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writes things for cash

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Wed 11
Oct
2006

A Few Good Books

Writing I’m reading a succession of crappy books. Not deliberately. That would be weird. It just turned out this way: dud after dud. Every time I crack open a new one, I hope that I’m about to get that feeling: that moment when I realize, “Ooh, this is good.” But: nope. Nothing. I’ve even started abandoning books before the end, which I never used to do no matter how bad they were. (Instead, I would complain to Jen every night until I finished, stopping to point out particularly egregious passages. She prefers the new method.)

So it’s a good time to remember that I have read some good books recently. Of course, when I say “recently,” I mean “since I last updated my list of favorite reads,” i.e. in the last three years. But if I can assume that you care about my opinion, and aren’t here just because you googled for lonelygirl15, then maybe you’re interested in my recommendations.

Here are some books that, if you stopped by my house and said, “Got anything good to read?”, I would loan to you. I mean, once we had gotten past the screaming and “how did you get in here” stage.

Corpsing (Toby Litt): This was the first book of Toby’s I ever read, and I loved it so much that I keep buying more of his, even though all of those have turned out to be terrible. For me, Toby is that guy you know is trouble but can’t keep away from, because maybe this time it will be different; maybe he’ll treat you right. He never does. He’s a bad, bad man.

The Baroque Cycle: Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World (Neal Stephenson): I adored these. Almost everybody I’ve recommended them to has given up about 150 pages into the first book, saying, “Why the hell did you think I’d like that?” It’s inexplicable. I think all three books are amazing. If I had tried to write something like this, it would have taken me about 40 years. In fact, it would have taken me that long just to type them out, because they’re about 900 pages each.

Apathy and Other Small Victories (Paul Neilan): Obviously.

A Certain Chemistry (Mil Millington): The British do excruciating better than anybody. Reading this was like having my fingernails pulled out, only with more laughing. When I’d finished I felt like I had been beaten around the head, but with love. Because of this I’m putting it ahead of Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, which is also very good and possibly funnier.

The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger): This one is a rough ride, too. Some of it is astonishingly beautiful, some is unbearably tragic. I thought it dragged a little in the middle, but still loved it.

Astonishing X-Men (Joss Whedon): I’ve been reading some comics lately, and this one is gorgeous. Book 3 (“Torn”) is especially juicy. Joss Whedon is, of course, one of the greatest human beings to ever walk the Earth, and he’s in great form here. I obsessively read X-Men comics in high school and college, and it’s very cool to return to these characters and see them handled so well.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon): I have never heard anyone say anything bad about this book, ever. So there’s no need for me to praise it. I’ll just say: they’re right.

The Men Who Stare At Goats (Jon Ronson) [non-fiction]: This book started out as a light, ridiculous, funny read, then turned dark and disturbing. I love that.

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (Robert Rankin): It’s funny and it’s clever, but more than that it has a surprising and truly wonderful dynamic between the two main characters. Warm, snuggly, and gooey (in a good way).

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell (Susanna Clarke): I don’t usually read the backs of books until I’ve finished them, but I snuck a look at this one early and discovered that it was Time Magazine’s Book of the Year (2004). I wish I hadn’t done that, because from that point onward all I could think was, “Well, it’s good, but is it Book of the Year good?” So try not to do that. It is an absorbing read: simultaneously rich and dry.

Watching Racehorses: A Guide to Betting on Behaviour (Geoffrey Hutson) [non-fiction]: I don’t care about racehorses. I have no interest in betting on them. I only read this book because Geoff is a neighbor. But it was genuinely fascinating, very funny, and worth it for the section on clitoral winking alone. (I know. Intriguing.)

Haunted (Chuck Palahniuk): This is a bunch of short stories with a novel wrapped around it. As with any short story collection, the quality varies, but some of the ones in here scared the absolute crap out of me. So even though I wouldn’t rate this as Chuck’s best, it was a good read. Incidentally, I read a review of this in The Washington Post that was more like a drive-by shooting, with several bullets aimed below the belt, and noticed that Amazon.com chose that one, that one, to put on their site. It was nice to see that that doesn’t just happen to me.

