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Old 06-17-2009, 11:09 PM
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Recommend me some long and cluttered fiction


I'm craving a particular type of reading experience right now, something that's not really searchable in a few keywords, but I figure that the Dope's collective wisdom and hundreds of years of fiction reading could help me out.

I have always loved the kinds of fiction that tends to make people impatient. For example, I adore Neal Stephenson's longer works, which, according to others, should be edited down to half their size. I get a huge kick out of his digressions about Cap'n Crunch, elves and dwarves, heirloom furniture and stockings, pizza delivery, toilet paper, &c., and I almost don't care whether the story goes anywhere, as long as the world stays fascinatingly textured and I get to read lots of interesting snippets about it.

Similarly, I love Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, not least for its hundreds of juicy footnotes, I love Vonnegut's wanderings and rantings and commentaries, and my favorite parts of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are the silly little asides and vignettes that can't possibly be relevant to the rest of the story--until they suddenly, bizarrely, are.

Basically, I want to read something written by an extremely interesting person who loves to expound upon anything and everything, and can barely control him- or herself. I want to be dumped into the odds-and-ends drawer of some fascinating story, world, or situation. Genre isn't terribly important, but I tend to like (post-)cyberpunkish science fiction, magic realism, surrealism, and crazy postmodern stuff. Plot (or lack thereof) is no object. I swear. I just need something cluttered, textured, meandering, and fascinating.
  #2  
Old 06-17-2009, 11:12 PM
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Get thee to the Discworld, friend!
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Old 06-17-2009, 11:20 PM
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Originally Posted by wunderkammer View Post
Basically, I want to read something written by an extremely interesting person who loves to expound upon anything and everything, and can barely control him- or herself. I want to be dumped into the odds-and-ends drawer of some fascinating story, world, or situation. Genre isn't terribly important, but I tend to like (post-)cyberpunkish science fiction, magic realism, surrealism, and crazy postmodern stuff. Plot (or lack thereof) is no object. I swear. I just need something cluttered, textured, meandering, and fascinating.
It's not a huge book, but I think you'd like The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. In addition to mimes and ninjas, the book had some interesting clutter, mostly about soulless corporations.

You might also like The Terror (the Franklin Expedition) and Drood (Dickens' last unfinished novel and what it might have been about) by Dan Simmons (huge books, also with much meandering). Simmons is probably best known for the Hyperion books, and if you haven't read those, they'd be right up your alley.

Oooh -- Mark Helprin expounds mightily in Memoir from Antproof Case and A Soldier of the Great War.

Also textured and fascinating -- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
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Old 06-17-2009, 11:20 PM
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Well, it's not fiction, but you might try The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer. It's the Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the events leading up to the execution of Gary Gilmore, who murdered several people in Utah.

Now, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel is one of my favorite books, but The Executioner's Song was too detailed even for me. If you want to know the life history of every character connected to the story in even the most minor way, this book is for you.
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Old 06-17-2009, 11:21 PM
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Long AND uncluttered? I'd say you were screwed, but I'm happy to be proven wrong, especially regarding SF without the Fantasy. From the fantastic, but ludicrous, miniseries I've seen, Bo may have one. Ludicrous trumps boring, humorlous, fantastic.
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Old 06-17-2009, 11:22 PM
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I'll be sure to watch out for other people's answers to this thread.

The first thing that came to mind when I read your OP was Haruki Murakami's The Windup-Bird Chronicle. It definitely postmodern, hints of magical realism, presents a plot ( or lack thereof) that is very meandering and is pretty crazy.
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Old 06-18-2009, 12:00 AM
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It's not a huge book, but I think you'd like The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. In addition to mimes and ninjas, the book had some interesting clutter, mostly about soulless corporations.
I just finished this, and I quite liked it. I wouldn't say it meanders as much as some of the other authors/books on the OPs list, but it was good and the jaunts it took were lovely both in and of themselves, and also for how they tied in to the overall plot.

While I really didn't care for Johnathon Strange & Mr. Norell (I think it would have helped if there were a single likable character in the whole bloody thing ), I do count Vonnegut and Adams as two of my very favoritiest authors. I think that you would also quite like Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) and most of John Irving's works (A Prayer for Owen Meany, Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, A Widow for One Year - they're all kinds of fantastic). Irving is a lot like Vonnegut (who I believe was one of his instructors at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop) in that he tends to reveal a character's entire life story, even if it is just a small character who runs into the protagonist in the grocery store. It drives some people batty, but he does it in such a concise but respectful way that I love it - it really feels like you're getting the entire world in this book, rather than just a moment in someone's life.
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Old 06-18-2009, 12:06 AM
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Tristram Shandy?
  #9  
Old 06-18-2009, 12:51 AM
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One Hundred Years of Solitude?
  #10  
Old 06-18-2009, 12:58 AM
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Tristram Shandy?
Isn't it the Ur-long-and-cluttered fiction?


