As with my Top 10 Movies, this list is not a list of the "best" books I've ever read, but the books that have had the most significant impact on my life. I'm not going to bother attempting to put them in any particular order. So, without further ado, here is the next entry for my 101 in 1001 goals.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
There is so much going on this book. It's is simultaneously a commentary on the power of youth, the horrors of war and the strength of will. As with most of Card's work, there are no traditional heroes or villains. Characters have complex motivations, and are overwhelmed by the situations around them. This book is as moving now after dozens of reads as it was the first time I read it. Honorable Mention: Ender's Shadow- the same story from another character's point of view.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
You'll notice that several books on this list are "children's" books. That's because these are the books that made me love reading as much as I do. Mike and Mary Anne are a great team, and as it becomes more difficult for them to keep up with the newer shovels, they must go further afield to find work. Eventually they agree to dig a foundation in a single day. At the end of the day they are successful, but they went so fast they forgot to leave a way out of the hole. However a great solution is reached that allows Mike and Mary Anne to stay together and useful for many years to come. Like John Henry but with the man and the machine on the same side, and a happy ending. Honorable Mention: The Little Engine That Could- I think I can, I think I can.
The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
A story of celebrity, music, love, status the choices people make in life to reach their goals. A plot line that doesn't deserve to be more than a pulp one-read book is made beautiful by Rushdie's prose. In the hands of anyone else, this story could seem silly instead, it is one that can be read again and again. Honorable Mention: The Satanic Verses- Surprisingly little to do with Satan at all..
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.
A giant tome spanning 50 years, and three interwoven stories. It's got action, science, treasure, mystery and love. Characters you simultaneously wish you were and are glad you aren't. Stephenson manages to make a cryptologist into an action figure and a gung-ho US Marine into a brilliant strategist at the same time. Honorable Mention: The Baroque Cycle- 3000 pages of awesome. With pirates.
The Story of Light by Ben Bova
If all science books were written like this, school would've been a lot more interesting. It covers both how light itself behaves and the effect light has on the world around us. The writing style is easy to read, and the information is related to everyday concepts that make it easy to grasp. Honorable Mention: Chasing the Rising Sun- More non-fiction written as engagingly as any fiction.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
This book was one of my earliest introductions to the world of both Sci-Fi and full-length novels. Some of the ideas were a bit shocking to my fairly sheltered Jr. High-aged self, but the depth of the world created was what kept me coming back for more. I still seek out Heinlein's works and spend most of my time in the Science Fiction sections of libraries and book stores. Honorable Mention: Farnham's Freehold My very first Heinlein. Not his best work, but a real eye-opener.
Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like by Jay Williams
Even without the simply amazingly beautiful illustrations by Mercer Mayer, this book has much to teach. It shows us that judging a person by their appearence is not wise, that the wise men frequently aren't and that sometimes a child can see the truth better than any adult. And sometimes a simple act of kindness can save an entire town. Honorable Mention: Terrible Troll- Sometimes you get to be the hero.
And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss
How can you not love this book? It's a wild ride through the imagination. Making the truth more exciting is always a temptation, and the process of embellishing the truth requires great strength of character if you ask me. Marco's desire to come home with an interesting story makes for a great story for the rest of us. Honorable Mention: The Cat in The Hat- maybe the first book I ever read all by myself.
To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
Anyone who doesn't want to be Atticus Finch when they grow up, at least a little bit, has something wrong with them. You'll notice that there aren't many "classics" on this list. Mostly, that's because they're not that great. I didn't read this until I bought a copy for my father that he already had, so I kept it to read myself. The simple faith in the overall goodness of people and the strength required to bring that out of some people is uplifting and sobering at the same time. Honorable Mention: I can't think of another "classic" that comes close
The Boy Scout Fieldbook
Despite my first exposure to this book being my father's copy that his brother had decorated with extra references to latrines, this book is somewhat fundamental to the idea that you should know how to do things for yourself. Basic knots, cooking, sewing, and a little of everything else makes you a well rounded person. Collecting that information into an easy to use reference is indispensable. I haven't been a Boy Scout for a long time, but I still use this book regularly. Honorable Mention: The Backstage Handbook- just in case you need to fly a case of beer.
And finally, the one book that has kicked my ass, over and over again:
Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
Seriously, I've tried to get through this book 3 or four times. I've yet to succeed. It's interesting enough and important enough that I really really want to finish it, but my brain gets full before I can.