This has been a hot little topic running around social media the last week and I figured, “Why not?” So here are the ten books that shaped me as a reader, a writer, and to an extent, a person.
The Beasts of Valhalla – George C. Chesbro
My grandmother, that beautiful woman, put this book in my hand one night during a marathon D&D session. “Try this one,” she said. “You’ll like it, I think.” She was right. The fourth book in the Mongo mystery series, The Beasts of Valhalla is a wonderful mix of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, action, and thriller. Dealing with evolution, bigotry, and murder, Mongo the Magnificent must figure out what’s happening to him and his brother before it’s too late, because if they don’t, the entire world will be changed forever.
This book was a game changer for me in terms of cross-genre writing. If you’re a fan of any of the above mentioned genres, pick this one up and give it a whirl. It stands well enough on its own that you don’t need to read the first three books in the series.
The Tomb – F. Paul Wilson
The first Repairman Jack novel, and also the first novel I read by F. Paul Wilson. My aunt loaned me this book (probably in 1990 or so) and we debated over the end. I always voted that Jack died, but we now know otherwise. And trust me, when the second Repairman Jack novel came out, my aunt didn’t hesitate to say, “I told you.”
The novel, also part of the six-book Adversary Cycle, follows Jack as he battles the ancient and mythical Rakoshi. You don’t want to miss this one.
The Tomorrow File – Lawrence Sanders
I’m not sure where to start with this book. Sanders, probably best known for his Deadly Sins series featuring Edward X. Delaney, wrote prolifically throughout his career. From male hookers to feminism in the 80s, his off-series books are all incredibly poignant, considering most of them are almost as old as I am.
In The Tomorrow File, Sanders gives us a dystopian vision of America that isn’t too far off from where we’re at now. Acronyms fly, corrupt police, and a government that spies on its own people.
They Thirst – Robert R. McCammon
This book made my top five vampire novels. You can read why it made that list on the post here. I hope you do.
Aside from those reasons, it’s here because I love vampires (not as much as werewolves, but close). The classic monsters are a big, big draw for me. McCammon is a hell of a writer and this is my favorite of his, by far. But he also wrote a damn good werewolf novel, an alien novel, and… I could go on. But if you’re into vampires, epic storytelling, a large cast of heroes and villains, then look no further than They Thirst. It has all of that and more.
Conan – Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Lin Carter
I’m not a Conan scholar, not by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t think this the first collection of Conan stories, or the last, but it was the one we owned when I was a kid. It was an introduction to fantasy that wasn’t “The Hobbit” and really defined “low fantasy” for me. I know that’s an age-old debate (what high vs low fantasy really is), but in my own personal definitions, Conan is some of the best out there. And he’s stood the test of time, still being the baddest barbarian on the block.
Lightning – Dean Koontz
When I was younger, I had a hard time deciding if King or Koontz was the better author. Considering I don’t really read either of them anymore (but they’re both on this list) I’m not sure it matters. I enjoyed them when I was younger.
Lightning strikes at pivotal times in Laura Shane’s life. And with it comes a blonde man who offers unconditional aid. Finding out who he is, and why he helps, while weaving a tale of historic importance is what makes this book one of the Koontz’s best.
Most of you have probably read this book, or at least seen the movie adaptations based on three of the stories: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Body, and Apt Pupil. The only one not yet a movie is The Breathing Method, which is arguably the weakest story in the collection. That said, it’s still very good. Definitely my favorite of King’s work, as it showcases more than just his horror sensibilities.
The Wereling – David Robbins
Man, this book took me in a whole new direction when it came to creature horror. It’s a werewolf book, yet it’s not a werewolf book. And if you know me, you know how I love my werewolf horror. That love is one reason why I’ve only written two werewolf-y short stories, and haven’t tackled the novel idea I have.
I don’t want to fuck it all up.
Robbins takes the werewolf idea, the spirit of it, and uses it to his advantage. He gives us a werewolf book that’s not a werewolf book, filled with classic horror archetypes and scenarios. It’s a quick, interesting read that plays on all the classic B elements.
Ghouls – Edward Lee
I couldn’t remember the name of this book for years. My grandmother had it on her shelf and that’s where I first read it. Initial response was: “Oh, Dean Koontz under a pen name!” I probably read this book four times in a two year span, and then lost track of it. Forgot the name, found the name, didn’t have the awesome blue cover I remembered. Found that next. Google, a lovely thing.
Why this book? I don’t know… It’s just FUN. For someone who read a lot of horror back in the day, this book doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the characters are all well done, and the pacing builds up until it explodes a little over halfway through. And from there, it turns into an action/horror piece that’s hard to quit reading.
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Probably the only true “classic” on my list, which isn’t to say that I didn’t read any of the others, or didn’t like any of the others (I’ve read and liked my fair share), but Bradbury’s story of a fireman burning books hits close to home. Not only do we see a downside in education and people reading in general, but a complete lack of respect for authors in general.
Reading is an immense joy for me. I’m a firm believer that reading books makes us better people, more empathetic towards others, by exposing us to ideas, cultures, and situations we may not normally find in our everyday lives. I mean, c’mon, I’m a fat middle-aged white guy from Missouri who grew up at the high end of the middle-class… what the fuck did I know about oppression? Nothing, until I started reading. And Fahrenheit 451 only confirms what we all know… if you haven’t read this book, it’s a must.
What about you, Brownies? Sound off in the comments about these books, or any others that have stuck with you over the years! I’d love to hear about them.