Dip. Fast, funny and kind of senseless. I don't think I have the mind capacity for much more these days.

I don't remember many other books as most were truly awful.

Posted by: Michele on February 27, 2005 7:06 AM

Yes yes, I loved "Wicked," as well as "confessions of an ugly stepsister".

Posted by: bad sushi on February 27, 2005 11:49 AM

I would heartily second Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" which I rate as possibly the best SF I've read to date. How many authors can make a pizza delivery an edge-of-seat experience (I kid you not)?

Non-fiction: William Dalrymple's "City of Djinns" about Delhi. Travel writing at its best (and if you've ever visited the city it simply comes alive under your hand).


Posted by: Rob on February 28, 2005 4:54 PM

Brideshead Revisited -a long book which I have not read - must do so in 2005! But the television series is superb, one of the best things I've ever seen on screen. If short of time you could watch that and read instead Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, a side-achingly funny novel based closely on bizarre real-life adventures of the press corps reporting in Africa.

Posted by: jane on February 28, 2005 7:43 PM

Just about anything by William Gibson I've enjoyed. Haven't read Pattern Reconition, but have added it to my list.

Do read Edith Wharton. A great look into a woman's perspective on a definitely masculine era.

Posted by: jenn on February 28, 2005 9:48 PM

Definitely add When the Nines Roll Over to your list. I also liked I Dream of Microwaves, another excellent collection of short stories.

The Lovely Bones is good, but has a similar late-in-the-book breakdown to The Curious Incident...

If you haven't yet read Memoirs of the Geisha, add that one to your list, as well.

Posted by: michelle on March 1, 2005 1:19 PM

I'll second "The Fermata" by Nicholson Baker. It's about a man who discovers he can stop time, yet still move about as if nothing is amiss. Also, he uses his talent for mostly perverted causes. And the author has a thing for the butthole. A++

Posted by: Matt on March 3, 2005 3:41 PM

Definitely everyone in the English PDF viewing world needs to read:

P H O T O G R A P H Y .



Read just a few pages and you will learn the ways...

P.S. It's not just another McSweeney's post, it's actually a novel. A novel of DOOM.

Posted by: Travis on March 3, 2005 6:50 PM

I second the virtual lesson guy!

You should be reading this post sitting behind an oversized CRT monitor with a watered down big gulp. Note: download this PDF and you will not regret it!

Posted by: bRANDON on March 3, 2005 6:59 PM

I second Straight Man by Russo! Excellent book. As is his book of short stories, The Whore's Child.

Posted by: AP on March 4, 2005 5:51 AM

I'm going to come right out and say this: my taste in books doesn't leave much for a middle ground, I'm a 'love-it-or-hate-it' kind of guy, for better or worse.
With that caveat, I'm damn glad that some of the dreck mentioned by other posters didn't make it onto your list. Case in point: "The Little Friend", Donna Tartt. I was outwardly angry that so much of my time had been wasted on this doorstop. AND that's after I found a hardback copy in mint condition in a box on the sidewalk, so I didn't even pay good money for it. Only now do I realise why it was in that box. Pointless, pointless, pointless. And after such a promising debut with "The Secret History".
A good read that should make it onto the list: "Kavalier & Clay", Chabon.

But more importantly, please swap out the Murakami on your list. "Hard Boiled Wonderland" is a really sucky translation. If you like your fiction heavily laced with adverbs because the translator couldn't find a better way of dealing with the subtleties of Japanese, then be my guest, but it doesn't hold a match to Murakami's other works in better translation. Jay Rubin's texts of Murakami's "Norwegian Wood" and "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" are superb, and these novels will move you in many ways. Less successful plot-wise, but standout nonetheless, is a shorter Murakami work, "Sputnik Sweetheart".
I must also admit that I live in Tokyo so the books are far more resonant for me, but anyone with a brain and a heart could appreciate them.

Posted by: Mibs on March 4, 2005 8:53 AM

Here's an old one that that I found quite funny: Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. I also liked 2 of his other books: Generation X and Shampoo Planet.

Po Bronson has written a lot of good stuff, too.

Posted by: briguy on March 6, 2005 3:15 AM

Regarding Evelyn Waugh: Yes, "Brideshead" is beautifully written, but it's also terribly grim -- partly because it's a post-war lament, and partly because it's steeped in self-abnegation. (Which isn't even theologically justified, if I remember my catechism.) I'd suggest "The Loved One", "Decline And Fall", or, as someone else suggested, "Scoop" -- Waugh had a wicked sense of humour when he chose to exercise it..

Posted by: Yendred on March 13, 2005 5:48 AM

I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami, and Hardboiled Wonderland was his first book I read. It is a mysterious, spooky, fascinating story, unlike any other I have read. It's images and its mood linger in your mind, like a heavy perfume. While not the easiest plot to read, it pulls you along slowly and steadily. This book is a full meal, and one I've enjoyed ready again and again.

I also recommend his other work, including The Windup Bird Chronicles and Wild Sheep Chase.

Someone asked how well the translation to English fared. I have always found that Murakami (much like Stanislaw Lem) finds some of the best translators, who really convey the lyrical quality of his work.

Posted by: Dan on March 18, 2005 4:40 PM

I also highly recommend Wicked. Well written and fascinating. I have noticed that some people don't like it, because they are expecting something more amusing or child-like (and the new very-good musical doesn't discourage this hope). But this is a dark book, a deep story of politics, oppression and prejudice, couched in the language of a familiar story.

Posted by: Dan on March 18, 2005 4:47 PM