Your all-time favorite book (fiction or non).
December 9, 2006 1:02 PM   Subscribe

What is your all time favorite book (fiction or non)?

I am looking to expand my horizons. I am a grad student and so I dont find myself reading for fun too often but, I should. I thought that this population might have some great ideas for new reads. I want to know what people love, not just what I think I would love. Any help is much appreciated.
posted by Meemer to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (77 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
A short Histrory of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson for Non fiction. The Shipping News, by E. Annie Proulx for fiction.
posted by Jesco at 1:18 PM on December 9, 2006

White Noise by Don DeLillo:

The power of the dead is that we think they see us all the time. The dead have a presence. Is there a level of energy composed solely of the dead? They are also in the ground, of course, asleep and crumbling. Perhaps we are what they dream.
posted by four panels at 1:27 PM on December 9, 2006

The Fool's Progress by Ed Abbey
posted by Seamus at 1:28 PM on December 9, 2006

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon.

Though I just read "A Short History..." and "The Fool's Progress" both fantastic books.
posted by Science! at 1:32 PM on December 9, 2006

Barouqe Cycle, by Neal Sephenson.

I know there are better books out there, but I just dug the hell out of that series having read it three times in about two years now.
posted by sourwookie at 1:33 PM on December 9, 2006

The short story collections of David Foster Wallace:

Around the deck of this old public pool on the western edge of Tucson is a Cyclone fence the color of pewter, decorated with a bright tangle of locked bicycles. Beyond this a hot black parking lot full of white lines and glittering cars. A dull field of dry grass and hard weeds, old dandelions' downy heads exploding and snowing up in a rising wind. And past all this, reddened by a round slow September sun, are mountains, jagged, their tops sharp angles darkening into definition against a deep red tired light. Against the red their sharp connected tops form a spiked line, an EKG of the dying day.
posted by four panels at 1:33 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham

posted by Gerard Sorme at 1:41 PM on December 9, 2006

All time favorite novel is 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It's a complicated family saga so be sure to read it with an edition that has the family tree diagrammed.

Some recent novels I've read that I enjoyed:
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Short story authors that I recommend:
W. Somerset Maugham
Shirley Jackson
Patricia Highsmith
posted by Soda-Da at 1:42 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

No book has changed me more than On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. He not only taught me what to think, he taught me how to think.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:07 PM on December 9, 2006

posted by Meatbomb at 2:07 PM on December 9, 2006

One Hundred Years of Solitude
posted by growabrain at 2:12 PM on December 9, 2006

For fiction, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

Good manners are an admission that everybody is so tender that they have to be handled with gloves. Now, human respect—you don't call a man a coward or a liar lightly, but if you spend your life sparing people's feelings and feeding their vanity, you get so you can't distinguish what should be respected in them.

For nonfiction, I like essays and memoirs more than informative writing; so, pretty much any collection by David Sedaris.

I like to ask people favorite poems rather than favorite novels because I can personally sample a greater number of them. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't have favorite poems anymore.
posted by scission at 2:26 PM on December 9, 2006

scission "October Fullness" by Neruda has been a companion to m for many years. I consider it more of a friend than a poem.
posted by Meemer at 2:35 PM on December 9, 2006

I find myself rereading Cryptonomicon a lot. I would probably reread the Baroque cycle too if I owned it. I just like the depth and absurdity of these books, and the way they shamelessly wallow around in geekiness.
posted by mecran01 at 2:36 PM on December 9, 2006

My favorite modern novels would have to be Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (be warned that some of his other series include overt Mormon themes), and Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit are good, but you've probably already read them, or at least seen the movies.

The Chronicles of Narnia are good, but the Christian allegory is a quite overwrought at times and treads perilously close to propaganda.

