Skepticism

My favorite books

I’ve seen a few people posting about their favorite books lately, so I thought I’d take a stab at it. It’s really hard to pare this down to less than 25 or 50 titles, but I’ll stick to the ten that come to mind most immediately. Here’s my list (in no particular order). Some were key to my skepchickal development and others are just books that I’ve enjoyed immensely.

Here’s Richard Dawkins’s list:

  • Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwadine
  • The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
  • Red Strangers by Elspeth Huxley
  • The Creation by Peter Atkins
  • Essay on Darwin’s Illness by Peter Meadower
  • The Tin Men by Michael Frane
  • The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle
  • And anything by Evelyn Waugh or P.G. Wodehouse

Here are the ten most popular books in the US (again in no particular order):

  • The Bible
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein
  • The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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39 Comments

  1. I’ve barely read anything from either of the skepchickal lists here (Gaiman and Hofstadter notwithstanding), but am apparently well acquainted with the majority of the average American’s reading habits. Yes, including Dan Brown. I’m a bad skeptic :(

  2. I love love love Francesca Lia Block — I think that Witch Baby is still one of my favourite books of all time. Her books are so hard to find though! Unfortunate, since I think her stuff is magnitudes better than the average young adult fare.

  3. cubiksrube, I’ve read most of the stuff on the “average American” reading list, too. They just didn’t make it onto my faves list! :-)

    I haven’t read most of what’s on Dawkins’s list either, but there are a few that look interesting….

    Jessica, have you read Necklace of Kisses? Not as good (IMO) as the YO stuff, but Weetzie Bat grows up.

  4. I will have to think what my top 10 are–I’m afraid it won’t be very high brow. There will be a Pratchett book on my list, and Gerry Durrell’s “My Family and other Animals.”

    Those are books I go back and re-read over and over for a lift when I’m down

  5. Oh man! “My Family and Other Animals”!!! I had forgotten that book existed. Excuse me, I have to go get all Gerry Durrell’s books onto my wishlist now. Wow – thanks bug_girl.

    Do any of you folks read Christopher Moore? ‘Lamb’ may be the actual Greatest Story Ever Told :)

  6. I simply cannot make lists like this. It never works. So, good for you if you can actually pick some standouts among the huge number of actually good books out there.

    (For the record, the only books I’ve read on the U.S. bestseller list are the Bible and To Kill a Mockingbird. The former, I haven’t read cover-to-cover, though I’m pretty sure that I’ve read at least 75% of it. The latter was better.)

    (And yes, I realise I’m the only geek on earth who has yet to read The Lord of the Rings.)

  7. Not a day goes by that I don’t see SOMEONE reading Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead on the train. Doesn’t speak much to their quality, though, considering that I could say the same thing about Eat, Pray, Love or whatever other book Oprah is cooing about any given week.

    I am not too bothered by the fact that I’ve read far more of the “most popular” US books than I have any of the skeptical/Dawkinsian favorites. I’m kind of beyond the whole “no normal person knows my favorite things and if they do they can’t be my favorite things anymore” phase of my life…

    I love The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter books, and LOVED The Stand as a kid…though I’m not sure which of those would be my favorites. I’d add The Hitchhiker’s Guide series, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Ulysses by Joyce, and a few others not coming to mind.

    That said, I agree with Joshua about lists…I could give myself a panic attack trying to enumerate my loves.

  8. I’ll cast in my votes for LOTR, Catch-22, the Hitchhikers Guide, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, any Wodehouse, EF Benson’s Lucia books, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and Seeing in the Dark by Tim Ferris, which is an excellent discussion of amateur astronomy.

    It isn’t 10, so I’ll throw in any Patrick O’Brian or later Pratchett to round things out.

    I keep meaning to read Ulysses, but it’s *so* thick, and Joyce uses funny words.

  9. Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark was the first book that came to my mind as one that would go in my Top 10 list as well. As I recall, Dawkins said that he wished he had written it.

