Tell Me What To Read

You might have noticed that I’ve been doing this whole Movie Education thing for a while to try and expand my pitiful cinematic horizons beyond what my nerd upbringing provided. I have this idea that it’s going to be good for me when I go back to directing this summer, but for now, that’s pure theory. I might still be a wanker. Well, ok, I’ll definitely still be a wanker, but we’ll have to see if I’m a more practiced…oh, never mind. We’re talking about books, today.

Trying to do a Literary Education project like I’ve been doing for movies would be a fool’s errand. I’m a fast reader, but it would still take too much time for it to be a serious focus. Still, I’d like to get outside of the genres, books and authors with which I’m comfortable and to get out into a wider world. But where to start?

What I’m saying is I need some help.

My mom actually got me going with this, suggesting I pick up some Jane Austen, both because it’s a free download and because I’m apparently a neanderthal heathen for not having ever read anything she’s written.  She suggested I start with either Pride and Prejudice (shock!) or Persuasion.  Thoughts?

Whichever way I go, though, it’s a start in a direction I need to take.  My reading history is inconsistant. I’ve read piles of some stuff (Epic poetry! Greek drama! All the fantasy books!) and almost nothing in other areas (Anything you’d read in a Western Lit class! And shut up, I was a terrible student.).

So this is where I ask for some suggestions.  I can’t promise when I’ll get to anything suggested, but I will get there, and I’ll appreciate all of it.

Let me help to focus your mind. I mean, I’ll take any suggestions at all, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the awesome books you’ve read, think, perhaps, about what was formative to you. Something that opened your mind to new genres, cultures or modes of thought. Maybe something that influenced your own style or interests, or that gave you an appreciation for something you used to hate.  It can be modern or ancient. Fiction or non. Verse or prose. Sky’s the limit.

Make me a better reader. I dare you.

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18 Responses to Tell Me What To Read

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Maybe you could give us some help and tell us a few things you’ve read and liked, for whatever reason/s. Even a favorite genre or two would help for those of us (me) who read across many.

    I started a spreadsheet (shocking I know) a few years back where each month had a theme… Short Stories… Classics… History. Stuff I either perpetually forgot about or didn’t think I liked. I had to read one book from each of those categories every month. Best decision I ever made. Turns out I love short stories. I also have an appreciation for the classics that is far different from how I felt about some when I read them in my teens. Not sure how nerdy you are with organization but this system gave me some structure and guidelines without making me feel FORCED to do anything.

    So… yeah. That’s my initial input.

  2. Eric says:

    Ok, so, as older things go, I love Epic Poetry (Illiad is probably the best favorite), Greek Drama (Especially Medea). Really love Steinbeck and Salinger. Vonnegut. As I said I’ve read a ton of fantasy, less so with science fiction (Though I love Dune, Foundation, Moon is a Harsh Mistress). I love Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. LeGuin. How’s that?

  3. Mere says:

    wow, Elizabeth — a spreadsheet? i mean, you’re right, i’m not at all surprised by the organization, but holy dorkness, Batman! =D

    as for you, Eric, 1) Pride and Prejudice. ALWAYS Pride and Prejudice.

    and 2) i’ve distilled my *immense* reading experience to a few books that will be interesting AND informative (if non-fiction) and just plain fucking awesome (if fiction):

    Deus Lo Volt! — by Evan S. Connell
    (because then you will actually understand that whole “Crusades” thing.)

    On Writing — by Stephen King
    (because for the couple hours it takes you to read it, you will not feel bad about being a writer. which, speaking as a writer? totally worth it.)

    Sleepwalk With Me — by Mike Birbiglia
    (because sometimes you should just read and laugh, without all that petty “thinking” crap)

    The Civil War (3 Vol. Set) — by Shelby Foote
    (NOT for literary pussies. but again, you’ll finally understand that whole “Civil War” thing.)

    The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde — by Shambala T. Chromosome (just kidding — it’s by Oscar Wilde)
    (because that much talent dying early is so fucking unfair it nearly disproves the idea of god.)

    Geek Love — by Katherine Dunn
    (the book that taught me that writing weirdos is infinitely preferable to writing normies.)

