100 books like Ask the Dust

By John Fante,

Here are 100 books that Ask the Dust fans have personally recommended if you like Ask the Dust. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of A Fan's Notes

Trish MacEnulty Author Of The Hummingbird Kiss: My Life as an Addict in the 1970s

From my list on memoirs about or by addicts, drunks, and f#@k ups.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a recovered (not “recovering”) addict and writer. These days I write historical fiction because I enjoy an escape from present-day reality, and research is fun. But I started writing as a way to make sense of my chaotic world and in hopes of healing myself. Something was broken inside me, and I didn’t know how to fix it. So I wrote about the shadowy realms of my life and kept on writing until somehow I was able to let go of the past and create a different life, one which would not land me upside down in a ditch with my neck broken and my tires spinning. 

Trish's book list on memoirs about or by addicts, drunks, and f#@k ups

Trish MacEnulty Why did Trish love this book?

I cannot overstate how amazing this book (an autobiographical novel) is.

I was just trying to figure out how to write my own story when a professor recommended this book. I was blown away. At the time I read it, I wasn’t a big sports fan, but this is so not a book about sports. It’s about the rage, the wild beast inside us, and how we learn to live with it, and that it’s okay to be a mess as you do it.

By the time I finished the book, I felt like I had my own Virgil to lead me through the circles of hell. The writing in this book is like a drug in itself. It truly got me high.  

By Frederick Exley,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Fan's Notes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The narrator of this tale is the ultimate unreconstructed male. his primary concerns are booze, sex and the New York Giants. But things go very wrong for him - he drinks too much, he's impotent, and the Giants start to lose. So we follow his trail, through failed marriages, to mental hospital.


Book cover of The Gambler

David Flusfeder Author Of Luck: A Personal Account of Fortune, Chance and Risk in Thirteen Investigations

From my list on luck: winning, losing, and seeing opportunity.

Why am I passionate about this?

My father, when he consented to talk about all the moments in his life when the odds against his survival were so small as to make them statistically non-existent, would say, ‘I was lucky.’ Trying to understand what he meant got me started on this book. As well as being a novelist, I’m a poker player. Luck is a subject that every poker player has a relationship to; more importantly it’s a subject that every person has a relationship to. The combination of family history and intellectual curiosity and the gambler’s desire to win drove me on this quest.

David's book list on luck: winning, losing, and seeing opportunity

David Flusfeder Why did David love this book?

This novel is the best account of the gambling psychology I know. It is a first-person narrative, ruthless in its depiction of the lies that addicts know they’re telling themselves. The story of a resentful compulsive gambler, the poor but superior tutor to a Russian family at “Roulettenburg,” it was itself the subject of a bet. Dostoevsky signed away his next decade’s worth of publishing profits unless he could deliver a new novel within a year. With six weeks to go he hadn’t written a word. He delivered the completed novel several hours before the deadline was going to pass. 

By Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Gambler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The Gambler" is a gripping narrative of the dangers of an addiction to gambling. As was common with Dostoyevsky's writing he draws upon his own life in a semi-autobiographical way in "The Gambler". Dostoyevksy himself suffered from a compulsion to gambling and those first-hand experiences bring a depth of realism to "The Gambler" and to his portrayal of the main character, Alexis Ivanovitch, a young man addicted to gambling. "The Gambler" is an insightful look at the compulsive nature of the gambling addict and the tragic consequences of such an addiction.


Book cover of Cassidy's Girl

Peter Alson Author Of The Only Way To Play It

From my list on characters who are down and out.

Why am I passionate about this?

All of the books on my list are about characters who—either due to their own failings and character flaws, or bad luck, or the body blows that life has thrown their way, or a combination of all those things—have hit rock bottom (though as it sometimes turns out, there’s a bottom below that bottom). I think because of my own struggles, and because I’ve often been my own worst enemy, I’ve found comfort in reading stories of this sort. Like many of the writers on my list, I’ve also found that, more often than not, the only way out was to start writing about what I was going through. 

Peter's book list on characters who are down and out

Peter Alson Why did Peter love this book?

Nearly every Goodis novel features an antihero who has fallen from a higher station in life and is now living on the fringes. In this one, Jim Cassidy, once a highly respected airline pilot until a disastrous plane crash leaves him a broken man, now finds himself driving a bus on a dead-end route, consoling himself with a drink at the neighborhood watering hole where he met his cheating wife and trying to figure out how not to get dragged down even deeper. Of course, things do get even worse for him, and not even the surprising “happy ending” can change the inevitability of the ultimate crash we know is coming for him and for all of us.