ETA: I keep meaning to read it....

Last edited by dropzone; 06-18-2009 at 12:58 AM.
  #11  
Old 06-18-2009, 01:06 AM
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Roger Zelazny perhaps ? His Amber series would be a good start.
  #12  
Old 06-18-2009, 01:35 AM
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Avram Davidson's novels aren't all that long but are full of delightful digression. From a review of Vergil in Averno:

The case of Avram Davidson offers a poignant example of what it is to be caught in the ebb tide of literary fashion. Davidson's remarkable short stories — whimsical, erudite and often highly mannered — belong to a tradition that encompasses Saki, John Collier and Roald Dahl, one that embraces the fantastic and cultivates verbal and narrative extravagance. That the American short story has taken a different path is obvious to anyone who traces its course over the past 40 years, from the age of John O'Hara to that of Raymond Carver. Since the advent of high modernism 60 years ago, this other strain has been tolerated only from British writers — or, more recently and in a different way, in the phatmasmagoria of "magic realism." For a writer of genuine talent to work with such unpopular forms has been to invite neglect.

The fantasy novel has attracted more attention in recent years, and despite the proliferation of shapeless sagas involving dragons and quests, a few novels have ventured to explore the grounds beyond realism with a measure of invention and artistry (John Crowley's Little, Big is an outstanding example, as are the novels of Peter Beagle). In 1969 Avram Davidson published The Phoenix and the Mirror, a rich and ornate novel that has become a small classic, and which inaugurated a sequence that Vergil in Averno continues. Like its predecessor, Vergil in Averno focuses on a half-legendary figure and period: the life and era of Vergil Magus.


Follow the link at the bottom of the page for a list of Davidson's books. I'd recommend The Island Under the Earth, both Vergil books & both Peregrine novels--if you can find them. His SF isn't as good, although Clash of the Star Kings is a delightful morsel. The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy is a collection that amounts to a novel. Also recommended: The Avram Davidson Treasury : A Tribute Collection and The Other Nineteenth Century : A Story Collection by Avram Davidson. Containing Startling Revelations of the Lives of Literary Persons ; also, Truthful Accounts of Living Fossils, Montavarde's Camera, The Irradiodiffusion Machine, and El Vilvoy de las Islas ; with Heinous Crimes, Noble Ladies in Adversity, Brilliant Detections, Imperial Eunuchs, Political Machinations, etc., etc. Plus Adventures in Unhistory : Conjectures on the Factual Foundations of Several Ancient Legends which isn't fiction, exactly.

While you're rooting around in the used book stores (or checking out Amazon & eBay) pick up anything you can find by Cordwainer Smith or R A Lafferty. Further details supplied on request.
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Old 06-18-2009, 01:39 AM
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Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco comes to mind. I know it sounds a bit like Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" and its ilk, but it is better and earlier. I read a review of FC, and the opening salvo was "What can you say about a book whose plot starts on page 375?"

I had to get a copy just to find out if that was true.

It is.

You might also want to check out the works of John Crowley. His novel Little, Big is a microcosm of what is being asked for in the OP (a long one, but still a single novel), and his AEgypt cycle is an even more expansive example of that kind of writing. One of my favorite writers, he is.
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Old 06-18-2009, 03:03 AM
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Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
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Old 06-18-2009, 03:08 AM
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If I remember correctly, Perdido Street Station goes on many tangents. Not sure if you like Steampunk/Fantasy, though.
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Old 06-18-2009, 03:17 AM
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I've picked up Peter Esterházy's Harmonia Caelestis for summer reading, and I can safely say that it's long, cluttered and convoluted. It also lacks plot and chronology (is it a commentary on the Austro-Hungarian empire, on Hungarian Communism, a family history (or rather a family ahistory), or an Oedipus complex?), and is constructed in numbered paragraphs rather than chapters.
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Old 06-18-2009, 03:18 AM
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Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". They aren't cyberpunk, but the man did love to expound.

Also, while it's short, The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth.