    London — by Edward Rutherfurd
    (approximately a million pages long, but is practically a textbook on how to write a continuous narrative — ’cause it follows certain families for a thousand years.)

    Drown — OR — The Brief and Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao — both by Junot Diaz
    (the author is one of those freaks-of-nature to whom writing is like water, and they’re the streambed.)

    Stones From The River — by Ursula Hegi
    (i defy you to not be changed by this book.)

    i could go on (and on and on and on and on), but i figure even one of these books could send your life spiraling in a new direction.

    best of luck!

    —Ed. Suggested later: “Tokyo Vice” by @jakeadelstein

  4. Elizabeth says:

    You lost me at the epic poetry. I had to physically step away from my computer and eat chocolate before was able to look at this again.

    You are totally speaking my language with the Fantasy genre though. Yeah I have no problem admitting it. Have you read the George R.R. Martin books or did you just watch the Game of Thrones HBO series? There really are endless book in this genre that I’d recommend. I’ve always been a fan of the Riverworld series by Philip Jose Farmer. I have a warm nook in my heart for The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks. You can’t really go wrong with The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I would also recommend Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. I can keep going and totally nerd it up… but I won’t.

    Based on what you said you liked Classics-wise above you might not want to read any of the Jane Austen books right now. Have you seen any of the movie adaptations? Thoughts? I think they should be read but I’m also a firm believer that some books have a time and a place and if you’re not in said time/place you won’t enjoy it like you should. I found the Modern Library list of the Top 100 books to be fascinating and a reminder of books meant to be read but forgotten mixed in with old favorites and, sadly, books I had never heard of. The only books I will pretty much always recommend are Alice in Wonderland – sheer magic regardless of age or mood- and Sherlock Holmes.

    Some books that I have had excellent luck recommending in the past include: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Love that book. We talked about Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Murakami. Geek Love never fails me. I found The Hunger Games to be thoroughly enjoyable although it sounds like the wrong thing to say about the subject matter. I adored Water For Elephants by Sarah Gruen. No I have not seen the movie- I loved the book too much. Gun With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem is strange and strangely awesome. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski is a hefty tome, but well worth the effort. Civilwarland in Bad Decline is a magnificent collection of stories from George Saunders. One of my favorite collection of essays is Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman- I have a feeling you’d enjoy this greatly. My last recommendation is anything David Sedaris. Props if you choose to listen to the audio versions.

  5. Chrissy says:

    Here’s some of my personal faves

    try Jasmine by Bahrati Muhkerjee – can’t place its genre – I just remeber loving it

    Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy – same here – it’s sort of sci-fi, sort of fantasy

    The Wave by Susan Casey – nonfiction – I originally thought it was going to be dull – it was amazing!

    You’ve probably read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, but if not – go get it!

    You also may like works by China Mieville – I read his Kraken, and although I never geek out over the craft of writing (I always go straight for content), I found myself actually rereading passages because they were so beautifully written.

    I don’t know if you’ve read the Hunger Games series – I dismissed them as stupid when I read the jackets, but my sister insisted I read them. I would not sleep until I had finished all 3.

    happy reading!

  6. Mels says:

    for Austen, start with P&P-it will surprise you how funny it is!

    Otherwise, wait a couple days and I’ll have a list for you.

  7. cabri says:

    Classic SF that’s a quick read: LeGuin’s first 3 Hainish cycle books, Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusions. These lead into her later Hugo-winning classics (tho not chronologically, story-wise). Nowadays they’re often classed as YA but back then they were just books, whatever those are.

    A not so quick read, and not for everyone, are CJ Cherryh’s books. The Morgaine cycle’s a good intro, 40,000 in Gehenna and Downbelow Station considered her best early classics. She does very dense world-building and a sort of stream of consciousness style that some people find off-putting but I find pushes me deep into the story.

  8. cabri says:

    Oh, and you can probably find the Hainish books on a book club omnibus edition at a good used book store.

  9. Eric says:

    First: Holy crap, people, I love you. Thank you for all of the suggestions.

    Second: I want to put the really awesome list Nick gave to me here, both to keep things centralized, and because if anyone finds this post, they deserve all the suggestions.


