I may play lots of games and and work in game development, but books were my first passion. Nothing grabs a hold of my mind like a well-written story, and some of my fondest memories are of reading Lord of the Rings or Michael Crichton as an early teenager. I wrote some other recommendations a while back, and I can’t seem to stop myself from abusing my power as a well-read blogger to tell you about stuff I like. In what’s sure to be my least-read article yet, here are some more random book recommendations from a music guy.
The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins
Dawkins may be a bit insufferable as a public person, but few will argue about the quality of his writing. In this massive tome, Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science takes you on an epic journey through the evolution of all life on Earth. He does this by constructing a family tree of sorts, starting with our closest relatives, chimps and bonobos, and working his way across all known life on earth and arriving at our most distant cousins, and by extension, the origins of life.
Along the way, you’ll learn about the fascinating biology of just about any animal you can think of, you’ll read stories of intriguing scientific studies and experiments, and discover many, many animal species that exist on earth today that you didn’t know were there at all. Dawkins’ unending enthusiasm is infectious, and permeates every page. With over six-hundred of them, it took me a while to get through, but I enjoyed every bit of it.
The Martian by Andy Weir
This lean sci-fi thriller is as straightforward as it is exciting. An unexpected storm hits a NASA crew during a Mars mission, forcing them to abort and start their return trip early. A piece of equipment, blown over by the storm, knocks over and impales one of the astronauts. In their hurry to leave, the rest leave him for dead.
Of course, he’s not dead, and he later wakes up to find himself marooned on Mars. What follows is what hard sci-fi fans absolutely love about the genre: a gripping story about smart people, solving seemingly insurmountable problems in a hostile environment. It’s grounded in real science and occasionally goes into exhausting detail about how that science works, but that goes a long way toward making the story feel real. In fact, its skillful execution, combined with the near-future realism meant I had to occasionally remind myself that it didn’t actually happen. I can’t wait to read more from this author.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
(non-fiction [an admittedly dubious claim])
I rarely laugh out loud when I read books, but with Thunderbolt Kid, I had to struggle to keep it together while I read this in public. Bryson is one of the most gifted writers I’ve read, and this memoir of his childhood in Des Moines, Iowa in the fifties and sixties might be his best work. He mixes hyperbole-laden stories of his youth with entertaining history lessons of American culture of the era. The stories themselves are raw, unapologetic, and hilarious. It might be different than what you usually read, but give it a try anyway.
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Hill calls this his “master thesis in horror” and it sure feels like it. It’s the length of a good Stephen King book, but Hill writes with an amazing tension that his dad just can’t match. You’ll fly through this book faster you thought possible. The story follows Victoria, a young girl who has an uncanny ability to find lost things, no matter where they’ve ended up. This strange gift gets her mixed up with Charles Talent Manx, a mysterious man who kidnaps children in his Rolls-Royce and takes them to “Christmasland”.
This book has so many nightmarish joys to experience. Manx’s vile and brutish lackey, the Gingerbread Man, who almost steals the show in his flesh-crawling creepiness. The anticipation of finding out what the hell Christmasland really is. That fantasy-meets-reality style that both King and Hill pull off expertly. It works as both a horror and a thriller, and if you like either of those you should get this now.