In an Orderly Fashion
September 8, 2014 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Reading Pathways: suggestions for where to start in on the works of Austen, Murakami, Asimov, Munro, Bray, Bradbury, Morrison, Forster, Atwood, and others.

And here are some bonus reading order suggestions for:

-Discworld
-Shakespeare
-The Star Wars Extended Universe
-The Dialogues of Plato
-The Marvel Universe
posted by Iridic (36 comments total) 121 users marked this as a favorite
 
MartinWisse's post on the Iain M. Banks memorial thread is guiding me through my first read through of the Culture series (which will probably branch out into the rest of the body of work).
posted by sparklemotion at 2:24 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh, this is brilliant. I often start on series from the wrong direction, so thanks so much for this.
posted by zarq at 2:31 PM on September 8, 2014


The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. 'Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?' he asked.

'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'

posted by Celsius1414 at 2:42 PM on September 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


Actually pretty pumped to start reading Margaret Atwood at lunchtime today: I've got Oryx & Crake all ready to go, and I'm doubly pumped now that I know somebody reckons I'm doing Atwood wrong.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:43 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Actually pretty pumped to start reading Margaret Atwood at lunchtime today: I've got Oryx & Crake all ready to go, and I'm doubly pumped now that I know somebody reckons I'm doing Atwood wrong.

Reading Atwood is like eating a plum. It doesn't matter where you start. Every bit is delicious.
posted by mochapickle at 3:04 PM on September 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is so AWESOME. I just finished Winter's Bone, and was wondering what Daniel Woodrell book to read next.

I also wanted to put a plug in for an underrated Margaret Atwood book that didn't get a mention - Life before Man, perhaps the saddest love story every written. Brutal but beautiful.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 3:08 PM on September 8, 2014


I imagine these are great if you've never read the author, which is of course their purpose. But they're maddening if you look up an author you know. Seriously, you're going to read Atwood and not read Cat's Eye? You're going to Read Steinbeck and not read East of Eden or Burning Bright (though to a God Unknown is a great call)?

I'd like to see these expanded into a full sequence of each authors' oeuvre. Maybe you only decide you're 3 books worth of into the author, but if you like them, you find out where to go next.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:24 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm the only person alive who didn't like Oryx and Crake (and thus hasn't read any sequels). Sometimes the shame overwhelms me.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:25 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


In that discworld map, none of the novels are the shapes shown in the legend. Also, that was the one case, where I really did just want 3. Like I said, this business of just 3 is probably great if you don't already read the author.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:27 PM on September 8, 2014


In my house, the first Murakami book lent to a person who has not read him is ALWAYS Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
This is a requirement set by both of us and our tastes in literature are horribly divergent.
I wonder what this means.
posted by Seamus at 3:38 PM on September 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


You wanna stay as far away from Foundation as possible when starting Asimov. If you have to start with one of the stand-alones like Currents of Space. Like most Asimov, it won't take you long.

I do actually enjoy Asimov.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:44 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh FFS, that Murakami list is horrible. Start with The Elephant Vanishes. You could stop there.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:53 PM on September 8, 2014


Fear not, If I only had a penguin...! There are other people out there who didn't like Oryx and Crake that for some reason continued on to read the whole series. I'll have to say you're not missing a whole heck of a lot. The whole shebang could have been done easily in 1 big book, maybe 2 medium sized books.
posted by sacrifix at 3:54 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I had no idea Blake Nelson wrote so many books. I only knew of 3! I guess I have some catching up to do!
posted by SisterHavana at 4:22 PM on September 8, 2014


Oh FFS, that Murakami list is horrible. Start with The Elephant Vanishes. You could stop there.

Broken bottles of Cutty Sark. At dawn. My second will contact your second.
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:38 PM on September 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


The best way to read Asimov is in publication order.

He's uncool now, but I've always appreciated how he took standalone stories from the 50s and retconned them into an overarching future history thirty years later. The 50s scifi that he knew he got "wrong" becomes garbled mythology, replaced by 80s science that (in some cases) is now today itself wrong or at least unfashionable, which is extra-meta. Not many authors can claim to have fanfic'ed their own material over such a huge timespan.

