Do the world a solid — a book bleg

As Rose has mentioned, she and I enjoy discussing the various search terms that bring people to our little blog.  We like to make sure the other doesn’t miss the most eyebrow-raising submissions.  Some are funny, some are off-putting, some are poignant.  And often there is a theme.

One search term that keeps cropping up, every few days or so, is (verbatim) “i finished the hunger games now what.”  Presumably they end up here.  And I fear what I have already offered may not be meeting their needs.

I do not know if this query is literary in nature, or more existential.  For the latter group, who have become spiritually unmoored because they can no longer follow the exploits of Katniss, Peeta, Gale et al, I hope they eventually find a way of moving on with their lives.  Wherever they are in the Kübler-Ross grief process, we can only wish them well on their way toward “acceptance.”  Hard as it may be to believe, eventually a reason to go on living will surface.

But for those who just don’t know what to do with their time upon reaching the end of the trilogy and [spoiler!] reading about the gruesome maiming and/or death of pretty much all the major characters, it’s clearly not enough to say simply “read something else.”  Clearly guidance is needed for those seeking something to match the masterwork they have just completed.  And this is where you come in.

What would you suggest to a person who just finished the “Hunger Games” trilogy and doesn’t know what to do next?  What should they read?

My suggestion is “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman, as well as its nearly-as-good sequel “The Magician King.”  Best for mature readers (so feel free to suggest alternatives for the YA set), and also for those who are familiar with Narnia, Harry Potter and other fantastical franchises (from which the author borrows heavily), the books are a darker spin on the “ordinary person enters magical world” genre.  While not perfect (I have some qualms with the plotting of the second novel), they are entertaining, well-written and an interesting take on a well-worn trope.

So where would you guide the searchers who’ve found their way here?  The world needs you, readers.  Help them.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Do any of you people read normal books? Books about people, living in an approximately real world? This isn’t meant to be snarky, snobby, sarcastic, or any other adjective starting with ‘s’ — it’s a real question. It seems that all the books and movies I read about here either involve magic or are comic books. Is non-genre literature dead around here?

    • Give it half a year. J.K. Rowling is writing a book about a by-election. Harry Potter lady + Politics? I think basically every Leaguer will be blogging about it.

      • that is a seriously awesome library.

        my co-workers have fairly rapidly plowed through the hunger games and (i believe) are finishing up the girl with the dragon tattoo series now. that might be too obvious/old, though.

        • sorry, hit reply too soon again.

          what about “the road”? it’s still dystopia as a setting, but not centrally about that because there’s no hope to reframe the fall of civilization as anything other than denoument. it’s also very bleak, as one would expect from mccarthy.

    • Why yes, Karl. I read “normal” books all the time. Marilynne Robinson is probably the least-genre author alive, and she’s one of my favorite writers. When Jason suggested we all read a book together, we did end up with “Ubik” but considered “The Pale King.” One of these days I’m finally going to get back to Proust (I got kind of mired down in volume 3 of “In Search of Lost Time,” but finishing the whole thing is on my bucket list.)

      I think this community does tend toward the more speculative genres, given the common interests that caused it to cohere in the first place. But rest assured that we read “normal” books, too.

    • Karl,

      I’m a spy novel junkie. If the plot involves the CIA, bad-ass secret agents and 2-page descriptions of their firearms, I’m there. Need any recommendations and I will be happy to provide.

    • Sure do! I have, in general, been on a major sci-fi/fantasy kick for a while now, so my reading list has tended heavily in that direction, but here’s the set of non-those-kind of books I’ve read this year:

      The Night Circus – Technically, this is probably fantasy, but it was massively popular in the lit-fic world, so I’m counting it as non-fantasy.
      The Third Reich
      The Prague Cemetery
      White Noise
      Wolf Hall

      It’s a short list, because I have been on a different trend recently, but there you have it. Also, I think there’s something to be said for the fact that the best things being written tend to be in genre these days. You’ve got people like Colson Whitehead and Justin Cronin (and even Cormac McCarthy) slumming it in genre fiction – it’s where the energy is.

