1) Scott Pilgrim
Books 1-6, Bryan Lee O'Malley
Meet Scott Pilgrim. Rating: awesome ... ?
Scott lives in Toronto. He plays in a band (but they're not that good.) He's dating a 17-year-old (like in Trainspotting, but totally not like that.) He shares his dreamspace with an Amazon delivery girl (who has seven evil ex-boyfriends.) He sleeps with a man (but only because they can't afford two beds.) Best of all, he's the hero, and he's much cooler than you.
2) His Dark Materials
I had heard that this trilogy - The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass - was a better fantasy series than Harry Potter, but that was hard to believe ... until I read it.
3) The Demon-Haunted World
This book singlehandedly set my research hobby for two years - debunking pseudoscience and encouraging critical thinking. And then that line of thinking eventually led to me writing my own book. This is my favorite non-fiction book and one that I have re-read several times.
4) House of Leaves
Mark Z. Danielewski
Freaky, creepy, totally unnerving. A haunted house that is its own dark universe. Stunningly original, creative, frustrating, and impressive. As my friend Ji has said, it's scary because it takes place in a house, and we live in houses.
5) Oxford Very Short Introductions
This isn't one book, but rather a series of hundreds, each covering a topic such as "Art Theory", "The Cold War", "Buddhism", or "Nietzche". Together, these books have increased my knowledge exponentionally. They're short, fun to read, have ample charts and illustrations, and the best ones are organized brilliantly. The books on Gandhi and Architecture are among my favorites.
6) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
This one wins a lot of points just for the sheer joy of reading it. Chabon's language is wonderful, his characters completely engaging, and his portrayal of the Golden Age of comic books and World War II is like stepping back in time.
7) Batman: Year One
Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli
I've read this so many times ... it's so gripping and impossible to put down. Miller reimagines the Batman mythos perfectly. This book was the main basis for Batman Begins, though from 20 years earlier.
8) Calvin & Hobbes
Am I weaseling out of choosing a specific Calvin & Hobbes book by picking this entire collected edition? Yes, but I actually have this collected box set and its impressive. Something Under the Bed is Drooling was my first book, and they are all stupendous. Like Stupendous Man himself! Read them all in order to watch the cartoons evolve from gags to creative art experiments to esoteric musings on life.
Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon
Part Western, part Romance, part vampire Horror, part gross-out, part religious tract, part Great American Novel ... and that ending! Plus, the lead is named Jesse.
10) The Better Angels of Our Nature
One of the most recent books on this list, Steven Pinker's book was surprisingly revelatory considering I myself wrote a very similar book that came out two years earlier. It's amazing how nonviolent humanity has become. Did you know that cases of rape have declined 80% just in my lifetime? Or that the murder rate in the Middle Ages was 30 times higher than today's? Pinker does a wonderful job of vividly describing just how horrible the past was. His book also wins for the most pages I marked of any book I've read.
Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Arguably the best graphic novel written, certainly the most complex and sophisticated. Moore weaves together dozens of subplots dancing around the effects of superheroes in a real Cold War world, ending with the best expression I've seen in literature for the classic dilemma: Do the ends justify the means? Can humanity only be saved by a lie?
12) The Lord of the Rings
I read this first in fifth grade (in the car on a trip from NJ to Disney World) and several times since. It never gets old, and easier each time. So relieved the movies are wonderfully executed.
13) To Kill a Mockingbird
Just an incredible novel from start to finish. The message is amazing but never preachy. The quality of Scout's narration is one of the best impersonations of a child's voice in literature. Harper Lee nailed it in one try and then never published another book.
14) Harry Potter #3 & #4
J. K. Rowling
The Harry Potter books start fluffy and get progressively longer and more sophisticated. The fourth book has an unbelievable 4,000+ reviews on Amazon, with a perfect average. The third one was good also, especially at the end, and the third movie is my favorite. The other books are of course also good, but these two take the cake for me.
