24 votes

What books would you recommend for me?

I used to read voraciously in my youth, but as an adult it is very difficult to get into a story, even if it seems to be good. So, I'm asking for what you'd recommend... based on a few options.

I typically love/hate dystopian options that show that humanity is just a complete horrorshow. That being said, I haven't been able to get past page three (I think it was?) in Clockwork Orange. But, some of my favorite books are: The Lord of the Flies, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Tale of Two Cities in backwards order (that is, Dickens' is my favorite, and Lord of the Flies is still great but the least of those four).

I feel that futility and the rest of the world hating on you or just being its normal awful self are the main themes I seem to gravitate to.

As I mentioned though, I still intend to read Clockwork Orange but I'm not a fan [yet?]. I also read The Good Earth when I was about 11, and honestly, it's a godawful book but I read the whole thing because its horror kept me reading. Just putting that out there for ideas. Also I'm not much of a fan of sci-fi, unrealistic fantasy (though that might be an exception), or zombies/apocalypse.

So with all that in mind, does anyone have anything either modern or classic that you'd recommend?

EDIT: THANK YOU ALL! (And feel free to continue adding more suggestions!) I just wanted to say thank you for so many potential options; I just have to get over to the library for a card (scheduled for Friday), and what I can't get there or something that seems a little too dense, I will look into audiobook options since I drive a lot.

37 comments

  1. [6]
    Eji1700
    Link
    Your tastes are much the same as mine when I was younger as well so while i might be going outside those themes they are things I enjoyed. Clockwork orange does take some powering through until...

    Your tastes are much the same as mine when I was younger as well so while i might be going outside those themes they are things I enjoyed.

    1. Clockwork orange does take some powering through until your brain just adapts and gets the language. Unless you're just not gripped by the world in which case yeah I get that.

    2. Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 are the other two in the 1984 "Lets learn about dystopia" collection. I liked them less to be fair, but worth mentioning.

    3. Heart of Darkness might be up your alley. Certainly on the "Humanity is a horrorshow" spectrum if not dystopia.

    4. Catch 22, while mostly lighter in tone, might fit your style.

    5. Slaughterhouse 5 is another one that comes up in these discussions a lot. Another "glad i read it, not sure I liked it" entry.

    6. Depending on your feelings on Horror and endings, The Stand by stephen king might be up your alley.

    7. Anything cormac mccarthy is almost certainly horror show material, but they can be difficult reads. Blood Meridian is probably the most on point, but The Road, and No Country for Old Men would probably also qualify.

    8. On the realistic sci fi side, you might want to take a stab at 3 body problem. It starts a bit...odd..since it focuses heavily on the Chinese revolution which can make you wonder how this could be "humanity is a horrorshow/sci fi" but it does, i think, qualify for both of those to some degree.

    9. Dune might be of interest to you on the sci fi side as well. It certainly is a dystopia in many ways, even if its not really focusing on that as heavily.

    10. I haven't read it, but handmaidens tale always comes up in these discussions.

    11. You might want to try Hunger Games/Red Rising. I have issues with both, but as far as dystopia works go, they're ok. Certainly not classical style writing like you've mentioned since they're basically YA, and I personally found Red Rising bleh, but others really do like it so again for the sake of completeness and variety.

    10 votes
    1. [5]
      Asinine
      Link Parent
      Ah yes, Fahrenheit 451 was on my list at some point, but I never did read it. I did read quite a bit of Vonnegut (including Slaughterhouse 5). Also loved the first two Hunger Games books and...

      Ah yes, Fahrenheit 451 was on my list at some point, but I never did read it. I did read quite a bit of Vonnegut (including Slaughterhouse 5). Also loved the first two Hunger Games books and Catch-22.

      But thank you for the additional suggestions, plenty for me to check out! I appreciate it.

      2 votes
      1. [4]
        tanglisha
        Link Parent
        You might enjoy a collection of Ray Bradbury short stories. Some of them I read as a kid really stuck with me. Books of short stories are great when you want something engaging but bite sized.