My favorite pieces of classical literature would be the two Bronte novels: Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Once I finished both, I could only shake my head in wonder that so much literary talent could reside in two members of a single family.

four panels

I read White Noise during Freshman Seminar several years ago, and I remember absolutely detesting it at the time. Do you have any words of wisdom in case I decide to give it another shot?
posted by The Confessor at 2:42 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

ok then, favorite poem.
posted by Rumple at 2:53 PM on December 9, 2006

My all-time favorites (I can't come up with just one):

--"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. There's something perfect about the plot -- like a fairy-tale, as if it had been honed by generation after generation; the characters range from being deeply fleshed out (Nick / Gatsby) to smartly-drawn. Dickens-like caricatures (Tom / George Wilson). The language is beautiful, poetic without every being over-wrought; the dialog is brilliant and witty, as in Jane Austen; and the novel evokes a foreign world as skillfully as any Sci-Fi novel (though Fitzgerald had the advantage of actually living in that world). Every time I read it -- which is at least once every three years, it reminds me more than any other novel of listening to a great piece of music.

One of the audio versions -- read by Frank Muller -- is almost as great an experience for me as reading it myself. Muller somehow perfectly captures the tone of the book. It's much more of a finely-tuned performance than an reading.

--"House of Mirth," by Edith Wharton. You'll love this book if you love Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. It creates a similar sort of universe. But it's weightier than anything by Austen, and it's set in New York instead of England. Lily Bart is one of the great characters in 20th-century literature.

--"Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger. If I pick up this novel and start reading the first few lines, I can't stop. I grips me immediately. It's a one-character book -- but what a character. He irritates some people, because they want him to "stop complaining and DO something." So if you get antsy reading Chekhov, you won't like Holden Caulfield, either. To me, he's like someone I WISH I would meet at a party. Someone who would start telling a story and have me hooked until I suddenly noticed that I'd been listening to him for hours, and it's now 3am and all the other guests had long left.

-- Speaking of Chekhov, read some Chekhov stories and plays. No one has ever understood (and sympathized) with people like him. Make sure you get good translations. I highly recommend the Mamet versions of the plays. My favorite is "Uncle Vanya." After reading it, watch "Vanya on 42nd Street" and "Country Life" -- two excellent adaptations.

-- "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare." Don't listen to those people who say that Shakespeare wasn't meant to be read (and I say this as a theatre professional, who regularly produces, directs and acts Shakespeare). True, it's easier to understand Shakespeare -- if you're new to his language -- if you see a staged version. But amongst Shakespeare's zillions of gifts, use of language was his greatest. And on stage, the words fly by too fast to savor (and 99% of staged versions are cut to the point of butchey).

Getting into Shakespeare is work, but it pays off in spaces. if you want to do it right, pick one play (I recommend "King Lear", "Winters Tale", "Hamlet" or "The Tempest"), pick up about five different editions (cheap at your local used bookstore), and go through the play line-by-line, reading all the notes. After doing this, you'll start to learn the language, and your next read will be easier.

It's eerie getting deeply into Shakespeare. He seems to have figured everything out before everyone else. Reading him, you're repeatedly reminded of other stories you've heard, read and watched, and it's amazing how often Shakespeare's version is better.

-- I nth "One Hundred Years of Solitude."
posted by grumblebee at 3:13 PM on December 9, 2006

"The Complete Works of William Shakespeare."

I'd stick to the later tragedies (Macbeth, Othello, King lear, Richard II) - the comedies (Gentlemen of Verona, Taming of the Shrew, etc.) are, to me, vapid and not worth your time.
posted by four panels at 3:22 PM on December 9, 2006

I can't nail down a favorite, but I'd like to suggest Envy by Yuri Olesha. It's a short, funny, bittersweet novel written under Stalin that may or may not be pro-Soviet. It's truly ambiguous in a marvelous and artful way and not enough people have read it.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2006

The Wrestler's Cruel Study by Stephen Dobyns (fiction)
The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg (non)
posted by shoesfullofdust at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2006

Favorite popular science book: The Selfish Gene

Favorite Historical Fiction: Cryptonomicon

Favorite Technical Work: Programming Perl (it's actually fun to read, and pretty humorous at times)

Favorite Autobiographies: Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman and What do you care what other people think? both by Richard Feynman.

Favorite Mathematics Books: Ian Stewart's Calculus texts, anything by Martin Gardner.

Favorite math-fiction: Flatland by Edwin A. Abbot

Favorite SciFi: Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson

Favorite reference: Pocket Ref

Moby Dick is probably the best novel I haven't finished.

