Writing Been here, done that

Readers Block

I am in a total readers funk. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been rereading old favorites and I’m beginning to find the “been here, done that” experience to be dull.

So, I’m looking for suggestions for some holy shit-like reads. I’ve been on an American history kick for a year or so, but before that I’d pretty much stuck with the occassional American classic while making a comprehensive pass of all the Hugo and Nebula Award winners.

As I discussed in some previous entry or entry_comment, I can’t stand Tolkein-like tales with a painful amount of apparently useless backstory.

[6/2/03 Update]: And the winners are:

_Girlfriend in a Coma_ by Douglas Coupland. Microserfs spoke to me — maybe this will, as well.

_Guns of the South: A Novel of the Civil War_ by Harry Turtledove. I can’t imagine a novel less suited for me. SOLD.

_Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World_ by Mark Pendergrast. There are three things I know nothing about: chicks, coffee, and lawns. Maybe this will help.

35 Responses

  1. Nebula nominees?

    A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin was one and made me say holy shit more then once. (I also deeply dislike the book form of Tolkien.)

  2. rands, im recommending American Psycho by bret easton ellis if you havent read it- it’s much better than the movie, funny as hell(its meant to be a satire) and will elicit many different varieties of “holy shit!’ it will also give you a few hardons.

  3. Monkeyboy 21 years ago

    I assume you’ve been through all of Neil Stephenson’s books already? Including “Interface” which is under the pen name Stephen Bury?

  4. JayBees 21 years ago

    In the American history and sci-fi vein, I suggest:

    “Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus” by Orson Scott Card – It’s over 400 pages, but it’s a quick read since Card can write a Damned Fine Novel. Great plot with a nice mix of sci-fi and historical fiction, and even greater characters.

    “The Guns of the South: A Novel of the Civil War” by Harry Turtledove – An alternate history novel like most of Turtledove’s books, except, unlike his other books, this one is sci-fi, since the alternate history is spurned by time travelers giving the Confederacy AK-47s. I guess it sounds pretty ridiculous, but it’s well-written, and a fun little read.

  5. c.a. todd 21 years ago

    Maybe you’d enjoy the new William Gibson book “Pattern Recognition” if you feel like tweaking out geek style.


    Good stuff, really.

  6. Fat Lance 21 years ago

    “Anyone You Want Me To Be” by John Douglas


    “Jarhead : A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles” by Anthony Swofford


    “High and Mighty: SUVs–The World’s Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way” by Keith Bradsher


    “The Big Book of Jerkcity” by Dean Stark (Vampyre)


  7. rands 21 years ago

    I am quite fond of _American Psycho_… and Finlandia… and Genesis.

  8. I recently read _A Wild Sheep Chase_, by Haruki Murakami, which I’d recommend without reservation. And for some reason, I think you’d really like Iain Bank’s _The Wasp Factory_. And if you’re unfamiliar with Mark Leyner, you really owe it to yourself to read _My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist_.

    So, that’s one bit of decent lit, and two for the Holy Shit List.

  9. Speaking of Leyner, if anyone has recently read anything that’s scrambled the insides of their heads, I’d like to hear about it.

  10. Spacelegoman 21 years ago

    I’m currently reading “The Art of Memory” by Frances Yates; I’m too crap at html to link it so search on Amazon. It’s fascinating, if a bit academic.

    An introduction to the area of history she writes about can be found here: http://www.synaptic.ch/infoliths/textes/arsmem.htm

  11. eli sarver 21 years ago

    Hugo and Nebula award winners, you say? I just read Ender’s Game. Not because I’m slow on the uptake, but because I just found out about it, and I have an aversion to *buying* fiction books. (Money should be spent on books like PHP Cookbook and DWWS)

    I think I should stick to books that won both awards. Ender was very good, in fact, one of the best books I’ve ever picked up.

    I do know what you mean about re-reading favourites. I have the same problem. Instead of reading something new, I’ll pick up something familiar, and that spoils me with a quick read. Must .. get out .. of rut!

  12. agent orange 21 years ago

    If you’re still into history, try John Maginnis, a political reporter covering Louisiana politics in all its rancid glory:


  13. I'm every guy who posted here by the name "Darien" I checked 21 years ago

    hahaha I was about to reccomend American Psycho but said “Naaaaah that’s not exactly history” that book was a serious “holy shit” for me… I picked it up because of the outrage towards it ..I read it twice within the first few weeks I got it… my parents must’ve worried about me because they had never heard me laugh so much… luckily they never paid attension to what I was reading as a kid.

    I’m a big fan of Ellis in fact right now on my coffee table are less than zero and AP (the latest GQ, sharper image catalogue, flyer for an upcoming arcade auction, a cold black mug of decap –er uh decaf coffee I left there this morning)… I leave them out to make people who visit me nervous… all I need to add now is the Big book of jerkcity.

