1. Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.
I am a fan of any Greek Myth interpretation or re-telling, but the way that Miller portrays and gets inside the heads of characters that have existed for thousands of years is incredibly unique and powerful. These books do not have to be read together as they just share a world, but would highly recommend both! Though just a side character in both, her Odysseus might be my favorite.
2. Contact by Carl Sagan, about a radio astronomer named Ellie Arroway who discovers extraterrestrial life. (There was a movie too which is also good, but different enough that I think the book is worth reading.)
3. Thud! by Terry Pratchett. Really all of the Discworld books, particularly the City Watch series.
But for me, Thud!- particularly the crescendo of the action in the last act of the book- it hit me in a way that’s hard to describe. I was crying from laughter, frustration, nervousness, and release. It was a truly great book.
4. The Martian. Hard (reality based) science fiction with a smartass protagonist in a desperate struggle for survival. Watney displays constant problem solving that shows real resilience of character, punctuated with moments of stupidity like anyone would have and humor that anyone would need to live through a disaster.
5. Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Fabulous scifi imagination, filled with characters, worlds, technology, politics, and innocence which invoke the most vivid movie reel of a story in my mind each time I read it and the others in the trilogy.
6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The first time I read it I thought it was the best post-apocalyptic book I’d ever read.
The second time I read it I realized it was the best love story I’d ever read.
The third time I read it is when I knew it was the best book I’d ever read.
7. All The Light We Cannot See. It was beautifully written and I could not put it down.
8. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin. Really shows how much possibilities there can be in scifi genre, it’s not always just spaceships and lasers. It talks about a completely separate alien culture where the concept of genders do not exist, and the different societal norms that come with it, it goes into some more stuff too, the premise of the story is very intriguing and it’s very well written.
9. American Gods from Neil Gaiman. It has lots of surprises.
10. The Percy Jackson series is my favorite series of all time. I’ve always been really interested in Greek mythology and right around the time I learned enough about it to get a grasp I got handed The Lightning Thief. Fantastic story to read as a kid and still a good nostalgia read nowadays.
11. The Series of Unfortunate Events series. I remember in 5th grade someone else was reading it and started where he left off last year which was at book 8 and I started at book 1. I ended up finishing the series before him. It’s a really fun series of books.
12. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. I love the story of survival and perseverance. I have read this book many times in my life and have referenced it throughout my lifetime. I am now a social worker and I work in a psychiatric hospital and when I do my groups I will ask an ice breaker and have the patients tell me their favorite book. After that I’ll give them this book, tell them what it’s about, and use it as an example to continue on in life, to push through adversity and never quit.
13. Jurassic Park is the only novel I’ve sat down with and consumed within twenty-four hours. I love the movie, but the book is so much more detailed, and the characters so much deeper, and in some cases totally different.
14. The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. I’m a sucker for time travel stories at the best of times, but it’s also comfortably my favorite fictional romance, as well as having some of the most beautifully lyrical prose. Henry and Clare are such a sweet couple dealing with what are truly exceptional circumstances, and the ending… yeah, it’s a tough one, but the fact that it hits me every read through (and I’ve read it at least ten times) is proof to me that it’s a classic in the making.
(There’s also a HBO series in the works with Steven Moffat as the showrunner, which I could not physically be more excited for.)
15. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I can’t even put into words how magical and enchanting this book really is. Absolutely mesmerizing.
16. Snow Crash. Real dystopian and Matrix. I love it. The Babylonian stuff is pretty interesting.
17. The Life of Pi. I read it in two goes, the first 10 or so chapters, and then the other 90 the next day, completely gripping.
18. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I remember enjoying reading it but when I finished it I didn’t think it would become my favorite book. However I found myself thinking about it pretty much every day for the next year. I then stopped and thought if a book has made me stop and think about it so frequently for such a long period of time and so much more than any other book then how can it not be my favorite book.
I found the story so warm but so painfully sad and the ending just absolutely destroyed me. It was a crazy ending which was worded so beautifully and was set in a beautiful place. I live in England and I do this weird thing where if I’m driving down a country lane and I see a beautiful field I will stop the car and go out and look at it for a while. That is exactly what the main character was doing when she remembered her friends and considered her fate. Seriously… it utterly destroyed me.
19. Stephen King’s The Stand. It’s big and intimidating but the story is so good and written so well I found myself wanting to savor it. The story and world change throughout the book. I’m excited to leave it a few more years so I can read it again without knowing quite what is going to happen.
20. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Fuck, I don’t even know how to explain it. This is some real stuff that’ll make you hurt in places you never knew you could hurt. If you’re a sucker for a sad/melancholic, but real and honest novel this is what you need.
21. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. Absolutely fabulous novel that is a greatly entertaining read. It’s hilarious, relatable, and enthralling. It shows that we are connected to each other across centuries. Written in the early 1600s, but it still holds up!
22. The Book Thief. It’s equally heartbreaking as it is wondrous in showing the strong bonds we can make with one another.
23. Slaughterhouse-Five. It reads like silk poetry. So it goes.
24. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. If you actually enjoy troubleshooting as a hobby, it’s a wonderful book.
25. Walk Two Moons. I feel like I lost my innocence with the main character.
26. Dune by Frank Herbert. If there ever was a book that could guide my life choices, this is it. It teaches me resilience, and that there is a big wide universe out there. There’s a lot of philosophical and spiritual guidance out there, and I’ve been exposed to a fair bit. But the Dune series is one of enduring wisdom. And the layer upon layer of world building! Herbert was a linguistic genius.
27. Catch 22 because I love satire and no other book I’ve read captures the absurdity of things quite like Heller did.
28. Flowers for Algernon. That book was a roller coaster of emotions at the end.
29. The Redwall series by Brian Jacques. I love the adventure and questing and figuring out riddles. The way he described the feasts… god I always wished I could experience a feast like that. The way he would write the different dialects for the different animals was so much fun. They are young adult books, but I’m nearing 4 decades and still love them. Been reading them since I was just a wee lad.
30. The Phantom Tollbooth. It was fun to read as a kid and then I picked it up again as I got older and noticed so many little details that kept it fun and interesting.