« Wednesday Open Mike: What Is a Split Infinitive? (OT) | Main | Shootout! »

Wednesday, 28 December 2016


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Elementary, Sherlock Holmes.

Mike, I recommend "Plain Song' by Kent Heruf or 'the Lives of Rocks' by Rick Bass. I found them to be 'not of waste of my time' which for me is high praise.

I'm a complete hawg for all things Anthony Trollope. They are big fat things, and many but not all are meant to be read as a continuing series. Largely soap operas against a political backdrop. Written in mid to late 19th Century, but notable for "the more things change, the more they stay the same". A couple to start with: "The Eustace Diamonds" (fun) "They Way We Live Now" (more pointed assessment of financial wheelings and dealings

I can think of a lot of novels to suggest, even though like you I now days mostly read non-fiction (used to read a bunch of fiction when younger), but to pick a shorter novel and one of my all time favorites - "Tender is the Night", F Scott Fitzgerald.

I'm also feeling like I need to sprinkle a novel in every now and then, and after seeing this list last year, I bought "Middlemarch", but haven't read it yet. So can't recommend it, but being number one probably means it's a good one.


The year 2016 pretty much sucked for me as well--at least health-wise. Old age infirmities and a family gene pool combined to roll the dice and they came up snake eyes. I persevere somehow. Photographically, the year was much better. I bought a lot of new equipment and started several personal projects that have been successful (at least to my way of seeing them). A new computer arrived and it's working great. I finally started using Lightroom and so far I've been pleased.

I'm a lazy reader. And a pretty slow reader as well. My wife inhales books whereas I just sip them over time. Mostly I read thrillers, crime fiction, some non-fiction and a smattering of "literary fiction". I haven't really gotten worked up over a lauded literary figure since Cormac McCarthy several years back. Seems like every recommended author I try results in another unfinished book in the Kindle cloud. I don't recall reading any science fiction in 2016 but I did binge watch the complete "Battlestar Galactica" this year. I enjoyed it more than any of the "Star Wars" films I've seen.

I'm looking forward to 2017.

Franz Werfel: Star of the Unborn.
Sort of science fiction genre, and yet not really. The hardcover from 1949(?) is readily available and the binding is very tastefully done. And the novel--for me one of my favorites/worth many "re-read's"--along with the likes of The Great Gatsby and Moby Dick.

There are still three days left to fulfill your tradition THIS YEAR; I´m sure you can get through The Old Man and the Sea in a couple of hours.

For next year my suggestion goes to Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet or 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marques.

I walked downstairs and looked at my bookshelves just for you.

I like novels to suck me in completely. Last year the six part behemoth called My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard, did that for me. I'm still waiting for part six to be translated from the Norwegian. It's largely an autobiographical (real names and all) novel about his struggle growing up, dealing with his dad, and figuring out how to become a writer and write the big novel you are reading. I loved it. Not to everyone's taste.

We read the first twenty-five pages of several novels in my novel class this fall. True Grit by Charles Portis stood out for having a real
good start. Also with stories from the West, anything by James Welch, like Fools Crow.

A quick read that my wife and I give to many people, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Real Life Indian.

If you want to dip your toes in high quality science fiction and fantasy, I like Ursula K. Le Guin. Try tThe Wizard of Earthsea, or The Dispossessed.

Another favorite author, Rohinton Mistry, wrote A Fine Balance, a thick, Dicken's like story taking place in India. Good stuff.

One good trilogy deserves another: John Dos Passos, U.S.A. (The 42nd Parallel, 1919, The Big Money).

Let me try and save 2016 for you and suggest "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It's short, you can finish it this year, and the HarperCollins edition has marvelous illustrations by Calef Brown.

I was so bored when I had to read "la Chartreuse de Parme" by Stendhal in high school...
Yet I found a pleasure rarely experienced when I read it again 25 years later. It is all about timing. I am sure there are good English translations.
I am not an expert in American literature but most books by John Irving do resonate with me. Many do have a strong connection with literature (the main character is often a writer) and much more. "A widow for a year" or "In one person" are two recent enjoyable and enlightening experiences for me.
Happy new year, 2016 was pure crap for many indeed, let us make the next one much better.
Greetings from France!