By David Goodis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cassidy's Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

They say that a man needs a woman to go to hell with. Cassidy had two. One was Mildred, the wife who kept him chained with ties of fear and jealousy and paralyzing sexual need. The other was Doris, a frail angel with a 100-proof halo and a bottle instead of a harp. With those two, Cassidy found that the ride to hell could be twice as fast.

Goodis holds his rightful place in the pantheon of noir writers, alongside Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, and Charles Williams. His writing stays true and never wavers, is never prettified. His characters always…


Book cover of Fat City

Jonathan Starke Author Of You've Got Something Coming

From my list on boxing with tough, vulnerable characters.

Why am I passionate about this?

All these pugilistic narratives touch on people in hardship moving through dark spaces in their lives. I care about people on the fringes. I’ve known many people who have little or nothing. For a lot of my life, I’ve had little. I used to box. When something’s in your blood, you think about it every day. I can’t remember a day I haven’t thought about boxing. Once you’ve done it, it’s hard not to want to go back. You try to just pretend it away, but when it’s in you, it’s got hold. Because I understand this so well, feel it, have lived it, I absorb these boxing stories in a different kind of way. 

Jonathan's book list on boxing with tough, vulnerable characters

Jonathan Starke Why did Jonathan love this book?

I first picked up this novel the year I started boxing. It follows the rough lives of Billy Tully and Ernie Munger, two boxers living in separate but parallel worlds—Tully an aging boxer fooled into thinking he can relive a few more glory days and Munger figuring out the hard lessons of what it means to lose. I love how this novel amplifies people eking out difficult lives who spend most of their time in dive bars, cheap motels, and seedy parts of town engaging with dubious, colorful characters. The writing is sparse, direct, sad, and unsentimental. Here Gardner is always pursuing a tough reality.

By Leonard Gardner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Fat City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Tremendous' Geoff Dyer

'A pitch-perfect account of boxing, blue-collar bewilderment and the battle of the sexes' San Francisco Chronicle

A major cult film directed by John Huston

Stockton, California: a town of dark bars and lunchrooms, cheap hotels and farm labourers scratching a living. When two men meet in the Lido Gym - the ex-boxer Billy Tully and the novice Ernie Munger - their brief sparring session sets a fateful story in motion, initiating young Munger into the "company of men" and luring Tully back into training.

Fat City is a vivid novel of defiance and struggle, of the potent…


Book cover of High Fidelity

Abraham Chang Author Of 888 Love and the Divine Burden of Numbers

From my list on incorporating pop culture in unexpected ways.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a publishing professional for over 20 years, I’ve worked in a variety of jobs and positions with some of the biggest pop culture creators and brands. Just before the pandemic, I finally took time to invest in myself as a writer and set out to combine my lifelong passions for film, TV, music, video games, and books–with my skills as an award-winning poet–to write my debut novel, from my “certain point of view” as a first-generation Asian American. The books on my list here are from some of the authors that I admire–who are also “one of us”: the bookworms, the pop culture geeks, the hopeless romantics. 

Abraham's book list on incorporating pop culture in unexpected ways

Abraham Chang Why did Abraham love this book?

If there is anything I can relate to and appreciate, it’s how music informs every aspect of life. All the big and small moments–there is a song, a soundtrack for that. Nick Hornby is certainly one of “my people” who totally gets it.

Though our music preferences may not have a tight Venn Diagram collision–I can understand how his song and band choices help to tell the story and add to the reader's sensory experience of that certain feeling for that certain someone–heart-pumping adrenaline/soul-wrenching heartbreak. Music nerds like us–we appreciate this shorthand, playing in the background at 33 rpm. The songs (and the stories) remain the same (sort of?)–they just get played in different rotations.  

By Nick Hornby,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked High Fidelity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I've always loved Nick Hornby, and the way he writes characters and the way he thinks. It's funny and heartbreaking all at the same time."—Zoë Kravitz

From the bestselling author of Funny Girl, About a Boy, A Long Way Down and Dickens and Prince, a wise and hilarious novel about love, heartbreak, and rock and roll.

