Hey, you sass that hoopy Bill Napier? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is.

I Read These 10 Books, and You'll Never Believe What Happened Next!

What happened next is that I got on with my life. But it got you to click through, didn't it? Anyway...

Margaret and I were discussing one night our 10 favorite books of all time. 5 was pretty easy to get to off the top of my head, but filling in the last 5 was a bit harder. What helped fill it in was going to my bookshelf and taking a look. I tend to keep books I like.

Rather than just list these out on Facebook, I decided that it would be more interesting to actually write a little about each book. So here goes.

The Books

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (by Douglas Adams)

I've lost track of how many times I've read this series cover to cover. I've got a well worn copy of first four in the series and a standalone copy of Mostly Harmless. Adams has such a unique style of story telling. Kinda manic and all over the place, with a lot of (typically British) humor of the absurd. It's never really overtly comic, and yet still has a number of laugh-out-loud moments.

Hey, you sass that hoopy Bill Napier? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is.

The name of this blog actually comes from this book.

Lord of the Rings (by JRR Tolkein)

T'was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair. / But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her....yeah.

I was introduced to LotR rather late compared to most other geeks. I didn't read it the first time until High School. And the only reason I really leared of it was because I was listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin at the time, and a few of their songs make reference to the series (Misty Mountain Hop).

LotR was my first exposure to what I call "Epic Fantasy". There is a huge, detailed world and the reader is thurst into it with no background and has to figure things out on the fly, much like the characters in the book. I love how detailed Tolkein made Middle Earth, where even things like the phase of the moon it properly described.

Snowcrash (by Neal Stephenson)

Didn't find out about this novel or Stephenson until college, again kinda late to the game. The opening of the book is really what grabbed me. Name another book that starts off with a pizza delivery and the mob. Where does he come up with this stuff?

Snowcrash was published in 1992 and most of what Stephenson talked about was totally fantastic, definite Science Fiction. I reread the book sometime later (2004?) and was gobsmacked to see how many of the things Stephenson made up were now actual products. Google Earth. Second Life. I bet startup companies today are going back to this book today to find out their next idea, I'm sure it's in there.

Ender's Game (by Orson Scott Card)

Remember, the enemy's gate is down.

Again, discovered this book in college (same guy who recommended Snowcrash). This was back before Card starting running off his mouth about gay people, so it was still OK to read him.

A lot of Ender's game could be described as pretty typical Young Adult SF, like Heinlein "Juveniles". Exceptional kid, picked to save the world, smarter than the adults, has to overcome the bullies jealous of him. We all wanted to be Ender. All pretty typical YA coming of age store. If it weren't for the ending, this book never would have made the list. I won't spoil it for you here (even though the movie spoiled it in the trailer...), but there's quite a twist at the end that catapults a good story into a great one.

Sadly, pretty much everything else Card has written is dreck.

Name of the Wind (by Patrick Rothfuss)

Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.

Of all things, Margaret's randomly bought this one for me. She has a history of picking winners for me, and this one is no exception. Another epic fantasy, this time with a believable magic system underpinning the story. If you've read the Dresden Files, you'll be familiar the magic system as Rothfuss has borrowed heavily from it (he's admits he's a fan).

But the store is so much more than that. Starts off as a pretty standard YA coming of age story, like a more adult version of Harry Potter (including the school!). Except Kvothe get's kicked out of school and then we're off on an adventure.

Have no idea how this one's going to end. He's promised a triolgy and has only written two of them. There's quite a bit of story to cover in a single book....

Dune (by Frank Herbert)

My own name is a killing word

I took a course in Science Fiction as a Junior at Penn. In addition to lecture (which basically covered a lot of this history), we had to read two books each week and be able to write about them for recitation.

This weeks theme was "Epic Novels" (I'm sensing a theme). We had to read Le Guin's The Dispossessed and Herbert's Dune. I stared with Le Guin's book and it took most of the week for me to get through it. Even though it won basically every SF award possible (Nebula, Hugo, Locus), to this day I have no idea what it was about.