It's interesting that you single out science fiction in your post. It's been a while since I've set eye to page, especially where fiction is concerned, but I feel pretty confident in recommending Robert Heinlein to you. In particular, Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love, and I Will Fear No Evil, not necessarily in that order, although that order would probably be best. Here is the plot summary for the latter novel, from its Wikipedia entry:

The story takes place in the early 21st century against a background of an overpopulated Earth with a violent, dysfunctional society.

Elderly billionaire Johann Sebastian Bach Smith is being kept alive through medical support and decides to have his brain transplanted into a new body. He advertises an offer of a million dollars for the donation of a body from a brain-dead patient. Smith omits to place any restriction on the sex of the donor, so when his beautiful young female secretary, Eunice Branca, is murdered, her body is used. He changes his name to Joan Eunice Smith, with the first name given "the two-syllable pronunciation" Jo-Ann to mimic the sound of his original name.

When Smith awakens after the transplant, he discovers he can communicate with Eunice's personality. They agree not to reveal her existence, fearing they would be judged insane and locked up. Smith's identity is unsuccessfully challenged by his descendants, who hope to inherit his fortune. Smith and Eunice decide to have a baby together and so they (Joan and Eunice) are artificially inseminated using Smith's sperm from the sperm bank. Joan explores her new sexuality at length.

Joan marries her lawyer, Jake Salomon, and moves her household and friends onto a boat. Jake has a massive rupture of a large blood vessel in his brain and dies, but his personality is saved and joins Smith and Eunice in Joan's head. She (Joan, Eunice and Jake) emigrates to the moon to find a better future for her child. Once there, her body starts to reject her (Smith's) transplanted brain. She dies during childbirth.

What I like best about Heinlein's work - the best of it - is that besides being highly entertaining, engaging, and imaginative, it is also deeply imbued with the American ideology of liberalism, self-reliance, and maximum personal freedom. As such it is very open-minded and anticipates much of what has come since.

Read the apocalyptic novel from Australia called On The Beach by Nevil Shute. I think it was written in 1957. Its been made into a couple movies, but the book was very good and easy to read. Fascinating novel!

Unless I'm mistaken, you have 3 days to read something fictional and satisfying before the end of annus horribilis.

Try Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." 90-some pages, and it has some meat on it. (And freely available for Kindle and other e-readers.)

There's endless commentary available, but possibly the most "meta" is "Hearts of Darkness; a filmmakers apocalypse," a documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, itself a Vietnam War-era retelling of Conrad's novella, and how all three involve venturing to dark places and returning with a tale and a bit of madness.

I'm your age and Asimov's omnibus (bought at JK Gill) was among my earliest sci-fi as well. My next omnibus was Usrula K LeGuin, who still graces the planet and blogs as well. I love her high-moral and truly speculative fictions. One where everyone could become pregnant, where humans are migratory, where each season last about twenty years while orbiting a huge sun? The Earthsea magic lands with clever dragons that can trick you out of your three wishes? A place where one dreamer alters reality with his true dreams? Amazing stuff, and clearly my cup of cocoa.

"The Dispossessed" (my favourite book of all time), by Ursula Le Guin, combines a little SF with a lot of utopian\distopean ideas. Also, "Three Day Road" by Joseph Boyden (also my favourite book of all time).

humboldt's gift

I recognize every bit of this. Last year I read much less than I am used to. But I bought more. For 95% non fiction. Popular modern bestsellers almost disappoint me every time.

Here are two top-100 lists from The Guardian:



Try Anthony Trollope if you like classic Victorians. The Warden, Barchester Towers or The Way We Live Now.
Last year I read some American novelists. Harper Lee was a bit disappointing, but William Faulkner was great.
The best novel I read last year was Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. Maybe you're not in the mood for 900 pages of WW II horror, but I think it's a must.

If you want to cheer yourself up, read one of the Serge Storms novels by Tim Dorsey. Or anything by Christopher Moore. Or Carl Hiaasen. I dare you not to laugh when you do.

Garcia Marquez is a Nobel prize-winning writer.
I think his best book was Love In The Times Of Cholera. I read it six times and will probably get back to it someday. A love story that those of us nearing old fart territory can relate to.

