Seeking: great literary fiction.

Seeking: great literary fiction.

It’s been a while, but today we’re matching readers with the right books for them. (Read the details on this ongoing project, and the factors I’m taking to heart.)

Readers told me 3 books they loved, 1 book they hated, and what they’re reading right now. In turn, I’m recommending 3 books for each reader. (Or more, if I can’t help myself.)

This week we’re choosing books for Heather, whose books are:

Love: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, Bloodroot by Amy Greene, Euphoria by Lily King
Meh: I wanted to like Flight Behavior, but I was disappointed in it.
Recently: TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

Heather reads mostly literary fiction, and her picks here are contemporary. These are serious books; most are award-winners. They’re not lengthy: Heather’s longest pick, Bloodroot, clocks in at 384 pages.

I’m looking for intelligent books for Heather that have good stories and beautiful writing, whether they’re family sagas, political dramas, or personal stories.

My picks: 

Contemporary Fiction: Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat and Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Classic:
 All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Contemporary not-quite-literary fiction: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

Heather’s preferences bring to mind words like stunning, sweeping, and complex. Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light would be right at home on her list of favorites: this critically acclaimed 2014 novel is tightly drawn and beautifully done.

In Hannah Coulter (2004), Berry tells a quiet story with tremendous depth and power. It’s gently Southern (like Mudbound) and the writing is gorgeous.

All the King’s Men (1946) is a southern classic: a human drama that’s about so much more than politics. This thought-provoking and intricately plotted book belongs on Heather’s reading list—if she didn’t read it in high school.

Finally, I’m recommending two more lightweight (though far from fluffy) books for Heather. Think of these as books for the beach, or the airplane. Seeing that Heather loves Euphoria, I can’t help but recommend State of Wonder, another novel set deep in the jungle. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a moving novel about love and identity, set in the Chinese-American community outside Seattle in the 1940s.

What would you recommend for Heather’s TBR list?

View all the literary matchmaking posts here.

Seeking: great literary fiction

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46 comments

  1. Veronica says:

    She might like The Snow Child, which has beautiful, lyrical writing. All the Light You Cannot See is another book with lovely writing, though I wished it had ended differently.

  2. Anne, This was SO much fun. Thank you, thank you! I’m so happy I was able to participate. You are right on the money with your picks. I have loved all of Danticat’s books (including Claire…). It’s been a while since I’ve read All the King’s Men, but it’s such a great story and I should re-read it. I have not heard of Hannah Coutler and I’m so excited to add it to my TBR list. Thanks again! Have a great Sunday.

  3. Oh, I forgot to say that I laughed when I saw your comment about the length. Although I love some really long books (e.g. Anthony Trollope) you are 100% right that I value brevity when the story and language are not sacrificed. And that’s one thing I’ve noticed now that I’m writing novels too; they tend to be on the short side. Interesting, huh? Anyway, I thought it was perceptive that you noticed that trend!

  4. Elizabeth Barnhill says:

    Two compelling books that are beautifully written are The Fever Tree and The Thirteenth Tale. I get asked all the time for book recs and these two are always well loved by my friends!

    • Rebeca Fleckenstein says:

      I totally agree about the Thirteenth Tale. Wonderful story, beautifully written. I will have to try the Fever Tree.

  5. Molly says:

    I read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet last summer and loved it. I have another of his books on my TBR list. I also want to take a trip to Seattle to see the place where the book was set!

  6. Dana says:

    Oh, I absolutely love book matchmaking! The suggestions look wonderful, I’ve been meaning to read a few of them.

    I liked Ann Patchet’s State of Wonder and have wanted to read Euphoria because they do seem similar.

    I just read Station 11 which was really great.

  7. Beth says:

    I’m so glad to see Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet on your list. It’s my go to recommendation any time someone asks me for one! I teach it in my College Writing classes and everyone always enjoys it–women, men, younger, older–it seems to be one everyone can relate to. I haven’t read any of the books on Heather’s list, so I can’t recommend books based on the themes she enjoys, but as far as literary fiction I really enjoy Jonathan Safran Foer; his books make you work, but they’re worth it.

