15 Books

There’s a thread on Facebook called ’15 books’ in which they ask the question: What makes a book sticky? In other words, what are 15 books that “stick with you.” Here’s my list, with the caveat that it’s the 15 books that I can think of right now, in no particular order, and eschewing the books that are significant because of my scholarly work.\

I leave authors out of the list because I’m a jerk.

  1. Ender’s Game. A book I read at least twice a year well into my twenties. I’ve cooled on this since I learned OSC was an outspoken homophobe.
  2. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. A book that pushes the envelope of what you can do with fantastic / SF fiction, in a good way. Amazing. (The Scar is nearly as good, IMO)
  3. City of Glass. Okay, this is somewhat related to my scholarship, but I like it for its wide-ranging philosophical important and kooky layered referentiality.
  4. Freakonomics. I can’t think of another book that started so many cool conversations. Pools are more dangerous than handguns. Discuss. (See also: Sway)
  5. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Hands down my favorite comic. Bears repeated re-readings.
  6. Catch-22. Another defining book from my youth about the madness of modern bureaucracy. I should re-read that again to see what I’d get out of it today. I’m laughing already thinking of Major Major.
  7. Forever War. More than any other SF novel, I find myself referring to this one as a book of cool ideas. I have brought it up in many classes and conversations.
  8. Cryptonomicon. I love all of Neal Stephenson’s works, but I think this is the best. That said, I could easily add two or three other books to this list, particularly Snow Crash.
  9. The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Sarah Vowell’s writing mixes history and commentary and personal experience and I love it immensely.
  10. Isaac’s Storm. Erik Larsen crafts a tight narrative about hubris, science, and the most deadly hurricane in the U.S. before Katrina. When people encounter a certain kind of excitement about a writer, I invoke this book as a must-read.
  11. Shadow Divers. An excellent book about human daring and ingenuity, exploration, and the weakness of addiction. Plus, really interesting history.
  12. World War Z. I’m a zombie fan, I’ll admit it. This book captures what’s exciting about zombies in so many ways, it’s hard to put down. I’ve read it three times: the first time I couldn’t put it down. It’s too good.
  13. Right-Ho, Jeeves. If you have read Wodehouse, you know. If you haven’t, you should. Get on it.
  14. The Man in the High Tower. Alternate universes, trippy ideas, Philip K. Dick. All important and interesting. (See also, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
  15. Getting Things Done. As a perpetual procrastinator who always wishes he wasn’t, this book stands as the paean to all things I wish I would do, and sometimes I can.

World War Z

The Battle of YonkersWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks; Narrated by a full cast

This is one of my favorite books, one that I’ve read four times now (in the last three years). The audio book entertains and moves in ways the regular book doesn’t always manage, but mostly it just presents the stories afresh.

I was bummed to learn that the audio book is abridged. I can’t find any listings for an unabridged one, either. Sigh. Here are the stories I can remember that they cut out. They cut the:

  • guy who created phalanx,
  • Chinese submarine captain,
  • wealthy suburbanite whose family is attacked,
  • man from the Paris catacombs cleanup squad,
  • hard-shell diver,
  • Ukranian squad leader who guarded the bridge,
  • Russian soldier who witnessed the decimations,
  • Russian priest who stopped the suicides,
  • Canadian squad in Afghanistan,
  • U.S. chief of staff from before the panic,
  • Japanese computer guy who climbed down balcony by balcony,
  • Indian soldier who helped blow up the mountain road,
  • filmmaker,
  • mentally-handicapped woman who was trapped in a church
  • Brazilian doctor,
  • dog handler,
  • radio dispatcher for Radio Free Earth,
  • astronauts on the space station.

Wow, now that I actually made that list (and I could be missing many of these), I’m really bummed that it was such a narrow scope for the audio book. I put a few of the more crucial missing sections in italics, but they’re all excellent.

The performances were pretty great, with an excellent one from Alan Alda as the head of DISTRESS (the U.S. resources-management guy). All around, the actors did justice to the text, often adding an extra layer to the character. Given the vast amount of excised material, though, I’d highly recommend using the audio book as a supplemental second-reading, or as a prelude to the print version.