I’m often asked what books I enjoy reading. I read a lot of different genres, so it’s not a quick question to answer. Instead, here is a short list of some of my favorite books.
The Lord of the Rings — J.R.R. Tolkien
My introduction to the fantasy genre was The Hobbit, which I still enjoy and re-read every few years. The Lord of the Rings is what cemented me as a fantasy reader. If you’re a fantasy fan, you’ve read it. If you haven’t read it, you don’t like fantasy, so move on to the next genre. What can I say? Tolkien is the grandfather of the fantasy genre. Nearly every epic fantasy novel or series draws from it in one way or another.
The Sword of Shannara Trilogy — Terry Brooks
I first read The Sword of Shannara when I was in junior high school. I loved it then, and still enjoy it. Terry Brooks is often maligned for both his rough writing in the first book in the Shannara series and for his Lord of the Rings style story. I’ll admit the writing is rough, with a lot of “suddenly’s” and severe head-hopping, but the writing’s not as bad as some people try to make it sound. As for the storyline, see my comment above about Lord of the Rings.
The Chronicles of Narnia — C.S. Lewis
Another classic that I read in grade school. I loved five of the seven books and enjoyed the other two. My favorite is a tie between Voyage of the Dawntreader, and The Magician’s Nephew. Voyage is just a fun trip. It’s almost like a series of short stories with an underlying story arc. The Magician’s Nephew, on the other hand, is a darker tale than the previous books in the series and provides the background behind the Narnian world. And it explains why there’s a lamppost in the middle of the woods. (Some say Lewis included it to poke fun at his friend Tolkien who said “there are no lampposts in fantasy.” I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s a fun story.)
The Sunset Warrior — Eric Van Lustbader
I’m re-reading this one again, years (decades) after I first read it. This series was probably the first book I went to the library to specifically check out. When I was growing up, our local library was a little more than a quarter mile from our house. I would ride my bike there in a few minutes and spend hours going through books looking for new worlds to explore. But this series was recommended to me by a friend. It’s a dystopian story, so some classify it as sci-fi, but regardless of the setting, the story is more fantasy. By the way, Eric Van Lustbader took over writing the Jason Bourne books after Robert Ludlum died.
The Chronicles of Prydain — Lloyd Alexander
Another fantasy series I read as a kid. This one was an easy read for me at ten, but enjoyable enough that I have re-read it several times. I still have my original box set—with the first three books in the series—lying around somewhere. I just saw it the other day, actually.
Meridian Six — Jaye Wells
The first book in Jaye Wells’ dystopian vampire series. What happens when vampires take over the world? True Blood never quite got there, but Meridian Six does. Our hero escapes the frying pan and finds herself in the fire. A cool twist on the dystopian and vampire genres. This one is better classified as “Urban Fantasy.”
The Shining — Stephen King
Good grief, there are so many Stephen King books I could list here. I narrowed it down to one, a virtually impossible task. I don’t think it qualifies as my favorite, but if you’ve never read King (is that even possible???), then The Shining is a good place to start. It was the first King book I read and hooked me on his writing for life. If you liked the movie, you’ll love the book. If you didn’t like the movie, try the book anyway. It’s significantly better.
Watchers — Dean Koontz
Like King, Koontz has a lot of choices here. I picked Watchers because it is frequently recommended as a first Koontz book. Koontz likes to include dogs in his books, and this one is no exception. The dog is one of the main characters, but it’s not as corny as it sounds. There are several sub-plots in this one. My favorite one involves a hit-man who thinks he’s immortal. What a cool character.
Ghost Story — Peter Straub
Arguably his best novel. A story about old men sitting around telling ghost stories. Well, that’s not what it’s really about. A lot of people claim to dislike it because it starts off slow. That’s pretty typical for the time it was written. I think that in today’s fast-paced world, readers just don’t have the patience they used to. This one is for curling up and getting lost, not for reading at stoplights or waiting for the lasagne to heat up in the microwave.
