The Dim-Post

March 27, 2016

Provisional list of the best accessible books

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 7:28 pm

A few weeks ago I was arguing about lists of essential or ‘must-read’ books with Wallace Chapman, and it got me thinking. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I sought out lists of ‘Greatest Novels of All Time’, and tried to work my way through them. I read some great books (although many of them are no longer listed on lists of Great Novels, because literary fashions change and many things that were Great in the 1990s are no longer Great). But I mostly failed to read lots of difficult books, like Satre’s Nausea and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow which are still considered great but which I also think, with the benefit of hindsight, were completely ridiculous books to recommend to general readers interested in expanding their literary horizons. If you google ‘List of Great Novels’ you find this site, which aggregates such lists. It explains:

This list is generated from 107 “best of” book lists from a variety of great sources. An algorithm is used to create a master list based on how many lists a particular book appears on. Some lists count more than others. I generally trust “best of all time” lists voted by authors and experts over user-generated lists.

There are only two books in this list’s top ten that I would actually recommend to new and curious readers (Gatsby, Bovary). The first entry is Proust’s In Search of Lost Time which, yes, many academics and literary critics love and consider the greatest book ever. But it is seven volumes, each a thousand pages, consisting mostly of dense blocks of text with no breaks. I’ve read the first volume and thought it was sometimes brilliant but mostly intensely boring, and when I disclose this to fellow Proust readers they almost always sigh with relief and agree. It is, I think, the least helpful book you could possibly recommend to someone.

Joyce’s Ulysses is second. Now, I love that book. I pick it up often just to reread favorite passages. But I’d never recommend it to anyone unless they said, ‘I adore early twentieth century modernist literature but would really like to read a text set in Dublin, with stream-of-consciousness and elaborate word games. Can you suggest anything?’ If you’re someone who is going to enjoy Ulysses then you already know about it and if you don’t you probably won’t. Same with almost all the other high-ranked books on the aggregated list.

So, in that spirit, here is a list of books I wish I’d had all those years ago. Books I think are (a) very good and (b) accessible (c) short or shortish, in no particular order. They’re mostly novels, but not all. They are about 100,000 words or less, although I have guessed blindly about their word length. Most readers could read at least half of this list in the time it takes to finish Proust.

I’ve missed out many of my favourite books because they’re too long or too divisive or too obscure. My method was to look through my bookshelves and list the books I like that aren’t too long or difficult and which I think most people will enjoy. One book per author, the point being that people can explore to find authors they like. It is not ethnically diverse (suggestions welcome: hopefully when I update the list in a few years time I can fix that). Also, I’ve taken the precaution of listing less than a hundred books so when people point out omissions and I happen to agree with them I can add them in (or read them if I haven’t). The list is over the break.

Waiting for the Barbarians – John Coetzee

Franny and Zooey – J D Salinger

Wide Sargosso Sea – Jean Rhys

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush – Eric Newby

The Trial – Franz Kafka

Farehenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Solaris – Stanislaw Lem

