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Read any good books lately?

So I’m heading off to see the wizard in a few days and need something good to read.

Anyone have any recommendations?

Just so you know, I’ve finished the Milennium trilogy, and I don’t care for chick lit, nor anything that requires too much mental exertion [right now]. I love books with good character development and am a sucker for English literature, especially if it’s by Jane Austen, the Brönte sisters or Daphne Du Maurier.

I just finished reading Emma last night — for the second time.

I don’t like anything by Dan Brown. I don’t want to read anything that smells like kreppa, even though I fully intend to read the Shock Doctrine [just not on holiday].

Would love to have some suggestions. Ta!



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  • Virgile August 3, 2010, 11:13 pm

    The true blood books are not bad at all.

    i found Herman Hess’Sidharta in Eymundsson. you should read it.

  • Gunnar D August 3, 2010, 11:15 pm

    I reccomend the No 1 Ladies detective, if you havnt read it.

  • Gunnar August 3, 2010, 11:23 pm

    “Under the dome” – Stephen King’s newest book. It is phenomenal, easily the best he’s written in more than a decade, and one of the best I’ve read this year.

    Or “World War Z”, a surprisingly realistic, mature and emotionally gripping oral history of the ten year zombie war. Don’t dismiss it out of hand if you don’t like zombies, they’re far, far away from being the most important element of the story.

    And even if you say you don’t want anything that even lightly smells of kreppa, look into Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”. It’s batshit crazy. You’ll laugh your ass off if you read it while keeping the last two years in Iceland in mind.

  • Jessica August 3, 2010, 11:51 pm

    So…I suppose you don’t want to read “Makalaus”? ; ‘ )

  • Col Matheson August 3, 2010, 11:55 pm

    This is not about me, by Janice Galloway…different country, different culture, but I bet you would identify….

  • Daniel Harðarson August 3, 2010, 11:57 pm

    Ill put in another vote for Sidhartha, short and beautifully told it always manages to leave me with a new perspective on re-read 🙂
    ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind is interesting and a little different, you will go around smelling everything for weeks after reading 🙂
    ‘Shantaram’ – Gregory David Roberts, fantastic story and some wonderful scenes in India, could do with some editing down in the second half and some of the prose/philosophy is a bit cheesy but a very fun read none the less.

  • Diana August 4, 2010, 12:01 am

    I can’t recommend Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series enough.

  • Auður August 4, 2010, 12:01 am

    I also recommend the books by Alexander McCall Smith, the 1st one is the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I haven’t read his other series yet, but I’m sure they’re good too.

  • Meagan August 4, 2010, 12:03 am

    I’m currently reading John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River, and it’s suitably epic, as are most Irving novels. The man knows how to tell a story.

  • alda August 4, 2010, 12:04 am

    Several of these I’ve read (Ladies No. 1, Perfume …) but many I haven’t.

    Curious now about Atlas Shrugged — I’m a fan of Ayn Rand, loved The Fountainhead.

    And Jessica, no I definitely do not want to take Makalaus with me. 😉

  • hildigunnur August 4, 2010, 12:19 am

    I’ve fallen into young adult books this summer, good ones of the sort are great holiday read. The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan is fun (don’t even start to think of the movie – that’s trash!) and so are Garth Nix’s books, The Keys to The Kingdom and the Abhorsen trilogy. Those are all fantasy books. Early David Eddings is fun and easy read, (can borrow mine if you want 😉 ).

    Minette Walters’ books are top rate psychological thrillers, Kathy Reichs isn’t bad either.

  • Mark August 4, 2010, 12:47 am

    I enjoyed “At Home – A short history of private life” recently. It’s more of a fascinating look at why and how things come to be around the home. It’s not anything like you are asking for but look it up anyway, you’ll find it fascinating.

  • Kris August 4, 2010, 1:12 am

    Here is one that is American and has no character development at all: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Lot’s of fun and no calories! Although, Swan’s Way may be more your speed. Not too heavy, not too light. Better to be seen in public with.
    Two of my favorites.

  • JimJones August 4, 2010, 1:25 am

    Ok, I don’t know if it is your “thing”, but here are some of my favorites.

    Cosmic Banditos- AC Weisbecker: It’s over the top, crazy, and oddly educational(it’s the only book I’ve ever read that makes basic quantum physics hilarious and easy to understand). It is quite possibly my favorite book ever.

    Neuromancer- William Gibson: Did you ever see Blade Runner? It’s like that, but AWESOME. Pretty heavy on the “Pew! Pew!” Very intense, fast read.

    Snow Crash- Neal Stephenson: It’s like Neuromancer, only a little less intense, a bit longer, and it has a happy ending. It’s a nice easy summer read. And the lead character is named Hiro Protagonist(and yet somehow it got onto the Time magazine list of 100 best English language books of all time).

