Sunday, March 23, 2008

Reading recommendations - the people vs. Amazon

I'm off on holiday in a couple of weeks (praise the Lord) and have started turning my attention to my holiday reading list. Whilst it's true that I have a whole bookcase of unread tomes (silently reprimanding me for how little time I manage to carve out for dead-tree format reading these days), I'm always on the look out for new recommendations, especially in the run up to an away break.

Whilst you might expect any self-respecting geek to turn to Amazon for literary pointers, I have to confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by their feted recommendations functionality. Sure, it's useful for directing you to other books by authors you've previously purchased or books in a similar genre, but it fails to deliver much in the way of genuine serendipity (I don't need a computer to tell me that if I liked Atomised by Michel Houellebecq then I might also like Platform by Michel Houellebecq).

Which is where you, dear reader, come in. Following on from the successful vote to determine which mobile phone handset I should upgrade to, I'm once again asking for your help - this time in broadening my literary horizons with answers to the following three questions:

1.) What's the best fiction book you've read in the last 12 months?
2.) What's the best non-fiction book you've read in the last 12 months?
2.) What's your favourite book of all time (fiction or non-fiction)?

Feel free to respond to some of all of the above questions either via the comments section below or on your own blog. I look forward to reading your recommendations.

Related fabric of folly posts:
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson
The Tortilla Curtain


Anonymous said...

The problem is, given your pile of favourite books then I know that none of my books are likely to match. One author I did discover last year was Naomi Novik, who write a alternate history/fantasy series looking at the Napoleonic wars in a world where they use dragons as warships.

Non-fiction books I'd have to go with We-Think by Charles Leadbeater or the Stuff of Thought or The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker.

Favouite book of all time - Lord of the Rings, which I tend to read every few years.

Matt said...

Fiction: I'm currently addicted to the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, but can't recommend you starting them as they are like crack.

Problem is, I don't think I can remember another fiction book I've read in the last 12 months as a result!

Non-fiction: I'm really enjoying "The making of the atomic bomb" by Richard Rhodes atm as I think I mentioned...

All-time: what a question! I think it would have to be Focault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, with Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell a close second...

Anonymous said...

Best fiction I've read in the last 12 months: Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon)

Best non-fiction I've read in the last 12 months: Margrave of the Marshes (John Peel & family)

Incidentally, I don't know if No Logo was in the photo for a reason but I found that really hard going. Interesting subject but felt too academic to be enjoyable and it also feels very dated now given it's minimal mention of the web.

Tom said...

Best fiction in the last year is tricky since I haven't read that much. I enjoyed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea though, and was suprised by the bizarreness (and apparent homoerotics) of Tarzan. Been going through a period of classic genre fiction. There's some good stuff in HP Lovecraft and Conan Doyle.

Non-fiction is probably even harder. I thought Blink was atrocious. Drivel. Haven't read Clay's book yet. Normally do pretty well with Steven Berlin Johnson's stuff. Otherwise, I can really really recommend The Elements of Typographic Style by Bringhurst. It sounds weird, but it's great.

Best books ever... Hm. I love Slaugherhouse 5 (in fact I love all of Vonnegut's work).

Anonymous said...

Fiction: Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones. I first read the original Spanish version of this great book and then the English translation, which is superb. Highly recommended!!!

Non-fiction: Moab is my washpot - A brilliant autobiography by Stephen Fry.

Anonymous said...

I loved Black Swan Green. It's set in the area I grew up, written by a local author, so I did wonder whether the references to the local firms, radio stations, MPs and generally bonkers urban myths about caves in the hills - which all brought back loads of very specific and vivid memories to me - meant that it had clouded my judgement about the book a bit - that and the fact it's about a kid going through a divorce in approximately the same year that I did. It's reassuring to know that it does have wider appeal as I really think he tells stories beautifully - although I did prefer 'Number9dream' to 'Cloud Atlas' which seemed to get loads of critical acclaim.

Dan Taylor said...

Thanks all. Just the sort of eclectic mix I was hoping for. Have added the following to my Amazon shopping basket:

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

Moab Is My Washpot by Stephen Fry

Keep 'em coming...

Dan Taylor said...

@Kate L - I'm a huge David Mitchell fan and think Cloud Atlas deserves all the plaudits it's received (although I have to admit I balked slightly when I saw a copy with a 'Richard & Judy's Book Club' sticker on the cover).

Looking forward to his next one, which is reportedly about Dejima, a man-made Dutch island in the middle of Nagasaki harbour.

Unknown said...

Due to my fascination for manuals, I don't really do "real" books but for what it's worth:

1. A spot of bother (I like Mark Haddon's stuff)
2. Stuart (It's the only non-fiction I've read in the last 12m)
3. Charley and the Chocolate Factory (You did say ever!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

Enjoy your blog, thought I'd jump in with my suggestions!

1.) Best fiction book you've read in the last 12 months? Easy. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Haunting, but totally stunning read.

2.) Best non-fiction book you've read in the last 12 months? Hmm, toughy. MoonDust by Andrew Smith was a great read. Wasn't what I expected, but in a good way. Loads of insight into the men behind the moon landing. Great stuff.

3.) Favourite book of all time (fiction or non-fiction)? Hardest question of all. I'm going to go with a book I've read so many times I'm on my third copy. Land Of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll. For me he was the find of a lifetime. This was his first book (written in the 80's) and he's gone on to write some of the most exciting, surreal and imaginative books I've had the pleasure of reading.

Dan Taylor said...

Thanks Mark. I agree re. The Road - definitely the best book I read last year. Really interested to see how the film adaptation comes out.

Tempted by Moondust after having my interest piqued by In the Shadow of the Moon.

Anonymous said... many books, so difficult to choose.

Fiction: Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. A really great, funny, dark story. I can also recommend Vacant Possession by her too. Or We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (I'm cheating - I read it more than 12 months ago, but it's still awesome.)

Non-Fiction: Opening Skinner's Box by Lauren Slater or Stuart, a life backwards (already in your pile I see. It was one of those books that made me look at the world differently.)

All time: Oh blimey. How to choose? Um, ok: Great Apes by Will Self. People will never appear to you in quite the same light again ;)


Unknown said...


War of the World, Niall Ferguson
Conflict in the 20th century. Excellent.

Mediated, Thomas de Zengotita
On media and contemporary culture.

Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
What it's really like to be a chef.


Arthur & George, Julian Barnes
Arthur Conan Doyle takes on a case. It's good.

Spies, Michael Frayn
One of my favourite authors.

Enjoy the holiday.

Whitmarsh said...

Hi Dan. If you enjoyed the Louise Welsh (I did) and want something in a similar lightish lady thriller vein, I recently read Nicci French's Losing You, "She" is actually a husband and wife team who write in a kind of 100mph stream of chapterless knockabout thrills. I enjoyed it very much.

Similarly, Val McDermid writes some excellent off-dry crime fiction. A Place of Execution is a good one. Also Killing the Shadows, which is about a serial killer who picks of crime writers. Nice and meta.

If you haven't read Jim Thompson, get his omnibuseseses. Literature like crack.

Finally, what about the enjoyable literature of alcoholism? Malcolm Lowry's Under The Volcano (awesome, deep, pretentious, inpenetrable). Charles Jackson's The Lost Weekend (just perfect) or Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes (heartbreaking and very funny).

I can't remember if you've read more Cormac McCarthy? Blood Meridien is astonishing, and as powerful as The Road. The Border Trilogy and No Country for Old Men are just beautiful.

have fun!