The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula le Guin

Slouching Towards Bethlehem – Joan Didion

The Vintner’s Luck – Elizabeth Knox

The Third Man –  Graham Greene

Labyrinths – Jorge Louis Borges

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

In Patagonia – Bruce Chatwin

Junkie – William S Burroughs

Regeneration – Pat Barker

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Smith’s Dream – C K Stead

Siddhartha – Herman Hesse

The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon

A Movable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

A Kiss Before Dying – Ira Levin

Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stephenson

The Man Who Was Thursday – G K Chesterton

The Fall – Albert Camus

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe – Carson McCullers

SlaughterHouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

Notes from Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert Heinlein

Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

The Man in the High Castle – Phillip K Dick

To the Is-Land – Janet Frame

Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson

Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones

The Journalist and the Murderer – Janet Malcolm

Vermilion Sands – J G Ballard

The Periodic Table – Primo Levi

The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

Foundation – Isaac Asimov

Rendezvous With Rama – Arthur C Clark

The Comfort of Strangers – Ian McEwan

The Wasp Factory – Ian Banks

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

The Killer Inside Me – Jim Thompson

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – John Le Carre

Speedboat – Renata Adler

A Room With a View – E M Forster

Talking it Over – Julian Barnes

The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester

Perfume – Patrick Suskind

Novel About my Wife – Emily Perkins

The Untouchable – John Banville

Plumb – Maurice Gee

Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler

What we Talk About When we Talk About Love – Raymond Carver

War of the Worlds – H G Wells

Into Thin Air – John Krakauer

Quarantine – Jim Crace

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler

Goodbye to Berlin – Christopher Isherwood

The Dead – James Joyce (this has the best ending of any short story I’ve read).

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories – Flannary O’Connor

The Garden Party and Other Stories – Katherine Mansfield

City of Glass – Paul Auster

Beloved – Toni Morrison

 

 

 

 

74 Comments »

  1. There’s a little task I’ve set myself this year – and am already regretting – which is that every time I recommend a book to someone, I have to do a review of it on my blog.

    I’m already running behind, but it is quite a neat discipline to set yourself.

    Comment by robhosking — March 27, 2016 @ 7:33 pm

  2. Cool list. I’d like to see more New Zealand fiction; would a volume of Mansfield stories be cheating? Also, have you read Possession? Stunning, and a gripping, thriller-like read. I’d say too that Austen is as accessible an introduction to the classics as you could hope to find. And that there’s probably more sci-fi on the list than most people would want to read out of 100 books. But that could just be me.

    Comment by Max Rashbrooke — March 27, 2016 @ 7:57 pm

  3. This is a neat list. I enjoy reading but somehow often feel, with some books and authors, that i don’t really “get” them, per se. Accessibility is important because a lot of literature appeals to, basically, book nerds who enjoy interpreting deeper meanings and so forth; but many of us aren’t at that level, at least yet. I will give some of these a shot.

    Glad to see Wasp Factory there – just read it, the last of Ian Banks books that I was to read. I think Crow Road was possibly better, but still an amazing book.

    Comment by nightform — March 27, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

  4. ” If you’re someone who is going to enjoy Ulysses then you already know about it”

    So since I’ve heard of Ulysses, I should read it?

    “I’d like to see more New Zealand fiction”

    Sometimes the choice between nationalism and literary merit is a real one.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — March 27, 2016 @ 8:17 pm

  5. I’ve read precisely half of the top 100 in the list you linked (+ Beckett and Eliot who are at 101 and 102). I think it’s a good list (shame on Danyl that Homer doesn’t make his list).😦

    I’ve read only 17 on Danyl’s list (props to Danyl for Heart of Darkness making his list).🙂

    Neither list has “In Dubious Battle”, which would definitely be on my list.

    Comment by L — March 27, 2016 @ 8:24 pm

  6. Excellent list, there are a bunch of my favourites there, which bodes well for the rest.

    My first instinct, before I’d read the list, was to say “I know it’s not a novel, but how about Borges’ Labyrinths”, but whaddayaknow, there it is.

    My second thought was Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-Five is amazing, but I’ve only read it once or twice, whereas I go back to WttMH all the time (although, again, not a novel).

    My third thought was Catch-22, because I just love it, but a few people I have recommended it to have found it too confusing, so maybe it wouldn’t meet the accessibility criteria.

    Overall, a very useful list, and I look forward to seeing future iterations.

    Comment by Daniel — March 27, 2016 @ 8:29 pm

  7. I’d say too that Austen is as accessible an introduction to the classics as you could hope to find. And that there’s probably more sci-fi on the list than most people would want to read out of 100 books.

    Shocking confession. I don’t actually like Austen’s books very much. When it comes to the Great Victorian Women Novelists I’m firmly on team Elliot. But her novels are too big to put in a list of short accessible books.

    I decided to put a few more sci fi books in there because I think they are, mostly, under-rated classics. Foundation and Left Hand of Darkness are far more seminal and influential and important than, say, Proust.