      Also, the best book I read last year was The Sisters Brothers. It’s not fantasy or sci-fi, although it is Western, so it’s still genre.

    • I’m not a bibliophile, so pardon my ignorance, but is there such a thing as non-genre literature? Doesn’t all literature fit into one genre or another? Non-genre literature seems to be the sort of normative language that asserts whatever is common is normal and whatever is uncommon is somehow other. Am I missing something?

      • No, that’s basically right. Although some books have a genre of “contemporary family drama” or something – like anything by Jonathan Franzen. That’s kind of a lumpy way to describe a set of books that don’t really cohere all that well.

        • all literature can be shoehorned into genres or subgenres, but generally speaking people are referring to works that fit into more specific sets of tropes, settings, etc, when they speak of “genre fiction”. a lot of that is driven by audience expectations and marketing expectations, though – as are the revisionist works of a genre. i.e. westerns begat anti- or revisionist westerns, etc, which still involve some of the expected themes even while they overturn them.

      • I’m taking a hard line in an old debate here, but…

        Genre fiction is the ghetto where Serious Critics put literature they do not like.

        As an example, think of Infinite Jest. If Vernor Vinge had written Infinite Jest, no one would doubt that it was science fiction. There are weird, scary new technologies, new environmental disasters, new forms of network connectivity, a new and very dangerous form of entertainment. All rest on science that doesn’t exist yet.

        But in the real world, David Foster Wallace wrote Infinite Jest, so it gets taken seriously by Serious Critics. Infinite Jest gets to sit at the cool kids’ table.

        • “Genre fiction is the ghetto where Serious Critics put literature they do not like.”

          That’s sort of what I was thinking but couldn’t quite put it to words. Well played.

          • this really hasn’t been true for at least 20 years, though. (i’m married into the business, as it were)

      • “fiction” is a broad category. but most nobel award winning authors come from it. look at what they write, and it will give you some idea of the “genre” (that some might describe as “what english professors like”)

    • “you people”

      Sweet as honey are these words.

      In any case, after reading the Hunger Games, I suggest The Canterbury Tales, maybe Beowulf.

    • I read real history all the time. It’s not even fiction, it’s so real. Right now I’m working my way through Pauline Maier’s Ratification.

      …Er, and The Hunger Games. Kind of more fun.

    • This is actually a good question, and one that I am kink of kicking myself for never asking now that you have.

      My preference is actually non-genre fiction; for the most part, I usually read genre when I want a little mental down time. (Which is not to say that it’s inherently inferior, it’s just what appeals to me when I want to relax and do beach reading in bed.) Having China Mieville come out with a new book is exciting, but nowhere near as exciting as a new book by Kazou Ishiguro.

      But when I’m at the League, I usually only reference genre fiction – specifically sic-fi, because I have the impression it’s what everyone else here mostly reads. Now I wonder how true that is – are we al assuming that sic-fi is the common bond? Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy?

      • Ishiguro is a hilarious example of non-genre fiction, given that Never Let Me Go is pretty stereotypical sci-fi.

        • Yeah, but that’s like saying Updike’s a hilarious example of non-genre fiction because he wrote Toward the End of Time.

          • Or that he’s a soft-core porn writer because of Couples.

          • Erm, he also wrote The Witches of Eastwick, yeah? I think Updike is an even better example than Ishiguro of exactly what Jason says: “non-genre” mostly means “we like you, so come sit at the big kids’ table”.

          • Hm. I think Mieville and Ishiguro are often doing many of the same things, playing in and around the conventions of multiple traditional genres at once – Mieville’s The City and the City (which I’ve only browsed yet) reminds me more of Calvino than anything else, while Ishiguro has done “the country house novel,” “the detective novel,” “the science fiction novel…” If there wasn’t an idea of “genre” vs. not, playing around with the conventions of genre wouldn’t make any sense – there’d be no outside to be in? – but if these novels *weren’t* part of their genres they wouldn’t make any sense as novels either.

