Good Minds Suggest—Lauren Groff's Favorite Books About Utopia

Posted by Goodreads on March 5, 2012
A living experiment for just government, perfect social conditions, and the ultimate plus—human happiness—communes have persisted throughout history as a means of chasing utopia. Novelist Lauren Groff examines the idealistic founding and inevitable fall of a small society in upstate New York in her new novel, Arcadia. Told through the unusual life of Bit Stone, the first child born on the commune in the late 1960s, the story unfolds as he ages within a struggling community and is thrust into mainstream society as an adult. Groff is also the author of the novel The Monsters of Templeton and the short story collection Delicate Edible Birds. The Florida writer shares with Goodreads her favorite books that whisper the promise of utopia.

Utopia by Thomas More
"In this book first published in 1516, Sir Thomas More coined the word 'utopia;' it's a portmanteau from the Greek 'outopos' (No-place) and 'eutopos' (Best-place), e.g., an imaginary place of perfection. Many people have taken More seriously, reading prescription into its ideas, but I find his utopia satirical (there are toilets made of gold!). Utopia also sets the bar for the next five centuries: If tension is the brick and mortar of narrative, how does one write about a 'perfect' place without being mind-numbingly dull? More succeeds in fascinating a reader where those who come after him (Bellamy, Morris, Campanella, et cetera) frequently fail."

Paradise Lost by John Milton
"Eden is, of course, the ur-utopia, its loss the original bone-deep wound. True to form, Eden is a sunny, pacific, fruited bore until Satan slithers in with all of his arrogance and nobility. I adore this epic poem and reread it yearly. It's a toss-up whether its most compelling aspect is Milton's startling language or his Satan, who is surely literature's most magnetic villain."

Desire and Duty at Oneida: Tirzah Miller's Intimate Memoir by Tirzah Miller Herrick, edited by Robert S. Fogarty
"Of the real-life utopianist experiments I studied for Arcadia, Oneida was the one I fell for most deeply. For much of the 19th century Oneida was enormously successful and mostly admirable until its strange sexual practices led to its demise. This is a memoir by a prominent young woman in the group who was the founder's niece as well as one of his many lovers. Her story is a glorious train wreck."

In Utopia: Six Kinds of Eden and the Search for a Better Paradise by J.C. Hallman
"This book is a wonderful oddity, a personal tour through a number of utopianist experiments that both gently skewers said experiments and argues for our need for them. Hallman is so funny and clever that I'd read anything he writes."

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
"Most utopian texts have a sort of shadow-dystopia that attaches to them or, at the very least, an implicit condemnation of the current order of things. Calvino is too subtle and seductive to be pinned down: It is unclear whether the descriptions of the cities that Marco Polo is relating to Kublai Khan in this narrative are utopian or dystopian, some mix, or metaphors for one very real place. Many readers won't read this book as a utopian text, but the last paragraph slays me. Polo is talking about the ways to escape suffering in the inferno of living: "Seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space." That is the definition of utopian to me."

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)

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message 1: by Kieran (new)

Kieran How about "Herland" Herland

message 3: by Dano (new)

Dano Cammarota The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin

message 4: by Audrey (new)

Audrey I recommend Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach. This recently republished novel could be considered an alternative history. It is chock-full of fascinating, startling ideas. This book is a must-read for anyone who dreams of a sustainable, peaceful way of life in America.

message 5: by Judy (new)

Judy On the skewering side, as she does so well, is The Oasis by Mary McCarthy.

message 6: by Judy (new)

Judy By the way, Arcadia is my new favorite Utopian tale. The novel is nothing less than astonishing.

message 7: by ninamo (new)

ninamo The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant

message 8: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Harvey I also recommend Ecotopia Emerging, by Ernest Callenback, followup to his first book. I've read most
of these on the list and looking forward to reading Arcadia. maggie

message 9: by Kendrea (new)

Kendrea Moccia Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy

message 10: by Joanne (new)

Joanne How about the BIBLE!! Explains the real utopia to come...HEAVEN...and, you might consider "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand...

message 11: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Harvey Looking Backward - great read. Atlas Shrugged, one of
my all time favorites (see the movie). The BIBLE, studies in the book of Daniel and Revelation especially for today's world.
The Butterfly Revolution - William Butler
Erewhon - Samuel Butler

message 12: by Mirelli (new)

Mirelli Islandia by Wright

message 13: by Janebbooks (last edited Mar 16, 2012 05:03AM) (new)

Janebbooks LOST HORIZON is a 1933 novel by English writer James Hilton. The book was turned into a movie in 1937 by director Frank Capra of the same title. It is best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La, a fictional utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet.

It was published in paperback form in 1939 and has never been out of print.

Shangri-La...the ultimate utopia

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Huxley's _Brave New World_ is not on here?

...okay, it is a satirical DYSTOPIA,
but an invaluable read and analysis for some social awareness for our current days..hmm..

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

not to mention the Bible of course ;) and Atlas Shrugged.

message 16: by Derek (new)

Derek Dano wrote: "The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin"


message 17: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Harvey Going back to 1840, Travels in Icaria by Etienne Cabet, French classic on Utopia/Communism, radical in its day.

message 18: by Lyric (new)

Lyric I'm going to come into this discussion to beg: while ill, years ago, I read a short story about a utopian village in which the narrator found a state of Bliss existed - except in one hut, kept aside from the others, in which an injured, abused child was housed.

The author was told that, as long as the status quo was maintained - the perpetual agony of one child for the on-going Utopian existance of everyone else - well, the status quo would be maintained!

I know that this short story was NOT written by Isaac Azimov, but have never been able to remember (nor discover) by whom it was written.

The story has been festering in my head for years (not a healthy situation!), and I'd be eternally grateful to anyone with whom it strikes a chord/rings a bell, anyone who can direct me to the tale itself and/or the writer!

message 19: by Janebbooks (last edited Mar 31, 2012 02:53PM) (new)

Janebbooks In the issue of April 6 for ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY magazine, the editor Jess Cagle on his page comments that his magazine's books coverage is "what keeps us from the animals" after he highly praises his Senior Book Editor for "her passion for literature and love of new voices."

She has a sharp eye for spotting the Next Big Thing
he states and adds...........

Stephen King gave the first HUNGER GAMES novel a big boost when he reviewed it for EW way back in 2008. ("as negative utopias go, Suzanne Collins has created a dilly," King wrote.)

HUNGER GAMES a negative utopia? I am seriously interested. Any Goodreads member think the same?
Let me know.


message 20: by Masha (new)

Masha I don't know if fantasy realms qualify here, but my ultimate utopia would be a world like Myradelle, in the novel Enchanters: Glys of Myradelle by David Bryan Russell. This beautiful world is not only totally in harmony with the natural world, but is also run on the "female" principle of life, health and caring as paramount values - a wonderful contrast to our present society.Enchanters: Glys of Myradelle

message 21: by Michael (new)

Michael O. Lyric wrote: "I'm going to come into this discussion to beg: while ill, years ago, I read a short story about a utopian village in which the narrator found a state of Bliss existed - except in one hut, kept asid..."

That would be "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. LeGuin:

message 22: by Amy (new)

Amy Kieran wrote: "How about "Herland" Herland"


message 23: by Amy (new)

Amy I love Arcadia!
also to consider:
Utopia Drive - author visits sites of previous and current experiments in America - very insightful - Loved this
Island by Aldous Huxley - less well-known than BNW but worth the read
Feminist Utopias - interesting review of them
Egalia's Daughters - EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS! A mind-blowing inversion of the patriarchy - puts our established customs in relief
Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy - also fantastic! refreshing
He, She, and It - Marge Piercy

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