Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Books! I need books!

I am looking for some good book recommendations, and this seems a good place to solicit suggestions. If you've read anything you've really enjoyed, got an author whose prose rocks you to the core, have a book that made you laugh out loud, I'd love to know.

I have a work trip and my England vacation coming up, which means hours of airport time, plus airplane time. And for the UK trip, once I get to London, tube sitting time and two hours of train time to Norwich. In other words, I will be traveling FORever. Both ways. And I read fast. I will need a lot of books.

My birthday is coming up. And people will be asking me what I want. And what I want are books. I just need to make a list. For this, I need some help.

I believe good fiction is one of life's true pleasures, but I also like compelling memoirs. Like, I just read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, which I highly recommend. Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family is one of my all time favorites. As is Alexandra Fuller's memoir of her African childhood, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight.

Sometimes I also like to feel edified, but I get pretty bored reading history if it's dry. But I feel like I ought to read more history. If there are fictional characters I can connect with that are put in historical context, I can get really into it. And then I feel good because I feel like I've also learned something. Most of my biblical knowledge, I am ashamed to admit, came from reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

Among my favorite books, in no particular order:
100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing - Melissa Bank
Ada, or Ardor - Vladimir Nabokov
The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera

In school I took mostly French literature classes, so my knowledge of the English classics is shockingly feeble. Like, I've never read Pride and Prejudice! I know this is appalling. That should probably go on my list. So any suggestions on those would be much appreciated.

Any ideas?


  1. i can't believe i'm the first comment here! whoa!

    for starters, a few friends and i are doing a little "read 20 books in two months!" thing, so you can check out what we're all reading at babes and books for a few ideas. i haven't posted yet about A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, which I just finished and really really enjoyed. he managed to be super informative and fricking hilarious at the same time.

    i was going to suggest Kavalier and Clay, but you beat me to it :)

    also, as far as english classics, last month i finally got around to Jane Eyre and loved it. decent clip for a 500 page classic, and very gothic - ghosts! mansions! brooding men! it's all there.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    I finally had some time to read your blog again.
    The last book I read and I really liked is a non-fiction, historical but really good if you're into those kind. It's Tim Judah's Kosovo,War and Revenge.Unfortunately, it's not very uplifting.
    I can see that you're busy.I would still love to see you before I move to N.Y.C.

  3. You have of course read The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri right? If not you should, especially considering you lived in India.

    On a similar note, The Kite Runner is spectacular.

    If you like Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende tries to be in that genre. I'd recommend House of the Spirits.

  4. A few classics that other brilliant classics were inspired by:
    The Iliad and The Odyssey (Robert Fitzgerald's translations)
    Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
    Lolita (Nobokov)
    The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky) (so many Russians, so little time)

    Everyone should read banned books. Excellent banned books:
    The Rainbow (D.H. Lawrence)
    Catcher in the Rye (Salinger)
    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain)
    To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

    My favorite book about writing is "Bird by Bird," by Annie Lamott.

    I loved Rushdie's "Midnight's Children," and re-read certain chapters every so often (like when the boy in class sneezes into his teacher's hand, and the kids shout that if his nose is so big it looks like a relief of India, then would the blob of snot be Ceylon?). Also anything by Pamuk, or Bangladesh's M. Yunus.

    Wow. A list of great books to read. You win.

  5. I can lend you a few if you like. A few that I'd suggest are:

    A Confederacy of Dunces,

    Confessions of A Taoist on Wall Street by David Payne (which I'm not done with yet, so you better bring it back).

    The 158 Pound Marriage by John Irving

    The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

    I also have an unbelievable amount of non-fiction that is good for planes.

  6. Kate - Thanks for the link! So fun to check out your book site. I've never read any Bill Bryson and I have heard fun things about Walk in the Woods. Thank you!

    M - I'm so sorry - I'll drop you an email.

    Jo - I've read the Namesake but not the Interpreter of Maladies! I will *definitely* put that on my list. And I did like Kite Runner and I forgot that I do love Isabel Allende. I read a whole bunch of her books when I traveled in Chile.

    Jordaan - Oh, so many to go through! I have read almost no Russians, and what I've read I do like. Also, must must read Midnight's Children. Shocking that I haven't already. And I've never heard of Pamuk or M. Yunus. What a wide list. Thank you!

