We get asked for book recommendations all the time, and frankly it’s getting a little annoying. What do we look like, booksellers?! These are our go-to books for questions like that. These are the kind of books I borrow from my boss, and then watch as she suffers in excitement as I work my way through them, dying to know what I think when I finish them. All the books on this list exceeded my expectations, and became the books that I pass along to people and suffer while they finish. It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all.

Embassytown by China Miéville

The opening chapters of China Miéville’s novel throw you headfirst into a dizzying far-future landscape. You’re assaulted by invented words (time is measured in ‘’kilohours,’’ children are raised by ‘’shift-parents’’) with very little explanation to ground you. It doesn’t help that Miéville gleefully shuffles the story back and forth across time and space. You feel like a visitor to a foreign country. And you’re supposed to. The title of Embassytown refers to a settlement of humans residing in the middle of an alien civilization known as the Ariekei. The Ariekei look strange — horselike and insectile — but Miéville’s most interesting creation is their language: They can speak only in objective truth. In one of the book’s countless funny twists, they make a national sport out of trying, and failing, to tell lies. So Embassytown is really, on many levels, a novel about language, about how different cultures communicate. Sound dry? Far from it. Miéville’s slow-burn narrative is by turns amusing and horrifying, mixing Philip K. Dick-esque satirical banality with a mesmerizing vision of a society on the brink of apocalypse. Yes, it’s a bit too long. But Miéville’s swing-for-the-fences gusto thrills. This is Big Idea Sci-Fi at its most propulsively readable.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading edited by Dave Eggers

These nonrequireds have been requirements of mine for a few years now and this might be the greatest one yet. It’s funny, sad, provocative, angry, and perhaps the best bunch of disparate writings to be had this year. Hard to dislike a book that lists, among many things, right there in the Front Section, “Best American Call of Duty Handles” and “Best American WiFi Network Names” along with some Twain quotes/passages from his autobiography and a profile on M.I.A. The intro by Guillermo Del Toro was pretty sweet too.

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

According to its foreword, The Tragedy of Arthur is not a novel. It’s a heretofore undiscovered Shakespeare play that comes packaged with a massive book-length introduction by ‘’internationally best-selling author Arthur Phillips.’’ Sound gimmicky? It is, but Phillips invests the metafictional gamesmanship with bracing intelligence and genuine heart. The fun starts with the opening line — ‘’I have never much liked Shakespeare’’ — and the energy never flags as the book develops into both a literary mystery and a surprisingly effective critique of the Bard.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

The novel follows Valentine Michael Smith, son of the first astronauts to explore Mars, as he is reintegrated into human society after being raised as a Martian. Valentine believes in a bunch of strange things, including the rightness and sacredness of consuming your friend’s flesh after he/she dies, the superfluity of clothing, and the obvious self-evidence of an afterlife, based on his experiences on Mars. He founds the Church of All Worlds, in which sexual liberation blends with psychokinesis. In addition to winning the 1962 Hugo Award for Best Novel, Stranger in a Strange Land is considered a bona fide classic, frequently mentioned on the lists of the best science fiction books of all time. One of its invented Martian words, “grok” has even entered the Oxford English Dictionary.

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

This is a classic ghost story. It opens quietly as narrator Mike Noonan, bestselling author of romantic suspense potboilers describes the death of his wife four years back and his consequent grief and writer’s block. He resolves to work through his troubles at Sara Laughs, his country house in backwoods Maine. Arriving there, Mike nearly drives over Kyra, granddaughter (by way of beautiful young widow Mattie) of mad computer mogul Max Devore, who is hellbent on snatching the girl from her mother. Taking up Kyra’s cause, falling in love with Mattie, Mike gears up for a custody battle. Invigorated, he breaks through his writer’s block; but great danger, psychological and physical, awaits, from Max Devore but especially from the spirits that haunt Sara Laughs. Violence, natural and supernatural, ensues as past and present mix, culminating in a torrent of climaxes that bind and illuminate the novel’s many mysteries. From his mint-fresh etching of spooky rural Maine to his masterful pacing and deft handling of numerous themes, particularly of the fragility of reality and of love’s ability to mend, this is one of King’s most accomplished novels.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

This is a big one for me, because I cant imagine anyone I know picking up this book. Yet, I am constantly forcing multiple copies upon them. “I have it in hardcover, or paperback, which would you prefer? How about both?” Yes, it is written by Stephenie Meyer, of Twilight fame. And while I read the Twilight series, and enjoyed it, in sort of a lolfan way, I would never recommend them to anyone who isn’t a 14 year old girl who dots her i’s with hearts. The Host, on the other hand, is such a good read, sometimes I think that I have dreamed it. Imagine, if you will, that some pretty solid sci fi and the finest romance novel you can think of had a baby. A beautiful, perfect baby. As addictive as crack, my husband banned me from re-reading this book for six months, as it made me cry so hard (with pleasure) that it induced nosebleeds. For real, I needed an ice pack. On bended knee, I beg you, give this a chance.

Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn

I gave this to a friend. He called at 9:05 the next morning with two questions. Why isn’t this movie? And when can he borrow the next book? Yorick Brown, Y, is the Earth’s last man. A non-chauvinistic plague has carried off every other guy and the resulting world is no dating paradise for Yorick. As bearer of the planet’s last working chromosomes, he’s a weapon of mass population and he’s being sought by every government hoping to reforest itself. He’s also something of a dweeb and he’s certainly a coward. He’s accompanied by two much sharper and braver women as they set out to find the labs and scientists who can put a stop to the plague. What makes Y so much fun? At a time when the year’s biggest movies, X-Men, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, are based on comics, here’s a story on paper that plays the game better and is about the last man of all. Start with the first, called inevitably Unmanned. Right now it’s just the most fun you could hold in your hand.

Little, Big by John Crowley

Smokey Barnable of the great City suffered from a terrible case of anonymity before falling in love with the delicate giantess Daily Alice Drinkwater and finding himself part of a labyrinthine tale. He will travel by foot to her home at Edgewood, a faerie-touched manse with whimsical proportions, and marry Daily Alice. What follows is a gorgeously rambling narrative. It’s the story you would get if Charles Dickens had been asked to write a family drama about love, passing seasons, a clockwork model of the universe that seems to possess perpetual motion, the dark schemes of spirits, and the roles fate ordains for us.

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