Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More Book Recommendations


The above snap of my bedside table book pile should give some indication of the randomness of my extracurricular reads and the trouble I've had putting together a new coherent post. I read a lot for my dissertation, but rarely do I read books that I think would be perfect recommendations for the everyday voracious reader (unless anyone else has a fascination with 19th century country houses in which case boy do I have lots of books to recommend to you). Nevertheless, I've compiled a list of recent reads which I can recommend with moderate to significant enthusiasm:

The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes)--although wildly funny at its beginning, this novella/long essay peters into dark nostalgia in its second half and loses its energy. However, I found it worth it just for the opening chapters, at which I laughed aloud several times. It's also the most recent winner of the Man-Booker prize.

Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)--I'm re-reading this for the third or fourth time and finding Humbert Humbert just as hilarious, oddly sympathetic, and simultaneously repulsive as I did the first time around. If you haven't read Lolita, you must. It's strange, funny, and makes you capable of feeling sympathy you didn't expect to have.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)--It's a bit self-conscious about how smart it is in moments (a stupid simile about the MLA come to mind), but overall Diaz's novel is a funny and unsentimental portrait of the awkward coming-of-age of its protagonist, Oscar.

I've also read a giant stack of things I wouldn't recommend to any literate person, but this list of funny, sympathetic books definitely made the cut. Have your read anything lately that's so good you'd recommend it?

47 comments:

Trisha said...

I just finished "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern. It was mysterious and vivid.

Melisande said...

just stumbled upon your blog and i am so happy to find someone who loves reading as much as i do! i'm definitely going to be checking out that list of books...
i just finished "a wife's tale" by lori lansens which was a great book about discovering who you are. i just picked up anita shreve's latest...she's one of my favorites! happy reading!

Urban Nester said...

I really want to read "Under the Banner of Heaven", it looks really good. Thanks for sharing.

http://alwaysamrsforeverakidd.blogspot.com

heartacheintobeauty said...

To the Lighthouse! <3 <3 Not my favorite Virginia Woolf novel, but it certainly is lovely.

A Fellow Reader said...

Just finished Evidence of things Unseen by Mary Wiggins. It's haunting and sweet and beautiful all at once; I've been telling everyone I run across about it, it's amazing!

Tiffany, saltwatertiffy said...

Yay. I love book recommendations. I'm always looking for something good to read.

Meagan said...

A Novel Bookstore, by Laurence Cosse--it's about starting a bookstore that only sells good books. Apart from trying to reconcile the idea of a business-savvy store and one that is selective in the books it stocks, the bookstore itself turns into a character.
The Lost Books of the Odyssey (Zachary Mason) is also a fantastic book. It's a collection of short, haunting stories that are variations on parts of the Odyssey, and occasionally the Iliad.

seasonalepicure said...

I recently read The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and could not put it down. I love her writing style and was totally engrossed in the story from the very beginning. It's told as a collection of personal letters annotated by an archivist, which made it even more interesting to me.

Thanks for your recommendations! As an elementary school teacher, I read mostly children's novels (which I love) and enjoy the chance to read something meant for an adult now and then!

~CM

Jam said...

I read "How I Became a Famous Novelist" (Steve Hely) months ago now, but it's still one of the best things I've read lately: it manages to be laugh-out-loud funny and still have a really genuine heart to it. "In This House of Brede" (Rumer Godden) is the total opposite, quiet and powerful, but also really good. I finished "The Children's Book" (AS Byatt) a week or two ago, it was a good read but nothing life changing. Currently I'm in the middle of "The Help" which I'm liking in spite of myself, and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" -- another brainy book, right -- Harry and Ron are being such idiots!!

One of my committee members said the other day that he read all five "Game of Thrones" books over the summer and thought it was the most engrossing thing he'd ever read, better than Tolkien -- "but you don't have time to read thousand-page novels these days" he said to me. Eh heh heh, no sir, I'm spending all my time dissertating, I'm certainly not reading any enormous books, eh heh heh. ;)

LNR said...

19th century countryhouses!?! I was under the impression that you were a Modernist, with your Woolf-love! I want to see some recommendations of good Victorian Lit that's not on the Blockbuster list; i.e., show me some Victorian love that is not Bronte, Eliot, or Dickens. (Though I love the Brontes and Eliot very much).

p.s. have read Buddha of Suburbia twice for two different classes, and I have to admit, I was not a fan either time. It just seems so gratuitous to me every time.

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

LNR--yes, i am a modernist! i'm doing some historical research for the background of one of my chapters. i thought the buddha of suburbia was compelling but a bit strange. i don't know that i'd call it gratuitous but it does feel contrived in moments. i don't know nearly as much about victorian lit as i do about the 20th century.

Hope said...

I just started Eugenides' The Marriage Plot, and I like it so far. I really loved his other two novels, so I have high hopes. :)

-Hope
www.aflatteringtale.com

Jess said...

I haven't read this recently, but you should definitely read You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon. It explores why we end up the way we do, and I think he's a really underrated author. He mostly does short stories (which are also excellent), but this book is one of my all-time favorites.

