Perhaps lists of book award winners and nominees intimidate you. Certainly, some of those literary works are less enjoyable and more, well, literary than you bargained for. There are a few in my reading past that I definitely don't understand the appeal, critically or otherwise. (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I'm looking at you.) However, prize lists can be a great place to discover an author outside of your normal reading habits. They can be gold mines for first-time or foreign authors, many of whom won't show up at your local big-box book store.
I recently read Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch, which is on the Man Booker prize long list and the Orange prize long list. Carol Birch is not a first time author, but is a British novelist (one of the requirements for both prizes). Written in a deceptively simple style, the story drew me right in. The story has been compared to both Dickens and Melville's work, neither author being on my favorites list, though I think that the similarities are mainly superficial. It reminds me, and others as well, of Yann Martel's Life of Pi, with rather dreamy interludes, though at the end you are not left to muse about the nature of reality. Instead, the nature of friendship and sanity are examined, leaving the reader with both a sense of melancholy and relief. I won't say more about it, though I highly recommend it, with one caveat: squeamish readers need not apply.