Part of Stephen King’s instructions for fledgling writers is to read and read voraciously because “reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.” He instructs you to read some books outside of your chosen genre as well. But if you’re going to read, you might as well read the best and to that end I decided to compile a list of the books I found to be the most exceptional and entertaining over the last 15 years.
The reason I have this list is that for some reason I can’t fathom I decided to start keeping track of all the books I read along with the date I finished them and a rating from A to F. While I agree with King’s statement, there sure are a lot of mediocre books to get through before you can come up with an A list. On the other hand, the difference between an A and an A- rating is purely subjective but I had to cut things off somewhere.
Since the list is so long I decided to first list the books ranked in the A+s with the full list below that for those who don’t want to wade through the entire thing.
It’s interesting to see how your reading tastes change over the years. In the year 2000 I was reading strictly SF but then quite a bit later I decided to get a taste of some literary works, mystery thrillers, a few miscellaneous non fiction categories and once I decided to pursue writing myself, you’ll notice some non fiction books on the craft of writing start to appear. Also keep in mind that since I prefer SF for the most part my ratings on literary works may be somewhat askew but I can say I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.
I have several books that have haunted me for several years after reading them that my thoughts keep coming back to. One which I gave only a C+ rating to because I found it difficult to read about the horrendous things that happen to the main character is The Sparrow by Mary Dora Russell. If you read it you probably won’t forget it and not necessarily in a bad way considering the exceptional writing. See a summary of it in my post Science Fiction and Religion.
Ender’s Game (A+++) by Orson Scott Card. I don’t think about it often but once in awhile when I read or hear the title mentioned I grin and remember one of the most genius endings to a novel I’ve ever read. The sequel, Speaker For The Dead, was excellent as well.
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (A+) by Carsen McCullers has an unforgettable ending that hits you like a hammer and made me break down crying.
Eifelheim by Michael Flynn is brilliant for the way it effortlessly unites several of the characters’s story lines that elegantly merge for a satisfying ending.
The greatest series of books I’ve ever read: Well, there is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series and the seemingly endless Dune novels, but more recently I would have to say The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (A++) trilogy by Stieg Larsson because of this uniquely fascinating mystery and the formidable power of the character Lisbeth Salander. And, for you fans it looks like the series may continue with a fourth book to be published in 2015. Second would be the Manifold Time series by Stephen Baxter with the character Reid Malenfant who every nerd should aspire to be. At a time when the world was turning inward to try to resolve man’s misuse of the planet, Malenfant bootstrapped some mothballed shuttle engines and decided to blast off into space with the idea of mining and colonization and, despite all of the naysayers, gets the job done.
Around 2011 I started purchasing audio books to listen to while I exercised. Audio books are quite a different experience from a visual read and the narrator can make or break a book. The best non fiction audio book on writing I’ve listened to hands down is Stein On Writing by Sol Stein narrated by Christopher Lane. Best audio fiction is by a wide margin The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz narrated by Jonathan Davis and Staci Snell.
And speaking of exercising, I have to include the best book on exercising I’ve ever read: Ready, Set, Go! by Phil Campbell (A++). Not only are the exercises practical for all age ranges (as long as you’re healthy) but full research documentation for every routine or supplement he suggests is provided in the right hand margin of the book. Coming in a strong second is The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss.
Favorite authors? Stephen King has recently moved to the top with such books as The Dome and 11/22/63, Robert Sawyer with his The Neanderthal Parallax series and many others, and Stephen Baxter’s Manifold series .
This list wouldn’t be complete without pointing out at least a few of the worst books I’ve ever read or attempted to read. I’m sure I’ll be taken to task by some of you for this but you’ll find it at the end of this post.