    HIN - Ooh, I don't want to borrow as I'm definitely going to leave whatever books I read for Maude so I don't have to haul them back. But those are great suggestions. I haven't read ANY on your list, I love John Irving, and have heard The Corrections and Confederacy of Dunces are both great.

    Totally excited. I KNEW I would learn things and get great suggestions from you all!

  7. Out by Natsuo Kirino is very good but it may be too violent or creepy for you.

    Life of Pi by Yann Martel is good too.

    Toast by Nigel Slater is an excellent food related book.

    Maximum City by Suketu Mehta is good.

    Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins is my all time favorite.

  8. Anything from the Peterotica canon, by Peter Griffin:

    "Angela's Asses",
    "Shaved New World",
    "Harry Potter and the Half-Black Chick",
    "The Hot Chick Who Was Italian, Or Maybe Some Kind Of Spanish".

    The latter is available on tape, as read by Betty White.

  9. Man, you have a well read audience. Particularly the Peterotica guy.

    Two recent books I really liked were Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by M Pessl, and Absurdistan by G Shteyngart. The Russian Debutant's Handbook by the latter is prolly even better.

    I kinda think Pride y Prej is boring.

    Down and Out in London in Paris is pretty good, if you have a thing for louche Europe in the 30s, and who doesn't, really?

  10. Pride and Prejudice is a must read! Tabloid Love, by Bridget Harrison, is a light, funny memoir. The World is Flat by Friedman is intriguing / historical.

  11. Try some of Jasper FForde's books such as Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots. He's British so you can get them in London. Also, Ondaatje's new book Divisadero has some lovely writing.

  12. Lis, you might enjoy some of Flannery O'connor's work. Two that I highly recommmend are "Three by Flannery O'Connor" and "The Complete Stories."

    I also just recently read "Eat, Pray, Love," by Elizabeth Gilbert. The Pray part took place at an ashram in India, so with your history there, you might find it interesting.

    And a light read, but a good one, is Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist."

    You lucky girl, going to England! Is there room in your bag for me? ;)

  13. You probably have waaay more suggestions than you need, but I recently read "The Time Traveler's Wife" (which was recommended to my by a fellow blogger) and it was really good. Also, my favorite book of all time is "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. Have fun on your trip!

    P.S. I'm glad you posted this -- I picked up some ideas myself.

  14. Such great recommendations here!

    I read a great book while in South Africa called "A Recessional for Grace" by Marguerite Poland I have a feeling you'd like. Also finally read "Cry the Beloved Country" which I think is one of the most perfect books ever written.

    A great memoir, written by a young, intrepid traveler is "Around the Bloc: My life in Moscow, Beijing and Havana." This girl will inspire you - I promise! Her most recent book is "100 places every woman should go" - such a cool gal.

    Also, "Memoirs of a Geisha" is breathtaking. You've probably read it but I put it off for a long time thinking it was too mainstream but could not put it down when I finally read it.

    Also - anything by David Sedaris is always a good thing :)

  15. Dr. MVM - I've heard I ought to read Life of Pi - thanks for the reminder. I was on a Tom Robbins kick years ago and read a ton of his books. I enjoyed them but they aren't among my faves. And the others I've never heard of so will have to check out! Excpet the violent/creepy one, I think.

    Anon - Yikes!

    David - It's true! I am so interested to see what my readers read! The Calamity Physics book sounds intriguing. I've gotta say, though, I hated Russian Debutant's Handbook. I didn't get very far and gave it away. And of course I have a thing for louche Europe at any period of time!

    HKW - A light and funny memoir sounds great! And I have to read The World is Flat. Friedman spoke at our annual meeting last year and I've meant to read it ever since.

    Anon - Thank you! I've read one of Fford's books - the second Tuesday Next one, don't remember the title. And so enjoyed it. Will wait for London to but one. And oh, I love Ondaatje's writing. Thanks for the rec.

    AF - You're the third friend to tell me I need to read Eat, Pray, Love - I HAVE to get this book. And it's appalling but I've read nothing by Flannery O'Connor. Yes, there's room in my bag! And on the way back I'll make you hold a note saying, "Hi boys, remember me?"