Last edited by Captain Amazing; 06-18-2009 at 03:19 AM.
  #18  
Old 06-18-2009, 03:27 AM
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A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
A rather different setting from the previous books but it definitely counts as long and cluttered but in a good way IMO. It's set in North India in the 1950's and as the name suggests it's about a family looking for a husband for their daughter. But there are numerous digressions which Seth handles with aplomb: the politics of land-reform, the shoe-making business, Hindustani classical music, departmental politics at a university, Hindu-Muslim tensions . If you are at all curious about India it should be a good read.
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Old 06-18-2009, 03:31 AM
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It's not the genre you mentioned, but The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber is a sprawling historical novel (late 19th century London) that is wickedly funny and incredibly readable. It's not a genre that I read a lot, tending more to the fantasy/sf, but I ate this up.
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Old 06-18-2009, 04:10 AM
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Gene Wolfe. Definitely Gene Wolfe.

His stories barely have plots, just events happening one more-or-less after another, with plot strands dropped for entire volumes and then picked up with no warning - or maybe never picked up at all - and digressions that last for entire chapters. How many writers would dedicate 30 pages to a character reading a children's tale, with no bearing whatsoever to the story - and do it twice?

The Book of the New Sun, a tale of a wandering executioner in the very distant future is his best, but if you really want rambling frustration, try Latro in the Mist. It's the story of a Roman soldier with short-term memory loss, told in the first person, and reading it will make you feel like you're going insane.

Last edited by Alessan; 06-18-2009 at 04:11 AM.
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Old 06-18-2009, 04:48 AM
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Bit of a left-field recommendation, but how about The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale?

It's a factual account of a victorian murder, but it touches on the development of the murder mystery genre, early policing and victorian social history.
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Old 06-18-2009, 05:21 AM
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If you want something Olde School, try The Count of Monte Cristo (which bears little resemblance to any of the films due to its length and complexity). There are plot arcs so long that they go into Low Earth Orbit. Every time you think something's going to be resolved, another new character (and character arc) is introduced. That everything ties up neatly in the end is a testament to Dumas' skill, but it's blatantly apparent that the man was getting paid by the installment.
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Old 06-18-2009, 05:24 AM
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Since the author who immediately came to mind on reading the title is mentioned in the OP (Neal Stephenson) and Discworld is recommended in the first reply I'll offer something slightly different:

Godel,_Escher,_Bach

It's not fiction but it's certainly long and fascinatingly rambley.
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Old 06-18-2009, 06:16 AM
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There is David Foster Wallace and if you like fantasy, R.R. Martin (http://www.georgerrmartin.com/) has written a series of novles that read like the world's longest prologue.
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Old 06-18-2009, 06:22 AM
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Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves may be up your alley. It's a long and rambling book with layers of "editors" making comments, big footnotes, and interesting digressions everywhere. The base story is about a family living in a house that starts showing extra-dimensional spaces, and the book itself essentially begins to do that as well, as more and more text/information/layers of meaning getting crammed in from every direction. By the end of the book you're not sure if any of it is "true" from the perspective of people in the story, even though you've just been told this story from many different viewpoints.

Last edited by Ferret Herder; 06-18-2009 at 06:23 AM.
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Old 06-18-2009, 06:27 AM
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Anything by Barbara Kingsolver, especially Poisonwood Bible or Prodigal Summer.
She describes her world with breathtaking beauty. Come to think of it, until I get the books I just ordered from this thread, I think I'm going to reread PS myself. It's been a long time - I'd like to visit her again now that I have my own garden.

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Old 06-18-2009, 06:39 AM
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You could try The Gormenghast Trilogy. It's kind of a crazy book.

I also second The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, House of Leaves and Cloud Atlas (though that one's not that long)

And there's always Tolstoy too - Anna Karenina and War and Peace
Tom Wolfe A Man in Full - not cluttered or crazy but long and a good read
Moby Dick? I know it gets a divided response but I liked it
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Old 06-18-2009, 06:40 AM
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Oh and the longest of all (7 volumes) is Proust's In Search of Lost Time
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Old 06-18-2009, 06:41 AM
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I have always loved the kinds of fiction that tends to make people impatient.
Quote:
Basically, I want to read something written by an extremely interesting person who loves to expound upon anything and everything, and can barely control him- or herself. I want to be dumped into the odds-and-ends drawer of some fascinating story, world, or situation ... Plot (or lack thereof) is no object. I swear. I just need something cluttered, textured, meandering, and fascinating.
I just want to third Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne - you've basically described it already. Sterne anticipates post-modernism 200 years ahead of its time. The "story" is intentionally absurd, with endless digressions and digressions within digressions. He even messes around sometimes with the visual appearance of the text, especially when a character called Yorick dies.
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Old 06-18-2009, 08:11 AM
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Excellent thread, everyone! You've touched on some things that I've read and loved (Gormenghast, Barbara Kingsolver, Catch-22, House of Leaves), so I guess my OP was pretty accurate and I do, in fact, know what I like. This thread's getting bookmarked.