Here’s the A+ list (book title, author, year read and rating):
- Timeships Stephen Baxter 2000 A+
- Mr. China’s Son Liyi He (nonfiction) 2000 A++
- Doomsday Book Connie Willis 2001 A+++
- Ender’s Game Orson Scott Card 2001 A+++
- The Time Machine H.G. Wells 2011 A++
- Speaker For The Dead Orson Scott Card 2002 A+
- Dracula Bram Stoker 2002 A+
- Timeline Michael Crichton 2003 A++
- Darwin’s Radio Greg Bear 2003 A+
- Peyton Place Grace Metalious 2004 A+
- Da Vinci Code Dan Brown 2005 A++
- To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee 2006 A+
- East Of Eden John Steinbeck 2006 A+
- The Forge Of God Greg Bear 2006 A+
- The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers 2007 A+
- Blood Music Greg Bear 2007 A+
- Time Traveler Dr. Ronald L. Mallett (nonfiction) 2008 A+
- Rollback Robert Sawyer 2008 A+
- Infinity Beach Jack McDevitt 2008 A+
- Eifelheim Michael Flynn 2009 A++
- The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger 2009 A+
- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson 2010 A++
- Moonfall Jack McDevitt 2011 A+
- Immediate Fiction Jerry Cleaver (nonfiction) 2011 A+
- The Dome Stephen King 2011 A+
- Stephen King On Writing (nonfiction) 2011 A+
- The Girl Who Played With Fire Stieg Larsson 2011 A++
- Stein On Writing Sol Stein (nonfiction audio) 2011 A++
- Alas Babylon Pat Frank (audio) 2011 A+
- No Plot No Problem Chris Baty (nonfiction) 2011 A+
- The Last Symbol Dan Brown 2011 A+
- The 4-Hour Body Timothy Ferriss (nonfiction) 2012 A+
- 11/22/63 Stephen King 2012 A+
- Ready, Set, Go! Phil Campbell (nonfiction) 2012 A++
- The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest Stieg Larsson A++
- Pillars Of The Earth Ken Follett 2013 A+
- The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao Juno Diaz (audio) 2013 A+
- 2k To 10k Writing Faster, Writing Better Rachael Aaron (nonfiction) 2013 A+
- The Dog Stars Peter Heller 2013 A+
- WWW: Wonder Robert Sawyer 2013 A++
- No Wonder You Feel Like Crap (nonfiction) Richard Weinstein (nonfiction) 2013 A+
- Write, Publish, Repeat Johnny B. Truant (nonfiction) 2013 A+
- The Goldfinch Donna Tartt 2014 A+
The A List:
- Einstein’s Bridge John Camer 2001 A
- First Men In The Moon H.G. Wells 2001 A
- Robinson Crusoe Danial Defoe 2002 A
- Ghost Story Peter Straub 2002 A
- Angels & Demons Dan Brown 2004 A
- Hominids Robert Sawyer 2004 A
- Hyperion Dan Simmons 2004 A
- The Fall Of Hyperion Dan Simmons 2004 A
- Human Robert Sawyer 2005 A
- Manifold Time Stephen Baxter 2005 A
- Invasion Of The Body Snatchers Jack Finney 2005 A
- Mars Crossing Geoffrey Landis 2005 A
- Calculating God Robert Sawyer 2005 A
- Manifold Space Stephen Baxter 2005 A
- Planet Of The Apes Pierre Boulle 2006 A
- Household Gods Judith Tarr & Harry Turtledove 2006 A
- Factoring Humanity Robert Sawyer 2006 A
- Time Machines: The Best Time Travel Stories Ever Written Bill Adler (nonfiction) 2008 A
- Sunstorm Arthur C. Clark & Stephen Baxter 2008 A
- First Time Legend Of Garrison Fitch 2008 A
- Breaking The Time Barrier: The Race To Build A Time Machine Jenny Randles (nonfiction) 2009 A
- Life Is So Good George Dawson (nonfiction) 2009 A
- Blind Lake Robert Charles Wilson 2009 A
- Vacuum Diagrams Stephen Baxter 2009 A
- Deep Six Jack McDEvitt 2009 A
- Blasphemy Douglas Preston 2010 A
- Chindi Jack McDevitt 2010 A
- Replay Ken Grimwood 2010 A
- WWW: Watch Robert Sawyer 2010 A
- Multireal David Louis Edelman 2010 A
- Water For Elephants Sara Gruen (audio) 2011 A
- Day By Day Armageddon J.L. Bourne (audio) 2012 A
- The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins 2012 A
- Inside Story Dara Marks (nonfiction) 2012 A
- The Art Of War For Writers James Scott Bell (nonfiction) 2012 A
- The Hidden Reality Brian Green (nonfiction audio) 2012 A
- How To Write A Novel In 30 Days Nicholas Black (nonfiction) 2012 A
- The Modern Scholar: From Here To Infinity Michael Drout (nonfiction audio) 2012 A
- UR Stephen King 2013 A
- Doctor Yourself Andrew W. Saul (non fiction) 2013 A
- Rich Dad Poor Dad Robert T. Kiyosaki (nonfiction) 2013 A
- Leviathan Wakes James Cory (audio) 2013 A
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore Robin Sloan (audio) 2013 A
- Shiva Descending Gregory Benford 2014 A
The worst of the worst:
- Flatland Edwin Abbot So boring I couldn’t finish it.
- Neuromancer William Gibson Too jargony and confusing.
- Rainbow Mars Larry Niven Never liked SF comedy.
- Dianetics L. Ron Hubbard Not only dull but it didn’t make any sense (I hope Tom Cruise isn’t reading this).
- The Sirens Of Titan Kurt Vonnegut Hey, don’t hate me because I slammed Kurt. I read all of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and loved it — even the very lengthy narrative about the world’s longest pubic hair.
- Einstein’s Dreams Alan Lightman No reason. Just hated it.
- Flood Stephen Baxter He goes into lengthy travel log descriptions of streets and settings in England which would only be of interest to those who live there.
- Death With Interruptions Jose Saramago Had to stop. No characters, no plot.
- The Power Of Full Engagement Jim Loehr Too long winded with little substance.
- The Gift Lewis Hyde Ponderous, boring, wordy.