Here I have highlighted a smattering of novels, which fall outside of the science fiction realm, which I recommend.
The memorable television miniseries Shogun introduced me to Clavell’s wonderful “Asian Saga” where you learn a great deal about the Japan and Hong Kong of long ago through the eyes of fascinating characters and superb action-adventure plotting in these immense novels. You might start with Shogun, although my personal favorite is Noble House‘s tale of corporate intrigue and espionage in 1960s Hong Kong. It’s a real corker.
- Shogun [1600 Japan] (1975, Dell, ISBN 0440178002)
- Tai-Pan [1841 Hong Kong] (1966, Dell, ISBN 0440184622)
- Gai-Jin [1862 Japan] (1993, Dell, ISBN 044021680X)
- Noble House [1963 Hong Kong] (1981, Dell, ISBN 0440164842)
I picked up microserfs when browsing the new books section of the Bartlesville Public Library one day. What a find! Coupland is unsurpassed in his portrayal of the modern zeitgeist and pop culture. He brought life to the term “Generation X” with his book of the same name, and if you’re a nerd from my era I think you’ll find his work irresistible.
- microserfs (1995/1996, HarperCollins, ISBN 0060987049)
- Shampoo Planet (1992/1993, PocketBooks, ISBN 0671755064)
- Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991/1992, St. Martin’s Press, ISBN 031205436X)
Seldom have I been as absorbed in a book as I was in Middlesex with its fascinating dark family tale and identity issues. This is one book that deserved its Pulitzer Prize.
- Middlesex (2002, Picador, ISBN 0312422156)
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald is the only novelist I was forced to read in high school whose work I enjoyed enough to go ahead and buy all of his major works. He is the embodiment of the Jazz Age in the 1920s, and I find his works haunting and memorable. Quick witted and erudite, Fitzgerald’s portraits of excess, vapidity, and insecurity feature nuggets of pure literary gold. Gatsby is his masterwork with its symbolism, but I also love the youthful exuberance and chaotic love of letters one finds in This Side of Paradise. All of the novels are worthy reads, but note that The Last Tycoon is unfinished.
- The Great Gatsby (1925/1995, Scribner, ISBN 0684801523)
- This Side of Paradise (1920/1998, Scribner, ISBN 0684843781)
This work is available online!
- The Beautiful and Damned (1922/1995, Scribner, ISBN 0684801558)
- Tender is the Night (1933/1995, Scribner, ISBN 068480154X)
- The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western (1941/1986, Scribner, ISBN 002199503)
Julie Claiborne Johnson
Johnson mixed into her premise the long silence of Harper Lee, but instead of having her author hole up in Manhattan and then retreat back to the South, she is a hermit in a glass house in LA. But it is the wonderful characterization of Frank, her gifted son who is somewhere on the autism spectrum, and the narrator’s developing relationship with him, that makes this book so memorable.
- Be Frank With Me: A Novel (2016, William Morrow, ISBN 0062413724 & 978-0062413727)
“Hellas” was an honors seminar on ancient Greece I took from the incomparable Peggy Chambers at the University of Oklahoma. Several of Mary Renault’s novels were required reading for the course, and they are wonderful historical fiction for that era. Renault transports you back to a very different time and place, with sensitive treatments of mysticism and eroticism. She brings the ancient world to life like no other author. Note that some works can be a tad racy for the unprepared, ranging from Alexander the Great’s eunuch, Bagoas, in The Persian Boy to the love between Alexias and Lysis in The Last of the Wine.
- The King Must Die (1958/1988, Vintage Books, ISBN 0394751043)
- The Bull from the Sea (1962/2001, Vintage Books, ISBN 0375726802)
- The Last of the Wine (1956/2001, Vintage Books, ISBN 0375726810)
- Fire From Heaven (1969/1977, Vintage Books, ISBN 0394722914)
- The Persian Boy (1972/1988, Vintage Books, ISBN 0394751019)
This is an odd case where the book that made the novelist famous is the one book which I don’t like at all. Rushdie’s infamous Satanic Verses earned him a fatwah from Islamic extremists and made him a world-renowned figure. It is also a lousy book, in my opinion. But Rushdie’s other works are simply spectacular. He populates his works with wonderful characters and he can be terribly funny and punny. Rarely does a book make me want to dance with joy, but Rushdie does it time and again with his brilliant plotting and wondrous wordplay. The exotic allure of India permeates his work, and while I can’t stand works like Joyce’s Ulysses or Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow with their impossible narratives and treasure troves of obscurity, Rushdie’s complicated layering of meanings seldom interferes with the enjoyment of his work.
- The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995/1997, Pantheon Books, ISBN 0679744665)
- The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999/2000, Picador USA, ISBN 0312254997)
- Fury (2001, Random House, ISBN 067946333X)
- Grimus (1975/1996, Vintage/Random House, ISBN 0099592711)
- Midnight’s Children (1980/1995, Penguin USA, ISBN 0140132708)
- Shame (1983, Picador USA/Henry Holt and Company, ISBN 0312270933)
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990/1991, Penguin USA, ISBN 0140157379)
David Foster Wallace
Wallace received high praise in the 1990s for his hilarious, touching, and “fiercely original” work, although inevitable comparisons were drawn to Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, and other notable 20th century authors. Wallace’s work is indeed fractured, but the novel shown below doesn’t induce the Pynchonesque migraines one gets trying to read his immense Infinite Jest. The vignettes and characters are sometimes astonishing, and sometimes tedious. Like Rushdie, Wallace embraced the chaos of modern life and made it his own.
- The Broom of the System (1987/1999, Viking Penguin/Bard, ISBN 0380719916)