I have to say, I hated Gatsby. Maybe I just didn't get it.
posted by phrontist at 3:28 PM on December 9, 2006

I'll second The Great Gatsby, by Fitzgerald.

However, I think this one even tops Gatsby, which, in my eyes, is a drastic statement: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.
posted by AthenaPolias at 3:29 PM on December 9, 2006

Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov: short stories. Kinda fits both as fiction and non-fiction.
posted by selton at 3:30 PM on December 9, 2006

Martian Chronicles.
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:31 PM on December 9, 2006

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
posted by the duck by the oboe at 3:36 PM on December 9, 2006

This is a difficult question to answer, but I'll give it a shot.

Favorite fiction book: (children's book though: The Green Book by Jill Patton Walsh) more adult choice? Where the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie Macdonald
Favorite non-fiction book: Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison
Favorite poem(s): "Women" by Adrienne Rich and "Fog" by Carl Sandburg
Favorite book of poems: Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters
posted by sperose at 4:16 PM on December 9, 2006

On a more scientific-ish bent, anything by Feynman is fucking awesome.
posted by sperose at 4:17 PM on December 9, 2006

"A Seperate Peace," by Jonathan Knowles, and "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt.

as a kid, the book that made the deepest impression on my was "Bridge to Terebithia," by Katherine Patterson, and I think it's still worth reading by adults.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:27 PM on December 9, 2006

It's definitely not for everybody -- as I have learned from unsuccessfully trying to get a couple of my friends to read it -- but my all-time favorite work of fiction is Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.
posted by hazelshade at 4:29 PM on December 9, 2006

Three books:
Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes
Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

There are books I have reread more times -- and none of the above are actually owned by me right at the moment -- but these are my favorites, these made my heart burst, these formed my world-view back when I was working on that.

Some other books made my heart burst more recently (in a more muted, adult sort of way) for example:

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
posted by Methylviolet at 4:29 PM on December 9, 2006

I have two favorite books, which I cannot choose between, don't ask me to, you can't make me:
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, and
The Master and Margerita by Mikhail Bulgagov.
It must be said that prior to reading either book, in order to fully appreciate them, you must have at least a basic understanding of India around the time of Partition, and Soviet Russia and Muscovite culture in the 1930's, respectively.
posted by msali at 4:44 PM on December 9, 2006

How can you possibly have marked a best answer for this? Isn't this essentially an opinion poll?
posted by jdroth at 4:46 PM on December 9, 2006

seconding Martian Chronicles

also The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
posted by SBMike at 4:49 PM on December 9, 2006

My favorite fiction books are the ones I can read over and over, and feel so immersed in them that taking a break from reading is disorienting. George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is the main set of books I'd want with me if I were stuck in a small room alone for months.

My favorite nonfiction books are all over the place, but a couple odd, fun books that have stuck with me a long time are The Emperors of Chocolate and Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel. I have fun checking the biography section of the bookstore and picking out whatever looks good (I laughed a lot at I Shouldn't Even be Doing This and Bruce Campbell's autobiography--laughing until everyone around you thinks you're insane may not make a "favorite," but it makes for a good time.
posted by Cricket at 4:50 PM on December 9, 2006

The Crow Road by Iain Banks. It's certainly the one I've read more than any other, I read it on average once a year at least and thoroughly enjoy it every time, so I'd say it's my favourite.

Close seconds are Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg, I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith and Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith.
posted by biscotti at 4:57 PM on December 9, 2006

Books I recommend that everyone I know read, and re-read myself often):

Watership Down
Lonesome Dove
All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
A Fool's Progress, Abbey
The Dharma Bums, Kerouac
Steppenwolf, Hesse

And (sine it's come up already) my favorites as a kid:
The Fallen Spaceman, Lee Harding
Bridge to Terabithia
Where the Red Fern Grows
The Chronicles of Prydain (series), Lloyd Alexander (when I was finished I wrote the author to ask him to write more)

One of my key elements is a good ending, or a good "ending feeling" - a feeling of completion at the end, of coming around through a great story to a satisfying finishing place. So many books (and movies) nowadays seem to just...end.
posted by gottabefunky at 4:57 PM on December 9, 2006

