A few years back, a friend asked me to name my three most influential books, which got me to pondering. I responded with the first 19 that came to mind, not including the Bible, World Book Encyclopedia, or The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook. Since I'm now blogging, I thought I'd revisit that list for you, which now exceeds 30 titles. Listed in no particular order, except maybe for the beginning, or the middle.... perhaps the end… Let's jump in.
Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead. Outside the Bible, nothing taught me more of God and faith than this work. I wish everyone would read it. I have finished it more times than I recall.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Another seminal lesson on humanity.
The Civil War by Shelby Foote. OK, so this is actually three books. So is The Lord of the Rings. No matter. In The Civil War, a novelist penned the best nonfiction historical work ever… noting my exceptions above.
The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This adventure fires up my imagination every time I read it.
Between Man and Beast by Monte Reel. A great work of history as invigorating as Doyle's work, which may have been based on this explorer's life.
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Pure joy in graphic form. I love reading this out loud. It brings to life so many wonderful memories with my girls. But I must note, the word "complete" here is insufficient. With this you should also grab Calvin and Hobbes' 10th Anniversary Book, which offers rare insight into Watterson's mind and processes.
Dune by Frank Herbert. Perhaps the single most imaginative work I've ever read.
Harry Potter and the… fill in the blank from the original series, all by J.K. Rowling. This series is perhaps the best-realized concept of the last 20 years. At least it was until her Cursed Child made its debut. Perhaps, just maybe, it still is.
In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. An amazing book about a dangerous quest, one that reveals how people may embrace myths created in their own minds, even in the modern age.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is as rich and enchanting a fantasy novel as you will ever read. The second book almost matches this one in scope and texture. Still waiting for book three.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Few works capture so well the concepts and scope of alternate dimensions, choices, and outcomes. It was exhilarating to read.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. No matter how many times I read this – and that tally goes beyond counting now – it's still impossible for me to dive into this or The Silmarillion and not come away impressed by the breadth and depth of Tolkien's vision, and even more, his wisdom.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. He seamlessly accomplishes the remarkable weaving of two real-life tales, painting pictures as vivid as any you'll read. So great was its reach, this book launched within me a deep appreciation and curiosity about a limited-run exposition that happened more than 100 years ago.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. The main influences of my life would probably go down as Jesus, my parents, Bugs Bunny, Mr. Spock, Groucho, and Sam I Am… who perhaps ranks higher than this. The book certainly does. I can't begin to imagine how many times I read this one.
Infected by Scott Sigler. The first sequel's also brilliant. Infected could be the scariest thing I've ever read. It's certainly the best alien invasion piece since….
The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. One of the greatest novels of the '70s. Why it's never been made into a film, I'll never understand. What a miniseries it would make!
Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose. It's good to read his book D-Day before this, but Citizen Soldiers remains the better work.
The Pendragon Cycle by Lawhead. Sure, his Song of Albion trilogy may be more elegant and beautiful in its prose, but the original Pendragon trilogy's equally good, and more important to me personally, The Pendragon Cycle helped me understand how to integrate my faith into my writing. This also is the best telling of the Arthurian legend that I've ever read.
Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stephenson. Anyone who wants to study deception should begin here. Also, it's one of the best sailing or pirate books you'll ever read.
Strangely Enough by C.B. Colby. This amazing Scholastic book of nature's mysteries remains a fun read. The fact that I got it in elementary school doesn't diminish that.
Through the Perilous Fight by Steve Vogel. One of the best researched and most entertaining historical works I've ever read, bringing great light to the sacking of Washington and the writing of our national anthem.
The Hound and the Falcon trilogy by Judith Tarr. A beautiful mix of history and fantasy.
The War of the Worlds. Few stories have translated so well through the years as this classic by H.G. Wells. It sure influenced me.
Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides. One of the best books on the Old West you'll ever read – and it's all true.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. This book made me realize how simple ideas can be made to seem so important if packaged just right.
The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. The first trilogy, not the second. It represents another of the great books of my childhood that's never made it into a film or miniseries. This makes no sense to me, for this trilogy remains as timely as anything Isaac gave us. Nothing explains the rise of China and the fall of the United States like the economic tales spun in the first book, Foundation. And few storylines better reveal the impact one man may have on a planetary scale.
Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. An outstanding work of alternative history.
For Cause and Comrades by James M. McPherson. I could have included his one-volume Battle Cry of Freedom on this list as well, but I lean more towards this one for the moving way it explains what motivated both sides in the War Between the States.
Good 'n Mad. My first introduction to Mad Magazine. A classic that never loses its bad-boy charm!
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. A science-fiction tour de force.
Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein. A surprise science fiction masterpiece from a spinner of detective yarns. Thoroughly enjoyable.
The Illustrated Jesus Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan. This book provides something all Christians should understand – how man's perception of Christ changed over time. Hundreds of historic illustrations enhance this message.
The Greatest Story Ever Told by Fulton Oursler. A wonderful retelling of the Christ story.
The Passage by Justin Cronin. A fine mix of our vampire, plague, and end times genres.
Omnivore by Piers Anthony. A great start to an entertaining trilogy by a classic SF author.
Spearhead by Adam Makos. One of the finest World War II books ever written. An excellent window into just what American and German soldiers endured on the Western Front.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman. As good as the film is, this book is better in almost every way.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. An imaginative fantasy by a master wordsmith.
Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson. A remarkable work of research and storytelling. Anyone wondering what it's like to experience a maelstrom should read these gripping pages.
The Cobra Event by Richard Preston. The author of The Hot Zone pens a novel of terrifying potential.
14 by Peter Clines. This may be the best novel about apartments I've ever read – not that I've read many. But it also makes for one incredible horror novel, with more unforeseen twists and turns than most writers ever contemplate, much less deliver.
The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree. It seems every beloved television show has a book companion these days. This book may have started that genre, and having read several of those, I suspect it's the best. Indeed, this reading experience often proves as pleasurable as watching the shows.
The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller. This selection satisfies those who desire one choice over an entire series. All eight Sin City books stand out, though the uninitiated should understand, these film noir tomes are quite explicit and not for kids. That aside, Miller's tales represent the graphic novel at its finest…. although the Hellboy saga's also quite good.
The Host by Stephenie Meyer. A novel addition to your alien invasion reading list.