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100 Books That Rocked My World, 2010 Edition.

In 2008, Entertainment Weekly decided to rank "the new classics," and made lists of the "100 Most Influential" bits of various media in the last few decades. They had a list of movies, a list of books, a list of TV series, and so on. This, naturally, made me grumpy and contemplative, because their list looked absolutely nothing like mine. I then took umbrage, as I am wont to do, and made my own list of books that influenced and informed my reality. I proceeded to update it in 2009, because things can change considerably in a year.

I bet you know what comes next.

Books on this list aren't necessarily high literature; they're not necessarily classics; they're not even necessarily particularly good, although I think the bulk of them are. They're just the books that combined to construct a me. They are, in short, not the books I was supposed to fall in love with; just the ones that I did.

Your list will probably be drastically different. You may still want to take a look at mine. You might just find a few things that will surprise you.

***

100 Books That Rocked My World, 2010 Edition.

***

100. Wicked Game, Jeri Smith-Ready.
099. Majyk by Accident, Esther Friesner.
098. So You Want to be a Wizard, Diane Duane.
097. The Serial Garden, Joan Aiken.

096. Blood Price, Tanya Huff. Do you think she just woke up one day and said "I think I'll create a genre?" Blood Price was really the moment where you could see the urban fantasy genre start to turn from something that sort of skulked around the edges of the high fantasy into a fully-fledged, fully-functional genre in its own right. Engaging story, awesome characters, top-notch writing, Blood Price had it all. Still does. You want to see where the genre started, this is the place to go.

095. Stopping at Slowyear, Frederick Pohl.
094. Mermaid's Song, Alida Van Gorres.
093. Promised Land, Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice.
092. Tam Lin, Pamela Dean.

091. War for the Oaks, Emma Bull. There's a reason that so very many people who enjoy urban fantasy but argue about its "classics" can agree that this book changed everything, because at the end of the day, it did. War for the Oaks took the fairy tale out of the realm of the twittering and the twee, and did for it what people were starting to do for the classic monsters. My own work bears no resemblance to Emma Bull's, but I wouldn't have known it was possible without her. Plus? The book just plain rocks.

090. The Last Hot Time, John M. Ford.
089. The Colored Fairy Books, Andrew Lang (yes, all of them).
088. The Chrysalids, John Wyndham.
087. Spellsinger, Alan Dean Foster.

086. From the Dust Returned, Ray Bradbury. Here's our first entry to the odd on this list: I hate this book. It's a collection of Bradbury's "Family" stories, which were these weird and wonderful tales about a family of monsters living around the edges of the modern world, with a brand-new framing story that changes everything. Charles Addams was involved in the creation of the Family, and I love them with all my heart. And somewhere along the way, Bradbury forgot that they were wonderful because they were different, and decided to castigate them for being horrible. This book was a real lesson in "sometimes, it's better to let things lie," and for that, I thank it, even if I never want to read it again.

085. The Girl With the Silver Eyes, Willo Davis Roberts.
084. Bellwether, Connie Willis.
083. Deerskin, Robin McKinley.
082. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg.

081. Watership Down, Richard Adams. This book was mistakenly filed in the "lower grades" section of my elementary school library when I was nine, and by the time anyone realized what had happened, it was too late. I was gone. I'd known for years that I wanted to be a writer, but this was the book that made me realize a really good writer can find a story, and a mythology, and an adventure in pretty much anything he sets his mind to. It was an epiphany, and a damn good story, and I am grateful to whatever bored library aide made the error.

080. Changer, Jane Lindskold.
079. Legends Walking, Jane Lindskold.
078. Dreamsnake, Vonda McIntyre.
077. The 10th Kingdom, Kathryn Wesley.

076. Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson. This was the book that taught me about crying over works of literature. Seriously. It's beautifully-written, and it deserves every wonderful thing that's ever been said about it, and it's also the first book that had me really down-on-my-knees shaking and weeping and realizing that the people on the pages were absolutely as real as the people all around me, at least in all the ways that counted at that moment. It was another epiphany. It was when everything changed.

075. One For the Morning Glory, John Barnes.
074. The Princess Bride, William Goldman.
073. Vamped, David Sosnowski.
072. Soon I Will Be Invincible, Austin Grossman.

071. The Last Unicorn, Peter Beagle. If you want to see where many of the themes that run through everything I seem to write began, look here. I memorized the first chapter of this book when I was in seventh grade. I watched the movie a thousand times. And I learned that no matter how hard you slam the fairy tale up against the wall, it remains a fairy tale; it remains itself, perfect and complete and utterly unchanged. This is a timeless book, and that is such an amazing achievement that there are no words for it.

070. The Thief of Always, Clive Barker.
069. World War Z, Max Brooks.
068. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman.
067. Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams.