    ~Darien, chocolate dipped urinal cake

  14. for a real nice involving classic, read William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’,

    a real good book, and before its time too

  15. Bosko 21 years ago

    Um, if you haven’t already, a few of my favorite Douglas Coupland books; these read really well and you can probably read a few of them in only a few days, so if you think they suck, you won’t feel like you’ve lost a lot of precious time, and if you think they’re great, you can re-read them later without thinking you’re spending too much time on re-reading: “Life After God,” “Generation X.”

  16. Antony Beevor’s “Stalingrad” was incredible. Unforntunately some movie industry scumhole bastardized “Enemy At the Gates” from its pages. But really you shouldn’t hold it against Beevor. Beevor. hehe.

  17. Jon Courteney Grimwood’s “Pashazade” (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0743202848/ref=sr_aps_books_1_1/202-0014340-5748608) kicks ass. Part post-cyberpunk cyberpunk, part murder mystery, part exploration of a muslim city in slightly alternate universe in which the Ottoman Empire never fell.

    The hero wears a leather coat and shades. What more could one ask for?

  18. rands 21 years ago

    While we’re on the topic of Iain Bank’s, I must recommend _The Player of Games_ as well as _Excession_. Both stories (and others?) are set in the distant future where humanity has developed “The Culture”. Self-aware robots, huge custom made planets… blah blah blah. You’d think it’d be dull, but Banks does a masterful job of creating depth to the society…. more so in _Excession_ which is, unfortunately, Tolkein-like in it’s backstoryness.

  19. If you are looking for a Holy Shit read, I’d suggest ‘The Mother Tongue’ by Bill Bryson. I found myself lying in bed pronouncing words to myself, and bored my friends shitless with such trivia gems as “did you know that Latvians can sometimes understand simple sentences spoken in Sanskrit?” Amazing considering it’s about something we take for granted so much as the English Language.

    Also, anyone who else who is Australian, has visted Australia, is planning to do so, or is just curious about the place, read Bryson’s ‘Down Under.’ The combination pet shop/pornography store is about the funniest thing I have ever heard of.

    Iain Banks is good, and you can’t go wrong with ‘the Wasp Factory.’ However, if you’re going to read Banks’ forays into science fiction, I’d recommend ‘Use of Weapons’ ahead of any of the other Culture novels. BTW, the Culture novels are not set in the far future. Anyone who’s likes them might be interested in this: http://www.cs.bris.ac.uk/~stefan/culture.html

    Still on the science-fiction bandwagon, if you’re looking for a real sci-fi you can’t go past anything by Greg Egan, particularly ‘Diaspora.’

  20. Floid 21 years ago

    Since the winners have been selected, it may help to note that Turtledove did pen a wonderful serial in Analog about BIG LUMBERING TRANSSEXUAL ALIEN BEARS. (“The Great Unknown.”)

    According to the fansite, this was later published as “The Foitani” in the _Earthgrip_ collection, whatever that is.

  21. I highly recommend "Uncommon Grounds – The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World" by Mark Pendergrast.

    History, War, Psychosis, Smuggling, Religion, Science, Advertising, Coca Cola, Teddy Roosevelt they all link to coffee one way or another and this book tells why.

    Times review and excerpt:


  22. John Whitlock 21 years ago

    Little, Big by John Crowley


    A modern folk tale of a New England family that benefits and suffers from living too close to the supernatural world. One of my favorite books.

    Engine Summer, John Crowley


    People living long after a world-destroying disaster encounter the artifacts of our civilization. Much shorter than Little, Big, but a similar feel – if you like Engine Summer, than you’ll like Little, Big, but it’s a hard book to find, outside of used book stores.

    Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe


    A great epic tale of the far future, of a torturer forced out of his guild for the crime of mercy, destined to be the ruler and savior of Earth living under a dying sun. A five-book series, so it’s quite a comittment, and it is too complex to understand in a single reading. It is one of the few pieces of Science Fiction that actually qualifies as literature.

    Devils of Loudun, Aldous Huxley


    Based on a true story of 17th Century French Priest who likes the ladies too much, who gets accused of witchcraft when a convent of nuns appears to be possessed. I enjoyed it more than Brave New World.

  23. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

    the best novel to appear in the last 25 years.

  24. Gabrielle 21 years ago

    I’ll pitch in for Bret Easton Ellis also; just finished reading Rules of Attraction and halfway through Less Than Zero. (Read AP a while ago.) Before that, I read The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, and recommend that over his second Pulitzer-winny book Middlesex. Above all these is Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (a Hugo so you’ve probably already read) and its also-ran, Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad.

  25. Klaatu 21 years ago

    Two Great Summer reads:

    1) 1421, The Year China Discovered America, by Gavin Menzies..”LET’S ALL GO TO CHINA!!”

    2) Porno, by Irvine Welsh; The sequel to Trainspotting, the most sensible novel written about drugs, ever.



  26. Klaatu 21 years ago

    Oh, one more book:

    The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots (Paperback)

    by Irene M. Pepperberg

    “I can talk, but can you fly?”