        You might enjoy a collection of Ray Bradbury short stories. Some of them I read as a kid really stuck with me. Books of short stories are great when you want something engaging but bite sized.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          Asinine
          Link Parent
          Honestly, I'm getting back into some online reading of short stories. They're super easy and why I'm also asking this original question: I realize I do like reading, but if it's on a screen it...

          Honestly, I'm getting back into some online reading of short stories. They're super easy and why I'm also asking this original question: I realize I do like reading, but if it's on a screen it isn't appealing, but also I need that pull on a good topic.
          I'll take a look - finally signed up for my local library, which wasn't open today.

          2 votes
          1. tanglisha
            Link Parent
            Oh, nice. If you don't consider e-paper a screen, you should be able to check out lots of books with one.

            Oh, nice. If you don't consider e-paper a screen, you should be able to check out lots of books with one.

            1 vote
        2. MrFahrenheit
          Link Parent
          I'll second Ray Bradbury. Especially The Martian Chronicles or Dandelion Wine. He had such a talent for telling rich stories in an accessible language.

          I'll second Ray Bradbury. Especially The Martian Chronicles or Dandelion Wine. He had such a talent for telling rich stories in an accessible language.

          1 vote
  2. [4]
    Boojum
    (edited )
    Link
    A Canticle for Leibowitz is the first that comes to mind here. I'd say it's very much a jeremiad on this theme. (It's one of my all-time favorite novels - my copy lives at my bedside bookcase and...

    I feel that futility and the rest of the world hating on you or just being its normal awful self are the main themes I seem to gravitate to.

    A Canticle for Leibowitz is the first that comes to mind here. I'd say it's very much a jeremiad on this theme.

    (It's one of my all-time favorite novels - my copy lives at my bedside bookcase and my commonplace book contains a lot of tidbits from it.)

    The one drawback is that it'll probably be harder to get into if you aren't well acquainted with Catholicism.

    6 votes
    1. Asinine
      Link Parent
      Grew up Catholic, no worries there haha. I'll take a look, thanks!

      Grew up Catholic, no worries there haha. I'll take a look, thanks!

    2. [2]
      Asinine
      Link Parent
      So I just finished it. Really reminded me of Player Piano, with that Catholic twist. I'll have to try another listen as I felt very disoriented for all three stories until they were about to end....

      So I just finished it. Really reminded me of Player Piano, with that Catholic twist. I'll have to try another listen as I felt very disoriented for all three stories until they were about to end. Good suggestion tho, thanks again!

      1. Boojum
        Link Parent
        Your welcome! Player Piano isn't one I've heard of before. I assume (from a bit of searching), that you're referring to the Vonnegut novel? Would you recommend it to me in return?

        Your welcome!

        Player Piano isn't one I've heard of before. I assume (from a bit of searching), that you're referring to the Vonnegut novel? Would you recommend it to me in return?

  3. [4]
    glue
    Link
    No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai. It is a short read that can probably be finished in a day or two. While not really a dystopian novel. I feel that you may still enjoy the story of a man who feels...

    No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai. It is a short read that can probably be finished in a day or two. While not really a dystopian novel. I feel that you may still enjoy the story of a man who feels so removed from society that he no longer has any place in it.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      crdpa
      Link Parent
      One of the best books ever and it is sort of an auto biography.

      One of the best books ever and it is sort of an auto biography.

      1. glue
        Link Parent
        I really enjoyed it and I think about it all the time. But I always have issues summarizing it without giving it away or creating a false sense of what to expect from the story.

        I really enjoyed it and I think about it all the time. But I always have issues summarizing it without giving it away or creating a false sense of what to expect from the story.

        1 vote
    2. Asinine
      Link Parent
      Thanks, I'll check it out.

      Thanks, I'll check it out.