(Skip the late-period Foundation prequels, which spoil a big reveal in Foundation and Earth and otherwise don't add much.)
posted by nev at 4:41 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Reading the Dickens list made me realize how difficult it is to suggest a good place to start with him. I'm teaching Oliver Twist right now, and I think it's safe to say that most of the students would like to strangle the protagonist (even though they do understand the theory behind the character type). As a friend of mine used to say, short Dickens is often not the best Dickens...although perhaps A Christmas Carol, which is not as gloppily sentimental as many of the adaptations suggest, might work as a decent introduction. My recent attempts to proselytize for Bleak House (which, IMHO, ties with Middlemarch as the greatest English novel of the nineteenth century) have not had good results--Dickens' approach to characterization seems to frustrate people, as far as I can tell.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:42 PM on September 8, 2014


> Dickens' approach to characterization seems to frustrate people, as far as I can tell.

Dickens' approach to prose frustrates me; I appreciate his characters and storytelling, but I just can't take him sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph. I know it's my problem, but still, the thought of putting Bleak House in a tie with Middlemarch, or even within shouting distance of it, makes me grind my teeth.
posted by languagehat at 5:19 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd normally suggest running screaming in the opposite direction from anyone who tries to get you to read Asimov's Foundation, a ridiculously simplistic story clearly tossed off in the early 1940s by a juvenile teen. And the Ray Bradbury recommendations are just plain inexplicable (the Fahrenheit 451 graphic novel over Something Wicked This Way Comes or The Illustrated Man is bonkers). But the Marquez is at least arguable and the David Foster Wallace perfectly on-target (seriously, start with the essays in Consider the Lobster and the stories in Oblivion and you'll be a fan for life), so this gets a qualified thumbs up overall.
posted by mediareport at 5:21 PM on September 8, 2014


The generic rule of thumb for literary toe dipping is to start with collections of short stories. So you could really start anywhere with Alice Munro, haha. I started with 'The Moons of Jupiter'.

For Atwood, I'd recommend her short story collections for those just getting started with her clever snarky tone, they're all great. 'Cat's Eye' might be the peak of the first half of her career, but they all are. 'Alias Grace' is a dark ironic take on the Downton-snobby genre. I love her dystopian speculative fiction, but hey, we know that her jaded spin on old SF tropes are not for all tastes.

You could start anywhere with Murakami, as all of his books almost seem like the same story just approached from different angles. They're all great, so as long as he keeps writing 'em, I just keep reading 'em.

For Chas Dickens, 'A Tale of Two Cities' is his greatest hit.

As for E.M. Forster, his early SF short novella, The Machine Stops is a real treat for those who are curious about early years SF.
posted by ovvl at 6:07 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I was myself a juvenile teen Asimov's Foundation was nifty.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:44 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, this is timely! I was just asking people the other day if they read Murakami and, if so, where I should start. Nobody I asked had tips!

That Discworld reading guide helped me select my Discworld entry point when I started reading it last year after somehow having given it a miss entirely for 35 years but then seeing it raved about on MetaFilter incessantly! (Started with Rincewind and Ancient Worlds; Small Gods has been my fave. Got a little tired of the Rincewind schtick by the end of his arc. Probably doing the Witches next.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:47 PM on September 8, 2014


I like Pickwick Papers as a Dickens introduction. Not necessarily an ideal classroom text, but the episodic structure works great for bit-at-a-time night reading.
posted by Iridic at 6:50 PM on September 8, 2014


I assumed everyone started Dickens with David Copperfield.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:44 PM on September 8, 2014


I know it's my problem, but still, the thought of putting Bleak House in a tie with Middlemarch, or even within shouting distance of it, makes me grind my teeth.

You and several of my colleagues, so I can't get too annoyed. I shall merely stand over here in the corner, harrumphing quietly to myself.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:07 PM on September 8, 2014


Pedantry - The first Foundation story was published in Astounding when Asimov was 22, and as far as I know, he hadn't been sitting on it since his teens - he'd already been getting published for a few years at that point.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:22 PM on September 8, 2014


I started Dickens with Great Expectations, which seemed like a perfectly good place - it's short, it's comic, it's serious: there's probably scope for younger readers (though maybe only male ones?) to identify with Pip's development.
posted by Pink Frost at 9:30 PM on September 8, 2014


Count me as the second person who would start Murakami with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World *because* it's the most surrealist.
posted by subdee at 10:17 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Mary Stewart is wroooonnng, you start with the Authur trilogy and probably stop there too, but the DFW is spot on. It's similar for Dorothy Parker - you start with the book and theatre reviews, starting with the plays/books you know, then the stories - the serious longer ones first and the monologues last, and then if you're still on board you're ready to tackle the poetry without being thrown overboard by the stylistic quirks, shall we say.
posted by runincircles at 12:41 AM on September 9, 2014


Do not start Marquez with Memory of My Melancholy Whores. That is the book that almost made me turn my back on Gabo. If you're a reader, start with 100 Years. If you're not a reader, start with Cholera. If you're not sure whether you're a reader or not, start with his autobiography.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 1:17 AM on September 9, 2014


He's uncool now, but I've always appreciated how he took standalone stories from the 50s and retconned them into an overarching future history thirty years later.

