In no particular order. Also note that this is not an exhaustive list; these are just the ones which came to mind today. I’ve done my best to explain each selection. As always, your mileage may vary, and yes, those are mostly affiliate links below. Mostly.
- Ringworld by Larry Niven – One of my earliest introductions to “Big Idea” hard science fiction. I had read plenty of Asimov when I was younger, and flipped through Bradbury and Clarke in middle school, but I discovered Niven and quantum physics in high school, and things have never been the same since.
- Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov – Speaking of The Human Typewriter… I’ve always enjoyed detective stories, police dramas, and buddy comedies. And adding robots makes everything more awesome! I’m sure reading about Elijah Baley and Daneel Olivaw paved the way for me to later write all those Jake and Andy stories. (And no, I just couldn’t get into Almost Human.)
- Hyperion by Dan Simmons – Actually, all four books of the “Hyperion cantos.” I picked up the entire set in paperback at an sf/f convention dealer’s room, and like so many of my books, they sat on the shelf for months or years before I got around to reading them. I wish I hadn’t waited so long, because they really made me want to write my own fiction again, after a too-long hiatus.
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin – If you haven’t read this yet, go and get it right now. I mean it. Stop reading this stupid blog post and go to your public library or local bookstore and get this book. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WAITING FOR GO JOHN YOU GOT TO GO NOW. I’m not a huge fan of epic fantasy, but this novel–her first, if you can fucking believe that–knocked me on my ass. And if you don’t value my opinion, it was nominated for a whole raft of awards, including the Hugo and the Nebula. What are you still doing here? Go!
- Whiteout written by Greg Rucka, illustrated by Steve Lieber – Forget the movie. That movie was shit, and had none of the heart or soul of the source material. The original graphic novel is the real deal. Black and white, ice and fire, joy and pain. Not for everyone, but if you enjoy thrillers, it’s damn good.
- Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner – I don’t actually read a lot of non-fiction, but this collection of case studies was educational and entertaining. Don’t have time for a whole freaking book of this stuff? Fine. Watch the movie version on Netflix streaming, or just go read their New York Times article on accidentally teaching prostitution to monkeys. You’re welcome.
- Triumphs of Experience by George E. Vaillant – I don’t recall how I first learned about this book, but it was probably on Twitter. The conclusions presented are not hugely revelatory–alcoholism is bad, happy children become happy adults, etc.–but the fact that they’re supported by decades of data from a longitudinal, prospective study do make them more authoritative, and the individual life stories are fascinating. As a man who has, at times, struggled with being happy, I’m very interested in how others have succeeded at it. (I had to return this one to the library before I finished it, and I
‘ll probably buyhave since bought an e-book version instead of adding another 500-page hardcover to our home bookshelves.)
- Daring Greatly by Brené Brown – Seriously, non-fiction is way over-represented here compared to my actual reading habits. But this was another reassuring, if not revelatory, analysis; the author takes her previous research into vulnerability and shame and rolls all of that into a call for “whole-hearted” engagement with life, any imperfections (perceived or actual) be damned. Some of it is a little preachy and fuzzy, and I’m ambivalent about the product-ization of “The Daring Way™,” but the lessons here are still valuable.
- Feed by Mira Grant – Seanan McGuire does at least three things in this book that no novelist ever should, and she makes every single goddamn one of those crazy things work. Because she’s just that good. I laughed, I cried, and I still haven’t read the sequel because I’ve heard it doesn’t measure up. I believe that.
- Sail by James Patterson – I have not actually read this book. I did not buy this book or check it out from the library. This book was a gift from my friend Bryan, who gave it to me a few years ago when I decided to seriously pursue a career in fiction writing. He gave it to me as encouragement, because if a book this bad can get published, then surely I, as a halfway decent writer, have some kind of shot at becoming a professional novelist. I’ve looked at a few pages. Yeah, it’s pretty terrible. I won’t claim I can do better, but I certainly won’t do worse.
Your turn, friend: what books have made a difference in your life?