I was in a bind. I had recitation in under 24 hours and all 500+ pages of Dune to read. My plan was to get through enough of the book to be able to talk about it, and finish it after recitation. What ended up happening was that I stayed up all night to finish it. I couldn't put it down. Again, another Epic story of a fantastic world and of interesting people. None of the movies for Dune do the book justice.

The Robots of Dawn (by Issac Asimov)

The robot had no feelings, only positronic surges that mimicked those feelings. (And perhaps human beings had no feelings, only neuronic surges that were interpreted as feelings.)

It was summer, probalby during high school. Church Youth Group trip to Ocean City, NJ. I needed something to read, so I picked this up at the bookstore. I proceeded to get very sunburnt on the back of my legs while reading it on the beach.

This book affected me so much that I still, 20 years later, remember where I read it. It was probalby the first hard science fiction I've read (at least that made this list), and some of the idea still stick with me. Of course, Asimov's 3 laws of robotics (and the 0th law). But also the "people mover" idea, where there are treads moving at different rates, and you can pay more to ride a faster tread. Or pay a premium and get a seat.

So this got me hooked on Asmiov. I went back and read the earlier books in the series, but this was by far the best. This one is where the ideas were more mature, more distilled. The earlier books still seemed a touch simplistic.

Why not Foundation? To be honest, it's probably the better series. But I couldn't tell you where I was when I read it the first time (The second time was spring break during college for class).

Hackers (by Steven Levy)

Systems are organic, living creations: if people stop working on them and improving them, they die.

In college I got really hooked on the history of computing. Still am. Soul of a New Machine (Data General). Revolution in The Valley (Apple). In The Plex (Google). Some book on a company who failed (Sorry, don't remember the name). The book on the history of the iPod.

But this book is by Stevn Levy (just like the iPod book and the Google book). It's one of his earlier works, and I actually like it better than some of this later works. Levy has a tendancy to write his books as a series of magazine articles. In Hackers, it works because he split the book into a series of separate stories. His other books it's more annoying.

And it talks about all the stuff that happened when I was a kid, too young to participate. The Altair. The original Apple. Woz and Jobs back when they were the dynamic duo. Homebrew Computing Club. The good old days.

On a Pale Horse (by Piers Anthony)

What kind of fool had he been, to throw away romance untried?

I read a lot of Piers Antohny as a kid. And by a lot, I mean pretty much everything he wrote. I loved his work. Eventually I realized that most of most famous books (The Xanth Series) were super formulaic and started to get boring.

On the other hand, his Incarnations of Immortality series Bio of a Space Tyrant were pretty good, at least in the mind of a 12 year old boy.

Imagine that Death is job that you can work for eternity. He (and his friends Time, War, Fate, and Nature) are in a constant battle against Satan. It blew my mind and I really enjoyed reading it.

Recently I started re-reading the series. It's been nearly 30 years, and I still remember quite a bit of it. And I'm finding that it doesn't hold up that well. Not that's its dated, but more that I'm older now and things that seemed profound to a 12 year old have been proven false via experience. Plus Anthony seems to be a touch of a woman-hater, which can make it hard to read.

Phantom Tollbooth (by Norton Juster)

Ok, this is weird one. I read it in junior high. I don't really remember why it was so impactful on me, but anytime a book for a 10 years old comes up, this is the one that I point out. Looking forward to Joshua being old enough to read it so I can get him a copy.

Didn't Make The List

There were a few books that I like, but felt just got bumped off the list. I'll list them here in case your interested.

  • Old Mans Way by John Scalzi. Very good book, really enjoyed reading it and the rest of the series, but nothing from it has really stuck with me.
  • Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. Only started reading this due to the HBO series, trying to stay ahead of spoilers. It's very very good, but I don't ever see myself re-reading it. The good points are too few and far between, especially in the later books.

So, what are some of your favorite books?

comments powered by Disqus
Bill Napier

Bill Napier

Technologist, Gadget Lover, Father. Doing full time work at Google and part time work on everything else.