Literary Fiction

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

“They’re not going to send a crazy man out to be killed, are they?”

“Who else will go?”

Yossarian is possibly the only sane man in the world. Thousands of people he’s never met keep trying to kill him. No one seems to understand his predicament, and no matter how much he refuses he is still forced to risk his own life over and over again. That would be because Yossarian is a bombardier stationed in a squadron off of Italy during World War II, and the people trying to kill him are German soldiers, although it sometimes seems more like it’s his superiors who want him dead.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, is in its own class as a novel. It has its own logic, structure, and rhythm. The plot sounds simple -- a man is afraid of going on combat missions because he might be killed -- but there is so much more to it than that. It’s funny, heart-breaking, silly, and meaningful. It is an elaborate critique of bureaucracy, showing the useless repetitions and absurd contradictions that bureaucracy creates, such as the eponymous Catch-22 that thwarts Yossarian: if a man is insane, then he is unfit for combat duty. However, if he requests to be removed from combat that proves he is in fact sane and has to continue fighting, because a sane man would want to protect his life, while only a crazy one would willingly going into combat. 

Native Son by Richard Wright

Native Son by Richard Wright

Richard Wright’s Native Son is an exceptional example of dynamic, participatory literature. Rather than allowing the reader to effortlessly absorb the words on the page, Wright undermines the passivity and comfort we often expect when reading. Both the content of the novel and Wright’s literary style provoke and disturb, immersing the reader in a dense psychological terrain that is simultaneously intimate and larger-than-life.

Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Native Son follows the life of Bigger Thomas, a young African-American man living in squalor with his mother and siblings. Bigger’s mother holds him accountable for the welfare of the family, but his ability to work towards a stable life seems perpetually hindered. He can’t overcome his poverty because he can’t get a job that pays well, and he can’t get a decent job because of his lack of education and limited social mobility. He is also imprisoned by the sense that, as an African-American man, his mere existence has been criminalized: “There was just the old feeling, the feeling that he had had all his life: he was black and had done wrong.”

If you like The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

If you like The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh: "Off the easternmost coast of India lies the immense archipelago of tiny islands known as the Sundarbans. Life here is precarious, ruled by the unforgiving tides and the constant threat of attacks by Bengal tigers. Into this place of vengeful beauty come two seekers from different worlds, whose lives collide with tragic consequences. The settlers of the remote Sundarbans believe that anyone without a pure heart who ventures into the watery island labyrinth will never return. With the arrival of two outsiders from the modern world, the delicate balance of small community life uneasily shifts. Piya Roy is a marine biologist, of Indian descent but stubbornly American, in search of a rare dolphin. Kanai Dutt is an urbane Delhi businessman, here to retrieve the journal of his uncle, who died mysteriously in a local political uprising. When Piya hires an illiterate but proud local fisherman to guide her through the crocodile-infested backwaters, Kanai becomes her translator. From this moment, the tide begins to turn."

If you enjoyed this novel's rich character development and attention to detail from the historical perspective, here are some other titles you may also enjoy:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy-it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he's assigned, he'll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. (amazon.com)

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
The highly original satire about Oedipa Maas, a woman who finds herself enmeshed in a worldwide conspiracy, meets some extremely interesting characters, and attains a not inconsiderable amount of self knowledge. (amazon.com)

 

 

If you like The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt:" Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill."

If you enjoyed this novel's themes of youth alienation, literary achievement, and psychological violence, here are some other titles you may enjoy:

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Patrick Bateman moves among the young and trendy in 1980s Manhattan. Young, handsome, and well educated, Bateman earns his fortune on Wall Street by day, while spending his nights in ways we cannot begin to fathom. Expressing his true self through torture and murder, Bateman prefigures an apocalyptic horror that no society could bear to confront. (worldcat.org)


 

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Written entirely in the second person, McInerney's first novel is a vivid account of cocaine addiction. (worldcat.org)

 


 

If you like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk is a classic parable of Generation X alienation: "THE FIRST RULE about fight club is you don't talk about fight club. Every weekend, in the basements and parking lots of bars across the country, young men with whitecollar jobs and failed lives take off their shoes and shirts and fight each other barehanded just as long as they have to. Then they go back to those jobs with blackened eyes and loosened teeth and the sense that they can handle anything. Fight club is the invention of Tyler Durden, projectionist, waiter, and dark, anarchic genius, and it's only the beginning of his plans for violent revenge on an empty consumer-culture world." (Book summary)

If you enjoyed this novel's themes of social alienation, search for meaning through dark subcultures, and atmosphere of paranoia, here are some other titles you may enjoy:

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
In a black satire of the eighties, a decade of naked greed and unparalleled callousness, a successful Wall Street yuppie cannot get enough of anything, including murder. (worldcat.org)