Two, one novel, Matterhorn--A Novel of the Vietnam War (https://www.amazon.com/Matterhorn-Novel-Vietnam-Karl-Marlantes/dp/0802145310), one non-fiction, Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum, the first man to do it. The former captures the futility and frustration of [the] war, the latter is an amazing matter of fact description of a historic voyage. (I read it years ago, but remember Slocum's leaving tacks on deck at night when anchored somewhere (Patagonia?) with hostile natives. He awoke to screams and splashes.)

[I've read the Slocum, it's great. Adventure stories are one of my go-tos. --Mike]

Wait... I though you liked tea?

Anna Karenina. Magnificent.

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess. It won the Booker in the early '80s.

Middlemarch is always mentioned in any list of great novels. Not read it but feel obliged to mention it.

I used to read science fiction prolifically. At age 14-17 years I'd go to the town library and sign out 4 SciFi novels, plow through them all, and exchange them for another 4 books later in the week. But I fell out of the habit, and haven't read much SciFi at all in the last few...er...decades. Which is too bad, because there's a lot of good stuff out there.
If you want a really excellent novel, I can heartily recommend two of the best I've ever read. Plainsong, by Kent Haruf, is a pitch-perfect tale of contemporary small town life on the prairie, right down to the spare prose. Mr. Ives' Christmas, by Oscar Hijuelos, is a great read about life and loss in mid-century New York City that is incredibly compassionate without ever getting sentimental.

Allow me to recommend Iain M Banks for a new adventure in reading, starting with Consider Phlebas. I wish you a really great year and thank you for all you did for us in the last.

George Eliot, the greatest English novelist (in my opinion): Daniel Deronda and Middlemarch.

Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (a major influential for me).

Charlotte Bronte: Shirley and Villette

I am an avid reader of SF, so probably I am the less indicated to suggest a book. But... The author just died a few hours ago (at a respectable age of 96), and it's one of my favorite books, and --- it's a coincidence too strange to let it slip away. Watership down, by Richard Adams.

Some random, classic-ish fiction I can recommend:
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin
The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco
The Lord of the Flies - William Golding
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
A Man in Full - Tom Wolfe
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
Underworld - Don DeLillo
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Moby-Dick - c'mon, I'd read this 6 times by the end of high school; give it another chance!

My teenage daughter recommended The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. She reads a lot - usually 3-4 novels a day - and said it was the best novel she'd ever read. I was sceptical because she tends to only read fantasy. However, I can give it a good thumbs up.

I'd thought she was thinking of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, a book I'd happily recommend, translated from the original Spanish. Well worth a read.

I came across it after comparisons were made with The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco's first novel - which is the book I'm recommending. A 14th century whodunnit by an Italian novelist, medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, and literary critic. I think you'll enjoy it.

[Your daughter reads three or four novels a DAY?!? Wow. That's 1,095 to 1,460 novels a year! She must not have many other obligations.

On the other hand, it makes her recommendations carry more weight. --Mike]

Any of John LeCarre's spy novels, but for serious binge-reading, the Tinker Tailor Solder Spy/Honourable Schoolboy/Smiley's People troika. Two TV/film adaptations of the first, one TV adaptation of the third. The TV adaptations star Alec Guinness.

I am re-reading Robertson Davies' The Lyre of Orpheus, part three of a trilogy. Quite a funny and witty page turner. I can recommend any of his novels.

My go to novel for recommending is Atomised by Michel Houellebecq (The Elementary Particles in American / America). I've recommended it a lot, and perhaps six people have read it as a result. Without exception, all these people have loathed it. Perhaps you can be number 7? Sorry if that sounds kinda negative - it isn't meant to - despite the largely unpleasant characters populating the book, I thought it a work of genius and in fact stopped reading fiction for years afterwards because nothing else seemed worthwhile compared; perhaps it will fit with your already established pattern of reading non-fiction books?

Here's one that blurs the borders: Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. Although technically it should probably be classified as a biography, it reads like great fiction. A riveting, heroic story and, were it not true, one that would defy belief. Highly recommended!

The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness.

One Nobel laureate you can actually enjoy!

Andy Weir's

    The Martian

      ... a novel and science fiction!

OK,for a fat, fun but literate beach read: Ann Patchett's State of Wonder.