    Comment by danylmc — March 27, 2016 @ 8:51 pm

  8. “Foundation and Left Hand of Darkness are far more seminal and influential and important than, say, Proust.”

    Difficult to argue that unless you define influential etc on whom; but either way, as I’m only 3/8 of the way through Proust, I’m not going to defend him hard. Yet. I’ll get back to you in – oh – two years’ time …

    Comment by Max Rashbrooke — March 27, 2016 @ 9:16 pm

  9. Can I suggest Elizabeth Taylor (Angel, although they’re all good) and Muriel Spark (A Far Cry from Kensington, ditto)?

    Comment by Fergus — March 27, 2016 @ 10:00 pm

  10. Genuine question, and I’m interested in the answer, not just snarking: have you noticed this list is about 5:1 written by men?

    Comment by thaliakr — March 27, 2016 @ 10:08 pm

  11. Shocking confession. I don’t actually like Austen’s books very much. When it comes to the Great Victorian Women Novelists I’m firmly on team Elliot.

    Well, Max got here before me. I reckon Pride and Prejudice belongs on a list of accessible well-written classics. There are bits you can just go back to and re-read over and over again.

    I’m afraid I don’t have much else to add to a list like this however. I don’t read as much as I mean to, and when I do, it’s mostly non-fiction, or crazy finds from school galas.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — March 27, 2016 @ 10:11 pm

  12. Awesome list, printing off now

    A.

    Comment by Antoine — March 28, 2016 @ 1:00 am

  13. “Difficult to argue that unless you define influential etc on whom;”

    Danyl’s friends?

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — March 28, 2016 @ 1:34 am

  14. So since I’ve heard of Ulysses, I should read it?

    No. Consider the following argument: “If this is a cat, it will have four legs.”

    Your response: “So since this creature I’m looking at has four legs, it’s a cat?”

    Comment by Psycho Milt — March 28, 2016 @ 6:37 am

  15. Genuine question, and I’m interested in the answer, not just snarking: have you noticed this list is about 5:1 written by men?

    Yeah, I just didn’t really read many woman novelists until about five years ago, when I realised I didn’t and that it was a pretty silly oversight. So most of the novels I’ve read since then are by women, but most of them are way too long to fit on a list of short accessible novels (George Elliot, Hilary Mantel, Hanya Yanigahara etc). If someone else wrote a list of good, shortish accessible novels by women novelists, that would be a big help to me.

    Comment by danylmc — March 28, 2016 @ 6:43 am

  16. Interesting list, I’ve read about 20 of them . I see you included Into thin air, I enjoyed that too. If you liked that I’d recommend HHhH https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HHhH , huge thank you to the translator . He did a superb job.

    Comment by Cliff Clavin — March 28, 2016 @ 7:49 am

  17. I might throw in a few writers of “colour” as recommendations too: Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison (although Invisible Man might be too long), Chinua Achebe, Mongo Beti, Assia Djebar, Ahlam Mosteghanemi, Yu Hua, Can Xue, Kobo Abe, Yukio Mishima, Alain Mabanckou, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Emile Habiby, for starters.

    Comment by Bran — March 28, 2016 @ 8:13 am

  18. Longish, but very accessible: The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. Pulitzer Prize winner.

    Comment by Deborah — March 28, 2016 @ 8:22 am

  19. I don’t know what a ‘great novel’ is anymore. It has to be accessible; therefore a good read by many I would suggest. If it has had the capacity at the time of its publication, to shake its own contemporary society, I go for Koestler’s ‘Ghost in the Machine’, Satre’s The Age of Reason” Shelley’s “Frankestein” Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (and “1984”) perhaps Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”. Harper Lee’s “To Catch a Mockingbird” or “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker or “The Lord of the Flies” by Golding may therefore may qualify.

    But I think these novels also represent a damned good read and that must be a qualifying factor too. I just read Ian McEwen’s “Atonement” but didn’t put it as a post modernist juxtaposition of the modern and the past as highly as Fowle’s “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” or “Birdsong” by Faulkes (both of which were easier to read, I felt).