The Beach (Alex Garland): Yeah, it’s already on my old list. But I re-read it, and ohhh, it’s so good.

Comments

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Colette (#324)

Location: Houston, Texas, USA
Quote: ""The good Earth — we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy" -- Kurt Vonnegut"
Posted: 4664 days ago

One I like is Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.
Oh, and I love Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash as well.

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 4664 days ago

CP's CHOKE is da bomb :)

you also forgot to mention Terrel Owen's forthcoming Children's Books :)

gotta love those right?
$

Jeff T. (#2591)

Location: USA
Quote: ""WHO ARE YOU?!""
Posted: 4664 days ago

My current must-read-recommendations are House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, and World War Z by Max Brooks. I finished WWZ in under 7 hours because I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. And HoL has to be one of the most immersive cotemporary horror books I've read in the last few years, hands down.

Phill Sacre (#1822)

Location: London, UK
Quote: "Computers are like air conditioners. Both stop working, if you open windows."
Posted: 4664 days ago

My wife has got a copy recently of "The Time Traveler's Wife", I'll have to nick it and read it!

I can recommend one of my latest purchases: "How to survive a robot Robot Uprising - Tips on defending yourself from the coming rebellion." It's required reading for when the robot revolution comes ;-)

Kalle (#1278)

Quote: "Sex is herital. If your parents never had it, chanses are you'll never have it either."
Posted: 4664 days ago

You've got some nice ones there Max. Even though I was a bit distressed to hear about your X-men obsession, it's nice to see Palahniuk's Haunted, well, anywere. So many cool and cynical ideas.

Henry T. Monkeypimpenstein (#1212)

Location: Wellington, NZ
Quote: "Monkeypimp: Geeky enough to use his lame NS forum name here too."
Posted: 4664 days ago

Curious incident pwns. I'm still on Mil Millington's mailing list. It's a nice surprise every 6 months or so when they go out.

Jeffrey (#2286)

Location: Right here
Quote: "Mathematics is a powerful language. Just look at how mathematicians destroyed the housing market."
Posted: 4664 days ago

I really enjoyed Haunted and Apathy. I agree the Curious Incident was just good.

Machine Man subscriber Dieter Lunn (#1363)

Location: Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Posted: 4664 days ago

I have just finished Armageddon's Children by Terry Brooks. A really good read even if you haven't read any of his other books, of which there are alot.

Aliens Finished my Sudoku (#2732)

Location: UK
Posted: 4664 days ago

Can i reccomend 'A Thousand Suns' by Alex Scarrow. A recent release.

Cathy (#1802)

Location: UK
Posted: 4664 days ago

When I realised this post was going to be more book recommendations I was excited because I share a few favourite books with you, and I love your writing. And I'm always looking out for more books to read!

So, out of 13 books plus one trilogy that you recommended, I already have read (or have on my wishlist) eleven of them. This isn't good, Max, I need *new* books to read! Do better next time!

(You should read "Yes Man" by Danny Wallace, by the way. Or, really, anything by Danny Wallace.)

Mickey Finn (#2595)

Location: Houston, TX, USA
Posted: 4664 days ago

For those that like urban fantasy AND snark, the Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher are right up there. Butcher's a wordsmith as well as a funny man, and really draws you into the characters.

Terry Pratchett's also highly reccomended.

For dark and dirty cyberpunk, Richard K. Morgan's addictive as hell.

David O'Sullivan (#1855)

Location: UK
Posted: 4664 days ago

The Curious Incident is actually really boring. The only reason people rate it is because they consider it a realistic portrayal of a boy with Asperger's Syndrome. It isn't; Asperger's is a high functioning form of autism.

Leo (#2722)

Location: New Castle, De
Posted: 4663 days ago

Another X-Men fan, huh? That's great!

And I agree, The Beach by Alex Garland is very good!