Rob is a pop music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a…


Book cover of The Great Reclamation

Daryl Qilin Yam Author Of Lovelier, Lonelier

From my list on thick novels about star-crossed, ill-fated lovers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m one of those writers who’d identify themselves as readers first, and as an oft-bullied queer kid growing up in Singapore, I often found refuge and salvation in writers whose works were able to refashion and reimagine our lives, however intimately or grandly. I grew up devouring fantasy of all kinds; I went from Enid Blyton to Charmed, for instance, before discovering in my later adolescence the manifold possibilities of magical realism and the other expanses contained within the realm(s) of speculative fiction. Many of the books in this particular list were especially useful in crafting my second novel, Lovelier, Lonelier

Daryl's book list on thick novels about star-crossed, ill-fated lovers

Daryl Qilin Yam Why did Daryl love this book?

This is what I said when Singapore Unbound invited me to nominate my personal Book of the Year on their blog, Suspect: “Rachel Heng's The Great Reclamation is a novel that thoroughly deserves the moniker of the Great Singapore Novel.”

And I mean it: I’m hardly patriotic, so trust me when I say that I was totally swept away with its vision, its heart, its loving attention to detail. Here, the only parallel realities that split our lovers apart are the sides of history they’ve chosen to occupy. 

By Rachel Heng,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Reclamation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE NEW AMERICAN VOICES AWARD

LONGLISTED FOR THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE AND THE JOYCE CAROL OATES PRIZE

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY TIME, TOWN & COUNTRY, KIRKUS, ELECTRIC LITERATURE AND BOOKPAGE!

"Stunning…epic…impressive…It is a pleasure to simply live alongside these characters.”—The New York Times

"A deep and powerful love story."—NBC The Today Show

"A beautifully written novel. I loved so much in this book: the richly imagined setting, the complicated love story, and the heartbreaking way history can tear apart a family."—Ann Napolitano, New York Times bestselling author of Hello Beautiful

Set against…


Book cover of Reasons to Be Cheerful

Sue Clark Author Of A Novel Solution

From my list on funny things that make you stop and think.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always loved writing comedy, since my first attempt at a joke in the school magazine. I never thought I’d get to do it professionally but somehow, through cheek and luck, I found myself as a comedy scriptwriter for the BBC, penning lines for the likes of Lenny Henry and Tracey Ullman. I’ve since gone on to have a career writing more grown-up things but nothing gave me as much pleasure as creating those lines. So I’ve returned to my comedic roots, writing comic novels. And it’s still a thrill to know I’ve written words that make people laugh.

Sue's book list on funny things that make you stop and think

Sue Clark Why did Sue love this book?

The on-target humour of this book helped get me through the lockdown. It is a comic novel about love, lust, and guerrilla dentistry in 1980s Leicester. How could I resist that? 

I found the main character–teenager Lizzie Vogel, the guerrilla dentist in question–to be a hilarious and compelling creation, filled with the arrogance and naïveté of youth, very much in the tradition of Adrian Mole. 

In fact, the book teems with entertaining, richly observed characters and absurd situations. Though there is plenty to laugh at, what impressed me most was Nina Stibbe’s gift for making her characters so real that, even while I was laughing at their antics, I felt great sympathy for them and their disappointments. 

By Nina Stibbe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reasons to Be Cheerful as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lizzie Vogel's story continues in Reasons to be Cheerful, the brilliantly comic sequel to Nina Stibbe's hilarious books Man at the Helm and Paradise Lodge.

WINNER OF THE BOLLINGER EVERYMAN WODEHOUSE PRIZE FOR COMIC FICTION
WINNER OF THE COMEDY WOMEN IN PRINT PRIZE

'I read all of Reasons To Be Cheerful in one glorious gulp' CAITLIN MORAN

*****

Teenager Lizzie Vogel has a new job as a dental assistant. This is not as glamorous as it sounds.

At least it means mostly getting away from her alcoholic, nymphomaniacal, novel-writing mother. But, if Lizzie thinks being independent means sex with her…


Book cover of Villages

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been captivated by interesting people since I was a kid. Family members always thought I asked too many questions of people, trying to learn more about who they are. For that reason, when I started reading fiction, I looked for characters with originality who opened new horizons and who I wanted to hang out with. (That’s also why I host the Novelist Spotlight podcast.) I agree 100 percent with novelist Larry McMurtry, who said: “For me, the novel is character creation. Unless the characters convince and live, the book’s got no chance.” The books I placed on my list reflect this belief. I hope you dig them.

Mike's book list on character-driven books with colorful, eccentric and dysfunctional protagonists and antagonists

Mike Consol Why did Mike love this book?