    So my list is essentially a protracted exercise in conformation bias i.e. if I like it it must be great, I guess. Now, to overcome the creeping suspicion that I am being ‘sold’ greatness by rapacious publishers, I just tend to read stuff I encounter in Op-Shops. So “The Pallisades” by Alan Brennert is shaping up really well. The thing is, if I really really like it, that doesn’t make it a great novel, I can only attest to enjoying it and putting it in my 100 best, but truthfully, I’ve read some ‘bad’ novels with good bits in them Like “Oliver Twist” or great novels with extensively tedious bits in like Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”, or ones with just weird insights into an author’s freudian hangups in like Dicken’s “Little Dorritt” (still a great Novel).

    My favourite choice is: “Animal Farm” is short, satirical, speaks to the perpetual human condition, is readable at several ages, and is an historical document representing both its own time as well as acting as a polemic to future generations.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — March 28, 2016 @ 8:30 am

  20. Looking at the list again I see one of my all time favourite books Brave new world is on it, there’s also a short sequel called Brave new world revisited . He was fairly shocked by how much of what he predicted had already come to pass, well worth reading. Actually I think all his books are awesome so I’m biased there.

    Also I’ve probably read Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance a half dozen times, if anyone is interested it has a follow up called Lila an enquiry into morals.

    Comment by Cliff Clavin — March 28, 2016 @ 8:44 am

  21. Well, I love a good list challenge.

    Working on a list now.

    Comment by thaliakr — March 28, 2016 @ 8:45 am

  22. Longish, but very accessible: The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. Pulitzer Prize winner.

    One of the great attempts by a “Western” author to transcend the constraints of viewing the world through one’s own culture. Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger is another.

    Comment by Joe W — March 28, 2016 @ 9:05 am

  23. Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison (although Invisible Man might be too long), Chinua Achebe, Mongo Beti, Assia Djebar, Ahlam Mosteghanemi, Yu Hua, Can Xue, Kobo Abe, Yukio Mishima, Alain Mabanckou, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Emile Habiby, for starters.

    Any books by these authors you feel match the criteria of the list?

    Comment by danylmc — March 28, 2016 @ 10:00 am

  24. would a volume of Mansfield stories be cheating?

    I guess if I can have Labyrinths I can have a book of Mansfield stories. Which means I could also justify adding A Good Man is Hard to Find.

    I have a weird hangup with Mansfield. I like her stories now, but remember being made to read Bliss at school as an example of ‘New Zealand literature’, which, what the fuck? So I have this residual antipathy.

    Comment by danylmc — March 28, 2016 @ 10:30 am

  25. I think they’ve all got one at least that fits the criteria. I’d say for Achebe, Things Fall Apart or Anthills on the Savannah, Mishima, the Sea of Fertility series (if you ignore his general fascism), Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus (her other great work is probably a bit long), Mabanckou’s Broken Glass, Can Xue’s Five Spice Street or the Last Lover (though she might be less accessible than the others here), Habiby’s The Secret Life of Saeed, Djebar’s Children of the New World, Mosteghanemi’s Memory of the Flesh, Yu Hua’s The Seventh Day, Abe’s Woman of the Dunes, Beti’s Mission to Kala or Poor Christ of Bomba, Morrison’s Beloved or Sula, and Abe’s Woman of the Dunes are all fantastic. I also might throw in Nabokov’s Pnin (if Lolita’s too long).

    Comment by Bran — March 28, 2016 @ 10:32 am

  26. Things Fall Apart

    Thanks. I’ve been meaning to read this for ages. Will be next on my fiction list.

    Comment by danylmc — March 28, 2016 @ 10:37 am

  27. Which reminds me – How is ‘Infinite Jest’ getting on?

    Comment by Leopold — March 28, 2016 @ 10:47 am

  28. Mantel’s earlier books tend to be shorter than her later efforts, and are still very good indeed. Eg Vacant Possession, Fludd.

