10 books like The Big Empty

By Norman Mailer, John Buffalo Mailer,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Big Empty. Shepherd is a community of 6,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Executioner's Song

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of The Executioner's Song

Mailer’s novels from the 1960s-2007 are notoriously challenging, and I’ve seen readers wanting to see what Mailer is about sometimes make the mistake of starting with one of his more difficult, convoluted novels—Ancient Evenings or Harlot’s Ghost, for example. But The Executioner’s Song is thought by many critics to be not only his best novel (winning his second Pulitzer Prize), but his most readable, despite its length. It recounts the story and ultimate execution in January of 1977 of Gary Gilmore, who murdered two men during his release from prison on parole. But what Mailer does is work outward from that basic fact to go beyond the media circus that surrounded the case and the execution to try to understand Gilmore, his girlfriend Nicole, and the whole American setting—particularly the American West—that defined their lives. 

Joan Didion’s wonderful review in the NYTBR said Mailer had written a book…

The Executioner's Song

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Executioner's Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY ANDREW O'HAGAN

In the summer of 1976 Gary Gilmore robbed two men. Then he shot them in cold blood. For those murders Gilmore was sent to languish on Death Row - and could confidently expect his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment. In America, no one had been executed for ten years.

But Gary Gilmore wanted to die, and his ensuing battle with the authorities for the right to do so made him into a world-wide celebrity - and ensured that his execution turned into the most gruesome media event of the decade.


The Fight

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of The Fight

One of the best sports books ever written? Judge for yourself, but I think it is certainly among the best. Even if you don’t like boxing or martial arts, you’ll enjoy this eminently readable book about “the rumble in the jungle” in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, two heroic athletes in conflict. Although there are moments of self-deprecating humor and Mailer’s usual philosophical concerns, Mailer focuses squarely on the two athletes, their training camps and trainers, the people around them, and the experience of being in Africa. And then of course there is the fight itself, described in vivid and inventive detail that I found is as riveting to other readers as it is to me. The philosophical/metaphysical concerns here are part and parcel of those Mailer developed through his sixty years as a writer, but they are introduced in an easily digestible style and seem to me…

The Fight

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From one of the major innovators of New Journalism, Norman Mailer's The Fight is the real-life story of a clash between two of the world's greatest boxers, both in and out of the ring, published in Penguin Modern Classics.

Norman Mailer's The Fight focuses on the 1974 World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in Kinshasa, Zaire. Muhammad Ali met George Foreman in the ring. Foreman's genius employed silence, serenity and cunning. He had never been defeated. His hands were his instrument, and 'he kept them in his pockets the way a hunter lays his rifle back into its velvet case'. Together the…


The Naked and the Dead

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of The Naked and the Dead

This book reaches deep inside the histories and personalities of a squad of American soldiers. It meticulously displays the differences between the men themselves while painting an unflinching picture of their reactions to combat and the virtual suicidal mission they are tasked with. The war in the Pacific as monumental conflict is brought to a cellular level. Simultaneously, different strata of class systems in the U.S. are explored through dramatizations of the men’s lives before the war. If you’re at all like me, it’s impossible not to find yourself among the squad members. 

The Naked and the Dead

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Naked and the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Time of Our Time

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of The Time of Our Time

Published on the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Naked and the Dead, the book is an overview of Mailer’s entire writing career up to 1998, by way of introductions to and excepts from his decades of fiction and nonfiction. I make this recommendation as a risk because the book is a nearly 1300-page-long anthology. No one is going to sit down and read cover to cover, however, so I offer it as a way of seeing the sweep of a major author’s career; here you can dip in and out as you wish to see what’s up with a given work or topic at any point in Mailer’s publishing life, up to 1998. You can decide then what you want to read in the offered excerpt or in full, either from an included short work of magazine journalism or a short story, or from a whole…

The Time of Our Time

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE TIME OF OUR TIME is a selection of Mailer's best work, chosen by Mailer himself, and ingeniously arranged as a literary retrospective. It is a masterly, boisterous portrait of our times, seen through the fiction and reportage of a great writer. Included are passages from THE NAKED AND THE DEAD, THE ARMIES OF THE NIGHT and THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG, as well as many of his other works and his best-known magazine pieces from Marilyn Monroe to Madonna. This giant omnibus is a testament to Mailer's enormous energies, his vast curiosity, and his amazing talent and amounts almost to a…

The Shanghai Free Taxi

By Frank Langfitt,

Book cover of The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China

By offering free taxi rides in Shanghai, long-time NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt opened his ears to a wide variety of ordinary Chinese from all walks of life. Due to the pandemic, Americans haven’t been able to travel in China lately, so this is the closest a reader can get to actual conversations with Chinese people about life in China today. Most do not seem oppressed! Published in June 2019. 