            Who are the other writers that you like, that you think of as non-genre, Tod? Sff is my “home base,” the place where I rest, but I read Freaking Everything. I have trouble not thinking of things as having genres, though – I think I feel like they are tag-like labels – you can slap as many of them as you want on the same book.

          • And Chabon has made a career of “literary” genre novels. (There’s no Gentlemen of the Road without Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.)

          • “Erm, he also wrote The Witches of Eastwick, yeah? I think Updike is an even better example than Ishiguro of exactly what Jason says: “non-genre” mostly means “we like you, so come sit at the big kids’ table”.”

            a lot of this, if not most of it, is due to marketing, though. ishiguro could do some no frills genre work – which i don’t think you can really say of “never let me go” – but it seems unlikely it would be embraced as such by either fans or critics. is midnight’s children an example of science fiction? or fantasy? i’m not saying marketing is entirely destiny, but it seems like it’s probably a larger driver than the literary world which more popular markets overshadow by huge magnitudes.

            i was loaned “the dreams our stuff is made of” by thomas disch by a friend. near the end he goes off on a minor tangent/rant about william s. burroughs (whose work i am overly versed in) stealing/borrowing/appropriating the tropes of science fiction in the cities of the red night trilogy, his last real works of fiction. now, burroughs runs rampant through every genre fiction category of his youth – with a lot more hangings and sodomy, to be sure – from pirate adventures to westerns to flash gordon style serials and detective/crime fiction. disch missed the point pretty damn hard in both his assumptions as to why burroughs did this as well as his reception by the “literary society” disch feels was sneering at him and his the entire time. (as well as being fixated on the drug use and the death of joan burroughs)

            i’ve never read disch’s review in the ny times of the first book of the cities of the red night (it’s behind a paywall), so perhaps i underestimate his critique. but i get the feeling that i probably don’t, since his real complaint seemed to be about popularity and ownership of a form than its reception.

          • Oh God, Midnight’s Children. And everything ever written by Gabriel Garcia Marques. The whole point of “magic realism” is giving people the opportunity to write fantasy without calling it fantasy.

          • That is a pretty great observation about Ishiguro, Maribou. (I’d add the “Hey, Kafka Hasn’t Written Anything In a While, Has He?” genre for Unconsoled.)

            So the authors that I’m thinking about are Chabon (who does exact what you say about Ishiguro), Updike, Irving, Mandell, Fitzgerald, Nabokov, Stegner, Maugham, Frazen, Roth, Cheever, Bellow, etc.

            I understand what you mean by “tags,” and I think that’s exact right… and yet it still seems like it’s missing something. I’m thinking out loud, and I’m wondering if what makes genre fiction so different (and often subjects it to undue snobbery) isn’t genre writers, but genre readers?

            Actually, the more I think about that the more right it seems, and I think I may have just come up with a nice weekend post sure to fill my inbox with hate mail. Yay!

          • I think Rushdie gets categorized as “magical realism,” which is another genre I love. (I thought both “Midnight’s Children” and “The Satanic Verses” were unmistakable masterpieces.) And, in keeping with much of what has already been said, I think magical realism is another way of saying “speculative fiction that critics enjoy.”

            [Edited to reflect that I just now noticed that Ryan has already said this. So… um… what Ryan said.]

          • “Oh God, Midnight’s Children. And everything ever written by Gabriel Garcia Marques. The whole point of “magic realism” is giving people the opportunity to write fantasy without calling it fantasy.”

            i disagree; i think it relates to disch’s error i mentioned earlier. one could easily say “it’s just a way for people to write surrealistic novels without calling it surrealism”.

            subgenres are, if not an unalloyed good (and completely unavoidable), a useful tool. and there’s so much of our culture at this point which is largely metafictive (something else we can blame on james joyce). ditsch seemed to aver that the citites of the red night were fantasy or science fiction, which ignored the metafictive elements that were the central point of the work and its poignant driver for the sake of pique/sports bar reasoning.