    GN - Can never have too many recommendations. I'm always looking for good books and am so excited to have a long list. I liked both those books very much and in fact the Time Traveler's Wife is an all time fave. Thanks!

    MI - I love all your recommendations - haven't read any except Memoirs of a Geisha and a couple by David Sedaris, who makes me laugh out loud. I will definitely check them all out. Particularly the memoir you said would inspire me!

    WIP - I am soo delighted for a laugh my ass off rec. That is fantastic! Thanks.

    Thank you all! I am going to print out all of these recs and look them up one by one this weekend. I feel so lucky to have gotten so many great suggestions.

  16. Anything by Barbara Kingsolver, but especially "The Poisonwood Bible" (about African missionaries) and "The Prodigal Summer" (about an amazing mountain woman).

    For funny, can't-put-it-down reading, get the "Tales of the City" collection by Armistead Maupin, a gay San Francisco author.

    For non-fiction, I recommend "The Heartless Stone". It just came out, and it's about one man's trip around the world to discover the origins - and artificial scarcity - of diamonds, as well as the marketing genius that has created a world market so eager for sparkly rocks.

  17. I highly recommend "The Third Eye" by Tuesday Lobsang.

    Its an autobiography written by a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He covers the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Its beautiful and definitely one of my favorites. Have a great trip!

  18. I know this sounds boring but try, "Stealing Lincoln's Body." Just finished it. It's the story of a band of criminal dunces in the 1870s who actually try to steal Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom to get one of their buddies out of prison. True story. Entertaining in kind of a morbid sense!

  19. G&D - I love Barbara Kingsolver. The Poisonwood Bible was fantastic and there were so many things I could relate to. I liked it more than Prodigal Summer. Both your other recs sound very intriguing. Since going to Cape Town I've been meaning to learn more about the diamond trade, actually.

    MM - Oh, the Chinese invasion of Tibet still makes me so angry. I will definitely check this book out. Thank you!

    Riley - I love entertaining and morbid. Will look into this book for sure. Thanks!

  20. I'm 135 pages into Middlesex right now. It's EXCELLENT. Check it out.

  21. Hello!

    I found your blog from someone else's, so I thought I'd mention a book I just read that was amazing.

    "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova.

    I passed it over several times, thinking it wasn't really my style, but then eventually bought it. It takes place over three time periods, mostly in Europe and is a story of the search for Dracula.

    Like I said, I initially dismissed it, but once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down!


  22. FreckledK - Yes! I absolutely loved Middlesex!

    Alexis - Hi! Thanks for stopping by and for the recommendation. I'll look into it!

  23. just wandered by your blog...
    pride & prejudice, for certain.
    for a more modern view of the country you're visiting, try white teeth (zadie smith) or buddha of suburbia (hanif kureishi). remains of the day also great.
    and i find haruki murakami to be very appropriate to airports and airplanes. wind-up bird chronicle, wild sheep chase, norwegian wood.
    have fun!!

  24. You should try 'In Spite of the Gods: the strange rise of modern india' by Edward Luce. Its non-fiction, but not dry at all. Enjoy your trip!

  25. Sweetie - Thanks. Remains of the Day was lovely but made me so sad. I like Ishiguro as a writer. Interesting - haven't read anything by Zadie smith, or Kureishi or Murakami.

    Ann - OK! I'll add that. I always gravitate to fiction but love good non-fiction recs!

  26. Rousing myself from a couchbound funk to belatedly comment and agree with some of the other commenters. A few years ago one of our friends gave us A Walk In the Woods because he had decided that whenever he read a good book he was going to pass it on. We sent it through at least 14 friends and family before we lost track of it. It is hilarious and a good travel read - easy to pick up and put down or read all at once.

    I got Bird by Bird as a Christmas gift this year and loved it enough to keep by the bedside and read bits whenever I can't sleep.

    I read Interpreter of Maladies on my in-laws porch last year. It was great and once again, short stories are easy to jump in and out of.

    My favorite fiction book last year was Gilead (Marilynne Robinson) and my favorite nonfiction was Arc of Justice (Kevin Boyle). I'd also recommend Peace Like a River (Leif Enger).

    Have fun. London sounds so much more enticing than Waynesville, Missouri


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