For something a little more challenging: Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.

Even sterner stuff, but completely fascinating: Ben Lerner's 10:04.

Have fun!

I'm sure John Camp can recommend a couple of dozen! But you may want to stay clear of 'Saturn Run' if you're not keen on science fiction. My suggestion for something fat and a page turner, would be the 'Passage' trilogy by Justin Cronin.

*To the Lighthouse*. Virginia Woolf. Right up there with Faulkner, Mann, Proust (but shorter than their works). And then you've got the rest of her books ahead of you!

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. It's just so captivating.

Right there with ya, Mike, 2016 was an "annus horribilis" for me, too...a few bright spots, but for the most part, a year I would like to forget. The travails of being a principal care-giver for an elderly parent and much-loved companion animal can really wreak havoc on your soul. I'm just exhausted...

Two of my favorite novels were written by W. Somerset Maugham:
1) The Moon and Sixpence, based at least in part on the life of Paul Gauguin
2) Of Human Bondage - not the easiest read, especially the first 100 pages or so, but it's the only book where I've felt down at the end, simply because I was finished

Chin up... and all that.

I liked the Foundation trilogy, it's worth rereading.

I can't say that I've had a hard life as many of my problems have been (as a young person said and I do hate the expression) first world problems but I think I've had my highs and lows but I met someone and I'm going to be a hopeless romantic and say that my life has been leading up to this and we plan to marry in 2017.

So, after years in the wilderness I hope something good is happening for me. I didn't see it coming and if something unforeseen can happen to me maybe next year can be a bit of a pleasant surprise for you too.

Here's hoping and if all else fails just do as I've done in the past and keep going if only to confound your enemies! :D

Best Wishes for a batter 2017.

I read different types of books cyclically, I suspect that's the case for regular readers, though sadly I don't read as much as I want to. I think I'm 5 issues behind on Lapham's Quarterly, for instance.

As to Foundation, IIRC, though you read an omnibus single volume, it was written as serial fiction in a SF magazine of the time and hence a single long work, split originally into 3 volumes after the fact. Maybe originally in Amazing Stories (I'm sure someone will have weighed in by the time my post appears).

Asimov seems like your kind of guy even if his writing isn't; he wrote prodigiously on wide ranging topics. His book on Shakespeare is highly regarded. Foundation was his attempt to tell the story of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in a manner more accessible than Gibbon. I wouldn't know, I gave up on Gibbon maybe 100 pages in.

Lately, I've tried getting interested in fiction, but it's been fits and starts. In the past 18 months I've read a bunch of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels, and I suspect you might find them either terribly funny, or terribly annoying. Thursday is a Literary Crime agent, first introduced in The Eyre Affaire, investigating people changing the narratives of fictional works. His books are delightful flights of goofiness for lovers of reading. Don't try to make sense of the world in which she can literally (ha!) enter fiction and interact. Revel in the love of the written word. Here's a passage from one of them to illustrate (the scene is the litcrime equivalent of a police squad daily briefing: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/58832-good-item-seven-the-had-had-and-that-that-problem

An important thing I've learned to do is stop reading a book if I'm not enjoying it.


An awful year here too, but some great readings, especially the following novels:
- Émile Zola, "Nana";
- Thomas Hardy, "Judah The Obscure";
- Harper Lee, "Go Set a Watchman";
- Albert Camus, "The Plague";
- André Gide, "The Counterfeiters";
- Marguerite Yourcenar, "the Abyss."
But the reading that pleased me the most was Albert Camus' "The Stranger." Actually it was a re-read, but I'd read it so long ago it was like discovering it all over again. It must be the single most important book of the 20th century.
Maybe this is as good a time as any to wish you and every TOP reader a great 2017. May it at least be a little better than 2016.

Nicholas Nickleby by Dickens (his best in my opinion)
Pere Goriot by Balzac
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (I also don't read much SF, but Dick was an extraordinary writer who transcended the genre)

"Master and Commander" by Patrick O'Brian. This is different to the film that came out a few years ago, which is an amalgam on a number of books. If life's vissitudes seem tough to contend with this is a good pick me up. Any kind of knowledge of sailing ships is not necessary though figuring out the basics is useful (yards are the cross beams on masts). I am deeply jealous of anyone who has not read this series of books. There are 20 and I am on my fourth go round, they are absolutely brilliant. Read some reviews if you don't believe me.