MARILYN BAKER (#2629)

Location: Miami Beach, Florida
Posted: 4663 days ago

How could you have left off your list "Cryptonomicon", the "prequell" to the Baroque Cycle? A great love story (actually several love stories), great war story, fascinating info on WWII cryptology. His best work of all.

Hallie (#2348)

Location: Reading, UK
Quote: "Dancing is the vertical expression of horizontal action"
Posted: 4663 days ago

I loved the Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apolcalypse too! You should read Tom Holt's 'Snow White and the Seven Samuri" which is what I read and was then recommended Rankin's book from. The other great book I read recently was James Patterson's "Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment". totally fantastic and really 2 books in one. The second book has just come out but is £13 so will have to christmas list it...

Adam A. (#256)

Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Quote: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that." -George Carlin"
Posted: 4663 days ago

I liked Snow Crash, but couldn't get through Cryptonomicon, so the Baroque books kind of scare me.
Best book I read in a while was 'The Prestige' by Christopher Priest (soon to be a movie). Blew me away.
Also 'The Fortress of Solitude' by Jonathan Lethem was really good, especially if you like comics (and really well written novels).
I also loved 'The Beach', but Max, have you, or anyone one else, read his other books 'The Tesseract' or 'Coma'? Was wondering if they were as good.

Geoff Gibson (#1038)

Location: California
Quote: ""If pleasure was illegal I'd happily do time.""
Posted: 4663 days ago

David Barry's book 'Big Trouble' is one of my personal faves. I loved the movie to, but as always, the movie cut, editted, and changed a lot of aspects of the book to fit Hollywood. Definetely worth a read, and then a watch.

Celeste (#2590)

Location: St.L. MO, USA
Quote: "You can't child-proof the world, so world-proof the child."
Posted: 4663 days ago

Thank you for giving me a reading list. I have forgotten the author but I read a book so good last year that I've been buying copies and giving it to people(I've never done that before).

"The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy" reads like a mystery novel, encompasses the history of the Industrial Revolution, Equal Rights, Women's Rights, Workers Rights, Trade Policy, the role of Government and politics in Free Trade, and could possibly be used as an economics textbook, (it was written by an economics professor) and did I mention it reads like a mystery novel?
The author is not content to research this book from her seat in Academia, but actually buys a T-Shirt, and talks to EVERY SINGLE PERSON involved in making that T-shirt, starting with the man who grew the cotton, and ended up in China talking to the factory workers. Then she dug up research on factory workers and included interviews with women who worked in factories since the beginning of factories. Not content, she found out what happens to your T-shirt after you donate it to Goodwill, and followed it to Africa, and then onto its final resting place (you'll be surprised).

And what could be a dry bit of "boring but important research" READS LIKE A MYSTERY NOVEL. And will make you think differently about the "Made in" labels in your T-shirts.

Good reading!

Taylor Cathcart (#2124)

Location: Seattle, Washington
Quote: "The elixir is hidden in the poison"
Posted: 4663 days ago

Wow, nice list. This will be food for thought on my next Amazon spree. And to Celeste: I just checked out your book, read the overview and some reviews. Looks like a pretty outstanding read! Just ordered it, hope it's as good as it looks.

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 4663 days ago

I have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I do have something bad to say about it. IT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING BOOK TO READ. IT HAS NO FLUENCY AND IS WIRTTEN VERY POORLY. I had to say that because I am an individual.

Check out my webbie. www.freewebs.com/htpo
read my book, entitled about a carpet. Please and thank you.

Machine Man subscriber Alan W (#1427)

Location: Spokane, Washington
Quote: "Corgis are like potato chips"
Posted: 4663 days ago

Terry Pratchett is an awesome author www.terrypratchettbooks.com/ almost as good as Max Barry, just more prolific. (Hear that Max? Write faster!)

If you like social commentary fantasy humor, you will like his books.