  • PeterRRRRR August 4, 2010, 1:35 am

    If you get tired of fiction, can highly recommend “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama,” by David Remnick. Very interesting insights, remarkable story in itself. And, of course, very well written. Reading Obama’s own “Dreams from my Father” is also recommended. Another recent read is “Zeitoun,” by Dave Eggers, the true story of a Syrian man in New Orleans before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. Maybe this (and the others) are a bit geared for US audience, but still very good. “Zeitoun,” in particular, is a remarkable story, the best and the worst of the US.

    As for Ayn Rand, yikes, isn’t she one of the intellectual inspirations for the US Republican, Conservative, Neo-Con nut-jobs? Supposedly Dick Cheney’s favorite author, good reason to stay away 🙂

    FYI, at your suggestion, just finished reading “Tricking of Freya,” by Christina Sunley. The story itself was maybe a bit weak and maybe a little predictable, but the Icelandic flavors, settings, people, made it really enjoyable. Thanks for the tip.

  • alda August 4, 2010, 1:40 am

    Peter – I wouldn’t have pegged Ayn Rand as that — but what do I know? I wouldn’t have thought The Fountainhead as an inspiration for those nut-jobs, but maybe Atlas Shrugged?

    Hm. My desire to read it is waning quick … 😉

  • JimJones August 4, 2010, 1:48 am


    Oh yeah. Alan Greenspan was a big follower of Ayn Rand. If you read Atlas Shrugged, you’ll slowly get a creepy feeling of deja vu because a lot of the ideas that led to the US economic collapse were taken almost blow by blow from objectivism, which was developed to some extent in The Fountainhead but really, seriously in Atlas Shrugged.

  • Lissa August 4, 2010, 2:05 am

    I love Siddhartha, but it is a book that gets you thinking.

    Have you read any of Terry Prattchet’s Discworld books? Hysterical, social commentary, yes, but also rollicking good fun.

    I yawned through most of _Tricking of Freya_, although I did make it through.

    In the non-fiction zone, John Julius Norwich’s trilogy (he also did a one volume condensed version which is good) on the Byzantine Empire is a ton of fun, wonderful sex and religion scandals. He’s got a wonderful eye for delicious gossip but also writes beautifully and clearly, and for the intelligent layperson who just happens to not know Byzantine history.

  • Stephen Cowdery August 4, 2010, 2:58 am

    Anything by Glen Duncan, I recently read “The Bloodstone Papers”, and it was superlative.

  • Luna_Sea August 4, 2010, 3:12 am

    Alda- if you liked The Fountainhead you’ll probably enjoy Atlas Shrugged; she writes well and can tell a good story but I find her (fascistic) politics abhorrent. She and Greenspan were very close and every CEO in the U.S. read and was inspired by that book. She wrote books called Capitalism the Unknown Ideal and The Virtue of Selfishness (those are non-fiction) so that should give you an idea. She believes in no government regulation, that the market should regulate itself, that the ends justifies the means…bet all your former banksters adored her.

    Anyway, back to the topic – a tiny book I absolutely adored- Angels of the Universe (Englar alheimsins) by Einar Mar Gudmundsson. Very sad but beautiful (and could there be a better combination?)

    Paul Auster is a pleasure to read and quite entertaining – The Brooklyn Follies, NY Trilogy, Leviathan…

    ps – glad to see the kids are still reading Hermann Hesse.

  • Natalie August 4, 2010, 3:51 am

    Ooooo, Rebecca. Or Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie. Great books.

  • Ann August 4, 2010, 4:15 am

    Laura Lippman is one of my favorite authors. She has a detective series, which is great, but I’d recommend one of her stand-alones to start with: “What the Dead Know”, “Every Secret Thing”, or “The Rule of Three”

    If you want a great (tho brainless) page-turner, I’d also recommend Tess Gerritsen’s “The Killing Place”. It’s part of a series she has featuring a group of characters including a medical examiner, a Boston homicide detective, an FBI agent, and a priest, but you can definitely read it without having read the others.

  • Kris August 4, 2010, 4:31 am

    Snow Crash is cool. Try some cyberpunk for a change of pace. I might do that myself.

  • Michael Schulz August 4, 2010, 6:33 am

    Ayn Rand ? There are those who say she’s got a conservative following and she does (Greenspan, Kissinger amongst them). But there are also critics who say its facist ideology. To say the best I think Ayn Rand must have been sick in her mind.
    Ps.: There are too many good books to recommend anyone. Stendhal, The Red and the Black or The Charterhouse of Parma are clasics and very good reading (hence the Standhal syndrome).