            “I’m thinking out loud, and I’m wondering if what makes genre fiction so different (and often subjects it to undue snobbery) isn’t genre writers, but genre readers?”

            is it really subject to undue snobbery, though? all of the major literary conferences in the united states have panels on comic books, tv shows, popular film, genre fiction, etc. there is no doubt individual scorn, but there’s plenty of individual scorn for 50 shades of grey, finnegan’s wake, star trek and dubstep.

            i think jason and ryan would say yes to the snobbery question, and i would say they’re mistaken, at least as things stand today. maybe we’re both right, because we’re approaching these positions as readers/consumers?

          • It’s also worth considering that the snobbery runs both ways. There’s no obvious reason for the SF community not to welcome Infinite Jest. But mostly they don’t. Again, a different author and different marketing would have made it an entirely different book, even given the same editing.

          • Oh no, don’t misread me. I don’t think there’s any real mass critical snobbery toward genre any more. As I said in my first comment on this post, virtually all of the energy in literature is in genre these days. The fact that people like Ishiguro, Whitehead, Cronin, Chabon, McCarthy, &c are writing genre is a testament to the fact that genre has defeated “non-genre” (whatever that is) in critical circles.

  2. They should read The Handmaid’s Tale.
    Then Alas, Babylon.
    Then the science fiction of James Tiptree, Jr.

    That is, if they want to stay in the neighborhood of dystopia-with-mild-science-fiction. If not, there’s always Proust.

    • Then the science fiction of James Tiptree, Jr.

      Is that the guy you talked about at Leaguefest? I remembered Iain Banks, but not the other one.

      • That was Cordwainer Smith. He’s got a very different style, though Tiptree was a fan if I recall.

        “James Tiptree, Jr.” is the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon. She wrote some of the first very clearly feminist science fiction, and she’s one of the Awesome Alices after whom we named our daughter. The others being her great-grandmother and of course Lewis Carroll’s Alice.

        • Ah! An awesome set of Alices indeed.

          (Not only did James Tiptree, Jr., write marvelous fiction, there’s also a ripping good biography of her – one of those biographies that made me even more interested in the author, when I thought I was already at max interest. You know, for the “real people” aficionados in the crowd.)

        • *blink* … naming your kid after Lewis Carroll’s Alice… *blink*

          • I intend her to grow up to be one of the only sensible people in a world full of madness.

            Is that so wrong?

          • That will be a difficult thing, perhaps impossible. But it’s before breakfast, so I believe it.

          • If I end up with a daughter, I would consider “Lucy” for a name, after another particularly beloved literary heroine of mine.

          • i lobbied pretty hard to name our son finnegan. the wife almost went for it – until she came to her senses.

          • “I don’t understand, how could Finnegan be failing English?”

            “I’m sorry, Mr. Hex, but until he learns to spell and punctuate, I have no choice. And he still hasn’t finished his first assignment.”


            “Well, he said some nonsense about waiting for the last one.”

          • Finnegan is a particularly awesome name for a son. Especially one that plays LaCrosse, soccer, and guitar. I cannot recommend a son name Finnegan highly enough.

          • +1 mr. schilling

            i definitely still like it as a name, but there’s the case to be made that you’re greenfacing the poor kid so hard he comes out of the womb as a 1920s beat cop with an oirish accent. but finn is a cool nickname, though, even without ice-t’s help.

  3. For folks that just left the Hunger Games one must assume that they are into the whole post-apocolyptic, dystopian genre. There’s plenty of good series out there along those lines. My daughter and wife have been enjoying the Divergent series.

  4. If you want YA dystopia, you probably can’t go wrong with Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker series. And if you want something slightly more grown-up, The Windup Girl by the same author is excellent.

  5. Two places I would steer them:

    If the pulpy side of the YA fiction is what they enjoy, there is an immensely entertaining series of thriller/sci-fi stories by Michael Grant called Gone. One day, kids in a central California beach town look around and everyone over the age of fifteen is just… poof, gone. And there’s a strange force field around their town. And the food is running out. Then the coyotes start acting weird…

    If the young reader in question got into the more political-critical dimension of The Hunger Games, in that they were curious about the makeup of Panem or Katniss’ role as a revolutionary figure or questioning why the government had to be so oppressive and if things could be any different or better, then I would steer the reader to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. A significantly mature reader should seek out the British release of the books, but a less mature one the American release, because the British release contains a more frank discussion of the heroes’ sexuality.