  4. [3]
    chocobean
    (edited )
    Link
    Speaking of Lord of the Flies and dystopian, there's actually a real world story with a bunch of shipwrecked boys on an island. This story is told in a book, reviewed by this Guardian article, The...

    Speaking of Lord of the Flies and dystopian, there's actually a real world story with a bunch of shipwrecked boys on an island.

    This story is told in a book, reviewed by this Guardian article, The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months


    If you hadn't already read it, I very strongly recommend Margaret Atwood's Orxy and Crake, and/or The Handmaid's Tale (1985). I'll let her introduce her own book:

    By Margaret Atwood, March 10, 2017

    In the spring of 1984 I began to write a novel that was not initially called “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I wrote in longhand, mostly on yellow legal notepads, then transcribed my almost illegible scrawlings using a huge German-keyboard manual typewriter I’d rented.

    The keyboard was German because I was living in West Berlin, which was still encircled by the Berlin Wall: The Soviet empire was still strongly in place, and was not to crumble for another five years. Every Sunday the East German Air Force made sonic booms to remind us of how close they were. During my visits to several countries behind the Iron Curtain — Czechoslovakia, East Germany — I experienced the wariness, the feeling of being spied on, the silences, the changes of subject, the oblique ways in which people might convey information, and these had an influence on what I was writing. So did the repurposed buildings. “This used to belong to . . . but then they disappeared.” I heard such stories many times.

    Having been born in 1939 and come to consciousness during World War II, I knew that established orders could vanish overnight. Change could also be as fast as lightning. “It can’t happen here” could not be depended on: Anything could happen anywhere, given the circumstances.

    By 1984, I’d been avoiding my novel for a year or two. It seemed to me a risky venture. I’d read extensively in science fiction, speculative fiction, utopias and dystopias ever since my high school years in the 1950s, but I’d never written such a book. Was I up to it? The form was strewn with pitfalls, among them a tendency to sermonize, a veering into allegory and a lack of plausibility. If I was to create an imaginary garden I wanted the toads in it to be real. One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened in what James Joyce called the “nightmare” of history, nor any technology not already available. No imaginary gizmos, no imaginary laws, no imaginary atrocities. God is in the details, they say. So is the Devil. NY Times article continues here. Some spoilers.

    Back in the 80s, it seemed wild to imagine America becoming a theocractic enemy of the free world, which degrades, disposes, and distributes the bodies of men and especially its women like breeding stock.

    Oryx And Crake is speculative fiction about a world in which one tech company and its founder with a messianic-complex did in fact kill nearly all of the human race: "This is a fun-filled, joke-packed adventure novel about the possible downfall of the human race.” (interview) Written in 2003, before Web 2.0 and in fact just after the Dot Com Bubble had burst.

    5 votes
    1. [2]
      Asinine
      Link Parent
      I'm familiar with the show of the Handmaiden's Tale; not quite sure I'd "enjoy" the theme, but as this isn't the first recommendation, maybe I'll grab a copy from the library and see if I can get...

      I'm familiar with the show of the Handmaiden's Tale; not quite sure I'd "enjoy" the theme, but as this isn't the first recommendation, maybe I'll grab a copy from the library and see if I can get into it.

      2 votes
      1. chocobean
        Link Parent
        I personally prefer the book a lot more than the TV show: graphic depictions for visual medium isn't really for me, and things for modern audiences necessitates a need for, or at least...

        I personally prefer the book a lot more than the TV show: graphic depictions for visual medium isn't really for me, and things for modern audiences necessitates a need for, or at least consideration for, shock value. Also the show runners are very fond of these dramatic close ups of the main character to show her determination and inner resolve.......whereas we are already privy to the book's narrator's running internal monologue, so her outward acceptance and inner rebellion is more strongly contrasted with her horror/detached observation at how their slogan of "Gilead is within you" rings true, mentally and physically.

        Anyway Atwood's idea is excellent, but it's really her execution of that idea that makes this a classic.

