Favorite books, audio books, comics, and other readable materials
So I've had my "what I'm reading" list up for quite a while (here),
but many who look at that just ask "So which are the best?" This page attempts to answer that
question - and also allows me to list a few books that I finised before that other list
started in August 2005.
These books are most of my favorites, and include most of the very few
books I've read multiple times. Listed in no particular order.
- The Man Who Tried to Save the World: The Dangerous Life
and Mysterious Disappearance of an American Hero (by Scott Anderson) - perhaps my favorite
book ever, this describes the life of Fred Cuny, a truly remarkable man who lived an
inspiring life helping those in war ravaged parts of the globe. He eventually disappeared
into the tragedy of Chechnya, and was never heard from again. The author is a war journalist
who tries (perhaps too hard) to find out what happened. Brilliant book about a brilliant life.
- Genghis Khan
and the Making of the Modern World (by Jack Weatherford) - excellent non-fiction, my favorite
book of 2006. There is so much more to Khan's story than I knew, and it is really shocking to
realize just how much he managed to do.
- Omon Ra
(by Viktor Pelevin) - first read during my Russian novel class at Carleton, a modern
novel with a highly unusual take on the Soviet space system.
- Popular Music
from Vittula (by Mikael Niemi) - a magical mix of dream and reality, a novel of growing up in
a tiny town in the north of Sweden.
- American Gods
(by Neil Gaiman) - probably my favorite author, and my favorite of his works. Made me think a
lot, about religion, history, myth, and America.
- French Revolutions (by Tim
Moore) - a travel book in the great tradition of bumbling British adventurers. In this one he
sets off to ride the route of the Tour de France, with little preparation. Full of fascinating
trivia and history about the race itself, as well as some terribly entertaining misadventures.
I've read many of his books, and this is my favorite (followed closely by the audiobook Frost on my Moustache).
- Outwitting History:
The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books (by Aaron Lansky) - a gift
from my sister, I started reading and couldn't put it down. Exactly what the title says, but filled
with many wonderful anecdotes about books and the people who love them. Great book, I'd recommend
it to anyone.
- The Shadow of the Sun
(by Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski) - I love his writing. Beautiful imagery from a journalist present and
many memorable moments of the 20th century. This book focuses on his time in Africa. I had to pull
Becky aside at many moments and force her to read or listen to passages, they were so well written.
His work "The Soccer War" is also excellent.
- Master and Margarita
(by Mikhail Bulgakov) - allegory of the 30's in Moscow under Stalin.
A classic of the times, and a very enjoyable read.
Some wonderful books are terrible when narrated; the following books, whatever their merits
or subject matter, worked better than I could ever have expected as audiobooks.
- The complete Harry Potter series, narrated by Jim Dale. He has a unique and
seemingly perfect voice for every character, as hard as that is to believe.
The narration is excellent.
- Seabiscuit (by Laura Hillenbrand) - I'm not a fan of horse racing, and picked this up
somewhat reluctantly, but it was incredible. I don't know that the retelling of the
races could possibly have been as thrilling if without the narration.
- Ghost Soldiers (by Hampton Sides) - non-fiction account of a nearly impossible rescue
of forgotten soldiers in a Japanese prison of war camp near the end of WWII. This may
have been the first audiobook that kept me in the car for extended periods, just to hear
what happened next.
- Frost on my Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer (by Tim Moore) - a
very funny travelogue, whether or not you're as obsessed with Iceland as I am.
- Darkness at Noon (Arthur Koestler) - a rather dark account taking place primarily in the
mind of the lead character, as he wrestles with the communism that has turned on him. Great
novel, and another that kept me hanging on for the next word.
- Everything is Illuminated, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer) -
each of these were special in their own way. The narration of each is alternately funny and
heartbreaking; there are spots when you know something truly terrible is coming, and you
can't slow down or speed past it - you just have to wait for the narrator to go at his own speed.
- Atonement (by Ian McEwan) - another tear jerker, where you almost need to turn it off
because it's so painful to continue listening. But very well done, and lovely writing.
Hard to put down
These books that kept me from doing anything else, because I simply could not
- The Fence: A Police Cover-up Along Boston's Racial Divide (by Dick Lehr)
- Outwitting History (by Aaron Lansky) (yes, it's in the list above, but it also
falls into this category)
- Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (by Tracy Kidder)
- Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (by Svetlana Alexievitch)
- Killing Pablo (by Mark Bowden)
- Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time (by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin)
- The Johnstown Flood (by David McCullough)
- Stieg Larsson's Millineum Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl
who Played with Fire, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest)
- Out (by Natsuo Kirino)
Graphic fiction and non-fiction
Over the past few years, I've gotten into a lot more graphic work, beginning after I
read an excerpt of Joe Sacco's wonderful war reporting from Serbia. I've collected some
of the best here; for what it's worth, all but the Neil Gaiman were are non-fiction.
- Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (by Guy Delisle) - an account of this French
artist's work assignment in Pyongyang. His spare drawing style matches perfectly with
the subject matter.
- The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders (by Didier Lefèvre,
Emmanuel Guibert, and Frédéric Lemercier) - an unusual mix of comic art, photography, and story
telling about a very rough time in a very rough place. The photographer almost died on his
trip to cover the MSF trip; some of the photos, such as those taken when he is sick and abandoned
on a mountain pass, really carry a powerful punch.
- The Complete Persepolis (by Marjane Satrapi) - growing up in Iran under the Islamic
Revolutionary Government. Good art, good story, not surprised it was made into a movie.
- The Sandman (Neil Gaiman) - actually a series of graphic novels (put together from
a series of comics), I've read volumes one through four. The seem to get better and better,
volume four was brilliant.
- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (by Alison Bechdel)
For the most part I didn't know what to expect when going in to these. They may not quite make it into the
"all time favorites" list, but they're very close. A variety of genres, for the right person
they could be among the first books I suggest.
- Cloud Atlas (by David Mitchell)
- How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone (by Saa Stanzi?)
- The People of Paper (by Salvador Plascencia)
- Icelander (by Dustin Long)
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (by Junot Diaz)
- Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett)
- The Prestige (by Christopher Priest) -- made into a very good movie, which wisely (in my opinion) dropped the outer "modern day"
part of the story.
- Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (by Wells Tower)
- Mine All Mine (by Adam Davies)
- Chronicler of the Winds (by Henning Mankell)
- Banvard's Folly (by Paul Collins)
- Homage to Catalonia (by George Orwell)
- Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures (by Bill Schutt)
- Easter Rising: A Memoir of Roots and Rebellion (by Michael Patrick MacDonald)
- The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs And Men in a Race Against an Epidemic (by Gay Salisbury)
- Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier (by Alexandra Fuller)
- Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times: A Collection of All Original Essays from Today's (and Tomorrow's) Young Authors on the State of the Art --and ... Hustle--in the Age of Information Overload
- Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner)
- King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (by Adam Hochschild)
- Charlie Wilson's War (by George Crile)
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (by Dave Eggers)
- Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands (by Michael Chabon)
- The Monster of Florence (by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi)
- Stumbling on Happiness (by Daniel Gilbert)
- The Braindead Megaphone (essays by George Saunders)
- The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks (by Susan Casey)