The Plague – Albert Camus
The Plague is an old friend of the family. It's one of my wife's favorite books too. It's the book I reach for when times are particularly hard. It's written as fiction, but I always find myself reading it like a sermon, and each time I go through, I come away with something slightly different. People are complex, rich, and unpredictable. Or sometimes heroic efforts are necessary just to be a merely decent human being. Or endure long enough and the world will change again. Or the world is also beautiful. It's a simple enough story, loaded with small characters and vignettes, and with an overarching scope that has offered me consolation since the first time I read it.
The Queen's Gambit – Walter Tevis
Tevis is a fascinating author. He's written at least two minor American cultural icons that don't seem even vaguely related. The first is a pair of book about pool – The Hustler and its sequel The Color of Money – which were the basis for a pair of Paul Newman movies with the same names. The second (and closer to my heart) is the Nebula-award nominated novel The Man Who Fell to Earth which served as a source for the Nicholas Roeg movie.
But my favorite of his books is The Queen's Gambit. It's a novel about a little girl who is very, very good at chess and very, very fond of little green pills. It's a thriller without overt violence of any kind; a race between talent and addiction that keeps me engaged every time I read it. Is it high literature? Maybe not, but it's a good story, well told, and I have nothing but admitation for it.
Homo Ludens – Johan Huizinga
When I was in high school, my father and I had an agreement. Each sumer, I could assign him five books and he could do the same for me. Homo Ludens was one of the books he asigned. Huizinga is best known as a mediavalist, but this essay applies to a much broader view of history. His thesis (which I will now oversimplify and misinterpret) is that play behavior is at the root of all human culture. It is one of the deepest insights I've had into human nature and society, and every now and then I still get a little case of vertigo thinking about it.
On Intelligence – Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee
If you have any interest at all in how consciousness and/or brains function, just go read this book. It's simple, elegant, clear, plausible, verifiable, and so rich with implication that I keep digging up new avenues of inquiry every time I read it. I've given copies to easily half a dozen friends, and I'll likely pass copies out to more people shortly.
The Dread Empire's Fall trilogy – Walter Jon Williams
I'm only cheating a little bit, since this is one story in three books – The Praxis, The Sundering, and Conventions of War. This is the best space opera I've ever read. It's familiar and it's new, comfortable and exiting, accessible and such a masterful example of the pure craft of plot structure that I can enjoy it on at least three different levels every time I go back through it. I think it is a crime that these books aren't better read and more widely enjoyed.