Some of my favourites include:

Catch-22 by Heller
A Confederacy of Dunces by Toole
Lucky Jim by Amis
Rebecca by DuMaurier
Ender's Game by Card
Jitterbug Perfume by Robbins
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, by Feynman
Jim the Boy by Earley
The Glass Village by Queen
The Demolished Man by Bester
Franny and Zooey by Salinger
Foundation Trilogy by Asimov
Tour de Force by Brand
A Tour of the Calculus by Berlinski
The Code Book by Singh
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Doyle
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by Rowling
84 Charing Cross Road by Hanff
The Three Coffins by Carr

but the one book that I cannot pick up without reading to the end is

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Pirsig.
posted by lockedroomguy at 4:58 PM on December 9, 2006

Fool On The Hill by Matt Ruff
posted by davidmsc at 5:05 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Rainbow Six, Tom Clancy

..infact, I hate books. This is the ONLY book I even liked.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 5:14 PM on December 9, 2006

If a single book must be named, Daniil Kharms: Incidences.
posted by ikalliom at 5:32 PM on December 9, 2006

All of these books sound so high brow I'm somewhat intimidated to recommend my favorite.

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
posted by JujuB at 5:44 PM on December 9, 2006

Favorite SciFi: Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson


Also; Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

And pretty much Christopher Moore's entire works, though I'd start with Bloodsucking Fiends, a Love Story.

All terribly fun stories.
posted by quin at 5:52 PM on December 9, 2006

Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti
""In Auto-da-Fé no one is spared. Professor and furniture salesman, doctor, housekeeper, and thief all get it in the neck. The remoreseless quality of the comedy builds one of the most terrifying literary worlds of the century."--Salman Rushdie

*I always thought that Proust was one of the more unreadable writers of classic literature, like Tolstoy or Joyce (I never got through War and Peace or Ulysses), but once I started reading In Search of Lost Time I found it very rewarding. There is not much of a story happening, but the beautiful style and silent humour keeps you reading.

*"The Brothers Karamazov" by Dostojewski.

*Science Fiction/Fantasy: Iron Council by China Mievielle. One quote from the book:
"Here a crawling man spiral-shelled in iron and venting smoke. Here a woman working, because there are women among the Remade, a woman become a guttered pillar, her organic parts like afterthoughts. A man -- or is it a woman? -- whose flesh moves with tides, with eructations like an octopus. People with their faces relocated, bodies made of iron and rubber cables, and steam-engine arms, and animal arms, and arms that are body-length pistons on which the Remade walk, their legs replaced with monkey's paws so they reach out from below their own waists."
*"Red Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson, who also wrote the phantastic alternate history novel "The Years of Rice and Salt". "Green Mars" was ok too, but "Blue Mars" not so much; anything by Iain M. Banks - "A Player Of Games" is a good start. And I second what Meatbomb said.

*Non Fiction: The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault, Das Kapital by Karl Marx and the Dialectic of Entlightenment by Adorno / Horkheimer.
posted by kolophon at 5:57 PM on December 9, 2006

My favorite book of all time is Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger. I reread it at least once a year.
Others I've liked: The Zero Game by Brad Meltzer, The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Margaret Truman's mysteries, Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware books, and anything by Mike Royko.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:05 PM on December 9, 2006

Charles Dickens, Bleak House.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:18 PM on December 9, 2006

JujuB, as one of the more highbrow posters, I want to think you. I looked up "Forever Amber" on Amazon, and it looks like fun. I'm going to read it.

Which made me think...

Really fun books that I've read:

1. "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins. This mystery is great through and through. Each section is narrated by a different character. The first narrator is amazing: one of the most fun characters I've ever encountered. (As with my "Gatsby" comment, I'd like to point out that there's an amazing audiobook version of this -- with multiple actors, each reading a section.)

2. "The Extra Man," by Jonathan Ames. If you like Fitzgetald's Novels and Whit Stillman's Films, there's a good chance you'll love this book. Ames's other novels are also fun, and "Wake Up, Sir" is a sort of sequel to "The Extra Man."