15) Bone: Out From Boneville
The entire Bone series is great, but it changed dramatically right in the middle, from light-hearted adventure to straightforward and serious action. The collection of the first 6 issues was so good that I passed around to almost everyone I know - my friends, my grandmother, my teachers, my girlfriends, my parents. It's beautfully drawn and terrifically written.
16) The Magician King
I listened to this book and its predecessor, The Magicians, on audiobook and it was excellent. I think I prefer this one slightly to the first book. Each book has one truly horrifying passage: in The Magicians, it's when a beast from another dimension appears in a classroom, and in this one it's when we look behind the curtain to see the giant Gods that built the world closing down magic.
17) Locke & Key
Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
This book is one of the most gripping and well-plotted stories I've ever read. For a complex sci-fi/horror story, it has no plot holes or loopholes, which is almost unheard-of. It's a real shame that the pilot made for the tv show of Locke & Key was never picked up; it could have brought it to a wider audience.
18) In Cold Blood
This gripping classic reinvented narrative nonfiction and true crime. It's hard to believe it's all true, and that Capote was able to find this amount of details.
19) War & Peace
This took me six months, of reading on the kindle app on my phone (yes, I read War & Peace on my phone: it was approximately 100 million page flips), but it was worth it. An excellent story, although it could have benefited from fewer philosophical essays, especially at the very end. The characters are the main draw, as well as the mystery. I don't know if he intended it to be a mystery, but it ended up that way, since we are far enough removed from the events (the Napoleonic Wars in 1812) that I didn't know the details. The mystery is: we know Napolean loses - but how, when he appears to be succeeding all along?
20) American Gods
This book is almost good enough to seem like the prose version of Sandman. Gaiman uses all of his standard mythologies, while throwing in some new ideas of what types of Gods we're worshipping today. His heroes are always understated and relatable, and he paints a wonderfully comprehensive picture of America in classic road trip format.
21) We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families
Like The Diary of Anne Frank, this is essential reading to understand the depths of human depravity from the victims' points of view. But unlike Anne's Diary, this crisp journalistic style hits closer to home by examining not one but dozens of personal stories. This book reminds us that this horrible genocide happened only two decades ago, and that humanity has not yet fully learned the terrible lessons of the twentieth century.
It shows Sagan's versatility that he gets both a fiction and non-fiction book on this list. It's even more amazing that this great novel is the only fiction he ever wrote. This is one of the most realistic-seeming science fiction novels I've ever read, about scientists receiving a radio signal that contains alien instructions for building ... something.
This amazing book was part of the inspiration for my own. Wright proves anthropologically that history is getting better all the time.
This is probably the most romantic work I've ever read, except for some passages in Anna Karenina, and poetry here and there. It's one of the best in a wide field of autobiographical comics. Thompson tells the story of first love, and growing up, and weaves through them fascinating aspects of art, religion, friendship and loss.
War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength in this idealistic tale of rainbows and puppy dogs. Such an uncanny portrayal of a world in which information is not allowed to compound - humans are not allowed to advance. The opposite of The Secret Peace.
If only all us men could get inside the head of a woman the way Steve does here. The characters are brilliantly vivid. The book's also completely hilarious, in ordinary, unexpected moments. If you saw this movie, read the book: it's better.
27) Anna Karenina
I expected this to be one of the greatest novels of all time, and to perfectly express romantic relationships, social issues, and wonderful characters - and it does. But down-to-earth landowner Levin takes a surprise twist and ends up also making it one of the most profound expressions of spiritual insight I've ever read. It took me six months to get through, but it was worth it.
28) A Time to Kill
I've read every Grisham novel except the one about baseball and I had a hard time picking my favorite. This was his first, and though The Firm was the first one I read (thanks, Craig!), this one was my favorite for a long time. (The film is great, too.) It's definitely got a strong To Kill a Mockingbird echo, but that's a good thing here. Runaway Jury was also great. At any rate, it's a tough call. I like reading Grisham, is what it comes down to: You know what you're getting.
