So you know that book list everyone is talking about on Facebook these days? Well, I've been tagged several times, and I thought that it's kind of a nice idea, so here are ten books that have had a big influence on me (not thinking too hard about it).
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Read to me by my fourth grade teacher (in fourth grade, to be clear), this book was the first book that actually got me interested in reading for pleasure. Of all the books I've reread, I've probably reread this the most.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan
This book lays out, clearly and concisely, the process of scientific skepticism, and why it is so important. I read it five or so years ago, and wish I'd read it earlier. This is probably the first book I suggest to anyone, for pretty much any reason.
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Omnibus, by Douglas Adams
Fun. It's just so much fun. I've reread each book in the series several times. I'm also very fond of the radio series (which is the original incarnation of the Hitchhiker's Guide), so if you haven't given that a listen, I recommend it highly.
Last Chance to See, by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine
I know Hitchhiker's Guide gets a lot of credit (and deservedly so!), but this is actually my favourite Douglas Adams book (and one of only three nonfiction books that make my list of ten). It's a very personal account of a journey that he took with conservationist Mark Carwardine to find and photograph some of the most endangered species in the world (some of which are now extinct). It's funny and sad and beautiful all at once, and written in Adams' distinct style. If you haven't read it, please do. (It was also followed up by a BBC television series of the same name a few years ago, featuring Mark Carwardine and Adams' close friend Stephen Fry. I'd also highly recommend that.)
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens
The man had his faults, but good lord, could he write! Growing up in (very secular) middle-class urban Canada, religion was always just one of those funny quirks some people had. This rather polemical work was influential in turning me from apathetic to rather hostile, where religion is concerned. I've cooled down a bit, obviously, but my renewed interest in metaphysics led me fairly quickly to the skeptical discipline.
The Gormenghast Trilogy, by Mervyn Peake
Speaking of good writing, I don't believe that I've ever encountered an author that could turn a phrase quite like Mervyn Peake. While many modern readers might find his writing rather dry and his plots plodding, Peake managed to make everything from his character names (Steerpike, Rottcodd, Lord Sepulchrave) to his descriptions of the environment unbelievably evocative. (I know I'm sort of cheating here, by posting several books in one, but they're so often grouped together, and I honestly don't remember where one ends and the next picks up.)
Baudolino, by Umberto Eco
Baudolino tells the tale of the adopted son of King Frederick Barbarossa, who is an avowed liar. Baudolino sports the ultimate unreliable narrator and, like The Name of the Rose, is chock-full of interesting religious and historical tidbits.
The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham
Probably my favourite (post)apocalyptic story (and I love the genre). Like Nineteen Eighty Four, The Name of the Rose, and Pride and Prejudice, this is a book that I was supposed to read in high school, didn't, and then went back and read it a few years later. And, like all of those other books, I absolutely loved it.
The Lathe Of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin is the only female author on this list (which is an embarrassment). I read this book about ten years ago, and it helped get me out of a rut of reading exclusively cheap genre fiction. It's a very interesting book.
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
Quite a short book, and one that has been made into a surprising number terrible films. This story had a lot of influence in the development of the (now popular again) zombie apocalypse genre (despite the fact that it features zero zombies), and I enjoyed it very much.
And while these books didn't quite make the cut, I do highly recommend them:
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, by Charles Darwin
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Dune, by Frank Herbert
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (although I honestly think the film is just as good)
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carol
Nineteen Eighty Four, by George Orwell