3. The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I'm not a fantasy fan, but I eat these books up. Along the same lines, I second "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell," by Susanna Clarke. If Dickens and Tolkein had a love child, she would have written this book. Other fantasies I like include "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman (I don't like the other books in this series), "Watership Down" by Richard Adams, "The Box of Delights" (a forgotten children's novel, on par -- or better than -- the Narnia books) by John Masefield, and two books by H.G. Wells: "The Time Machine" and "The Island of Dr. Moreau."

4. "The Hustler" and "The Queen's Gambit" by Walter Tavis. Tavis was a no-nonsense WRITER. He knew how to put two sentences together. construct a plot, tell his story and move on. Had he lived longer, I bet he would have written a perfect little book in every imaginable genre.

5. "This Perfect Day" and "A Kiss Before Dying" by Ira Levin. The first book is a dystopian sci-fi novel, along the lines of "1984" and "Brave New World." It doesn't have the weight of either of those two novels, but to me it's more satisfying in terms of world creation and character. "A Kiss Before Dying" is a mystery with a great twist -- so the less said about it, the better.

6. The "Martin Beck" mysteries by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. 10 lovely police procedural mysteries that plunge you deep into the underworld of Stockholm in the 70s. I remember when these books were a big deal, but I think they've been mostly forgotten. They're all excellent, and shows like "Law and Order" owe them a huge debt.

7. "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follet. This is a page-turner / dime-store novel that happens to be about the building of a medieval cathedral. I read this about 15 years ago and it made me want to be come an historian.

8. "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain. Do I really need to say anything. "Huck Finn" should probably be moved off this "fun" list and onto my "Great Lit" list. Heck. It's both!

9. "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" by Mark Haddon -- a mystery novel narrated by an autistic child. I like Hadden's new book -- "A Spot of Bother" -- even better, but I'm not sure it should be classified under "fun". In any case, Haddon is a young writer to keep your eye on. Other young writers that float my boat include Curtis Sittenfeld, who wrote the wonderful "Prep," a girl's version of "Catcher in the Rye", David Mitchell ("Cloud Atlas" and "Black Swan Green") and Jeffrey Eugenides ("Middlesex" and "The Virgin Suicides")

10. Patricia Highsmith's Ripley books, starting with "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Ripley is my favorite anti-hero. Is there a name for melodramas told from the bad guy's point of view ("A Clockwork Orange", etc.)?
posted by grumblebee at 6:27 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin by Lawrence Weschler

This book stayed with me longer than any other I've read. Most discussions of art, especially modern art, suck. This one doesn't, Weschler speaks plainly and makes sense. The ideas they discuss are important without being pompous. Robert Irwin is vividly portrayed and just comes across as both interesting and someone who would be fun to shoot the shit with.

For fiction I would go with the Iliad. If you have read it or are intending to go ahead and read Simone Weil's essay the Poem of Force as well. I recommend the Iliad and War becaue the introduction exposes two times where Simone Weil overstates the case. Still, she gets at the heart of what makes the Iliad such a great work better than anyone else.
posted by BigSky at 7:02 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Robert Graves - I, Claudius and its sequel, Claudius the God
posted by rfs at 7:14 PM on December 9, 2006

I'm not sure if I have any favorites anymore, but I do have some books in my collection that really stand out. (warning: Wikipedia ahead)

The one I've certainly read the most is Generation X, by Douglas Coupland. It helped that I was feeling completely lost at the time (11th grade). Since then, I've read through it about once a year.

The last great book I read was a young adult book called Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. It's intense.

I also really enjoyed Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett, and it may be my favorite of his works.

Really, though, what I'm looking forward to most is the next book of Scott Pilgrim. I don't think that's what you're looking for, but the series has brought me a lot of joy.
posted by gc at 7:17 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Either Borrowed Time or Becoming A Man by Paul Monette.
posted by brandz at 7:37 PM on December 9, 2006

This is a thread without constraints. I am going to offer:

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
and a book with a somewhat similar theme
Being There by Jerzy Kosinski

and for a very thought-provoking "why are we here" turn:
the very obscure
"The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathon Hoag"
(in truth a longish short story) by Robert Heinlein
posted by yclipse at 8:03 PM on December 9, 2006

Books that are memorable and favorites:

Fiction: East of Eden, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Catcher and the Rye, The Handmaids Tale, Cat's Eye, Rhoda: A Life in Stories, and Drunk With Love (short stories).

