Thursday, October 19, 2006

book recommendations

i need your help, peeps. you're intelligent folk -- so i don't know why the hell you're here but i'll not gift a look horse in the mouth -- and you're readers, so here's the dilly. F's preparing for the MCATs and feels his verbal skillz need improving, so he's requested a list of ~30 books that will challenge him without putting him to sleep.

can you help? who makes you feel smarter when you're reading their prose? who makes demands of you, as a reader, but engages and then rewards you?

things to consider as you're coming up with your recommendations:

the verbal section of the MCATs tests the ability to
  • read critically and actively
  • comprehend written material
  • capture the essence of a passage by main idea
  • intuit a writer's tone, and draw inferences/conclusions.
  • is a dude (--> no austen or DH lawrence)
  • is a chemical engineer, not an english major (--> no danielewski)
  • is someone who'd rather read 5 short books than 1 long one
  • loves fitzgerald, salinger & orwell
  • got bogged down in the 1st chapter of Absalom, Absalom
  • got bogged down on the 1st paragraph of Ulysses
  • reads history books for fun
here's what i've gathered so far, in order of increasing demand on reader:

In the Lake of the Woods – Tim O’Brien
A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
Demian – Hermann Hesse
The Master – Colm Toibin
Other Voices, Other Rooms – Truman Capote
The Third Policeman – Flann O’Brien
Portrait of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Oliver Twist – Dickens
The Turn of the Screw (long short story) – Henry James
The Beast in the Jungle (long short story) – Henry James
Dubliners (short stories; esp The Dead & Araby) – Joyce
Saturday – Ian McEwan
Shakespeare’s King Lear
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Milan Kundera
Labyrinths (short stories) – Borges
Invitation to a Beheading – Nabokov
Transparent Things - Nabokov
Death in Venice – Thomas Mann
Dante’s Inferno – Mark Musa's translation

what do you think? help please!


addon said...


suggest Mary by Vladimir Nabokov or others of his:

invitation to a beheading
the defense

read about them.

have fun


addon said...


another one that's been a life-long favourite - the leopard by guiseppe de lampedusa.


Theo said...

Tom Stoppard plays. Pretty much any of them.

Neal Stephenson books, though honestly they make me feel cool rather than smart. Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon.

Theo said...

Oh... and nearly every single Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Theo said...

OK dammit... one last one: Dune, by Frank Herbert. Just the first one, mind; it turned into a series. Skip the rest.

fatmammycat said...

John Banville-The Untouchable,
Brideshead Revisited- Evelyn Waugh
Donna Tartt- Secret History.
With the first two he'll be speaking in a clipped English accent in no time. Secret History just speeds along at a terrific clip, but can be erudite, beguiling and shocking. Good Book.

finn said...

oh, u guys rock. i knew i could count on you.

adam, in your opinion, where should a neophyte nabokovian start? *i* thot Invitation or Transparent Things, bec they're short(er) but still compelling, but i've never read Mary or Despair.

i'd never heard of The Leopard, but it seems yummy; thanks for the rec bec i will be on that cat.

teho, i loved "rosencrantz & guildenstern are dead" and Cryptonomicon is on my Bookshelf of Faves, but i thot its sheer volumnity might cow F. sherlock holmes is a great idea from left field tho.

i read Dune years & years ago, and it was a great read. but does it make you feel smarter? i forget.

FMC, i haven't read ANY john banville tho he comes highly recommended from others too. i loved The Secret History and came to The Little Friend w/such high expectations that i guess they had to be disappointed.

so many books; so little time! why am i still here at work when there are libraries and bookstores to plunder...

addon said...

hey finn

thinking back to your criteria, i agree with your choice of invitation. you identify with the protagonist, poor little guy.

the leopard may be rather long.


Theo said...

re:Cryptonomicon -- it's really two books shuffled loosely together. Just tell F to think of it that way.

Dune makes you badass. I mean, you could just have him read Machiavelli's Prince, or Sun Tzu's Art of War, but where's the fun?

Subhangi said...

[scrolling down at the list of books]


WHOA. Looks like I need to catch up on a helluva lot of reading.

One of the best books I've read is Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood - to me, it was rather easy to figure out where Atwood's sympathies lie - but I doubt if your friend will find it interesting throughout. Ditto for Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead - she's waaaaay too political though.

I'd love to help but I'm literature-impotent.