    ~Wordplayer

  10. Masala_Skeptic:
    I love Christopher Moore, and Lamb is by far my favorite of his books. It’s always so hard to decide how to introduce him to new readers, though. On the one hand, I want them to go chronologically, so that they’ll catch all the inside references to his previous books. On the other hand, I want to make them start with Lamb because it’s amazing and everyone should love it.

    In fact, I’ve used Lamb as a friendship test. I you’ve read Lamb and didn’t enjoy it, chances are pretty good that we won’t get along.

  11. Just to be a pain in the ass – The Tin Men ( is by Michael Frayn, not by Michael Frane. Just in case someone was poking through Amazon to make a list I would hate for them to miss this fine book.

    Frayne also wrote the best play about physicists in the history of the world, Copenhagen. All humans should read Copenhagen before they die.

    In fact, that would probably be an interesting list, 10 books you must read before you die. For me “favorite” is a hard thing to qualify.

  12. I also find it close to impossible to come up with a top ten; there are so many good books to choose from. I find it easier to list a couple of my favourite authors:

    – Paul Auster; “The New York Trilogy” and “The Moon Palace”.
    – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman; “Good Omens”.
    – Iain M. Banks; “Song of Stone” and his science fiction stuff.
    – Stephen Donaldson; The Gap Trilogy is probably the best science fiction ever written in.
    – Donna Tartt;”The Secret History”.
    – Hjalmar Soderberg; “Doctor Glass”.
    – Albert Camus; “The Stranger”. The ending is frickin’ great!
    – Andy Riley; “The Book of Bunny Suicides”. Lots of pictures!
    – Salman Rushdie; especially “The Satanic Verses”.
    – John Steinbeck; everything I’ve read by him is great.

    I read LOTR when I was around 10-11 years old and loved them so much that I refused to come out of my room when Santa was handing out presents. I’ve tried to re-read them as an adult but I just find his writing too dull.

  13. I would like to mention some -well- less american literature.
    Mikhail Bulgakov: Master and Margarita. Which is indeed enthralling, though not really skeptical.
    No one has listed Umberto Eco yet. But who could dispute the skeptical reference of the conspiracy theory based on…. (read it! to fully enjoy it you might need “some” knowledge of history).

  14. Yeah, a less American-centric list would be cool. I’ve read plenty of books by non-American authors but they just weren’t in my mind today. Although there several British authors on these lists.

  15. It’s like music — I have to divide it into top ten lists by genre. I mean, there’s just really something wrong with having to decide if I should bump the Prelude in B-flat minor from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, or a track from NIN’s “Ghosts” album. And that would be just the instrumental top ten, if I tried to combine all my instrumental top ten lists into one.

    Same thing with books — I can’t make “Bitter Is The New Black” compete with the LOTR series, and neither of them should have to fight for space with “The Plague.” It’s not comparing apples and oranges, it’s comparing apples and mammals and political philosophies and computer games. Quick! Granny Smiths, giraffes, socialism, and NetHack, rank in order of preference!

    See what I mean? :P

  16. In on particular order
    1. Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
    2. LoTR
    3. Good Omens
    4. Slaughterhouse 5
    5. Anything by Douglas Adams (Last Chance to See was one of my favourites)
    6. Durrell’s books about Corfu (My Family and Other Animals, Birds Beasts and Relatives, The Garden of the Gods)
    7. Anything else by Gaiman
    8. Stephen Donaldson’t The Real Story (while I liked the whole Gap cycle, the rest of the books don’t measure up to the first)
    9, 10. A few other books that I just can’t think of at this moment…

  17. In no particular order:

    0. The Codex Seraphinianus by the Italian Surrealist Luigi Serafini

    1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Illustrated by cartoonist Jules Feiffer.

    2. Watership Down by Richard Adams.

    3. Some plays in book form by Tom Stoppard. A bunch, actually. Jumpers is a favorite, as is the radio drama Artist Descending a Staircase.

    4. Mind Fields –paintings by Jacek Yerka with ministories for each by Harlan Ellison.

    5. The Essential Ellison by, er, Harlan Ellison.

    6. The Art of Horror Stories: Two Hundred Years of Spine-Chilling Illustrations written and selected by anthologist Peter Haining.

