Let’s put together a never-ending list of good stuff to read. I’ll start -
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
“Here is the unforgettable story of the Binewskis, a circus-geek family whose matriarch and patriarch have bred their own exhibit of human oddities (with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes). Their offspring include Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and a megalomaniac ambition worthy of Genghis Khan . . . Iphy and Elly, the lissome Siamese twins . . . albino hunchback Oly, and the outwardly normal Chick, whose mysterious gifts make him the family’s most precious—and dangerous—asset.”
I’m not too far in, but the language and imagery are powerful.
My first submission would be Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm.
Perlstein’s book is about Barry Morris Goldwater, the little-discussed Republican presidential nominee in 1964. He ran a bellicose campaign that slammed Lyndon Baines Johnson for military weakness abroad and domestic softness at home, running a prototype of Richard Nixon’s ‘law and order’ rhetoric. Perlstein discusses Goldwater primarily as an under-discussed turning point in American political history, as Goldwater landed a hammer blow against the ‘New Deal consensus’ that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had established with his advocacy of ‘free-market’ economics. While Goldwater failed, he was the prototype of both Nixon and Ronald Reagan, which Perlstein discusses in his next books Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge, both of which focus on how the New Deal consensus was taken apart, piece-by-piece, and how Reagan built a political future in the midst of post-Vietnam War disillusionment with politics.
They’re also fairly light reads and incredibly well-researched. They’re long, but worthwhile.
I just finished The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu) and it was truly, truly excellent. immediately bought the other books in the trilogy and am patiently waiting for them to arrive. really cool science fiction that offers up some great backstory starting in the Cultural Revolution (late 60s China) and connects it to some far-out concepts & theories. delves into the actual science of the story enough that it offers some very useful context but not so much that it’ll send your head spinning.
I’m currently reading Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, which is a sort of fantasy/(gulp) steampunk story set in the grimiest fucking city possible. not my genre of choice at all, but Miéville’s a very skilled writer & I’m like, 170 pages in and really enjoying it so far. definitely interested to see where it goes.
I’m not as big a reader as I once was but I have read a couple other books this year, the first being Absolutely On Music by Haruki Murakami & Seiji Ozawa. pretty solid, I thought, and probably worth a read if you know a lot about classical music (I do not). the second was The Immense Journey by Loren Eiseley, which is a collection of short essays connecting anthropology & scientific advancement to existential questions. I promise it’s not as dense as I probably just made it sound. I wouldn’t say it was optimistic, but it was definitely not pessimistic, which I enjoyed a lot given how awful everything seems nowadays (climate change, etc.).
Iain M Banks’ culture series
The Culture series is a science fiction series written by Scottish author Iain M. Banks. The stories center on the Culture, a utopian, post-scarcity space communist society of humanoids, aliens, and very advanced artificial intelligences living in anarchist habitats spread across the Milky Way galaxy.
I honestly can’t do justice to why this series is my favorite series, why I’ve read all but one book twice, and why I refuse to read the last book (BECAUSE THEN IT WILL BE OVER).
Annnalee Newitz wrote a good primer on io9 https://io9.gizmodo.com/354739/welcome-to-the-culture-the-galactic-civilization-that-iain-m-banks-built that’s better than I could.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.
A murder mystery set in a Benedictine monastery in 12th century Italy. Someone is killing the monks at this place of learning in a world of fear and religious upheaval. Two monks from the outside come to solve the murder while diving deep into the many different ways the Catholic Church has fractured with super interesting discussions about semiotics.
Also there is a goofy movie starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater with a sex scene that goes on way longer than my 15 years self could of suspected.
One of my favorite books of all time is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s sci-fi and dystopian, but in an incredibly subtle way. My wife, who “doesn’t like sci-fi” also loves this book because of how great the characters, themes, and prose are.
I started The Name of the Rose a while back but it seemed a lot like a Sherlock Holmes AU with a LOT of extra prose. Does it pick up, or is it just not going to be to my taste?
It sounds like it’s not going to be your cup of tea? I mean the “extra prose” is kind of the point. Sherlock Holmes doesn’t really get into questions like “Does God laugh, and if she does, what does that imply?”
Recently I’ve enjoyed Spacey adventures of various flavours.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and the standalone follow up A Closed and Common Orbit are both big-hearted, character driven sci-fi novels and fast reads.
Revenger by Alistair Reynolds is another fast read but much grimier than the above two. Basically it’s a mariner’s revenge story, set in a weird future where people live on these tenuous little space islands and explorers crack open ‘baubles’ to explore ruins of ages past to find things of value. It really stuck with me.