    Reading suggestions for @saalon


    * _The Fortunate Fall_, Raphael Carter
    * _Dream Master_ Roger Zelazny
    * _The Artificial Kid_, Bruce Sterling
    * _Whipping Star_, Frank Herbert
    * _The Postman_, David Brin
    * _Brother Termite_, Patricia Anthony

    * Bujold’s Vorkosigan/nexus series (Starting w/Warrior’s Apprentice)
    * Stross’s Laundry series (Starting w/_The Atrocity Archives_)

    * _Driftglass_, Samuel R. Delany
    * _Voices of Time_, JG Ballard
    * _Dangerous Visions_, ed. Harlan Ellison
    * Anything by Sturgeon, esp. with “The Widget, The Wadget, and Boff” and “Slow Sculpture.” The Vintage trade paperback collection will do fine.
    * _Tales from the White Hart_, Arthur C. Clarke (Did you know Clarke was wickedly funny?)
    * Dark Matter, ed. Sheree Renée Thomas


    * _Jackaroo_, Cynthia Voigt (The other “Kingdom” books are good, too.)
    * _Dicey’s Song_ and _A Solitary Blue_, Cynthia Voigt (And as much other Tillerman Cycle stuff as you can stand)
    * _A Fabulous Creature_, Zilpha Keatley Snyder
    * _Maniac Magee_, Jerry Spinelli
    * _The Curse of the Blue Figurine_, John Bellairs


    * _Paper Grail_, James Blaylock
    * _Dark Cities Underground_, Lisa Goldstein

    Mainstream-ish Fiction (Okay, this is really almost all SFF, too)

    * _Sewer, Gas, Electric_, Matt Ruff
    * _Reservation Blues_, Sherman Alexie
    * _Amnesia Moon_, Jonathan Lethem_
    * _Life Being the Best & Other Stories_, Kay Boyle
    * _The Intuitionist_, Colson Whitehead
    * _Labyrinths_, Borges
    * _The Man Who was Thursday_, GK Chesterton. Get the “annotated” one ed. by Martin Amis (?)

    Philosophy (etc.)

    * _Lectures on Philosophy_ and _The Need for Roots_, Simone Weil
    * _The Metaphysical Club_, Louis Menand
    * _Experience and Nature_, John Dewey
    * _Pragmatism_, William James
    * _Between Past and Future_, Hannah Arendt
    * _Beyond Good and Evil_, Nietzsche
    * _Discipline and Punish_, Michel Foucault
    * _Black Skin, White Masks_, Frantz Fanon
    * _The Question of German Guilt_, Karl Jaspers
    * “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” WVO Quine



    * _Varieties of Religious Experience_, William James
    * _Gravity and Grace_, Simone Weil
    * _Works of Love_, Kierkegaard

    Not sure about earlier Christian writers, at least, not sure about where best to go to read them now. But some of my favorite figures in Christian history are:

    * Origen
    * Tertullian
    * Theodoret
    * Polycarp (best name ever)
    * Perpetua & Felicitas


    Among Buddhist thinkers, I think Nagarjuna is the most interesting, and his Mulamadhyamakakarikas (pardon the lack of proper diacritics) are the Budhist text that most influenced me. However, there are only a few good published translations, and all of them have significant drawbacks. If I had to pick one, it would be Nancy McCagney’s.

    For early Buddhism — not sure what the best translations of the Tripitaka are, but I’m partial to the early bits. (cf. here:

    * _Zen Buddhism: A History_, Heinrich Dumoulin (There are probably more modern sources for this kind of overview, but I don’t know what they are offhand)
    * _The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi_, Burton Watson
    * _Wandering on the Way_, Victor Mair
    * _Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters_, AC Graham


    _Bloom County Babylon_, Berke Breathed
    _Hard Times_, Studs Terkel
    _Looking at Photographs_, John Szarkowski
    _I Kill Giants_, Joe Kelly

  10. Chrissy says:

    omg – I totally forgot 3 other really great non-fictions that I read last year:

    The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean – a fascinating exploration of every element on the periodic table. I freaking understand how atomic bombs work bc of reading this!

    Blue: The History of a Color and
    Black: The History of a Color
    both by Michel Pastoureau.