    7. Any of the Studio Ghibli art books on my shelves; my god, the background paintings alone warrant placement here…

    8. 30 Year Annivesary Microman by Jive Books: an art book with photographs of my favorite childhood obsession.

    9. From MYST to Riven by Richard Kadrey.

    Disclaimer: titles subject to change. “Favorite” should not be regarded as exclusive. Top ten list may, in fact, include entire book collection. Art books may indeed be favored over straight text, as typer is a visual artist and animator.

  18. I’m a heretic. I really don’t care for Tolkien at all. I’ve given him several chances and still he just doesn’t do it for me.

    My list of favorites changes with what I’ve read recently. I just finished Making History by Stephen Fry which I greatly enjoyed. Lamb was another really good recent read.

    One book I always recommend to everybody is Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography. And since Umberto Eco came up, I love The Name of the Rose.

    No mentions of Margaret Atwood or Isaac Asimov?

  19. Joshua, I am living proof that you are not the only geek that hasn’t read LOTR! Loved the films, but I jut can’t stomach the books. So there you go.

    Back in my youth I used to read a book a day, but I can’t manage anything like that nowadays. However, if I had to assemble a “best 10” they would undoubtedly include (in no particular order:

    1) Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach
    2) Joseph Heller’s Catch 22
    3) Isaac Asimov’s original Foundation series (counts as one book!)
    4) and 5) Arthur C. Clarke’s City And the Stars and Childhood’s End
    6) Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hiker series (counts as 1)
    7) Spike Milligan’s Puckoon
    8) Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love
    9) Robert Graves – I, Claudius and Claudius The God (counts as 1)
    10) Norman Lebrecht’s Companion to C20th Music (indespensible as far as I’m concerned)

    Plus a few Discworld books thrown in for good measure.

    There’s also undoubtedly a handful of excellent books at the back of my shelves that I’ve completely forgotten about. Must have a rummage through them one of these years.

  20. Very hard to come up with 10 titles! Many of the authors/books mentioned above would make my list: Tolkien, Asimov, Arthur Clarke, the Dune and Hitchhiker series.

    I’ve read all kinds of books on history, my fave is Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Awesome stuff.

    Others:
    – Fantasy: anything from R.A. Salvatore (OK, not very skeptic material)
    – Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories
    – Stephen Hawking’s a Brief History of Time
    – On the lighter side, authors John Grisham, Ken Follett, John Le Carre. And I confess, I enjoyed Dan Brown’s books.

  21. GreenNeck: nice to see Gibbon getting a mention. I’m rereading volume 2 of Decline and Fall right now. He’s sometimes tough going but usually worth it.

    But as for my “ten favourite books” – I’ve no idea. LotR is number one and the Silmarillion is somewhere in the top 10 as well, but the rest could be drawn from a shortlist of many dozens. Anything by Alan Bennett could be on there. Pratchett is a possibility, but which one? Grettir’s Saga. The Book of Job (I tend to view the Bible as an anthology).

    Discussions like this tend to focus my mind on all the books I loved in my youth but haven’t read in decades: The Earthsea books, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, the Thomas Covenant / Stephen Donaldson books, Hitchhikers (from which I can still quote chunks from memory). I must revisit them sometime (especially Earthsea and Donaldson where I haven’t read the newer books) but I’m also slightly afraid that they won’t live up to my memories.

  22. This post has inspired me to have a rummage through my collection, and straight away I’ve found two more that are absolutely essential:

    Cosmos by Carl Sagan (How could I forget that one?)

    And one book I highly recommend; even non-Trekkies should read Yvonne Fern’s book “Inside the mind of Gene Roddenberry” – an absolute must read.

  23. I wouldn’t have expected her to be a Skepchick favorite

    Hmmm. Why is that?

    I just read the Weetzie Bat books a couple of years ago in my 40s. When I was in the sixth grade Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume was the book all the girls were reading. I read Flowers For Algernon instead. :-)

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