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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