So in the last week I’ve had three e-mails along these lines:
School is over for the semester, and I have a long, glorious summer stretching out in front of me. What’s more, I’ve got a summer job that involves very little actual work. (I’m a late-night gas station attendant.)
This leaves me all the time I could possibly want for reading.
Here’s my problem. I’m having trouble finding good stuff to read. Any advice for me? What’s your summer reading list?
Love your stuff,
I get a fair number of these sorts of letters. And generally speaking, they’re pretty easy to answer, as I can just point people at all the blogs I’ve written over the last four years where I recommend books.
Barring that, I point people at my Goodreads profile. Where I sometimes list the books I’m reading, and occasionally post up a review if I really feel strongly about a book.
In addition to letters like the one above, I’ve also had many, many people forward me the link to the current Poll NPR is holding, asking people to nominate books for their upcoming top 100 SF and Fantasy novels of all time.
For those of you too lazy to click a link, the gist is this: On NPR’s page, they’re asking people to post a comment listing their top five favorite SF/F novels or series.
I have opinions on this matter. So, of course, I posted my vote. It was pretty easy, because I’ve been obsessed with the Dresden Files lately. That’s one. Then there’s The Last Unicorn and Something Wicked This Way Comes – Three. Then Stranger in a Strange Land. Four.
I was going to vote for Lord of the Rings, too. But then I erased it and voted for my own series instead. I’m not entirely proud of that, but I’m not going to lie about it either. I figure Tolkien has enough votes. Besides, I happen to like my books a hell of a lot.
Only after I voted did I start to look at other people’s comments, and the titles of some of the books they mentioned hit me like bombs. Dune. Of course. I should have listed Dune. Discworld. Of course I should have listed Pratchett. Amber. Of course.
Luckily I’d already voted, so I couldn’t spend any time agonizing over which ones should really fit into my top five.
Then, later that same day, I got this letter:
I’ve only recently started reading Fantasy and Sci-Fi about a year ago. You were one of my first. ;)
I know you’ve read it your whole life. I need to play some serious catch-up. If you were going to list the most important books you’ve ever read. Like a bibliography of the best, most influential fantasy books you ever came in contact with, what would be on that list?
Specifically, I’d like to become well-read in fantasy and science fiction. But it seems like half of what I pick up is… don’t be offended. But it’s kinda shit. I know that one man’s trash it another man’s treasure. But I’ll trust a list of books from you more than some generic list I found online. I’ve enjoyed most all the books you’ve recommended so far….
Thanks so much,
“What the hell?” I thought. Never let it be said that I ignored a serendipitous confluence of events. Or that I missed a chance to answer several e-mails in a single blog….
So I did some research. By which I mean I went downstairs and looked at my shelves:
For some perspective. Here’s one part of one wall of the downstairs library. Note that this does not give any impression of books on the other walls. Or on the upstairs shelves. Or in boxes in the hallway. Or the boxes in the basement. Or over at the office. Or in storage in the office. Or on my shelves in my childhood bedroom in Madison. Or in the boxes in my childhood bedroom in Madison.
I kinda have a lot of books.
It is my dream to someday have all my books in one place, all on shelves, all organized in a system that pleases me.
It is a beautiful dream.
Anyway, here’s my list of SF and Fantasy recommendations. If you read nothing but these books, I think you could consider yourself to be reasonably well-read and somewhat well-rounded in the genre.
The rules I set for myself:
1. Only stuff I’ve actually read.
2. No more than 40 items, or I’d be doing this forever.
3. No more than one book or series per author.
So here we go:
- The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
- The Last Unicorn By Peter S. Beagle
- Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
- Stranger In a Strange Land Robert Heinlein
- Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
- Dragonriders Of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
- The Discworld books by Terry Pratchett
- The Chronicles of Amber–Roger Zelazny
- Brave New World–Aldous Huxley
- Wizard of Earthsea By Le Guin
- Sandman – Neil Gaiman
- The Fisher King Trilogy by Tim Powers
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy by Douglas Adams
- The Riddlemaster of Hed series by Patricia McKillip
- Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P Lovecraft
- Neuromancer by William Gibson
- Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
- 1984 – by George Orwell
- Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson
- Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare
- The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, by Barry Hughart
- The Princess Bride – William Goldman
- The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter
- Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
- The Odyssey by Homer
- The Last Herald-Mage trilogy – Mercedes Lackey
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
- River World Series – Phillip Jose Farmer
- One Thousand and One Nights
- Riftwar Saga by Feist
- The Dark Tower series – Stephen King
- Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams
- Belgariad series by David Eddings
- Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson
- Michael Ende – The Neverending Story
- The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
- The Shannara Trilogy – Terry Brooks
Now before everyone starts to squawk that I left out their favorite babies, keep in mind that I’m throwing this list together on the fly. So I’ve doubtless forgotten a few I would otherwise have included.
But yeah. It was really hard to even keep it to 40. Here’s the ones I had to cull from the above list. Consider them the runners-up.
- The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb
- Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais
- Only Forward by Michael Marshal Smith
- A Canticle for Leibowitz- Walter M Miller
- Pretty much Anything by Christopher Moore
- Time Enough for Love – Robert Heinlein
- Stardust – Neil Gaiman
- His Dark Materials – Phillip Pullman
- Black Company Series – Glen Cook
- Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
- Lud in Mist – Hope Mirrlees
- The Red Magician – Lisa Goldstein
- Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
- A Wrinke In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
- Death is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury
- Declare- Tim Powers
- Legend- David Gemmel
- Icewind Dale Trilogy – R.A. Salvatore
- Harry Potter by Rowling (Mostly the first four)
Gech. I have to stop. I’m done. Seriously done.
What’s that you say? Your absolutely favoritest of favorites still isn’t on the list?
Well… suck it. It’s my list, not yours.
No. Wait. What I mean to say is that I picked these books for the list because they:
- Influenced me because I loved them so very much.
- Influenced the genre because of when/where/how they were written.
- Influenced the SF/F readership because so many people have read them.
Every book on this list has done two of these three things. Many have done all three.
While I was doing my brief spatter of research and trolling through the comments on the NPR poll, I kept spotting books and thinking, “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to read that….”
So, lastly, to partially answer Ben’s question about my summer reading list. Here are the books that would probably be fighting for positions on the above lists if I’d read them. They’re books I’m meaning to read, but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.
- The Doomsday Book – Connie Willis
- Fafhrd & Gray Mouser books – Fritz Leiber
- Watership Down – Richard Adams
- The Gormenghast series – Mervyn Peake
- Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
- The Glass Book of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist
- A Song of Ice and Fire – Martin (Yeah Yeah. I know. I’ve been busy…)
- The Forever War – by Joe Haldeman
- House of Leaves – Mark Z Danielewski
- The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
- Nova – Samuel R. Delaney
- Dhalgren – Samuel R. Delany
- The Uplift Trilogy – David Brin (I’ve only read one so far…)
- The Hollows series – Kim Harrison
- The Fionavar Tapestry – Guy Gavriel Kay
- The Vorkosigan Saga – Lois McMaster Bujold
- The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin
- Conan stories – Robert E. Howard
- Little, Big – John Crowley
- Lensman Series – E.E. “Doc” Smith
- Malazan Books of the Fallen – Steven Erikson
- Wheel of Time – Jordan and Sanderson (I’ve only read the first two)
- Tripod Trilogy – Samuel Youd
- Flatland – Edwin A. Abbott
- Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Okay. I’m done. Not only should you have plenty to read now, but those of you who were suffering from a paralyzing lack of numbered lists should be satisfied as well.
Share and enjoy….