Last week sometime, my friend and occasional co-worker Corinne posted a blanket request to her entire Facebook list asking for advice and recommendations on books.
My choice in books is something I take somewhat seriously; I learned to read at three, and got in the habit then and there of reading at least a few pages of a book every night before I go to sleep. Now, over 30 years later, I can’t sleep unless I read SOMETHING; my brain just won’t shut off.
Side note to that: after I finish reading my book, I read a page of Paulo Coelho’s Warrior of the Light each night. Each passage is only a couple of paragraphs, but provides a nice, bite-size piece of philosophy to chew over. Been doing it for years; very much enjoy it.
Anyway, back to the books. I do get asked for book recommendations relatively often; as you can imagine, over 30 years, I’ve read a few. My good friend Sarah is always fixing to wrangle a book or two out of me (though she won’t take my recommendations anymore after an ill-advised foray into a post-apocalyptic comedy), and though I don’t have nearly as many books as her newly minted husband Robert (congrats guys!), who is one of the only people I know who has (way) more books than me, I do try to pass on the titles of good books I’ve read.
So, below is the list I put together for Corinne, and I figured I’d share it with you, my loyal readers (both of you, if my Mom is checking the blog this week). I also tossed in a few more at the end which I knew Corinne had either already read, I didn’t think would be a good fit, or otherwise didn’t pass on for some reason that I can’t remember.
Also, I probably should link each of these to their respective Amazon page. I’m too lazy to do that; you should not be too lazy to copy and paste. Yes, I know this is hypocritical of me, and no, I don’t care.
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
Fictionalized Memoir; if you want a good, thick book with great writing, philosophy, history and great characters, start here. It’s like 900 pages and a truly amazing story.
See No Evil – Robert Baer
Nonfiction; great insider’s account of the CIA written like a novel.
Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortensen
Nonfiction; memoir of a guy who built schools for girls in Afghanistan & Pakistan
Straight Man – Richard Russo
Fiction; my absolute favorite book ever. Funny as hell. If you like this one, read everything else he wrote.
Lamb – Christopher Moore
Fiction; “The Gospel According to Biff, Jesus’ Childhood Pal”. Hilarious. If you like this, I can give you more recommendations by Moore (most of his books are good, but some are much better than others).
High Fidelity – Nick Hornby
Fiction; Funny dark comedy that was made into a John Cusack movie. If you like this, read the rest of his too.
Charlie Wilson’s War – George Crile
Nonfiction; written like a spy novel, amazing account of how a senator brought down the USSR (Tom Hanks movie doesn’t do it justice).
Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
Fiction; like the movie, but better because no Robert Pattinson.
The Summer Guest – Justin Cronin
Fiction; not for everyone; very slow, character-driven novel that I think is awesome and beautiful.
The Beach – Alex Garland
Fiction; movie doesn’t come close to touching this book. It’s amazing – just read it.
Seabiscuit – Laura Hillenbrand
Nonfiction; basis of the movie, written like a novel.
The Rum Diary – Hunter S. Thompson
Fictionalized memoir; one of the starkest written books I’ve ever read, but a lot of fun. Johnny Depp movie is good, but very different from the book.
Army of the Republic – Stuart Cohen
Fiction; hits very close to home; near-future where the US is about to come apart at the seams.
Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon
Fiction; another beautifully written, character-driven book. One of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen in fiction.
Small Town Odds – Jason Headley
Fiction; character driven, surprisingly deep.
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
Fiction; by the Kite Runner guy but a better, more mature book about two women who live through the various Afghan wars.
Game of Thrones – George RR Martin
Fiction; the first of the Song of Ice and Fire series. If you like Lord of the Rings type books but without the random crap Tolkien likes to throw in there, and more politics and intrigue instead of magic, this is for you.
Sideways & Vertical – Rex Pickett
Fiction (though I think there’s a lot of true story in there). If you’ve seen the movie Sideways, you CAN pass on the first book, though I wouldn’t recommend it. The characters, basic story and result are the same, but there are some great details and additions in the book that didn’t make it into the movie (also some of the characters have different names). Vertical is actually a deeper, better thought out story. Either way, Miles and Jack are truly deep, wonderful characters and it’s well worth taking both road trips with them.
11/22/63 – Stephen King
Fiction; time travel fun surrounding the date that’s the title of the book.
Doc – Mary Doria Russell
Historical Fiction; amazingly deep book about the early days of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. Even if you’re not a western fan, check this out. Doc Holliday is a very interesting guy.
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Fiction; made Oprah’s book club; post-apocalypitc novel about a man traveling with his sun across a barren wasteland to the sea. Not uplifting, but some great characters and a lot to think about in terms of human nature.
Doomsday Book – Connie Willis
Fiction; it’s 2052 and historians now time-travel to learn about history. First of four books in the Oxford time-travel series.
Come Back to Afghanistan – Said Hayer Akbar
Nonfiction; a memoir about a kid who grew up in the US who goes back to Afghanistan to help his father rebuild after the US invasion.
ADDITIONS (MOSTLY SERIES)
Fiction; The Millennium Series – Stieg Larsson
Otherwise known as The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, you might be surprised to realize that the real story in the trilogy doesn’t begin until roughly half way through the second book. Great reads, and not what you think they are.
The Hunger Games Series – Suzanne Collins
Fiction; This one came to me from the aforementioned Sarah, and I tore through these in 10 days on a trip to the Arena Bowl last year. Katniss is one of the deepest and well-thought out characters in pulp fiction; it’s too bad she didn’t come across on screen as well.
The John Rain Series – Barry Eisler
Fiction; I also include the Ben Trevin books in these series of nine books about the “natural causes” assassin John Rain. Another series that isn’t about what you think it’s about, it’s caused me to completely re-evaluate the way I see the world. Seriously.
The Atticus Kodiak Series – Greg Rucka
Fiction; Not as impactful as Rain, but still a lot of fun. Kodiak’s massive conversion from Book 1 to Book 7 is amazing. One of the better developed characters I’ve seen in an action book series.
The Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
Fiction; Really, what more needs to be said?
The Passage (Book 1 of 3) – Justin Cronin
Fiction; A post-apocalyptic view that includes both the pre, present and post part of the apocalypse with new age zombies/vampires, it’s the characters that take center stage in the first book. Can’t wait for the next book.
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Fiction; Getting the idea that I like sci-fi and fantasy stuff? Interesting view of the origin of our species and the world itself.
Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse – Victor Gischler
Fiction; The ill-advised foray into post-apocalyptic comedy. Sarah thought it was misogynistic (which post-apocalyptia tends to be), and it certainly is. But it’s also hilarious, in a very, very dark kind of way. Proceed at your own risk.
LATE ADD: Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Fiction; I loved this book, but have a VERY difficult time recommending it to anyone. Basically, the plot is this: It’s 2043, and the Steve Jobs of gaming has invented a fully interactive, holographic virtual world where most people tend to spend most of their time since the real world sucks out loud. He dies, and leaves his vast fortune to the first person who can complete an epic “quest” within the game. Cool concept, but the quest is steeped in a deep and vast knowledge of pop culture, primarily from the 80’s and early 90’s. It would be very difficult to understand the book (which has at least 2-3 subtle references a page) without it. I have yet to encounter someone who I feel would enjoy it, but am always looking.