  6. I’d think a natural successor to The Hunger Games would be John Christopher’s Tripods series (A prequel plus a trilogy). Many of the same tropes, but oppressive aliens instead of oppressive humans (and infinitely better written.)

  7. I would recommend to the searchers that they use the reader’s advisory librarian term of art “readalike”, ie “Hunger Games readalike,” to get all KINDS of suggestions for what to read next. This list from the fetchingly named Normal Public Library has lots of good suggestions toward the lighter end of the spectrum (including Uglies (The Uglies) by Scott Westerfield and Feed by M.T. Anderson, which I had on my short list before I went looking). But if you google, there are about a kajillion more out there.

    Besides the 2 above, I might suggest:

    Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien – the ur-female-survivor-with-a-dash-of-romance-in-a-post-apocalyptic-setting teen novel
    Firethorn by Sarah Micklem. This isn’t an obvious match – heroic war-related fantasy from the point of view of a camp follower doesn’t sound a lot like what we’re looking for – but if you instead described it as “fierce, brave, impoverished young woman uses woodlore, courage, and her wits to survive and succeed in a violent and sometimes terrifying context where power dynamics are explicit and overwhelming”… yeah, I think they are pretty darn resonant.

  8. Oh, come ON, my good doctor, I’m not even done with the MOVIES yet.

  9. Those who read and enjoyed “The Hunger Games” and, prior to that the Harry Potter Series are, in both cases reading about a young person who overcomes difficult odds through either trained or inborn talents. This is a common theme in the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre that I devour. (Over 3,000 titles on my home shelves, more on my iPad).

    But for those who might want to read more on that basic theme and to select just three authors whose work I buy, without even looking inside first, from the beginning, middle and end of the alphabet there are:

    Lois McMaster Bujold – particularly the Miles Vokosigan series one of which still reduces me to tears of laughter on re-reading.

    L.E. Modesitt Jr – particularly the Saga of Recluse series , though he also tells a good ghost story .

    David Weber – who covers a wide variety of different topics across both genres .

    There are many authors in between – Elizabeth Moon, and David Eddings spring immediately to mind – but these are a good start (without going into some of the more recent material now coming out as e-books).

    I could say that I was keeping my books to pass them off to my offspring, so that they too could share my enjoyment, but then they insist on reading obscure folk with names like Proust and the like. Sigh!

    • Maybe you can help me with this, then. When I was young, I had a fantasy book about two orphans. They went on some kind of trip, and along the way they met an anthropomorphic griffin. I’m fairly certain that the villain had a name based on the word “turpitude.” Or maybe it was the name of the place he governed. There were several fairly detailed black-and-white illustrations inside, and the cover (I had a paperback) was green with red lettering, I think. At some point they went through a cave and ate cave moss, and there was a passage describing its surprisingly pleasant taste. In the end, either it turned out that their real parents were the king and queen, or the king and queen adopted them.

      Does this ring a bell? I can’t remember what the book was called, and it’s been bugging me for a long time.

      • Of you have Usenet access, post the question to rec.arts.sf.written with the subject YASID (yet another story ID.) Their batting average on these is awesome.

  10. I will shamelessly suggest that after the Hunger Games they should turn themselves to a nice bit of interactive fiction in the form of an ongoing vampire novel written with direct reader input.

    Also I find the search terms intersting though I’m not quite sure what to do with that metric yet….

  11. Seriously why not the classics?

    Fareheight 451

    These all paved the way for modern dystopian lit.

  12. Ender’s Game. Or all the books about dragons by that homeschooled kid.

    • Dragons vs. the Evil Liberal-Secular-Humanist Agenda? It was OK.

      • You mean Star Wars with Dragons.

        Really the Eragon books are just proof of how successful you can be as a writer with schlock for a story and a good personal narrative that gets you success. Those books never would have sold out of a vanity printing if they couldn’t turn it into a commentary on public education.

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