    Comment by Dr Foster — March 28, 2016 @ 10:48 am

  29. I might throw in a few writers of “colour” as recommendations too…

    Kind of a mini-Middlemarch, only Egyptian – the eminently accessable The Yacoubian Building.

    Comment by Joe W — March 28, 2016 @ 10:59 am

  30. Great list, read half of then “A short walk in the hindu kush,” was one of the first books I ever read, I absolutely loved it. I might have to go and read it again

    Comment by Thomas Forrow — March 28, 2016 @ 11:05 am

  31. By the way (appropos of nothing just thought you might like this) I saw this on Lightbox last night this was sublime comedy I recommend:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutschland_83

    Comment by leeharmanclark — March 28, 2016 @ 11:43 am

  32. Enjoyed! Second the commentators who mentioned Rushdie, Middlemarch, catch-22. Babel tower? Cloud Atlas? (oh hang on I just saw the link to your Bone Clocks thoughts…) Maybe these are all too long… anyway, nonfiction… a few shorter ones I liked: Heat, Kitchen Confidential, The Rest is Noise. Also currently loving Sapiens. Also also, I find Nick Hornby’s books about books (his Believer columns) are a good place to find stuff (e.g. Claire Tomalin’s biographies of Dickens and Katherine Mansfield)

    Comment by David — March 28, 2016 @ 11:54 am

  33. I’m reading Proust at the moment, a page or two a day. I’m into the second volume and should be done in a year or two, or more. I had this notion last year that I had to read it before I die, and I’m in my forties, so time’s running out. Parts are boring, parts are brilliant, but there’s something about being that deeply in someone else’s consciousness. But it’s hard to recommend it.

    Here are some shorter, accessible great books, in my opinion:

    Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson. I really think *everyone* should read this. I re-read it all the time.
    Mao II, Don De Lillo. (We’re talking short, so not Underworld)
    Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell
    Owls Do Cry, Janet Frame
    The Emigrants, WG Sebald (again, relative accessibility)
    The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
    Open City, Teju Cole
    Stoner, John Williams
    The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel
    Nazi Literature in the Americas, Robert Bolano (2666 is his best book but it’s huge)
    H is For Hawk, Helen Macdonald
    The Search Warrant, Patrick Modiano (in a way, all his books are the same book but this stood out).

    Now off to the library with Danyl’s list.

    Comment by Philip Matthews — March 28, 2016 @ 12:31 pm

  34. Bolaño: The Savage Detectives is long but feels short; if you want short then The Insufferable Gaucho.

    Comment by Fergus — March 28, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

  35. The Wreck, Déwé Gorodé

    Comment by Neilm — March 28, 2016 @ 1:14 pm

  36. “I have a weird hangup with Mansfield. I like her stories now, but remember being made to read Bliss at school as an example of ‘New Zealand literature’, which, what the fuck? So I have this residual antipathy.”

    Somehow a lot of fiction gets spoiled that way. But ultimately I feel the same way about that as I do about some of your views on the flag debate: if we ditched every cause or thing that had irritating proponents, there just wouldn’t be any left. Which would make life simpler, but perhaps less satisfying.

    Comment by Max Rashbrooke — March 28, 2016 @ 2:14 pm

  37. I second the Paul Auster recommendation. I’d also suggest Junot Diaz’s Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as a tremendous example of magical realism in the context of the Dominican diaspora.

    RE: Frankenstein, I’d recommend seeking out the 1818 edition, which is longer than the more popular 1831 version and does a lot more to explore Frankenstein’s obsession and declining mental state. Also I’m not sure if its too long for your criteria but Wuthering Heights is a terrific book — so dark and intense and with such a sense of place.

    Comment by Jake — March 28, 2016 @ 3:02 pm

  38. I’m not sure if its too long for your criteria but Wuthering Heights is a terrific book — so dark and intense and with such a sense of place.

    There were a few books – Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Bell Jar – which I thought about, but realised I hadn’t actually read them since my mid-teens and probably didn’t understand them at the time, and couldn’t really remember much about, so I felt a bit weird about recommending them.