It legit might not be your taste as it often dives deep into things that isn’t the murder mystery. Me I always found it enjoyable for it to bounce between the mystery and some deep philosophical conversations and also a few drug trips if I recall.
I’m going to throw A Canticle for Leibowitz out there, it was a really interesting book. Post apocalyptic, but dealing with society and religion and stuff? And if anything matters? Cycles? Those are the things I think of when I think about it.
be a bit cheeky to promote my own work wouldn’t it.
it’s good though.
always end up suggesting the erasers by alain robbe-grillet, i guess it’s stuck with me for a long while now. probably a bit difficult to get into unless you’re in the right mood. but it does have that mood, a heavy plodding, through streets, in circles, while people die.
ah Robbe Grillet! Djinn is maybe my favourite book-no-one’s-ever-heard-of. It’s a thin volume that was originally a French grammar book meant to illustrate examples of tense usage and such, but in translation it’s just this delightfully weird little piece of surrealism.
I’d have to recommend Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes as the best bit of science writing I’ve ever read. If you’re wondering why people talk about gut bacteria and microbiomes in relation to nutrition and disease nowadays this covers why in a really readable and interesting way.
As for fiction, Sci-fi fans might like Seveneves, which has humanity trying to escape the earth following the sudden explosion of the moon in an alternate near future. There’s some good stuff in there but the author uses characters that are transparent parallels to real people, which is a bit uncomfortable.
Geek Love is an amazing novel, thumbs up.
I don’t particularly have a specific favourite novel or anything but I’d recommend Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller because there’s very little else really like it. A strange novel about novels, and about reading, where each chapter is a new story that continues the previous story, much like the titular novel that the book is about, which the reader (you) is attempting to piece together as part of a dazzlingly weird plot about counterfeit books.
Anyone who read The House With a Clock in its Walls as a kid might enjoy the author’s novel for adults, The Face in the Frost. It’s a short fantasy novel about two anachronistic wizards trying to save the world, but really it’s a mechanism for terrifying set-pieces and assorted creepy bits. The wizards spend most of the book powerless and afraid while seemingly everything is trying to kill them. It’s good!
I’d also recommend Michael Cisco’s The Narrator, though it’s a little hard to get into. It’s a war story, but less in the vein of your typical “let’s fight the bad guys!!” fantasy narrative and more Vietnam filtered through a prism of weird fiction. There’s Book of the New Sun-style subtle worldbuilding, some cool and memorable characters, and an ending that’s uncompromising in how it commits to the grotesque and pointless nature of human conflict. Have a copy of Cisco’s Animal Money at home as well, though I keep bouncing off of it. Maybe one day…
When I think of books that I would recommend just about anyone read, I would go to Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Márquez is more known for magical realist works, but Chronicle is drawn more from his years as a journalist (even though it is still fictional) and the basics of the plot are in the title. There is a man in town, and everyone know that he will die, but no one does anything to stop it and lo he dies. It’s about 100-150 pages of diving into why this happens which is intricately woven into the interior lives of the characters and the history of the place, two things which are deeply entangled.
There might be Márquez books I like better, but I go to this first because it is far more approachable than say One Hundred Years of Solitude or The General in his Labyrinth. Also it is great
Chronicle is a really good example of Marquez writing his ass off. there’s so much skill on display in that novel.
I know Austin has mentioned Murakami on several different occasions, but I think its literally impossible to have a reading list without him.
My personal favourite is Kafka on the Shore, but I also love Norwegian Wood. For the first timer, I suggest Norwegian Wood, its a pretty straightforward love story.
For Authors who arn’t Murakami, I’d say Miranda July’s The First Bad Man is an amazing read. She does have a particular type of Voice though, and if you do not like that you will not like this. For what it’s worth, I thought it was a beautiful book and I haven’t loved a book so much in recent memory, and the last time i read it was last year.
I love Miranda July! She’s able to combine these really “quirky” whimsical moments with legitimately disturbing pathological undercurrents that creates such beautiful gutpunches of emotion. Of course her movies are great too, and I really enjoyed her short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You. Murakami is great of course too.
My favorite author, or at least the one I’ve read the most of is Kurt Vonnegut. Definitely another person who can create really acerbic moments with a humanist undercurrent, but he’s also a really great world builder, whether he’s describing Mars or a college town in upstate New York. My personal favorites are God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Breakfast of Champions, and Sirens of Titan, but there’s also a reason why Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle are his best known works. If you like Pynchon or Philip K. Dick, you’d probably like Vonnegut (same goes if you like Vonnegut and haven’t read one of the others). They definitely have their own styles, but they have a sense of black humor and simultaneous hopelessness and beauty in common.