I like science fiction and especially Isaac Asimov. I really liked the Foundation Trilogy and I read it at least 5 times. It grew to 5 or 6 books and if you read books he wrote before that (like Caves of Steel) the theme is woven through many (all??) of his books.
The other Mike J.

Personally, I LOVE questions like this. The very idea of "reducing" a lifetime of books, or to creating a "list" of essential items from said lifetime...well...you get the idea. It gets the gears turning; it almost always prompts varied and versatile reactions.

Of course, the Web is fraught with such advice, some of it folly, some of it fraudulent, some of it fine, very fine. The first answer Google served up:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee;
1984 by George Orwell;
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling;
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein;
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald;
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen;
The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank;
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

You get the idea--is this it? Is this list also a "ranking," does 1984 "beat" Gatsby?
Should I seek out other Orwell or Fitzgerald titles?

The simplest take-away from reading, for me, is there's a joy or wonder found nowhere else, in no other activity. So I keep doing it, over and over and over. Whether it's something technical or escaping with Virgil Flowers, there's nothing like it!

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

In re: The Foundation.

One of the main characters in the series is The Mule. "One of the greatest conquerors the galaxy has ever seen, he is a mentalic who has the ability to reach into the minds of others and 'adjust' their emotions, individually or en masse, using this capability to conscript individuals to his cause." So says Wikipedia.

Possibly some applicability to 2016?

You know, if we set "classics" aside**, "Saturn Run" could be fun to start the year with. (Or, with which to ... bah!) You could add another SF title to your list, and meanwhile get caught up in some well-written geek stuff. Then get back to Earth, though a bit retro, with Kirk Tuck's "The Lisbon Portfolio." THAT story is a page-turner.

**I finally gave away a number of classics that I had carried around from house to house over decades. Figured I'd never read them.

Hmm, I like William Gibson. Perhaps Pattern Recognition or Mona Lisa Overdrive. (The latter is SF, but differently.)

Was this year the pits? Started with David Bowie dying and went downhill from there.

Haruki Murakami. Reminds me of Daido Moriyama's photos.

Wendell Berry is not only a very thought provoking, cogent essayist and a great poet but a novelist who in my opinion is one of the best novelists ever born in the US. His first novel- Memories of Old Jack- first published in 1974, is more than exceptional, it is extremely appropriate for some one who sees themselves approaching old age. or even for a 22 year old like I was when I first read it. His writing is so rich that I find myself only reading a chapter at a time or even just pages to absorb it all the more fully. Give him a try.

Reading a classic of a genre, enjoying it, and still feeling like you don't want to plunge into that genre is rhetorically quite effective. I've been primarily an SF reader all my life (more and more mystery and thriller mixed in the last decade or two), and that doesn't leave me feeling I must convert you :-) .

Here's Asimov at the 1974 World Science Fiction Convention in DC (my photo).

It sounds like you need something to warm the cockles of your heart. I recommend you start 2017 with To Kill A Mockingbird. Think of it as fictional medicine to cure any hangover from the night/year before.

If you want something fat try "A Suitable Boy" by Vikram Seth. It's 1500 pages of Dickens, Trollope, and Eliot in one book set in India. I usually have trouble with the names in Indian books but with "Suitable" the characters were so well defined I could tell by what they said who they were.

Try one of Peter Bowen's Montana Mysteries. The first is Coyote Wind. Much of the dialog is in a Metis-influenced style, and you will read the first 20 pages twice trying to understand everything; by the end of the book it seems quite natural; and after a couple of them you find yourself mentally talking to yourself that way.

Bowen at his best is as good as Mark Twain.

Any of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch novels

Sci-Fi. "The Difference Engine" by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. The previously recommended "Mona Lisa Overdrive" works for me, as well.

Non-fiction. "Annapurna" by Maurice Herzog.

I took the opposite tack from you. First I watched the first two episodes of "The Hollow Crown" on PBS, then I read Shakespeare's plays on which the series is based, and now I'm reading "The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors" by Dan Jones. The more I read of the latter (which is a page-turner), the more the plays look like Tudor propaganda.