    Comment by danylmc — March 28, 2016 @ 3:23 pm

  39. The God of Small Things, and the shorter Timothy Mo novels Sour Sweet and Monkey King. If even I can get through them they are definitely accessible.

    Comment by Adrian — March 28, 2016 @ 7:25 pm

  40. Read ‘Put Out More Flags’ by Evelyn Waugh on the summer break. It’s a delightful gem. I enjoyed it more than some of his more well known books.

    Also on grumpy male Brit comic novelists – Kingsley Amis’s ‘Ending Up’. Well crafted and incredibly dark.

    Comment by robhosking — March 28, 2016 @ 8:25 pm

  41. I second the Paul Auster recommendation

    I think of the New York Trilogy as one big book, but really there’s no reason not to put City of Glass on the list by itself. Also, adding Beloved, because my copy is a gigantic hard backed book but in terms of word length it’s probably not much longer than a bunch of other entries.

    Comment by danylmc — March 28, 2016 @ 8:37 pm

  42. *Blindness*, by José Saramago.
    *Never Let Me Go*, by Kazuo Ishiguro.

    Comment by Mark Rickerby (@maetl) — March 28, 2016 @ 11:11 pm

  43. Rabbit, Run – John Updike And the rest of the quartet as well.

    Comment by Grant — March 29, 2016 @ 1:03 am

  44. Thanks for the challenge. I’ve written up a list of comparable books by women: http://sacraparental.com/2016/03/28/brilliant-accessible-novels-by-women/

    Comment by thaliakr — March 29, 2016 @ 2:35 am

  45. Thanks for that Thalia. Also, I didn’t really like Robinson’s Housekeeping. Should I read Gilead?

    Comment by danylmc — March 29, 2016 @ 6:05 am

  46. Also on grumpy male Brit comic novelists – Kingsley Amis’s ‘Ending Up’. Well crafted and incredibly dark.

    Lucky Jim is one of my favourite books but for some reason I’ve only ever read one other KA novel (‘The Green Man’). So I’ll chase that one up too.

    Comment by danylmc — March 29, 2016 @ 7:26 am

  47. What a great list though I’m sure you’ll get some stick for going too sci-fi.

    Not often you see Isherwood and and Heinlein keeping company. Props!

    Personally, I would have checked Conrad on there somewhere. Maybe The Secret Agent?

    Comment by Gregor W — March 29, 2016 @ 9:12 am

  48. Surprised to see “Into Thin Air” on the list. It is one of my favourite books – though I’m not sure quite why – but I didn’t think it was well known enough to get onto a recommended novels list.

    Wrt women authors, I read “The Gate to Women’s Country” by Sherri S Tepper as a teenager, and fondly remember it as a great book. Can also heartily recommend “Time Traveller’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger.

    Comment by Brent — March 29, 2016 @ 9:37 am

  49. Love the list, and will look forward to reading the ones I haven’t already read.

    A few more I would recommend to people:
    Grapes of Wrath
    Breakfast of Champions
    Lolita
    I, Robot (a collection of short stories but they all tie into a theme and so feels like a novel).

    Comment by bmk — March 29, 2016 @ 9:48 am

  50. After years of struggling with fiction (preferring non-fiction), “In Cold Blood” was my gateway back (even though it’s non-fiction).

    Comment by Paul — March 29, 2016 @ 11:24 am

  51. I didn’t really enjoy Housekeeping either. Gilead is astonishing. An elderly minister is writing a letter to his young son, knowing that he likely won’t live to see him grow up, to tell him about his ‘begats’.

    Comment by thaliakr — March 29, 2016 @ 2:04 pm

  52. Can also heartily recommend “Time Traveller’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger.

    I met her by chance when I was reading that book. She was researching ‘Fearful Cemetery’ and the Highgate Trust made her work as a tour guide in order to have access to the cemetery. So she was our guide. Which must have been a bit weird for her, because she’d just sold her book to a Hollywood studio for millions of dollars. But she only seemed a little irritated by it.