066. The Fungus, Harry Knight. You've probably never heard of Harry Knight; you've probably never encountered his work; and if you're even a tiny bit fond of horror, that's a damn shame. Knight never achieved the success he deserved in the United States, largely due to bad marketing and lurid covers, like the one on The Fungus, a deeply disturbing story of genetics and madness and mushrooms gone evil. Of course, that lurid cover was what allowed me to finally track the book down—there are two sides to every coin.

065. Dream Park, Larry Niven and Steven Barnes.
064. John Dies at the End, David Wong.
063. Dydeetown World, F. Paul Wilson.
062. 1984, George Orwell.

061-060. Beauty and Rose Daughter, Robin McKinley. Either of these books, alone, would have absolutely made it onto any list I made. Together, they're an amazing illustration of the many ways you can approach a single fairy tale, and they're also a brilliant look at the difference in interpretation that exists between two stages of the same woman's life. They're both retellings of the Beauty and the Beast story, and they're both, in their very different ways, absolutely perfect. Reading them back-to-back is an amazing, and humbling, experience.

059. Spellbent, Lucy Snyder.
058. I Am Not A Serial Killer, John Cleaver.
057. Watersong, Mary Caraker.
056. The Child Garden, Geoff Ryman.

055. Return of the Black Death: The World's Greatest Serial Killer, Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan. Cue the birth of an obsession. I've loved diseases for years, but this was the book that made me actually start to think about the Black Death, and, as a consequence of actually thinking about it, start questioning the assumption that it was the bubonic plague. I love things that make me think, and I love obsessions that lead to reading more things that make me think. This book rocks on so very many levels.

054. The Hot Zone, Richard Preston.
053. Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Jeff Lindsay.
052. Finder, Emma Bull.
051. Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones.

050. Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones. This book was a total surprise. I picked it up at random, and then—surprise! It was a retelling of some of my favorite ballads ever, it was a grand adventure, it was slow and strange and detailed and layered in a way that made it change every time I read it, passing from Polly's age at the beginning through to Polly's age at the end, and finally beyond. It's an amazing fairy tale retelling that manages to become something more along the way, and it taught me a lot, even as it was enthralling me.

049. Wicked, Gregory Maguire.
048. Beaches, Iris Rainer Dart.
047. Bureau 13, Nick Polotta.
046. The Boy Next Door, Meg Cabot.

045. Bitten, Kelley Armstrong. Every genre goes through a lot of phases. The current incarnation of urban fantasy started, for me, with Tanya Huff, and then split into several schools, from the plot (Jim Butcher) to the porn (Laurell K. Hamilton). Kelley Armstrong managed to bring them back together with her Women of the Otherworld, and has become one of the very few authors that I'm actually willing to buy in hardcover. It's a fantastic shifting-viewpoint series, and she manages her transfers of focus with wit and grace. Plus, they're just fun.

044. The Buried Pyramid, Jane Lindskold.
043. The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum.
042. Carousel Tides, Sharon Lee.
041. Vampire$, John Steakly.

040. Mirabile, Janet Kagan. If there were any justice in this world, every person who sees this list would be going "yes, of course, Janet Kagan, how could anyone forget Janet Kagan on a list like this?" Everything she wrote was amazing. She built worlds out of things no one had ever considered building worlds out of, and she made them such real, concrete, functional places that you completely bought into the universe around them. She accomplished the sort of sociological science fiction that's just breathtaking, and my hat is off to her.

039. Hellspark, Janet Kagan.
038. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carrol.
037. In the Drift, Michael Swanwick.
036. Evernight, Claudia Gray.

035. Uglies, Scott Westerfeld. The field of young adult fiction has been developing in amazing ways over the past few years, but none have been so amazing as the growth in young adult genre fiction. Scott Westerfeld is a fantastic example of this trend. His stories are well-considered, well-written, and entirely gripping; he's playing with concepts that are incredibly adult, and he's not talking down to his audience. This whole series is so amazingly worth reading that there aren't words for it. Too bubbly to skip, hey?

034. The Tomb, F. Paul Wilson.
033. Rats Saw God, Rob Thomas.
032. Parasite Rex, Carl Zimmer.
031. The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon.

030. Last Call, Tim Powers. This was my introduction to Tim Powers, in all his strange, lush, deeply detailed glory. Really, I couldn't have had a better one if I'd been given a catalog to pick from. This book actually rewired portions of my brain (which is probably necessary if you want to survive reading Powers, come to think of it). It's just an amazing piece of synthetic mythology, and if I ever manage anything half as wonderful and strange, I'm pretty much going to die a happy woman. It's too glorious to avoid.

029. Black and White, Caitlin Kitteridge and Jackie Kessler.
028. The Unforgiving Minutes, Mary Monica Pulver.
027. Don't Bite the Sun, Tanith Lee.
026. I Am Legend, Richard Mathesen.