Regarding Asimov's Foundation series, it originated as a series of short stories and novelettes in Astounding Science Fiction in the mid 1940s. One day at lunch, sf writer Phyllis Eisenstein, her husband Alex, and I tried to think of an sf story that described the word processor before it was invented. The closest we came was a scene in the Foundation series in which the teenage Arkady uses a handheld device to transcribe speech into text. Editing of the text was also voice-directed. I do find it ironic that the sf writer's most important tool did not appear in an sf story before it's invention.

I don't read much sf these days, but one author I can and do recommend is Connie Willis, in particular her "Doomsday Book," a time-travel novel. Though it can get pretty grim in the parts set during the Black Death, the grimness is relieved by some humor in the parts set in the 21st century. I would follow it up with her "To Say Nothing of the Dog," which is much lighter.

I could recommend any amount of SF that would be much better than the Asimov you got lumbered with. But most appropriate for this year would be "The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick, which is everything amazing the TV show isn't. Also, it's a quick read... and might just blow your mind.

Another vote for Eco's "Name of the Rose," Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," pretty much any Murakami, or Yourcenar (I loved "Memoirs of Hadrian.") Or Austin. "Pride and Prejudice" is pretty much perfect.

BUT, if you need American, there is the raw beauty of Chandler. Hard to see the appeal, perhaps, of Philip Marlowe now, given all the time and stereotypes and parodies since ... but, the language! Read "The Big Sleep," watch the movie, read the short stories he cannibalized to piece together the longer novels. A fun /world./

You've been drifting closer to Vermont. I would recommend a southern VT based author, Castle Freeman Jr. 'Go With Me' is a good place to start - kind of noirish - and you would get a two-fer, as it was made into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles and Ray Liotta, called 'Blackway'.

You can't go wrong with any of his books though.

To quote Satchel Paige: "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?"
Satchel Paige, whose career in Major League Baseball was delayed by racism, threw three shutout innings for the Kansa City Athletics to end his pitching career at the age of 60.
Think of Satchel if you are ever feeling "old".

Have you tried Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man"?

It might take a good part of 2017 just get through all of the novel suggestions, much less the novel itself, once you choose one. :)

If you want a classic, then Les Miserables. It is (very) long, but don't be tempted by an abridged version. One of the greatest stories, and characters, in fiction.

If you want a contemporary one, then All the Light You Cannot See. It is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. I know, "beautiful" is normally associated with photographs, not books, but Doerr's use of words is nothing short of breathtaking.

For a non-fiction one, Rick Bragg's "All Over But the Shoutin'," another beautiful book.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano (semi-autobiographical novel about young poets in Mexico City in the mid 1970s)
Against Nature by JK Huysmans
Madame Bovary by Flaubert

I'll put in a 3rd vote for Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

I would also mention Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, the last novel I read. He's a modern classic in my opinion.

My last suggestion is science-fiction...sort-of-not-really: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It's more like quirky, dry British humour and observations that happens to be set in space (sometimes.) I think it would be right up your alley.

I've enjoyed perusing the suggestions in this thread, but I can't resist recommending a few nonfiction works. These are worth a go:

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by biologist/philosopher/Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard remains one of my all-time favorite books, and it is now my college-age daughter's favorite book.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot might at first seem a bit too steeped in science, but it's such a powerful story that it was required reading when my nephew started film school a few years ago.

Good stuff.

Lolita by Nabokov - amazing book.
Or, similarly challenging morality, In Praise of the Stepmother by Llosa.
Staying in South America, you should definitely try The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Saramago. If religion is not your subject, Blindness.
First two books you will be able to finish before 2017.

One more thought - In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien. It was Time Magazines best novel of the year whenever it was published.

William heat me to it. +1 for Master and Commander.

If you are leaning towards the "classic" novels, it is hard to beat the Russians. I would suggest the new Oliver Ready translation of "Crime and Punishment" by Dostoevsky.

If you would like to read something more contemporary I would suggest "The Sympathizer" by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

No one seems to have mentioned Elmore Leonard. Great characters, great dialog. Not much else needed or included. Short. Try "Get Shorty."


