Books for Grown-ups: Fiction & Recreational Reading

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Getting back to good reading

Sept 2011

I have been a book worm since very early age. I went through the classics in my teens, and spent my 20s with wonderful books of Kafka, Umberto Eco, Albert Camus, historical biographies, etc. However, once I got into my working years, I started turning to more mindless reading. My thought was since my brain was ''on'' all day, all I wanted to do was read something fun to escape from all. Well fast forward 10 years and I'm so sick of murder mysteries, chick lit, and spy novels. I want to go back to my intellectual reading days but can't seem to be able to find the concentration for it with a full time job and toddler running around. Everytime I get my hands on a substansive book, I find my eyes glazing over, reading the same page over and over until I give up and go back to something like ''shopaholic and baby''. I've joined couple book clubs but they did not work out for reasons too long to explain (who knew there was so much internal politics in book clubs). So I am just looking for some amazing book recommendations here for something that is interesting, thought provoking but still somewhat light enough to be captivating and get me back in the game. Some comments on my preferences: I like all kinds of books but not a big fan of ''coming of age, finding myself'' type of theme. Some books I've enjoyed for example in the last couple years: The Historian, Shadow of the Wind, Thirteenth Tale. I like international settings and intriguing characters. I know this board is about parenting but would love to read well and be a good role model for my child. I'm hoping the great diversity of this board would give me some good recommendations. thank you. no more chick lit please

I am a very avid reader and have struggled with this exact issue. With two small kids, I don't have the faculties to give the classics the attention they deserve. But chick lit and formulaic crime dramas don't hold my attention. Here's a list of books off the top of my head that navigate the line of my over-tired, but not brain-dead mind.
Little Bee - an emotionally heavy read
anything by Tana French -- great crime novels, with truly engaging characters
LIfe of Pi
The Help
The Art of Racing in the Rain - for dog lovers

if you enjoy these, let me know and maybe we can find a book club for mothers that want to read something in between Dostoevsky and Shopoholic. Jane

What a great question! I love you already. Literature is my career as well as my passion, and I wish I could get a consulting job working with people like you. Alas, there seems to be insufficient demand. Anyway, there are a couple of ways to go, and you can combine them if you like. I have always loved British literature, particularly fat books of the Victorian period (''fat book'' being a technical term...) George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, William Makepeace Thackeray, Jane Austen, the Brontes, etc. Just this list could keep a person going for a long time. You could do it with Russian novels, or French (Hugo and Balzac and Flaubert and Sand and...) or German (if you are of a philosophical turn of mind) or Icelandic medieval sagas, or Latin American novels... The point is to immerse yourself in a culture and a historical milieu until you begin to feel very conversant with the concerns and emotions and issues and aesthetic approaches circulating in the worlds the novels represent. If novels are too time-consuming, try short stories as a genre: Chekhov and Gogol in Russia, Thomas Mann and Robert Musil and Heinrich v. Kleist in German, Alice Munro (she's amazing) from Canada, etc. You could try a part of the world not often explored through fiction; the Scandinavians write much more than crime fiction. One of my favorite novels is Dr. Glas, by Swedish author Hjalmar Soderberg. It's a fantastic story from the turn of the last century about a doctor who contemplates murdering a patient. Another very different Swedish novelist is contemporary Kerstin Ekman; her long novel The Forest of Hours deals with a troll who lives for 400 years and observes all of European history, while her short novel The Dog follows the life of a dog from puppyhood to adulthood through the dog's perspective. Which brings up another angle: following your personal passions through literature. If you love dogs, there are a ton of works that explore dog-ness (Virginia Woolf's Flash, for instance). Politics? Music? Gardening? You can make up a thematic list. Or read the novels and prose written by women from around the world to get a kaleidoscope view of the world of women. And don't forget poetry. Poetry is short and deep. I know a good number of people who are absolutely wedded to Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Another Swede: Tomas Transtromer. Marge Piercy. Buy an anthology and find the voices that speak to you. Have fun. And keep in touch. in love with literature

Check out Oprah's book club - you will be pleasantly surprised. Plus John Irving is a great read as well as Jodi Piccoult and Philippa Gregory. Happy Reading!

I'm not sure if this will help, but has a good algorithm for recommending books. It's free to join, so create an account and rate as many books that you have read as possible and then they will give you recommendations based on your ratings. You can read about their recommendations algorithm here: Andi

Philip Roth: The Human Stain, American Pastoral, Plot Against America.. etc.
David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas, number9dream
Reading Mama

If you don't get much response here, try going to a librarian or two. They love sharing their vast knowledge,a dn we are paying their salary to do so. You can tell them what you've enjoyed reading in the past and seeing what they suggest. Librarians are a wonderful resource. You can even go to a library not in your own town and ask them. Hey, you could probably even call them! So I'd say, get to a know a librarian or two, you will probably find one with great suggestions, even if they don't share your taste. Love My Librarians!