    Both are wonderful explanations of how Western art and culture have understood and used these colors. They’ve given me a much deeper appreciation of art.

  11. Lauren says:

    All the Names by Jose Saramago
    He has a Nobel Prize and you don’t. Also, punctuation is for pussies.

    Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
    If you were a tad more autistic, you would talk like this. An interesting challenge to consider from the author’s perspective: how to make the reader actually like this kid. Which you do.

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    I was totally the female equivalent of this kid, so maybe that gives me a soft spot. Bonus: it’s set in Pittsburgh.

    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
    Computers! Codebreakers! World War II! Read this last year and really enjoyed it.

  12. Rachel says:

    A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, by Julian Barnes.

  13. Rachel says:

    (An respect to Chrissy for bigging up CHINA.)

  14. Brennen says:

    It’s the middle of the night, and I’m a little fuzzy about the head after climbing and drinking beers all day, but I will toss some things out there:

    Seconding from above:

    – Junot Diaz – Fucking amazing writer.

    – Bloom County Babylon – Almost all of Bloom County is wonderful, and this is the collection I read most as a kid.

    – William James – I harbor a suspicion that the American Pragmatists are kind of underrated.

    Other comic strips:

    – _Krazy Kat_, however much of it you can find.

    Early Christianity:

    – _The Desert Fathers_ – Helen Waddell

    – _The Gnostic Gospels_ and _Beyond Belief_ – Elaine Pagels

    The Western Canon:

    – _Essays_ – Michel de Montaigne, probably in the Donald Frame translation.


    – _Among Others_ – Jo Walton, who is the sort of writer I’d like to have a long conversation with although I suspect I’m nowhere near bright enough to hold up my end of it.

    General Awesome:

    – _Classics Revisited_, _More Classics Revisited_, and _The Complete Poems_ – Kenneth Rexroth

  15. Mels says:

    I am literally going to my bookshelf for this, mostly.
    Mythology and Folklore:
    Metamorphosis Ovid
    The Sagas of the Icelanders
    The Mabinogion Tetrology Evangeline Walton

    Fiction (largely classic and SFF-I don’t separate them out):
    Robert Aspirin’s MYTH series (Myth Adventures, Little Myth Marker, etc)
    Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, and after you’ve tackled some I will star below, Northanger Abbey
    Peter S. Beagle, A Fine and Private Place, and The Innkeepers Song
    Anne Bishop Black Jewels Trilogy (her other stuff is much more girly-this is girly and obviously has an agenda, but has a great story)
    Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre* and if you like that, Villette.
    Charles Brockdon Brown’s Weiland, or The Transformation* (Though the end may make you frustrated)
    Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. All of it. Immediately. And he has a high fantasy series too, which is good.
    Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood
    anything you can find by Charles de Lint and his alter-ego, Samuel M Key (the former does fairies in urban worldscapes, features lots of formerly victimized types who have taken control of their lives through art, etc, the latter is horror/suspense)
    Harry Connolly’s twenty palaces trilogy
    Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex then when you’re done email me, we have talking to do.
    Faulkner: if you wanna tackle him, start with As I Lay Dying, it will allow you to ease in to his writing style, then do Light in August and The Sound and the Fury.
    F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not just Gatsby, my fave is Tender is the Night but it is unfinished, FYI.
    Kate Forsyth’s Witches of Eileann series
    Neil Gaiman. Duh.
    Joe Hill Heart-Shaped Box and Horns
    Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, then Liveship Traders Trilogy, then Tawny Man trilogy, then Rain Wilds Chronicles
    Randall Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits
    Jonathan Letham Gun with Occasional Music
    C.S> Lewis, Til We Have Faces
    Matthew Lewis The Monk*
    Robin McKinley, Deerskin
    Mil Millington Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, A Certain Chemistry, and Love and Other Drugs (british humor!)
    Cherie Priest. Everything. Now. NOW!!
    Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series
    Christopher Stasheff’s Wizard in Rhyme series and Warlock in Spite of Himself series
    John Scalzi “Old Man’s War” series, The Android’s Dream, and <Agent to the Stars (funny SF!)
    Judith Tarr, The Hound and the Falcon series
    James Wong John Dies at the End!!!!!!!!! NOW! Even before those other nows!