Mike reading this in the early morning, 6:30am, whilst getting ready for todays cycle ride, with a group of whom I am the youngest of the 70 year olds. The youngest group member is a mere youth of 68 and the oldest member is 83. We expect to be a bit cold when still riding after dark in the late afternoon; freezing here in London today.
Hike several times a week, 10 to 12 miles per day, with similarly "ancient" people; none of whom class themselves as old. Were are wondering what we will do when we do get old. Read all thise books we have not time for now?
So young man plan for your long term future.
As for fiction my latest has been a quirky set of detective novels "Bryant and May" Christopher Fowler; probably doesn't travel well outside England or even London.

Someone else recommended William Gibson, and I think he's a good choice. The sprawl trilogy (you really want to read all three), which is Neoromancer, Count Zero & Mona Lisa Overdrive, was terribly influential. I might prefer the Pattern Recognition trilogy, which is Pattern Recognition, Spook Country & Zero History: you can get away with the first of these only. The second set are arguably not really science fiction.

Hi, Mike,
"Enchanted Vagabonds": Dana Lamb – adventure.

"Fool": Christopher Moore, followed by "The Serpent of Venice."
"Day of the Triffids": John Wyndham.
"Night Life of the Gods": Thorne Smith. "Three Men in a Boat": Jerome K. Jerome. "To Say Nothing of the Dog": Connie Willis, a tie-in with the previous title.

I recommend "Stoner" by John Williams. I read it this year and absolutely love it!

I seriously recommend the short first novel, 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' by James Joyce.


I also agree with the recommendation "Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet" as a good long read.

The best two books in the world (although maybe just in my opinion):
East of Eden - J. Steinbeck
Life and Fate - V. Grossman (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_and_Fate)

It would be remiss of me not to mention Dune by Frank Herbert. It's certainly a fat, grand page turner. It is science fiction, but one of those books that keeps cropping up at the top of "best of" lists of sci-fi novels. I wish I could come to it fresh again, it was amazing to read without knowing anything about it.

As for "reading around" it - really, don't. The film version was a travesty.

I too always wondered why most (if not all!) of the "hits" that pop up in image searches are completely unrelated to my search terms, particularly with respect to names of people. The results almost seem random, which of course is not what "search" results are supposed to be. I'd like to get to the bottom of this happening.

Glad to see that Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness has been mentioned a number of times. Probably one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century and a great antidote to the notion that novels have to be "loose baggy monsters" in the words of one of your countrymen. Long novels often seem to me to be a reflection of the writer's ego rather than true literary endeavour. I hope 2017 is better for you, Mike.

I'd thoroughly recommend Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the life and times of Henry VIII and his powerful sidekick from nowhere, Thomas Cromwell. I must have read it 4 times at least, and I'm generally not a great fan of historical fiction. There's a compelling TV series to go with it as well (and you can go on to read "Bring Up the Bodies", incidentally where Habeas Corpus comes from!).

On another matter, what's with the apostrophe in "New Year's 2017"? Does New Year own 2017? Might just manage the other way round, apart from the ambiguity...

Book recommendations? Okay.

Sometimes I like a simple, well-written story without literary pretentions. A few I've enjoyed recently: "The Sojourn" by Andrew Krivak, "Driftless" by David Rhodes, "American Boy" and "Montana 1948" both by Larry Watson. All are well crafted and enjoyable books.

If you're willing to delve into a series, there are a few I can recommend in the crime fiction/police procedural vein. C.J. Box's series with Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett as the protagonist, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series and, of course, Robert B. Parker's character development throughout the Spenser series. Craig Johnson's "The Cold Dish" was an excellent stand alone novel that became the first volume in his sadly uneven Longmire series. Another thought, if you really want to dig into longer books with wordy stories look into Greg Iles Mississippi series. The storylines grab you from the beginning but the books sometimes just go on too long, 600-800 pages are typical.

'Course you can get "The Works of Franz Kafka" for cheap or free on Amazon's Kindle. Just kiddin'.

[Your daughter reads three or four novels a DAY?!? Wow. That's 1,095 to 1,460 novels a year! She must not have many other obligations.

On the other hand, it makes her recommendations carry more weight. --Mike]

Mike, she has always read at this rate since very young. In recent years she's been too ill to finish school, study or work, and reading is one of the few outlets for a creative mind. Her room is wall to wall books, as is most of the house. The main problem she faces is finding enough well written novels within the genres she likes.