The sheer command of the English language displayed by John Updike is something I marvel at, but he is at the height of his powers in this novel. What’s more, it’s a sexy book in the old-fashioned sense of men desiring women and women wanting to be desired by men.

I consider this Updike’s best novel because the story moves ahead at a great pace and is filled with tension between its characters. If someone told me it is largely about the computer revolution, I would have been suspicious. No need to be. Owen, the main character, starts as a young boy, goes into the computer business, finds success, has seemingly endless dalliances with women, and eventually meets his end. I found it to be a great ride.

By John Updike,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Villages as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Owen Mackenzie's life story abounds with sin and seduction, domesticity and debauchery. His marriage to his college sweetheart is quickly followed by his first betrayal and he embarks upon a series of affairs. His pursuit of happiness, in a succession of small towns from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, brings him to the edge of chaos, from which he is saved by a rescue that carries its own fatal price.


Book cover of The Sound of Waves

Marian Frances Wolbers Author Of Rider

From my list on a sweet journey into Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been enjoying Japanese stories from the moment I first found them, a direct result of living, studying, and working in Japan for five years, from Imari City (in Kyushu Island) to Tokyo (on Honshu). The pacing of Japanese novels—starting out slowly and deliberately, then speeding up like a tsunami out of nowhere—totally appeals to me, and feels infinitely more connected to exploring the subtleties, complexity, and beauty of relationships. This is especially true when compared to Western novels, which seem overly obsessed with splashing grand, dramatic action and injury on every other page. I just love revisiting Japan through reading.

Marian's book list on a sweet journey into Japan

Marian Frances Wolbers Why did Marian love this book?

This is a gorgeous coming-of-age novel about a young, poor fisherman named Shinji who falls head over heels in love with a new girl on the island of Utajima. Japan’s most famous writer, Mishima, sets his romance in post-WWII where the innocence of Shinji and Hatsue is as pure and passionate as can be. The wind, the waves, the sea, the kiss that tastes of salt—all of nature intertwine with human life. The problem: Hatsue is actually the long-gone daughter of a major family who wants her to marry someone of equal social standing. With its humorous episodes, close descriptive imagery, and a plot that displays Mishima’s unabashed devotion to old-style traditions and customs, this little novel is one of my all-time favorites. 

By Yukio Mishima, Meredith Weatherby (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sound of Waves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in a remote fishing village in Japan, The Sound of Waves is a timeless story of first love. A young fisherman is entranced at the sight of the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man in the village. They fall in love, but must then endure the calumny and gossip of the villagers.


Book cover of Normal People

Freddie Gillies Author Of Because All Fades

From my list on love and friendship set in Europe.

Why am I passionate about this?

The best fiction explores complex relationships between friends and lovers. I’ve been fascinated by this for as long as I can remember because love and friendship are the cornerstones of human existence. As concepts, they give life meaning yet can also take it away. They bring us together but can also leave us estranged. The sun-soaked cities of Europe have for so long been playgrounds for young lovers and friends, enjoying both the best of life and the most melancholy. I love traveling Europe–the grandeur, the romance, the happy-sad sentiment of it all. It embodies the topic and makes for the most beautiful setting.

Freddie's book list on love and friendship set in Europe

Freddie Gillies Why did Freddie love this book?

I read this book in a few sittings. That’s how hooked it had me. There’s something about the delicacy and complexity of the relationship between the two protagonists that makes this book stand out. I love the book for this. I felt connected to the characters, invested in their future, and even furious at their inability to make things work at times (they were made for each other!). Their insecurities and feelings of inadequacy are so relatable yet so often not talked about.

I loved the way the book explores deeper male emotions and the pressure felt by men in a world where talking about feelings has historically been seen as a weakness. Lastly, I love it because it is lyrical, melancholic, hopeful, and real. All of that is what life is. 

By Sally Rooney,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Normal People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW AN EMMY-NOMINATED HULU ORIGINAL SERIES • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A stunning novel about the transformative power of relationships” (People) from the author of Conversations with Friends, “a master of the literary page-turner” (J. Courtney Sullivan).
 
ONE OF THE TEN BEST NOVELS OF THE DECADE—Entertainment Weekly

TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR—People, Slate, The New York Public Library, Harvard Crimson

AND BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR—The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, O: The Oprah Magazine, Time, NPR, The Washington Post, Vogue, Esquire, Glamour, Elle, Marie Claire, Vox, The Paris Review, Good Housekeeping, Town &…


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