I too love the Historian, Shadow of the Wind, and The Thirteenth Tale.... All these books I found on Amazon.

I just finished Mudbound, Molokai, and am starting on A Town Like Alice.

You just type in your favorite book on and scroll down. They'll have books similar to what you liked best. I choose the ones that have the highest stars or the greatest number of reviews. I've read some of the best books this way. I find a bunch, go on to the local library website and put hold requests on them. I save a lot of money this way, and I don't have to figure out what to do with the books afterwards. Enjoy. Regi

Choose what you like but listen to it as an audio book instead. I find myself much more engaged, more likely to finish the book and less likely to skip parts. I check audio books out of the library. I listen to books at the park while I watch my kids, while I'm cooking or cleaning house (get a lot more done around the house when I've got an interesting book to listen to), when taking a walk, while gardening or sometimes to distract myself to sleep. Most of the members of my book club listen to the selections instead of reading them, too. So we analyze the book and then critique the narrator! More than one way to be a bookworm

Hi No More Chick Lit. I have a very similar story, except that for several parenting-intensive years I almost stopped reading altogether. Maybe the odd magazine. But 5 or 6 years back I realized how much I missed reading, and how much pleasure and richness books had always brought me. I dove back into reading and it made such a difference! I'm now even developing a business around books. I do have some titles to recommend, but also suggest that you check out the website Goodreads. It's a fun source of inspiration and a place to find books to read, keep lists of what you want to read or have read, and connect with others. You can find me there at Anne

When I don't have the energy for a real book, I can still manage to pick up the New Yorker and find something that is both enjoyable and intellectually-stimulating.

Also, if there is something I really want to read but have trouble making myself do it, I do what I did to get through reading assignments in college - divide up that 500 page novel into 50-page chunks. (Or 25, if you're really struggling.) You can read 25 pages a night of anything. And once you get into it, you'll find yourself reading beyond your assignment.

Happy reading!

-- Anne again. Here are some titles I've enjoyed recently that you might like. You'll see my bias toward historical fiction, but don't worry, these are not dry, nor are they corny bodice-rippers. I also have good luck with books that are interlinked short stories - each story is short enough to read in one sitting, but you stay in the world of the book for a novel-like length.

Wolf Hall. Set in the court of Henry the 8th but fresh and riveting. Very long, but I really missed that world when I finally finished it. Don't be tempted to look anyone up on Wikipedia while reading, or plot developments will be spoiled. Sea of Poppies. Set partially in India and partially at sea during the 1700s. Smart and very entertaining. Book 2 of the planned trilogy has come out and I can't wait to read it. Parrot and Olivier in America. Very loosely based on the story of Alexis de Toqueville. Smart and very funny. Loving Frank. Great characters, despite the lame title. Definitely no wikipedia while reading this, based on part of Frank Lloyd Wright's life.

Olive Kitteredge. Interlinked short stories set in Maine. The 5:45 to Cannes. Interlinked short stories I'm reading right now, set in France and Italy. Have fun! Anne

For most of my life I have read world literary classics up to the end of the 19th Century. Only in the recent past have I started on more modern and contemporary works. I have never been able to stomach ''chic lit'' either. I am a big fan of Dystopias, Science Fiction, Ancient History, Thrillers, International Mysteries and Popular Science (by qualified writers)--but I did not include any of those categories here...without knowing more about your taste. Here are a few traditional novel recommendations written in the last decade: THE HERO'S WALK Anita Rau Badami (Indian writer) THE NAMESAKE Juhumpa Lahiri (Indian writer Pulizter Prize) WAITING Ha Jin (Chinese writer teaching here) THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG Muriel Barbery (French writer, recent) Hope one or all of these brings you joy! Reading Fanatic

A great question! Off hand I can think of a few recommendations of books that I have read recently, and I will look forward to seeing what others you get. I would recommend you look into the following: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell (also Black Swan Green or The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, all thought-provoking, beautifully written stories that really hold your attention); Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Old Filth by Jane Gardam; The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson; The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman; Case Histories and its sequels by Kate Atkinson. You might try checking out prize lists, like the Man Booker prize for literary stories that are still readable and entertaining. Good luck! Claire

International settings and intriguing characters? I recommend reading biographies and autobiographies. I usually find the material substantial and readable. Otherwise, pick some topic you are interested in, like child rearing or bicycles or home decorating and get books about that. anon