    Comment by danylmc — March 29, 2016 @ 3:49 pm

  53. Danyl, have you read Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, and The Unbearable Lightness of being by Milan Kundera? ‘Cause your list is quite Anglo🙂

    Comment by Robert Singers — March 29, 2016 @ 3:50 pm

  54. “In Cold Blood” was my gateway back

    There’s a novella by Capote called ‘Handcarved Coffins’ which I feel more people should know about. It’s basically a second, shorter ‘In Cold Blood’. It’s in a collection called ‘Music for Chameleons’. Maybe I should write another blog post of obscure books that should be more famous than they are? (And then in the comments everyone could suggest I add the Harry Potter books and the da Vinci Code.)

    Comment by danylmc — March 29, 2016 @ 3:58 pm

  55. @54. ‘Maybe I should write another blog post of obscure books that should be more famous than they are? (And then in the comments everyone could suggest I add the Harry Potter books and the da Vinci Code.)’

    Haha. Very good. I think it may be necessary to define fairly precisely for some of your readers what is meant by ‘short’ and ‘accessible’. I like Foucalt’s pendulum too Robert S, but at over 600 pages it’s scarcely short…

    I’m surprised, Danyl, that as a self confessed Eliot fan you didn’t include Silas Marner which is short and fairly accessible and has the added bonus of being very good as well.

    Defining what makes a book a ‘must read’ is pretty much impossible for obvious reasons, but for me it means among other things that i am drawn back to it again and find it as enjoyable and rewarding on second or subsequent readings

    Thomas Hardy’s ‘Mayor of Casterbridge’ and Salman Rushdie’s ‘Grimus’ make the cut on both counts and both meet your criteria above..

    Comment by Grant — March 29, 2016 @ 5:12 pm

  56. I’m surprised, Danyl, that as a self confessed Eliot fan you didn’t include Silas Marner which is short and fairly accessible and has the added bonus of being very good as well.

    I haven’t read this yet. I’m really bad at being a completist, even with writers I love. There are still canonical Phil Dick and Pat Highsmith books I haven’t read yet.

    Comment by danylmc — March 29, 2016 @ 5:45 pm

  57. I can highly recommend any of the Corto Maltese series of historical adventure graphic novels by the great European writer/artist Hugo Pratt.

    Comment by john — March 29, 2016 @ 11:03 pm

  58. 53: I’d say The Name of the Rose is a better example for what Danyl is after than Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s shorter and generally more accessible, with its catchy “medieval murder mystery” genre approach.

    Comment by steve — March 30, 2016 @ 1:30 am

  59. … and still not Anglo!

    Comment by steve — March 30, 2016 @ 1:31 am

  60. Umberto Eco stated something along the lines of if you could understand how The Name of the Rose operates on three different levels then you were worthy of reading his other work. I’ve read several of his [academic] essays. He was a very very clever man, and it makes you appreciate how good the translators must have been to translate his works into English.

    Comment by Robert Singers — March 30, 2016 @ 11:14 am

  61. One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is a book I love, but may be a little long for your list? However it’s easy (delightful) to read and it’s significant non Anglo literature.

    Comment by Grant — March 30, 2016 @ 12:18 pm

  62. Ok, I’m gonna shamelessly Link Tart now: This is a review I did last week of one of the best accessible and enjoyable works of political history I’ve read. It is a genuine classic, I think (the book, not my review). The Strange Death of Liberal England. http://robhosking.com/2016/03/19/book-recommendations/

    Also a superb American campus comic novel – a genre kind of invented by the Brits (Lucky Jim as Danyl mentioned above, plus Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge’s work). But this is a portrait of a academia in a post-GFC world, with the humanities in decline along with the main character’s entire life.

