I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells
This is the only book that I've ever read in a single sitting. I finished it at four in the morning. "Single sitting" is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, because I tried a few times to put it down and go to bed, but I couldn't. This was before I had kids, obviously.
The Hunt For Red October by Tom Clancy
Hunt more or less invented the genre of techno-thriller. Clancy's later oeuvre tends to, ahem, disappear up its own ass, but this one is still highly readable. It features Jack Ryan when he was a lovable, well-meaning data-nerd who turned out to be the only person who could solve a submarine crisis. And the movie's pretty great too--Alec Baldwin is the best Jack Ryan, as far as I'm concerned.
The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
It's dense and can be a slog at times, but there is a tremendous amount of depth and richness that no other author has ever been able to duplicate. It's hailed more as inspiring than good by many, but the older I get--and the more I learn about Anglo-Saxon--the more I appreciate what Tolkein was trying to do and what he actually accomplished with his tome.
A Journey To The Center Of The Earth by Jules Verne
I still think about the story-telling lessons I learned from this book, and it's been over twenty years since I read it. I remember being floored by the ending and seeing for the first time how visceral descriptions could make a book tangible in a way that other story-telling media can't be. I really need to re-read this one.
Mistborn (The Final Empire) by Brandon Sanderson
This book introduced me to the world of modern epic fantasy, and I learned that there's more out there than sword-and-sorcery. I didn't find out about his expansive Cosmere until much later (indeed, Sanderson may not have matched the depth of Tolkein as a world-builder, but he's certainly exceeded the breadth), and I wasn't all that happy with the way this book ended, but it was wildly inventive and really changed the way I thought about fantasy.
Rosa Lee by Leon Dash
A gripping non-fiction portrait of an underclass family struggling to survive, this was one of my first glimpses at the realities of living in poverty. It's probably a bit dated by now, but it laid a foundation for a more mature understanding of the world that I was able to build on with recent books about poverty like Ta-Nahisi Coates's Between The World And Me or Linda Torado's Hand To Mouth. And, speaking of understanding the world...
Atheist Universe by David Mills
It's not something I talk about a lot anymore, but I went through a pretty spectacular crisis of faith in my twenties and spent roughly ten years trying to figure out what I actually believed. This book helped me pick up a lot of the pieces and reassemble them into a cohesive worldview. I still read a lot about religion (just finished Steven Prothero's Religious Literacy today, in fact) because you never really stop trying to understand. And my worldview has evolved quite a bit over the last five or so years, but this one was the big "okay, I get it now" book for me.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
At roughly one hundred pages, this is a small book that manages to feel huge by making humanity itself feel small. The last chapter left me breathless. And while the stakes are low-ish throughout, it does a great job of capturing that sense of awe and wonder that speculative fiction is good for.
A Storm Of Swords by George R.R. Martin
The third book in Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire series (the basis for HBO's Game Of Thrones), this is twelve-hundred pages of our heroes getting torn to shreds. It features four weddings--yes, including that wedding--all of which are horrible in some way or another. It pays off mysteries that were set up in the early chapters of the first book. The last twenty pages are simply jaw-dropping. It's an incredible and unforgiving book.
Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
I generally eschew lit-fic, but this book is a perennial favorite. It's vulgar and shocking and completely unapologetic. It has one of the best pay-offs to a running joke that I've ever read and some delightful euphemisms for... well... all sorts of filthy stuff. For that matter, the first line is pretty great, too. And hey, they made a movie of it. Skip the movie.
- World War Z by Max Brooks
- Lafayette In The Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
- The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith by Matthew Stover (seriously, it's epic--no, really)
- Saturday by Ian McEwan (which I hated but couldn't put down)
- The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum
- Journey by Aaron Becker
- Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
- The Evolution Of God by Robert Wright
- Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
- Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
- Halting State by Charles Stross
- Fun Home by Alison Bechdel