For book recommendations, I LOVE It is a (free) networking site where you sign in and view what your friends are reading, and read their book reviews. (You don't have to have a ton of friends sign up - I've found that seeing what even just 2-3 friends are reading has given me a ton of ideas. Also, you can ''follow'' a stranger's reviews, if you find someone who tends to like the same books you do.) Goodreads also has a book recommendation feature (''If you like ___, you might also like ___''). And as a bonus, it's a great way to keep track of books you want to read. In the past, when someone suggested a book to me, I'd write it on a scrap of paper or try to keep it in my brain until my next library trip. Now I put it on my ''to-read'' list in Goodreads and check the list before I go to the library. So I don't forget book ideas the way I used to.

I, too, am always trying to find the balance between ''Actually gives me something interesting to think about'' and ''Too much for my exhausted-parent brain.'' I don't know if our tastes overlap, but a few books that came to mind based on what you said you are looking for:

''April Witch'' by Majgull Axelsson (from Sweden)
''My Year of Meats'' by Ruth Ozeki
''Slow River'' by Nicola Griffith
''Farthing'' (& sequels) by Jo Walton
''The Warmth of Other Suns'' by Isabel Wilkerson (this is quite long and looks daunting but I found it a page-turner and could not put it down!)
Enjoy! Libraryaholic

I hear you loud and clear!! I tend to read to relax instead of watching TV to relax as others do...and have lots of mindless stuff (which definitely as its place at times!)...but also like to read ''real'' books too. I laughed when I read that you liked 13th Tale; I just started it and am totally hooked (had to force myself to shut it at midnight).

I have been a bit focused on WWII at the moment and have read and enjoyed: The Invisible Bridge, Unbroken and Sarah's Key. The last being much lighter than the first 2.

In the past couple of years, I really enjoyed Feminine Mystique (was surprised how much it still applies today), Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, and Anna Karenina.

Looking forward to other peoples' lists. Nikki

This book list was published by the BBC a few years ago and is a compilation of people's favorite books. So no critics vetted the list, and they're more readable than those on many ''best books'' lists. (If you have a Kindle, you can download most of the classics for free to $1.) Book lovin' fool

Books about the search for meaning

May 2010

I'm looking for a book recommendation. I've been feeling really aware of the transient nature/insignificance of life (relative to hundreds/thousands of years). I think my feelings are a combination of world events and those close to home. I would like to do some reading - preferably fiction - to help me think about it - why I matter, maybe something about life & death? a person's search for meaning, etc. Could be sci-fi, anything really, something about families maybe? Years ago I read a book about a woman who spent a winter on Nantuckett to think/ponder and remember enjoying it (Title? - A woman alone?). I would appreciate any recommendations. anon

I think the book you may be recalling is A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson, one of my personal favorites. She also has retreats that tie into the self-discovery theme of that book. Another personal favorite is Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (sife of Charles Lindbergh). I first read it in college and have returned to it time and time again, always finding something new that speaks to me. I have probably given more copies of that book as a gift than any other book. It should be required for every woman going through a transitional period in her life. Soul-searching reader

Anathem by Neil Stephenson

Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand (There is another book along this line but can't find the title or author - about how do we communicate into the far future, thousands of years from now?)

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Confessions of St Augustin

Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton

And many, many others. Many medieval and Renaissance authors contemplated mememto mori, about the shortness of life and of inevitability of physical decline and death. The history of philosophy and religion, and poetry, and great literature, deal specifically with the questions you ask. anonymous

The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maughm came to mind.

Transformational fiction for women

Dec 2009

I'm looking for great novels that feature strong female protagonists who overcome adversity, who transform their lives for the better. No romance or sci-fi. Thanks. reader

I have to recommend my very favorite novel, although it's a looooong one (it's very rich) and the way the female protagonist is transformed is nuanced. But she is definitely the heroine at the end. The book is George Eliot's Middlemarch, written in 1871-2. The author's real name was Mary Ann Evans. Virginia Woolf called Middlemarch ''one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.'' Eliot writes like a dream: ''If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of the roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.'' aspiring to be Dorothea

I have read and reread the Diana Gabaldon series, starting with Outlander. The lead female, Claire, has a time travel experience into 1700s Scotland and uses all her smarts and skills to get by. I found it fastinating reading. Barbara

Blanche Cooks biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. Talk about overcoming adversity -- a mother who couldn't stand to be around her, an alcoholic father who adored her but couldn't stay home, and drinks himself to death early on ... but look who she became and what she did. It is an awesome story of growth .... GW

Any of Sally Watson's historical fiction, including Linnet, Lark, Jade, etc. Really wonderful books about feisty girls overcoming obstacles in societies that discriminated heavily against women. Sally Watson fan

Summer reading, all genres

June 2004

Hi... I'm looking for good book recommendations for this summer. I like all kinds, fiction, non-fiction, short stories, whatever. Just finished my whole pile and want some suggestions of what to reserve at the library or pick up at the store. Thanks! Jen

I have really enjoyed the last three books i got from the library. Great summer reading. Bee Season ... House of Sand and Fog ... Midwives
love reading!

