Saturday, June 09, 2007

Books I Never Seem to Shut Up About

Like (I think) most writers, I often find myself curious about what the people around me enjoy reading. Being the nosy sort, I'm always asking someone what they're reading now (a very good indicator of the kind of books they really like), who their favorite authors are (a so-so indicator of the kind of books they really like), and what kind of books they like to read (an amazing indicator of how well they can recall what Oprah said to read that week).

Of course, I'm as much a fan as a writer, so those questions inevitably lead to me saying, "If you like that, you should totally read..." because a) I'm apparently, in this example, a Valley girl; b) I can't help but shill for the books I love; and c) I seem to lack the gene that allows one to tell when someone would really prefer not to be bothered with the recommendations of a self-confessed book nerd.

Recently, though, I've noticed a trend. There are several books I find myself recommending all the freaking time. And so, gene still lacking, I've decided it's not enough I bug the people immediately surrounding me with my constant recommendations – it's high time I bugged you people, too. So, without further ado on this, my fiftieth post, I bring you Chris' List of Ten Or So Books He Thinks You Should Drop Everything and Read Right Away (In No Particular Order) and Why:

The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman
I'm the first to admit it shouldn't work; two-hundred-odd pages of made-up facts from a self-proclaimed expert sounds tiring at best. But Hodgman is a genius, and this book is funny as hell. And believe me, what you don't know about hobos may surprise you...

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
To my mind, this is one of the greatest novels ever written. Chandler's prose is beautiful, and his characters full of wit and charm; would that I could visit Marlowe's Los Angeles, if only for a while. Who says genre fiction can't be transcendent?

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
My first Vonnegut, and my favorite as well. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, from one of the finest writers of this or any age.

The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett
You want the shit scared out of you by someone who really knows what she's talking about? Then this is the book for you. Laurie Garrett won a Pulitzer for her reporting on the Ebola virus, and has a Polk and a Peabody to match. In The Coming Plague, she brings her considerable chops to bear on a host of emerging diseases, examining where we've succeeded, where we've failed, and, perhaps most importantly, where we're vulnerable. Though it was released over a decade ago, it's as prescient as ever. Not to mention, she makes bug-hunters sound like the biggest bad-asses on the planet. They're the John McClane of science geeks. Yippie-kiy-yay, motherfucker.

The Confession by Domenic Stansberry
This is the book I recommend to anyone who thinks first-person narratives aren't worth their time. It's a nasty little slug of noir so taut and well-written it could have only come from the folks at Hard Case Crime.

The Eight by Katherine Neville
This one I bust out whenever I hear, "I don't read much, but I really liked The Da Vinci Code." It's got everything you need: A global conspiracy spanning three continents and at least as many centuries. A dangerous game in which we all may be unwitting players. A bloody revolution. The birth of OPEC. And enough sparkling prose to make Dan Brown wet himself and cry for his mommy. A word of warning for all you writers, though: as debut novels go, they don't get much better than this. When I read it, I didn't want to write for a week. Have something crappy on hand to read afterward.

If you love books – I mean really love books, like an unhealthy amount – then this series is for you. Fforde writes gleeful comic fantasy in the vein of Douglas Adams (a comparison I do not make lightly) about a world in which Shakespeare is both quoted and cloned with alarming frequency, the written word is revered, and nefarious villains climb into and out of great works of fiction with impunity, loosing their nefarious schemes on beloved classics of literature and an unwitting public alike. First in the series is The Eyre Affair, though you don't get a true sense of what Fforde is capable of until its followup, Lost in a Good Book. The two that follow ain't no slouches, either. Read 'em all, and read 'em often.

King Dork by Frank Portman
Michael Schaub at Bookslut said of King Dork, "I love this book as much as I hated high school", and I couldn't agree more. It's one of the funniest books I've ever read, and it's an unflinchingly honest look at high school from the point of view of an endearing outcast. It's sweet, it's funny, and best of all, it's all kinds of punk-rock. What's not to love?

Last Call by Tim Powers
Tim Powers is an evil genius. If Dashiell Hammett and Philip Dick collaborated on a novel, it might look a bit like this.

Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad
This book reads like a sports movie for music geeks. Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 tells the tales of 13 legendary indie bands as they forged new sounds, labels, and subcultures, paving the way for the so-called alternative-rock explosion of the '90s. Even if the music's not your cup of tea, the stories are well worth the read. I'm not sure what's more awesome: that Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers was once a practicing lawyer, or that he gave it all up to chase his dream, even if it meant living in a van, scrounging for change, and playing in dive after dive with little hope of ever hitting it rich. That's love, pure and simple. And as far as I'm concerned, it's the only worthwhile reason to pick up a guitar or clack away at a keyboard – anything else is just gravy.

So there you have it. No doubt I'll think of two-dozen more in the next few days. Mayhap I'll even post them. So now it's payback time. What books move you to harass friends and strangers? Comment or post or, you know, don't. But I could use me a good book. Who's gonna step up to the plate?