This is a bit of an off-beat suggestion but it's one I found drew me in - as long as you like flying. Fate Is The Hunter by Ernest K Gann is an autobiographical story of his career as a trainee airline pilot and later captain in the early days of airline aviation in the United States. This was when aircraft and navigation were basic (and often unreliable) and it wasn't possible to fly above weather. Considered a classic in aviation writing it's an exciting read, with some incredible lucky escapes. At the end of the novel he lists his colleagues who didn't make it to retirement when their luck ran out in the air.

Wow! What an array of interesting suggestions. I read both nonfiction and fiction. Nonfiction to learn something and fiction for enjoyment, so in that category heavy novels are anathema to me. I have two recommendations for you, in SF try the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, the pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. The first novel, “Leviathan Wakes”, was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel (Wikipedia). In light fun and very funny reading try “The Last Original Wife” by Dorothea Benton Frank. Of course, anything by Fannie Flagg is in my wheelhouse.
And don’t forget “Saturn Run” by you know who.

'Master and Commander', by Patrick O'Brian, one of the best authors for placing you into a time period - early nineteenth century - with a terrific story involving the sea, subterfuge, 'politicking' and the beginning of the saga of a fascinating pair of unlikely friends. My 'desert island' author.
Why not try 'The Hobbit' ?

Take the pictures as a guide and try Borges, his work is amazing although he didn't write any novel, "Fictions" and the "Aleph" are two of his best collections of short stories. I will also recommend "Pedro Páramo" by Juan Rulfo, maybe the best novel written in spanish in the XX century, "News from the empire" by Fernando del Paso, a great epic about the french intervention in Mexico in the XIX century, "One hundred years of solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez, a book worthy of a Nobel Prize, and "Conversation in the Cathedral" by Mario Vargas Llosa, maybe the best realist novel to understand Latinoamérica.

2016 may go down as both the worst year of my life and the best year of my life. Actually, I'd like to think that the best is yet to come. That's up to me, though, and I intend to make it so.

Here's to 2017, Mike! Bring it on.

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes;
World's End by T.C.Boyle
A Small Town in Germany by John LeCarre

Oh, and I highly recommend Pramoedya Ananta Toer's "This Earth of Mankind," the first of his Buru Quartet. Toer's personal story is incredible in and of itself-he was a political prisoner in Indonesia and "wrote" some of his books while imprisoned. But since he did not have a pen or paper (they were afraid of his words), he worked on the stories by telling them to fellow inmates. And the Buru Quartet is something to behold. Happy reading.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Unforgettable.

Re: "My Struggle", if they get around to translating it from Norwegian into German, they'll have to be careful with the title. Just sayin'....

[Does seem deliberately provocative, and not in a good way, doesn't it? --Mike]

Another one to rescue this year-
Great from the opening sentence. Only a few pages, by another Nobel winner.

J. M. Coetzee. "Waiting for thr Barbarians"

I quite often read one book per day, of the "easy to read" variety, and there are also a lot of books that I start but never finish.

Some potential choices for books that one might finish reading:

- James Lee Burke: Wayfaring stranger (rather massive, though)
- Lawrence Block: The burglar who painted like Mondrian (detective story with some art in it)
- John Scalzi: Old man's war (science fiction; the later novels in the series are not nearly as good)

Pity that Andreas Tjernshaugen's book on tits (great and blue) is apparently not (yet) translated into English, that would be a fine choice.

Mike, I don't know you but I suspect there is a bit of an anarchist lurking in you somewhere. For this reason, and because it contains the greatest pun ever put on paper, I recommend The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey.

I read fiction for the most part, and for fun. So I like anything by John Sanford, Grisham, or Michael Connolly. For more serious stuff almost anything by Ann Pachett, (State of Wonder, which someone mentioned already) and anything by Kate Atkinson. I like her detective series with Jackson Brodie. Her Life After Life, was not science fiction, but gently raised the question of living through time and getting second chances.
And the there's The Orphan Masters Son, a hard to take and gritty tale that takes place in North Korea. Not for the faint of heart! It also got a pullizer, though not sure what year.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007