Miss Bibliophile said...

The latest book I loved was The Priory by Dorothy Whipple. I discovered it through Persophone Books and found it almost as enjoyable as some of my favorite Jane Austen and Nancy Mitford novels.

Bagsnbooks said...

"Night Circus" and "The Marriage Plot" were/are/will continue to be great! Also, "Girl in Translation" by Jean Kwok.

Irene Wibowo said...

i think i must read lolita too.. :) irene wibowo

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

so many great recommendations! i am way behind on contemporary american fiction; many of these recommendations are new to me.
i don't love eugenides, but maybe i will read the marriage plot, if only to shoot it down in a more informed way :)

dot said...

The Financial Lives of the Poets (Jess Walter), Silver Sparrow (Tayari Jones), and Once Upon a River (Bonnie Jo Campbell) have been my favorite reads this year. If you need to catch up on contemporary American fiction, I'm your girl. ;)

Anonymous said...

I've never commented before but am to say (b/c I usually agree with your book recs) you must read The Marriage Plot immediately! It is totally made for lit nerds, in a good way. Very different from Middlesex. Also, I liked Franzen's Freedom--much better than The Corrections imo. You might also like Rushdie's newer books, if you haven't tried him--although sometimes I think I am the only person on the planet who actually enjoys his writing.
Mary

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

mary! yes i am a rushdie fiend; i have all of his books and have MET HIM (hilariously fat fingers in person). i am so resistent to eugenides; but i will download the marriage plot on my kindle (yes, i am a traitor!) tonight, if only so that i can return to this with actually informed thoughts.
haven't read much franzen but don't think well of him either. confession: i'm a horrible snob when it comes to recommending books highly but i'll still read just about anything.
and rushdie is a beautiful, magnificent writer, and i know many of his fans. anyone who doesn't think he's a good writer is a moron who should be bopped on the head!

Jess said...

I read The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach over the summer and I have been telling everyone who asks for a recommendation to read that. Incredible, beautiful book. And you're a Melville fan, right? You have to read it! Amazon just named it their best book of the year. Do it!

Margo's Fancy said...

I just picked up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because I've been wanting to read it for some time now. I am even more excited to read it now that you recommended it!

Styling for Everyday said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who has a large random stack of book that are "going to be read".

Girlie Blogger said...

I'd like to real Lolita too. I heard it's really good.

http://www.geekettegazette.com
http://www.thegirlieblog.com

MEGGY said...

thanks for the recommendations! I just started reading Is everyone hanging out with out me? by mindy kaling and love it!

chillairandperfume said...

Lolita is my very favorite book (which is hard for me to say because I have a lot of favorites). I've read it twice and need to reread it when I have a reprieve from the endless studying. Maybe Christmas break?

www.chillairandperfume.blogspot.com

Anna C. said...

Please share your 19th century country house reading recommendations with us! Or maybe just with me... I love the descriptions of homes (and clothes!) in Bronte, Austen and the like. I suggest Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders, it contains nothing but such descriptions in non fiction form, plus diagrams of late 19th century plumbing, charts of appropriate mourning clothes and stories of nannies who were stingy with the jam. Your reading pile makes me think I should exploit my university library privileges before they expire. Love Lolita, love anything by Krakauer. Have you read his latest book, about Pat Tillman? That is on my list, or in my mental pile, if you will!

Dawn said...

I've read a few of those, and have a couple more on my list (I haven't read "Lolita" yet!). However, I did shudder when I saw "Eva Trout." I took a Gender & Literature course a couple years ago, and that was one of the novels we had to read. I disliked it, I think, because I was "forced" to read it over spring break (which is when the boyfriend and I took an amazing road trip). Furthermore, class discussions were always dead-pan dead ends, so it was difficult to conjure interest.

Rosiecat said...

I read _The House of Mirth_ by Edith Wharton recently, and now I'm reading _The Final Solution: A Story of Detection_ by Michael Chabon. I've loved everything I've read by Wharton, and her approach to class is pretty thought-provoking here.

The Chabon novel is really well-written--there are so many great descriptions, and the main characters are compelling and sympathetic.

T, I'm curious to hear more about your thoughts on Franzen's work. People seem to either love or loathe his novels!

Sidewalk Chic said...

Thanks for the book recs, Tania. One book caught my eye in your photo: The Surveillance of Women in Reality TV. Is that an academic read, and would you recommend it? I'm always interested in pop culture musings...

Deirdre said...

I read both The Night Circus and The Marriage Plot. I thought The Night Circus was clever but interminably long. I'm still not sure what I thought of The Marriage Plot. Can I say that I enjoyed it but didn't enjoy it? I went to University in the 80s so some of it was a bit close to home. Now on to The Tiger's Wife and the biography of Cleopatra. Under the Banner of Heaven is compelling though I found it difficult to accept such blind faith. The 19th Wife and The Lonely Polygamist are also good if you are interested in the dynamics of polygamy and sister wives.

