Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ten Books that Everyone Should Read

One of my classmates asked for book recommendations yesterday on Facebook.  That seemed like a decent place to start with a blog post, so here we go.

My list of ten books that everyone should read.  And by everyone, I mean everyone who's interested in the same things that I'm interested in.

1.  Altered Carbon.  Whenever someone asks for a book recommendation, I always respond with "I always recommend Altered Carbon."  My opinion?  Altered Carbon is the most important sci fi novel to come out in the last twenty years.  The book is a cyber-punk murder mystery set in Los Angelos in a far flung but imminently recognizable future, and like all good sci fi, it's at least as much a commentary on the world today as it is somebody's musings on the future.  Addded to that is the fact that Richard K. Morgan uses language in a way that makes me groan with envy, and well... there you have it.

2.  Fletch.  Yes, it's the book that they used as the basis for a pretty funny Chevy Chase movie a few years ago.  It's also probably the best mystery novel in English language, with prose that's so terse and powerful that it's actually mind-blowing.  If I could choose to consciously write like anybody else, it would definitely be Gregory Mcdonald.  It's seems like hyperbole, but it's actually true--Fletch is one of the best novels ever written in English.

3.  Gorky Park.  Another amazing book, both in terms of plot and the sheer use of language.  Martin Cruz Smith's prose isn't quite as terse as Mcdonald's, but his world is more immersive, and the plots he comes up with are so far out there that they defy description.  The whole Arkady Renko series is well worth your time, but you have to start with Gorky Park.

4.  The Dark Knight Returns.  Whether you like comic books or not, you have to read DKR because without it, you don't have the cultural framework in place to understand what's going on in contemporary American pop culture.  Or, to put it another way, pretty much every superhero movie and TV show that's come out in the last fifteen years has been either an emulation of or a reaction against DKR or one of its many derivatives.  DKR also happens to be my favorite graphic novel, and it was reputedly the favorite of Stephen King.

5.  So Far From God: The U. S. War With Mexico, 1846-1848.  John S.D. Eisenhower was the son the former President, a former ambassador to Luxembourg, and a fellow graduate of the Military Academy.  He was also a well-respected historian and the author of my favorite non-fiction book, So Far From God.  I met him one time while still a cadet and found him to be both personable and down-to-earth.  But you should read this book because it details the careers of the Civil War's most famous personalities as company grade officers in their first combat, in what was at the time a far flung and remote part of the world.  As much as anything I've ever read, this book explains what made Stonewall Jackson such an amazing guy, and for Civil War buffs, I know of no other way to get a sense of perspective on what made the generals in the Civil War into the men that they were in their most trying hours.

6.  Starship Troopers.  Robert Heinlein is both one of my favorite authors and one of my personal heroes.  He was a service academy grad who made a living as both an engineer and an author.  Starship Troopers is a pretty famous novel, so yu might've read it already.  I like it for its own sake and also because it was prescient in terms of the direction that the U.S. Army would take with weapons development going forward.  Heinlein didn't anticipate drones, but pretty much everything else is in there.  

7.  Once an Eagle.  Once an Eagle was my father's favorite book.  He must've read it a dozen times over the course of his life.  His many flatterers often told him that he should be cast as Sam Damon when they make the eventual movie.  The book itself is historical fiction and something of a treatise on leadership.  'Nuff said.

8.  Stranger in a Strange Land.  After you read Starship Troopers, read Stranger in a Strange Land, and then consider that they were both written by the same guy!  Towards the end of his life, Heinlein became kind of a free-love hippy--a decided reversal of the norm for most older men, who become cantankerous old fuddy-duddies.  I don't know what else to say about this book, besides that the world would be a much better place if L. Ron Hubbard had used it and not whatever the Hell he actually used as the basis for Scientology.

9.  Mistborn: The Final Empire.  Brandon Sanderson is today's most important fantasy writer, and Mistborn is the book that put him on the map.  It's the book that got him the job finishing The Wheel of Time series, which in itself is quite an accomplishment--and oh, by the way, he finished it in much better form than it had been rolling along in its previous half dozen or so incarnations.  Anyway, I hesitate to call Mistborn a steampunk book, but I'm not sure what else I could call it; it's not like anything else I've ever read.  Plus, it's got a strong female protagonist who spends zero minutes pining over boys...  Great book, really.

10.  Neuromancer.  The first cyber-punk book and the basis (at least in part) for the movie Johnny Neumonic.  Neuromancer is likea fever-dream of the future, its language beautiful and overwhelming.  This is another one of those books that you really have to read if you want to understand what's going on in today's version of American pop culture.


  1. I downloaded Altered Carbon. I'll let you know what I think.

    1. That's excellent. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  2. I finished Altered Carbon. Wow, what a great read. Thanks. It was fast paced and kept my interest. Plenty of surprises and strangeness but in a good way. For example, right when the main character is about to fight for his life, the author's wording makes me laugh out loud. I liked reading a sex scene from the man's perspective rather than a woman's. Not what I'm used to. My favorite part was chapter 38. I had to read it twice. First as it came up and then after I'd finished the book.

    I'm reading The Black Count by Tom Reiss, since it was already in my Nook. It is informative without being boring. I'll try to do another book from your list...but Fletch or Gorky Park? Really! this one was great so... I'll keep the faith. Which one should I read next? I almost want to read another Takeshi Kovacs novel. Are there others?

  3. That's great.

    Yeah, there are two more Takeshi Kovacs novels. I can't remember their names off the top of my head, but they're both also really great. I also really liked MARKET FORCES, probably because I work for a Fortune 500 company in NYC, but that one isn't as well-respected in general as the Kovacs novels are. Finally, Morgan is two books into a fantasy trilogy--that I LOVE--but it's infamous among fantasy fans because the protagonist is gay, and Morgan treats the gay sex with the same--explicit--srorytelling that he uses in all of his other novels. The first book in that series is callers THE STEEL REMAINS.

    Of the others, FLETCH is by far the easiest read. If you go with GORKY PARK, set your other plans aside. That book is long and brilliant, and there are five or six of them.

  4. All of those sound good. The gay sex doesn't bother me. Perhaps because I'm a woman ("Bob Ben" is the Google Voice translation of Robbin!) and have read other books with gay sex scenes before. I'm still reading the Tom Reiss book on the real life of the Count of Monte Cristo. You might like it as you majored in European History.

    It is always nice to have something good to read next. Now, thanks to you, I have several books on my to read list. My work is busy and stressful of late, so I won't be reading Gorky Park in the near future. Guess I should get back to mailing out my Christmas cards, taking down Thanksgiving/Halloween decorations and putting up Christmas decorations. Not to mention, cyber shopping!

    1. I didn't realize that the Count of Monte Cristo was a real dude. I'll definitely have to take a look at that.

    2. The author, Alexandre Dumas, based the Count's character on his own father's real life. He had a very unusual life to say the least. I'm almost finished with it.