Something Wicked This Way Comes — Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is best known as a sci-fi author, and I do love his sci-fi. “A Sound of Thunder” was my introduction to Bradbury and is still one of my favorite short stories of all time. But my favorite book by Bradbury is this one. I don’t know if this was the first carnival/circus horror story, but it certainly set the bar for the rest. With so many horror novels being oriented for more mature audiences (mine included), this one is horror that can be enjoyed by the whole family.
2001: A Space Odyssey — Arthur C. Clarke
I saw the movie first. Almost made me pass on the book. I read the book because everyone praised the movie as genius. I felt the movie was a steaming pile of schlock. Sure, it had some great visuals that I still enjoy watching, but I only enjoy the movie having read the book. I know, it’s about the subtext. Well, the movie is best used to cure insomnia. And the ending would probably be best viewed while on LSD. The book, however, really is genius. So much so that I consider it one of my most recommended sci-fi books.
Dune — Frank Herbert
When I first read this one, I had a hard time finishing it. It’s not a light book. But if you can settle in and get engrossed, it’s a great story. Don’t judge it by the movies made from the book. It’s just a way too involved story to get into a two-hour movie. This one is on my “re-read soon” list.
War of the Worlds — H.G. Wells
I saw the movie (the 1953 version) when I was a kid. It was exciting and scary and awesome. Then I discovered it was based on a book! I had to read it. And that beautiful movie, that I still love, far more than the Tom Cruise version, became a pale shadow. What a great story. It’s a short book by today’s standards, especially when you could almost classify it as an epic. Maybe it can be called an epic-sci-fi-short-story. If you’ve never read H.G. Wells, this one is an excellent introduction.
The Martian — Andy Weir
Andy Weir’s blog-post novel turned mega-blockbuster. As an indie author, I enjoyed his success. As a sci-fi fan, I loved his story. Told mostly as a series of journal entries by the main character, the story is gripping even after you’ve seen the movie and know the end.
The Hunt for Red October — Tom Clancy
I saw the movie first and had to read the book. There are a bunch of books in his Jack Ryan series, but this is the first. It’s also the shortest (at 387 pages) and easiest read. Each book in the series is longer than the previous one until you get to the last one which cuts way back to a mere 618 pages. These are the quintessential techno-thrillers. If you are looking to break into the genre, or Tom Clancy specifically, The Hunt for Red October is a great place to start.
The Firm — John Grisham
Just as Tom Clancy can be looked at as the bar for techno-thrillers, John Grisham can be arguably seen as the bar for legal thrillers. If you’ve ever seen the movie version with Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman, you’ll think you know what to expect. But the book and the movie diverge at several points. The ending of the book is much more realistic than the movie. I won’t give it away, but I will say don’t count on your memory of the movie.
Along Came a Spider — James Patterson
A lot of great thriller books get turned into movies, and this one is no exception. But like most of the others, just because you’ve seen the movie doesn’t mean you know what’s going to happen in the book. This is the first of Patterson’s Alex Cross series. It gives you a good introduction to the character, as well as a plot that will keep you guessing until the end (although I’ll admit I had my suspicions about halfway through). Patterson likes to use short chapters to give a faster feel to his stories. It does make it easy to read in small doses if you only get short periods of reading time.
The Friendship of Criminals — Robert Glinski
Glinski was a lawyer. A criminal defense attorney. In Philadelphia. The characters in The Friendship of Criminals are loosely based on people he met as a lawyer, though the story is pure fiction. You can tell he knows his subjects. A fun, easy read. An excellent example of the “write what you know” advice given to beginning writers. Only what he knows is a lot more interesting than what most people know.
Jaws — Peter Benchley
I saved this one for last. It was the first novel I ever read. I don’t even think I’d seen the movie yet when I read it. Of course, I was eight years old, so, there’s that. This is the book that gave me my lifetime love of fiction. It makes you want to reach into the page and smack the characters for being dumbasses. Every single one of them. Except Quint. Him you just want to hang out with and listen to his stories. Yes, you are rooting for the characters, but they all do boneheaded things. Just like real people. I love this book. I love the movie too, but the book is better. Although, I do have to admit that I prefer the ending of the movie better than the book.