(I also loved The Robber Bride--great book)

Non-fiction favorites: Angela's Ashes. Some say this is an embellished memoir, but it will always be a favorite of mine. It's unforgettable. Other favorites are Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough and Jennie--the story of Lady Randolph Churchill. The Glass Castle is also unforgettable.
posted by LoriFLA at 8:17 PM on December 9, 2006

The Little Prince
posted by Ruki at 8:18 PM on December 9, 2006

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. But for a grad student, my favorite of the easy short things to read would be Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:24 PM on December 9, 2006

Little, Big by John Crowley is my top, all time, desert island book. I'm rereading it for the nth time right now.

The Riddle Master books by Patricia McKillip are a close second - I've loved those since I was about 15.

100 Years of Solitude is probably third.

and The Magus, by John Fowles, which I also just recently reread.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:32 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Zen and the Art of Motorcycl Maintenance or Oryx and Crake.. Third, Sophie's world.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:58 PM on December 9, 2006

Silverlock by John Myers Myers.

The story is okay, the conceit is sort of cool, but the writing is what keeps me coming back. Damn that man could write.
posted by tkolar at 9:02 PM on December 9, 2006

How can you possibly have marked a best answer for this? Isn't this essentially an opinion poll?
posted by jdroth

I have to agree. How can there be a "best answer" when you're only polling members on their personal favorites?

posted by Gerard Sorme at 9:02 PM on December 9, 2006

Some books that affected me:
Orwell, George. 1984
Smith, Cordwainer. Norstrilia
Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger in a Strange Land
Pirsig, Robert. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death Note: not for those of fragile psyche—it seriously rearranged mine.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:05 PM on December 9, 2006

Wonderful novels that I didn't see mentioned yet:
Atonement, by Ian McEwan
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Possession, by A.S. Byatt

and the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges (especially his classic collections Ficciones and The Aleph) are amazing.
posted by clair-de-lune at 9:22 PM on December 9, 2006

Autobio of Malcolm X
posted by j-urb at 9:47 PM on December 9, 2006

The Master and Margerita by Mikhail Bulgagov. It must be said that prior to must have at least a basic understanding of...Soviet Russia and Muscovite culture in the 1930's

Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is one of my favorite books of the 20th century, but the first time I read it I knew next to nothing of "Muscovite culture in the 1930s" and still thought it was a hilariously brilliant book. You don't need specialized knowledge to appreciate the satire in a story about Satan and his entourage - including a seven-foot-tall talking cat - setting up shop in Stalinist bureaucratic Russia. The next time you reach for fiction, make it The Master and Margarita and you won't be disappointed.
posted by mediareport at 10:36 PM on December 9, 2006

For Whom The Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway.

There is a section of the book that describes a Spanish village in the aftermath of a battle which is the single most exquisite and horrifying thing I have ever read.

That book was just so astonishing to me that I haven't really been able to get myself to read any other Hemingway in the year since I read it, for fear it won't live up.
posted by anjamu at 11:05 PM on December 9, 2006

If I had to nominate a "favourite book ever" I think I'd have to go with Last Chance to See By Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine. Other nominees might include
  • Poul Anderson's The Boat of a Million Years for best 'what if highlander didn't suck' story. Especially good if you don't don't bother to read past, roughly, the 'current day'.
  • Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn books for best myster[y|ies]. Againn with a caveat - avoid the last 3 or 4
  • Niven & Pournelle's Oath of Fealty tied with Gibson's Neuromancer for best quasi PKD semi-near-future tale. I nominate each for rather different reasons. Certainly one is much better written than the other but both deliver a host of interesting ideas with far less verbiage than, say, Red|Green|Blue Mars (the trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson which are also good, but somewhat less succinct.)
  • Dive Into Python by Mark Pilgrim as the best 'I'm not an idiot I just don't, yet, know how $x implements $y' computer book
  • Best story I think goes to Terry Pratchett for Night Watch. In this place, at this time... a 'funny fantasy' man holds a mirror up to reality
  • Another Niven/Pournelle collaboration wins post apocalypse novel for Lucifer's Hammer
  • For best pop sci I'd like to look past this author's better known works and suggest Dawkin's The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution

posted by mce at 1:22 AM on December 10, 2006

Ulysses. Greatest novel of the 20th century, possibly greatest novel ever, and I'll defend it against all comers.
posted by scody at 1:34 AM on December 10, 2006