I'll be excited to see people's recommendations too! Here are some of the ones I've read recently and really liked:

*House of Leaves - by Mark Danielewski. Science fiction - really creepy, about a house that is bigger inside than it is outside, and constantly changes.

*Little, Big - by John Crowley. Fantasy - I'm reading it right now and it's very engaging. About a family and their subtle connections with a supernatural world.

*American Dynasty - by Kevin Phillips. Analysis of the Bush family and it's generations of connections to big oil, the intelligence community, military contracting corporations, etc. Also very creepy. Jen

Bel Canto, Bee Season, Secret Life of Bees, Life of Pi, Lamb. Enjoy! Ruthie

I just read Drop City--TC Boyle, fictional account of a 70s commune that starts in northern Cal. and moves to Alaska. Great read! I couldn't stop. Wonderful characters, story, and sharp insight into the time.

Also Reading Lolita in Tehran is amazing. Memoir. Lots of history of Iran, women's lives i n Iran and literary criticism. I was suprised at how much I loved it.

A favorite of a few years ago, all time favorite of mine actually-- A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry. History of India in the 70s, fiction, characters you'll never forget, fast paced writing, I loved this book and haven't been able to forget it...

Another all time favorite--- Everything is Illuminated. Jonathan Safran Foer. Look up the description, reviews. I wanted to name my son after this author. He was 21 when he wrote it, story of Jewish shtettle in Ukraine, Holocaust, deeply touching and devestating, and humorous at the same time... Happy reading another book lover

Try Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Susan

Last year I really enjoyed The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I would also recommend The Corrections. For light reading that's easy to conquer between baby screams, I'd say try LIVE FROM NEW YORK (the Saturday Night Live oral history) or PLEASE KILL ME (oral history of the origins of punk). I'm still reading Please Kill Me. It's fascinating. Lou Reed doesn't come off very well, but go Patti Smith. I'm just starting the part about the New York Dolls. Lynn

I'm really looking forward to this thread. I'm a mystery buff (either historical mysteries or the more literate contemporary authors) and my favorites these days are anything by Michael Dibdin (very cynical, set in late 20th century Italy), Arturo Perez-Reverte (The Fencing Master, The Seville Communion), or Barbara Hambly (her protaganist is a free man of color in 1830's New Orleans during the transition from French to American rule). I also enjoy historical non-fiction and most recently read Salt: A World History (before refrigeration, salt was essential to miitary campaigns, exploration, and affordable protein). Karen H.

''The DaVinci Code'' by Dan Brown. It's Fascinating...and very controversial. Not recommended if you are devoutly religious (ie. Catholic). But I couldn't put it down.... anon

Flora's Suitcase by Dalia Rabinovich read it if you like the style of Gabriel MaGarcia Marquez. This book is about a Jewish family in Columbia.

She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders (non fiction) Jennifer Finney Boylan Fascinating story and well written. She is an English professor and writer and was before when she was James Boylan as well; James Boylan published several books.

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women Geraldine Brooks (non fiction) Very interesting and informative and well as very readible.

Pay it Forward Not a great literary work, but a compelling easy read and a great concept to think about

Also Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, already mentioned. Both were great book group discussions, the latter better written, is long but fast moving. susan with so many books and not enough time

Here are some books that my book club has read this past year.

The da Vinci Code The Emperor of Ocean Park The Secret Life of Bees No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Year of Wonders Middlesex

I recommend them all. They are engaging, and keep you involved. Some may be considered controversial, others long, others heartwrenching, but they all were worth reading. Everyone enjoyed in the club enjoyed all the books despite the fact that we are all of different ages and beliefs. I love to read.

I really have been enjoying the Charles Todd mysteries that take place post WWI in britain. Dark. Available at the library. The recent book, Maisie Dobbs, that has received a lot of press is similar but not as well written as that series. Also I just finished What I loved, a dense and intriqueing book that would be a great bookclub choice as it engenders much to talk and think about. I am amazed at the intellect some people have. Lisa N.