Alan

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 4663 days ago

Of the books mentioned above, I've read Snow Crash (loved it), Cryptonomicon (loved it) -- in fact, Neal Stephenson is probably the author I'd like most NOT to meet, so I can keep him in my mind as some kind of super-human, with lightning crackling from his finger-tips. I've really enjoyed everything of his with the possible exception of "The Big U," which I think he wrote when he was about 12.

Choke: big thumb's up. (Palahniuk is always interesting, nearly always brilliant.) The Tesseract: didn't like it. I was so excited when it came out, because of The Beach, but it just didn't click for me. The Coma looks interesting, though, and I plan to read it.

Thanks for the recommendations! I'll check 'em out.

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: "www.MidwestRockLobster.blogspot.com"
Posted: 4663 days ago

Not being able to find a book to read is like an American looking past enough food in his pantry to feed a small African country near Ivory Coast he's never heard of and saying 'There's nothing to eat.'

That said: James Patterson shuld have his word processing license revoked. I can't even take him in audio-books at work. If he had a story that wasn't ripped from the prime time cutting floor or characters that seemed real or good dialogue or anything... I swear, there is no indication that a single sentence in 'Along Came a Spider' was given a second thought...

I put more thought into responses on Max Barry's blog.

My only suggestion for Max (seeing what you're recommending above) is Cormac McCarthy. He's not as 'light' as some of your recommendations, and he's stylistically challenging at times (apparently some punctuation marks are simply broken on his typewriter, and yes, I suspect he is still using an old fashioned typewriter), but he's worth the trouble. Terrifying, funny and thrilling stuff. Especially 'No Country For Old Men.'

Machine Man subscriber Myke (#2316)

Posted: 4663 days ago

Hey Max, thanks for recommending Apathy a while back, I read it and loved it. Also, I agree with the nod for The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse. That's like, hands down the best title of a novel I've ever read, and the actual story doesn't dissapoint, either.

Yenzo (#829)

Location: Secret underwater pyramid base in the Pacific
Quote: "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe (Carl Sagan)"
Posted: 4663 days ago

Kinda shocks me that Will Christopher Baer wasn't mentioned once yet. His style is just incredible.

Hey Max, which stories in Haunted did you find the scariest?

Oh, and - though it's maybe the most personal question of all - who's your favorite X-Men character?

Machine Man subscriber gStein (#585)

Location: 127.0.0.1
Quote: "That's not change! That's more of the same!"
Posted: 4662 days ago

there's a simple solution to the "crappy book" problem- write more books, so at least we can read some decent literature!

Katy (#2345)

Location: Los Angeles
Posted: 4662 days ago

If you haven't read it, and I'm sure you have, you should read Catch-22. Amazing book.

Second to none but... Company, Jenifer Government, and Syrup....

Kit (#850)

Location: UK
Posted: 4661 days ago

You should check out The Sandman if you're into comics. A lot of the artwork isn't exactly awe inspiring, but if you like a story which is just about different from most of the stuff out there, it's hard to believe it can be awesome at the same time. It can be fairly horrific in places though.

Len (#2632)

Location: England
Quote: "[kwoht] v; n; to repeat words from (a book, author, etc.)."
Posted: 4661 days ago

I can also recommend anything by Terry Pratchett, especially the famous Discworld series (With all it's 30+ books), and I also enjoyed Snow Crash. I also am an avid reader of Kevin J Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns at the moment.

howard (#810)

Location: uk
Quote: "err"
Posted: 4661 days ago

I have got to say after I leave this comment I really do feel lke a "parta, da, da, poo, poo!" Please watch and comment on Elizabethtown" ps.. is it true you are Orlando and Fran is Kirsten Dunst? YRAGD

Kate (#2426)

Location: London
Quote: "If you're being chased by seventeen horses, an ostrich and a tiny fire engine with a madly-ringing bell - get off the merry-go-round."
Posted: 4661 days ago