Oh hell no. That shat all over his own earlier work and boiled down to "robots did it".

There. For everybody curious about it, that's all you need to know about Asimov's later work.

What you need to read from Asimov, if you want to sample him:

Caves of Steel is a good starting point, read it together with The Naked Sun.

Or start with I, Robot, which far from a collection of unrelated stories is actually bound together by its theme and builds up logically. some of Asimov's best short story work is in there.

The End of Eternity is his sole time travel novel and a standalone and one of the few in which he tries his hand at romance. I think it's his best, but it's not representative of his work.

The Foundation series: Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation AND NOTHING ELSE is what made Asimov famous. It's terribly dated with terribly cardboard characters, but it does still have a glimmer of greatness and it is the series that launched a thousand serious space operas.

Other novels, like Currents of Space and Pebble in the Sky, set in the same universe are less essential. In one of them the Revolution Our Hero has to lead is inspired by a document so subversive it's been banned hroughout the galaxy and the big reveal about which document could be so dangerous is one of the great facepalmings in science fiction.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:23 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm the only person alive who didn't like Oryx and Crake (and thus hasn't read any sequels). Sometimes the shame overwhelms me.

You're not.

In my house, the first Murakami book lent to a person who has not read him is ALWAYS Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

YES.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:47 AM on September 9, 2014


Pedantry - The first Foundation story was published in Astounding when Asimov was 22

Fair enough (though, if pedantry's on the table, he was 21 when he started writing it). The point remains that it's a very juvenile work, with a take on history and empire that's almost ridiculously simplistic, especially for anyone who's ever read any social theory. Maybe if I'd read it at 13 instead of 30 (and again at 48 or so) I might have enjoyed it more, but I cringe every time I see anyone (including Paul Krugman) recommend it as a Serious Work worth being read by intelligent adults today. It's really not. The social science in Foundation is hilariously dumb, there's little to no redeeming value in the cardboard characters, as someone pointed out above, and it's frankly one of the "Golden Age" works that's aged most horribly (unlike, say, Asimov's "Nightwatch," which is still bearable, or some early Heinlein, or other 1940s period pieces that still hold some scientific interest for modern fans).
posted by mediareport at 9:11 PM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, for double pedantry, it's "Nightfall" not "Nightwatch."

I'll agree Foundation can be pretty thin, especially the first book - characters were never Asimov's strong suit, and that's especially obvious here. Not sure about "aged most horribly," though. As it happens, I'm reading this collection of 1940s SF right now, and quite a lot of it is 5% nifty idea / 85% poor execution / 10% massively appalling sexism.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:41 AM on September 10, 2014


Oh, this is timely! I was just asking people the other day if they read Murakami and, if so, where I should start. Nobody I asked had tips!

What a shame! I'd personally advise The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore since they're more... I guess "accessible" isn't the word, but welcoming maybe? Norwegian Wood is all right.

Do not be tricked by After Hours: it's short, but it's not really worth it.

And I swear that What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was a knee-jerk response to being told he had a book due under contract; it's like he just took a random chunk of his diary and handed it over without editing.

posted by psoas at 11:19 AM on September 10, 2014


I agree with Hard-Boiled Wonderland as a starter from upthread. Otherwise, Dance, Dance, Dance is another one I've heard as an ideal starter. But yeah, I would NOT follow this dude's Murakami advice. Probably do something like HBW to start, then maybe Elephant Vanishes and then Wind-Up Bird (though I suspect once I read it, I'd go for either 1Q84 or Colourless instead for the third one. WUB is good, but it's a little overrated I'd say. IMHO, Norwegian Wood would be considered a lesser Murakami if it weren't for the fame from being his breakout novel.

(Also: The Bradbury one is just baffling, IMHO. I find the idea of being "not ready" for Fahrenheit 451 kinda almost like "not being ready for books". Just because one of the many, many joys of Ray Bradbury is that he writes in plain language -- artfully so, of course -- to get into really great ideas. I just don't find him daunting at all.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 6:19 PM on September 10, 2014


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