  • idunn August 4, 2010, 7:07 am

    If non-fiction, and not exactly a novel, one book I found highly readable and entertaining was, ‘The Path Between the Seas,’ by David McCullough. It concerns the trials of the French and Americans in creating the Panama Canal. Although one might not think it, it is over-brimming with character development . . . interesting characters at that.

    When in the mood for something more mentally challenging, or stimulating, then try Daniel Pinchbeck’s, ‘2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl.’ It is but a few years old, although sadly I come to it only now. In having but begun, I cannot entirely say, but it appears most promising. Most.

  • jim August 4, 2010, 7:16 am

    Wolf hall by Hilary Mantel, if you like historical fiction. Think it won the Booker Prize either last year or this year.
    Cant believe Ayn Rand gets mentioned so often on this thread. Of all the great writers its Rand that inspires discussion. Even if you dont like her politics. “We the Living” certainly inspired my daughter who years ago was having a hard time in her early 20’s curiously enough whilst doing stuff at Uni of Iceland.
    Pat Barker is always a good bet bet for easy reading if you haven’t already been there. Start with “Regeneration”. Promise you wont put it down.
    Good luck

  • Sarah August 4, 2010, 9:47 am

    I recommend “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls and “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. Both really good books 🙂

  • Andy KJ August 4, 2010, 10:03 am

    Wallender books – henning mankel
    Rebus novels by Ian Rankin

    martin Beck novels

    If you like detectives.

  • jpeeps August 4, 2010, 10:26 am

    Phew! Glad others have already pointed out the perils of Ayn Rand to you…
    Two suggestions from me that don’t fit into the C19th classics box but you may still enjoy:
    • Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (translated with great success from Norwegian)
    • A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon – published 2-3 years ago – a super book, that would also enable you to brush up on your dry English humour.
    I’m also a big fan of Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides.

  • James Wilde August 4, 2010, 10:52 am

    Diane Setterfield’s “The Thirteenth Story”. A fantastic neo-gothic story which got well-deserved rave reviews from non-critics. Can’t recommend it enough.

  • Aidan August 4, 2010, 11:55 am

    If you haven’t already read all of Olaf Olafsson’s work already his book of short stories “Valentines” is wonderful.
    Everything written by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie is brilliant but particularly “Half of a Yellow Sun”.
    If you want something really funny then “One Day” by David Nicholls is one of the most entertaining and poignant books I have read in a long time.

  • alda August 4, 2010, 12:05 pm

    Thanks everyone! Lots of good ideas here. Some of these books I’ve read, like The Glass Castle (amazing) and Rebecca (loved that one).

    Olaf Olafsson I would not read on principle, even if I thought his books were any good, because he once tried to screw me over in a copyright infringement — a very ugly story. Incidentally, did you know he only pretends to write his books in English, but has them translated without the translators name on the book? – Better sales that way.

  • jpeeps August 4, 2010, 12:10 pm

    Oooooh – a nonfiction recommendation: Neil Ascherson’s “The Black Sea: The Birthplace of Civilisation and Barbarism”. Dead interesting particularly if the beach on which it is to be read is anywhere in the Eastern Mediterranean.

  • Aidan August 4, 2010, 12:25 pm

    I am not sure that it actually affects sales if the book is a translation or not. Look at the success of Peter Høeg , Kerstin Ekman, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, even Halldór Laxness for that matter. The winner of the IMPAC Prize every other year has been a translation (e.g. 2010 Gerbrand Bakker won it for “The Twin” translated from NL “Boven is het Stil”).
    Even if he writes the books first in Icelandic the English versions are some of the finest writing being produced in English today although I can understand your personal reasons for declining the pleasure.

  • Helga August 4, 2010, 12:33 pm

    I highly recommend the books about Karítas (Óreiða á striga, Án titils) by Kristin Marja. Wonderful books that every icelandic woman should read.

    For a more international fare – The story of Pi, and Five people you’ll meet in heaven.

  • maría August 4, 2010, 12:37 pm

    ‘Fathers and sons’ by Turgenev

    ‘Une page d’amour’ by Zola

    ‘The professor’ by Charlotte Brontë

  • Mark August 4, 2010, 12:44 pm

    My (also fairly contemporary) suggestions would be:

    * Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Narrative timelines a bit confusing, but a great book
    * Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon. A modern classic

    Also, the last 2 I read:

    * Watership Down, Richard Adams. A Children’s book, but its bloody marvellous. Fully of allagorical rabbitty goodness
    * The Tent, The Bucket and Me, Emma Kennedy. A book about holidays when you’re on holiday. Very funny. Maybe a bit of a probably to get outside Britain, though. There’s always Amazon…

  • Kerry Scott August 4, 2010, 1:30 pm

    My favorite recent reads are Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” and am about to start the sequel, “World Without End”. These are not the ususal spy novels, rather they are about the building of cathedrals in 12th Century Europe. From your part of the world (roughly speaking) are “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl Who Played With Fire”. I’m trying to find the last in the series now.