Dune - Frank Herbert
The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls
posted by deborah at 1:46 AM on December 10, 2006

"Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follet. This is a page-turner / dime-store novel that happens to be about the building of a medieval cathedral. I read this about 15 years ago and it made me want to be come an historian.

ive been trying to remember the name of that book and author for months. thanks!

all time favorite fiction - Enders Game and accompaning series.

Another book Ive thought of a million times since i read it ten years ago is The Trial by Franz Kafka, but it can be a very frustrating book to analyze.
posted by trishthedish at 3:05 AM on December 10, 2006

Well, Tolkien is the obvious choice, but skipping past a few of those I'll go with The Rider by Tim Krabbe. A delicious little first person narrative of a one day bicycle race. I always seem to devour it in one sitting when I'm in the mood for a little escape.

Honorable mention goes to Gun's Germs and Steel for really changing the way I look at many things, in particular, food.
posted by Manjusri at 5:14 AM on December 10, 2006

Second Bryson for non-fiction.

Kingdoms of the Wall by Robert Silverberg is the most amazing book I have ever read. I have read it approximately eleventy brazillion times.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:00 PM on December 10, 2006

For anjamu, OH PLEASE READ MORE HEMINGWAY!!! My, oh, my you are missing out if you don't. The very chapter of "A Farewell to Arms" oh, me, oh my. Perfection. Or try "The green Hills of Africa" for some really different non-fiction. Read the man, whatever you do.

I must admit, however, that my two favorite books of all time are not Hemingway. Which might make me an idiot, but here they are:

"One Hundred Year's of Solitude" Gabriel Garcia Marquez

"The Rat" Gunter Grass
posted by metasav at 1:05 PM on December 10, 2006

2nding Bleak House, 3rding For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1sting Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King (and, well, everything else I've read by him, for that matter... and everything else I've read by Dickens and Hemingway, too). Right now, they are my three favorite authors, at least of fiction.
posted by notswedish at 1:42 PM on December 10, 2006

Hard choice, but probably Voltaire's Bastards, by John Ralston Saul.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:38 PM on December 10, 2006

Also: best book in the last year question, where I also link to the desert island book list from a few years back.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:40 PM on December 10, 2006

Some that I am upset not to have seen so far (just kidding!):

Stone Junction: Jim Dodge - awesome, just wonderful - quotes from the back: "the sort of book that makes you climb naked onto the church roof daubed in blood and howl at the congregation", "should make the John Grishams of this world weep into their overstuffed pillows"

Microserfs: Douglas Coupland - not even sure why, but it just worked for me and almost led to me moving to Palo Alto from the UK...

Armor: John Steakley - picked this up from an obscure mention in the foreword to Enders Game, and loved it - kind of starship troopers with a heart...
posted by csg77 at 6:59 PM on December 10, 2006

Newer favorite than the 9622 thread: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.
posted by tizzie at 8:33 AM on December 11, 2006

The Once and Future King by TH White. Easily the most worn book on my shelves. I usually follow up with The Book of Merlyn.

I regularly recommend Ender's Game to anyone who hasn't already read it.

The Lord God Made Them All by James Herriot is probably my most worn non-fiction book. I keep meaning to read the rest, but can never remember which I have when I get to the bookstore.

I'm in the middle of A Short History etc. right now, and it's good stuff. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is beautifully written, and only took me about an hour to read.
posted by natabat at 11:31 AM on December 11, 2006

The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe. One of the more overlooked great books of the last century.
posted by Iridic at 1:59 PM on December 14, 2006

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