    And it’s also, for Eng Lit buffs, an epistolatory novel. Anyway its short, enjoyable, and bitterly hilarious. Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacker. http://robhosking.com/2015/09/19/954/

    Comment by robhosking — March 30, 2016 @ 12:25 pm

  63. On Proust – while I agree it’s certainly not for beginners I think this is definitely a great book and deserving of being read by many . However it wasn’t til the third time I tried that I could get into it. The difference was an aside in the letters between Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford where he noted that she had told him french people read it in the same spirit as english people read PG Wodehouse. Once I clicked that it was a comedy rather than a monumental pile of greatness it all became much easier and less daunting. By the way it isn’t seven volumes of 1000 pages each – it only clock in at around the thousand pages in the 3 volume publication that happened in the 80s – broken out as seven it’s less but you’re still looking at 3000 pages.
    I would definitely say he was seminal – and maybe Ursula Le Guin isn’t possible without him. One of the points of Proust is that several different periods of time and different societies are present in any individual’s life at once – this is not an idea unknown to science fiction though obviously dealt with in different ways.

    I would add to your list USA by John Dos Passos – technically three books usually printed as one 1-thousand page doorstopper.

    Comment by TimothyO'B — March 30, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

  64. Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay on proto-Fascism is probably more relevant than ever.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1995/06/22/ur-fascism/

    Comment by Kumara Republic (@kumararepublic) — March 30, 2016 @ 1:35 pm

  65. One more to add: The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood. A somewhat tart retelling of Penelope’s story, with the twelve maids as a prose Greek chorus. I think it would be a great introduction to Margaret Atwood’s work for someone who didn’t enjoy reading dystopian fiction all that much. It was quite short: I read it over the course of two evenings, and back in the olden days when I had plenty of time for recreational reading, I would have gotten through it in one.

    Comment by Deborah — April 1, 2016 @ 8:17 am

  66. One more to add: The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood

    Atwood and Paul Auster are probably the two authors who I liked the most but have read the least. I love Handmaid’s Tale and New York Trilogy, and cannot explain why I haven’t read more of their work.

    Comment by danylmc — April 1, 2016 @ 8:34 am

  67. @Danyl: Cat’s Eye is probably the best place to start for the “I like Atwood but I haven’t read much of her stuff” reader.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — April 1, 2016 @ 9:42 am

  68. The Wasp Factory – Ian Banks

    This is his most accessible work, along with possibly Raw Spirit for other reasons.

    I would suggest for your list:

    The Art of War – Sun Tzu

    Comment by unaha-closp — April 1, 2016 @ 9:53 am

  69. @ unaha-closp

    The Wasp Factory – Ian Banks. his is his most accessible work…

    A certain irony, given your handle!
    I would say though that for his fiction, Espedair Street or The Crow Road are infinitely more readable (thought CR clocks in @500+ pages)

    I would certainly not call The Art of War accessible. You might as well chuck Meditations on there.

    Comment by Gregor W — April 1, 2016 @ 10:19 am

  70. The Art of War is a non-religious text that has been in “print” for close to 2.5 millennia. That is a pretty good indication that a lot of people find it accessible.

    Comment by unaha-closp — April 1, 2016 @ 11:09 am

  71. And yeah, there are other Iain Banks novels I do prefer as well.

    Comment by unaha-closp — April 1, 2016 @ 11:10 am

  72. The Art of War is a non-religious text that has been in “print” for close to 2.5 millennia. That is a pretty good indication that a lot of people find it accessible.

    Until about 200 years ago, only a tiny proportion of people knew how to read.
    Tell me, what did you learn from The Nine Battlegrounds?

    Comment by Gregor W — April 1, 2016 @ 11:25 am

  73. late on this thread: was going to suggest two books by female authors- checked your commentators female list and ‘God of Small Things’ is there. The other I was going to suggest is ‘Fugitive Pieces’ by Anne Michaels.I’ve got a copy of The Shipping News on the bookshelf to be read. Moscow

    Comment by sheesh — April 5, 2016 @ 1:12 am

  74. Foundation and Left Hand of Darkness are far more seminal and influential and important than, say, Proust.

    I’d agree with this. It’s just too bad that Foundation is so badly written. Where other pulp writers, so they say, were paid by the word, it seems that Asimov, by comparison, must have been paid by the use of, every individual, comma.

    Comment by pearceduncan — April 11, 2016 @ 10:41 am


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