  • Quentin August 4, 2010, 1:32 pm

    Recommend something to read? That’s a bit like being asked to recommened something to eat for someone when you have no idea what they like or dislike…
    Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, brilliant book, beautifully written with some great surprises and it contains nothing about banks or útrásarvíkingar.

  • snowball August 4, 2010, 1:53 pm

    mitch albom: tuesdays with morrie

    stefan zweig: sternstunden der menschheit

  • alda August 4, 2010, 2:34 pm

    Quentin — that’s why I tried to give some idea in the post!

    Kerry – read all of the Millennium books already, alas!

  • Margit August 4, 2010, 2:39 pm

    I would recommend Lars Saabye Christensen, he is a norwegian writer. I think at least his book Beatles has been translated to english, this book is just amazing i think. I have not read it for a couple of years now so can give an accurate review now. I have recently read “Maskeblomsfamilen” by him as well, but i don’t think that has been translated to english. This was a very strange but good book.

    If you want some crime i would recommend Jo Nesbø, i know several of his books have been translated into english.

  • jpeeps August 4, 2010, 3:53 pm

    Re the Stieg Larsson trilogy, my feeling was that the first was fabulous (though female relatives found the violence gratuitous), the second got away with it, and the third was a huge disappointment, (actually basically unfinished). Any road up, if you got through all those you could do much worse than get into Iceland’s own Arnaldur Indridason, if you haven’t already. Alda I seem to remember you were once a bit sniffy about him (though it might have been the movie of Jar City) and if that was the case I really think you should revisit him – I thought the Draining Lake was a terrific read, and Arctic Chill pretty good too. (And actually I though Jar City the movie tiptop as well.)

  • RLJ August 4, 2010, 3:54 pm

    The best book in the World* is without question Middlemarch by George Eliot. Don’t be put off by it being enormous; it is really 8 little books (that you must read in order).

    The only downside is that is so wonderfully written that you will doubt your own competence to ever write anything yourself again. Each sentence is a masterpiece. It is funny, political, controversial, moving, tragic and beautiful. There really is nothing like it. It’s Jane Austen for grown-ups, who aren’t obsessed with frocks, balls and getting married.

    I think people get put off by the fact that it is long, old and always on the “literature” shelf, so people expect it to be difficult and stodgy. I promise it is not.

    Apart from that, you might like Ian McEwan and Evelyn Waugh.

    * of those I have read, which is quite a lot, really.

  • Elizabeth August 4, 2010, 5:51 pm

    If you enjoy a really well written whodunnit I can highly recommend Ruth Rendell – especially her more recent novels – very easy to read and unputdownable. Personally, I’ve really liked all the Arnaldur Indridasson books but I’m guessing you’ve already read those.

  • mb August 4, 2010, 6:41 pm

    If you like English literature, mixed with a bit of insanity, give a try to The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. It might be a bit more insanity than some can take though.

    Or you could straight to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But that’s really almost indistinguishable from the original. Except for the zombies.

  • alda August 4, 2010, 7:10 pm

    Wow — thank you everyone! So many books that have me intrigued.

    jpeeps — interestingly I found the first Stieg Larson book the least readable. I liked the others very much, though. As for Arnaldur, I’ve only read one of his books — which I didn’t finish. I just found it really hard to suspend my disbelief when he was describing all these scenes happening around here in Iceland — maybe because I know this society and I know things like that wouldn’t happen here. But maybe he’s improved since. I liked the Jar City movie a lot.

    RLJ — Wow, what a recommendation! I’ll definitely have to read it. And no, I’m not put off by the “literature” aspect. 🙂 As for Ian McEwan, I spent a few days with him a few years ago when I organized a literary festival at which he was one of the guests. Interesting and complex man — and yes, I like his books.

  • Jo Straube August 4, 2010, 7:12 pm

    “Shantaram” has got everything. One of the best books I ever read – really takes you away. I promise.

  • Anne-Marie Bernier August 4, 2010, 7:17 pm

    How about The tricking of Freya, by Christina Sunley, it has ties to Iceland and Icelandic immigrants to Canada. Also among my favorites are Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and anything by John Irving. Also I just read Let the great world spin by Colum McCann which I really enjoyed.

  • JimJones August 4, 2010, 7:21 pm


    Re; Arnaldur. Is there anything in particular that you would note that wouldn’t happen there(I’m guessing you are referring to the crimes but want to be sure)?