Elizabeth said...

Have you ever told us about your dissertation on here? I know this is a style blog, but hey--it is a grad student style blog! I'm an English grad student as well, and I'd love to hear what you're doing your dissertation on. Great book recommendations! Under the Banner of Heaven is excellent--I didn't like Krakauer's memoir about climbing Everest (Into Thin Air) and I didn't really get all that into Into the Wild (though the movie, I thought, was fabulous). But Banner is a great one! Happy reading!

Blace said...

Lolita is one of my all time favorites...ever. Maybe I should give mine a 3rd read as well.

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

deirre, thank you for your thoughtful suggestions! i actually have a polygamy memoir (can't remember the name at the moment) waiting to be read under that bedside stack. i agree on the marriage plot--superficially pleasurable (at times) but also agonizing in many other ways. i hear the cleopatra biography is terrific! the krakauer i am moving through very slowly; it's some terrifying stuff but at times he's not as unbiased as he claims to be, right?

thanks, elizabeth! my dissertation is about representations of interior spaces in 20th century literature.

rosiecat--don't know enough about franzen to give a judgment on him! i barely keep up with contemporary british so it's not always easy for me to be informed about recent american work. if i read more, i'll let you know.

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

anna, you should read "mrs. woolf and the servants" if you haven't--it's a very light (sometimes problematic but still pleasurable) history of woolf's relationships with the various servants and housekeepers she kept over the years.

TheStyleKludger said...

I recently read "The 19th Wife" by David Ebershoff and could not put it down. I also really liked "Monsters of Templeton" by Lauren Groff.

Martina Lynne :: the life academic said...

If you're behind on contemporary fiction, then let me help -- contemporary and postmodern novel is my area, so I have lots of thoughts. I recently really enjoyed America Pacifica by Anna North, which is a wonderfully rich dystopian story about a daughter searching for her mother. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss was also really worthwhile -- it's the kind of love story that's about all the kinds of love the bind us together. I also just reread White Teeth by Zadie Smith, which is spectacular, and it got me on a whole Brit Lit kick. Have you read any Angela Carter? I'm reading one of her critical books right now and it's making me remember how superb Nights at the Circus and Wise Children are.

Rita Bee said...

Just finishing "Night train to Lisbon". Even though it's not on your side of the Atlantic, it addresses self reflective questions that I find to be quite universal. Although it focus on such philosophical issues, the novel side of it is quite strong making it enjoyable to read through.

Anonymous said...

i actually quite enjoyed 'the buddha of suburbia', but then i've often enjoyed much of kureishi's work (both on paper and on screen)

have you read any zadie smith?

Madeleine said...

City Of Thieves by David Benioff is quite the most marvellous novel I have read for ages. It was recommended to me and I have been getting over the pain of finishing it by recommending to everyone who can read ever since.

Alicia R. Ambler said...

I'm just loving Barbara Kingsolver these days. And am bookmarking this post for reference!
Have you read anything by Italo Calvino? I just love him.

Shophopper said...

I just started reading Lolita a few days ago. For the first time - my expectations are insanely high. I'm into a classics phase - just read To Kill a Mockingbird and A Room With a View. What do you think of Forster? Are you even allowed to pursue a phd in British literature if you don't like him?

I can't believe I finally discovered a style blog that references books. Not to scare you or anything, but you're totally my girl crush of the week.

As for contemporary recommendations: definitely try HhhH by Laurent Binet, about the Nazi occupation of Prague. It's kind of postmodern, an entanglement of historical facts and personal views of the author. It really impressed me. Also, The Story of the Last Thought by Hilsenrath on the Armenian genocide in Turkey. It's quite brutal, but the writing is genius. Hilsenrath is a master of story-telling.

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

shophopper--thanks for your kind words, and for your recommendations. i hadn't heard of either, but i'll add them to list.

i hope lolita meets even your very high expectations. i love forster, of course, and have read him repeatedly and with pleasure. i'm not, however, a fan of harper lee. overrated, if you ask me!

Shophopper said...

Ha, that's the thing with rising expectations and buzz and all that jazz. I've had some reads I had a strong negative reaction too, not because they were so incredibly bad, but because everyone else thought they were so amazing. It's hardly a commonly read book over here though (I live in Belhium), whereas you guys are probably slapped around the ears with it. English class staple I would guess?

Ani said...

Just checking out your blog and as a fellow nerd, I'm quite addicted already! I hear "Under the Banner of Heaven" is intense. Can't wait to check it out.

whosthisani.blogspot.com

FlyingPurpleHippos.com said...

Have you ever read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters?

Buylogy is a good book as well if you find psychology and buying habits interesting.

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

purplehippos--i have read "sense and sensibility" but not "sense and sensibility and sea monsters"--is that by the same people/person (?) who did "pride and prejudice and zombies"?

i just added "buylogy" to my wishlist--i have a huge weakness for psychological and sociological nonfiction. thanks so much for the recs!

i should probably just publish this comment section for my next book post...so many good ideas here.

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