        If you want something non-dystopian I would recommend any of her other books too: Cats Eye is about growing up and the complexity of being with a Friend; The Blind Assassin is a space sci fi story within a story that touches on what story telling means to being human.

        If you're a classics nerd, The Penelopiad is fun:

        published in 2005 as part of the first set of books in the Canongate Myth Series where contemporary authors rewrite ancient myths. In The Penelopiad, Penelope reminisces on the events of the Odyssey, life in Hades, Odysseus, Helen of Troy, and her relationships with her parents. (Wiki)

  5. [5]
    EgoEimi
    Link
    Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It’s about humanity trying desperately to survive after the moon breaks up and its fragments threaten to end life on earth: they try to build an ark for humanity to...

    Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It’s about humanity trying desperately to survive after the moon breaks up and its fragments threaten to end life on earth: they try to build an ark for humanity to continue in, but disasters befall the project and everything hangs on the barest thread.

    Book will conjure feelings of:

    • Sadness
    • Horror
    • Desperation
    • Futility
    • Grief for our world and species
    5 votes
    1. [4]
      first-must-burn
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Second for Seveneves. When I read it, I had a mini existential crisis. Edited to add: I had to stop reading his latest, Termination Shock before the end ofnthe first chapter because it was too...

      Second for Seveneves. When I read it, I had a mini existential crisis.

      Edited to add: I had to stop reading his latest, Termination Shock before the end ofnthe first chapter because it was too depressing and I was too vulnerable at that time.

      1 vote
      1. [3]
        apolz
        Link Parent
        Seveneves is a tough one for me. I love Neal Stephenson's writing and wit. The first two thirds of the book really were a page turner, that I couldn't put down. The last third of the book...

        Seveneves is a tough one for me. I love Neal Stephenson's writing and wit. The first two thirds of the book really were a page turner, that I couldn't put down. The last third of the book though... Set in a future thousands of years from now. Without giving away any spoilers, it felt jarring, the premise was ridiculous, the tone was boring, the characters were so flat to be cardboard cutouts and that was purposefully so!

        Unfortunately, it was one of those Game of Thrones cases when the bad ending ruined the rest of the work for me.

        3 votes
        1. turmacar
          Link Parent
          You're far from alone in that. I think it's neat for some things, but should've been it's own short story/sequel. More than anything the last third reminded me of Asimov/Bester/older sci-fi with...

          You're far from alone in that.

          I think it's neat for some things, but should've been it's own short story/sequel. More than anything the last third reminded me of Asimov/Bester/older sci-fi with it's "hey here's some neat tech ideas and a society that might result from that, lets have some cardboard puppets interact with them to show how they work."

          Spoilers The "submarine people" were absolutely ridiculous. I'm sorry but no, and wtf..... The mine people were fine but whatever? The space culture and the tether/whip/sling "propulsion" was really cool.
          2 votes
        2. first-must-burn
          Link Parent
          I don't disagree. If he were going to write a sequel, then I could see it being a setup. However, if it had ended without that last part, I think my soul would never have recovered from the...

          I don't disagree. If he were going to write a sequel, then I could see it being a setup. However, if it had ended without that last part, I think my soul would never have recovered from the crushing despair, so maybe that was the point.

          1 vote
  6. [3]
    DundonianStalin
    (edited )
    Link
    The Metro series by Dmitri Glukovsky might be good for you; set in the Moscow metro decades after nuclear war destroyed the surface of the planet. It's quite grim in places but you follow someone...

    The Metro series by Dmitri Glukovsky might be good for you; set in the Moscow metro decades after nuclear war destroyed the surface of the planet. It's quite grim in places but you follow someone who grew up in that world of every station being controlled by different factions and the new economy and new enemies.

    I really enjoyed the books and the audio version is very good as well.

    5 votes
    1. [2]
      Asinine
      Link Parent
      Is that series the one the video games are based on? If so, I would definitely check it out.

      Is that series the one the video games are based on? If so, I would definitely check it out.