 


 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Six hundred years into the future, humans are bred by cloning, and "mother" and "father" are forbidden words. Originally published in 1932, Huxley's terrifying vision of a controlled and emotionless future "Utopian" society is truly startling in its prediction of modern scientific and cultural phenomena, including test-tube babies and rampant drug abuse. (worldcat.org)

 

 

What You Wish For: A Book for Darfur

Some wishes are traditional – to be the fairest in the land or find a handsome prince. Some are personal – for a family member to get better, to be a doctor, learn the piano, fall in love. Some are never identified as wishes, but are rather the silent longings of the heart. Written by a truly stellar cast of authors with a foreword by Mia Farrow, What You Wish For is a collection of short stories that center on children who wish.

The collection ranges from Meg Cabot’s wry and humorous “The Protectionist” – which starts with the protagonist lamenting that the school bully has taped a note to his sister’s back which reads, Boobies: Get some; to the quietly poignant “Rules for Wishing” by Francisco X. Stork, where a young boy is celebrating his birthday in the foster care system, after his mother gave his sister up for adoption when his father could not control his fists.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The plot and characters in The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, are full of surprises. Grown-up siblings Annie and Buster Fang end up back home with their parents when both their lives implode in creative ways. Buster, while writing for a macho magazine, was shot with a potato gun, doing serious injury to his face. Actress Annie shed some extra clothes on a movie set and got blacklisted. Adrift and in need, they naturally return home.

But coming home for them is no staid Norman Rockwell gathering. Annie and Buster Fang grew up being conduits for their parents’ eccentric artistic visions. Chapters describe parents Caleb and Camille Fang’s disturbing performance art events with their children, stage-named Child A and Child B.  The elder Fangs tightly tangled their family and their art, and, not surprisingly, the children are “messed up.”   Funny, thoughtful and disturbing, this novel tests the boundaries of how most of us define art and family.  

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

When Jodi Linder was three, the unbearable happened.  As told in Nancy Pickard's The Scent of Rain and Lightning, one Saturday night, her father was murdered and her mother disappeared.  Jodi grew up in the small town of Rose, Kansas, wrapped in the fierce protective circle of her three uncles, safe and cherished, but distrustful of happiness.

When Jodi Linder was 26, the unthinkable happened. Billy Crosby, the man convicted of killing her father, has been released from prison and returns to Rose, loudly protesting his innocence of the murder.  In a small town, it’s hard to keep your distance from anyone, and Jodi finds that she starts to run into Billy’s son Collin just about everywhere.  Collin is a lawyer who wants to live peacefully in Rose and wants to prove his father’s innocence.

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

My husband moved to Fredericksburg thirteen months before I did. The three-hour commute between our two worlds birthed my obsession with recorded books. Even though we now share only one home, the obsession remains. Once I began listening to The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman, I became so engrossed in the story that I looked for any reason to drive…indefinitely.

The title character—the cookbook collector—plays only a minor role, but one around whom all others orbit. Tom McClintock was a renowned lichenologist who filled his somewhat reclusive life with cookbooks, both obscure and valuable. Upon his death, McClintock’s estate is inherited by his niece Sandra. In need of money to help her daughter gain custody of her children, Sandra approaches used/antique bookstore owner, George Friedman, about purchasing the entire collection. George agrees to review the cookbooks and brings along his free-spirited clerk, Jessamine Bach, for assistance. George very seldom displays anything but his gruff side, yet he secretly pines for the lovely Jess.

If you like The Locket by Richard Paul Evans

The Locket

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

The Locket by Richard Paul Evans "features Michael Romney, an aimless young man working in a rest home whose contact with the elderly Esther turns his life around.

If you like The Locket by Richard Paul Evans, you may like these books:

 

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
"...As we watch nine-year-old Eliza Naumann transform herself from underachiever to spelling prodigy, we endure the pain out of respect for one girl's courage and all-consuming love. Eliza's family is gradually breaking down in front of her: father Saul, whose self-absorbed passion for Jewish mysticism blinds him to the suffering of those closest to him; mother Myriam, whose quest for perfection leads her into kleptomania; and brother Aaron, who rebels against his faith and turns to Hare Krishna. Eliza attempts to put her family back together by an act of will, spelling her way to harmony, with an assist from her father's Kabbalah masters." (Booklist)

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Eddie is a wounded war veteran, an old man who has lived, in his mind, an uninspired life. His job is fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, a tragic accident kills him as he tries to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakes in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a destination. It's a place where your life is explained to you by five people, some of whom you knew, others who may have been strangers. One by one, from childhood to soldier to old age, Eddie's five people revisit their connections to him on earth, illuminating the mysteries of his 'meaningless' life, and revealing the haunting secret behind the eternal question: 'Why was I here?'