the green fields beyond


Location: Charles City, Virginia, United States

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fiction drought

No matter what else I'm up to, or what non-fiction I'm reading (currently: Consider the Lobster And Other Essays), I like to be going through at least one good novel at any given time. I enjoy "decompressing" from the day before bed, with some fiction (lately, Mel's been using Sudoku for the same purpose...but I'm scared of it...numbers make my head hurt). Well-written prose is a pleasure to read, and it also helps me, as a sometime preacher, to develop an "ear" for sharp language and narrative.

But the past several novels I've tried have been disappointing. I don't know if I haven't been in the right frame of mind, or if I've just been unlucky in my picks. Kingsolver's "Prodigal Summer" was ok but preachy. Lee Jackson's "Redemption" started out with a cool, near-future premise about a fugitive trying to hide from an out-of-control Homeland Security department, but then swerved into lame cliches, cardboard characters, and silly villains. There were a couple of others but I can't even remember them. I retreated back to the dependable John Le Carre, who once again did not disappoint me (A Small Town in Germany is now a bit dated, but the characters kept me interested, and the plot twist still works). But he's sort of a known quantity, a cop-out. I'd like to try somebody who's new to me.
So: any fiction suggestions? I don't care if it's old or new, any genre or subject matter. But it's got to have three-dimensional characters, well-crafted sentences, and some sort of plot that holds together. That's not too much to ask, is it? Oh, and i should add that if I don't like the book, i won't hold it against you personally...this stuff can be pretty subjective.
I look forward to hearing your suggestions!



I'm a Chuck Palahniuk freak. My favorites of his are "Survivor" and "Invisible Monsters."

He can be lude, but I love his prose. If you like Kurt Vonnegut then I'm sure you would like Palahniuk.

Vonnegut and Palahniuk are the only novels I've read lately (besides the Harry Potter series).

2:38 PM  

I read "Madame Bovary" over Christmas and loved it. I'd read it in college and not appreciated Flaubert's incredible insight into human nature, but this time around, I was transfixed by how well he described what motivates us.

4:38 PM  

You read Gilead yet? You need to get on that one.

5:20 PM  

My favorite book is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It may seem like a "girl book" but I know two men who loved it also. I am really enjoying Charles Martin - am reading my second book by him. I love anything by Anne Perry but my favorite mystery of hers is Brunswick Gardens. She has also written a fantasy that is very good. For really "fluff" reading (pun intended), The Cat Who... books by Lillian Jackson Braun. Mom

1:07 PM  

OK, I heartily second your Mom's recommendation of Charles Martin. I'm on my 4th book of his in as many weeks! I know I told you about "My Hands Came Away Red," by Lisa McKay....amazing. Also, I have enjoyed everything by Maeve Binchy (her books take place in Ireland), Anne Perry, and Francine Rivers (Christian fiction that's not "preachy"). Oh, yeah, and your mom's my mom, too! Jess

3:01 PM  

Asking for fiction recommendations and ending with the promise that you "look forward to hearing your suggestions!" strikes me as being way too close to the tag line of the Ask a Ninja podcast: "I look forward to killing you real soon!"

In other words, book recommendations to friends, like restaurant recommendations, are fraught with danger. Once someone has recommended one of the above and you end up hating it, you can never look at them the same way again. Sorry, it's true!

And if you're looking for true diversion, you can't beat the aforementioned Ask a Ninja video podcast. Search for it on iTunes. For a great sample, search on YouTube for the Ask a Ninja review of Pirates of the Carribean. Quite possibly the funniest five minutes I've ever experienced!

5:04 PM  

I am a little intimidated to leave any suggestions because I don't know if my preference in fiction lives up to your standards of sentence structure and character development. But, that's ok. I know that some of the books I read (currently "The Other Boleyn Girl," for instance) are shallow and I'm OK with that. :) But one I would recommend if you haven't already read it is "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini. I also enjoyed "Year of Wonders" by Geraldine Brooks, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" by Lisa See, and "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden. In a little while you'll need to give us an update and tell us what you ended up liking and not liking.

8:09 PM  

Despite Sage's sage comment, I cannot resist responding--though how to limit myself is the tough call!

Iris Murdoch (The Bell), Chaim Potok (My Name is Asher Lev), Alan Paton (Too Late the Phalarope) are classic masters of exploring the human condition.

Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday is a weird, fantastic adventure into the attributes of God--and British subculture!

As a "sometimes preacher" you'd identify with the itinerant-preacher/blacksmith protagonist of Peter Hobb's recent The Short Day Dying--appropriately despairing at times, but really lovely, beautifully written, and unique in its 19th century journal style of structure and punctuation.

If you haven't read The Kite Runner yet, do it--but skip Hosseini's more recent A Thousand Splendid Suns.

And, like Sam Adams beer, a PD James mystery is always a good decision--I recommend Death in Holy Orders, where a seminary is the scene of murder and theological understanding is required to uncover whodunnit...

This list in no way makes up for your recent book list at my blog! :o)

7:13 PM  

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