html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: A book list for real.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A book list for real.

I read a lot. I read more than anyone I know. The librarians at my local branch all know me. So even though I try to be self-deprecating in my posts and I downplay stuff, I am not going to qualify my next statement at all. You should always always always come to me for book recommendations. I won't steer you wrong.

Well, that is, if you like the genres I like. I like plot and plenty of it. Deep brooding character studies? Oh fuck no. Stream of consciousness anything? Absolutely not. My own stream of consciousness is more than enough work for me. Stories that capture the ambivalence, isolation and futility of modern society? Never. I have zero tolerance for whining.

I loved every book on the list below. They all have lots of story and a strong viewpoint for the narrator and something worth thinking about after. They aren't in any particular order.

Queen of the South: A Mexican gangster’s bimbo has to flee to Spain, finds out she has a head for numbers and ends up one of the largest cocaine traffickers in the Mediterranean. The sex scenes are OK, but the part about how drugs are transported is very interesting. (Perez-Reverte)
Kings of Infinite Space: The protagonist fucks up his life so badly that he ends up working for a state agency. Can you imagine? And then strange things start happening. The sex scenes are surprisingly hot, considering how brief they are. (Hynes)
Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love: This book is all sexy all the time. You totally cannot borrow my copy, because you will bring it back all sticky. Cuban musicians and family in New York. (Hijuelos)
His Dark Materials: You should already know about this series. All three books are amazing and it is your own fault if you have heard of them but not yet read them. (Pullman)
Perfume: A man with an extraordinary sense of smell in 18th century France goes to excessive lengths to create the perfect perfume. If you can get the book on tape, the language is even better read aloud. (Suskind)

The Outlaw Sea: A book in three parts about how the ocean is essentially ungovernable. The middle part, about a ferry sinking, will keep you reading straight through the night. (Langeweische)
Show Me a Hero: I wrote about this book before, and how the City of Yonkers resisted integrated low-income housing. I didn’t tell you all the good parts, though. (Anand thought this book dragged in the second half.) (Belkin)
Ballad of the Whisky Robber: Very funny book about a Hungarian hockey goalie turned bank robber. (Rubinstein)
Wrecking Crew: The Really Bad News Griffith Park Pirates: My favorite movie in the world is that one where there is an underdog, and she trains really hard, and does her push-ups in slow motion, and then there is a competition, and he just barely qualifies for the world championship finals, so he does windsprints, and then the end is the real finals and you just don’t know what will happen? I love that movie. The only thing that could possibly make that movie better is if there is some sort of redemption-through-sports and they all kick their drug habits. So this book is pretty much perfect. The sex scenes are more disturbing than hot. (Albert)

Kid's books:
I started reading kid’s books again when I was in law school. I needed a break from the overwhelmingly dense language in casebooks. I’ve stayed with kid’s books even though I am done with all that, because they tend to be plot driven. Some of them are incredibly good.
Holes: This is one of my favorite books ever. It is spare and perfect. (Sachar)
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: Chris Crutcher’s books always have two themes, athletics and abuse. Thankfully, I can’t say how accurate his writing on abuse is, but no one writes better about what it is like to train hard for a sport. Swimmers will especially like his books. Whale Talk is also good.
After: This book terrified me and I sat petrified on my porch couch for a long time when it was done. A high school slowly sinks into a totalitarian regime. (Prose)
Ella Enchanted: The movie looked horrific, from what I could see on the plane. But the book is clever and sharp, with a good strong girl protagonist who has a curse on her from birth. (Carson Levine)

I know lots of other good books, if you’ve already read these. I didn’t include the classics, like Their Eyes Were Watching God, because I figured you already knew about them. If you want to talk genres, I could also make recommendations for mystery and science fiction books.



Blogger Missy said...

just came across your blog - very nice, it's nice to find e-kindred spirits.

28, a Cancer, Female Engineer (rock on!), read a lot (except for a nasty eye infection that's kept me down for a while), I was lucky that I met a guy on my exit from grad school but I still have several fantastic girlfriends that share your woes. I plan to keep an eye on your blog - Good luck man shopping!

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Children's books are a good idea. When I was a 1L, I turned to graphic novels for my free reading. This worked okay, but they can be pretty dense in their own way.

This year, I've pretty much given up on books. Instead, I read blogs for fun, which is especially rewarding when I get to read vicariously through other people's booklists.

- A

P.S. Early books about the ambivalence, isolation and futility of modern society weren't whining, merely prescient. Contemporary writers, however, have no excuse.

7:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love their eyes were watching god. that was awesome.

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As for Chris Crutcher's books, I can say with absolute certainty that his portrayals of abuse are accurate. Chris was tied into the world of childrens protective services, was an adolescent counselor for a time, and is a friend of my dad's who was, when they met, a caseworker and supervisor for Child Protective Services in Spokane, WA. Chris would pick my dad's brains about the abuse, how CPS works, and also about the nature of athletics for these kids. His themes are not accidental.

FYI: the movie rights for many of Chris's books have been purchased. It doesn't mean that anything will ever be made, but it did help Chris's bank account.

"Queen of the South" was great, and if you like that you would probably like "Captain Alatriste." I love your other recommendations and will look at the ones I haven't read yet.

Tony W.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see someone else actually read Kings of Infinite Space. You might like James Hynes's earlier books as well, although they have less of a Gothic element than Kings. I'd recommed most of Perez-Reverte's earlier books, not just Captain Alatriste. Somewhat in the same vein, you might like The Shadow of the Wind.

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I likely read more than everyone I know combined. Always have, always will, I reckon. Although I go through dry spells where other things -- work, house, whatever -- get in the way. I've given up recommending books to my friends because I'm the only one who ever reads anything but the science fiction and fantasy that dominates the geek ghetto. Nevertheless: Books I've really liked that I've read in the past year or two:

A Tomb for Boris Davidovich: a series of short vignettes about ComIntern laced with dark humor...because all you can do is laugh or cry at man's inhumanity to man.

Pedro Paramo: Vastly better than One Hundred Years of Solitude which was Marquez's "remake" of Juan Rulfo's original story.

The Red and the Black: I love this book more than words can describe. It is like The Great Gatsby but with better everything...and set in post-Napoleonic France.

If science fiction is your thing then Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music is a great blending of Gibsonian-cyberpunk and Chandleresque-noir.

Sam Lipsyte's Home Land is the funniest book I've ever read. Way better than George Bush: Dark Prince of Love and marginally better (largely because comedy often doesn't age well) than A Comedy of Dunces. It recently beat out Zadie Smith's On Beauty to make it to the finals in The Morning News' Tournament of Books. (

Michel Houellebecq writes the most literary airport novels ever. He's decided that the answer to Camus' Absurdist world-weariness is lots and lots of sex. It is hard to disagree with that. Platform is especially eerie with a depiction of Muslim terrorists attacking a Western nightclub....written several years before the Bali bombing.

Haruki Murakami is my favorite living author, although his most recent book -- Kafka on the Shore -- is nowhere near his best. I preferred Wild Sheep Chase and Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

I didn't read it recently but I try to convince everyone to read everything that Jorge Luis Borges wrote. He was the greatest writer of the 20th century and far more approachable than many other literary giants. I will never forgive the Nobel committee for not giving him a prize.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I've read Captain Alatriste and Purity of Blood. They're fine for an afternoon on the porch, but not as good as Queen of the South. I'll check out any recommendations y'all have.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thumbs up on Murakami (although he might be too much of a magic realist to some people's taste), and on Gun, With Occasional Music and The Red and the Black (loved it when I was 18). I also like The Charterhouse of Parma. Plenty of plot in either. Less plot-heavy but good books from the last year for me include: Never Let Me Go (Ishiguro), The Line of Beauty (Hollinghurst), and Saturday (McEwan). By Houellebecq I've only read Elementary Particles; found it entertaining, but all too much predictable. Anyone crack Cloud Atlas yet?

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

p: I've had Cloud Atlas sitting in my "to be read" pile for a very long time now. I've only heard excellent things about it. I was in a bookstore this evening and saw that Mitchell has a new book out. You've inspired me to move it up the queue. So as soon as I finish The Sea Came In At Midnight...and right after King Dork...I will definitely maybe give it a go. Unless I get distracted by a bright and shiny something else.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please give us your science fiction list (and others), but hey I read more than you do...!

Tyler Cowen

8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, well, we read a lot, but possibly not more than you or the folks who responded. I'm always reminded of some op-ed piece I read years ago where the author stated "I want to raise children whose idea of decorating is buying another bookcase". Yeah, that's what I want. I don't read enough fiction, but love those southern women - Flannery O'Conner, Jayne Anne Phillips. Also Denise Giardina for "Storming Heaven" - glad I'm not a miner, or don't feel the need to be a labor activist. All Ken McLeod science fiction is excellent, as is 95% of Orson Scott Card. Thanks to you for a great thread and all the good folks for adding their books to the list.

12:19 PM  

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