    Short story collections and anthologies:
    Flannery O’Connor short stories
    Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected
    Ellen Datlow’s A Whisper of Blood
    Datlow and Terri Windling’s fairy tales for adults anthologies (I think there are 5)
    The Short Stories of F.Scott Fitzgerald
    Eudora Welty short stories.

    okay there are more but I’m tired of typing and need to eat.

    (the * entries are all gothic lit, but there are two types-the ones with rational explanations for the supernatural, and ones without.)

  16. Mere says:

    I totally second Lauren’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” by Mark Haddon. Fab, fab, fab book.

  17. Fox says:

    I absolutely second Geek Love! One of those books I could probably read a million times and not get tired of it.

    Also, of course, On the Road. I don’t care how cliche is it, it’s my favorite book of all time ever.

    Most of what I read lately is YA paranormal stuff (as this is my writing interest), so I could recommend about eight billion of those books if you should be interested.

    Other notable lovely books include Watership Down (even if only to introduce the word ‘hrududu’ into your vocabulary), the Weetzie Bat Books, and the Great Gatsby. Those are all over the place genre-wise.

    I tried (unsuccessfully) about sixteen times to read any Jane Austen and also Wuthering Heights. Can’t do it. Interestingly enough though, I thought Jane Eyre was good. And Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities by Dickens. And that’s about as far into classics from the 1800s as I can make it. If you can make it through Pride and Prejudice without Colin Firth being broody and charming, I admire you. (I haven’t even made it through that version, just Bridget Jones’ version of that version.)

  18. samatwitch says:

    I second the Christopher Stasheff “Warlock in Spite of Himself” series and the “Wizard in…” series which is related and should be read after. I never could get into the “Wizard in Rhyme” series.

    (Also recommend “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” by Mark Haddon – thirding, now I think. :D )

    One of the best SF books – at least the last time I read in several years ago – is Piers Anthony’s “Macroscope”. It’s hard sci-fi. He is probably best known for his “Xanth” fantasy series, which can get old after the first six or 10 books – I think the series has well over 20 books now (just checked – it’s actually 38!!) – but some of his other series which are either straight SF or more philosophical are really good. “The God of Tarot” series, “Incarnations of Immorality”, “Cluster” and the “Adept” fantasy series are all well worth reading. I have all the “Bio of a Space Tyrant” books but haven’t read them. I also enjoyed many of his individual books.

    Anne McCaffrey is best known for her “Dragonriders of Pern” series, which is considered SF, not fantasy, and is one of my favourite series ever, but I also love the following series: “Rowan and the Hive”, which started as a short story, “The Chrystal Singer” ,and “Brain & Brawn”. “Restoree” is a stand-alone story that she wrote because she was tired of women in SF cowering in a corner while the men fought the battles. (Sound familiar?)

    My current YA favourite authors are Tamora Pierce and Patricia C. Wrede, both of whom I recommend or give as gifts to my young women friends; Cassandra Clare, both the “City of…” series and it’s prequels, “The Clockwork” series; Maria V. Snyder; Kristin Cashore (excellent!) and many more.

    For more dense SF/F, Patrick Rothfuss and Justin Cronin. The latter is a bleak, dystopian (not my thing) 900-page tome which I couldn’t put down after the first 50 pages or so. I imagine we’ll have to wait for a couple of years until the next one, just as we do for Patrick Rothfuss.

    If you’re interested in paranormal romantic fantasy, Patricia Briggs and Nahini Singh both have a couple of different series that I enjoy.

    For romantic suspense, my favourite authors are Jayne Krentz (also writing as Jayne Castle [fantasy] and Amanda Quick [historical]); Iris Johansen; Kay Hooper,;Suzanne Brockmann (a big Joss fan); and Nora Roberts, who also writes a futuristic detective series as J.D. Robb. (They all started out as category romance authors and are prolific writers.)

    Barbara Delinsky also started out as a category romance author but her books are more mainstream – not suspense but more of a portrait of people’s lives – and usually some romance. ;)

    If you haven’t read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss, you should. A humorous look at grammar, specifically the use of the comma.

    I think that’s probably enough for now. :D You’ll be reading into the NEXT century at this rate.

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