      1 vote
      1. DundonianStalin
        Link Parent
        Yeah and the first game and book are quite similar so if you like the vibe of the games the books have that in spades.

        Yeah and the first game and book are quite similar so if you like the vibe of the games the books have that in spades.

        1 vote
  7. [3]
    patience_limited
    Link
    If you enjoy literary fiction, let me recommend some less common classic titles with themes of despair and devastation, since you mentioned The Good Earth. These aren't apocalyptic dystopian...

    If you enjoy literary fiction, let me recommend some less common classic titles with themes of despair and devastation, since you mentioned The Good Earth. These aren't apocalyptic dystopian dramas, just well-written and engaging to read, with characters who draw you into the story of their suffering.

    In general, the Booker Prize winner list leans both bleak and compellingly readable.

    Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart - it's brutal, but lucidly and concisely written to the point that you're drawn to read it in a single sitting, if you can bear it.

    Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon - Although it's tagged as science fiction genre, there's only one trope involved to set the stage. It's mostly a deeply humane, character-driven story that deftly mingles hope and despair.

    Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, previously mentioned.

    John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

    Keri Hulme, The Bone People

    5 votes
    1. ahatlikethat
      Link Parent
      I'd second all of these for literary fiction. Flowers for Algernon still tears me apart, though I haven't read it in 40 years. My partner teachers it in middle school so it's not that hard a read...

      I'd second all of these for literary fiction. Flowers for Algernon still tears me apart, though I haven't read it in 40 years. My partner teachers it in middle school so it's not that hard a read (though he also teaches Macbeth, soo...)

      I'd add a few more literary options:
      Never Let me Go, also by Ishiguro. It's science fiction but entirely within the realm of possibility in the near future. I think there was a movie, never saw it.

      Anil's Ghost or The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. Do not be swayed by the horrible and maudlin movie of the English Patient. The book is so much more and so much better. Ondaatje writes like a poet. The English Patient won the Booker Prize. Anil's Ghost is more contemporary a setting, if that matters to you.

      Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey. Also has a terrible movie I hope you never suffered through. It takes place in early-colonized Australia, and what people did to make it there. Fits well with your preferred world view and is very well written. Also won the Booker Prize.

      2 votes
    2. cycling_mammoth
      Link Parent
      I'm not sure how I feel about this one. On one hand I do think it is an amazing text, but on the other I do not think many will enjoy it. Its most interesting quality to me, its style of...

      Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

      I'm not sure how I feel about this one. On one hand I do think it is an amazing text, but on the other I do not think many will enjoy it. Its most interesting quality to me, its style of narration, is also what makes it impenetrable to some readers. This isn't to say the text should be disqualified, I feel it is one of the most important books I have ever read, but it definitely isn't the first one I'd jump into after a long hiatus from reading.

      Very mild spoilers that further my perspective
      From what I have seen in others who have read the book, the ones who put more weight into Mr. Stevens narration tend to struggle with the text, then those who recognize quite early on the ironic nature of his narration. He is arguably reliable in his narration, but the rendition of events to me is self-serving and rather particular. I feel like we aren't often confronted with this as readers and it is so essential to understanding the text (in whatever way you wish to).

      Edits: clarity / grammar

      1 vote
  8. [2]
    boxer_dogs_dance
    Link
    Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, Of Mice and Men, Remains of the Day, A Gentleman in Moscow, Brit Marie was Here, Pachinko, (I haven't finished Pachinko, but I think it fits)

    Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, Of Mice and Men, Remains of the Day, A Gentleman in Moscow, Brit Marie was Here, Pachinko, (I haven't finished Pachinko, but I think it fits)

    3 votes
    1. Asinine
      Link Parent
      Hmm, I have not heard of most of those; I'll have to check them out. Thanks!

      Hmm, I have not heard of most of those; I'll have to check them out. Thanks!

  9. lackofaname
    Link
    I similarly was a huge reader when I was younger, and found myself wanting to get back into books after a few years of reading very little. What helped me was switching up the medium. I used to...

