At various times in my life, these are the books, movies, television shows, albums, musical groups or artists that I have considered my favorites. To quote Lloyd Alexander: “We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They’re always with us. We just sort of accumulate them.”
The Triumvirate of Imaginative Literature…these three were my favorites when I graduated high school (all those years ago):
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
To me, the most influential book in my life. It influenced my love of reading. It influenced my choice of reading material. It influenced my desire to write. It has yet to be surpassed as a contemporary construction of a timeless time. It is quintessential high fantasy. It is the world of Amber to the high fantasy story, next to which all others are but shadows. Even his detractors among fantasy authors owe a debt of gratitude to the patron saint of high fantasy, whose works brought about wide readership of fantasy around the world.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Epic rabbits? The true beauty and effectiveness of Watership Down is Adams’s accurate depiction of the rabbits. He does not dress them in finery and create a sword and sorcery adventure. Instead, they are portrayed realistically: tiny mammals who go on a quest for a new home. Incorporating rabbit language and the rabbit mythology and culture solidify the story into a master work.
Dune by Frank Herbert
To this day I continue to dream up self-referential quotes that could be as effective as Herbert’s History of Mua’dib by the Princess Irulan. Plots within plots, political struggles, betrayals, and the beautifully detailed universe of the Padishah Emporer and its dependence on Spice make this novel a classic.
The rest of the books…in no particular order:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (all five books) by Douglas Adams
No, it never ends satisfactorily. In fact, there is no point beginning these books with any idea that they are ever going to wrap up; they’re like life, including the part with the abrupt curtain at the end ushering you into the unknown. If you put down Mostly Harmless in rage, however, it is somewhat redeemed when you listen to the audio version of the BBC’s Quintessential Phase, which manages to wrap the whole thing up in about one sentence. Worth noting is that the BBC audio radio versions of the Hitchhiker’s Guide differ drastically from the novels, and have numerous advantages in format that make them funny in wholly different directions.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Do not use the glossary at the back of the book! If you are unfortunate enough to get your hands on a copy, pretend those pages do not exist. Burgess intended no glossary be included, and he wrote the book with his reader in mind. Through context a careful reader can easily understand the events in the story. Tolkien may have created his own languages, but reading his conlangs does not create understanding. Burgess, on the other hand, creates an entire slang around which an entire fictional world is built. One look at the OED forces a reader to accept that of the speculative fiction novels that have been written, Burgess’s has the best grasp of language’s evolution.
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
His best, perhaps because it has elements of autobiography mixed with science fiction to create an effective morality tale. Vonnegut’s similes are always fresh and unexpected. Perhaps the only other writer able to construct similes of Vonnegut’s quality is Terry Pratchett.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Complete Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
If I had to pick a novel to teach about the American Civil War, this would be it. Its pages cleverly explain arguments for the war from both the Northern and Southern viewpoints. More than this, it captures the nobility and horror of military honor in a poignant vision of heroism and hell.
Watchmen by Alan Moore (Graphic Novel).
Constructed with great depth, Moore’s vision is even more startling in the post 9-11 world. This is a thought-provoking comic which stamps its feet and shakes its fists at the literary world, declaring, “You call me juvenile? You call me trite? You call me children’s fodder?” before reaching down into the warm-fuzziness of the literati’s offices and dropping them into its thick-tongued mouth to finish with a crunch, a swallow, and a polite belch.
Bone by Jeff Smith (Comic Series written from 90s to 2004; re-released with color by Scholastic).
This is a sneaky epic fantasy. It begins innocently enough and unravels to reveal layer upon layer, like the traditional metaphor of the onion. Surprising and addicting.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki (1980s manga).
Miyazaki’s manga was created to get his anime classic into production, but it took on a life and story of its own which departs from the movie version. Although the artwork isn’t consistent, the vision of the story is remarkable.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (consists of three books: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass).
The audio books of these are perhaps the best I’ve ever listened to . . . acted out by Pullman as narrator with an entire London theatre troupe (they are from London, after all) for the cast. The story begins as a fantasy, evolves into science fiction, and then pulls religion into its grasp. It’s almost the opposite of Lewis’s Space Trilogy, with the first installment nearly straight s.f., the second fantastic, and the third overtly preachy. However, Lyra and her daemon are too engrossing to be dismissed. Just when you think Pullman can’t pull another spectacular character from his quiver he reaches in and launches.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
Anything by Ray Bradbury. . . he is the poet laureate of science fiction–except that his poetry is carefully disguised as prose. Each passage is richly constructed like a master cabinet-maker who uses no power tools and creates works of art disguised as functional furniture.
The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
It’s no wonder Bester was a Grand Master. These SF novels have yet to be eclipsed in the fifty-plus years since they were written. Even Bester couldn’t do it.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Read the first line.
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin
This as yet unfinished fantasy epic includes every possible variation of fantasy character and theme. The best way to describe this series is “Tolkien with body fluids.” It also reads like a reenvisioning of medieval history transposed into a fantasy world with families vying for supremacy in much the same way that historical figures did, complete with the idiosyncrasies of reality. Add assorted magical idiosyncrasies to the betrayals and unions of great houses and you have glimpse of this masterwork. (For a look into some of the real-world source materials that likely went into the construction of this fictional world, see Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror.)
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Unlike many of the other books on this list which are included due to the plots or the characters, this book is included because of it’s theme. Rand’s message about economic motivation should be obvious: when you penalize success and promote failure, you have a recipe for economic meltdown.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Another idea book, this time more about the engines of personal motivation than economic motivation.
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut,(short story collected in the anthology, Welcome to the Monkey House). Don’t ask me how this link is not infringing on Vonnegut’s copyright because I don’t know. I consider this to be one of the most relevant stories you can read. It’s one I refer back to again and again as I discuss current events in education, politics, and world news. And besides, Diana Moon Glampers doesn’t want you to read it!
Neuromancer by William Gibson
The book that started cyberpunk. It’s roots run far and deep and wide. Try comparing the first line of Neuromancer to the first line of Uglies by Scott Westerfield. Yes, Scott, I noticed.
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Yes, it’s insanely violent, but at the same time, the story is what makes this book stand out.
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Open any of these three volumes to any page and be amazed at the timeless brilliance that is Watterson’s genius. Any time I pick up these books I laugh. Repeatedly.
Watterson is also my idol because he resisted becoming a part of the machine and refused to sell-out. He wrote Calvin and Hobbes for ten years then retired, explaining that he had said everything he needed to say. As far as I know, he has resisted all attempts to resurrect Calvin and Hobbes for personal gain. In this sense, he is basically the opposite of the Walt Disney Company who would have released Calvin and Hobbes The Animated Adventure, Calvin and Hobbes Use the Transmogrifier, Calvin and Suzie Go to High School (the television series), and various spin-offs, candy products, and toys.
Movies and Television
Cowboy Bebop and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (which fits after episode 9 but before episode 23 chronologically)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Westworld Season 1 (I haven’t been able to watch Season 2 yet)
Listing all the songs I’ve ever liked along with commentary seems like a pointless exercise, so instead, here is a link a playlist called simply “The Greatest Songs Ever.” It is really a compilation of songs that I don’t want to fast-forward when they come on. That’s the criteria. If I feel like skipping them, then they shouldn’t be included on the list.
My wife thinks this playlist means I’m bipolar. For her, transitioning from Air Supply to Nine Inch Nails is apparently like dropping a car into reverse while driving 55 (I have a story about that… I’ve done it, and I don’t recommend it).