1. Favorite Books
Some day I might expand this into a full-fledged review section but for now, it'll focus on my favorites.
Until 2000 or so, I used to read lots of fiction, mostly sci-fi and fantasy.
At some point I stopped enjoying fiction.
Nowadays I read history (for fun) and technical books (for work).
Most of the biographies I read are about musicians, since I'm big into music.
- Julian Cope - Head On and Reposessed (2000)
- Very funny and surprising. Cope's an excellent writer, and did lots of entertaining things. Classic rock bio.
- John Lydon - Rotten (1995)
- Makes you really like or at least respect the guy, even if you're not a fan of his music.
- Mark E Smith - Renegade (2008)
- A peak inside the brains behind The Fall.
I love military history and adventure history!
- Apsley Cherry-Garrard - Worst Journey in the World (1922)
- Scott's failed South Pole attempt. Extremely well-written, though a little too scientifically detailed in bits. I loved this book!
- Alfred Lansing - Endurance (1959)
- Shackleton's super-dramatic Antarctic expedition where everyone dies except... Oops, I mean no one dies except... Okay, you're gonna have read it yourself! This is a fantastic book.
- Stephen Ambrose - Undaunted Courage (1997)
- This is a fantastically written account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the first US-history book that I ever enjoyed. Ambrose was an awesome author! I highly recommend his WW2 books as well, particularly Band of Brothers.
- Rick Atkinson - An Army at Dawn (2002)
- My favorite WW2 book, focuses on America's campaign in North Africa.
Most of these are about programming and web page design.
- Jeffrey Zeldman - Designing with Web Standards (2003)
- Awesomely written! Even though this is a really boring topic, Jeffrey's sense of humor and instinct for storytelling makes it fun! This is my favorite technical book of all time!
- Michael Kay - XSLT Programmer's Reference (2001)
- Huge book, extremely well written. I've read lots of reference guides and this one's my favorite. Obviously, it's only of interest to those of you who are learning XSLT.
- Douglas Hofstadter - Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979)
- An epic guide to everything, dwelling mostly with number theory but also delving into music, art, biology, physics, philosophy, and computer science. You have to have an incredibly diverse background to understand everything in this books, but even for we laymen there's still a ton of interesting concepts to grasp and milk. Fascinating.
- Steven Levy - Artificial Life (1992)
- Light, entertaining historical and analytical glimpses into the pioneers, implementations, and ramifications of artificial life.
- James Gleick - Chaos (1987)
- History of chaos theory, dealing adroitly with fractals and attractors.
1.5 Historical Fiction
- Mark Helprin - A Soldier of the Great War (1991)
- Historical fiction. World War 1. Awesome. I love the protagonist and his adventures. This is a classic. None of Helprin's other books (so far) approach this one's cohesiveness. Highest recommendation!
1.6 Science Fiction
Who doesn't like sci-fi? My dad, for one. And my mom. And my sister. Hmm. Maybe there are fewer sci-fi fans than I thought, but the huge amount of sci-fi and fantasy resources on the Web is enough to make me think everyone and her Nintendo-playing brother are just as avid adorers of elves, magic, time travel, space ships, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Isaac Asimov as I am (ahem) was. Although I don't read sci-fi anymore, I got a lot of fun out of these books when I was younger:
- Isaac Asimov - The Foundation and Robot series (1951)
- Asimov wasn't the world's "coolest" author (he was always kind of nerdy), and his books' main characters are all somewhat autobiographical (shy, reserved, smart, very "human"), but his narratives still have a "hipness" to them that I cannot quite describe. (Many people don't know Asimov wrote a book on how to be a Dirty Old Man!) Anyway, the Robot novels (including the short stories) and the first couple Foundation books are excellent sci-fi mystery books; yes, mysteries! Check 'em out!
- David Brin - The Uplift series (1980)
- Original, fresh, exciting, David Brin at his best. Humans are genetically "uplifting" dolphins and apes to the point where they can be considered "sentient." Brin's earlier novels were a bit dry and shallow, his later novels are too flighty and wordy. These are his middle novels: ahhhh, just right. Someone told me he's recently release another Uplift book; I'll plan to check it out as soon as it comes to softcover!
- Michael Crichton - Jurassic Park (1990)
- Much better than the movie; aren't all books? This was really the DOOM of sci-fi stories.
- Arthur C. Clarke - Rendezvous at Rama (1972)
- Deliciously stark and spooky tale of a vast, apparently lifeless alien ship that enters our solar system. There are a couple of sequels to it now, and they introduce some interesting elements, but in a sense they pollute the pure, crystal stream of mysterious tension that the first book weaves so well.