  8. Leah says:

    If she’s looking for contemporary family sagas, Heather Brittain Bergstrom’s STEAL THE NORTH was beautiful, emotional, raw, heartbreaking. She tackles heavy subjects like religion and race and made me fall hard for her characters. I’ve recommended this one to numerous bloggers, friends, and customers and I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback! 🙂 Definitely one to check out.

    While I haven’t gotten to All the King’s Men, the fact that you called it a Southern classic made my ears perk up a bit! I’d also recommend GLOW by Jessica Maria Tuccelli. It’s more historical fiction than contemporary, but it’s a Southern family saga reaching from the Civil War to the 1940s. The entire time I read it I kept thinking back to Steal the North, so yes, both are books to check out!

  9. Jeannie says:

    One contemporary writer I like whose novels are “popular” yet very substantial is Chris Cleave. I’ve read his books “Gold” (about 2 friends who are Olympic cyclists) and “Little Bee” (a much tougher book emotionally, about an Englishwoman and a Nigerian teenager). I’d highly recommend them.

    • liz n. says:

      Oh, gosh, yes, “Little Bee!” I think that’s a book you have to be mentally and emotionally ready for, if you know what I mean. It isn’t a story to be read lightly. I started and stopped reading it a couple of times before I was able to really get into it, but it was so worth the mini-trauma!

  10. Missy G. says:

    I love to recommend Rules of Civility. I actually listened to the audiobook, but plan to purchase the book (which is rare for me!) as soon as I’m ready to reread it. I’ve also recommended the book to my mom for her book club because it has such beautiful writing.

  11. Amanda says:

    In my opinion, Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things contains some of the most beautiful passages I’ve ever read. There were many parts I reread just because I enjoyed her use of language so much. I really felt in reading it that each word was thoughfully and lovingly chosen to fill the page. The book is heavily focused on history, science, philosophy, religion, and the way in which they all fit together. I seriously recommend it.

    Mark Helprin’s epic novel, Winter’s Tale, is also stuffed full of beautiful prose, but it is incredibly long, so be prepared. It’s also a story of magical realism, so if you decide to try it, be ready for a story that is magical, strange, philosophical, and very beautiful.

  12. Janet says:

    The Signature of All Things was so much better than I expected. Also, would recommend The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Love Chris Cleave–Little Bee is excellent, and so is Incendiary. Gold was ok, but not my favorite. Anything by Kate Atkinson. I found State of Wonder a bit weird, but did finish it.
    A funny little book called The Little Book by Selden Edwards is enjoyable if you like time travel. In some ways like Atkinson’s Life After Life because it touches on Hitler’s rise and the chance to change history. So many books, so little time!

  13. Dana says:

    I would recommend :

    North River by Pete Hammill
    Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
    Atonement By Ian McEwan
    Let the Great World Spin by Collum McCann One of the best books I have ever read.
    The Dog Stars Excellent and different.
    Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett ( my favorite of hers. I think it may have been her first novel. It is really good.)
    The Girls by Lori Lansens This one is spectacular…it really affected me for a long time.

    Also Anne Tyler’s novels, especially Breathing Lessons ( won the Pulitzer years ago), Celestial Navigation, Searching For Caleb .

    I also agree about The Thirteenth Tale, loved it! Reminded me of Kate Morton’s books a bit.

    Goldfinch was good until the end and then it just feel flat, IMO.

  14. Courtney says:

    Just thought I’d add a few more pieces of literary fiction that fit into the southern-feel (or regional-feel) category: Eudora Welty’s _Delta Wedding_ has family drama and mesmerizing prose; Ellen Douglas’s _Can’t Quit You Baby_ anticipates _The Help_ (same subject matter with a different kind of intensity), but few people have read it; and Steinbeck’s _East of Eden_ will always be the master of the grand-sweeping family history. 🙂

  15. Melanie says:

    Agree with Year of Wonders & Rules of Civility. Would add Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek for southern gothic and Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner as a modern classic. Enjoy!

    • Anne says:

      It’s a fuzzy distinction, to my mind, at least. Lit fic is fiction that has “literary merit,” or so say the critics. Lots of emphasis on style and not just story. Often it’s contrasted with genre fiction or popular fiction, but in my mind this is a spectrum, not a checkbox.

  16. Cassie says:

    I loved All the King’s Men, and I’m currently reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I have a sweet spot for southern’s like Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Tumbleweeds, and Gone with the Wind… but I also love dramatic epics.

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