  27. James Jones 21 years ago

    Try an introductory Linguistics text book. Or is that just me? (Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson would be a start.)

    While I don’t know about Porno, you should definitely read Trainspotting, if you haven’t all ready.

    Why not try some explorer/adventurer non-fiction like Hillary going up that mountain fifty years ago. Or the one where Scott & Co gets hungry in the South Pole and eats a companion but tells everybody: he walked into the snow — uhuh.

    Or get blind drunk and talk to the first old person you meet (until he starts to bore you silly).

    Actually a good classic is Madame Bovary by Flaubert, allegedly the best book ever written. It should be, it took him three years.

    The Importance of Being Earnest (Wilde) is funny as fuck.

    Or the Rum Diary by Hunter S Thompson. He’s a mad fucker that one. He wrote it back in the fifties before he became a complete druggie (only an alkie, back in the day). Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is pretty cool if you like politics.

  28. “A Soldier Erect” by Brian W. Aldiss

    I just finished this. It was recommended by my Nam-veteran father, who said it was pretty much spot on about what it’s like to be a young soldier in a tropical hellhole. It’s really, really good and extremely funny.

    “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov

    This is definitely my #1 HOLY SHIT book. Not only is the writing so good as to be transcendant, but it’s funny as hell and it’s an American classic or whatever. Seriously you should read this, though.

  29. (post-winners comment)

    Girlfriend in a Coma is a bit weird. Didn’t quite work for me. Shampoo Planet is probably my favourite Coupland book to date, since it most closely fits my own experiences/worldview, and if you’re on a Coupland kick check out All Families Are Insane. It rules.

  30. stray 21 years ago

    Try some Samuel R. Delany; he’s one of the real pioneers of postmodern sci-fi. “Nova” is a really good place to start with him. If you’ve got time, “Dhalgren” is also a spectacular read, though at eight hundred pages, it’s not for the casual reader.

    Naomi Klein’s “Fences and Windows” is a great counter-point to Thomas Friedman’s “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”, but both are required reading for anyone interested in globalisation and its boons and banes.

    A great biography I read in the last few months was Martin Amis’s “Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million”. It’s particularly interesting, since Amis’ father, Kingsley Amis, was in the British Communist Party for twelve years.

    That should be enough for now. The problem with working in a bookstore is that my to-read pile is perpetually almost as tall as I am.






    “Fences and Windows”:


    “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”:


    “Koba the Dread”:


  31. strentax 21 years ago

    Definitely read “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. It’s a story about a black guy who grows up dealing with racism, whether it’s easily seen or completely subtle – but his metaphors and symbolicism is so awesome it gave me chills. Keep in mind, they’re a little hard to catch, but once you do, you’ll be impressed and have bigger nuts to brag about it as well.



  33. James Jones 21 years ago

    Oh Yeah,

    White Teeth by Zadie Smith

    Read an excerpt here:


    And a smidgen to start you off.


    Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgement would not be too heavy upon him. He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage licence (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him. A little green light flashed in his eye, signalling a right turn he had resolved never to make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact it was a New Year’s resolution.


  34. Chris 21 years ago

    Shoot me in the face and use my dog as an ashtray if you will, but I bought my first Larry Niven book about ten years ago and have since bought just about everything he has published – collaborations or otherwise.

    Okay, okay – much of it is a little too pat. And there is an element of Hollywood-centric..uh…ness about it. But when I first encountered Ringworld, I was stoked. And I REALLY encountered it. I can almost taste the weenie plants. Or maybe that’s just Pants in the dark.

    Pournelle, Ing, et. al. have always had to jack up Niven’s nearside when it comes to the personalities and inter-relationships, but when you look at the technology – advanced yet limited in important and consistent ways – you just can’t go wrong for the frequent jaw-dropping at his sheer audacity and creativity.

    Oh – and for everyone else – go and buy the Big Book of Jerkcity. It contains literally SYLLABLES of previously-unseen material and saves me from having to explain why I am taking my laptop into the bathroom.

  35. Philip Chalmers 21 years ago

    “Guns, Germs & Steel” by Jared Diamond – or “how the West won” (starting from the Stone age), panoramic history. See also his web article “How to get Rich” (panoramic history again, not a sales pitch – search for the author & title).

    “The Road to Riches” by Peter Jay – more panoramic history.

    “The Wild Swans” by Jung Chang – among other things, why the Chinese put up with the Communists (they’re less appalling than the Kuomintang, who were less appalling than the Japanese).

    “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins – controversially reductionist but clear explanation of evolution in terms of the survival of genes.

    “The Crucible of Creation” by Simon Conway Morris – the Cambrian Explosion by a real expert.

    “Discovering Relativity for Yourself” by Sam Lilley – out of print but you might get it via Amazon’s 2nd-hand service.

    “The Language Instinct” by Steven Pinker – argues that we have a hard-wired model of languages and without it we could not learn language skills.

    “The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature” by Matt Ridley.

    Sorry for lack of fiction, but I read mainly sci fi and you’re already there.