- Julian May - The Pliocene Exile series (1981)
- Part futuristic, part prehistoric (thanks to time travel), part fantasy, this series has plenty of new ideas, especially early on. It was hard for me to get into it, but once I was in I was hooked, at least for the first couple books, but after that the series seemed to drag a bit and then get more fantasy than sci-fi, but heck, no series is perfect.
- Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle - Lucifer's Hammer (1977)
- Ka-BOOM!!! This is the king of the end-of-the-world books. It's about a huge comet (or meteor, I forget) that slams into the Earth. If you liked the first half of Independence Day, you'll love this globomasochistic thriller.
It's been years since I read any fantasy series. I forget most of these stories except (of course) for Tolkien, whom I still adore. The other books were fun, but since they're primarily escapist, they faded from my memory as the years went by. Temporary delights.
- Steven Donaldson - The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (1977)
- Very original premise: leper man enters another world during his dreams. In this other world he has no leprousy, and is actually a hero. Even though I read this series ten years ago, I remember more about it than I do of the Feist, Eddings or Jordan, which I've read a lot more recently. Kind of stiff and cold, but lots of memorable originality.
- David Eddings - The Belgariad series (1982)
- If Tolkien is the Beatles of fantasy, Eddings is the Nirvana. This series was extremely popular, and so much fantasy today has been derived from it. It is really the modern fantasy prototype. If you haven't read it yet, when you do it will probably seem very predictable and tame, "comfortable" reading compared to the ultra-violent, forcibly "dark," sex-laden books that in vogue today.
- Raymond Feist - The Riftwar Saga series (1982)
- A somewhat predictable but very well told tale of boy-turns-magician. Light reading. My favorite computer RPG, Betrayal at Krondor, is based on this series and was co-written by Feist himself!
- Terry Goodkind - Wizard's First Rule (1994)
- Great fun, but very dark and sinister at times. This book is chock full o' new ideas, even though there are a few screaming cliches here as well; so many fantasy stories seem to be about a quiet orphin boy (representing the geeky outcast in all of us) discovering his "secret powers." It's an excellently scibed panache of comfortable predictability and delightful surprise.
- Robin Hobb - Farseer trilogy (1995)
- Exciting, creative, and non-pretentious, these books are incredibly entertaining.
- Robert Jordan - The Wheel of Time (1990)
- Another fun, light book. The first book in this series is the best, even though its ending is the wimpiest I've ever read. Fortunately, the series didn't end there. Unfortunately, the series gets more and more predictable as it goes on, though a few good ideas pop up now and then. But still, the first book is a charmer.
- Michael Moorcock - Elric series (1963)
- Did I say Goodkind was dark? Did I say Donaldson was stiff and cold? Well, this is a chunk of coal on the moon. It's very formally written, almost Silmarillionesque (see Tolkien). Not a very "fun" read except for the sadist in all of us (Stormbringer, the soul-sucking sword, is awesome).
- J.R.R. Tolkien - The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings (1938)
Utter classics. Rarely a day goes by that I don't make some sort of mental reference to Middle Earth. I'm not kidding! The scenes from these books are forever vivid in my mind. I love 'em to death! Check out my Tolkien page if you're a fan or want to learn more about his extraordinary works.
Post-movie update: I loved Peter Jackson's movies (especially the extended DVDs), but was uncomfortable with all the hype that Tolkien was suddenly getting. My obsession with LotR diminished for a while, but once Frodo-mania subsided, my interest recovered. Now I'm anxiously awaiting the Blu-ray version!
- Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman - Dragonlance series (1984)
- The first Dragonlance series was Weis and Hickman's best. The books were based on a role playing session, and it shows; they are spontaneous, action packed and extremely humorous. You can tell the authors/players were having a blast! However, the 2nd Dragonlance series lost that freshness, and, sadly, Weis and Hickman have softer and more formulaic as the years and series pass.
2. Recommended Links
Here's my favorite writing-related sites.
I'll keep it short to emphasize only the best sites.
- This is my favorite online store. I buy most of my music, books, DVDs, computer parts, and just about everything from them. I love their site's user reviews, top-N lists, and used marketplace, and am very impressed with their promptness, prices, and return policies. They also make it easy to sell things, too. Best shopping site ever!
- National Geographic Adventure's Top 100 Adventure Books
- Great list for those of you who like historical sagas! I bought the top 10 and am reading them now. So far, pretty awesome!