The Shanghai Free Taxi

By Frank Langfitt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A unique, kaleidoscopic view of Chinese society ... A must read' Qiu Xiaolong, author of Shanghai Redemption

As any traveller knows, the best and most honest conversations take place during car rides. So when journalist Frank Langfitt wanted to learn more about the real China, he started driving a cab - and discovered a country amid seismic political and economic change.

The Chinese economic boom, with its impact on the environment, global trade, and the tech industry, has been one of the most important stories of the twenty-first century. Yet few realise that the boom is largely over, and that…


Pyongyang

By Guy Delisle, Helge Dascher (translator),

Book cover of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

The Canadian animator offers a revealing account of his two-month trip to North Korea to oversee a cartooning project. In deceptively simple words and drawings, Delisle gives us a front-row view of this complex, enigmatic totalitarian society. Everyday life in Pyongyang is rich fodder for this hilariously grumpy author. What’s it really like living in North Korea? Read this book and weep—and laugh. 

Pyongyang

By Guy Delisle, Helge Dascher (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Famously referred to as an "Axis-of-Evil" country, North Korea remains one of the most secretive and mysterious nations in the world today. A series of manmade and natural catastrophes have also left it one of the poorest. When the fortress-like country recently opened the door a crack to foreign investment, cartoonist Guy Delisle found himself in its capital of Pyongyang on a work visa for a French film animation company, becoming one of the few Westerners to witness current conditions in the surreal showcase city. Armed with a smuggled radio and a copy of 1984, Delisle could only explore Pyongyang…

The Road to Little Dribbling

By Bill Bryson,

Book cover of The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

Bill Bryson is an international treasure, a keen observer of the modern quirks and foibles of his fellow humans all over the world. His wit and ability to good-naturedly skewer just about anything and anyone are a marvel to read. This book is perhaps a sequel to his earlier work, Notes from a Small Island, but both provide valuable insights into British culture and its many charms and annoyances. Hilarious!

The Road to Little Dribbling

By Bill Bryson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Road to Little Dribbling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER READER AWARD FOR BEST TRAVEL BOOK OF THE YEAR 2016
WINNER: BOOKS ARE MY BAG READER AWARD FOR BEST AUTOBIOGRAPHY OR BIOGRAPHY 2016

Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island, was taken to the nation's heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain.Now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a…


The Beautiful and the Damned

By Siddhartha Deb,

Book cover of The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India

Readers are spoiled for choice when it comes to investigative journalism and narrative non-fiction about contemporary India, but Siddhartha Deb’s collection of essays (titled after F. Scott Fitzgerald) stands out in a crowded field. Though a decade old, it has not lost any of its relevance or punch. Deb profiles a series of unforgettable figures, from a controversial upstart businessman to emigrant engineers, peasant revolutionaries, informal industrial workers, and a waitress who serves the rich and powerful. The book moves seamlessly from the city to the countryside, exposing both the aspirations and the frustrations of capitalism as it is really lived and felt by a wide cross-section of people across India. 

The Beautiful and the Damned

By Siddhartha Deb,

Why should I read it?

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


An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

By Elizabeth McCracken,

Book cover of An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

This extraordinary book combines a lived experience with the powerful writing of an accomplished author.  Unexpectedly, in her mid-thirties, she finds a man to love and a baby is on the way. But then, the agony:  the baby dies in utero in the ninth month. She tackles head-on the deepest feelings and questions this brings. I like the way she unsparingly describes her experience and her grief, and then how she processes this and finds a way to move on. 

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

By Elizabeth McCracken,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Dear Senthuran

By Akwaeke Emezi,

Book cover of Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir

This book is written as a series of letters that could be diary entries, they are so personal and sometimes cryptic. But inside this structure, I felt myself brought into communication: the book offers a series of Mes and Yous, and I became by necessity the you across from that me. The conversation is far-reaching, from art to trauma to love affairs gone bad to the need to live authentically inside a culture that does not have the right words for one’s existence – a culture whose vocabulary actively erases one’s identity. As a genderqueer person raised between multiple places and cultures, reading a book that actively addresses what it is to live around language – just outside the reaches of it – was a revelation to me. 

Dear Senthuran

By Akwaeke Emezi,

Why should I read it?

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


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