Now carry on...
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Old 06-18-2009, 08:42 AM
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I came to recommend Drood. I didn't like it myself, but it seems to match your request.
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Old 06-18-2009, 08:47 AM
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Middlemarch by George Eliot. It's cluttered and long. Not cyber-punk, although if looked at a certain way....



Vanity Fair by Thackeray is also long and cluttered.

Can't help you on the topical digressions, but Victorian authors are pretty much the definition of digression.
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Old 06-18-2009, 09:08 AM
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I see someone mentioned David Foster Wallace already.

For SF I'd add Vernor Vinge.

Non SF, try Wilton Barnhad's Gospel. Huge book about a search for a lost gospel.
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Old 06-18-2009, 09:13 AM
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Similarly, I love Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, not least for its hundreds of juicy footnotes, ...
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Originally Posted by madmonk28 View Post
There is David Foster Wallace ...
Dear God, yes. If you like footnotes, then Wallace's footnotes take up a measurable thickness of his books and almost need their own footnotes.
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Old 06-18-2009, 09:16 AM
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Like Dijon Warlock said, Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco. Also, The Name of the Rose, and The Island of the Day Before. Eco has diverse interests, and loves to tell you about all of them.

Tolstoy's War and Peace is a very entertaining soap opera, interrupted from time to time by a bunch of sermons on the Meaning of Life.

Try the musketeer novels of Dumas.
1. The Three Musketeers.
2. Twenty Years After.
3. The Viscount de Bragellone.

The Viscount de Bragellone is so long and convoluted, that most English-language publishers break it up into three installments:
3a. The Viscount de Bragellone.
3b. Louise de la Valiere.
3c. The Man in the Iron Mask.
I would recommend the Oxford paperback editions. They are heavily annotated, so when Dumas starts name-dropping, you can look up the celebrity he was talking about.
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Old 06-18-2009, 09:25 AM
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Oooh -- Mark Helprin expounds mightily in Memoir from Antproof Case and A Soldier of the Great War.
I'd recommend "A Winter's Tale" by Helprin -- it's probably one of the classic urban fantasies and it's massively convoluted.

Also, you might want to check out Infinite Summer, a mass reading of Wallace's Infinite Jest. Here's a quote from that web page:

Quote:
Trust the author: Around page 50, you’re going to feel a sinking sense of dread, as it dawns on you how much stuff you’ll be asked to keep track of: lots of characters coming and going, subplots upon subplots, page long sentences, and more. You have to believe that what seems at first like a bunch of disconnected vignettes (like The Wardine Section) will in fact come together; that the connections among what seem like radically disparate plot lines really do make themselves apparent in time. But at first, it requires something of a focus on the local plot lines, and a leap of faith in the fact that the global picture will eventually resolve.
Sound cluttered enough?
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Old 06-18-2009, 10:08 AM
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Oooooh....if I ordered the book right away, I could even start the mass reading on time.
Usually I discover these things a year and a day after they've finished.
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Old 06-18-2009, 10:54 AM
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Second Perdido Street Station or anything else by China Mieville. His writing is, well, rich in detail. Some of the details includes the most horrible things I have ever thought about, but there you go. I love his work.
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Old 06-18-2009, 12:52 PM
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Dickens is the master of that sort of thing. Bleak House is probably the best example.

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Old 06-18-2009, 02:42 PM
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Rabelais' Gargantua & Pantagruel, Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Cervantes' Don Quixote. They are all rambling, crazy, humorous and somewhat surreal - especially Gargantua & Pantagruel. Great book!
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Old 06-18-2009, 04:08 PM
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Basically, I want to read something written by an extremely interesting person who loves to expound upon anything and everything, and can barely control him- or herself. I want to be dumped into the odds-and-ends drawer of some fascinating story, world, or situation. Genre isn't terribly important, but I tend to like (post-)cyberpunkish science fiction, magic realism, surrealism, and crazy postmodern stuff. Plot (or lack thereof) is no object. I swear. I just need something cluttered, textured, meandering, and fascinating.
Pynchon's Against the Day is the grand-daddy of this genre - I've read most of the books mentioned already and I'd put Against the Day way, way out there in a league of its own. Doesn't mean it's good, mind, just unique. Literally unique, as there can't be more than 5 people on planet earth who could write a novel like this, and of the five of them, only Thomas Pynchon has the literary reputation to get it published.