29) A Short History of the World
John M. Roberts
If by short you mean still 500 pages ... nonetheless, this reads incredibly fast and does an excellent job of jumping from culture to culture and not excluding anybody. Focuses on the major themes of history, the big-picture stuff that really matters.
30) The Autobiography of Malcolm X
as told to Alex Haley
The last chapters of this book are absolutely stirring. I wish everyone with recent negative views of Islam could see the inclusiveness of the faith for the first time through Malcolm's eyes.
31) Picasso's War
This book manages to combine my favorite interests - history and art. In telling the story of Guernica, the book conveys the power of art to change society. It also goes through the history of Spain in the twentieth-century in a riveting way. Highly recommended.
Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos
Bendis & Gaydos created a fabulously realistic and hilarious character in Jessica Jones, a former B-level superhero who becomes a private investigator as a way to cope with her own demons. Gaydos's art evokes the best of crime noir and modern New York grittiness. It's just like the best PI stories, but with capes.
Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera
An excellent comic series that is akin to "The Sopranos on an Indian Reservation". Each issue is a character study of some tortured soul in the huge cast of people who have made bad decisions.
34) Farewell, My Lovely
Every Chandler book is great, so I picked this one almost randomly. It's definitely one of the best, though. If you've never read him, you have to read at least one.
35) The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I've read this book many times since middle school, and I got to really appreciate it when we read it for class in high school. We also had a Gatsby party at the home of our teacher, with all the students dressed as flappers and characters from the book. I went as Dr. T. J. Eckleberg, who's a poster of eyes. That's right, don't ask.
Reminiscent of In Cold Blood (even down to the killers' personalities), this is a gripping in-depth story into the murders in Columbine in 1999. The basic point of the book is to slowly and deliberately point out that everything the media told us turned out to be wrong upon closer examination.
37) The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More
I could have put any Dahl book on this list; I read each of them dozens of times as a kid, especially James & the Giant Peach and the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory books. But I wanted to give this one a little more attention, which I read when I was a little older. It's a series of short stories for adults. Some are better than others, but they're all well-written and a lot of fun.
38) Fahrenheit 451
Stirringly poetic and right on target with several predictions 50 years later. (Giant wall TVs, anyone?) Fascinating but scary.
39) Another Century of War?
This is a great small book that poses many difficult questions for the future of America and the whole world. It looks at the horrible history of the twentieth century as well as our recent incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq and wonders where we're going.
40) The End of Poverty
Jeff Sachs is a hero economist - not a term tossed around too much. This book is sobering and inspiring at the same time. I quote it a lot in the economic chapter of my own book (The Secret Peace). It's got cool maps, too.
41) The Norby Chronicles
Janet & Isaac Asimov
This was one of my favorite books as a kid. Keeping it on this list is a guilty pleasure. I just re-read it and it certainly doesn't stand up as a book for adults. Worse, there were like 20 sequels that got increasingly absurd. Still, it brought back great memories and I had spent countless hours fantasizing about what it would be like to have a robot in the 21st century that could travel through time and space. You let me down, future!
42) The Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger
When we read this book in high school, I was the only one in my class who didn't like it. Holden was everything I hated about teenagers, just whiny and unaware of how good he has it. I like the book a lot after re-reading it a few times as an adult, but I still stand by some of my criticisms. It helps to have moved to NYC and appreciate all the locations.
43) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
When we were on our honeymoon, these books were all over Europe but hadn't been released in the U.S. yet. The weird cover here is what we saw in all the bookstores (we went to a lot of bookstores). The first book is still the best in the series.
44) High Fidelity
I related directly to this novel better than most other books on this list. It's not only a good story with fun characters and lots of great music references, but has some of the best insights into relationships and memory from a cynical male point of view. And a happy ending, against all odds.
45) The Quiet American
An excellent book that inspired a movie that was, for once, just as good. The best story-based account of the perils of US intervention and European colonialism. Great characters and complex moral dilemmas.
Find more great books listed in my Book Review section!