    I similarly was a huge reader when I was younger, and found myself wanting to get back into books after a few years of reading very little.

    What helped me was switching up the medium. I used to dislike (most) short stories, but a book of short stories got me back into reading. It was perfect for the energy/time I had (Neil Gaiman Reader for what it's worth, but a lot of his work is fantasy / magical realism).

    Then, I decided to give audiobooks a try, and it's been a game changer. I can listen to books while doing other things, so I have more time. Plus, listening doesn't strain my eyes (something I have to be mindful of), so I have more energy.

    Eji1700 already listed the books that came to my mind, so I dont have specific title suggestions, just wanted to share this perspective:)

    3 votes
  10. [3]
    LorenzoStomp
    Link
    If you're not into scifi but want depressing, you should read Russian Lit! Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Gogol will tell you about the alienation and casual cruelty of Tsarist Russia! Solzhenitsyn and...

    If you're not into scifi but want depressing, you should read Russian Lit! Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Gogol will tell you about the alienation and casual cruelty of Tsarist Russia! Solzhenitsyn and Bulgakov will tell you about the alienation and casual cruelty of Communist Russia (Solzhenitsyn also wrote nonfiction, if you want some real life horror)! Nabakov will take you inside the head of just flat out deranged weirdos!

    If you want some dark humor with your overwhelming despair, go for Bulgakov, Gogol, and Nabokov (although Dostyevsky and Solzhenitsyn have humorous bits too, probably also Tolstoy but I haven't read as much of his and it's been a long time).

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      Asinine
      Link Parent
      I did read The Idiot and started Crime and Punishment. Idiot was... interesting. Felt too akin to Catcher in the Rye, where there's some plot that is totally lost on me because it seems like the...

      I did read The Idiot and started Crime and Punishment. Idiot was... interesting. Felt too akin to Catcher in the Rye, where there's some plot that is totally lost on me because it seems like the dull bits of life, except that Idiot kept me going back way easier.
      I had been thinking of Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn, but was figuring that lighter reads might pull me back in.

      1. LorenzoStomp
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Bulgakov's Master and Margarita combines deep philosophical/religious arguments with supernatural horror and slapstick, so maybe that would keep things light enough? Or try Gogol's short stories,...

        Bulgakov's Master and Margarita combines deep philosophical/religious arguments with supernatural horror and slapstick, so maybe that would keep things light enough?

        Or try Gogol's short stories, which frequently use absurdist humor (like a man's nose running away from him and having a better life without him)

        1 vote
  11. turmacar
    Link
    The Altered Carbon novel(s) might be up your alley. The first one especially is a dystopian noir thing, kind of a Blade Runner vibe but more action/mystery than moody. The show changed a ton in...

    The Altered Carbon novel(s) might be up your alley. The first one especially is a dystopian noir thing, kind of a Blade Runner vibe but more action/mystery than moody. The show changed a ton in the first season in ways that make the world make less sense and really hurt them when it came to the second season.

    2 votes
  12. first-must-burn
    Link
    Something a little different that might work for you is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger. It is a very interesting mixture of futility and hope with a very sad ending. I don't want to...

    Something a little different that might work for you is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger. It is a very interesting mixture of futility and hope with a very sad ending. I don't want to say much more because I think it's best to approach it not knowing much.

    It's one of my favorite books, and if you like audio books, it's co-narrated by two narrators from the two main characters' points of view and very well done.

    1 vote
  13. solgrove
    Link
    This one is very short - you can get through it in a day if you try - but it's my favorite read of all time. It follows a potential future where an AI follows the three laws to the letter,...

    This one is very short - you can get through it in a day if you try - but it's my favorite read of all time. It follows a potential future where an AI follows the three laws to the letter, improves itself exponentially, and effectively renders every currently living human immortal. It explores what we might become after hundreds of years of existing with zero consequences.

    Best of all, it's free!

    https://mogami.neocities.org/files/prime_intellect.pdf