Only drawback is that the prose can be hard work, on a sentence by sentence level. Pynchon is a real prose stylist and the going can be tough at times.
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Old 06-18-2009, 04:29 PM
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Have you read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon? It's chockful of wonderful and oddness.
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Old 06-18-2009, 04:49 PM
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Dear God, yes. If you like footnotes, then Wallace's footnotes take up a measurable thickness of his books and almost need their own footnotes.
Many of the multi-page (!) footnotes (endnotes?) in Wallace's Infinite Jest do indeed have their own footnotes. I'm in the middle of re-reading this now, and to me it seems to be exactly what the OP is asking about, and the extraordinary details of his fictionalized world above and beyond the plot items are what I love about it.
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Old 06-18-2009, 09:54 PM
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This does not mesh quite as neatly into your description of others, but for timeless humor full of rich descriptions, go for P.G. Wodehouse's books on Jeeves and Wooster. I've only read The Code of the Woosters so far, but it was even more delightful than I expected based on the BBC mini-series, and that's saying something. Wodehouse has a wonderful way with words.
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Old 06-19-2009, 03:09 AM
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Many of the multi-page (!) footnotes (endnotes?) in Wallace's Infinite Jest do indeed have their own footnotes. I'm in the middle of re-reading this now, and to me it seems to be exactly what the OP is asking about, and the extraordinary details of his fictionalized world above and beyond the plot items are what I love about it.
There was a great Onion article: "Girlfriend Stops Reading David Foster Wallace Breakup Letter at Page 20." http://www.theonion.com/content/node/27769
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Old 06-19-2009, 06:37 AM
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I'll third or fourth Infinite Jest. It sounds tailor-made for what you're asking -- there is even a slight undercurrent of science-fictiony elements. I recall a long digression on the cultural trappings of the videophone that was hilarious.

I'll also vote for Cloud Atlas. Pretty fascinating Russian doll of a book.

You can also look into Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. Borges on a drunken bicycle tour of rural Ireland, with numerous footnotes tracing the remarkable career of De Selby, a polymath/idiot scientist who among other things considers darkness to be "black air."
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Old 06-19-2009, 06:46 AM
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Oh and the longest of all (7 volumes) is Proust's In Search of Lost Time
God, yes, or Nooooooooo. Half way through it, I was close to become an axe murderer. wunderkammer, treat these volumes like the Overlook Hotel .. and you'll be fine (no, don't burn them, flee from them).

But what about Tolstoy's War and Peace? It's long, very long, hell, the complete list of characters goes on for pages and when you think you are through with the novel, the epilogue starts and goes on and on .. and is followed by a second one.

Still, it's a classic. And quite entertaining.

Speaking of classics, if you like the fantastic, The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights, are not just great stories, you will also discover time and again a) how often modern authors .. borrowed .. from this source and b) how much more fun the stories are compared to any Disneyesque retelling.

The same is true for Cervantes' Don Quixote.

And if you like epic adventure tales with an exotic touch, you could give Eiji Yoshikawa's Musashi a try.

Last edited by wintertime; 06-19-2009 at 06:48 AM.
  #48  
Old 06-19-2009, 09:58 AM
ITR champion is offline
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The science fiction novels of Jack Vance would be exactly what you're looking for. He has a style that's pretty much unique in science fiction as far as I can tell. It's not at all focused on futuristic technology, though that stuff exists in his universe, but rather on the social scene. Often times he dashes of half a dozen different planets in a single novel, each complete with its own diet, clothing, architecture, social norms, and government. It's indescribably brilliant. Araminta Station is a good place to start, especially if you like long books.
  #49  
Old 06-19-2009, 10:32 AM
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If it's length you want then you should go for Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time which comes in 12 volumes and about 3000 pages. There are hundreds of characters including one hilariously grotesque one called Widmerpool who features throughout.
  #50  
Old 06-19-2009, 10:36 AM
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The Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

High Fantasy, the Realpolitik fantasy novel about a nasty succession war that goes for years.

The Urth of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe

About a young boy from the torturer's guild and his strange rise to power on Earth after the Sun has started to die.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

A great novel about an Aussie expatriate running from the law and hiding in Bombay, about his travels working for the Afghani Mob. it really touches on the exotic in Bombay. A film is in the works directed by Mira Nair and starring Johnny Depp.

Those are the ones that come to mind immediately.
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