025. Bones of the Earth, Michael Swanwick. It's a time-travel story with dinosaurs...about academic politics, and how far humans will go in the pursuit of learning the things that all of us secretly, deep-down, yearn to be the one to discover. It's scholars in their element, it's discovery for the sake of discovery, and it's a love story so fractured and fragmented that you barely see it coming until after it's already happened. It was an absolute revelation for me, and it's one of my favorite time-travel stories, bar none.

024. Horror Films of the 1980s, Kenneth Muir.
023. Strange Wine, Harlan Ellison.
022. Village of the Damned, John Wyndham.
021. The Anything Box, Zenna Henderson.

020. Paper Moon, Joe David Brown. I have to comment on this book, because it was one that I would absolutely never have picked up on my own. It wasn't even recommended to me. Someone asked me to find them a copy, and so I did, and then I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. What I found inside the covers was this amazingly lush, detailed, revelationary world that reminded me, rather firmly, that restricting myself to genre reading would be just about the worst thing I could do for my mind. It's a beautiful book. I hugely recommend it—or something else outside your comfort zone.

019. Starbridge, A.C. Crispin.
018. Silent Songs, A.C. Crispin and Kathleen O'Malley.
017. Dark Cities Underground, Lisa Goldstein.
016. The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, Tim Pratt.

015. The Talisman, Stephen King and Peter Straub. If you asked me to name a defining work of epic fantasy from the last thirty years, this would be it. This is the book where, for me, everything started to change. It's a boy's adventure story in the Mark Twain style. It's an epic adventure in the Tolkien tradition. It's everything. And it's a beautiful piece of dark fantasy that isn't ashamed of itself; it goes as far as it needs to and no further, it doesn't shy away from anything. It's just gorgeous.

014. Local Custom, Steve Miller and Sharon Lee.
013. Pilot's Choice, Steve Miller and Sharon Lee.
012. Monster Island, David Wellington.
011. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.

010. The Stand, Stephen King. This may be where my love of diseases began; with the cool efficiency of Captain Trips washing across the world, and all the lights going out, one by one by one. It was also my first real education in the ways of the publishing business—I read the edited version first, and later, when King became a household name, I got to dive into the "director's cut" of the book. It was amazing in ways I wouldn't have the vocabulary to express for years. It taught me that sometimes, the story doesn't win.

009. The Girl Who Owned A City, O.T. Nelson.
008. Emergence, David R. Palmer.
007. Tailchaser's Song, Tad Williams.
006. Dragon Song, Anne McCaffrey.

005. The Stepsister Scheme, Jim Hines. I am very picky about my fairy tale re-interpretations. Too many people assume that Disney invented our favorite princesses, and use that as their starting point. Hines...doesn't. He goes all the way back to the Grimm, and in some cases, beyond the Grimm, digs his heels in, and makes you take archetypes too often painted cotton-candy pink completely seriously. His writing is a joy, his characters are a delight, and the fact that this is the start of a series is mind-blowingly awesome.

004. IT, Stephen King. If I have a favorite book in the whole world, this is that book. If I have one book that I reach for when I'm happy, when I'm sad, when I need comfort, when I want to celebrate, this is it. Annie Walker once asked me if I owned any other books, and I laughed, in part, because it was such an accurate statement. The story isn't perfect, but the core of it is so brave, so true, and so right for all the things I want out of life that it just doesn't matter. I'll read this book on my deathbed. And I'll smile.

003. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree, Jr. James Tiptree, Jr. was a pioneer, walking bravely into a field where she knew she would be treated differently if her gender were known, and she changed the world of science fiction, one elegantly-crafted story at a time. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is a collection of some of the finest of her short stories—stories from collections that have been out of print for years, and that can change your world, for the better. Find it, and read it. Now.

002. The Swarm, Frank Schatzing. Half possibly plagiarized marine biology thesis, half over-the-top Hollywood blockbuster, The Swarm is worth reading if only for the sheer "wait...what?" of it all. Seriously, the world is endangered by the horrific actions of methane-breathing ice worms. Methane-breathing ice worms destroying the world. The raw silliness of it all makes it entirely worth your time, much like a roller coaster going off the tracks. You're horrified, yet you cannot look away.

001. On Writing, Stephen King. For the most part, this list isn't ranked, because trying to put everything in the exact right order would have driven me batty. But when I really sat down and pondered the question of "what was the most important book I've ever read," it came down to this, because this book gave me something I'd never had before: it gave me permission to do whatever I had to in order to improve myself as a writer, as an appreciator of literature, and as a teller of stories. It told me to kill my darlings. Best advice I've ever had. I recommend this book to everyone who writes or reads, and don't worry if you don't like Stephen King; it's not that kind of story.
Tags: book review, contemplation, making lists
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