Have been looking at the Mr Strange book for a while now - think I'll pick it up next time I go bookshopping. Loved Time Traveller's Wife, which I was given - the 'Richard and Judy* Reccomended Read' and probably wouldn't have chosen otherwise, so that'll teach me not to be a snob. The Beach was so great I made myself late for work by desperately reading the last few pages in the pub kitchen during my break. I actually made me throw it across the room in - I don't know - yuckiness - as I reached the end. Pratchett is another one I wouldn't have picked out; the covers kinda put me off. But now I look forward to each one, and in my opinion he's not come up with a duff Discworld novel yet. Agree with Cathy about Danny Wallace - his book 'Join Me' is solely responsible for my last 3 years' fantastic holidays in Cornwall.In fact, Chris and I nearly brought it up in the pub with (Max/you? who am I writing this for? heh) in London when the conversation got around to the Film Pay It Forward, but as we're not obsessive, we didn't :)


*Brit daytime TV couple - nuff said.

Kate (#2426)

Location: London
Quote: "If you're being chased by seventeen horses, an ostrich and a tiny fire engine with a madly-ringing bell - get off the merry-go-round."
Posted: 4661 days ago

*looks in vain for Edit button and resolves to proof-read for typos in future*

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 4660 days ago

If anyone's up for popular sciency books, I can recommend anything by (or in collaboration with) Ian Stewart.
e.g.
'What does a martian look like?', about the science of extra terrestial life; with a lot of discussion of science fiction.
And 'The science of Discworld', where you'll be shown earth through the eyes of the wizards from the discworld; 50% discworld novel and 50% science, history, philosophy etc.

davesgonechina (#1035)

Location: New Jersey
Quote: "One word: nappies"
Posted: 4660 days ago

I'm gonna recommend you download (that's right, FOR FREE) Cory Doctorow's book Eastern Standard Tribes from his website. Had a bit of Jennifer Government to it.

http://www.craphound.com/index.php?cat=5

Cory is one of the Boing Boing team, fyi. I didn't read the other books he lets you download, but I hear they're good too.

Strange and Norrell was dry, funny and unmistakably British. Which is redundant, but it's that good.

Michael Ricksand (#2212)

Location: Terra
Quote: "You do not have a right to be stupid."
Posted: 4656 days ago

Joss Whedon is a good X-men writer, sure enough (although Joe Kelly remains undefeated).

I recognize the "Is it Book Of The Year good?" problem. I have the same problem with the SF-masterworks series of books. "Is this a Masterwork"? I ask myself everytime I read them. It's a good thing they are so good or this would be a serious problem.

Two books that deserve more attention is
1: Olaf Stapledon's "First and last men", about the rise and fall of 18 humanoid species of which homo sapiens sapiens is the first and least evolved.

2: "Aniara: a review of man in time and space" by Harry Martinson, about a spaceship traveling endlessly through space, escaping the polluted earth. It's written in verse and unlike anything I have ever read (cliché intentional for the sake of irony).

Mike Reason (#2743)

Location: Rhode Island, USA
Quote: ""Carpe Diem!""
Posted: 4652 days ago

Will their be a list of lousy books? Will you tell us who is the FEMA, the WB, the Uwe Bolle of Authors? Won't you please warn us which books are so God-awful, (insert more melodramatic speech)? Also, it's always fun to poke fun at the truly craptacular. (Can I say craptacular?)

howard (#810)

Location: uk
Quote: "err"
Posted: 4651 days ago

Like the list, like it alot! If you have not read High Society by Ben Elton (very British) you should, it would fit in with Chocolate Bunnies / Apathy and Other Small Victories.

Cheers


H

Peter Larkins (#2811)

Location: Sydney
Quote: "Never let logic get in the way of a good MKTG idea ..."
Posted: 4610 days ago

"Head Games" - a series of short stories by Nick Earls, a Gen-X writer hailing from Bris-Vegas.

That and Syrup were my two favourite Oz-Lit finds when I was living in Melbourne between 1999-2001 and scouring lots of Brunswick second hand book stores, before the imperative to find paying work forced me to move back to Sydney :(

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